Archive for January 2017

Trump Whistles

January 30, 2017

A familiar technique amongst hate mongers, and frequently employed in communications is what’s called “dog whistle” language. The term refers to  a high pitched whistle sound which dogs can hear but whose frequency is too high for humans. The dog whistle sound is conditioned into the dog’s behavior so when the whistle is sounded, the dog performs as trained.

We may no be seeing the advent of the “Trump Whistle”. Over the weekend, the Trump Administration issued two executive orders which seemed analogous to dog whistle statements. First, the 3 month ban on US entry from any non-citizen coming from one of nine countries and the second was a statement marking Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The three month ban was sited as a defense against terrorism even though all previous Muslim terrorists came from other countries and there were no recent incidents prompting this type of response.

The Holocaust statement omitted any mention of the 6 million Jews who died during this period. The statement instead talked about all the people who perished as if the Holocaust happened and some Jewish people just happened to get caught up in a bigger problem. Hmmm.

Many individuals, organizations, and news media pundits have reacted to these two orders calling into question whether they are valid. Some argue that Country X should not be on the list, or this type of traveler should not be covered. The Holocaust statement has been denounced as insensitive and out of step with past precedents.

Hmmm, so what, that’s not the point.

Any thinking person knows that since 9/11, there have been no deaths or destruction caused by non-US persons within our borders. While that does not preclude a potential future terrorist event, there is scant evidence that current security measures are insufficient. And why the US Government which is planning to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would omit connecting the Holocaust to Jewish people is unfathomable, unless…

The Trump Whistle is a communication device intended to send a message to certain groups of Americans on one hand, and on the other hand to distract the bulk of Americans, as if they didn’t hear the real message.

Some conservative Christians are only too delighted to see the heathen Muslims called out as different and of course somehow lesser humans. And Holocaust deniers were glad to see President Trump remembered their dislike for Jews.

So while mainstream America was shocked at the two unnecessary executive orders, there is a group of Trump supporters who smiled and said, that’s our man in the White House.

The Healthcare Quandary

January 28, 2017

Republican Congress members and President Trump can be heard gnashing their teeth apparently stumped on how to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better. There seems to be no problems in finding ways to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but finding any plan to replace it is proving difficult for several reasons. I wonder why?

The Republican Party has objected to Obamacare for many years, like from day 1. Some object on the basis of “Government over reach”, namely the individual mandate. Other Republicans point to the increased, and largely hidden taxes necessary to subsidize ACA. And still other purists demand a return to a fully free market healthcare delivery system.

Thinking between the lines suggest these free market fans believe people are lazy and will not “work” hard enough to obtain healthcare on an open market. Bluntly people will sit on their butts if they think someone else will care for their needs. And in their minds, that behavior is not what made America great. Hmmm.

These views are close to the heart of why there is such a large divide in American’s feelings about healthcare. The heart of this debate, IMO, is whether one believes healthcare is a right or a privilege and whether every resident deserves the same basic healthcare with easy access or not.

If one accepts the principle of a right, there is still a wide range of methods to provide universal healthcare, and plenty of room for disagreement. But without a common view that in the richest country in the world, that healthcare is a basic right, there is little reason to expect broad acceptance of government healthcare policy.

In a world survey of modern industrial countries, the US falls way down the list, finishing well below two dozen other countries. Never the less Republicans claim “America has the best healthcare in the world”. What are they talking about?

Most likely these spokespersons are looking at leading US medical centers and basing their claim on the reputation of institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, or MD Andersen to name a few. These are world class medical organizations to be sure. The unstated clarification is that these institution and most other US medical centers are focused on getting a “sick” person “un-sick”. The US healthcare system is oriented towards fixing health, not preventing a person from getting sick in the first place.

Accordingly, such subjects as  diet, preventive health steps, and exercise are treated almost as afterthoughts compared to heart by-passes, hip and knee replacements, or diabetes treatments. Oh, and did I mention that US healthcare delivery, Obamacare or what preceded it, cost twice as much as two dozen other modern countries while delivering health outcomes not as good. Hmmm.

In other words, considering what Americans overall pay for healthcare, the “replace” in “repeal and replace” should include increased coverage at lower total cost, especially if a business man is driving the bus.

So even if one does not see healthcare as a right, one has to wonder why anyone could think paying twice as much as other countries for less makes sense.

Bully, Bully President Trump

January 27, 2017

These are worrisome times. The US electorate is split and the fairly even divide falls along numerous fractured lines. President Trump apparently taking advantage of these splits has, as promised, begun his Presidency with one bombastic statement after another. Fast and furious if there was ever an example. What is the method of his madness?

President Trump has been obsessed with the fact that he lost the popular vote (which he denies) and added to the “who cares” list, that his inauguration was attended by more people than President Obama’s (it was not). Again who cares.

President Trump apparently has decided that his first fight will be against a small nation, Mexico. He has proposed a 20% tariff on all US imported Mexican goods, which could cripple the Mexican economy if Congress would pass such a law. And don’t we already have a trade agreement with Mexico which precludes any additional tariffs? And I wonder what the World Trade Organization will say about this arbitrary behavior?

The trap thinking people face is to attempt to assign a logical reason for each of President Trump’s actions. From a cursory view, most of his declarations are fact starved. Most statements do not seem connected to an overall theme even though President Trump helps the listener with “Make America Great Again”.

The kindest observation might be President Trump, or his advisors, have thought about all these statements and are just anxious to get things done. While this may be true, a more cynical view might be safer.

Donald Trump was a bully. President Trump is bully, bully. Accordingly, one can expect him to pick on anyone or any country which cannot go tit for tat with him or the US. This will be our face to the world. Does it work for you?

Even more cynical is the thought that Donald Trump is not just a bully but also a “clever fox”, trying to keep Americans off guard, arguing about meaningless issues, so that he or his inner circle supporters can sneak something by.

The irony may be that we had all better hope that President Trump has ulterior motives. Otherwise, the evidence leads to someone unfit for office.

Pipelines – Why?

January 25, 2017

President Trump has issued an executive order authorizing the completion of the Keystone XL- and Dakota Access pipelines. With a flourish and an “in your face” stare, President Trump reversed positions taken by President Obama. Should we care?

The XL pipeline is intended to bring Canadian tar sand oil to refineries on the US Gulf coast. The Dakota Access project in intended to relive dependency upon rail cars to bring North Dakota “fracked” shale oil to a variety of US refineries. Both projects were opposed by environmental groups and in the case of Dakota Access, native Americans protested the use of what they consider their land and in particularly disturbing their ancestral burial grounds.

President Trump campaigned on a jobs creation platform and said this executive order would create thousands of good paying jobs. Who can be against good paying jobs?

Authorizing the pipelines can best be described as a “non-issue issue”. To be sure concerns about the environment and native American rights are important and issues worthy of consideration. But keep in mind, there is no way importing oil is any better for the environment. And with proper planning (and maybe sharing a little of the oil’s value) with native Americans, all parties could have come to an understanding.

Overlooked so far in this discussion has been the demand for oil has dropped significantly in lock step with the decline of the world oil price. President Obama’s actions were symbolic at best. The builders of both projects were only mildly upset with President Obama’s actions. And yes, behind closed doors, they are only mildly pleased with President Trump’s reversal.

So, was President Trump’s executive order childish pay back? Was it theater? Or, could it have been part of a strategy to unleash US production and help depress world oil prices which would hurt Russia, Iran, and most of the Middle East?

The take away, IMO, completing XL and Dakota Access pipelines are like bullets that didn’t need to be used at this moment. Both represent legitimate global strategies aimed at hindering economic growth in unfriendly foreign powers. Shooting those bullets now, lessens if not negates, their strategic value.

And as for jobs, forget it. These two project represent modest temporary job increases which will not impact in any Rust Belt State. Hmmm.

Repositioning American Foreign Policy

January 24, 2017

President Trump’s inaugural address has been characterized as “dark” and “unprecedented”. Thankfully it was short and certainly was devoid of much flowery language. One might think Trump’s purpose was not to build inclusiveness, in fact.

Could his purpose have been to simply stir the pot, put everyone on notice, and see who flinches?

Let’s begin with the State and Defense Departments. The following words taken from the inaugural text captures his intent to “reposition” American foreign policy.

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.

Most recent Administrations have explicitly advocated America’s role in championing  “the spread of American-style democracy” including emphasis on human rights, calling out nations whom our State Department dubs as bad actors. Sanctions, isolation, and even military intervention have followed. Remember nation building in Afghanistan and regime change, followed by nation building in Iraq? One could justly claim these initiatives were intended to advance democracy and improve human rights.  After these costly ventures, our eyes find a huge waste of money as well as a dismal failure versus our stated objective.

Putting the scarcity of success aside, each of these previous Administrations has also failed to hold a mirror up and examine just what type of democracy and human rights examples the US projected. For example, the US incarcerates more of its citizens than any other modern country. The US’ use of capital punishment places the country in the company of third world countries. Don’t overlook the convenient use of torture in the aftermath of 9/11. And, healthcare outcomes for African Americans and poor citizens are sharply inferior to whites and wealthy Americans.

So repositioning US foreign policy is not a meritless proposal. The US is not a flawless model and our track record of intervention is abysmal.

Repositioning will not be a walk in the park. The world without some form of American leadership could by default nominate other far less worthy nations into leadership. While wars seem to be part of the human condition, it has been almost 75 years since world wars have been the foreign policy choice of relationship. Repositioning may be akin to putting a stick down once someone has stuck the stick into a bees nest.  Dramatic repositioning may  be very difficult.

The Trump Administration might also recognize the irony that on Friday, President Trump gave his inaugeral speech and on Monday, as one of his first official acts, the President signed an executive order that reimposes a ban on the use of US funds in any country where the funding might be used to inform those countries’ residents about abortions.

Where did “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone” suddenly go?

The Women’s March

January 23, 2017

What does one make of the enormous outpouring of feelings put forth by the several million all across the United States who took part on Saturday, January 21, 2017 Women’s Marches? The women organized marches were peaceful, enthusiastic, and expressive. Although the main message was women’s rights, organizers created room for gays, peace advocates, environmentalists, and immigrants.

Attendance in all cases significantly out numbered pre-march estimates. For example, Washington DC turnout numbered above two million versus an estimate of 900,000.
So why were the numbers so large in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, and Los Angeles? What were the real message?

Conservatives are poised to reverse legislatively and/or through a Supreme Court appointment as much progressive gains women, gays, and immigrants have made, especially during the past 8 years. This has many women worried. Saturday, these women (not all women, just a lot of them) made clear they were not going to be made subservient to men, religious organization, or the Federal Government.

Saturday’s turnout will present President Trump with an early test. The Republican controlled Congress has already indicated it will repeal Obamacare, defund Planned Parenthood, and look for ways to constrict, if not eliminate Roe v Wade, and expects the President’s support. A wise person, especially someone who realizes he must appeal to all voters not just those in gerrymandered districts, that the women’s march signals a potential firestorm of opposition.

The marchers were mostly regular everyday mainstream people. Sure there were a few blue haired marchers but most were natural blonds, brunettes, and all shades of gray. The bulk of marchers were women who were not about to surrender their individual dignities nor their newly won freedoms. Young children marched with their older sisters and mothers, learning first hand what peaceful protesting was about.

A wise President Trump would conclude that his goals of invigorating the economy and repositioning US foreign policy would not be served well by opening a social war with this group of women. There is a substantial element of the Republican Party whose demagoguery embraces authoritarian religiosity and accordingly wants to return womanhood to the 1950’s or before. The President needs to either squash this faction or at least divert them for the time being.

If President Trump chooses to ignore these marches’ message, he does so at his own governance risk.

With Democracy, You Often Get What You Asked For

January 20, 2017

Donald J Trump is the 45th President of the United States. The transfer of power from former President Obama to President Trump has gone smoothly as it has 44 times before. What lies ahead, however, has not been scripted.

Giddy Republicans on Capital Hill can’t wait to begin passing conservative legislation rolling back much of what President Obama prevented during the past 8 years. And, President Trump tells American to “fasten your seat belts” because he plans to make America great again… fast. Hmmm.

A question; was Trump’s election the voice of America’s democracy speaking? Hmmm.

Donald Trump was elected with less votes than Hillary Clinton received. His electoral college victory was the 48th largest, meaning almost all other winning Presidents received more electoral college votes. So any talk of a landslide victory or a national mandate is simply misinformation, and a dangerously wrong interpretation of the election results.

Congressional Republican leaders are fond of the term “Americans have spoken”. The implication, of course, is that the GOP is free to make huge changes in policy in response to an alleged ground swell of American opinion. It is true “some” Americans favor Republican policies. It is also true that almost half of voters have swallowed the red meat baited hooks cast out by GOP operatives. Repeal and replace, renegotiate NAFTA, renegotiate the Paris climate agreement, renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal, put tariffs on all imported cars, enact a huge tax cut, and eliminate the threat of ISIS to name a few.

American democracy does grant the right to the winning party to enact legislation of its choice. American Democracy grants broad latitude to the chief executive and executive orders can impact all Americans in both predictable and unpredictable ways. So, keeping the campaign pledges voters heard is possible if not likely.

What American Democracy can’t change or escape is that actions have consequences.

What may seem a marvelous gift to some may be to others a hurtful event. What may benefit certain parts of the economy may be an unwanted or damaging force for other parts. Changes in America’s foreign policies or trade practices may appear to benefit some parts of the American economy but can produce pain in other parts. And, who can be against economic growth? Consider what may happen if the growth is unevenly distributed (rich get richer) or the cost of living sky rockets and the social safety net has already been removed (as promised)?

There are no crystal balls to my knowledge that can tell us how the next four years will play out. There seem to be a large number of highly predictable consequences to proposed Republican and Trump policies. On top of that, what consequences may emerge changing so many policies at the same time are unknown.

What is not a mystery is that comedians, song writers, and journalist should have a field day with the hypocrisy, threats, and outright mistakes the GOP and the Trump Administration may bring upon itself.

Policy Or Ethics?

January 19, 2017

As each of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks get their day in the sunshine before Senate Committees, the recurring questions before these committees involve the nominee’s policy direction and personal ethics.  Is the nominee free of obvious conflicts and conflicts of interest? And, what direction (what policies) would the nominee pursue if confirmed?

With Republicans holding sufficient votes to confirm any and all of Mr Trump’s selections, one wonders what purpose these hearings serve.

The Secretaries of State and Defense seemed qualified, free of conflicts, and ready to perform these important roles. Arguably one could question Rex Tilleson’s qualifications since he has no prior government experience but he was the CEO of the world’s largest corporation and there is a large, in place, civil service State Department staff ready to advise. Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, breezed through her hearing the easiest of all the nominees. Since there is little controversial about Transportation, other than the billions ($$$) an infrastructure renewal program might create, the Senate Committee treated her with kid gloves.

Betsy DeVos, Tom Price, and Scott Pruitt, nominees for Education, Health and Human Services, and the EPA, on the other hand, presented potential red flags. Each of them in prior public statements have strongly rejected current policies and accepted science.

Ms DeVos is an advocate for vouchers, Mr Price has been a harsh critic of the Affordable Care Act, and Mr Pruitt has questioned the validity of global warming.

The questioning of Ms DeVos revealed (IMO) a wholly unqualified nominee who is intent upon championing the use of vouchers to funnel public tax funding to religious schools. Ms DeVos is a self proclaimed evangelical, and who has never herself attended public schools and chose not to send her own children to public schools. This woman has an agenda.

Mr Price will be charged with implementing the “replace” part of “repeal and replace Obamacare”. Why was any time wasted on questioning his stock trades when there is still almost nothing known about what President Trump will ask Secretary Price to implement? While trading stock upon which the Senate is about to vote is unethical, everyone else in Congress seems to have done it.

But the “replace Obamacare” may also lead to “privatize Medicare” and to “block grant Medicaid”. Is Mr Price going to be comfortable leaving millions of Americans either without healthcare coverage, with second class coverage, or just the best coverage money can buy? (If you have no money, you get….)

Mr Pruitt is most likely qualified to run EPA, if only based upon past government experience. Which direction he will lead the EPA will be a matter of Trump Administration policy and it may be wise, neutral, or dangerously flawed. As the nominee, Price will initially be bound to follow existing law.

On ethics, questions have been raised about Pruitt’s close ties to the Oil and Gas Industries where he has championed Industry positions while receiving large campaign donations from these groups. Unethical? Or has everyone else in Congress done the same with donations from other groups?

These confirmation hearings have shed more light upon how far from “advise and consent”, the confirmation process has drifted. With Congress so conflicted with the need to raise obscene amounts of campaign funding, questioning the nominees appears too often like the pot calling the kettle black.

With respect to policy, elections have consequences. Republicans and President-elect Trump won, and now our Country’s governance is in their hands.

  • Vouchers should be a non-starter if only based upon the first Amendment.
  • If the Trump Administration steps back from the less than perfect Obamacare coverage and insures less Americans, or worse attempts to change Medicare or Medicaid, in two and four years voters will fix that mistake.
  • The EPA might represent the most significant trap for the new Administration. Sophisticated deemphasis which skilled politicians like Scott Pruitt can apply to daily EPA activities, over time, can make the Flint, Michigan lead in water tragedy look mild. Voters will also feel this impact, maybe as early as four years.

No one will remember in four years that Betsy DeVos donated $200 million to Republican candidates, or that Tom Price bought and sold stock while deliberating on legislation, or that Scott Pruitt, while taking large donations from the Oil and Gas Industry, sued the EPA over regulation limits targeting those industries.

What Americans will know is whether education has improved or not, whether their healthcare is affordable and adequate, or whether the air, water, and ground are more polluted or less so.

With respect to these nominees, there is no reason that they could not be successful. Success will not be measured, however, how many Republican check list items are accomplished, but rather by the state of life four years from now.

Where Is The Center In Troubled Times?

January 18, 2017

When George W Bush was elected in 2000, Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative”. What could be better, a mix of pragmatism and concern for others? The wealthy smiled as the Bush Administration made a case for two tax cuts. The evangelical community smiled when government policy turned upon science severely limiting stem cell research and linking foreign aid to impoverished countries’ family planning methods.

And the gates were opened for the neoconservative movement, blindly supporting Israel and simultaneously destabilizing the Arab world. Along came the Patriot Act, secret subpoenas, and Justice Department sanctioned torture.  Hmmm. That America’s part of the world tilted strongly to the right and away from the center would be an understatement.

Barack Obama brought into power countervailing tendencies. Science was again respected as evidenced by renewed concerns about global warming, use of data in forming public policy, and research into solar and wind technology. The Obama Administration pointedly worked to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and to close the dark spot on America’s image, the Guantanamo Detention Facility. And, most remarkably, the Obama Administration attempted to bring US healthcare into the realm of other world class, modern industrial countries by passing the Affordable Care Act.

The Republican Party, lead by the Tea Party/Freedom Coalition howled in horror about the reckless race to the left. It was not, however, clear that President Obama was guiding America towards the “center” until Bernie Sanders’s campaign revealed much more progressive goals. For many conservatives, however, President Obama’s policies represented socialism, if not outright communism.  To highlight this, the Republican Party’s complete rejection of Merritt Garland’s Supreme Court nomination underscores GOP rejection of centrist governance.

As the Trump Administration readies itself to take office, the Republican controlled Congress appears like the cat ready to eat the canary. The Republican Congress can’t wait to take the country back and “back” will be well to the right of center.

The unknown, strangely is President-elect Trump. Will he focus upon the ideological right or what ever is needed to stimulate economic growth? Will President Trump trade support for right wing ideas in return for support of his growth initiatives? Or, even worse as some conservatives worry, would a President Trump simply be a Democrat in Republican clothing?

“Regaining The Center” may appear a desirable goal, especially in comparison to the conservative hinterlands Republicans boast as the fruits of taking America back. The GOP possesses enough votes in Congress that Republican initiatives can carry the day. “Regaining the Center” may serve the reader well by putting GOP policies in context as a public reminder that Republicans seek benefits for their wealthiest members, at the expense of the average person.  If there are benefits, these pluses flow incidental to their main purpose.

For now, the GOP and the Trump Administration can do pretty much what they wish. In two years and again in four, voters get to assess Republican stewardship.  As with George W Bush’s Administration whose results were mixed but on the big issues, failures, “Regaining the Center” may sound prophetic.  The center may soon appear much less unsettling for independents to shift left of the Trump Administration without doing a full Bernie Sanders.

 

Ready, Set, Fire, Aim

January 16, 2017

With only a few days left before President-elect Trump becomes President Trump, the feeling is like the calm before the storm. On Friday, January 20th, 2017, the Republican Party gets a full house and a friendly President to boot. The GOP wish is to undo the last 8 years and make the future like the past, the distant past. The public has been advised “to fasten their seat belts” and watch our elected leaders make things happen beginning on the very first day.

Hmmm.

We can remove some mystery about any consequences from GOP actions. There will be massive reductions in taxes paid by the top 1%. Even the irresponsible repeal of Obamacare is at its core a tax cut for the wealthy.

Corporate tax rate reduction unless accompanied with elimination of business tax deductions, exemptions, and loopholes will accrue more money for the wealthy. And eliminating the myriad of regulations which we are told are hamstringing our economy, will put even more money in the wealthiest’s pockets.

So for at least some Americans, January 20th should be a red letter day.

Every action has a reaction too. Repeal of Obamacare will immediately beg the question what happens to those insured by the Affordable Care Act? The GOP will attempt to keep enough of current Obamacare recipients covered that they can look the camera in the eye and say, “see we replace Obamacare with patient centered, not Washington centered healthcare”.

But two facts will emerge. (1) The GOP will have to find money to cover whatever parts of the ACA it puts forward as “patient centered care” and will most likely hide their healthcare subsidies. With no new taxes, the healthcare costs will go straight to the national debt.  The GOP will adamantly deny this with a look of sincerity.

And, (2) The number of people covered will shrink as will the quality of their coverage.  The “free” market will offer reduced coverage to those unable to pay the going price for standard coverage. Those impacted the most will be the most vulnerable and, not surprisingly, those least able to garner public sympathy.

This is a pretty sad commentary on the Grand Old Party.

But there’s more.    IMO, Trump will support juicing the economy with tax cuts and government spending so that his prediction of greater economic growth can materialize. Trump, however, will run into opposition from fiscal conservatives who want to see the debt decreased, not increased. Trump, the deal maker, will step forward offering to trade his support for much of the GOP agenda, despite his own preferences, in return for support of new spending.  You scratch my back, I will scratch yours. Hmmm.

With “Ready, Set, Fire, Aim”, Republicans will run unnecessary risks. Unintended consequences and collateral damage are almost assured with current GOP plans. As the first 100 days domestic casualties begin to mount up, voters view of President Trump will become tarnished.  At that point, President Trump will make sure everyone knows he favored this or that, and instead those in Congress, much over rated, all talk and no action did not follow his advise and are to blame. Hmmm.

Most of the Republican game plan will hurt small groups… initially. For example, the 20 million ACA subscribers pale in comparison to the greater 340 million US population. Increasing the Federal Debt won’t impact anyone at first. The subsequent risk, however, is the building pressure to reduce other Government spending… like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and a myriad of social safety network programs. And as these messy regulations are revoked, freeing up America’s great capitalist engine and creating jobs on every corner, conditions for another financial meltdown, run away inflation, and renewed disillusionment with Washington will gratuitously appear.

President Trump has an initial White House lease for 1461 days. It would be a shame for the Trump Administration to let hubris in the first 100 days help destroy the next 1361.