Archive for May 2017

Memorial Pause

May 29, 2017

As is the custom, zip code 08202 celebrated Memorial Day, once again, with a home town parade and lots of speeches by local officials. The ceremony might have appeared a little hokey, especially when compared to parades featured on television, but zip code 08202’s celebration was totally genuine.

The parade’s theme, not surprisingly, was thanks and remembrance for the deeds of those who came before.

This piece of Americana (and others just like it across the country) stands in sharp contrast to the complex and convoluted games on display in Washington, DC. Instead of simple words paying honor and tribute to those whose sacrifices Made America Great, we hear words we know not to be true or a steady stream of answers to questions not asked.  Washington speak honors no one save the quick buck.

President Trump has just returned from his first foray onto the international stage. Pundits are struggling to find positive words to characterize the trip.  Congress, on the other hand, is in recess, licking its self inflicted “repeal and replace” wounds. Tomorrow, the vacation ends and the Washington games begin again.

What will the fall out be over the President’s threat to exit the Paris Climate Agreement or what did the President mean about NATO member nations “paying their fair share? For US based Trump supporters, his words will be hailed as another example of keeping a campaign promise forgetting of course to first answer the question, is either issue wise foreign policy? For European countries President Trump must have reinforced their worst expectations.

Republicans’ worst dream is that the electorate will turn on them during the mid-terms. So far, with majorities in both house and a President of the same party, Republicans have almost nothing to show in terms of legislative accomplishments. And the American Health Care Act passed by the House may not survive the Senate leaving Republicans with nothing. (Of course if the AHCA were to pass, Republicans might inherit an even greater problem… being seen as father of less healthcare coverage with no noticeable decrease in premium cost.

On Memorial Day, Americans pause and pay tribute to those who fought and died in earlier wars. These sacrifices and efforts were made to secure freedom and a better way of life for all Americans. As we pause, we cannot help but think why the President and Congress is so set upon providing less healthcare coverage, granting huge tax cuts for the wealthy, and making “immigrant” a bad word when this country was built by the hard work of immigrants?

Memorial Day in 08202 recalls a simpler time, a more respectful time, and a more honest time.

First Trip Images

May 28, 2017

President Trump is home, back in the US of A. The President’s first overseas trip as President, lasting nine days, was a difficult one and would have been so for any other President. President Trump, however, painted each stop with his own paint brush in a style like no other recent past President. In summary, it could have been worse, much worse, but regrettably it could have just as easily been much better.

  • Trump’s Narcissism. The President does not suffer from a low self image. Each of his hosts (Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, NATO, and the G-7) all played to his vanity. While there is no doubt that Donald Trump was successful in NYC or the East Coast in general, dealing with cut throat bankers, developers, and suppliers. The world stage is different. Trump fed his narcissistic self with romps after hours with beautiful ladies, television appearances and talk radio interviews. Business was business, narcissism was narcissism. The dark side of narcissism on the world stage is that foreign leaders, for the most part, are sophisticated creatures quite adept at using charm to get their ways. Thinking of these leaders as country bumpkins is a recipe for upcoming disappointment.
  • Foreign Policy Based Upon Terrorism. President passed on the opportunity to outline a world leader foreign policy.  In the past, foreign policy was built around the “east-west” divide.  Capitalism versus communism. Democracy versus authoritarianism. Individual liberties versus national ideology. Expansionism versus territorial integrity.  Not with President Trump. By choosing terrorism, President Trump has chosen a concept absent a clear opposition and has shut down a basis for dealing with other real threats to America’s interests, such as Russian aggression, Chinese expansion, North Korean export of nuclear know-how, and failed or failing States from Pakistan to Libya. Al Qaeda, ISIS, or any other faith based radical group represent nuisances rather than existential threats to America. Doesn’t the President know this?
  • Rejections of world themes. President Trump proudly told the Saudis (and assembled leaders of other Muslim countries) that he was not there to lecture them on how they should rule their countries. In other words, subjugating individual freedoms in favor of religious ideology was ok with President Trump. Women, religious minorities, and homosexuals could be subjected to what ever rules the Muslim country wished. There is not a thin line between lecturing and giving a nod of approval. Diplomatic speak provides broad room for the President to speak to strengthening relations without endorsing any particular country’s treatment of women and minorities.
  • In Israel, the President avoided mention of a two State solution or a call for a cease in building new settlements in the occupied territories. This could be seen as diplomatic since we do not know what was said behind the scenes. Any acquiescence of Israel’s expansion into Arab territory, however, seems a path doomed for failure.
  • In Rome, the President lost a unique opportunity to restate his Mexican Wall policy in the name of humanity. The President could have emphasized every country’s need for border security and could have pledged to speed up discussions over a comprehensive solution to the 11 million decent undocumented aliens living in America.
  • At NATO, President Trump hit his narcissistic stride. Rather than seeing the combined strength of the EU to foster shared interest with the US (against those of Russia or China, not to mention the Islamic world), President Trump looked towards each country as small and of much less consequence than the US. No real sense of history could be seen.
  • Finally at the G-7 Meeting, the President chose to withhold endorsement of the Paris Climate Agreement. Good news, he didn’t publicly reject the agreement, but endorse it, he did not. Nothing could be more against the tides of history nor averse to America’s best interests. As with George W Bush’s veto of the Kyoto Agreement, Trumps opposition to the Paris Agreement is a huge sop to conservative groups who wish to make more money than to find ways to slow global warming. The standard conservative anti-climate position is that remedies proposed will be costly and do almost nothing to lower CO2 levels given the output of China, India, and other developing countries. “Nothing” seems incorrect but insufficient may be correct. More must be done to move the new great emitters such as India and China to reduce emission to be sure. But if the US continues to emit at unrestrained levels, the world can only be worse off. If the US joins other countries (including China) there is at least a chance of finding world consensus on emissions. Not clear to a narcissist?

As pundits often say, there is only one President at a time. President Trump is ours. The President’s advisors seem packed with conservative self interested ideologues focused on how to increase the current wealth of the 1 tenth of 1 percent. With a President who appears only interested in himself and flattering recognition, America (and the world) is getting what US voters selected.

Another wake up call from this trip is that we are used to having the US President referred to as the leader of the free world. President Trump’s first overseas trip has provided plenty of reasons to think the free world has no leader.

History, What’s That?

May 26, 2017

Yesterday, President Trump spoke to an American TV audience from the NATO headquarters backdrop. The ceremonial speech, which was actually made to other NATO Country leaders, and was intended to recognize NATO’s history was timed such that it fell into a good TV slot for a US audience.

The dedication of a new NATO building featured the addition of two symbols of why NATO is important. A large section of the Berlin Wall called attention to the Communist (totalitarian) threat and a piece from one of the twin towers starkly reminded viewers of terrorism. One might argue that for the present, these symbols offered fitting bookends to NATO’s history.

That was not sufficient for President Trump. The President managed to weave into his speech his request (demand?) that NATO member countries pay their NATO dues. President Trump lectured the assembled group calling the failure of most of NATO’s members to reach the 2% level as “unfair” to American taxpayers. Still unsure whether President Trump’s speech was aimed at NATO members or for US domestic consumption?

The general theme which has played out during Trump’s campaign and early days of his Presidency says countries around the world should do more to provide their own defense (and not rely upon the US). Seem reasonable?

So, it was not a stretch to call NATO obsolete, Brexit as a good idea, or to suggest Japan and maybe South Korea should go nuclear. Did the Donald say that?  Surely the President or some of his advisors have read history books about World War I and II.

Every country has groups within their borders who espouse democratic and peaceful ways, AND, other groups who see the world in militaristic, nationalistic tones. These domestic forces compete for power, and when conditions are right (for example, extremes of income distribution, economic depressions, suppression of individual freedoms), militarism takes hold and bad things happen.

Freedom of speech, fair income distribution, open education, and fairly perceived taxation are elements of civil life which keep the balance between moderation and extremism under control.

Attacks on the news media, implementing tax policies which reward the already wealthy, tilting education opportunities away from the public and towards the privileged, and shifting away from progressive taxation, are examples of governmental actions which increase a societies vulnerability towards nationalism. Some politicians around the world are only too willing to mouth “Make Country XYZ Great Again”.

Since World War II, the United States has played a positive role in keeping countries which had armed their nations to the hilt and had wage savage war on their neighbors on an alternative course. With economic stability, there was little political reason to rearm (other than for basic needs). With little rearmament, there was even more reason to use diplomacy when differences between various countries inevitably arose.

Imagine European history where every 10 to 20 years saw armed conflicts among neighbors.  Since NATO’s founding, peace has reigned. Think about Japan and how many people today buy Toyotas, Sony equipment, Seiko time keepers, or Canon/Nikon/Milota cameras.  Better than Pearl Harbor?

And instead someone thinks going nuclear is a good idea?

Clearly if NATO nations agree that 2% of their GDP is the appropriate amount for Europe’s defense, then each member country should be paying that amount on average (temporary exceptions for times of economic recession). Remember, however, most European countries have a parliamentary form of government. This means the officials making up the government can be turned out of office if voters become dissatisfied.

Keeping the public’s support is the necessary act of political governing. Does anyone think that countries not spending the 2% on defense could simply shift their national budgets to include the 2% and not short some other government expenditure? These countries have made choice which their people have approved. A unilateral change could have unintended consequences.

The world, including the US are far better off with a European Union (versus individual fiefdoms), a Euro (versus many different currencies of questionable value), and countries both in Europe and Asia more interested in domestic than foreign policy (versus a a flock of countries each trying to out arm the others).

While this opinion might not play well to the Trump base, it is also likely that President Trump, his nativist advisors, and his core supporters understand little about history or diplomacy.

There are other explanations why the President felt it necessary to impolitely lecture his fellow peers. A simple explanation would be President Trump does not see Angela Merkel, Theresa May, or Emmanuel Macron as his peer. Not a good omen, it can be a lonely world.

Hmmm.

Trump’s Budget

May 24, 2017

Yesterday, the White House released its official budget proposal. While there is little chance the budget proposal will get accepted as written, the publication writes into history how cruel and short sighted an Administration can be.

From taking away meals on wheels and “food stamps” for qualifying families to deep cuts for the EPA, State Department, and most other agencies, budget telegraphs no concern for the needy, and no strategic recognition for the importance of diplomacy or climate change. This budget proposal is a flat earth document.

Budget Director Mick Mulvany offered a spirited double speak defense of cuts to social programs claiming, in effect, that cutting off support to poor families would hasten their return to the “dignity” of the work force. Hmmm.

IMO, there are systemic problems with most if not all of American’s current social programs. For example, the cycle of poverty seems as healthy today as it was when Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. Providing meals to grammar school children (in order for them to study better), while compassionate, does not seem to have improved education levels or graduation rates. So does President Trump have a point?

Maybe, but…

The old adage “don’t fix it if it’s not broken” does not translate well into “if it’s broken, just wait, it will get better”.  Dealing with poverty and education are important subjects.

And, to be sure, there are a lot of aspects of the American economy which are not working well. The notion that those currently receiving food stamps will be motivated to go out and get a “good” job is ridiculous. Minimum wage is simply too low to provide new workers a chance for upward mobility. So cutting benefits without an alternative program is tantamount to gross insensitivity to the social welfare of the country. The cuts may be inviting those “without” to take to the streets.

Breaking the poverty cycle, to be sure, is no easy problem to solve. In this regard, neither Democrats nor moderate Republicans have tabled any ideas to improve the current status quo. So with the absence of other plans, does that justify this budget proposal?

Maybe, but…

Conservatives and Libertarians have long championed this type of a budget. No surprise. This budget proposal, however, is not designed to solve social inequities, it is designed to make it easier (in the minds of President Trump and his close advisors) to enact huge tax cuts.

Their thinking goes that these sweeping budget cuts will allow equally sweeping tax cuts without increasing the debt. Conservatives and Libertarians surprisingly do not want to see the debt grow and would prefer to see it shrink. Given the option of a lower debt level and no tax cuts, or tax cuts and no change to the debt, these “real” Americans will choose tax cuts for themselves.

Cutting any welfare assistance programs without an alternative proposal is cruel. Cutting welfare and cutting taxes at the same time is cruel, greedy, and short sighted.

The Eastern Front?

May 22, 2017

Most historians cite Hitler’s decision to attacked Russia and opening a second front on the East as the crucial event which ultimately lead to Germany’s defeat in World War II. The argument goes that Germany spread its resources too thin and consequently could not win either in the west or the east. I wonder if history will repeat.

President Trump has a serious political and legal fight on his hands with regards to Russian Government involvement in the 2016 election. According to American security agencies, Russian entities did engage in hacking and dissemination of fake news during the campaign. After denying there was any Russian involvement, President Trump now asserts there was no “collusion” between his campaign and the Russians. The FBI and both the House and Senate have now investigations underway with the potential for serious political and criminal determinations. To make a matters worse and in true Roy Cohn style, the President fired FBI Director James Comey and told the Russian Foreign Minister that he had fired the “real nut job” (James Comes) and that would take pressure off this investigation. Hmmm.

Surprisingly this Russian investigation is not either the western or eastern front. Hmmm.

Instead, President Trump’s “western front” lays in his (and the Republican controlled House’s) tax cut proposals. The President is proposing “huge” cuts which will gift million and maybe billions to the wealthiest Americans. And, this Trump tax cut budget hole will need to be offset by budget cuts.

Therefore, the “eastern” (second) front will be Trump’s budget proposal itself.

Reports today say the President will propose sharp cuts to Medicaid in his budget proposal. Medicaid covers healthcare for the poorest of Americans and in many States covers millions of Obamacare newly covered Americans. While most Americans do not receive Medicaid benefits, these proposed Medicaid cuts signal the beginning of a wider attack, an all out attack upon healthcare coverage (America Health Care Act), followed by Medicare, and ultimately Social Security.

While tax cuts for the wealthy are shameful and unnecessary, offsetting these corporate and individual windfall tax gifts with cuts to programs used by the other 99% of Americans is mean spirited to the max.

Going for tax cuts is a mighty lift. Going for a huge reduction in government spending, particularly safety net and entitlement spending is an even bigger challenge. Going for both is likely to resemble a war with two fronts.

The Russian meddling investigation is a complication even Hitler did not have. While it is unlikely the President ever engaged directly with the Russians, it is not unlikely that several of his key staff and advisors did. The irony might turn out to be that any contacts with the Russians was really about potential future business deals (making money). not intent to sway the election.

The even larger irony might turn out to be that the President gets ensnared by coverup or obstruction activities (wanting the FBI investigation to simply go away) and not collusion with the Russians.  One would think the President would want, if only as an insurance policy, to boast high popularity ratings if the investigations were to turn political.  Offsetting tax cuts for the wealthy with entitlement cuts for everyone else may not appear popular as Americans think about things.  Hmmm.

It will certainly be hard fighting a war on two fronts.

Being A Real Nut Job

May 20, 2017

When I was in grammar school, a wise teacher once instructed the class about picking on others. My teacher said when you point your finger at someone else, look down at your hand. Remember, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

I wonder whether President Trump ever was so lucky to have such a teacher?
Maybe he should have learned…

“Oh, I’d love to be an Oscar Meyer nut job.
That is what I’d truly like to be.
‘Cause if I were an Oscar Meyer nut job,
Everyone would be in love with me.

Oh, I’m glad I’m not an Oscar Mayer nut job.
That is what I’d never want to be.
Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer nut job.
There would soon be nothing left of me!”**

When a senior elected official like the President lowers himself and the Office to call another senior public servant “a real nut job”, the name caller is indirectly calling attention to himself. I wonder whether President Trump wanted the American people to know the Donald was himself a real nut job?

** Slight variation to the Oscar Meyer Wiener theme song

Is There A Difference?

May 19, 2017

President Trump complained once again that he is being treated poorly (and unfairly) by the news media. The President says that whatever he says is questioned by the press, more so than any other President. Even if the press correctly points out that a Trump statement is literally false (or generously, inaccurate), the President calls the publication of such a finding, “fake news”. Hmmm.

The Washington Post reported this week on a June 15, 2016 gathering including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Following a session with the Ukrainian foreign minister, when a small group of Republicans were together, McCarthy said to the group he would guarantee Russian President Putin was paying two Americans, one being Donald Trump. A week later, Donald Trump was nominated at the GOP convention.

Fast forward to this week when the Post decided to publish an account of this meeting. The Washington Post approached Speaker Ryan and Leader McCarthy’s offices about the pending article and informed them of what they would quote Ryan and McCarthy saying.

The offices responded that the report was incorrect, it never happened. The Post then went back and said they had a transcript. The offices responded again that the transcript was wrong, if not made up. Finally the Post told the offices they had a recording and the story changed. The offices then said that McCarthy had told a bad joke and there was nothing to it.

Hmmm.

President Trump makes statements which can easily be shown to be inaccurate. Two experienced political leaders make statements which they deny ever making. And they continue to deny making these statements until it is established a recording exists and then a spin is applied. Hmmm. Is there a difference?

Maybe… more like, however, a difference without a distinction.

President Trump says things that are inaccurate, (the kindest interpretation might be stretching the truth). When called for this exaggeration, the President doubles down, repeats the inaccurate statements, and claims unfair treatment.

The Congressmen says something, in private, which they could have believed true. When called up on the statements, this party denies ever having made the statements and avoid providing any proof that their statements might be true.  The Congressmen deny and deny until the evidence is overwhelmingly obvious, and at that point admit making the statement.  Without losing a breath, the Congressmen spin their statements to mean something quite different.

John Q Public hears all this and is puzzled. How could the office of the President say something so outrageously wrong? Why would the President say such things? Press of business? Victim of hateful media?

John Q Public also sees and watches elected officials and is just as disillusioned. The Public has such a low opinion of Congress for good reasons. When a Congressional member denies something, the Public has learned to discount the Congress member’s claims.

So here’s the difference. President Trump is newly elected. His supporters are giving the President wide latitude around what he says (because the Public is still hopeful that President Trump will make “their” American great again.  for Congress members (both Republican and Democrat), the boat has already sailed.   Congress members, on the other hand, may want to think they are not “lying” and certainly will go to extremes with denials and spins.  Congress members are quite comfortable speaking past the question asked, misdirecting the questioner to another topic, and if all else fails, fall back on “I can’t remember the details”.

See the difference?

In truth both President Trump and Congress members are telling John Q Public that honesty, directness, and good intentions are over valued virtues. Rather “not losing” in the case of Congress, and “winning” in the case of President Trump are the goals.

What is worrisome is that enough Americans voted for a person unfamiliar with truthfulness and elected Donald Trump.  If his Presidency becomes unhinged, who will these Americans turn to?  What even more outrageous and unprovable promises will the next candidate be willing to put forward?

John Q Public will be disappointed with President Trump if America is not made great again.  President Trump’s lack of truthfulness may not matter, results will.  If Trump is a one term President, what will the next President have to promise to get elected?