Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Lock Him Up

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

In a stunning display of arrogance and incompetence, President Trump single-handedly ground his administration to a halt and changed the 2018 election into a referendum on his potential impeachment.

Firing the head of the FBI took a smoldering scandal about collusion with the Russians and turned it into a full blown bonfire with its own special counselor and an impaneled grand jury.

That’s because this is no longer just a question of connections between the Russians and the Trump campaign.  It is now an investigation of obstruction of justice.  It no longer matters whether or not there is substance to the claims that there were a dozen or so conversations between Russians and the Trump campaign.  It also no longer matters whether the conversations were about coordinating the Russian social media and hacking activities with Trump campaign, or they were about current or future business opportunities, or they were just friends catching up about hockey.  What matters now is that there is evidence that Trump and his administration may have attempted to intervene in an ongoing investigation.

The last two impeachment investigations were based on obstruction of justice claims.  It’s that claim that will drive this investigation forward.  That’s because voters are much more concerned about abuses of power than they are about any other claims of corruption.

Trump has attempted to characterize this as a witch hunt, but he only has himself to blame.  Firing James Comey in a fit of pique and then attempting to discredit him caused the response.  Involving the Deputy Attorney General in the firing, gave the Justice Department no other choice.  AG Sessions had already recused himself because he had lied during his confirmation hearings about his Russian connections.  The President had fired the guy leading the investigation at the FBI.  The DOJ had to appoint an independent counselor in order to preserve the integrity of the DOJ and the FBI.

This is politics 101.  Unfortunately, Trump and his administration appear to have skipped that course.

Here’s the rest of politics 101.  This investigation is going to take a long time.  There are two reasons.

First, there is already a grand jury involved, and they have a broad mandate to follow whatever issues they deem appropriate.  The Starr investigation started out with Whitewater and ended up with Monica Lewinsky four years later.

Second, everyone in the White House and the Trump campaign are going to be asked what they know and when they knew it.  Timing is critical to determine intent.  Intent to obstruct justice is what the special counselor will be attempting to prove or disprove.

The consequences of a long investigation are also obvious.

The administration will grind to a halt because Congress will be unwilling to take any controversial votes until they determine what the results will be from this investigation.

What that leaves is the 2018 election.

All the house seats will be contested as well as 33 senate seats.  A lot more information will dribble out between now and then.  Most of it will be unflattering to the President.  The House will not take an impeachment vote before the election because they will not want to run on how they individually voted.  Instead, House Republicans will be faced with the challenging prospect of defending their vote on a VERY unpopular healthcare bill AND defending the actions of a President who is under investigation for abusing his power.  Every Democrat running against an incumbent Republican in the House or Senate is going to tell voters that re-electing the incumbent will insure that Trump will never be held accountable for his actions AND that healthcare insurance will be taken away from all those who have pre-existing conditions and all those on MedicAid.

What is particularly ironic is that Trump won the election based in part on a last minute surge of voters who were persuaded by Trump’s claims that Clinton was a criminal.  He may now end up losing his majority in at least the House for exactly those same reasons.

BTW the Real Clear Politics combined job approval ratings poll just hit a new low.  For the first time since the inauguration, the aggregate poll slipped below 40.  Same thing with the aggregate FiveThirtyEight job approval poll.

 

Donnie’s Got a Gun

Friday, April 7th, 2017

fembots

Trump took action in Syria.

As he had previously said, he now owns it.

But one action does not a policy make. It isn’t clear what the Trump policy in Syria is, other than a warning to Assad that he can’t use chemical weapons and a threat that the US is now seeking regime change.

Lack of a clear policy as well as Trump’s apparent “go it alone” preference, leave us in a precarious place.

Here’s why.

Russia
Syria is Russia’s opportunity to be a player in the Middle East. Russia has its largest military base outside its own borders there. They are the primary reason why Assad is still in power. They have also ratcheted up the risk to the US in Syria by canceling the cooperative agreement that kept US and Russian jets out of each other’s way. Tillerson has talks coming up in Russia. At this point, there is little that he or the Trump administration can offer Russia to obtain some cooperation in Syria. Instead it is likely that Assad and perhaps Russia will both strike back. How will Trump respond if Assad gases somebody else or attacks US positions in the north? How will he respond if Russia cranks up something in the Ukraine or maybe Libya?

ISIS
Trump took his eye off the ball by striking Assad. He has said all along that his goal was ISIS, but now it appears that his goal has widened to remaking Syria. That is dangerous. Taking down Assad doesn’t mean a stable western-friendly government will replace him. Syria is much more likely to join the long list of failed states where the power vacuum is filled by another radical jihadist organization. On the other hand, the original goal of eliminating just ISIS had its own unpleasant consequences. With ISIS out of the way, Assad would likely win his civil war and Russia and Iran would gain power in the region.

Plan
It isn’t clear that there is any plan here. Weakening Assad will in fact end up prolonging the conflict in Syria. More chaos provides more opportunity for ISIS, generates more refuges which continue to cause problems in Europe, and ultimately more innocents are killed. Eliminating ISIS strengthens Assad and Russia. That will also result in more persecutions, more refugees, and likely more Russian and Iranian activity.

Summary
Trump is being tested in a very public way at a time when he is most vulnerable at home. His approval ratings are at historic lows. His own party is in disarray. He badly needs a win to turn things around. The problem is that there is no clear path to a win in Syria. Trump took military action in order to respond to one incident in what has been a long and brutal civil war. How will he respond to the next incident?

He has expanded his scope in Syria to include bringing down Assad. He is going to need Russia’s help to do that and Russia isn’t interested. They like Assad right where he is. What Trump has done instead is set himself up for long term failure in return for the short term gain of a little popularity boost.

Worse yet, by taking this provocative step, he has opened himself up to a series of potential escalations without any clear understanding of how they all might play out. It will take some focus off of his domestic struggles, but at what cost?

He doesn’t have an experienced staff of diplomats in place right now to guide his actions. Our military leaders are his primary source of information. The weaknesses that he has already displayed in dealing with domestic issues combined with a bias toward military action may create an international crisis that could be Trump’s final undoing.

 

 

Eaten by Alligators

Friday, March 24th, 2017

alligator

 

There are points in history when, even though you see them coming, you can’t help but marvel when they actually happen.

Thus it is with the repeal of healthcare reform.

Obama and the Democrats figured when it was passed, that if Republicans ever gained control of all branches of government again, the political costs of taking healthcare away from millions of people would prevent the basic reforms from repeal.

They were right.

The Democrats paid a high price for healthcare reform.  It spawned the birth of the Tea Party and a particularly virulent strain of conservative know-nothing Republicanism that cost the Democrats their House majority in 2010 and essentially ground the government to a halt for the next six years.  That movement morphed in the Trumpinistas in 2016 and gave Republicans the cherished control over all branches of government.

What did they do with that legislative control – the very first thing?  They turned on each other like rabid dogs fighting over a bone.  Those same rebellious Tea Partiers whom the Republican establishment thought they could control, brought another House Speaker and another President to heal.

The reason they were able to do this, however, is posted every week.

Trump’s approval rating.

Self-preservation is important to every politician, even the members of the Freedom Caucus.  They are WAY more afraid of disappointing the folks in their safe gerrymandered deeply conservative districts than they are of the Speaker, the President, or the Republican Party.  BTW, who was responsible for those gerrymandered districts that made these Republicans untouchable by even their own party?  Why the Republican controlled legislatures that the Republican Party is so proud of.

If Trump had approval ratings in the 60% range (as Obama did when he started working on healthcare reform), this would have been a different story.  That would mean that a majority of the voters in many of the Freedom Caucus districts also approved of Trump.  He very well could have had enough leverage to get this deal done.

Instead, he and Ryan are now exposed.  The Freedom Caucus called Trump’s tough-guy bluff and Trump blinked.  Rather than dig in and do the gritty political horse trading that gets things done in Washington, Trump stepped out of the room and into a big-rig photo op where he was obviously more comfortable.

How bad of a beat was it?

The guy who constantly celebrates himself as a dynamic winner of incomparable abilities?  He was reduced to blaming Democrats for this loss because not one of them gave him a vote.  That was a surprise to him?  And now it’s the fault of the Democrats who have been defending Obamacare from Republican assaults for for seven years to the day that this assault also failed?  No this was just another in a long line of Democratic victories.  Trump’s humiliation is all his own making and his incompetence was on public display.

  1. He demonstrated that he has no understanding of the legislative process.
  2. He attempts to bully powerful people failed.  They weren’t afraid of him, ignored his threats, and knew he had a lot more to lose than they did.
  3. He doesn’t respect the political process. Those that do just demonstrated how dangerous the swamp can be for the inexperienced.

All that’s left is the sorry spectacle of a public figure being exposed as the buffoon he really is.  But as he said in Time magazine, it is certainly his right because he is the President.

The problem is that the alligators don’t care who is President and at least in this swamp, they bite back.

Big Lie – Everyone Will Be Covered

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

fake healthcare bigger

 

President Trump rode a populist wave into the White House.  He was embraced by those who felt that both parties and were ignoring their pain.  He promised to pay attention to their problems and get government working again for them.  He promised healthcare insurance for everyone that would cover more and cost less.  He also promised to protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

His actions don’t reflect his promises.

His healthcare proposal is a tax cut for the rich disguised as a healthcare reform bill.  It repeals a Medicare tax on those with high incomes.  The loss of $117B over ten years accelerates Medicare insolvency by four years.

The bill does lower costs for the young and healthy at the expense of the most vulnerable older population who really need affordable insurance.  In its first version, it reduces the deficit more than Obamacare, but does so by driving older sicker people out of the subsidized insurance market.  While the latest version hasn’t been scored by the CBO yet, the math suggests that additional tax supports for older sicker people may keep more of them in the insurance pool.  That could easily bring the total saving down below those projected for Obamacare.  If that’s the case, Republicans are offering a plan that is more expensive AND covers fewer people.

The plan also caps Medicaid funding.  More uninsured will turn to expensive emergency rooms for care.  That drives healthcare costs back up.  If passed along with additional proposed budget cuts, it would be the largest social welfare cut in our history.

Republicans tout increased competition across state lines as the missing ingredient to lower insurance costs.  But Obamacare also encouraged selling insurance across state lines.  Six states implemented it.  No insurance companies chose to participate.  That’s because the barrier to entry is not state regulation, it’s the cost for insurance companies to setup provider networks.  The reasons why sparsely populated areas have few insurance providers is simple math.  The same counties that Trump said are currently underserved, will continue to be underserved in this proposed plan.

If you are still unconvinced, Medicare Advantage programs are federally regulated effectively providing the national economies of scale that Republicans tout.  97% of the counties in this country have limited choices for Medicare Advantage plans because of sparse population, not state regulation. 

Insurance premiums are driven primarily by costs of care.  Utah and Colorado have young healthy populations and low insurance costs.  An identical plan sold in Michigan costs more because of an older sicker population.

Expanding coverage to more people improves health and drives down costs.  That’s because those with insurance are treated by primary care physicians rather than in the emergency room.  They receive preventative care to keep them healthy rather than remediation when they are ill.  This plan doesn’t to that.  It’s regressive – punishing the poor, sick, and elderly in order to reward the wealthy.  Please tell your representatives that they have to do better if they want your vote.

Sometimes It Takes More Than Looks

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

harding2

Warren G. Harding is widely regarded as the worst President ever to occupy the office.

Many say he won the election because he “looked like a President”.   This was the tail end of an era where those who LOOKED like gentlemen were assumed to possess all of qualities and capabilities associated with gentlemen.  While Harding was popular during his term, the scandals which emerged after he left office relegated him to his status as a failed president.

We are now in an era of billionaires.  Those who appear to possess great wealth are assumed to possess special qualities and talents that set them apart.  Trump’s election is an example of the trust that some voters have in a wealthy person.  They elected a man whose only qualification to occupy the most powerful political office in the country is that he appears to be wealthy.

I think it is fair to say that in the first month and half, the Trump administration is struggling to find its way.  Even though it is early, there are seeds of scandal that are already blooming.

Russia

The White House has been working furiously to discredit a story that the NYT broke regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In a now famous interview with Chuck Todd of Meet the Press, Reince Priebus disputed the story alternately calling it “grossly overstated”, “inaccurate”, “totally wrong”, “total baloney”, and “garbage”.  He claimed that people in both the intelligence community and the congress confirmed this description.  The next leak was that Priebus asked the FBI to go on the record with what they had told him.  The FBI refused because the request would politicize the FBI even more than it is now.  Then Priebus assembled a group of intelligence community members and Republican members of Congress to rebut the story, but only anonymously.  This is particular ironic since Priebus (and later Trump) used anonymity of the NYT sources to question the accuracy of the whole article.

It is this sort of fake news stuff that is enormously important that, when you get a front page story of The New York Times without a single source on the record saying that your campaign had constant contacts– they didn’t say one contact. They didn’t say two contacts. It doesn’t matter. We have not been informed of even that. But to say, “Constant contact?”

In this process, however, the two points that the White House objected to in the story became clear.

  1. The story said “repeated contacts”. The White House has built a straw man by claiming that the story said “constant contacts”.
  2. The story said the contacts were with senior Russian Intelligence officials. We now know that the White House is trying to claim that the Russian conversations that DID occur were not with senior Russian Intelligence officials.

“NBC News was told by law enforcement and intelligence sources that the NYT story WAS wrong — in its use of the term ‘Russian intelligence officials.’ Our sources say there were contacts with Russians, but that the US hasn’t confirmed they work for spy agencies. We were also told CNN’s description of Trump aides being in ‘constant touch’ with Russians was overstated. However, our sources did tell us that intelligence intercepts picked up contacts among Trump aides and Russians during the campaign.”

We find out today that new AG Jeff Sessions was one of the people who DID have at least two conversations with a Russian official during the campaign and neglected to share that information during his confirmation hearing.

Testifying under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was asked in January by Al Franken what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign. “I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he responded. He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

There’s more: Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) sent Sessions an additional written question: “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” The AG’s one-word answer could not have been more categorical: “No.”

Sessions response was that his conversations with the Russian ambassador did not involve the campaign, so he felt he answered the questions accurately.  He has also agreed to recuse himself from future congressional investigations.

Here’s the scope of this potential scandal.

There WERE conversations between the Trump campaign and Russians during the election.  Those conversations included Jeff Sessions, though he claims that their conversations didn’t touch on the campaign.  Sessions clearly had an opportunity to disclose his conversations during his confirmation hearings and chose not to.

The White House is disputing that these conversations (Sessions and others) were “constant”, that they were with Russians who worked for Russia’s various intelligence agencies, and that they were about the 2016 election.  Of course this begs the question of why the FBI or other intelligence agencies were listening to the phone conversations of “regular” Russians, but the larger issue is the nature of the White House’s attempt to bury this story.

The risk to the Trump administration is that their efforts to bury the story will ultimately be more damaging than the story itself.  Flynn was the first victim.  Fired for lying supposedly lying to the President. The second victim could be Sessions.  He could be on the hook for perjury.  The cover-up is always more dangerous than the story itself, but in this case the story about a foreign power intervening in a US election is unprecedented.

Yemen

The father of the Navy Seal that died in last month’s operation refused to meet with the President.  He is blaming his son’s death on a poorly planned and poorly executed operation.  He has demanded an investigation.

“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why?” said Mr. Owens, who told The Herald that he had not voted for Mr. Trump. “For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones — because there was not a target worth one American life. Now all of a sudden we had to make this grand display“  “Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation.”

“The government owes my son an investigation,” the father, William Owens, told The Miami Herald.

One of Trump’s campaign positions was that Clinton failed in her responsibilities to protect the lives of Americans in the Benghazi attack.  Trump criticized the Clinton investigations.  He claimed she was guilty even though the investigations produced no evidence to support that claim.  The Trump campaign produced an ad quoting some of the family members of those who were killed in the attack.  Several of them spoke at the Republican National Convention.  One was in the audience at the third debate.

Ryan Owens’ wife was at Trump’s first speech to Congress.  Trump recognized her for her sacrifice.  But he has also failed to take any responsibility for the failed mission.  He has instead blamed both the military and the Obama administration.

Here’s the scope of this potential scandal.

Will there be as thorough an investigation into this failed raid as Trump called for in Benghazi?

Will Ryan Owens’ father be as celebrated in his grief  as Ryan Owens’ widow?

Will the White House drop their claim that the raid yielded valuable intelligence – a claim that has since been disputed by intelligence officials?

The risk to the Trump administration will be similar to Russia.  If they oppose or interfere with an independent investigation, they will be putting the administration in jeopardy.  If the investigations reveal that decisions on either the raid or the speech were mainly political, they will lose the trust of voters.

Summary 

As these and other scandals continue to pop up and unfold, the façade of media bias as the root cause for Trump’s troubles will fall away.  What will be left are the tawdry facts that the Trump campaign DID have conversations with the Russians about the election. And the Trump administration DID approve a poorly planned, poorly executed mission that discovered no new information because there was political benefit to what appeared at the time to be an easy win.

The legacy of this administration will be similar to the business legacy of the President.  The claims of expertise and unique skill will all fail to produce any substance.  The bodies will stack up.  The collateral damage will mount.  The domestic and foreign mistakes will increase dissension and weaken our country.  At some point, enough people will realize that the only thing that Trump brought to this office was wealthy arrogance.  Once they realize that being President requires larger skill set, they will kick him out of office.  When they finally tire of his attempts to blame his failures on others, they will finally blame him for misleading them.  The fact, however, is that it was voters who misled themselves.  They assumed that wealth somehow qualified a person to be President.  Like Harding, voters will realize that wealth, just like looks, has little or nothing to do with competence or trustworthiness.

Trump and the Media

Friday, February 24th, 2017

ink barrel

Trump’s base of support have developed a remarkable ability to take what Trump says and replace it in their minds with their own interpretation of what Trump means.

This is not surprising because right-wing media have been doing this since the start of Fox News.  They manipulate facts to support a larger political agenda.

Ethical media, however, are seriously challenged when their fact-based reporting is regularly challenged as biased because the facts themselves are consistently less favorable to the current administration than the spin that right wing media and Trump’s own supporters employ.

One obvious example is Kellyanne Conway.  Her role in the current administration isn’t clear, but until recently she was a frequent defender of all things Trump on national TV.  Her statements, however, became so unreliable and seemingly out of step with what others in the White House said, that the programs that otherwise would book her are now not interested.  They have determined that she can’t effectively speak for the White House because the White House has contradicted so many of the things that she has said.

This is evidence of how the relationship between the press and the White House is changing.  There used to be this cozy exchange of information that allowed the White House to leverage the media to get their message out.  This White House isn’t interested in that relationship.  They would prefer to go directly to the people using social media and their own array of spokespeople.  The problem is that they are not all delivering the same message.

The media has responded by reporting on these discrepancies in messaging and finding the “inside information” that is news from unofficial sources.  They have returned to good old investigative journalism of the sort that was glorified in the “All The President’s Men” days.

When the White House WAS a reliable source of information for the press, they were much more concerned about losing that source.  The result was a cozy symbiotic relationship where both the White House and the press worked together to give a consistent message to the country on what was going on.

The press is no longer concerned about losing a relationship with their White House sources.  They have no relationship.  This has freed the press to perform the role that they are supposed to perform – holding elected official accountable for what they say and how they act.  The result is that interactions with the press both in print and broadcast sources is MUCH more confrontational.  They are willing to ask tough questions when the conflicting messages come out of the White House.

Trump partisans interpret this renewed activism as evidence that the press has a liberal bias because they are treating the Trump administration MUCH more aggressively than they treated the Obama administration.  The reality is much less conspiratorial.  The Trump administration created this atmosphere by creating an adversarial relationship with the press and failing to manage their internal messaging.  The Trump administration left the press no other choice because the press needs news every day.  When conflicting messages come out of the White House, that quickly becomes news.

Here’s just one example of how that plays out.

One of the questions circulating in the press is how close the Trump administration is to the nation’s anti-Semitic groups.  That is a legitimate question because of Bannon’s past history of providing a platform for anti-Semitic groups.  A recent rash of attacks gave the press an opportunity to explore this concern.

Trump’s first response to a question on this subject was to talk about his popularity.  The implication of that response was that he doesn’t have to address this issue.  As he continued to be asked, he modified his response to say that this racism and other forms of discrimination are nothing new.  The implication of that answer was that Trump was saying that he wasn’t responsible for the recent spike in anti-Semitism.  The next day when asked by a Jewish reporter about a spike of bomb threats being received by synagogues across the county, Trump said that he was “the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”

Finally four days later, he had a typical political response condemning anti-Semitism and saying the “it’s going to stop”.

Spicer then took a swing at this in response to a critical press release from the Anne Frank Center.

SPICER: Look. The president has made clear since the day he was elected — and frankly going back through the campaign — that he is someone who seeks to unite this country. He has brought a diverse group of folks into his administration, both in terms of actual positions and people that he has sought the advice of. And I think he has been very forceful with his denunciation of people who seek to attack people because of their religion, because of their gender, because of the color of their skin.

It is something that he’s going to continue to fight and make very, very clear that [it] has no place in this administration. But I think that it’s ironic that no matter how many times he talks about this that it’s never good enough.

Today I think was an unbelievably forceful comment by the president as far as his denunciation of the actions that are currently targeted toward Jewish community centers, but I think he’s been very clear previous to this that he wants to be someone that brings this country together but not divide people, especially in those areas.

So, I saw that statement. I wish that they had praised the president for his leadership in this area. Hopefully as time continues to go by they recognize his commitment to civil rights, to voting rights, to equality for all Americans.

  1. The polls document that Trump has failed to unite the country. He has ignored and criticized those that oppose him.  He and his administration has gone so far as to suggest that his opposition include paid provocateurs.  The message from his administration has consistently been that either you get with the program or shut up.  That same attitude is reflected in Spicer’s comment that the Anne Frank Center should be praising Trump for his “leadership”.
  2. Trump’s cabinet is not diverse. Until the recent nomination of a Hispanic to replace Pudzer, this cabinet was the most white male cabinet since Reagan.  Spicer did include the “people that he has sought the advice of” – but we don’t know who those are.
  3. Finally Spicer throws another bomb at the media claiming that Trump has been “very forceful with his denunciations” and that “no matter how many times he talks about this that it’s never good enough.” The facts don’t support that claim.

    Even when a Jewish reporter interviewing Melania Trump was attacked by anti-Semitic Trump supporters, Trump told Wolf Blitzer that “I don’t have a message to the fans. A woman wrote a — a article that was inaccurate. Now, I’m used to it. I get such bad articles. I get such — the press is so dishonest, Wolf, I can’t even tell you. It’s so dishonest.”

 

In summary, the press has become more aggressive.  To those interested in an active independent free press, that’s a good thing.  Holding elected officials accountable is what the press is supposed to do.  The REASON the press has become more aggressive is simple.  First the press can’t depend on the White House for consistent messaging, so White House can’t use ACCESS as a method to manage the news cycle.  Second, in the absence of consistent messaging the press are forced to dig up their own news.  Third, the White House continues to be fact-challenged.  Those are easy stories for the press to write.

There is not a vast left-wing conspiracy in the press.  They are simply doing their job.  They are responding to a White House that has chosen to cut the press out of the loop.  They think they can win with their base by claiming the press is biased against them. We’ll see how wise that decision was.

The Perils of Trump

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Trump nation-tracker-overall-1

Trump has become one of the most unpopular President’s in history in the shortest time on record.

Because he lost the popular vote by such a wide margin, he didn’t enter office with much support outside his party. That support is now gone.

Whether Trump’s approval rating will drop further depends largely on independents and Republicans — he has almost no support to lose among Democrats. If those voters do sour on him, that could pose a threat to Republicans in the midterm election in 2018. The incumbent president’s approval rating historically serves as a good predictor of how many seats his party will lose at midterm.

Based on recent studies, we can make some predictions of where future erosion could occur.

His core support represents about 22% of the population. These folks are going to support Trump no matter what.

The next group are going to support him based on what he delivers. These represent another 22% of the population. These first two groups, the “believers” and the “conditionals” make up the 44% of the population (more or less) that approve of Trump’s performance so far.

The “conditionals” are interested in an improved economy, cleaning up Washington corruption, defeating ISIS, and building the wall in that order. If he fails to do any of those things, he will lose their support.

Let’s look at the challenges that Trump has with this group of “conditionals”.

Trump’s economic plan has a big problem. There aren’t enough workers to support the growth that he has promised. Worse than that, Trump is also expected by this group to put a tough immigration plan in place. Immigration is the easiest place to find the workers that Trump’s economic plan REQUIRES.

Here’s the math. We currently employ 152M people. Trump wants to add 25M more jobs. He needs that job growth in order to deliver the 4% a year GDP growth that he has promised. He’ll get 8M from population growth. If we are able to return to historical highs in workforce participation, he’ll get another 8M. That still leaves him 9M short.

There are only two places he can find those extra jobs. Either immigrants are going to fill them or he’s going to have to figure out how to convince baby boomers to come out of retirement.

The problem is that he can’t fill them with immigrants because one of the other things that the conditionals are going to hold him accountable for is keeping immigrants out and deporting those who are here illegally. That leave seniors. 19% of those 65 and over, work today. In order to hit his numbers, that percentage has to increase to 32%. Even that won’t get the job done, because 7M jobs are filled today by undocumented workers. If you deport all of those workers in addition to keeping new workers out, Trump’s plan adds only 9M new jobs. That’s not nearly enough to hit his GDP numbers. It barely keeps up with the jobs that population growth will require.

Trump is left between a rock and a hard place. Investments to grow the economy without increases in both productivity and workforce are going to spike inflation as demand exceeds supply. That’s going to lose him the support of the conditionals who will have a harder time buying a house, paying their adjustable mortgage, buying a car, and paying their bills. If he reneges on his immigration plan, he will lose the support of the conditionals even if it does help him keep his economic promise.

Trump has already lost the last two groups (curious and resister). He won’t get them back because their views are diametrically opposed to his base and the conditionals. They don’t want a wall.  They want to keep Obamacare. etc.

The only logical result is a continued erosion of the “conditionals” as Trump fails to deliver on his promises.

Most presidents lose ground during their first two years. The average decline since World War II is just short of eight points, according to a compilation by Marquette University political scientist Charles Franklin. If Trump follows that pattern, he could end up with an approval rating in the high 30s — perilous territory for congressional candidates running in swing districts.

If he survives all of the other challenges that currently seem to surround his administration, the historic patterns leave him in very dangerous territory. Bush II lost control of both the house and the Senate in 2006 because the country was tired of the Iraq War. His approval ratings were in the 30’s.

House members are already dealing with tea-party-like disruptions at their local town halls. Republicans are already backing away rapidly from any immediate action on Obamacare replacement because of fears of the impact that might have on the 2018 elections. Trump hasn’t even started to try to get his agenda through Congress, and the news cycles are dominated by stories of disarray, conflict, and foreign intrigue.  By way of comparison, by the third week of the Obama administration stimulus legislation was already being debated.

The closer that we get to the 2018 elections, the less likely it will be that at least House Republicans are going to be willing to take controversial votes. If healthcare reform remains undone, some voters are going to hold him accountable for NOT making the healthcare changes he promised. Other voters are going to vote for Democrats to PREVENT him from making the changes that he promised.

There is no clear path for Trump to improve his situation.

There are only many opportunities for it to get worse.

Get With The Program

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson and the other framers of the constitution made sure that our democracy included a free press.  They understood that it was a vital check on the power that they were investing in government

What happens to our democracy when a significant number of voters reject even the concept of an unbiased media?

The American Journal of Political Science recently released a study to answer the question of how this could happen.

Political affiliation is now a stronger predictor of behavior than even race.  People are much more accepting of someone of a different race as a potential spouse than they are of someone who has differing political views.

Many who are sharing fake news understand that it may not be accurate, but they share it none the less because it supports their point of view.  More importantly it also demonstrates to their peers that they are trusted members of that social group.

Conservatives may also be more fearful.

According to a study slated to be published in the journal Psychological Science, it might be true that conservatives are more likely to fall for false, threatening-seeming information, but it’s not because they’re dumb. It’s because they’re hyper-attuned to hazards in their world. If they spot a sign of danger, they figure trusting it is better than ignoring it.

That’s all fine and good for Facebook users.  But what happens when the President of the United States starts saying things are aren’t supported by facts?

You’ve got frivolous things like the size of the inauguration crowd (smaller than Obama physically and virtually), blaming his loss of the popular vote on illegal voting (voter rolls have problems, but no evidence of illegal voting, supported by recounts in Wisconsin and Michigan), the biggest Republican victory since Reagan (Bush I was bigger), and his standing ovation at the CIA speech (CIA officers stand until requested to sit.  He never asked them to sit.)

But then you have things that affect people’s lives.

An executive order that counters the dramatic expansion of the federal workforce when the federal workforce is the same today as it was 8 years ago.

A ban on Muslims from 7 countries including Syria, when no Muslim immigrants from those countries has ever committed an act of terrorism in this country.

Trump suggested that there were only 100 or so people affected.  His lawyers later testified in court that over 100,000 were effected.  How could he have been so far off?

Trump provided preference to Christians because he said that they were having a more difficult time previously getting into the country.  That’s not true either.  We admitted Christians and Muslims at roughly the same rate. The smaller number of Syrian Christians is due to the fact that they are only 5% of the Syrian population.

His administration cited a fictitious massacre in Bowling Green, KY as evidence that we should fear Muslim immigrants.  The data suggests that US citizens are MUCH more likely going to be the perpetrators of mass killings than immigrants.  This ban will likely only alienate the domestic Muslim population further, at the precise time that we need their help.

At home as well, Mr. Benjamin said, the president’s order is likely to prove counterproductive. The jihadist threat in the United States has turned out to be largely homegrown, he said, and the order will encourage precisely the resentments and anxieties on the part of Muslims that fuel, in rare cases, support for the ideology of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda.

In our country, journalists have the responsibility to hold elected officials accountable.  They do that by informing voters and speaking truth to power.  There is no one else.  Yet Trump is systematically delegitimizing the trustworthiness of the press.  Why is that?

Some claim that this is the influence of Bannon.  His world view is that the old order is corrupt and must be overthrown.  He believes that we are literally at war with an expansionist Islamic philosophy and the solution is to exert our own sovereignty.  Rather than make the world safer through alliances, he would prefer that the US protect itself through power and nationalism.  The press, in his opinion, is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  That’s because he views himself as a radical and he feels his own cause justifies ANY ACTION.

This is an old and proven strategy.  Create fear of “the other”.  Convince people that the only way to be safe it to eliminate “the other” from our society.  The simple math is that you are either with us or you are against us.  If you are against us, you become part of “the other” should be treated in the same way that we are treating “them”.  You hear some of that language coming from the administration today in reactions to dissent.

In a democracy, we have to hold our elected officials accountable to telling the truth.  It is THEIR responsibility to separate belief from fact.  If we can’t trust that our elected officials are making their decisions based on the best facts available to them, our institutions begin to unravel because they can no longer be trusted to deal fairly with all people.  And that’s the key here. Bannon isn’t interested in dealing fairly with all people.  He is interested in a revolution where HIS OWN VISION of the future triumphs, not the vision of the founders, or even the vision of the majority.

The danger to democracy when people stop believing the press is that they will ultimately stop believing in the rest of the institutions that are the foundation for our society.  That’s the moment that demagogues can gain followers by claiming that they are the only ones that are willing to tell the truth.  The reality is that they are the ones manipulating the tribalism they create and the fear they instill to undermine democracy and usurp power.  It is a proven formula.  Don’t let it happen here.

 

Bias and Free Press

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

freedom-of-the-press-big

One of the freedoms cherished by the founding fathers was a free press.

They felt it was an essential part of a robust democracy.

They also were not so naïve as to ignore the challenges that come with unfettered publishing.

The basic challenge is balancing the public’s right to know with the power that a biased press has to influence the public to advance its own political agenda.

There have been times when there were no restrictions on the press at all.  The press were propaganda arms of the political parties during Lincoln’s time.  At the turn of the last century sensational yellow journalism ruled.  Pulitzer and Hurst used their newspapers to start the Spanish American War.  They also advocated the assassination of McKinley which then occurred.  Pulitzer was so troubled by his “yellow sins”, that he dedicated himself to creating a new code of ethics for newspapers.  That code survives to this day, though only a handful of newspapers still support it.

The government had some better grounds to control the broadcast media because they were using public bandwidth.  The last vestige of government regulations controlling broadcast news coverage (The Fairness Doctrine and Equal Time Requirements) were eliminated during the Reagan administration.  Every attempt to restore at least those provisions, has been opposed by both conservatives and liberals.  Obama, for example, preferred net neutrality, caps on media ownership, and investments in public broadcasting as ways to encourage a wide range of media options for voters.

Public opinion STRONGLY supports the equal time requirements.  Similar majorities rejected the concept that news sites should be required to present opposing points of view (Fairness Doctrine).

Combine this with the “narrow casting” business model available to online and broadcast media, and you have the “something for everyone” landscape that we enjoy today.

The extreme of this phenomena is fake news.  The purpose of fake news is to sell advertising.  That is the same business model legit news organizations use.  The difference is that fake news outlets don’t actually report on anything.  Their stories are fiction intended to manipulate rather than inform their target audience.  The bulk of the fake news operations focus on conservative conspiracy theories because they’ve found that those get the most clicks.

The following graph does as good a job as any in attempting to explain the current landscape.

trusted-sources

Whether or not you agree with how individual news sources appear on this spectrum isn’t really the issue.  The issue is that this spectrum exists and the further you get from the middle vertically and horizontally, the less reliable the information becomes.

Bias

Bias does not mean that someone disagrees with you.

Bias means that a news organization’s political opinion influences either their news choices and/or the content of their stories.

As you can see from the above graph, there are very few news sources that meet the criteria of being free from partisan bias – NPR, BBC, WashPost, NYT, NBC News, ABC News, AP, and Reuters.  It does not include Fox or MSNBC.  It does not include Slate, The Atlantic, The WSJ, or The Hill.

Conservatives have spent decades disputing the claim that Fox is biased and the NYT is not.  There is no winning this debate.

But here’s the core of the discussion.

Democracy needs reliable sources of facts that we can all trust in order to move forward.

Fox fails this test because they blur the boundaries between opinion (they call it entertainment) and news.  Hannity is just one example.  He has a news show, but also was an official adviser to the Trump campaign.  His defense is that he claims to be an entertainer and not a journalist.  This is the same defense that John Steward used on the Daily Show.  The Daily Show makes no claims to be fair or balanced.  Fox does.

The WSJ also recently failed this test.  That’s because their editor has said that the paper will no longer fact check Trump.  Instead the paper will simply present readers information and let the readers decide whether or not Trump is telling the truth.

I honestly think it is pretty easy to sort all of this out.

Let’s look at what each news source says are their code of ethics.

Here’s what the NYT says:

The core purpose of The New York Times is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news and information. Producing content of the highest quality and integrity is the basis for our reputation and the means by which we fulfill the public trust and our customers’ expectations.

Here’s what Fox News says:

The Fox Nation was created for people who believe in the United States of America and its ideals, as expressed in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a community that believes in the American Dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. One that believes being an American is an honor, as well as a great responsibility – and a wonderful adventure.

This is a place for people who believe we live in a great country, a welcoming refuge for legal immigrants who want to contribute their talents and abilities to make our way of life even greater. We believe we should enjoy the company and support of each other, delighting in the creativity, ingenuity, and work ethic of one and all, while observing the rules of civility and mutual respect and, most importantly, strengthening our diverse society by striving for unity.

The Fox Nation is committed to the core principles of tolerance, open debate, civil discourse, and fair and balanced coverage of the news. It is for those opposed to intolerance, excessive government control of our lives, and attempts to monopolize opinion or suppress freedom of thought, expression, and worship.

We invite all Americans who share these values to join us here at Fox Nation.

I tried to find an ethics or mission statement for the WSJ, but they appear not to have one.

In other words, NYT is committed to distribute high quality news and information.  Fox News is committed to creating an experience for a particular group of people who all share a common point of view.  The WSJ is going to do whatever it needs to do to make money.  All have been true to their stated goals.

Summary

It is possible to find unbiased organizations who strive to report the news in a straight forward manner and inform the public on what is true and what is false.

It is also possible to find biased organizations who will report the news, and in some case make up news, to suit their audience.  They have a particular point of view that they promote.  They filter and in some cases alter or invent what they call news in order to re-inforce that particular point of view.  Those who choose to rely on these sources of information and fundamentally misinformed.

Next up:  How does democracy function in an environment where at least some portion of the electorate are either uninformed or misinformed?

Trump’s Ticking Time Bomb

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

time-bomb

There are a lot of things that could blow up the young Trump presidency. Conflicts of interest abound. Russian hacking could easily become the dog that bit its owner. Foreign conflicts involving China, Russia, Israel, Turkey, or Iran all loom on the horizon. ISIS lone-wolf attacks will continue and may soon begin to focus on Trump properties here and abroad. Obamacare, however, may prove the first issue to seriously wound Trump.

Trump made a lot of promises during his campaign. He has already discounted many of them as “campaign talk”. But he isn’t going to be able to walk away from his Obamacare promise. That promise was to replace the current healthcare insurance system with “something terrific” that will provide better coverage at a lower price for more people.

His supporters are likely going to give him a pass on his conflicts of interest. They will also give him a pass if he doesn’t start building the wall right away. They won’t care if he takes a while to renegotiate NAFTA and the TPP. They also aren’t going to demand immediate action on immigration reform. He’s already told them that he isn’t going to “lock up” Clinton or Obama.

Obamacare, however, is immediate and personal.

Many of those who voted for Trump were upset about the fact that their insurance bills went up this past year.

Their expectation is that Trump is going to come up with a better plan which will provide them insurance which meets their needs at a price they can afford. They are unhappy with high deductible plans. They are unhappy with lack of choice. They are also unhappy with the perception that poor people are getting a better deal through Medicaid than they are.

Health care, for all its tediousness, is extremely emotional. Sickness brings out our most vulnerable selves. When the system built to keep you alive lets you down, the urge to start afresh can be irresistible.

“I hope that Mr. Trump is working with someone as we speak on this,” Starry said. “Figure it out, guys. That’s what we hired you to do.”

The problem is that Trump is not going to be able to immediately change the fundamental economics that are driving growth in healthcare costs. Obamacare was originally passed to address the fact that healthcare costs were growing much faster than the overall economy. Obamacare has been effective in slowing the growth of healthcare costs, but it has been a very delicate balance. Recent premium increases under Obamacare reflect a couple of important facts. The risk mix between low cost and higher cost people is still too high for insurance companies. Small business did not exit the insurance market, as many predicted. So a higher number of younger healthier working people are getting their insurance from their employers rather than through the Obamacare exchanges. Also the number of younger healthier people willing to just pay the penalties is higher than projected. As a result, insurance companies are raising their rates to offset the higher costs of care for their insured populations.

Trump’s second problem with Obamacare is just as large as his first one. Conservative Republicans have their own agenda that goes well beyond Obamacare. Repealing Obamacare is just the first step in the conservative Republican plan to unravel the social safety net that they feel leads to dependency. They are not particularly interested in replacing Obamacare with anything. If they are able to repeal Obamacare without offering a viable alternative, they will next take aim at privatizing Medicare and Social Security.

If Trump is unable to focus his majority on tax reform, immigration, and jobs — they will happily spend their time and his political capital on their ideological agenda.

That will spell doom for Trump and his Republican majority.

Those voters who were angry about increases in their premiums in 2016 will be outraged when their policies are canceled, there are no affordable options, and insurance companies resume denying care for those they perceive as high risk.

If the Trump Congress follows a “kick the can on replacement” Obamacare repeal with suggestions on how Medicare and Social Security can be “improved”, the furry will reverberate across the country. The backlash will be worse than the 2010 Tea Party revolt. Voters will punish Trump and Republicans in 2018. If Trump manages to survive until 2020, he will lose in a landslide to Elizabeth Warren or whomever else the Democrats end up nominating.