Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Why anyone would be better next year than Donald Trump

In response to a Facebook comment (if you ever read this blog and wonder where I've gone, it's mostly to social media, plus life has gotten a lot more complicated over the past few years) on WHY I feel that any Democrat would be better than four more years of Trump, I feel like that is a multifaceted question that requires a more extensive answer than a 'facebook note' so I'm dusting off the blog again.

First, the obvious part of the answer.  I wouldn't be a Democrat if my core beliefs didn't include I didn't believe in helping those least able to sustain themselves in society,  in feeding the poor,  providing medical care for the sick, housing the homeless (yes, we heard a lot about homelessness last week, but if the Democratic response to homelessness has been inadequate,  the Republican response has been far worse,  essentially just, "go away and be homeless someplace else.") providing an education to all,  and yes, taxing those of us who have been fortunate enough to earn a decent living to help pay for those things (a secret about progressive taxation:  If I make more than you, then no matter how progressive the tax laws are, I will STILL make more than you after taxes are paid,  just maybe not as many times as much as I do pre-tax.)  I care about protecting the environment and about the right of a woman (or anyone) to control her own body (imagine the government telling you that you must let someone else use your kidney in order to save their life;  why is a uterus any less  a part of a person than a kidney?)  There are places where I disagree with some Democrats such as the right to own a gun if you are not a criminal, terrorist or a threat to anyone else, BUT I can say that openly whereas a friend of mine who is a former Republican was roundly drummed out of the GOP some years back for speaking out against the Iraq War when it began.  So clearly that is the first reason I'm a Democrat is that my core values align with the liberal end of the political spectrum.

BUT-- this is also a question about Donald Trump in particular.  There are Republicans I might vote for in the right circumstances (such as Colin Powell) but I especially believe re-electing Donald Trump would be a truly awful thing.

There are many areas where we could begin, but let's start with experience.  It is understandable that people would have voted for a man with zero governmental experience.  His well-documented business failures aside, Trump had a reputation for leading a company, and his lack of experience in government was actually a selling point.  Never mind that nobody in their right mind would want to go to a mechanic, a dentist or an attorney whose main selling point was that they had never worked in that field before and had not a day's worth of experience in the business.  Nor would a large company hire a CEO who bragged that he had never worked in the field before.

The reason lack of experience got people to vote for Trump was the perception that government is CORRUPT and that he would 'drain the swamp.'  Now, it is true that there are certainly corrupt people in government.  My own former Congressman, Rick Renzi, went to prison after the FBI raided his business and he was convicted of bribery, money laundering and extortion.  And we've seen plenty of corrupt members of Congress and other government offices be convicted and go to prison, members of both parties.  Dan Rostenkowski, Duke Cunningham, William Jefferson and Bob Ney, to name just a few.  But turn that around for a moment.  The fact that they have been convicted and gone to prison is NOT proof that the system is corrupt.  It is proof that the system WORKS.  In many countries a corrupt politician would retire comfortably and not go to prison as long as they stayed on the right side of the rulers of the country.   But in the U.S., they can be caught and tried and convicted and jailed, Remember that as the longtime Chair of the House Ways and Means committee, Rostenkowski was one of the most powerful-- and most feared-- men in Washington.  But that didn't protect him from being indicted for turning the House Post Office into a personal taxpayer-financed cash cow (for which he later plead guilty and went to prison.)  So yes, there are plenty of unethical people in Washington (which Trump fits right in with, very well.)  But while he can't be indicted as a sitting President, others can, and others have, and that is evidence that whatever the flaws in the system, it does work to police itself.

And as far as lack of experience in government, anyone who has read my FB posts knows that one Democrat I'm very leery of is Andrew Yang-- for exactly the same reason.  BUT-- even there, at least Yang is smart enough to listen to people who disagree with him (just like Eisenhower did, though as the Supreme Allied Commander in WWII Ike did have to deal with the President (his boss) and members of Congress on a regular basis and the military is in fact part of the government, so he still had some experience.)  Trump in contrast surrounds himself with the proverbial 'Yes Men' who will agree with whatever he says and not try to give him contrary advice (or God forbid, disagree publicly with him.)   If they do, they're out and he will find someone who will bend over and flatter his ego by telling him he's RIGHT about whatever it is and then go on TV and lie if that's what it takes to prop him up (queue the recent tempest about the tempest when the National Weather Service publicly chastized the local Alabama forecasters for daring to say Trump was wrong about whether the state was at risk from Hurricane Dorian.)  And one other difference;  as much as I feel Yang would be the most risky Democrat, at least he tries to stay positive, while Trump has done nothing but widen the already deep divisions in American society and rub the sores of resentment raw.

And this brings us to the second reason I feel Trump is such a disaster, the way he is changing America and the direction he is taking us in.  Remember Reagan also ran against 'the government' and 'the system,'  but he did it with positivity and a smile.  Trump in contrast has promoted a very mean-spirited approach.  He may for example criticize San Francisco for homelessness (never mind that the city is surrounded on three sides by water and on the other by other communities as well as a mountain range; of course housing is very expensive there because they are out of land) or Baltimore for having mice,  but notice he never offers to help with the problems or suggests any ideas on how to solve them. All he does is criticize.  His border policy is straight from hell (yes, when families showed up at the border during the Obama administration sometimes they were separated for a day or so while we vetted the family, but after that they were reunited and free to continue on.  Trump, in contrast, has separated families for weeks, months or even in some cases deported the parents while effectively turning the children into orphans, under our care.)  His proposed wall is not only a colossal waste of money (a steel slat prototype was sawed through with a ten dollar hacksaw ) but has turned us into a laughingstock in the rest of the world (remember when 'build a wall around the country' was an actual joke?)  President Trump's targeted rhetoric, not towards individuals but against entire groups like Muslims and immigrants (especially those from places he calls 'sh*thole countries') has spread among his followers to where according to the SPLC, hate crimes against those communities have increased rapidly under his Presidency.  His rhetoric warning of an 'invasion' of Central American migrants is not only divisive but brings out the worst of stereotypes.  Certainly there ARE people among them who due to felony convictions, ties to gangs or cartels or for other reasons we don't want in our country,  but we have the ability to vet people in a matter of minutes or at most hours (we use it at airports all the time) so between that,  turning away Syrian refugees and stepped up deportations of people who may not even have any criminal record the message is clear,  "GET OUT AND STAY OUT!"  A far cry from when my maternal family came through Ellis Island and had to pass nothing other than a lice check.  Heck, Bob Cucinelli, Trump's point man on immigration recently even rewrote Emma Lazarus' iconic poem, "the New Colossus" to make it clear that we only welcomed in immigrants of means who would never be a 'public charge' (as even successful immigrants have often been when they arrive with nothing but the shirt on their back and a will to work.)

Meanwhile, Trump has backed the lawsuit filed by some GOP Attorneys General seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act (something the administration tried by reconciliation when they had control of all of Congress and could pass one bill per year without having to break a filibuster.)  They failed then, but now they may succeed.  And the lawsuit does NOT carve out exemptions for 'pre-existing conditions' in the ACA, it seeks to overturn every word of the act.  Now, disclaimer here: I was diagnosed with cancer three years ago.  My plan has been to retire when I can do so next year, then buy insurance from the Obamacare exchange and focus on getting well or at least in staying healthy enough to be somewhat productive.  But if they are successful I would be unable to get insurance at ANY price (since cancer is the prototype of a 'pre-existing condition.')  I am fortunate in that I could remain employed and keep working until I died, but would still have insurance.  But many other people would lose theirs.  Now, I favored universal health insurance for YEARS before I actually needed it so my present opposition to the GOP has nothing to do with my cancer diagnosis in 2016,  but...  it is true if they succeed I would probably die if I retired from work.  And it's hard to vote for somebody who personally wants you dead.

Beyond that, stop for a moment and contemplate this:  Why did we outdo the Soviets in gaining international influence during the Cold War?  Well, certainly we have warts from that time (ask any Iranian and they will give you the whole history, not just the 'we are victims' version that we get in the U.S.) But OVERALL, we held the moral high ground.  Our society was freer, more open and more tolerant than the Soviets'  Nobody had to build a wall to keep us in.  And we were trusted to keep our word.

With Trump, those things are no longer the case. Substitute 'China' for 'the Soviet Union.'  Now it is true that China is a dictatorship with a dismal, horrible record on human rights.  But-- when we criticize our Democratic allies while cozying up to people like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) or Philippine dictator Rodrigo Duterte,  we become indistinguishable on the human rights front.  Sure, we may criticize the governments of China, Venezuela or Iran for their human rights abuses but as long as we embrace dictators we like,  those condemnations are seen for what they are: purely situational.  Further by withdrawing from the Paris climate accords,  the Iran nuclear deal (where the Iranian response of pushing the envelope on their end was entirely predictable and avoidable,) or from various international trade deals,  the U.S. is no longer seen as absolutely trustworthy.  This matters, as countries like Australia (an erstwhile American ally) sign massive trade deals with China and that nation rushes to fill the vacuum we leave behind.  Do we really WANT a world where other nations no longer can count on us to keep our word? It's not like if we withdraw from an agreement that it doesn't create a vacuum, and either Russia or China will rush to fill it.  In this regard, Trump is playing a very dangerous game.  It takes years or even decades to build trust but it can be destroyed in one rash moment. And Donald Trump is all about rash moments.

And speaking of the change in America, it is not just mean-spiritedness at home. It is the same policy towards the oppressed elsewhere too.  Today I was listening to a story on the radio about how even Iraqis and Afghans who helped U.S. forces are having their visas delayed (and some of them have been murdered for working with us as they waited through the delays we are now imposing.)  We may have trouble in the future finding anyone abroad who will work with us as well.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's predictions 2018

January:  Doug Jones will be sworn in as the new Senator from Alabama.  He will have to dodge Roy Moore, who will run in and try to snatch the Bible off the table and administer the oath of office to himself.

February: Justin Timberlake will perform at Super Bowl halftime, fourteen years after the infamous 'wardrobe malfunction' in which he ripped Janet Jackson's outfit and exposed her breast.  This time he will surprise people and invite Jackson back on stage, but this time,  in this year of #TakeaKnee and #MeToo  , when Timberlake tries the same thing again he will  'take a knee' from Janet to the nether regions.

March:  The start of baseball season will include a pitch clock. A major scandal will erupt when the Red Sox get caught speeding up the clock when the Yankees are pitching. Donald Trump will send a tweet blaming Hillary Clinton and reminding people Massachusetts is a blue state, even if they do call their team the Red Sox.

April:  The Trump administration announces that entry fees to National Parks will rise again, to well over a hundred dollars for top National Parks.  When it is pointed out  that this might make it too expensive for a family to visit Yosemite,  White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders Huckabee says,  "Well, then, they can go to Six Flags and see Yosemite Sam instead !"

May:  A few months after passing a tax bill that raises the deficit, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio will cite the skyrocketing deficit as a reason to cut entitlements (as they already have said they will.)  Social Security payments will be cut only slightly for present retirees.  Future retirees will be promised a t-shirt saying, "I paid thousands into Social Security but all I got was this lousy t-shirt."  When somebody points out that immigrants are overwhelmingly young people who could help stabilize Social Security and Medicare, conservatives will drown it out with chants of "build the wall, build the wall."

June:  Six months after moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, citing reasons of 'convenience,'   the Trump administration will announce they are moving our consulate with the Palestinian Authority to an abandoned oil platform off the coast of Louisiana,  also citing 'convenience.'

July:  The GOP effort to privatize Social Security by ramming it all through  in a matter of days that began in May will fail in the Senate.  Donald Trump will respond with a series of angry tweets attacking Hillary Clinton.

August:  The record breaking drought continues around the southwest.  In southern California and Arizona, mold is added to the 'endangered species' list.

September:  The Trump administration will announce a solution to the Confederate Monument controversy. They will all be relocated to Puerto Rico to serve as windbreaks for families who are still living out in the open with no heat or shelter a year after Hurricane Maria.  He will praise himself for helping bring 'a great success' to Puerto Rico.

October:  The Mueller investigation issues a final report several weeks before the election, concluding that there is evidence that Russia was in close collusion with members of the Trump campaign to ensure Trump's election.  Rather than indicating any concern about a foreign power being involved in our election, Republicans derisively criticize former FBI director Mueller and start wearing  Putin masks at Halloween parties.

November:  Democrats decisively win control of the House, many Governorships and despite the terrible Senate map, are able to pick up a 50-50 tie for control of the Senate.  Trump sends out a tweet calling the election results 'fake news.'

December:  On Christmas morning, the nation wakes up to find that the White House is buried under hundreds of tons of coal, with a reindeer poop on top of it.  Donald Trump will blame Hillary Clinton.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Trump's contradictory speech about international relations

Today Donald Trump spoke about how the U.S. would continue to engage in international leadership,  while criticizing 'revisionist' powers Russia and China.

Two questions this brings up.  First, what is a 'revisionist' power?  If Russia lost the Cold War, does that mean they will always be no threat to the U.S.?  No more than Germany stopped being a threat to France after it lost World War I.  History continues forward and it is foolish to assume that because of an event in the past (be it a military victory or whatever) that the future is thereby settled.  At best the immediate future is settled, but never history going forward.  By claiming that Russia is a 'revisionist' power (presumably meaning they want to reverse the outcome of the Cold War) it seems that Trump lacks a serious understanding of who they are.  OF COURSE Russia would like to reverse the Cold War. Vladimir Putin, a former KGB man who once called the collapse of the Soviet Union 'the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century'  has simply taken off the uniform and replaced it with a suit.  Out with the Hammers and Sickles and in with Tsarist trappings.  Out with one candidate elections and replace them with multicandidate elections in which the media are completely controlled by Putin and his allies, allowing only one candidate to be heard.

Like the Chinese, the Russians have undertaken limited economic reform,  'privatizing' state enterprises and instead allowing them to fall under the leadership of corrupt oligarchs and of Putin himself.  His raw territorial ambition and his quest to return to the world stage as great power have been shown by his invasions of parts of Georgia and the Ukraine (including all of Crimea) and more recently by his active intervention to tilt the Syrian civil war in favor of old Moscow ally Bashir al-Assad.

But the Chinese have even gone beyond this.  Doing much of the same in the way of 'reforms' as Russia (though China is still officially a communist country)  and bullying its neighbors to the southeast and east, China has also become a military power.  But beyond that,  the Chinese situation brings up the second question.

That question is this:  With the United States withdrawing from everything from the Paris climate accords to trade deals around the world, China has eagerly jumped in to replace the U.S. as a leader.  Showing leadership means to engage.  Now, it is certainly true that there have been some bad trade deals and I supported Trump's withdrawl from the proposed Trans-Pacific partnership;  Not, mind you, because it was a bad deal.  I don't know whether it was or it was not.  The reason I don't know is because the whole deal was negotiated in secret and even people who saw drafts of the deal were sworn to secrecy to where they could say nothing about what was in it.  The secrecy behind the TPP is what doomed it in the end, as many people felt (as I did) that the practice of negotiating that kind of a deal behind an opaque wall and saying nothing at all about it was itself  unacceptable, so we chose not to support it.

However, it is also true that where there is a vacuum, somebody will fill it.  TPP aside, the Trump administration has withdrawn the U.S. from MANY international treaties and deals,  leaving the game wide open for China to step into the leadership role and they have already been working out trade deals and inserting themselves anywhere the U.S. has stepped back from.  Heavy Chinese investment in Australia (formerly a reliable U.S. trading partner but less so anymore)  and even in Afghanistan (where American soldiers have died while Chinese companies have stepped in behind them and opened mines that develop the local economy and feed raw materials back to China) are cases where the failure of the U.S. to engage economically has created an opportunity for China.

Before making these grand (and contradictory) pronouncements about the U.S. engaging with the rest of the world AND opposing 'revisionist powers' (whatever that is supposed to mean)  perhaps the President should consider what it takes to do both of those things-- and balance them against each other as so far he has not done.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Afghanistan-- what the heck are we still doing there?

If current reports are accurate, the Trump administration (remember Trump ran on a neo-isolationist policy in which while he promised to get rid of ISIS, otherwise pledged to reduce our involvement in foreign wars) is about to get us in deeper in Afghanistan.  The Afghan war, which began in October 2001, a month after September 11 and less than a year into the Bush administration, lasted through the rest of that administration, then through the entire Obama administration and now is into its third administration  (arguably its fourth;  recall that on August 18, 1998, eleven days after the African embassy bombings the Clinton administration launched cruise missiles in an attempt to get bin Laden in a meeting he was known to be attending that day;  unfortunately the meeting ended early, before the missiles arrived and we now know that among the topics discussed during the meeting was the plot that eventually became 9/11. )

Given that the 9/11 terror attacks were hatched in Afghanistan (not to mention the African embassy bombings and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen) and the Taliban government was at the time giving refuge to bin Laden, it made sense to go in originally because if we hadn't then bin Laden and al-Qaeda would have continued unimpeded in their quest to kill Americans.  However, after an offensive in January and February of 2002 drove bin Laden from his hideout in Tora Bora and drove the Taliban into a small sliver of Afghanistan, George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld made a fateful decision.  The Taliban was almost gone, but instead of finishing the job and taking the final sliver of the country they held onto, the Bush administration put Afghanistan on the back burner and then used 9/11 as a rallying cry to invade Iraq, a country a thousand miles away that had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks.  An invasion of Iraq had been on Bush's agenda since taking office after his father had made the decision not to finish off Saddam Hussein in the 1990-1991 Gulf War,  and since then Saddam had continued to cause problems for the U.S. and other countries in the region. 

By putting the situation in Afghanistan on the back burner, the Taliban were allowed to regroup and grow back, and by then were learning how to fight more effectively against the few Americans remaining;  roadside bombs, suicide bombings and ambushes, especially in populated areas (the same tactics used later on by Iraqi insurgents after Bush claimed 'mission accomplished' a few weeks into the Iraq war.)  By this time bin Laden had fled to Pakistan,  so we were in effect fighting on one side of a civil war (and propping up a corrupt government then led by Hamid Karzai, which was known to be dealing, just as the Taliban were, in opium poppies that were smuggled out and into the world drug market.)

President Obama, like President Trump, ran on a platform that included getting American troops out of harms way.  Only it didn't happen, and in fact eight months into the Obama administration (and on the eighth anniversary of September 11) I wrote a blog post critical of the Obama administration's Afghan policy.  It seemed then that the Obama Afghan policy was really little different than the Bush policy.  Obama's "Afghan surge" only got us in deeper and didn't ever seem to resolve anything.  Yes, Americans and our allies might win battles and take territory, but just like any guerrilla war, once they left the territory it reverted back to the control of whoever had the support of the local populace (think about it-- HOW MANY times since the Afghan war began in 2001 have you heard about Americans backing allied Afghan government forces driving the Taliban out of strongholds in Helmand province?  As soon as we leave, the place reverts back to Taliban control and we don't have the manpower to physically occupy all of it.)  With bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda fragmented, clearly there is no threat from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan anymore.  Of course now you keep hearing about 'ISIS in Afghanistan.'  It's not like a bunch of ISIS fighters somehow traveled from Syria to Afghanistan. It's the same locals we have been fighting who are now calling themselves an affiliate of ISIS. And at some point we have to ask ourselves why we are still there.  Does anybody even know what exactly a 'victory' in Afghanistan would be?  No administration-- not the Bush administration, not the Obama administration and apparently not the Trump administration, has said what exactly the objective is in Afghanistan.  If we are going to stay there then don't we owe it to our troops to state exactly what our purpose is and what we are trying to achieve?  Vacuous statements like 'a stable Afghanistan' are useless as an objective.  How do you measure 'stable'  in a country that has been at war now for over forty years?  And how do we plan to create it?  If we can't answer these questions then we should GET OUT. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

January 20, 2009-January 20, 2017. The Record of the Obama Economy.

Eight years ago I wrote a post entitled, January 20, 2001- January 20, 2009: The Record of the Bush Economy

As Donald Trump begins his term in office, it is fair to hold President Obama to the same standard. The metrics that were available on that date were the stock market close, the euro exchange rate (in that if it costs more dollars to buy a euro that is both a sign of a lack of faith in the U.S. economy and an indication that it will be more expensive for Americans to either travel or buy goods that are produced outside the country,) net job creation, price of crude oil and national debt.  Later the January unemployment rate was also added as a metric.

Here are how the numbers stood after January 20, 2009.

Dow Close: 7,949.09 (a loss of 2638.51,  or - 25%.)
Euro exchange rate: $1.32 to buy 1 euro (an increase of $.38)
Price of of one barrel of West Texas crude: $34.20 (an increase of $8.22/barrel.)
National Debt: $11.8 trillion (an increase of $6.0 trillion.)*
Net Job creation: + 3.8 mllion jobs (which decreased to + 3.0 million jobs when the January jobs report was added in)
January 2009 unemployment rate: 7.8% (up from 4.2% on January 20, 2001.)

*-- NOTE regarding the national debt :  Generally, the deficit (and corresponding increase in the national debt) for each fiscal year is assigned to the previous President. For example, had 2009 been an ordinary year, then FY 2009 budget (which covers from midyear 2008 to midyear 2009) was passed in early 2008 (though in fact it was a series of continuing resolutions that effectively continued spending levels set in past years) and signed by President Bush.  HOWEVER, as we know, FY 2009 was anything but an ordinary fiscal year.  The actual budget was dwarfed by two massive spending packages: TARP ($700 billion, which was passed and signed by President Bush but was spent equally by Presidents Bush and Obama) and the Stimulus ($890 billion, which was signed and spent exclusively during the Obama administration.)   What this means is that you will see estimates of the share of the national debt run up under each President all over the board, especially as given by people who have an agenda and are being intellectually dishonest.  To ensure consistency, in 2009 and again with this post, I am using a National Debt clock (which to a degree I don't like because it mindlessly keeps track of spending regardless of the source,  but at least it is a consistent way of measuring using the same metric.)  I am not sure which National Debt clock I used in 2009 but they are pretty much all the same.  The one that is being used as a source for this post is http://www.nationaldebtclocks.org/debtclock/unitedstates .

The Obama record:

Let's start with the Dow.  The Dow closed today at 19,827.25 .  This is up 11,878.16 points, or an astounding + 149 %.  In other words, if you'd put your money in the Dow (say by purchasing an index fund) on the day President Obama was inaugurated, by today it would have increased to be worth more than two and a half times what it was then. In fact if you had invested when it hit its bottom on March 9, 2009 (at 6547.05) then you would be up 203 % (in other words you'd have tripled your money.)

The Euro exchange rate today is that $1.07 will buy you one euro.  While this is still worse than it was when Clinton left office in 2001, it is much better than the $1.32 it was eight years ago.  To be sure, part of that is due to the collapse of the European economy, in which the dollar was seen as a safer currency.  BUT that is exactly the point-- the U.S. has been navigating in exactly the same world economic straits as anyone else.  Yet the Obama administration has steered our economy into a path of increasing prosperity that has eluded other countries.  Not only Europe, but also Brazil, China, Japan and other nations have all experienced economic pain.  Considering how difficult a course this has been, it is clear that under President Obama's leadership, the U.S. has come through the Great Recession in significantly better shape than most other nations.

The price today for March delivery of one barrel of West Texas crude is $53.24.  Probably no single commodity is more important in terms of affordability for the economy than the price of crude oil (which is used to produce gasoline, jet fuel, heating oil, fertilizer and plastics, among other products.)  Among its many uses, gasoline is the single biggest product and the one that most people recognize as either being a strain on their budget or not.

The growth in the price of crude oil overall was slightly faster than the net growth from start to finish of the Bush administration.  However, as was noted in the post eight years ago, the price of oil underwent a large degree of volatility during the Bush administration, rising to over $150.00/barrel in June 2008.  It was at times volatile as well during the Obama administration but never reached the degree of boom and bust that the price went through under Bush.    It is true that defenders of oil production will say (and correctly) that the expansion of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. 'fracking,') a procedure opposed by many on the left, has increased the supply of crude oil and helped keep the price down.   They will also point out that the President banned fracking on federal lands.  And on both of these points they are absolutely right.  However, the other side of the coin is that the President did not ban fracking elsewhere (though he could have, as some state governments have done) and further it is true that while fracking increased the supply, there are two sides to a supply/demand equation and on the other side, the President decreased demand.  He did this by sharply increasing CAFE fuel efficiency standards on automobiles (such that the new vehicles on the road today have much better fuel mileage than they did a few years ago;  as an example, I have both a 2010 and a 2016 Nissan Versa, and for the same make and model of vehicle, my gas mileage is over 10 mpg higher in the newer car than in the older one.) Also, when he included 'cash-for-clunkers' in the Stimulus package, President Obama specifically made sure that the old inefficient vehicles that were being traded in had their engines destroyed so that they could not be resold on the aftermarket.  This had the net effect of taking fuel wasting vehicles off the road and replacing them with vehicles that used less fuel. SO while it is certainly true that there were reasons beyond anything the President did that helped keep crude oil prices reasonable, it is ALSO true that he did do some things that also helped keep them low.

The national debt is today $19,968,000,000,000 (19.968 trillion dollars.) See the note earlier in this post about sourcing and consistency regarding obtaining a fixed figure for the national debt.  It is certainly true that this rounds to $20.0 trillion, and further it is also true that the increase of $8.2 trillion during the Obama administration is more than not only the dollar increase during the Bush administration but in fact than the dollar increase during ANY previous administration.  Again though, this does not in a snapshot give us the whole story.  Yes, during his first year in office President Obama did spend a lot of money between TARP II, the Stimulus and other measures designed to help the economy. Regardless of what others might say in hindsight, this was absolutely necessary spending;  the risk of a complete economic collapse was very real and in fact, many economists argued that the Stimulus was too small.  Luckily the nation did not suffer a complete collapse and the fire was put out.  In fact, since the disaster in 2008 (which the cost of TARP and the Stimulus hit in fiscal 2009) the deficit has gone down to the point where it is now less than half of what it was then. Obviously a half trillion dollar deficit is still a whole lot of money but it's still important to know that the direction of the Obama deficit has been to generally get less over time.   The fact that it is not even lower is a reflection of the fact that there are still tax cuts in place that reduce revenue even faster than one could reduce spending. For example, President Obama extended the original Bush tax cuts until 2012;  then during the 'fiscal cliff' deal only the highest rate was raised;  most of the Bush tax cuts remained in place.

Beyond this, it is also worth noting that there is one commercial that you didn't hear during this campaign.  That is the claim that President Obama had 'added more to the national debt than every other President combined.'  This claim, which has been standard fare during any campaign in which it applies, was certainly used (and correctly, as Bush had doubled the debt) in the 2008 campaign, to try and tar John McCain by tying him to Bush on the debt.   But while the Trump campaign had a lot of negative advertising they used against Hillary Clinton and tying her to Obama, doubling the debt was not one of them.  That's because it's not actually true.  The debt under Obama grew by 69%;  This is slower than the rate of growth under most previous administrations, and as shown before, was growing by a lesser amount later in the term.

I won't claim then that the Obama record on the deficit is a smashing success, because obviously it's not.  But it's also not the catastrophic failure that some would have you believe.  It will be interesting to see what Trump makes of the debt, given his pledge to push for massive tax cuts that will certainly blow up the deficit, at least in the short term and quite possibly in the long term (keeping in mind that the 2001-2012 tax cuts produced anything but great prosperity during the time when they were in effect.)

Jobs and unemployment numbers were delayed until the January jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and show a final unemployment rate of 4.8 % (down from 7.8% in January 2009.)  The jobs creation numbers (from February 2009 through January 2017; historical data here) show  11,501,000 net jobs created.   Yes, if I were going to wave the flag unabashedly for Obama then I would begin counting in March 2010 (and give Bush 'credit' for 4,320 million net jobs lost during the first thirteen months of Obama's Presidency and point out that Obama has created nearly 16 million jobs since then) but fair is fair -- I used the same metric for Bush (February 2001-January 2009) so Obama is stuck with those numbers.  The only adjustments may be minor as it is routine for the Bureau of Labor Statistics to make minor adjustments in the two preceding months (which would be December and January) in subsequent jobs reports as more data becomes available;  If the adjustments are positive then Obama will be able to claim 11.5 million net jobs created. The February 2017 jobs report will be the first one credited to Trump,

Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Predictions for 2017

January: Donald Trump is inaugurated.  He causes a furor when he interrupts his inaugural address mid-sentence to complain about two female reporters covering the event and call them fat.  Later on, the Rockettes perform on schedule at the inauguration but strategically line up behind the President-elect so while dancing the can-can they get to take turns kicking his butt.

February: The Seattle Seahawks win Super Bowl LI over the New England Patriots.  The key play comes in the third quarter, when former Arizona Cardinal and current Patriots receiver Michael Floyd fumbles a short pass but then falls down and is found draped over the ball with a BAC of .217.  Since he fell on it, the ruling on the field is that the Patriots recover the fumble, but the reason it is a key play is because the pile on squeezes some of the air out of the ball.  On the next play, Tom Brady is unprepared for a properly inflated ball and throws a pick-six to Richard Sherman.   After the game Sherman gives another typical Sherman interview and is shortly thereafter given a fifteen yard penalty by NFL President Roger Goodell for illegal use of the Mouth.

March: President Trump wakes up at 3:00 in the morning to tweet about a pharmacist in an obscure town in Colorado who called him a name in an online chat room.  Trump says the pharmacist is 'so unfair' and threatens to sue.  Trump's followers immediately crash the pharmacy's website with derogatory comments, threats and insults.

April: President Trump precipitates a crisis when he fails to sign a debt ceiling increase in time, threatening to default on the U.S. debt.  His initial response is that 'walking away from debt worked for me, it can work for the country,'  but it later turns out that he was on the phone with a Scottish official arguing about the view from his golf course and couldn't be bothered with unrelated matters until it was resolved.

May: The Scottish golf course issue not being resolved to Trump's satisfaction, he orders the U.S. marines to invade and seize Scotland.  When British Prime Minister Theresa May objects and points out that Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, Trump asks what the U.K. has ever done for the U.S.,  reminds everyone that the U.S. won World War II, and calls the Brits 'losers.'

June: Trump begins building a border wall by confiscating taco trucks from street corners in the U.S. and stacking them along the border. In order to make Mexico pay for it, he sends troops to occupy Juarez.  He says he will give it back when Mexico sends a check.

July:  Following up on his pledge to expand America's nuclear arsenal,  Trump withdraws from the test ban treaty, and announces his special Fourth of July program involving nuclear fireworks will be held in California.  He also promises that other Americans can participate and show their patriotism by going outside to cheer when the nuclear fallout cloud passes over THEIR state !

August: Secretary of State and Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson suggests in an interview that the U.S. should invade Iran to get the oil.  A sense of deja vu pervades the room and dead silence ensues, until Trump bails out Tillerson by adding, "and to do more of our nuclear testing."

September:  President Trump and Labor Secretary Andrew Puzder celebrate Labor Day by signing an executive order abolishing minimum wage, maternity leave, overtime pay and sick leave, and making unions and collective bargaining illegal.

October: The Cubs win the World Series again.  People start getting bored and talking about how the 'Cubs are always winning.'  Yankee fans are jealous.

November:  Once again, Trump is late signing a routine debt ceiling increase, nearly causing a national default. It turns out that the reason why is because the phone lines to the Kremlin were jammed, so Trump had to wait before he got the official OK from Putin to sign it.

December: Trump's promise to create jobs in coal states actually turns out to be true.  That's because in a country full of Trump supporters, Santa needs to buy tons of the stuff.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why Ann Kirkpatrick is the right person for the U.S. Senate

Back in early 2008,  Ann Kirkpatrick was doing an event in Winslow as she was running in a primary for what would eventually become a successful run to represent the first district of Arizona in the United States Congress.  Our incumbent Congressman, Rick Renzi (now an inmate at the Federal Correctional Facility in Morgantown, West Virginia) had declined to seek re-election after being indicted on multiple counts of racketeering, money laundering and extortion.  People wanted a change, and Ann promised to deliver it.

I'd met Ann and known about Ann a long time before that, which is why I had endorsed her on this blog the day she announced for Congress, and so I felt confident making a promise.  As the event wrapped up, I told her, "I've been making one promise on your behalf."  She got a worried look on her face, because Ann Kirkpatrick is very careful about not making promises unless she is confident she can keep them.  "I've been telling people," I went on, "that you will NEVER end up on the front page of the Arizona Republic after being indicted for money laundering and extortion."  Ann looked relieved.  "That promise," she said, "you can keep on making."

And I did.  That's because Ann Kirkpatrick is personally very honest and isn't interested in being in Congress (or now the Senate) for herself.  As I have told people, "Ann Kirkpatrick doesn't go to Washington because she loves Washington.  Ann goes to Washington because she loves Arizona."

The first thing she did was clean up the office after Rick Renzi and restore the integrity and honor that we as taxpayers and Americans have a right to expect.

Then she got to work.  There is very little of her district that Ann Kirkpatrick has not visited or seen personally with her own eyes.  That is a remarkable achievement, because the district is almost half the total land area of the state of Arizona, and is bigger than a lot of eastern states.  She doesn't believe in just coming out during campaign season or advertising on the airwaves while staying in Washington, as some people do.  One of her opponents complained about campaigning in the district a few years ago by saying he had run up 50,000 miles on his car.  Those of us who live here had to chuckle, since if there is one advance in automobiles where the market has responded to the kind of people who live in rural Arizona, it was to start making cars with a six figure odometer.  I don't know what Ann's odometer reads but I'm sure she wears out cars like she wears out her well-documented boots-- by using them for what they were made for.

But she hasn't gone on all those road trips to small towns just to visit them.  Though she does go to visit and hear from residents, there is also sometimes a specific need that she is able to address.  For example, in our area, back in 2010 there was a paper mill near Snowflake that was about to be shut down due to a problem with so-called 'black liquor,' a byproduct that was costing the mill so much that they would be unable to stay open.  Ann went there personally and negotiated a compromise that helped keep the mill open for another two years.  Unfortunately Ann lost the 2010 election (the only election she has lost) and before she won again in 2012, the paper mill ran into some other problems and closed, as congressman Gosar, who was then representing the district did nothing to try and save it.  Several hundred jobs were lost as a result (and out here good jobs are hard to come by.)    Ann has been able to help work towards a more positive outcome in Winslow, where the town is protected by a levee that prevents catastrophic flooding.  The levee was built by the corps of engineers decades ago, but funding for maintenance was not a priority for our members of Congress, until Ann was elected.  She has gotten some funding to begin needed repairs and maintenance on the levee.  When communities she represents need it, Ann is there. She doesn't just fly over it in a helicopter or send somebody to represent her office, she goes and is there to talk to people directly and then goes back to her office and works on getting them the aid they need.

Ann Kirkpatrick inspecting flood damage near Black Canyon City in 2010.

Ann's voting record has gotten her an earful at times from both the left and the right, but mostly from those who don't see the consistency in it.  Speaking from the left side of the spectrum, I certainly understand progressives who are frustrated at for example, Ann's vote against Cap-and-Trade or her steadfast defense of coal burning power plants in northern Arizona. (disclaimer: I should note, to be sure, that I live about two miles from the Cholla Plant;  I don't work there but a lot of my friends and neighbors do.)  Ann sent a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson shortly after being elected back into Congress in 2012 expressing concern over the jobs at the plants and letting her know that she was against shutting them down. The power plants are a mainstay of the economy in an area where unemployment is still high and a lot of the jobs that do exist don't pay well enough to support a family on.  So she favors finding ways to keep the plants here while still addressing environmental concerns, and she has worked as much as she can behind the scenes to save the jobs in the plants.  Similarly, many on the left have disagreed with Ann for working on opening a copper mine in Globe with Republican congressman Paul Gosar (who incidentally defeated her in 2010 before jumping into a different district-- but Ann realizes that her job is too important to hold a personal grudge, something that already marks her as being tempermentally an improvement over John McCain, who notoriously holds grudges for years.)   But the mine in Globe would provide over a thousand jobs in a community that has suffered steep declines in employment, so Ann while recognizing the opposition to it, supports the mine.

It is, however a mistake to think that congresswoman Kirkpatrick is a James Watt clone who doesn't care about the environment.  She cares about it a great deal and has worked on legislation to protect the Red Rocks near Sedona and has strongly opposed uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.  In her travels she has visited the Navajo reservation many times, a place where the few surface water supplies that might have been available have mostly been polluted, and people have been getting sick and dying, from the legacy of uranium mining during the 1950's through the 1980's. The Navajo Nation has banned any more uranium mining as a result, and Ann has supported plans to keep it out of the neighboring national park and surrounding areas.

On the right, aside from the usual boilerplate claim that Ann is a 'liberal' or 'beholden to the Obama administration' that Republicans make against any Democrat in a swing state (claims that are frankly silly in light of her moderate record and willingness to take on the Obama administration on issues like the power plants)  for the most part the criticism is directed at her 2010 vote for the Affordable Care Act and her continuing to defend it after returning to Congress following the 2012 election.  But her support for the Affordable Care Act was for a very straightforward reason and it is the same reason she has prioritized supporting jobs. When she voted for it, 21% of the people in Congressional District 1 (with slightly different lines than it has today) had no health insurance.  This was one of the highest figures in the country. Rural hospitals were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy because of all the uninsured patients flooding into emergency rooms.

In addition, Ann worked to get permanent funding for the Indian Health Service (IHS) included in the ACA before she would vote for it.  We have forgotten that today, but it used to be that IHS funding was sort of like the Medicare 'Doc Fix' or the 'Alternative Minimum Tax' (AMT) fix that was finally really fixed during the 'fiscal cliff' negotiation --a political football Congress had to fight over every year before they'd pass a short term fix. Ann insisted on and got a permanent 'fix' so Congress has one less political football to fight over.

Similarly, she supported the Stimulus, not only because of the dire national emergency we were facing at the time (in case anyone forgot we were losing nearly a million jobs every month and the economy was headed straight to hell) but also because of the glaring need for infrastructure in a broad spread out district.  This is a huge district with a lot of underpopulated areas so building and maintaining infrastructure is very important here.   In my morning delivery job I drive over a bridge south of Joseph City that was rebuilt a few years ago with Stimulus funds.  The old bridge was rickety and after the I-35 and I-5 bridge collapses  caused by past neglect of infrastructure (in no small part thanks to John McCain's crusade against dreaded 'pork')  I really wondered a few times whether they would even notice if that one fell into the Little Colorado River.  But fortunately, because of the Stimulus and Ann Kirkpatrick and other members of Congress who were willing to stand up and vote for it because it was the right thing to do, I can breathe a little easier in the morning when I drive across that bridge.

Ann did however oppose the release of some TARP funds.  Fundamentally, it did not help people who needed help. Bank bailout funds were not of much use to people in Arizona who were losing their homes.

And that defines the consistency in Ann Kirkpatrick's positions.  IN EVERY CASE the defining  question has been a simple one:  What most benefits her constituents.  In a district as large and diverse as CD-1 that is not always an easy question to answer, but it has defined Ann's concerns and her realization that she works for us, not the other way around.  

Let me summarize that again:  Ann Kirkpatrick in the end makes her decisions not based on what the Obama administration wants, or because of what some Washington lobbyist wants, or what some Super PAC wants, or what the news media wants, or what some pollster is telling her will be popular.  She makes her decisions based on one thing only:  What will make the most positive difference in the lives of the people she represents.

Ann also understands a very important principle that few in Washington seem to these days. This is the principle that the voters have sent her there to solve real problems and expect people there to work together to solve them, rather than retreat into partisan camps that throw insults at each other without either of them having the ability to solve anything on their own.  That is why she has been working with Congressman Gosar, and also why in a session when Congress as a whole, fractured by partisan infighting set a record for being the LEAST productive Congress ever, Ann was the first member of the Arizona delegation to write a bill which passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law. Just moving a bill through Congress requires doggedly hard work, and we are fortunate to have someone who is a doggedly hard worker like Ann running for the Senate.

John McCain may be off galavanting all over the world, trying to make the case that we should send our boys and girls into every foreign conflict when it pops up,  or be on all the TV news shows giving us his opinion about national and international issues, but you will probably find Ann in her office at the same time, working on legislation or constituent issues that need to be addressed.   As one rancher who lives south of town here told me this morning when we were talking about Ann's announcement,  "What's McCain ever done for Arizona?"  The answer is nothing.  If it doesn't enhance his national profile, he can't be bothered with it.

In closing, I should add that congresswoman Kirkpatrick is just as doggedly hard a worker on the campaign trail as she is in Washington.  In the 2014 election, outside 'dark money' groups spent over $10 million against her, literally beginning even before she was sworn in at the start of 2013 and continuing up through election day. This tide of dark money buried Democrats from coast to coast last year, and helped Republicans sweep all of the state offices in Arizona.  But Ann is too tough to be intimidated by that kind of pressure, as those of us who have gotten to know her are aware. Not only did she work hard to raise enough money on her own, maybe not to match that level of spending but at least to get heard, but she put all of us to shame.  We may have spent weekends or evenings knocking on doors or talking to voters, but nobody worked harder on her own campaign than Ann. Ever see that famous old photo of Adlai Stevenson with the hole in his sole?  Ann may wear cowboy boots on the campaign trail but I bet she's gotten some holes in a few of them by now.   Beyond that, people here voted for Ann because she's real. This is a district that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, and went solidly for Doug Ducey in last year's governor's race.  But a lot of voters who voted for those Republicans voted for Ann both in 2012 and in 2014.   That's because even when they disagree with her (as I sometimes do as well,)  we all know that Ann doesn't let anyone tell her how to vote, and she is committed to working as hard as she can to do the best job that she can for the people of Arizona.

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