Monday, July 31, 2017

How Well Is Trump Doing?

The Donald continues to issue tweets to communicate exclusively to his base.  He capitalizes on opportunities to run campaign rallies for his base even though he won the election.  He needs their cheers and their responses to his campaign slogans.  This assures him that he is doing well but his staff, and the Republican Congress, have not been pulling their weight.  This confirms his tendency to do everything himself.  Nobody can do anything as well as The Donald.  This editorial makes an interesting point.  The Donald has been able to charm his base, but his love affair with Americans who get their information from Fox News and talk radio has created a reaction in America and across the globe.  

The more that people learn about Trump, and the values that he promotes, the less they want Trumpism.  The Donald may have done everyone a favor by putting himself on display.  He is still dangerous, and he needs to be contained,  but he has taught a lot of people a lesson.  You have to be careful about what you believe that you need,  You may get it.  Many of the defense mechanisms that are underway in the US, and in other nations, are well described in this editorial.  The Donald will react in predictable ways to the opposing forces but that will only strengthen the resistance to his disease.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Is Trump Really A Republican?

This article argues that The Donald moved further away from the Republican Establishment by firing his Chief of Staff who had been the head of the Republican National Committee.  This led many to ask whether The Donald is a Republican.  His primary campaign was really a hybrid campaign.  He accepted most of the cultural value issues that were initiated by Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy".  Nixon turned the Democratic South into the Republican South.  He also added a few of them himself.  He captured the anti-immigration and the anti-Muslim terrorist voters who were neither Republicans or Democrats.  He was also smart enough to realize that he could not win a general election without flipping some of the rust belt states that had voted for Obama.  He embraced labor leaders and claimed that he would bring back the manufacturing jobs that were given away by Democratic trade deals like NAFTA.  He also claimed to be a supporter of New Deal entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.  He even argued that Paul Ryan's attack on entitlement programs was the reason why Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election to Obama.

President Trump is not a Republican or a Democrat.  He is more accurately described as an opportunist.  He is dependent upon the Republican Congress for lots of reasons.  He needed the Republican Senate to approve his cabinet nominees and he needs the Republican Congress to approve his budget and pass legislation that he needs to declare victory.  His major campaign contributions did not come from the Country Club Republicans that have been the backbone of the Republican Party.  Major contributions to his campaign came from the far right fringe of GOP billionaires like the Mercer's, Devose's, and Sheldon Addleson.  The Republican Party also needed The Donald.  It believed that putting a Republican in the White House would enable the party to achieve many of its objectives.  That has not happened for a lot of reasons.  They discovered that taking away healthcare benefits from millions of Americans was not as easy as they believed.  Trump has also proven to be a dysfunctional president.  His popularity has been on a steady decline since he took office.  Now the Republican Party has to figure how to govern with a Republican president who cares more about himself than he does about the Republican Party or our national interest.  Trump has exacerbated tensions between moderates and conservatives in the party.  Conservatives feel empowered, but moderates learned that they could not pass a conservative healthcare bill.  Its also unlikely that they will have an easy time with the Trump budget and with tax reform.  It won't be long before many Republicans will have to face reelection.  That, of course, worries many of them more than they had anticipated when a Republican found himself in the White House.

Friday, July 28, 2017

It Took Two Women With Courage And John McCain To Kill Obamacare Repeal

The Senate failed to pass a bill that was its only remaining effort to repeal Obamacare.  The plan was to send the bill to the House where a replacement bill could be crafted in conference.  A lot of pressure was put on the women senators to vote for the bill.  Trump had his interior secretary warn the senator from Alaska that a no vote would lead to a loss of federal funds to Alaska.  That did not work.  The two woman senators stood their ground.  They were eventually joined by John McCain who resisted efforts by the Vice President to vote for the phony healthcare bill.  The real story is not about the heroism of the three senators who defeated the bill.  It is about the lack of courage by the 48 Republican senators who voted for the bill.  Its about time that they took their jobs more seriously.  They were elected to serve our nation.  The Donald is in business to destroy our democratic system of government.  Its about time for the 48 weaklings in the Republican senate to put our national interest ahead of the Republican Party that The Donald views as an enabler of his personal power.

David Brooks Picked The Wrong Arizona Senator To Save The GOP

John McCain just voted to end the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare without a real replacement.  His fellow senator from Arizona voted for the healthcare bill which was only a ploy to create a partisan bill in a conference with Paul Ryan's House which had produced a terrible bill that was rejected by the Senate.  Brooks wrote this article to praise Jeff Flakes book which argues that Trump has ruined the Republican Party.  Flake is a traditional conservative who subscribes to a libertarian set of ideals that mean nothing to Trump.  Brooks liked Flake's book but he explains why the Republican Party paved the way for Trump with its libertarian ideas.  The libertarian rejection of an active government was exploited by Trump.  He ran his campaign as a Washington critic.  He argued that he would "drain the swamp" and make America great again.  He never told his supporters what he intended to do in order to drain the swamp and make America great again.  He has done what he can to turn our government into an autocracy that resembles the small organization that he ran for personal gain.  David Brooks has come a long from his role as an opinion leader for the Republican Party.  Trump's rise to power was the last step in the process.

Inside The Donald's White House

The pot keeps stirring in a White House led by an amateur who behaves like he was still running his own small business.  If he were an apprentice on his reality TV show, he  would have been fired long ago.  He found a soulmate in his latest hire with whom he shares a NYC frame of mind.  Apparently, he encourages chaos and competition between his senior staff.  If some foreign power intended to undermine our nation by helping to put The Donald in the White House, it  was very successful.  The Senate just voted down the Obamacare repeal bill and Congress passed a bill which limits The Donald's control over foreign policy. His Secretary of State is on vacation and is considering whether he should stay on the job. The Donald keeps running his campaign against Clinton because he has no idea about how to behave as our president.  He continues to get advice from his favorite TV news team which is in the business of misinforming Trump's base and discrediting the mainstream media.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Anarchy In The White House

The Donald's new communication guru sent out a tweet accusing the White House chief of staff of leaking information contained in the disclosure he submitted for his job in the Import/Export Bank.  He has been barely on the job and he publically attacks his boss.  Moreover, he failed to understand that there was no leak.  His disclosure contains public information.  He is just the kind of guy that The Donald needs on his staff. Uniformed, a liar and a publicity hound who expresses boundless love for The Donald when he is invited to appear on TV.  There are, of course, leakers in the White House. That is merely a symptom of the disarray in the White House.  People don't really know who is charge, and they are anxious about their job security.  Moreover,  The Donald keeps changing his mind about almost everything. They have to wait for his next tweet to understand his latest position.

The Donald issued a tweet that banned transgenders from military service.  That was a total surprise to his Secretary Of Defense who was on vacation.  Officials in the Defense Department can't discuss how they will implement the ban because it does not exist.  They have not received an official document that is required to describe the policy and its implementation.  The Donald does not seem to understand that tweets are not official documents.

Did Trump Bring Foxconn And $10 Billion Plant Investment To Wisconsin?

The Donald is taking credit for making a deal with Foxconn to build a plant in Wisconsin.  There are good reasons for being skeptical about this deal.  In the first place,  Wisconsin made the deal with Foxconn.  The state will contribute $3 billion in tax credits, job training, and infrastructure investment.  In return, Foxconn will invest $10 billion in the factory.  The state determined that the $3 billion investment was a good deal by estimating to number of jobs that would be created in the plant and in the construction of the plant.  The state may think that investing $3 billion in return for a $10 billion investment is a good deal, but there are reasons to believe that Foxconn will not make the $10 billion investment:

* The $10 billion investment in Wisconsin by Foxconn's parent company is greater than it has spent on capital investment over the last five years.

* Foxconn's parent has pledged to spend $27.5 billion in a variety of international capital investments, including Wisconsin.  That is more than Foxconn's parent company has spent on capital investment in the last 23 years.

The Foxconn announcement was good for Paul Ryan as well as for The Donald.  The plant will be located in Ryan's district.  Politically, it is good for them and for Governor Walker.  We will have to wait to see how the proposed investment turns out.  In the meantime, the politicians will have collected their return on the announcement.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Donald Steps Up Attack On Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions was the first Republican senator to support The Donald during his campaign.  He was rewarded with a cabinet position.  Now The Donald is publically attacking him by using the same kind of lies that he uses to attack Democrats and other opponents. Apparently, The Donald believes that Sessions should he should be investigating Hillary Clinton who has provided no justification for an investigation.  The Donald demands loyalty but he does not give it back.  Jeff Sessions is doing the job that conservatives want an Attorney General to do.  That does not matter to The Donald. He wants Jeff Sessions out of the way so that he can appoint an Attorney General who will help him to defuse the investigations that are underway.  Apparently, The Donald has things to hide that might be uncovered in the investigations.  Of course, he should have nothing to fear from the investigations because he claims that they are phony, but that is another story.  He has a lot to worry about and he knows it.

Why Are Republicans In This Mess On Healthcare And Transgenders In Military

The GOP and The Donald used the repeal of Obamacare to win elections.  It excited their stupid base. (Here also)Now they have to produce a replacement and they have no idea about how to get it done. The Donald just banned transgenders from military service.  It excited his base.  It may have been brilliant.  It puts Democrats in the position of defending transgenders in the Rust Belt states.  The Donald and the GOP like being on that side of the culture war.  The Republican Part and The Donald are only focused on winning elections. After all Trump's base believes his lies. A majority of his base believes that he won the popular vote in the election.  They may destroy their party in the process.  There is no easy way for Republicans to pass a healthcare bill that won't get them in trouble.  They have put millions of voters and the healthcare industry at risk.  All because it was a way to hurt Democrats in elections be selling lies to low information voters. 

Thinking About Low Productivity Growth And Human Welfare Growth

Adair Turner is a good thinker.  He asked himself an interesting question and he shared his thoughts about an answer to his question.  Productivity growth in Britain today is about the same as it was in 2007.  Turner tried to explain low productivity growth in this article; he also imagined how the relationship between productivity and human welfare might change over the course of time.  

We are familiar with a huge transition in our economy that has been completed.  We moved from an agricultural economy in which most of the labor force was required to produce food to an industrial economy.  Productivity improved dramatically in agriculture.  Only a small percent of our workforce is required to produce food.  Moreover, manufacturing technologies enable firms to substantially increase output per hour of labor.  Employment growth has shifted to a variety of service occupations that don't lend themselves to higher output per unit of labor.  He also discussed the growth in sum zero activities.  They occur when most of our essential goods and services have been satiated.  They don't contribute to human welfare growth.  We also experience some growth in human welfare that is not counted in GDP.  For example, computers and the Internet enable us to purchase commodities with less effort.  We can also enjoy games and other forms of entertainment that are essentially free.  There has also been an extensive growth in intermediate services that don't count in GDP.  For example,  commercial lawyers are used extensively by businesses but they are intermediate costs that don't contribute to the final products that are counted in GDP.  The bottom line, according to Turner, is that we may not see much growth in productivity but that may be inevitable as our economy transform itself.  We should be more concerned about the growth in services that do not contribute to human welfare.  For example, the services by financial intermediaries which account for a growing share of GDP. 

How Will The Switch From Combustion Engines To Electric Affect The Auto Industry??

The auto industry is at the beginning of a critical transition away from the internal combustion engine to electric engines.  This is one analysis of the transition that is underway.  It argues that by 2025 electric engines will be price competitive with combustion engines. They will also be less costly to operate. They are only competitive today with government subsidies.  The market is also constrained by the lack of an electric charging infrastructure.  Consequently, auto manufacturers are forced to continue investing in combustion vehicles during the transition to electric.  Some of them are financially able to maintain investment in combustion engines while they invest in electric vehicles.  Others may not be as lucky.  The transition from combustion engines to electric engines will also reduce the manufacturing cost.  Fewer workers will be needed to manufacture electric vehicles and fewer workers will be needed to maintain them.  Obviously, the oil industry will also be affected by the transition to electric.  This will not be an easy transition.  Two of our major industries will be affected along with the labor markets in those industries.  The value of used combustion vehicles will also decline during the transition.  That will create problems in the profitable leasing business that has sustained many auto manufacturers.  

Trump Vows to Make Youngstown. Ohio Great Again

The Donald is not having much fun in Washington.  He decided to give one of his campaign speeches to 7,000 supporters in Youngstown, Ohio.  He told them that he would bring back their lost jobs in the steel factories that have been shut down.  He would also build the wall that he promised to keep Mexicans out of our country.  He also told them the Senate was going to repeal Obamacare like he promised.  He told them that he came to Youngstown to let them know how well he was doing because the "fake news media" refuse to tell them about the progress that he has made in "Making Youngstown Great Again".

His performance in Ohio is sad commentary on his presidency and on his adoring supporters.  He will not bring back their lost jobs in the steel industry and they probably don't care about the wall that he promised to build.  They probably know that their jobs are not coming back.  They also don't know the details of the healthcare bill that Republicans want to pass, but he has convinced his supporters that he is their only hope.  Sadly, they are also The Donald's only hope.  He needs their adoration to pump up his boundless ego which has been deflated by his performance in Washington.  He also needs their support so that he can use them as a weapon against Republican's who have lost faith in his leadership.

I had to think twice about positing this article.  Most of us already understand why The Donald is unfit for the office that he holds.  Its hard to add anything new to this story.  On the other hand, we have to keep on telling the story to overcome the depression than many of us feel.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Wall Street Journal Editors Advise Trump To Be Transparent

The normally conservative editorial page of the WSJ is concerned about how Trump has been responding to the Mueller investigation.  It believes that it is in his interest to be transparent in its dealings with the investigation. Its recommendation assumes that Trump has nothing to hide from the investigators.  This article explains why Trump will not heed the advice from the WSJ.  Trump has a lot things to hide.  For example, there are good reasons why Trump does not want the investigators to reveal any financial relationships that might provide leverage to a foreign power.  That would make the president a national security risk.  That risk is what sunk Michael Flynn.

In any case, it appears that Trump has started down a path of no return.  His team is doing what it can to discredit the investigation and its team of prosecutors.  They are especially concerned about a prosecutor with experience in the investigation of financial fraud.  The US Constitution will be put on trail by the unprecedented steps that the Trump team is prepared to take.  The wild card will be the Republican Congress.  They will face a choice between tearing up the Constitution or defending Trump as the fight between Trump and the investigation heats up.  Trump cares only about his own interests.  Will have to see whether Republicans believe that Trump's interests are consistent with the interests of the Republican Party and perhaps the US Constitution. This crisis was predicted by an insightful article in The Atlantic during Trump's rise to power.  We all play a role in deterring Trump's efforts to build an autocracy in the US.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Trump's Team Is Investigating Those Investigating Him

The Donald has nothing to hide from investigators.  A person with nothing to hide should welcome an investigation which would show that Trump and his associates have done nothing wrong.  The Donald is not behaving like an innocent person.  His team of lawyers is trying to discredit those who are investigating him and his team.  They discovered that some of the prosecutors on Mueller's team might even be Democrats.  Mueller, who is a lifelong Republican, and one of the most respected law enforcement officers in America, apparently should not have recruited highly respected prosecutors who are also Democrats.  The Donald's team is even looking into ways that Trump can use his pardoning authority to defend anyone, including himself, who might have broken the law.  This is not the way a person with nothing to hide would typically behave.  On the other hand, this is The Donald's typical mode of operation.  He has a long history of attempting to discredit his numerous critics and political opponents.  He also has no respect for the truth.  The Donald is preparing his supporters for any bad news that might be discovered in the investigation.  They should not believe what was uncovered by the "discredited investigators".

The Donald granted the NYT an exclusive interview that he used for a variety of purposes in response to the investigation that is underway.  He warned Mueller that he might fire him if he goes too far in his investigation.  Mueller, of course, is exploring any financial relationships that he and his team might have with Russian bankers, oligarchs and Kremlin officials.  They might be related to possible collusion and they are also a national security concern.  They could be used to influence Trump's foreign policy decisions.  Trump also threw his Attorney General under the bus.  He may want him to resign so that he can replace him with someone who could offer more defense to him than Jeff Sessions who has recused himself from the Russian investigation.

The Donald swore an oath to protect the Constitution when he was sworn into office.  He spent most of his business career using the legal system for personal advantage.  He is doing the same thing as our president.  He is using the legal system to fight against the Constitution that he swore to protect.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Was Trump Responsible For GOP Healthcare Bill Collapse?

Ezra Klein is an expert on healthcare.  He argues that the GOP failed to pass its healthcare bill because Trump, unlike Obama, did not understand the policy details.  Therefore, he was unable to sell the bill to the public and to GOP senators.  Klein is right about Trump's ignorance of the policy details.  Trump clearly explained his role in turning the bill into law.  He told senators that he was ready to sign any bill.  This was their opportunity to send a healthcare bill to the president without having to worry about a veto.  Trump was not in a position to sell the bill to the public because, other than repealing Obamacare, it did not provide any of the things that he promised his supporters during his election campaign. Trump let conservatives in Congress, who would prefer to keep the government out of the healthcare market, fight with Republicans who wanted a bill that conformed to GOP ideology.  The final product was a mess.  Cutting Medicaid spending in order to pay for tax cuts, and to perhaps reduce the federal budget deficit, was bound to reduce benefits and the number of insured Americans.  That was not enough to get conservatives and moderates on board with the bill.  They failed to sell 50 out of 52 Republican senators on the final product. The bottom line is that Republicans don't really care about providing healthcare to needy Americans.  They are only united about repealing Obamacare.  Trump failed to add value to what united Republican senators because he just wanted to declare victory on repealing Obamacare.  His populist election campaign slogans have been forgotten.  The Republican Party remains the anti-government party with the exception of defense and a few other priorities.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

CBO Reports That over 30 Million Will Lose Coverage Under Healthcare Bill

Donald Trump can't stand losing.  He ordered GOP senators to stay in Washington until they pass a bill.  This happened after he had given up on the bill and asked senators to simply repeal ACA.  Trump's shift, which included threats to senators who opposed the bill, happened before the CBO report.  That should bury the bill.  Curiously, Trump promised his supporters a great healthcare plan that would be far superior to the ACA.  The items that he cited in this appeal have almost nothing to do with a superior healthcare plan.  For example, cutting taxes in the healthcare bill does nothing for those who use the plan.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

There Is Somethng That Can Sink Our Great Pretender

Trump's supporters are immune to many of the things that would concern most politicians.  There is one thing that could shrink his support.  "Its the economy stupid".  Trump convinced rust belt voters that he would bring their manufacturing jobs back.  He is still running that campaign.  He just held a rally for manufacturers who make their products in the US.  There are good reasons, however, why many lost jobs will not return.  Manufacturers can make things with much fewer workers than they once did.  That trend will continue.  Moreover, Trump's daughter has all of her products made overseas. She is no exception to a trend.  97% of our personal apparel is made in low wage countries.  Those jobs will never come back.  The skilled workers no longer exist and neither do the machines that are used overseas.  Trump also convinced coal miners that he would bring back their jobs.  That helped him to win Ohio and Pennsylvania which are swing states.  Those jobs are not coming back.  Machines have also replaced miners as production has shifted to extracting coal from mountain tops.  Moreover, declining oil and gas prices have made coal noncompetitive in most energy markets.

"You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time."  Its only been six months in Trump's presidency and his popular support is closely related to the performance of the economy.  The jobs that Trump promised to return will not happen, and our economy will not grow at the 3% rate that Trump has promised.  It may even get worse if some of his plans are realized.  Trump will continue to lose support from independents who are not happy with his clown show.  His support from blue collar democrats, and some Republicans, will continue to erode as Trump's populist claims become less credible over time.  His hold over Republicans in Congress will also erode.  What happens next is hard to predict but Trump's support has been built on quicksand.

Mike Pence Attempts To Sell Governors On Trumpcare

The Senate vote on Trumpcare will not happen.  Two conservative senators indicated that they would not vote for the bill.  Conservatives  believe that Trumpcare is too similar to Obamacare.  Moderate Republican senators are not enthusiastic about Trumpcare either.  They might have supported it as a display of party loyalty, but they have been getting a lot of complaints from their constituents who prefer Obamacare to Trumpcare.

Many governors, including Republican governors, have expressed concerns about Trumpcare.  Vice President Pence made an effort to sell them on the bill at a meeting of governors.  The details of his defense may not interest most readers but I posted this article for a more general purpose.  Mike Pence is much slicker than Trump.  He understands the details of the bill and he either lied or misled the governors about the issues that concerned them.  His speech was reviewed critically by the fact checker employed by the Washington Post.  Our Vice President is as dishonest as his boss.  The major difference between them is Pence understands what he is talking about and he is much more clever than Trump is selling snake oil.  Trump is only capable of tweeting his stream of conscienceness to his followers on Twitter.

Trumpcare will not happen for good reasons.  However, Obamacare is not perfect and it does not deal with a major problem that must be addressed by any healthcare bill.  Spending on healthcare accounts for 17% of GDP.  We outspend other Western nations on healthcare and we do not get superior results. Spending on healthcare is also growing faster than the rate of inflation on other goods and services.  Unless we reduce the inflation rate we will run into another obstacle.  We won't be able to increase taxes to pay for the rising cost of healthcare.  One of the problems that we face is that 5% of those covered by Obamacare account for 50% of the spending.  Some of that spending is due to unavoidable problems that everyone faces.  However, some of the spending is the result personal behavior that leads to expensive care down the line.  We also need better ways to deal with the pricing of healthcare services.  They are not subject to market forces that drive price down for most commodities that we consume.  There are competent experts on these issues who might help us address these problems.  They are typically not consulted by politicians who create the rules.

An Unethiical President Causes Government Ethics Head To Resign

The head of The Office Of Government Ethics resigned from his job because our president ignored the ethical rules that have been followed by our previous presidents.  The rules are pretty clear and past presidents have voluntarily lived by the rules.  Donald Trump does not accept the basic idea that the president should not use his office to enrich himself and his allies.  He has flaunted the rules and he has given his political appointees the same freedom.  The reasons for his resignation are summarized below:

Walter M. Shaub Jr., who is resigning as the federal government’s top ethics watchdog on Tuesday, said the Trump administration had flouted or directly challenged long-accepted norms in a way that threatened to undermine the United States’ ethical standards, which have been admired around the world.
“It’s hard for the United States to pursue international anti-corruption and ethics initiatives when we’re not even keeping our own side of the street clean. It affects our credibility,” Mr. Shaub said in a two-hour interview this past weekend — a weekend Mr. Trump let the world know he was spending at a family-owned golf club that was being paid to host the U.S. Women’s Open tournament. “I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point.”

Some members of Congress believe that it is important to have ethical rules to guide the behavior of the president and his appointees.  They would like to restore the office to its normal role of ethical guidance.  Donald Trump has not let ethics stand in the way of personal self enrichment.  Its unlikely that anything can be done while he remains in office.  It could easily turn into a political battle instead of clarifying the rules and the role of the ethics office.  In any case, a list of ethical violations by The Donald  is contained in this article. They have made the US a laughing stock to the rest of the world.  Trump seems to believe that the power to ignore ethical restrictions is one of the perks of his office.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Why Corporations Are Leaving Suburbia For Chicago And Other Urban Centers

A large segment of Donald Trump's base live in rural areas that have been abandoned by their major employers.  He told them that he would bring their jobs back.  That not very likely.  This article explains why suburbia may become more like rural America.  Corporations are moving the headquarters, and the jobs that went with them, to large cities like Chicago.  They are doing it for business purposes.  Younger, well educated Americans prefer to live in large cities like Chicago.  Large corporations are competing for them and they a moving to where the brains are.  It is also where most of their customers choose to live.  General Electric is moving its corporate headquarters from suburbia to Boston because it needs the highly educated workforce in Boston to pursue its business objectives.  Donald Trump told his supporters in rural America that its jobs were lost to low wage workers in foreign nations who were cheating them.  Those decisions were made by US corporations for business reasons.  The recent decisions by large corporations to move their headquarters to large cities are also being made for business reasons.  Those decisions are bound to lead to economic disruptions in many suburban areas.  Its important to understand that business decisions drive most of what happens in America.  Governments need to be in position to deal with those disruptions.  There is not much that can be done to prevent them from making necessary business decisions.

This trend also shows the importance of America's university system to its future.  Our superior research universities attract numbers of students from other nations across the globe.  Conservative attacks on our university system for political reasons, based upon claims about their liberal bias,  are a threat to our economic future as well as to liberal democracy.

Trump's GOP Has Become The Anti-Truth Political Party

A recent poll showed that most Americans, even Republicans, don't trust Donald Trump's respect for the truth.  He has demonstrated his lack of affection for honesty for most of his life.  Paul Krugman has been looking at the Republican Party's defense of its healthcare bill and he has concluded that if the Trump Administration says something, the default assumption is that it is a lie.  The Republican healthcare bill is not just an assault on healthcare; it is an assault on truth itself.  Krugman lists many of the lies made by Republican leaders in defense of the bill.  The biggest lie of all proves his point. The non partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), is expected to release its report on the bill this week.  It will not be good news for the Republican Party.  Consequently, Republicans have begun an attack on the CBO.  They are claiming that the CBO is just another source of "fake news".  Donald Trump and his allies in Trump's political party are taking the position that they are the only source of truthfulness.  The Republican Party entered that arena with its denial of climate change.  They claimed that the scientific community provided "fake news" on climate change.  Now we are being told that we can't trust the CBO to be truthful.  Apparently, the Republican Party wants to become the only valid source of information in America.  Trump has turned it into the "Anti-Truth" political party.  We don't expect politicians to be completely honest about everything but the GOP has taken lying to a new level.  Trump's cabinet is full of liars and they are being joined by Republican senators who are committed to pass a terrible healthcare bill by any means.

Trump's visit to Poland may have encouraged its government to declare war against it judicial system.  It has taken steps to politicize its judicial system.  It will no longer be able to hold the executive branch accountable to its constitution.  Trump has been attacking our judicial since he has taken office.  What's happening in Poland is probably on the agenda of Trump's Republican Party.  One of America's top business executives explains why Trump's political party is a threat to our economic future as well as to our political system

Sunday, July 16, 2017

All The World Loves A Clown But Is It Good To Have A Clown In White House?

The late night shows in the US have been mining gold by making fun of Trump.  He provides them with a constant stream of material and the audience has grown substantially.  Trump really is good for some time types of business.  That may be harmless in the US but it may not be good for US leadership when leaders in the rest of the world view Trump as a clown.  They realize that the US is a critical ally that cannot be ignored, but too many of them don't respect him and they don't really know what to expect from his leadership.

A recent poll shows that Trump's popularity has declined in the US since the previous poll in April.  His overall approval rating has dropped from 42% to 36%.  His disapproval rating has increased from 53% to 58%.  However, Trump's approval rating among Republicans has only dropped by 2%.  He is still supported by 82% of Republicans.  His support from Independents has dropped from 42% to 36%.  His approval rating from Democrats has dropped from 13% to 11%.  Things could be better for Trump but despite his performance in office he still doing OK.  Republicans are sticking with him and it does matter much what Democrats think about him.  The only concern for Republicans is that they depend upon votes from Independents.  On the other hand, its not clear that Democrats have a message that is attractive to voters.  They don't have a clear message, and many believe that it relies too much on an anti Trump message.  Its hard to blame Democrats for leveraging the numerous mistakes made by Trump but that could easily change if the economy continues to approve and Trump figures out how to be a president.

One of the strange findings in the poll is that only 33% of Republicans believe that Russia attempted to influence the election.  The US intelligence agencies claim that they have no doubt about Russian intervention in the election.  Apparently, that has not been enough to convince 67% of Republicans that something dangerous happened in the last election.  Trump has expressed doubts about Russian intervention and that has been enough for the great majority of Republicans.

Some may look at Trump's approval decline in the polls and cheer.  I don't fell like cheering.  Trump's performance in office has been so dismal that he looks like a fool to many global leaders who depend upon a reliable president in the White House.  The fact that great majority of Republicans still approve of his performance tells me that our politics have become too tribal.  It does not seem to matter to most Republicans that Trump's performance in office is still viewed unfavorably.  Its also pretty clear to me that the Board of any major firm would have fired any CEO that demonstrated the level of incompetence that we have observed during Trump's first six months in office.  Such decisions are difficult because the Board made a bad choice to begin with.  On the other hand, the decision to fire the CEO would be unanimous.  Our electorate seems much less competent than corporate Boards.  Donald Trump's success has demonstrated a major flaw in our democracy.  Its a potential flaw that worried our founders.  They put checks and balances in place that have worked rather well over the years.  We have had bad presidents but none of them compare with Donald Trump and we are stuck with him.  He might even be reelected if the Democrats don't get their act together.  America seems to love clowns.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Lessons In Spycraft And "Kompromat" From Trump And His Campaign

We live in a different world today.  The use of social media in political campaigns rivals the power of the established media to inform the public.  It is less expensive than purchasing ads; it enables more precise message targeting, and it is not subject to scrutiny by editors who want to protect their reputation for integrity.  It can be effectively used by domestic political campaigns and it is being used by foreign powers to influence domestic politics.  A nation's ability to limit the use of propaganda has been compromised by the effective use of the social media in disinformation campaigns.  There has been a lot of concern about Donald Trump Junior's decision to invite representatives from a foreign power to provide sensitive information that might be used to discredit Hillary Clinton.  One of Trump's defenses for the meeting is that the information on offer was not as valuable as he had hoped.  There are lots of problems with Trump's defense that have thoroughly explained by the media.  I have posted two articles which provide valuable information that supplements the ongoing debate about the Trump meeting.

The first article was written by an expert with extensive experience in intelligence operations.  He argues that the Trump meeting is very typical of an operation that is used to determine the receptivity of the subject to becoming a target for further development.  The representatives from the Trump campaign at that meeting passed the test.  They did not report the meeting to the appropriate authorities, and they indicated a willingness to participate further in efforts to discredit their opponent.  It would not be surprising if further efforts were undertaken to cooperate during the campaign.  For example, Jared Kushner was in charge of the campaign's digital media operation.  It targeted crucial swing states in the election.  Russia's digital operation did the same thing.  It also selected well defined targets that would have required a lot of information that is not easily available outside of political campaigns.

The second article was written by an expert in the use of compromising information and conspiracy programs to achieve political objectives.  Trump may have been a target by Russia, buthe has also demonstrated his personal skills in the use of conspiracy and compromising information during his career.  For example, he entered into politics by freeriding on the conspiracy that Obama was not a US citizen.  He often responds to criticism by questioning the integrity of his critics and he used a variety of compromising information to tell his supporters that Hillary Clinton should be in jail. During the Republican primaries he accused Ted Cruz's father of involvement in the Kennedy assassination.  Trump makes no effort to support many of his statements with facts and he invents new facts to suit his purpose.  He has effectively used Twitter as a way to circulate information that is essentially fact free and not subject to the intervention of editors.

I began this post by claiming that we are living in new age.  My point is that we are vulnerable in new ways that threaten our political system.  When legitimate sources of information can be effectively neutered by a president who calls them fake media; when the social media can be used effectively to facilitate propaganda; when foreign governments can effectively influence elections, and when the public has not been taught how to deal with information in the new age our democratic system has to develop new tools in order to survive.  Trump may eventually go away but the stage has been set for the next Trump.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Why Some Conservatives Want Trump To Be Their Putin

Many believe that Trump won the election by his pretense at populism.  That certainly helped him out in some swing states.  This article explains why many conservatives admire Putin and support Trump's imitation of Putin.

The first step is to understand that Russia is no longer the "Evil Empire" in Ronald Reagan's sense.  Russia is no longer a communist state which provides an alternative to capitalism.  That war is over.  There are still Russian hawks in Congress like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who oppose many of Russia's foreign policies, and there are William Buckley style conservatives who prefer a decentralized and less intrusive government, but some conservatives admire Putin's cultural values and his leadership style.  There are more of these kinds of conservatives that one might imagine.  They tend to compare Trump's leadership style favorably to Putin's and they hope that Trump can be their Putin.  Trump's recent speech in Poland struck a cord that sounds a lot like a recent statement by a prominent conservative. 

“In the culture war for mankind’s future, is he one of us?” Mr. Buchanan wrote, quickly answering his own question. “He is seeking to redefine the ‘Us vs. Them’ world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent West.”

“This is consistent with a nationalist, populist, authoritarian point of view,” said William Kristol, the editor at large of the conservative Weekly Standard. That view, he added, “would ridicule the promotion of human rights and democracy as globalism, or criticize occasionally deferring to allies when you want to keep them on board as weak, or mock worrying about public opinion in allied nations as na├»ve.”

There is also a similarity in the cultural values espoused by Trump and Putin:
Both are go-it-alone nationalists who value the projection of strength and decisiveness over thoughtful deliberation. Both have dedicated themselves to defending Christians and their faith — Mr. Trump through his “religious freedom” initiatives and Mr. Putin through his strengthening of ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. Both have condemned Christian persecution in the Middle East. Both have taken a more forgiving view of human rights abuses.
 Its time to expand our views on Trump's political appeal.  Populism is not really his strong suit.  He is very popular with many conservatives who have a lot of influence in the Republican Party.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

CBO Analysis Of Trump Budget Proposal Provides A Failing Grade

Donald Trump will probably be our president for awhile.  Much of the recent news about his administration has been about Trump's campaign's connection to Russian trolls.  The country needs to operate during this process so its useful to turn to the problem of governance under Trump.  The CBO analyzed the Trump budget and it did not stand up well to the analysis.  Trump's team proposed a budget which was supposed to eliminate the federal budget deficit by 2027 and expand the economy by 3% per year.  The CBO determined that the budget deficit would not be eliminated and that the economy would only grow by 1.9% annually.  If that was not bad enough, the CBO claimed that the details provided in the budget were so vague that it was almost impossible to score.  It was forced to come up with a score without adequate detail.  For example, there was not enough detail in Trump's tax plan to determine how it would produce a 3% growth rate.  The CBO modified the growth rate to reflect recent experience on the impact of tax cuts and GDP growth rate.  The relationship has not been very strong.  Since the economy will only grow by 1.9%, which is the economic consensus, it will not produce the growth in tax revenue assumed the Trump budget.

Trump is still hoping to get the healthcare bill that he promised, but that is still uncertain.  The senate is proposing a new bill that might appease moderates.  On the other hand, they could lose some conservative votes.  Moreover, two Republican senators have drafted their own bill which they would like to include in the senate debate on the healthcare proposal.  Trump is no longer concerned about the details of the healthcare bill.  He is simply demanding that he gets a bill that he can sign.

If we ignore all of the issues about the Trump campaign's connection with Russia we still need to be concerned about the ability of the administration to govern.  This can't be done by Trump's favorite method of governing through his Twitter account.

The Silence Of The Lambs And The Republican Brand

John McCain's response to a question about Donald Trump Jr's meeting with a Russian lawyer was telling.  He said that a new shoe keeps dropping off of the Trump centipede with regularity.  The latest shoe to drop met with silence from Republican leaders in Congress.  This article explains the silence of the GOP lambs.  It than raises questions about transformation of the GOP brand to the Trump brand that is primarily attractive to a small percent of Republicans.  Trump may fall by the wayside but the Republican Party's image is being determined by the Trump base.  That does not auger well for its future.

How The Trump Campaign Might Have Colluded With Russia In 2016?

The recent revelations about the junior Trump's meeting with a Russian lawyer has led to more interest about the forms of collusion that might have taken place in the 2016 election.  It is well known that Russian bots used social media like Twitter and Facebook to plant fake news that might discourage potential Clinton supporters from voting.  It turns out that the Russian bots were very active in three swing states in the last stage of the election.  The Trump campaign's digital media arm, led by Jared Kushner, was also very active in the swing states.  This raises questions that are currently under investigation.  How did the Russian's know enough about the election to focus their activity on three swing states that changed to outcome of the election?  Did they get any assistance from Jared Kushner's digital media arm in targeting Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania?

It turns out that Russian bots were also active in GOP primaries.  They spread false information about Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, and positive information about Donald Trump.  Its pretty clear that Russian leaders determined that Donald Trump was their preferred US President.

The media have reported enough information to convince many Americans that Russia was active in the presidential election.  They have also raised many questions about all of the contacts between the Trump campaign and Trump surrogates and Russian officials.  The investigations currently underway have turned to the forms of collusion that might have taken place in the 2016 election.  There are serious national security concerns about possible collusion in the 2016 election.  Russia could influence the Trump administration's decisions by threatening to reveal what it knows about any collusion that might have taken place.  That is precisely the concern that members of the Justice Department had about Michael Flynn's unreported meetings with Russian officials.  It made him a target for blackmail.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How Fox News Covered Donald Trump Jr. Meeting

I tend to ignore Fox News and focus on legitimate news sources.  On the other hand Fox News is the primary news source for many Republicans and Trump supporters.  Consequently, I though that it would be helpful for folks who do not get their information from Fox News to view how it covered the issues.  In a sense, Fox News does what news sources in Russia tend to do for Putin.  It finds a way to defuse bad news for Trump and it exaggerates good Trump news when it is available.  It is not surprising that Trump supporters live in a different world than many of us.  The thing separates the US from Russia is that Trump's efforts to subvert the reporting from legitimate news sources has not worked.  Most Americans do not believe that the NYT and Washington Post are fake news sources as Trump and Fox News claim.  Without legitimate news sources and an independent judiciary we would look more like Russia does today.  Many Russians are happy with their system.  They don't respect democracy but they have never experienced it.  It is messy, and it does not always reflect popular opinion, but most Americans would rather have this messy system than the less messy Russian system of governance.

A Conservative Hold Out Finally Gives Up On Trump

Russ Douthat has been a reliable spokesperson for conservative causes on the NYT for a long time.  He has even believed that the Republican Party was good for conservatism.  He is also an intellectual who never felt comfortable with Donald Trump as the leader of the Republican Party.  Despite his discomfort with Donald Trump he thought that he would probably survive the investigations of the Trump campaign's connection with Russian meddling in the election.  He no longer holds that view. 

The emails which forced Donald Trump Jr. to release them before they were published by the NYT are incriminating,  The junior Trump, along with the president's son-in-law and the manager of the Trump campaign at that time, were eager to accept an offer of help from a foreign power with an intention of discrediting US democracy.  That revelation shifts the odds that the Trump campaign will be found guilty of collusion.  The Special Counsel has the power to push its investigation even deeper.  The Russians upheld their end of the bargain.  They did what they are capable of doing to tip the election in Trump's direction.  They released hacked information to Wikileaks and they employed an army of trolls to spread propaganda through the social media and other means.  Russia did not do this without the expectation of a reward for their efforts on Trump's behalf.  That may be what got Michael Flynn in trouble when his undisclosed meetings with Russian officials about relief from US sanctions were captured by US surveillance. In any case, the "Russia thing" is not going away.  The Republican Congress and the White House will find it even more difficult to govern in this climate.  The Republican Congress will cling to Donald Trump until it looks like supporting Trump will harm them in the 2018 elections. The Russian government bet on the wrong horse.  Trump was easy to recruit but he has been too inexperienced in the nuances of governance to avoid entrapment.

Monday, July 10, 2017

What Does The Law Say About Trump's Campaign Meeting With Russian Lawyer

There have been several articles in the press about the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner,  and Paul Manafort who was the Trump campaign manager at the time of the meeting.  Donald Trump Jr. stated that he asked Kushner and Manafort to attend the meeting because they might receive useful information from the person invited to the meeting at Trump Tower.  This article by a distinguished law professor explains how the meeting may be construed as collusion with a foreign government.  It will also become another avenue to pursue in the investigations that are underway.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Donald Trump Found A Good Home In The Post Truth Republican Party

Many conservative Republicans have been critical of Donald Trump's disregard for the truth.  They take the position that Trump is an anomaly.  They point to conservative intellectuals in conservative think tanks who have good ideas on policies like healthcare.  They will reform the Republican Party and return it to what it was before Trump.  Paul Krugman makes a different argument.  He doesn't mention the fact that Obamacare, which Republicans want to repeal, was derived from ideas generated by a conservative think tank.  It was successfully implemented by the Republican governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.  It only became a bad idea under President Obama.  Nonetheless, Krugman had no problems debunking the idea that reformists in conservative think tanks will restore the Republican Party to its former glory.  He simply pointed out all the lies that they are making about Obamacare and their proposed replacement bill.  Of course, he understands the idea of false equivalency, which requires us to point out that our political parties are equally bad, but he rejects that idea. After reviewing all of the lies coming from Republican leaders he concludes that the Republican Party has become the Post-Truth political party.  Donald Trump has surrounded himself with Republicans who share his disregard for the truth.  They were not hard to find.  The House majority leader Paul Ryan is perfectly happy with the terrible bill passed by the Republican House.  It cuts taxes for the wealthy, and it pays for the tax cuts by making huge cuts in Medicaid.  Ryan defends the loss of healthcare coverage in the new bill by arguing that it was voluntary.  Those who could not afford to pay for the higher premiums behaved like good consumers.  They chose not to purchase the insurance.  The Republican Party has also either denied global warming or it has argued that it is unrelated to human consumption of fossil fuels.  In other words, they reject the findings of the scientific community.  Donald Trump's rejection of scientific evidence is perfectly consistent with Republican orthodoxy. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Noam Chomsky Interview On The Global Risks That We Face

Noam Chomsky has been one the world's most trenchant intellectuals over the last fifty years.  Many questions were raised in this interview but it can be summed up in a few sentences.  Chomsky believes that we are at greater risk from nuclear warfare than we have been since the cold war.  We hear a lot about the risk from North Korea but Chomsky is more concerned about the US modernization of it's nuclear capabilities.  It threatens other nations with nuclear weapons who might be worried about being the target of a surprise attack.  They might be motivated to strike first.  The other catastrophe that concerns him is global warming.  The danger is very real but the Republican Party has sided with the fossil fuel industry in resisting government efforts to participate in limiting its impact on our future.

He had nothing to add about Donald Trump that we do not already know.  His major concern about Trump is that his policies will be dictated by the corrupt political party which he nominally leads.  He has taken anti-intellectualism to a new level but his war against science and reason is consistent with Republicanism and much of its base.  He regards Bernie Sanders as the most popular politician in America at this moment.  His campaign, which was essentially New Dealism, demonstrated that a popular campaign can be conducted without reliance on funding from the usual suspects. The Democratic Part lost its working class base during the Clinton and Obama administrations according the Chomsky.  It seems to him more like what the Republican Party was before it moved to the far right.  Both parties have been captured by neo-liberal ideology.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Will Trump's Trade War Create US Jobs?

Paul Krugman won his Nobel Prize in economics by his contributions to international trade theory.  He knows more about this subject than Donald Trump, who seldom makes efforts to learn more about subjects so that he can make informed decisions.  Trump may not understand international trade theory but he does understand how his base will respond to his decisions.  The steel industry and its labor unions will be pleased if Trump imposes tariffs on steel imports into the US.  Trump and many in the steel industry will claim that the tariffs will create US jobs.  Krugman provides an informed opinion on the relationship between steel tariffs and net job creation in the US.

Krugman's most obvious point is that tariffs on steel will make steel more expensive to producers in the US that purchase steel to build things like automobiles.  That will make US cars more expensive and reduce jobs in the car industry.  The better way to increase net jobs in the US would be for the government to invest in infrastructure that would increase the demand for steel.

Krugman reminds us, however, that there would indirect effects from steel tariffs that would impact net job creation in the US.  For example, prices would rise in the US and the Fed would respond by raising interest rates.  That would dampen the large housing market and it would also cause the dollar to increase in value by making US treasuries a better investment.  That would be harmful to US exports because it would increase the real price of US products in foreign markets.

Krugman understands that globalization has been disruptive in some communities just as other communities might have benefited from globalization.  On the other hand, globalization has already happened.  Efforts to reverse globalization would also be disruptive.  The impact of reversal would be harmful to some communities while other communities benefit. For example, tariffs would favor capital intensive industries that produce fewer jobs per unit of output than industries that are not capital intensive.  That would tilt income distribution away from labor by reducing the demand for labor.

Joe Nocero echoes many of the points made by Krugman.  He adds some value to the discussion by describing how Trump may use national security as a way to impose tariffs on steel by short circuiting the normal path that would be used to impose tariffs.  He also puts Trump's plan to help the steel industry in the context of Trump's other plans that have demonstrated his incompetence.  Trump has little regard for the failures of his many policy initiatives.  He only cares about how they play with his base of supporters.  That is Trump governance in a nutshell.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Ben Bernanke Tells Central Bankers That Economic Growth Is Not Enough

Ben Bernanke, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, delivered a speech at a conference of European central bankers in Sintra.  The focus of his speech was on the US but it also has implications for Europe.  He began is speech with a review of economic conditions in the US.  He stated that despite the cyclical upswing in the US,  many Americans are dissatisfied with the economy.  He explained why they were dissatisfied  and he turned his attention to the longer term issues that we face so that Americans can cope with the economic disruptions that accompany economic growth.

Bernanke cited four major reasons for the dissatisfaction that has led to the rise of populism and the election of Donald Trump in the US:

The first reason is easy to understand but harder to explain.  Real median income for males in the US today are lower than they were 38 years ago in 1979.  Economic growth over that period has not led to rising wages for the median male worker.

Rising income inequality, which is indicated by the lack of growth in median real income, has also been accompanied by lower economic and social mobility.  This contrasts dramatically with the social mobility that Americans experienced between the end of the second world war and 1979.  90% of Americans born in 1940 earned more than their parents by 1980.  Only 50% of Americans born in 1980 earn more than their parents do today.  Income and wealth inequality is higher in American than it is in most other developed nations.  Many Americans can tolerate income inequality but not when it is accompanied by falling social mobility.  Equality of opportunity is an important value that has been lost along with rising economic outcomes.

The rise in populism in the US has often been explained by the "death from despair" that we have seen within the white working class.  Death from drugs, alcoholism, and suicide exceed deaths from auto accidents and firearms combined in the white working class.  However, the problem is even broader than that among the white working class.  The labor force participation rate among prime aged Americans between the ages of 25-54 was 97% in 1960.  Today it is only 88%.  This has been accompanied by breakdowns in the structure of many families.  Children and the elderly are not supported by their families as they were when almost everyone was in the labor force.

The economic issues faced by too many Americans have led to a distrust of government.  Only 20% of Americans agree that the government will do what's right or almost right most of the time.  That is explained to some extent by economic policies under Reagan, Clinton and George Bush.  Taxes have been cut primarily for the wealthy and government support for social welfare programs has eroded over this period.  The US economy grew much faster between 1945 and 1970.  That period of unusual growth was also accompanied by a rise in government programs that enabled economic growth.  We are now in period of more normal economic growth during which public welfare programs such as education are no longer supported as they were during the faster economic growth period.

Bernanke then turns to what's missing today.  We need programs that will help individuals and localities adjust to slower economic growth and the rapid economic changes that have been underway for many years.  Donald Trump exploited the economic issues that led to the rise in populism but the populist promises he made during his campaign have fallen by the wayside.  Instead his administration is leaning towards the traditional supply side orthodoxies long favored by the Republican Party.  The implication is that they are a part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Bernanke concludes by stating that we live in a world of imperfect capital markets and public goods markets.  There is no guarantee that our political response to the resulting problems will be optimal or equitable.  Tax and transfer policies might be helpful but they have to be done right.  They will be resisted if they look like handouts to people.  That usually leads to resentments which some politicians exploit.  Bernanke does not offer any easy solutions because the problems we face are built into our system.  The problems are serious but difficult to rectify.  Central bankers have done what they can by keeping interest rates low but fiscal policies will also be required to deal with our problems.  There is much slack in many of our economies even with zero interest rates.  He mentions some of the structural problems in many of our inflexible labor markets but he warns us that they need to forward looking as well as backwards looking.  Forward looking programs must accompany government efforts to increase the flexibility of the labor force.