Thursday, January 26, 2017

How to get rid of Trump? Let me count the ways.

Donald Trump is now president. The bipartisan "never Trump" movement has tried over and over to keep him from the presidency without success. But they're not finished. They continue to look for ways to get Mr. Trump out of office. These may even intensify as Donald Trump does what he said he would -- he's building a wall, strengthening enforcement against illegal aliens, and not acquiescing to the Washington establishment. Those arrested for violence near the inauguration are being charged with real crimes (felonies), not a slap on the wrist (though it's not clear if Mr. Trump was directly involved in this case).

So now that Donald Trump is the president, speculation continues on how to get rid of him. Least likely is a return of wishful thinking. After Trump won the nomination there was speculation that he'd step down, having achieved his goal. Today, there is speculation that Mr. Trump will lose interest in the presidency or that he doesn't have the attention span to stick it out for four years. I'd say this comes squarely in the "wish fulfillment" department. Donald Trump's business career has included long term construction projects  and ongoing management. It should be clear he knows what he's getting into and will continue to do the job. I'm also seeing stories based on "anonymous inside sources" which say the White House is full of conflict and dysfunctional. I'm sure there's some conflict, any new administration involves a number of people who've never worked together figuring out how to work together. And this certainly involves battles for power, but that's true of every new administration. So the "Trump will resign" speculations are just that, speculation.

The next method for getting rid of Donald Trump is impeachment. While no resolution has been introduced to my knowledge, there is at least one petition (on and multiple people calling for impeachment, largely by arguing that the existence of Trump businesses violates the law. Some arguments are on an ethics basis, others are based on the Constitution's "emoluments" clause, arguing that any time a foreigner stays in a Trump hotel Mr. Trump violates the Constitution. However, this won't get very far unless Republicans can be convinced to sign on. As long as Donald Trump has reasonably good relations with Congress, impeachment won't go anywhere.

There is a similar move in the courts, with a lawsuit filed against President Trump. This is not likely to go far as the courts will most likely rule those filing the lawsuit lack standing.

Finally, we're seeing a lot about the 25th Amendment. This amendment to the Constitution includes a clause where the president can be declared unfit for office by a couple methods involving Congress, the vice president, and the Cabinet. At this point the argument appears to be that Mr. Trump is insane due to his insistence that there was widespread voter fraud and that it be investigated. Again, this is basically a political case and will not go anyplace as long as President Trump doesn't radically alienate Congress.

For either impeachment or the 25th amendment, we can only hope the radicals don't go too far. Removing a president from office because of unpopular (at least to the establishment) policies sets a horrible precedent and could seriously destabilize the government for a long time to come.

Meanwhile, I'm waiting to see what other creative methods people come up with to de-Trump the White House.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

It's all in the spin

The Trump Presidency has begun and we see once again that the way news is presented is much more important than the actual news.

One of Mr. Trump's first actions as President was to rescind a cut in the mortgage insurance rate for FHA mortgage loans. Here is an editorial reporting Mr. Trump's initial actions. The editorial is presented with a proposed narrative (Trump is becoming a "Radical Conservative", which appears to mean pro-business, anti-people).

After reading this editorial, when did this insurance rate cut go into effect? About the 5th paragraph says:
The Obama administration had said last week that the Federal Housing Administration would drop the cost of mortgage insurance it sells by almost a third to 0.60 percent.
This statement is actually a bit clearer than most articles on the rate cut -- from some it sounded like a change in longstanding FHA policy. Instead, this rescinds a rate cut announced January 9 to take effect January 27.

But we see here an emphasis on Mr. Trump taking something away. The exact same action could have instead been headlined "Donald Trump Reverses Last Minute Obama Administration Action." This alternate headline presents exactly the same facts but spins it in more positive manner.

We've been seeing many examples of the press spinning Donald Trump in a negative way. Expect to see a lot more.

NOTE: Whether the FHA insurance rate should be cut is a valid question. On the one hand, the rate cut has been anticipated. On the other hand, FHA insurance rates rose during the 2008 mortgage crisis. One can argue that the insurance rate shouldn't be cut too much because it will then jump up during the next downturn (when foreclosures will increase) making it harder for those FHA is supposed to help to afford a mortgage.

Is this Mr. Trump becoming a "Radical Conservative" or is it the incoming administration wanting to make sure it knows all the facts before taking an action. Or perhaps the new administration restoring the rate cut in a few months so it can take the credit.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Ignoring facts for partisan gain

This time it's the Republicans who are distorting the facts. Perhaps to try to make President Obama's legacy look worse or at least give themselves a (possibly) better starting point.

Senator Ted Cruz has stated that rather than the official unemployment rate around 5%, there are 95 million unemployed. Rick Perry stated 90 million unemployed a couple years ago. Conservative news outlets (e.g. Breitbart) are harping on this number.

Now it's certainly true that the unemployment rate is a deceptive number. Democrats long argued the real rate was higher than the official rate (because of "discouraged workers") during Ronald Reagan's presidency. Discouraged workers or others who would like a job but aren't actively looking for one certainly imply the true unemployment rate is higher than the official number though it's hard to say by how much.

However, the 95 million number is complete hogwash. It includes all adults over age 16, meaning retired senior citizens, high school students, college students, stay at home parents, and as of yesterday even First Lady Melania Trump (I don't think "first lady" is a paid job and I'm sure she's supposed to disassociate herself from any businesses she has been involved in).

This number looks like something which will backfire on Republicans in not too long. After all, the Republicans are the "natural" home of those who feel that children should be raised in two parent households where one parent is home caring for the children. It's conservatives who complain that children of single parents (or households where both parents are working) are more likely to do poorly in school and life. Arguing that these stay at home parents are part of the "unemployed" implies that Republicans instead want them all working. Worse would be if Democrats use this number to start accusing Republicans of wanting to abolish retirement (and by extension Social Security), advocating that we should all work until we die.

So far I don't have a lot of confidence in the Republican establishment or Donald Trump, when they throw purely political numbers around of this sort.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Who is the party of the rich?

We all know that the Republican party in the United States is the party of the rich, while Democrats are the party of the working class. Or so the conventional stereotype goes.

Oxfam, an anti-poverty group, has just released a report which says that tthe richest 8 people have as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the world. So one would expect the 8 people to be staunch Republicans or conservatives, right?

Of the eight people, two are outside the United States -- Amancio Ortega (Spain) and Carlos Slim (Mexico), so they don't fit into the the US political spectrum.

The other six are all US billionaires -- Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, and Michael Bloomberg. Guess what? Five of the 6 are Democrats, or at least donate primarily (exclusively) to the Democratic Party. Michael Bloomberg was a Republican, is now listed as independent, but is by no means a strong conservative.

So which is the party of the rich? It appears the richest favor the Democrats.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Extreme politics

Much has been written about the increasing polarization of politics in the United States. It hasn't always been that way. Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Republican Barry Goldwater were friends, though diametrically opposed politically. More recently, Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were friends though they had very different views of law and politics. In each case people were willing to disagree about political issues but enjoy each other's company and their shared interests (Justices Scalia and Ginsburg both enjoyed Opera, to the extent an opera was written about their friendship).

Today, especially after the election of Donald Trump, this seems a foreign concept to many. Friends have stopped talking to each other after finding out the other one voted the wrong way. People who worked together for years are suddenly enemies.

Now I'm finding this "politics determines who I'm willing to associate with" view going back over 40 years. I'm reading Nancy Pelosi's memoir "Know Your Power", subtitled "A Message to America's Daughters". In this she writes about moving to San Francisco in the late 1960s. After spending months looking for a house to rent, she finally finds one. But she then learns the reason the house is available is that the owner is going to Washington to become part of the Nixon administration. Mrs. Pelosi immediately backs out of the deal, she cannot rent a house which became available by the election of Richard Nixon.

Mrs. Pelosi later talks about some lifelong friends. She makes a point that one is a Republican, the rest being Democrats. Apparently her social life is largely defined by politics.

I have some fairly strong political opinions, but I can't recall any time I've defined my relationship with somebody else by politics. I've certainly had political discussions with friends, and we haven't always agreed, but I can't imagine deciding to form or break a friendship based solely on political views.

The fact that we have "public servants" unwilling to socialize outside their own political ideology goes a long way to explaining the lack of civility, compromise, or collegiality of politics today.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Day one of the new Congress -- ethics

It appears Donald Trump comes out on top in one battle today, at least from the media point of view. Republicans attempted to make changes to a congressional ethics agency. These changes were characterized as "gutting" by opponents, "needed reform" by supporters of the change. Either way they were sending the wrong message (at least from the media's point of view).

Mr. Trump used Twitter to tell Republicans this is the wrong move and gives the wrong priorities, and Republicans backed down, removing the changes to the ethics agency. This leaves Mr. Trump looking good and implying he can exercise control over Congress.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Setting the right goals

As today's partisan political shouting match continues, perhaps it's time that we decide on better goals for our nation.

With Donald Trump about to take office, liberals aren't talking about the nation's problems or how to solve them, it's all about "stop Donald Trump". This is a mirror image of 8 years ago, when the conservative mantra was "stop Barack Obama". In each case the nature of the proposal doesn't matter, just the knee jerk opposition to the other side.

Thus Mr. Trump's has proposed that veterans be able to get care from private providers (doctors or hospitals) instead of only at VA facilities. This is so veterans don't have to drive long distances and endure the long waits for appointments that have been in the news the last few years. The liberal response? "Trump is privatizing the VA". Nothing about helping veterans, just "privatizing", which must be bad.

In health care, we've endured years of concern that people have health insurance regardless of whether they can actually pay for health care afterwards. Since most health insurance is now high deductible plans (a legacy of George W Bush, not Barack Obama) people have to pay a large, unsubsidized deductible before getting any health care. What is today's health care debate about? "Save Obamacare" or "Repeal Obamacare". One side will oppose any change Mr. Trump proposes, the other wants to throw the whole thing out and start over. Health care policy in the United States is still a mess, and it will continue to be a mess so long as partisan sound bites are more important than actual policy.

Similarly, liberals are gearing up to save Medicare and Social Security. No proposal from Mr. Trump. There are some proposals around Congress (there always are), the one I've seen only cuts Social Security for those with high incomes (though in Social Security terms, that isn't always that high). Again, the concern isn't with Social Security of Medicare, it's political advantage. Petitions to "save" programs which aren't yet under attack leave the perception they are being attacked, and I predict that ANY proposed change will be characterized by the left as "abolishing" the program.

The list goes on. The press characterizes Trump as being "soft on Russia", ignoring the whole "reset" exercise the Obama Administration went through. They completely ignore incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's book (very anti-Russia), instead emphasizing that Mr. Flynn was once seated with Vladimir Putin at a dinner and that Mr. Flynn has talked to the Russian news (propaganda) agency Russia Times (RT). Never a mention that Jill Stein is also seen on RT.

So the political posturing goes on. As Donald Trump begins to make changes, remember that both political parties are often more concerned with political power than the good of the nation or its people. All liberals need to know about a policy is that Donald Trump proposed it and they'll know it's bad, even if it was Barack Obama's policy last year. And conservatives will react similarly, supporting policies they might have opposed last year, solely by how they're presented.