Friday, May 26, 2017

While You’re A-Peein’

In late May, Mr. Diplomacy, Donald “the Charmer” Trump took his show on the road in his first foreign trip as president. After basking in the glow of his “adoring” Middle Eastern sycophants (both of which are heavily-dependent on American arms) – Saudi Arabia and Israel (the U.S. is its only major ally) – then spinning as positive a rather obviously disastrous meeting with the Pope at the Vatican, Donald Trump turned his rippling-muscle-charm offensive towards his European allies in Brussels (NATO) and then in Sicily (G-7 meeting). Zero press conferences. Wonder why? A litany of awkward handshakes and even more awkward body language.
It was stunning to watch our President, attending the NATO summit in Brussels, literally shove the Prime Minister of Montenegro aside without even acknowledging his existence (pictured above) and to watch the smirks on the faces of major world leaders at that same meeting as he chastised them for insufficiently funding that organization’s budget.
As allegations of deeper levels of involvement of Trump’s inner circle with Russian operatives raged through the American press and as yet another federal appellate court sustained an injunction against his travel ban, the Donald applied his domineering, take-charge bullying tactics against nations that are purportedly on our side of so many global issues. He clearly treats Russia and Vladimir Putin – rather obviously serious long-term foes – better, a reality not lost on global leaders. Sicily was even less successful.
In the wake of tensions emanating after the horrific carnage in Manchester, bully-Trump kept up the attacks on his European allies (?). His next target was Germany, most notably their biggest industry: automotive. Notwithstanding a rather large presence of German manufacturing that actually takes place at German car plants here in the United States, Trump took on Germany’s Angela Merkel – clearly the most powerful leader in post-Brexit Europe – rather directly on the issue of car exports. Too bad that U.S. car-makers have been unable to match the values that too many Americans see in German cars. We need trade barriers because American car companies cannot deliver the same level of quality? Huh? That Europeans really don’t think American cars can match the German counterparts? Americans scared of competition? Really?
“‘The Germans are bad, very bad,’ Trump told EU officials in a closed-door meeting, [German journal] Der Spiegel reported, citing unidentified attendees. ‘Look at the millions of cars that they sell in the U.S. Terrible. We’re going to stop that.’…
“German carmakers found themselves at the receiving end of renewed attacks by President Donald Trump, who reportedly chided them for selling too many vehicles in the U.S., contributing to a lopsided German trade surplus that’s hurting the U.S. economy…
“Trump has repeatedly criticized Germany’s high trade surplus with the U.S. In a Bild newspaper interview in January, he threatened luxury-car maker BMW AG with a 35 percent import duty for foreign-built cars sold in the country. ‘If you go down Fifth Avenue everyone has a Mercedes Benz in front of his house,’ he told Bild, while lamenting the lack of Chevrolets in Germany. General Motors Co. has withdrawn the brand from Europe for some years.Bottom of Form
“German carmakers like Daimler AGVolkswagen AG and BMW have responded to the attacks with a mix of defiance and mollification. BMW Chief Executive Officer Harald Krueger, one of a small group of business leaders to accompany German Chancellor Angela Merkel on her first trip to visit Trump at the White House, has defended the importance of free trade and noted that BMW’s biggest plant worldwide is in Spartanburg, South Carolina -- making the manufacturer the biggest exporter on a net basis from the U.S.” Bloomberg.com, May 26th.
Unfortunately, a trade war with Germany, given the construction of the European Union (uniform and unified trade and tariff policies), is literally a trade war with the entire E.U. And guess what happens to the U.S. economy in a trade war with Europe? That mainstream media that Trump hates so much is just as anti-Trump “over there.” Der Spiegel, that prestigious German periodical (www.spiegel.de, May 19th) responded that “the EU side was horrified at the extent of the Americans' lack of awareness of trade policy. Apparently, it was unclear to the guests that the EU countries concluded trade agreements only jointly.” 
The magazine goes on to call for an end to Trump – the title of the article is A Danger to the World; It's Time to Get Rid of Donald Trump. The piece notes that (i) since his resignation, (ii) impeachment, or (iii) declaration of mental incompetence are unlikely given Republican dominance and (iv) that the possibility of a Democratic victory would not even happen for 18 months, it is time that (v) “the international community [needs to make up and find] a way to circumvent the White House and free itself of its dependence on the U.S. Unlike the preceding four options, the fifth doesn't directly solve the Trump problem, but it is nevertheless necessary - and possible…
“Trump has to be removed from the White House. Quickly. He is a danger to the world… Trump is a miserable politician… The U.S. elected a laughing stock to the presidency and has now made itself dependent on a joke of a man.” Whoa! Really strong stuff. The other members of the G7 pressed Trump on the Paris climate change accord, but the best they got was a Trump waffle. Nothing.
Trump’s recent intelligence leaks have also created an atmosphere of distrust among those of our allies who gather and share vital intelligence (particularly in the battle against global terrorists) with us. As Donald Trump slams international leaders, threatens to dismantle long-standing trade agreements, his cabinet officers often follow-up with a then “he really didn’t mean what he said exactly” explanation. The international global community is not particularly attuned to Trump’s proclivity to tweet and shoot from the hip, usually taking our nation’s chief executive officer at his word… underplaying his high-level advisors’ attempts to mollify their concerns.
Much of the damage that Donald Trump has done to our standing in the world and our credibility will be exceptionally difficult to undo. Think about it. If a rational and solid partner for decades can reverse those policies in an instant, if a populist leader is electable in what used to be the greatest democracy on earth, if a more moderate, realistic American president succeeds Mr. Trump, do you really think Europe will simply dismiss Mr. Trump’s presidency as a once-in-an-era fluke? Or worry that no matter what a realistic and well-versed American president might agree to, another extreme replacement can reverse all those efforts in just 100 days?
France seems to appreciate that reality, after watching what a far-right populist candidate did in the United States after winning the presidency. On May 7th, France’s far right populist Trump-clone, Marine Le Pen, was soundly defeated by novice centrist, 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron, by a stunning 65.5%-34.5% margin of victory.  Unfortunately for Democrats – who have yet to enunciate a coherent economic policy counter to Trumpism – the GOP itself appears to be in no immediate danger of being usurped by their counterparts across the aisle.
I’m Peter Dekom, and Donald Trump’s bull-in-china-shop style may well have a permanent negative effort on America’s ability to foster its global interests and defend its borders.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Will the Lies Turn the Base Against Trump/Pence?

Just about every financial path endorsed or proposed by the Trump/Pence administration is projected to cause that under-employed/unemployed bulwark of their political base to suffer dearly. The overriding explanation to this rob the poor to incentivize the rich is to bring manufacturing back to these shores and create millions of new jobs or reignite those jobs purportedly extinguished by over-regulation. Some fictional notion of massive growth, which is clearly contrary to the reality of any mature economy. But slashing and burning are coming. Like financial and environmental regulation. Stuff like allowing oil and mining companies to stop worrying about stopping leaks or dumping effluents into the air or local waterways. Or saving “taxpayer first” money by taking down the entire Consumer Protection Agency, which is clear a pain in the butt to corporate America but a saving grace for the consumer with no real power to address being ripped off by big companies otherwise.
This new notion of “taxpayer first” is a pretty obviously blessing to those who pay taxes at the highest brackets. Rich people and very profitable companies. For those who rely on nasty stuff like Social Security and public schools, who are struggling to make ends meet, hoping for a better life for their kids through college or trade school ($$$$$$$), who work for a living, they’re not on the dole, not on welfare, not overtaxing the system… just trying to live, well, their benefits are going down and their costs are going up. For those less fortunate, they simply will lose benefits that keep them alive, from food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to medical care. If the Trump/Pence budget submitted on May 23rd is implemented to any significant extent, we will have a lot fewer economically disadvantaged Americans to deal with. They will simply die off. Gratefully, revulsion to this budget is roiling through Congress on both sides of the aisle. Still this Trump/Pence budget betrays its core constituency like no other.
The proposed $1.7 trillion dollar cut to social support systems, even amortized over a decade and part of a reduction in domestic spending by a third, is the death sentence. You can skip over the elimination of the National Endowments for the Arts/Humanities, PBS, etc., and just drill down on the cost of healthcare, especially for those with preexisting conditions (most excluded from care without substantial likely premium increases making such policies unaffordable for the millions of people with serious issues), and you can see how those unable to afford the new, “taxpayer first” healthcare system, will either be moved to the economic edge of paycheck-to-paycheck existence… or over it. If they even have jobs. Vastly lower levels of healthcare at vastly higher costs to the consumer, kind of the opposite of The Donald’s campaign pledges.
“That [$1.7 number above] includes $616 billion from Medicaid, an entitlement program that [Trump] vowed as a candidate not to touch, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, another entitlement… Other reductions include $142 billion over a decade from federal college loan programs and $72 billion from disability assistance…
“Yet many beneficiaries of the targeted programs are working-class Americans from whom Trump drew so much political support. The scale of proposed Medicaid cuts would probably lead to widespread coverage losses, according to independent experts, some state officials and advocates for children, the elderly and others who rely on the 52-year-old program.
“The House bill to roll back Obamacare — which Trump enthusiastically backed — would lead to about 10 million poor people losing insurance, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
“Medicaid is a pillar of the health law’s expansion of insurance coverage and has helped drive a historic drop in the nation’s uninsured rate. Nationwide surveys suggest at least 20 million previously uninsured Americans have gained coverage since 2014.
“The law makes hundreds of billions of dollars of federal aid available to states to extend Medicaid coverage, including to low-income childless adults, a population that had been largely excluded from the program. Historically it was limited to poor children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities.” Los Angeles Times, May 23rd.
While it is clear that the Senate will make major changes, “A [GOP] bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that narrowly passed the House this month [May] would leave 14 million more people uninsured next year than under President Barack Obama’s health law — and 23 million more in 2026, the [non-partisan] Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday [5/24]. Some of the nation’s sickest would pay much more for health care…
“In many states, insurance costs could soar for consumers who are sick or have pre-existing conditions, while premiums would fall for the healthy, the new estimate concludes… In states that obtain waivers from certain health insurance mandates, ‘premiums would vary significantly according to health status and the types of benefits provided, and less healthy people would face extremely high premiums,’ the budget office said…
“‘Unless you’re a healthy millionaire, Trumpcare is a nightmare,’ said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader. ‘This report ought to be the final nail in the coffin of the Republican effort to sabotage our health care system.’… Insurance is, by definition, a pooling of risks, but the budget office said the House bill could cause a fragmentation of the market.” New York Times, May 24th.
But defense spending will add half a trillion dollars over ten years, and the very notion of having an economy swell from his incentives to the rich is little more than political propaganda. Bringing manufacturing back to America? It will line the pockets of those who own the mechanisms of automation – labor-saving devices – and most definitely not workers such machines were designed to replace. By privatizing infrastructure development, Trump enables some very well-heeled companies to charge decades of tolls and other user fees to ordinary Americans using roads and bridges just to get to work. And seriously, he will not make much in the way of creating demand for much-maligned coal… so those workers will wait for a return to those jobs… in vain.
Donald now courts his conservatives, at the expense of his constituency, with deficit reduction as a major plank, along with tax cuts that will go well over 90% to those in the highest income brackets. The rich get richer and the poor and middle class live with the cuts to benefits and services as well as a sharp increase in the cost of living. But, claims Mr. Trump, a booming economy will float all boats… eventually. Nevertheless: Drastic cuts to programs, from agriculture to Medicaid, have drawn blowback from lawmakers in districts whose constituents would stand to be affected by the slashes.” AOL.com, May 23rd. Dems as well as Republicans.
“In its inaugural budget, the Trump administration projected that booming economic growth would allow the president to keep a wide range of expensive campaign promises while eliminating federal deficits in 10 years… It is wishful thinking.
“The budget promises a deep tax cut for businesses and consumers that would not reduce federal revenue. An increase in military spending would be offset by trillions of dollars of unspecified or loosely sketched reductions in federal spending… And it all works because the budget assumes an acceleration of economic growth to an annual pace of 3 percent a year, much higher than the post-recession average of 2 percent.
“‘I see no way that’s going to remotely happen,’ said David A. Stockman, the budget director under President Ronald Reagan. He noted that the White House is depending on the continuation of an economic expansion that is already among the longest in American history. ‘It assumes you’re going to go 206 months without a recession, which has never happened,’ he said. Not in the United States, at least.
“Presidential budgets are political statements — wish lists that Congress never grants in full, and sometimes rejects completely. A preliminary version of President Trump’s plan already got a frosty reception on Capitol Hill even though Republicans control both houses of Congress. Many Republicans share the Democrats’ wariness about large-scale cuts to the social safety net. And increased military spending would require Democratic support to lift the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, giving the minority party valuable leverage.
“Strikingly, Mr. Trump’s budget would increase the share of the nation’s economic output the federal government collects each year. The Congressional Budget Office projected in January that under current law the government would collect 18.37 percent of gross domestic product in 2027. Mr. Trump’s budget projects that the government would collect 18.43 percent — even after a proposed tax cut. Because the White House also projects faster economic growth, the combined effect would increase federal revenues over the 10-year period by an estimated $2.7 trillion.” New York Times, May 22nd. Yeah, even Republican economists have serious doubts.
But there is more of a direct dollar payback to those who need that extra cash the least, people who don’t hire waves of well-paid workers without a clear business plan to make more money. And if consumers have even less discretionary income to spend because life will be that much more expensive under all such changes… And if we have to replace all those undocumented workers to the other side of a wall Mexico will never pay for, exactly what do you think will happen to food prices and construction costs? Tax cuts for the rich do not address any of these issues.
“Even less specificity was offered on the tax plan, which Mr. Trump’s economic team has promised will become law by the end of this year. [Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget] said Monday [5/22] that the budget projected that the proposed tax cuts would not increase the federal debt because they would produce offsetting economic growth.
That assertion is disputed by a wide range of economists, both liberal and conservative. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated last month that the ideas presented by Mr. Trump, including cutting the corporate tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent and doubling the standard deduction for individual taxpayers, could reduce tax revenues by $7 trillion over 10 years.” NY Times.
Trump math gets even worse when you really look at it… counting numbers twice to get the desired result. “Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, in a Washington Post column on Tuesday [5/23], said that the idea was a ‘logical error of the kind that would justify failing a student in an introductory economics course.’
“‘Apparently, the budget forecasts that U.S. economic growth will rise to 3.0 percent because of the administration's policies — largely its tax cuts and perhaps also its regulatory policies,’ Summer wrote. ‘Fair enough if you believe in tooth fairies and ludicrous supply-side economics.’… The administration is saying the tax cuts will not only pay for themselves, but also earn the country enough to make up the deficit. Essentially, what they billed as a revenue-neutral tax plan will now evidently be revenue positive.
“As Summers put it this math does not work ‘in a world of logic… This is a mistake no serious business person would make,’ Summers said. ‘It appears to be the most egregious accounting error in a presidential budget in the nearly 40 years I have been tracking them.’ Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, also took issue with the apparent double-counting in a statement Monday [5/22].’ AOL.com, May 23rd.
Money lies seem to be everywhere you look, even in the little things: “Just before taking office, President Donald Trump promised to donate all profits earned from foreign governments back to the U.S. Treasury… But MSNBC has learned the Trump Organization is not tracking all possible payments it receives from foreign governments, according to new admissions by Trump representatives. By failing to track foreign payments it receives, the company will be hard-pressed to meet Trump's pledge to donate foreign profits and could even increase its legal exposure.
“The Trump Organization does not ‘attempt to identify individual travelers who have not specifically identified themselves as being a representative of a foreign government entity,’ according to a new company pamphlet. The policy suggests that it is up to foreign governments, not Trump hotels, to determine whether they self-report their business.” NBC News, May 24th.
Democrats may press non-economic issues to the fore, but perhaps they just don’t understand their own country well enough. While the pursuit of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign is clearly important to the survival of democracy, as equal treatment under the law is a basic American premise that must be sustained, and as humanitarian values and gender/ racial/religious equality are Western standards… in the end, “it’s the economy stupid.” If the Democrats are dumb enough not to prioritize that reality, knowing that until their economic world is stabilized, most Americans won’t care about much else, the Trump/Pence-Republicans will endure and triumph with their policies that almost always favor the wealthiest in the land.
I’m Peter Dekom, and Trump’s entire view of American wealth and how most Americans live and work is nothing more than Easter Bunny economics elevating the rich at every major decision threshold… at the expense of everybody else.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Pope’s Knows

From ugly realities with serious political consequences hovering above the Trump administration from the Mueller investigation to unfortunate leaks of classified information (which the president has the power to declassify) in ways that prejudice field intelligence officers and threaten to compromise critical informants, provide vital information to our enemies and interfere with clandestine operations essential to our national security, Trump’s awkward incompetence and misplaced trust continues to suggest a rather significant and continuing threat to our country.
·         The leak to the Russian foreign minister and their ambassador to the U.S, (inside information on ISIS plans to use batteries in laptops to blow up planes).
·         Telling Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that we have two operational nuclear submarines in the Sea of Japan (where North Korea test fires its missiles). USA Today, May 24th.
·         And now, as the Scotland Yard is/was trying to identify all of the perpetrators in the Manchester suicide bombing, the British press reports that their Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, is publically slamming the Trump administration for prematurely releasing the name of the bomber to the American press.
As if Duterte and Vladimir Putin were America’s allies. “Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Moscow on Monday [5/22] for a five-day visit that seeks to build relations with Russia and realign the Philippines away from the United States. In a speech before his departure, Duterte pledged his ‘firm resolve to broaden the horizons for friendship,’ and described Russia as a country with ‘strategic interest in the [Asia Pacific] region.’ Duterte is expected to ask Russia for precision-guided weapons to be used against the Islamist insurgency in the Philippines’ southern region.” The Cipher Brief, May 24th. Oh Donald?! Are you really that na├»ve or do you really believe these folks are our best friends? Did you know that Russia is opening a ferry service to North Korea…  Wonder how that submarine information became public?
Aside from his proclivity to tweet despite admonitions to the contrary from his senior staff, the Donald seems unable to contain his need to show world leaders how well-informed he is – his irrational and insecure braggadocio – notwithstanding the damage this dissemination of information does to how our allies trust us with sensitive intelligence, that informants in the field face death as our foes reverse engineer the information to trace the source or that our enemies are better prepared to sabotage our military’s efforts to keep us safe.
He seems equally convinced that he is so charming that he can convince world leaders with sincere and deep convictions that contradict his views to understand him as well as his vision and accept our policies accordingly. That notion seems to define his intentions on his recent trip… often with awkward results. For those that need something – like Saudi leaders in desperate need of an arms upgrade or an isolated Israeli government that is almost without any other allies anywhere – they will say and do what they have to in order to get what they want. But where that need does not exist, the Donald seems to have the opposite effect.
Donald Trump was met with a dour and unsmiling Pope as he entered the Vatican on May 24th. While the Pope obviously did not directly denigrate the President in this meeting, his facial expression (see below) says it all. 

Even in their private meeting, rather than sit side-by-side, the Pope sent a clear message by having Mr. Trump separated from his Eminence by a large wooden desk (pictured below). Bloomberg.com, May 24th, describes the meeting: “Pope Francis joined an international chorus urging Donald Trump to meet U.S. commitments on climate change in talks at the Vatican Wednesday [5/24].
“Francis gave the U.S. president a copy of his 2015 encyclical calling for urgent, drastic cuts in fossil-fuel emissions after a half-hour meeting in his private study… Francis’s choice of gift suggests he is adding his voice to those pressing Trump not to renege on the Paris accord, which is the cornerstone of global efforts to limit climate change. The Vatican said in a statement that the talks focused on international affairs and the promotion of peace, with particular emphasis on health care, education and immigration.
“‘Thank you, thank you,’ Trump told Francis as they shook hands after the meeting. ‘I won’t forget what you said.’ Trump has said climate change might be a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese… For his part, Trump gave Francis a special edition of the works of U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King…
“Francis arrived at the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace in a Ford Focus and entered the building through a side entrance. Ten minutes later, the president’s motorcade was greeted by Swiss Guards who stood to attention with their halberds and ostrich-plumed helmets. The pope welcomed Trump upstairs in the Sala del Tronetto before the two leaders retired to his private study for a half-hour conversation.
“‘It was an honor to be with the pope,’ Trump told reporters later in the morning. ‘We had a fantastic meeting,’ he added, without addressing a shouted question on whether they discussed climate change.
“As well as the text on environmental protection, which Francis said he’s sent to all Roman Catholics, the pope also gave Trump books on family and the joy of the gospel… ‘I’ll be reading them,’ the president told him… [The Pope] also gave Trump a medal made by a Roman artist depicting an olive. The pope told Trump the olive is a symbol of peace… ‘That’s so beautiful,’ the president said. ‘We can use peace.’”
But that gift exchange could have been so much more awkward, as this tongue in cheek comment suggests: “To give the Devil his due Trump gave the Pope a nice gift, a set of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Complete Works, probably suggested by Ivanka when she saw that daddy planned to give him a signed copy of ‘Art of the Deal’ and a color map of his lamentable electoral college triumph.” DailyKos.com, May 24th. Donald’s spin notwithstanding, it was pretty obvious that he did not have much of any impact on the Pope.
Yet Donald Trump is the President. He speaks for the nation; his words and actions carry a lot of weight. But even the leadership in his own party is seriously afraid of his presidency and how such ill-conceived efforts and public statements will impact their ability to maintain their majority in both Houses of Congress. We are watching so many GOP elected representatives walk back their commitments to the president. But so much damage has already been done and even if we reversed course now, it will take decades to right this ship after Mr. Trump leaves office.
I’m Peter Dekom, and running a country and managing international relations do not fare well with flawed assumptions and a tendency to shoot from the hip.