All posts by admin

Am I losing my sense of humor?

I particularly enjoy political satire especially the Malcolm Gladwell type where there is a bite. I prefer Jon Stewart to Trevor Noah. I like the edginess of John Oliver compared to the softer lighter style of the network late night shows. I don’t want it to be unclear who we are laughing at and who should be offended. If someone’s not offended then why bother? Trump’s presidency produces daily fodder for the likes of Bill Maher like manna from heaven. He can mock his hair, the moronic behavior of Sean Spicer, the infighting, the Russia scandal, the lies about voter fraud, inauguration crowds etc. I can and do laugh at all of it but there are some subjects that are simply not funny.

  1. Trump’s desire to destroy Obamacare and remove health care from 17-33 million people is just not amusing in any way. The Senate’s failure to repeal and Trump’s continued demands for it to get back and vote some more, are scary and (potentially) massively injurious.
  2. This week Trump has been taunting a crazed dictator asking him to “make my day”. Our quick descent to the verge of nuclear war is, to me, not funny at all. Stephen Colbert uses it in his nightly monologue and tries to laugh at Trump’s spontaneous outburst. If his bit had been about Trump calling the White House a dump – then that could be funny. If it’s an outburst that could destroy Los Angeles, I can’t find anything to laugh at.

Sometimes a satirist must stop making jokes and soberly express his outrage and sadness over a situation. They do this after a national tragedy. They should do it before a prospective national tragedy too.

Smart Republicans vs. Stupid Democrats

Friends of mine from Arizona recently made a coherent argument to me as to why they are registered independents. When I lived there, I too was an independent. Their argument is: We are pro-choice, we believe in science over superstition and we don’t want to destroy Medicare … but the Democratic party candidate was an idiot. We met her and she was completely uninformed about the issues. In fact, some of her positions were crazy!  

I get it. Let’s stay in AZ for a minute. Jeff Flake sounds like a reasonable man. He has a new book out where he talks at length about how Repubs must work with Dems to pass good laws. He thinks Trump is a buffoon. He is in favor of “free” trade and more immigration. Many Dems would see this well-mannered man as a better Senator than the Democratic party alternative.

Jeff Flake wins and off he goes to Washington and … Does he vote as an independent thinker? Does he question the leadership and work with Dems to write new bills? Not even close. Flake votes with Trump and Mitch McConnell every time (97%).  Yes, I understand that there is a lot of party pressure on all politicians and there are of course many demanding donors but what about the views of the candidate? Their views may get them “primaried” but with regard to their performance in Washington –

They don’t matter.

This new partisan world has set up loyalty as mandatory and the only people who can veer off the path are the famous senior party leaders or independents. Frankly, the opinions and intelligence of your senator or congressman mean absolutely nothing. Your moronic Democratic member in the house will always vote for the ACA. Your Republican renaissance man will vote against expanding the debt ceiling if Ryan tells him to. Unless the world changes dramatically, there is no role for the informed voter to cross over party lines and vote for someone in the other party. Do you believe in climate change and evolution? If you do then you don’t have the luxury of picking the smart Republican candidate, unless you want Texas style school books where Intelligent Design is given equal time.

Every politician has become a silent player on a team – following orders. The only direction he can go is further to the right (if he is a Repub) or to the left to join Bernie (if he is a Dem). Reasonableness and intelligence that bring someone to the center are features to be stripped away by Rush Limbaugh or the Freedom Caucus. You can be a maverick but you’ll only last one term.

Studying candidates carefully – expecting them to vote rationally and independently is a way to empower the leadership of the other party.

 

The Trump Wing of the Party

I haven’t posted much lately because it’s hard to say something original about the mess in Washington. Who needs another voice of outrage. All I can do is express confusion about a few  things:

  1. How is a vote for ACA repeal going to be helpful for Republican political prospects when the only people who will be happy are those from the hard core base? They were going to vote for them anyway and 80% of the electorate is against repeal. If the Repubs primary you out for voting against repeal then they will have an even tougher time holding on to seats versus pro-ACA Democrats. Every Repub  (especially. Trump) should be kissing John McCain on the mouth for taking a (fake) bullet for the party.
  2. Trump wants revenge against congressional adversaries like Lisa Murkowski and Jeff Flake. His instrument would be the fanatical pro-Trump wing of the Republican party. Is there such a wing? What on earth do they stand for?
  3. Court intrigue is a feature of every monarchy. Advisors fight for influence and the winners are usually the best sycophants. They argue over loyalty, not policy. They denounce and backstab and it never ends. If the king is a classic moronic narcissist then you can’t appeal to him through good advice. A single purge of R. Priebus will not be the end.
  4. After the court decision regarding asylum seekers in Austria, it’s become painfully clear that the only way to reduce immigration into Europe is to pick up all those boat people off the coast of Libya and politely return them to Libyan beaches. If Italy doesn’t, then it’s essentially running a ferry service.
  5. As almost every country puts up barriers against those immigrants, has Britain noticed that they are all coming around to the same position as Leave voters? If the U.K. can put up walls at its borders like Hungary, Austria and France then those in favor of Brexit have lost one of their big reasons for going. Revote!
  6. is it too harsh to see justice in the death of  The Great Barrier Reef because it resides  right next to a climate change denying, coal exporting country.  AT least they, in particular, are paying a heavy price for their anti-science malevolence.

Defeating Michael Savage

Everyone is asking how we got here. Is America more stupid or  corrupt than it was ten or twenty years ago? We thought we had a country that was progressing, intellectually. After all, the internet delivered the widespread availability of information which can and should crush superstition and absurd conspiracy theories. Why have we gone the other way?

Hate Radio

A new medium started out in the 90’s – conservative talk radio. Its primary message had to be – “Don’t believe or listen to TV news, we’ll tell you what’s really going on.” Then they offered content loaded with entertaining what-you-want-to hear half-truths and fiction. They were successful beyond their wildest dreams. Even when Rush was discovered to be a hypocritical drug addict and Michael Savage made unconscionable statements about gay men, their audience returned every day because the shows were entertaining. Flaws and errors all became forgivable. There is only one thing that is never acceptable – dullness. That’s why Trump has been invincible.

The audience is primarily male and old so these entertainers fed them a healthy dose of racist and homophobic diatribes. Denouncing Washington came next because people find it hard to connect what happens there with their day-to-day lives. Politicians are easy pickings. It turned out that radio hosts’ success changed a political party and directly contributed to political dysfunction. But the one unexpected outcome was that a politician would embrace their tactics and use them to win the Presidency.

Who would have thought that old tech (AM radio) could defeat new tech (the internet)?

The question at hand has become – how do you ruin the ratings of Rush Limbaugh or Alex Jones? Trump’s stupidity will continue to be interesting and it will get ratings. His sexist rants and ill-informed opinions are all forgivable by his followers as long as he is provocative and on their side, repeating well-known tropes about evil politicians, dysfunctional government, immigrant criminals and the lying media who fact check him.

This works for AM radio and it has worked so far for Trump but now that he is in office he becomes part of the problem. He must deliver huge changes or claim that his ineffectiveness is not his fault. So we move into phase 2 – the blame game. It would be better for him if no health care bill were passed so he could denounce both parties as losers who can’t get anything done. If a tax bill stalls because it would create a $2 trillion budget deficit then he can say he tried and then move on. His followers won’t blame an entertainer for getting nothing done in evil Washington DC.

The Dems must fight fire with fire. They must out-entertain the crazy right. A great speaker, joke teller or provocateur must appear who can play their game but with facts. Policy wonks need not apply unless they can deliver scathing satire. Their first job is to offer biting mockery. The opponent is a buffoon and if you can’t expose him as such (especially) to his own rabid base then the Democratic party can’t use you. You must entertain the mob like a good episode of The Kardashians.

Go hard and Go left.

The candidate must then offer some policy bait to the working poor (and even white) population in the middle of the country. (Start with trade.) Trump is failing to deliver on every populist policy he promised so the Dems have lots to steal from.

Mockery and (policy) theft – sounds like a job for Stuart Smalley:

The Populist Vote is Up For Grabs Again

It is pretty clear that Donald Trump has abandoned all his promises, including those he made about keeping jobs in America. He has eaten chocolate cake with the President of China, now they’re in love. The Prime Minister of Japan was the first to get a deal after he supplicated himself. Is Trump canceling NAFTA?  – not as far as I can tell. He has even come out against a border tax in the next budget – something that Paul Ryan was going to put in.

His one touchstone (promised) policy that resonated with (almost) everyone (especially me) has been abandoned completely. That means the Democrats can grab it and grab it, they must. Forget all this identity politics and globalism nonsense. They desperately need an economic program that will resonate with laborers even if they’re white. They can dump the elitist nauseating position of the Clinton’s and get back to where they are supposed to be – right next to Bernie Sanders. Sorry, Joe, speeches about your love for the LGBT community won’t win elections.

This needs to happen immediately as it is becoming clear that time is running out. About five years ago I wrote about how China wasn’t looking to just steal low wage jobs, it wants everything. The two biggest value added industries we have are cars and airplanes. We need to protect those with our lives. The New York times recently wrote about how Ford is going to produce their next flagship compact car in China.  My nightmare is coming true.

If the Dems stand up, their losses could be limited to the 2016 election and they would grab back their brand. They let it be stolen by a fake billionaire with no conviction about anything. Al Franken – are you listening? You should put this issue right next to Medicare-for-all and hit the road.

This is your time.

Trying to understand the revocation of Obamacare

I’m going to make a solid effort here to understand the reasoning behind the repeal of Obamacare. I’ll try my best to withhold my shock and depression over this issue, at least for a few minutes. Let’s make a list of all the reasons why repeal makes sense to those voters who will continue to support their congressmen (or senator) after he votes for the AHCA:

  1. It was President Obama’s signature piece of legislation and Obama is the devil. He is a black, Muslim, Kenyan, socialist who nearly destroyed the country. We must destroy his legacy. By definition, if he was in favor of such a program, it must have been profoundly damaging to the American economy.
  1. As a libertarian, I detest any Government interference in the economy. I believe in free markets and the ability of price to effectively allocate resources. Everything will be better if the government gets out of the way. I’d be in favor of getting rid of Social Security and Medicare as well.
  1. The obesity epidemic in this country has shown us that people must be responsible for their own health. If they are sick then it’s their fault. Why should I have to pay any taxes towards their healthcare? Why should my premiums be higher to average out an insurance pool. I have no pre-existing conditions.
  1. I am fabulously rich and perfectly able to buy as much health coverage as I want. If you have failed to make a lot of money like me then you must accept the consequences.
  1. I am on Medicare or have fabulous coverage through my employer so this is not really important to me. If people die from this repeal then that’s not my problem. I’d just like to see my taxes go down, and Roe vs Wade revoked.
  1. How did the government raise taxes on capital gains or force me to buy healthcare insurance when I don’t want to. That’s an infringement on my liberty!

Obamacare is just made up of two things: a restriction on charging people more for their pre-existing conditions, and a series of subsidies for poor people [Medicaid, high risk, and older people). That’s it. So if you hate it you have only a few things to get angry about. You must hate sick people, poor people or you must make a ton of money from capital gains. You must not know anybody who is between the ages of 50 and 65 who have been sick or might get sick. (Is that possible?)

The other option, of course, is that you think that Obamacare is a much more intrusive system which tells doctors how to do their jobs. It doesn’t. Ask the AMA what they think. Maybe you believe that subsidies are the same as socialism. If everyone gets healthcare they’ll become lazy economic leeches.

In this debate, there is sort of a sweet spot – around the age of 45. When you’re that age your parents are old enough for Medicare so they are not affected by any of this. You’ve been healthy all your life and your insurance rates before Obamacare were reasonable, or you got your insurance through your employer. You’re too old to have more children so prenatal care or child delivery coverage is irrelevant. Such a person may not realize that cancer can hit somebody younger than 65. They are on the edge of a cliff, premium wise. Simply being 55 is a preexisting condition in and of itself. Ageism makes it very hard to get a new corporate job if you get laid off. These “nearly old” are unemployable and uninsurable. 45 year-olds don’t realize how close they are.

In the end, it comes down to compassion versus a tax cut. It’s a matter of recognizing that the state has a logical role when it comes to establishing insurance pools. Every actuary and every other country in the world understand this. As with climate change we are unique in that we have a significant (vocal) minority who prefer not to have a plan when it comes to long-term complicated issues. They simply hope that supply and demand will take care of things since they (and their donors) can’t or won’t. Consequently, CO2 emissions are not taxed to pay for negative externalities [secondary spinoff effects]. Similarly, prices do not allocate healthcare resources effectively. There there is no “elasticity”. Simply put, demand does not decline if price rises. That’s why the United States free market version of healthcare is so spectacularly less efficient than every other socialized system in the world. We pay more but receive the same services as any Dutchman or German. There is no state monopsony.

It’s hard to admit when free markets, don’t work. When you read Ayn Rand at the age of 16 you completely bought into her depiction of government as evil. How can you recant or explain to other true believers that there seem to be a few holes in the storyline? Will someone call Milton Friedman? You decide it’s better to ignore these glaring exceptions so you can reduce regulation and government corruption. Voters don’t want to hear about complexity anyway. So in the name of your God – Free Markets you declare:

If 24 million uninsured people must die in the gutter or go bankrupt to pay for hospital care then – so be it!

 

 

What will drive the Trump agenda?

I think we are actually progressing faster than we ever have to the universal conclusion that a (this) president is a profoundly stupid man. I almost never hear anyone defending his acumen or foresight. No one defends his “policies” because he clearly has none. Every campaign promise has been broken and his opinion on any subject is driven by the last conversation he had or what he saw on Fox News. Republicans of various stripes – libertarians, Christian fundamentalists, big defense interventionists, and fanatical tax cutters are all hoping the Trump wheel stops spinning at their number. None of them can (honestly) say he shares their ideology – they all know he has no ideology other than self-enrichment.
The last place the wheel stopped was on government contract bidding. He proclaimed that contracts should only go to American companies. What could make better sense? I argued that the Obama Stimulus plan of ’09 should have a buy-America requirement built in. Isn’t at least part of the point of government spending to stimulate the US economy.  Trump seems to get this “buy America” thing but when it angers certain interest groups like Ryan’s Border Tax would, then he runs away – just like a man devoid of ideology would do. He wants to do some of those things he promised but only if certain people don’t get mad. Why? He was supposed to be the rich guy who could ignore special interests.

The only logical reason is that it’s bad for business – the Trump Hotel business.

Forcing China or Japan to relent from their mercantalist policies would hurt his chances to open new hotels there. Raising taxes on retailers who source their goods overseas would aggravate many rich hotel patrons and investors. Conversely, policies that only benefit the working poor do the company no good. In fact, association with racist yahoos may hurt the brand.  Such people don’t buy $10mm condo’s in New York. They don’t have low handicaps. If there is no impact on Trump Hotels then his opinion gets blown around by the wind. Let’s filter policies for whether they are OK for his business:

  1. A border wall – poor illegal immigrants don’t stay at the Trump International Hotel. He has no properties in Mexico (he did have a failed one in Baja) or for that matter any part of Central America.
  2. Cancel all health care for the middle class and the very sick. Health care insurance company executives may join Maralago.
  3. Bomb only places where there are no Trump hotels. That takes North Korea off the list since Kim Jong Un would destroy Seoul and Trump has real estate there. Iran is OK.
  4. Tax cuts must only be for the rich – prospective hotel patrons.

In the end the very thing – money, that was supposed to make him able to drain the swamp actually makes him aligned with all the same wealthy vested interests that already control Washington. All of this would have been prevented if he had chosen to completely liquidate his assets before being sworn in. As it is we have just stepped closer to a classic third world construct.

Trump voters have been left hoping that his proven stupidity will shake things up for the better. As long as they are on the side of Trump hotels they won’t be disappointed.