Tag Archives: Trump Administration

Trading On Myths

There is a relatively heated policy debate about the relative impacts of trade and automation on job creation. It’s an argument with rather obvious implications for policymaking, not to mention politics: one of Trump’s most successful campaign themes (a deviation from a longstanding GOP position) was his promise to “renegotiate” or terminate the trade agreements to which the U.S. was a party.

That attack on trade pleased many  working-class voters who were–and remain–convinced that changes to America’s workforce and the disappearance of well-paid manufacturing jobs can be attributed to those trade agreements. The reality is more nuanced, to put it mildly.

Whatever the relative impact of trade vis a vis automation, Trump is dangerously wrong about NAFTA, as the Brookings Institution has recently documented. (And yes, I know he’s “dangerously wrong” about pretty much everything, but this post is a discussion of trade policy.)

The title of the post is fairly self-explanatory: The trade deficit isn’t destroying jobs, but tearing up NAFTA will.

Here’s the reality: All advanced economies, regardless of changes in their trade balances, lost manufacturing jobs. The figure below shows the change in the share of workers in industry (which includes mostly manufacturing) versus the change in the trade balance as a share of total output for all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries between 1995 and 2010. The data point for the U.S., indeed, fits the White House narrative: During that period, the U.S. lost manufacturing jobs while its trade balance deteriorated (as all other countries in the lower left panel). However, that is not the story for most countries. In fact, Mexico increased its share of workers in manufacturing even though its trade balance also deteriorated during that same period. But most, importantly, most countries—in the lower right panel of the figure—lost jobs in manufacturing even if their trade balance improved. In short, the White House is trying to sell a fallacy that the trade deficit has destroyed American jobs.

Other research suggests that approximately 100,000 net job losses are attributable to NAFTA; that’s equivalent to about 0.1 percent of the U.S. labor force. On the plus side of the ledger, NAFTA has allowed U.S. companies to access new markets for their exports and reduce their costs of production. That has created more jobs, not fewer.

As the author of this report points out, there are better ways to help American workers–a more robust safety net facilitating transition to other jobs, or to early retirement, for example. We can argue about the approaches most likely to be helpful; what we shouldn’t be doing is basing policy on inaccurate data and (sorry!) “fake facts.”

After this round of negotiations, the likelihood of NAFTA overall surviving this process keeps decreasing. The U.S. government is walking on thin ice by keeping their focus on wrong facts. And if NAFTA collapses, it will bring down those who the administration is allegedly trying to protect: American workers.

TradeFigure

Indefensible

Although the United States and Europe have made impressive strides, both culturally and legally, in the battle against homophobia, that progress has by no means been global in scope.

Homosexuality is illegal in over 70 countries, and in 13 of them, the penalty is death.

Very few of the issues that come before the United Nations are straightforward, but on September 29th, members voted on a Resolution that should have been a “slam dunk” for the U.S. The motion called upon countries in which capital punishment remains legal  to take steps to ensure that the death penalty is not imposed “arbitrarily or in a discriminatory manner” or for forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual homosexual relations.

As numerous outlets, including Newsweek, reported,

The United States was one of 13 nations, including some of the most repressive nations on Earth, to oppose a United Nations motion condemning the death penalty for those in same-sex relationships, blasphemers and adulterers.

Incredible as it seems, the United States voted in Geneva against that United Nations motion.  We were joined by Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in voting  no. That’s the company we are evidently now keeping.

The measure passed anyway, with 27 votes, but that doesn’t make our vote any more palatable, or any less of a betrayal.

Rights activists have condemned the Trump administration and its U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, for refusing to back the measure, with the Human Rights Campaign slamming the decision as “beyond disgraceful.”

“Ambassador Haley has failed the LGBTQ community by not standing up against the barbaric use of the death penalty to punish individuals in same-sex relationships,” said Ty Cobb, director of HRC Global in a statement.

Susan Rice, ambassador to the U.N. under Barack Obama, said “shame on US!” in reaction to the vote.

“I was proud to lead U.S. efforts at UN to protect LGBTQ people, back in the day when America stood for human rights for all,” she tweeted.

The State Department denied animus toward the LGBTQ community, and defended the vote on the grounds of “broader concerns”– i.e., the resolution’s condemnation of the death penalty. (It called for countries which have yet to abolish the death penalty to “consider” doing so.) In the past, the U.S. has abstained from voting on condemnations of capital punishment, and we could easily have joined the seven nations that abstained from this particular vote. But we didn’t.

Abstention is one thing. A “no” vote is another. The U.S. has never previously voted against such resolutions.

Despite State Department insistence that the vote did not signal a change in U.S. support for the rights of LGBTQ persons,

The U.N. vote comes a week after the Trump administration argued in court that federal anti-discrimination law does not protect gay people from being fired by their employers because of their sexuality.

Nineteen states in the U.S. and two-thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty. In retaining capital punishment, we join countries like Uganda, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other nations not exactly known for their enlightened view of human rights. We not only retain the death penalty, we use it. A lot. The U.S. executes more people than most other nations; according to Amnesty International,  of the 10 nations in the world that account for the highest number of executions, we rank seventh.

That enthusiasm for the death penalty, while incomprehensible to me, might have justified an abstention from the vote. It does not justify voting against the resolution. Claims that the vote isn’t a signal that the Trump administration is trying to roll back progress on gay rights ring hollow.

Not that an assault on yet another group despised by White Straight Conservative Christian Males should surprise us….

The Three “I”s

Let’s deconstruct the issue of economic growth.

If there is one thing all politicians support, at every level of government, it is growing the economy. Unfortunately, few of those political figures recognize the economic effects of their other policy preoccupations. Here in Indiana, that disconnect was on vivid display during then-Governor Mike Pence’s effort to privilege religious discrimination against LGBTQ citizens; it was equally obvious in North Carolina in the wake of the so-called “bathroom bill.”

It’s somewhat less obvious–but no less consequential–in Trump’s efforts to slash the budget and to drastically reduce immigration. A recent report from the Brookings Institution considered what it would take to achieve 3% growth in GDP, if that level of expansion is even possible: “There are three I’s that can do this: immigration, infrastructure, and investment.”

Infrastructure is the most obvious: not only does America desperately need to improve our deteriorating roads and bridges, not only do we need massive improvements to rail and public transportation, but cities and states across the country need the jobs a comprehensive infrastructure program would generate. As the Brookings Report notes,

Infrastructure jobs are disproportionately middle-class (defined as wages between the 25% and 75% percentiles, so this is the real middle-class and not the upper-middle class; there is no Dream Hoarding going on here).

Investment is harder to discuss, because far too many lawmakers fail to distinguish between investment and  routine expense. Conceptually, however, most of us understand that we must invest in order to grow–it’s the difference between payments on your home mortgage and the amount you spent at that fancy restaurant. Trump’s budget may not reflect that understanding, but many lawmakers do recognize the difference. Unfortunately, many self-identified “fiscal hawks” do not.

We need to increase our nation’s investment in research, development, and people. The federal government’s investment as a share of total research and development has fallen to multi-generational lows. Increasing the federal government’s investment will not bust the budget. Currently, the federal government’s entire investment in R&D (as measured by the OECD) is equal to only about one-tenth of our nation’s defense budget. Investments like these have proven track records of increasing economic growth.

When it comes to the importance of immigration to economic growth, however, American xenophobia is far more influential than economic reality.

Comprehensive immigration reform, such as the bipartisan legislation which passed the Senate in 2013 (Schumer-Rubio), would increase our nation’s work force, bring economic activity out of the shadows and into the mainstream, increase our nation’s economic and physical security, and boost our GDP. One estimate sees an increase in $1.5 trillion in GDP cumulatively over the next decade, as compared to the status quo. That same study contrasts with the deportation-only policy that appears to be favored by some in the Trump Administration, which would reduce economic output by over $2 trillion.  Even scholars from the CATO Institute argue that immigration reform could be used to boost GDP, with an earlier estimate of an increase of over 1.25% of GDP.

As another Brookings report notes,

President Trump claims that legal immigration levels should be cut in half and that greater priority should be placed on those with high skills. Both of these claims fly in the face of census statistics that show that current immigration levels are increasingly vital to the growth of much of America, and that recent arrivals are more highly skilled than ever before. Current immigration is especially important for areas that are losing domestic migrants to other parts of the country including nearly half of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas.

Well, that’s what happens when you elect a man who has no idea how the economy works, and for whom facts are meaningless…

 

 

Speaking of Fake News….

Well, I see where Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law is hosting a “news” show on Facebook, to give supporters the “real” scoop on the administration’s greatness….Since Trump’s vast accomplishments appear to have escaped the notice of credible journalism outlets, the family evidently felt the need to give the base a more flattering version of events in Washington. And also, according to yesterday’s Washington Post,

This week, meanwhile, saw the debut of Trump TV: a Web-based broadcast of “real news” by Kayleigh McEnany, a pro-Trump pundit formerly of CNN. In the first installment, she announces, in front of a Trump-Pence campaign backdrop in Trump Tower: “President Trump has created more than 1 million jobs. . . . President Trump has clearly steered the economy back in the right direction. . . . President Trump is finally putting the American worker first. . . . President Trump is dedicated to honoring these men and women who fought valiantly for our country.”

Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted: “Wow. Feels eerily like so many state-owned channels I’ve watched in other countries.”

Shades of Mike Pence…

Much more concerning, Jared Kushner recently revealed that before the election, the Trump campaign had made a deal with Sinclair Broadcasting (Fox News’ less-recognized Evil Twin):

Kushner said the agreement with Sinclair, which owns television stations across the country in many swing states and often packages news for their affiliates to run, gave them more access to Trump and the campaign, according to six people who heard his remarks.

In exchange, Sinclair would broadcast their Trump interviews across the country without commentary, Kushner said. Kushner highlighted that Sinclair, in states like Ohio, reaches a much wider audience — around 250,000 listeners — than networks like CNN, which reach somewhere around 30,000.

“It’s math,” Kushner said according to multiple attendees.

Sinclair, a Maryland-based company, is a politically conservative network of local news outlets; it was the subject of a scathing take-down by John Oliver, on a recent episode of Last Week Tonight.

Local stations in the past have been directed to air “must run” stories produced by Sinclair’s Washington bureau that were generally critical of Obama administration and offered perspectives primarily from conservative think tanks, The Washington Post reported in 2014.

I’m sure it is merely coincidental (cough, cough), but following the election, Politico reported 

Sinclair Broadcast Group is expanding its conservative-leaning television empire into nearly three-quarters of American households — but its aggressive takeover of the airwaves wouldn’t have been possible without help from President Donald Trump’s chief at the Federal Communications Commission.

Sinclair, already the nation’s largest TV broadcaster, plans to buy 42 stations from Tribune Media in cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, on top of the more than 170 stations it already owns. It got a critical assist this spring from Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who revived a decades-old regulatory loophole that will keep Sinclair from vastly exceeding federal limits on media ownership.

The change will allow Sinclair — a company known for injecting “must run” conservative segments into its local programming — to reach 72 percent of U.S. households after buying Tribune’s stations. That’s nearly double the congressionally imposed nationwide audience cap of 39 percent.

That’s a nice quid pro quo: Sinclair delivers favorable publicity for the Trump campaign, and is rewarded by an FCC rule change benefitting its bottom line–a change that will allow the company to reach nearly three-quarters of American homes with “news” favorable to Trump.

When does actual news, which is protected by the First Amendment even when it is wrong or misleading, become propaganda or fraud? And what do we do about it?

When two deeply deranged heads of state are playing “mine’s bigger than yours” with nuclear weapons, there is some urgency in figuring this out.

If You Can’t Defeat It, Sabotage It

During the ongoing saga of the Senate’s inability to formally eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, “President” Trump has tweeted out several threats: to fund primary opponents of Republicans who refused to support repeal,  to punish Alaskans for the votes of their Senator, and implicitly, after the measure failed, to sabotage the Affordable Care Act to ensure that it will fail.

Nice guy–as no one ever has said.

The Washington Post, among many others, has reported on the methodology behind the madness. (Madness used here in both senses of that term…)

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has announced that it intends to try to raise premiums by 22.9 percent next year. The company says it would have tried to raise them by only 8.8 percent, but it is going for the larger increase because the Trump administration has not said whether it will continue paying the law’s so-called “cost-sharing reductions” (CSRs) to insurance companies, which subsidize out-of-pocket costs for lower-income people who get insurance on the individual markets. Democrats in Congress want to appropriate money to cover these subsidies, but Republicans have not done so….

Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut off the CSRs. Doing so could cause many insurers to exit the market, potentially costing millions their insurance, while causing others to dramatically hike premiums. The administration paid them for May, but officials continue to refuse to saywhether the payments will continue after that. The CSRs are tied up in court: House Republicans sued to stop them under Barack Obama, whose administration appealed the decision, and the payments continued pending the appeal, but the Trump administration has not said whether it will continue the appeal (dropping it would cause the payments to halt) and recently asked for a 90-day delay from the court while it mulls their fate. But this has only injected further uncertainty, and while some congressional Republicans have said they think the funds must be appropriated to stabilize the situation, there’s no sign whether they actually will.

Anthem Insurance, based here in my home city of Indianapolis, has withdrawn from participation in several of the exchanges due to the lack of CSR certainty.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has actually added “Sabotage Watch” to its webpage; it tracks administration actions taken to undermine the Act, month by month, since Trump’s inauguration. Here’s the entry for July:

July 20

The Trump Administration ends contracts with two private firms to provide in-person assistance in states using HealthCare.gov for marketplace enrollment.  Since the first open enrollment period in 2013, Cognosante LLC and CSRA Inc. have provided one-on-one assistance for people enrolling in marketplace plans and applying for subsidies.  The loss of this assistance is especially likely to affect enrollment for 2018 coverage because the Administration has already shortened the open enrollment period to six weeks.

July 20

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) continues its public relations campaign attacking the ACA. HHS has released 23 videos featuring individuals explaining how the ACA has harmed them.  HHS has also used its twitter account to amplify anti-ACA messages and removed website content promoting the ACA, including the popular ACA provision enabling young people to stay on their parents’ plans until they turn 26.

A number of publications have reported on the Administration’s efforts to undermine “Obamacare.” The following explanation from New York Magazine is typical.

By threatening to stop paying out those so-called cost-sharing reductions — while also threatening not to enforce penalties on those go without insurance — the White House sowed uncertainty that chased insurers out of Obamacare.

In mid-April, several of America’s largest insurance companies descended on Washington to seek the White House’s assurance that Trump’s rhetoric about withholding the subsidies was just a bluff. Seema Verma, Trump’s head of Medicare and Medicaid Services, informed the insurers that it couldbe a bluff — if they agreed to publicly support the president’s health-care bill.

The insurers found little comfort in this exchange. Nor did Trumpcare’s sudden revival calm their nerves. To protect themselves from a diverse array of very-bad-case scenarios, many jacked up their premiums and wound down their participation in the Affordable Care Act.

It’s hard to find words to describe this behavior. Unconscionable, despicable and disgusting come to mind….