Tag Archives: Trump Administration

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….

 

 

 

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

The dominance of climate-change deniers in the Trump cabinet, and Trump’s own dismissal of science and expertise–exemplified by his withdrawal from the Paris Accords–has rational people understandably depressed and worried.

Fortunately, policy is not made or implemented exclusively at the federal level.

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that California Governor Jerry Brown had announced his own global summit.

Gov. Jerry Brown of California on Thursday reinforced his reputation as America’s de facto leader on climate change, announcing to cheering crowds in Hamburg, Germany that his state would gather leaders from around the world for a global warming summit next year.

Speaking by videoconference to the Global Citizens Festival in Hamburg, where President Donald Trump is joining other world leaders for the Group of 20 economic summit, Governor Brown said the president “doesn’t speak for the rest of America” in pulling out of the Paris agreement on climate change.

Governor Brown announced a Climate Action Summit, to take place in San Francisco in September of 2018. The California meeting will include leaders of states, cities, businesses and a variety of other organizations pledged to the goals of the Paris Accords. Organizers anticipate thousands of attendees from among those who have been galvanized by Mr. Trump’s decision.

It isn’t just Jerry Brown, either. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has  published a letter to the United Nations that has been signed by more than 1,200 mayors, business leaders, university presidents and others who confirmed that “we are still in” the climate deal.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“With the Trump administration’s rather comprehensive moves to reverse the Obama administration’s suite of climate policies, the potential importance and the prominence of all these subnational actions and actors is greater now than ever before,” said Robert Stavins, an energy economist at Harvard University….

Governor Brown maintained that his goal was not to antagonize the president, but to urge everyone to do more. “It isn’t being cooked up because of Trump,” Governor Brown said in an interview Wednesday. “No nation or state is doing what they should be doing. This is damn serious, and most people are taking it far too lightly than the reality of the threat. You can’t do too much to sound the alarm because so far the response is not adequate to the challenge.”

He predicted the opposition to climate change policies by Mr. Trump and many Republicans would shift as evidence of the consequences of climate change mounted. “If the whole world except the U.S. is sufficiently galvanized, it will only be a short period before the U.S. falls in line,” he said. “I think President Trump unwittingly is serving to stimulate the movement toward decarbonization by his very public, idiosyncratic resistance to both the science, the diplomacy and the politics.”

To characterize Trump’s resistance as “idiosyncratic” is incredibly diplomatic. But I entirely agree that any positive results of Trump’s election have been entirely inadvertent…

Addendum: For readers inclined to enjoy nature and our national parks while we still have them and the latter are still affordable, I’m passing along a message from Betty:

You may want to let your readers 62-over know that they can get a Lifetime Senior Pass to all national parks/monuments right now for $10. The pass jumps to $80 on Aug. 28, 2017. Passes are available online at www.nps.gov ($10 service fee added, still a bargain) or by a visit to a Visitor Center at any national park/monument.
I got mine at Shiloh National Military Park and it stays in my vehicle. The pass comes with a hangtag and a plastic card for the owner to sign, insert on the hangtag, and display on the rearview mirror at any national park/monument.
Your readers have a month before the price goes through the roof.

Reality Doesn’t Care Whether You Believe It (Part II)

One of the defining features of our time is increasing complexity; the rapid growth and sophistication of technology, the globalization of economics, science and even governance, in short, the accelerating production of vast amounts of knowledge that no one person can hope to master (or even identify).

This complexity requires informed and thoughtful policymaking, an understanding of how the various aspects of our shared environment interact, if we are to avoid unintended and very harmful consequences.

Unfortunately, we have elected a President and numerous lawmakers who are not up to the task, to put it as delicately as possible. They are supported by voters who dismiss people who do have expertise, people who actually know things, as “elitist.”

A couple of examples: a while back, the New York Times ran an article about automation, addressing a number of likely consequences of new AI (Artificial Intelligence) technologies:

A.I. products that now exist are improving faster than most people realize and promise to radically transform our world, not always for the better. They are only tools, not a competing form of intelligence. But they will reshape what work means and how wealth is created, leading to unprecedented economic inequalities and even altering the global balance of power.

It is imperative that we turn our attention to these imminent challenges.

What is artificial intelligence today? Roughly speaking, it’s technology that takes in huge amounts of information from a specific domain (say, loan repayment histories) and uses it to make a decision in a specific case (whether to give an individual a loan) in the service of a specified goal (maximizing profits for the lender). Think of a spreadsheet on steroids, trained on big data. These tools can outperform human beings at a given task.

I have posted previously about the potential consequences of AI and automation generally for job creation. The number of jobs lost to automation already dwarfs those lost to outsourcing and trade–and yet, activists on both the Right and Left continue to focus only on trade policy.

This kind of A.I. is spreading to thousands of domains (not just loans), and as it does, it will eliminate many jobs. Bank tellers, customer service representatives, telemarketers, stock and bond traders, even paralegals and radiologists will gradually be replaced by such software. Over time this technology will come to control semiautonomous and autonomous hardware like self-driving cars and robots, displacing factory workers, construction workers, drivers, delivery workers and many others.

Unlike the Industrial Revolution and the computer revolution, the A.I. revolution is not taking certain jobs (artisans, personal assistants who use paper and typewriters) and replacing them with other jobs (assembly-line workers, personal assistants conversant with computers). Instead, it is poised to bring about a wide-scale decimation of jobs — mostly lower-paying jobs, but some higher-paying ones, too.

If Donald Trump has ever addressed this issue, or suggested that he is even aware of it, it has escaped my notice.

Richard Hofstadter’s book, Anti-intellectualism in American Life is, if anything, more relevant today than when it was written. What Hofstadter and others who have addressed this particular element of American culture failed to foresee, however, was a time in which the federal government (together with a good number of state governments–Texas comes immediately to mind) would be controlled by people who neither understand the world they live in nor know what they don’t know.

Science Magazine  recently reported on the EPA’s dismissal of 38 science advisors.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt continues to clean house at a key advisory committee, signaling plans to drop several dozen current members of the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC), according to an email yesterday from a senior agency official.

Unlike most of Trump’s cabinet, Pruitt is proving to be effective. Unfortunately, he is proving effective in his efforts to destroy the EPA–not just by denying the reality of climate change science, but by rolling back regulations that protect air and water quality. He appears to be operating on a theory common to this administration: if a reality is uncongenial, ignore it or deny its existence. If evidence contradicts your worldview, dismiss it.

Yesterday, in a reference to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, I observed that science and reality are true whether or not you believe them.

The worst thing about giving simple and/or corrupt people the power to run a government they do not understand is that complicated realities continue to be realities, and the longer we fail to engage those realities, the worse the consequences.