Donald Trump is now our, what used to be called “Fearless Leader”; however, since January 20th, I believe that a majority of Americans are now, indeed, Fearful—of him, and what he might do! Over the decades, many crises have presented themselves to the Free World and, as has often been the case, America had been expected to play a key leadership role. We have always been willing to step forward, and confront the problem with sound ideas, good people, capable allies and, in most cases, we were successful!
Consider the following crises that the U. S. has been faced with:
1. The ICBM stand-off that we engaged in, with the Soviet Union, during the Yom-Kippur War of 1973.
2. The Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, when jet airliners flew into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and brave passengers crashed a fourth jet into a field in rural Western Pennsylvania.
3. The Great Recession of 2008 which threatened the American, and probably the Global Economy.
4. The 2013 Ebola Virus outbreak, in West Africa, which could have turned into a global pandemic.
When President Richard Nixon was drinking heavily during the Watergate Era, Henry Kissinger and James Schlesinger stepped-in and averted a potential nuclear war in 1973. During the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a group of dedicated Americans, spread throughout the Government, managed to keep things from getting worse. Presidents Bush’s (43) and Obama’s respective Fed/Treasury Teams took the heat and kept the dire 2008 financial crisis contained. And, President Obama provided funds, and sent people from CDC and the U. S. Army to assist in turning-back the deadly Ebola Virus.
Those crises occurred during both Republican and Democratic Administrations, and the various teams of national security, military, financial, law enforcement, and medical experts—and so much, much more—all rose to the occasion. They brought experience, rational thought, a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to put-in long hours, and get the job done. Today, with the Trump Regime in power, I just don’t get that feeling of comfort.
When I consider the various people that Donald Trump has appointed to key posts, I don’t see much in the way of strong leadership and management skills. I see ideological biases, loyalists, power-players and mostly those with histories of attacking the very departments that they are supposed to be leading. Political connections will mean nothing when a dangerous crisis erupts—and perhaps much different from the ones noted above.
I only feel comfortable with a few of the key people who should be in a position to advise Donald Trump on National Security Matters: H. R. McMaster, his National Security Advisor; James Mattis, Secretary of Defense, and Fiona Hill, NSC Advisor on Russia. With Trump, however, the question is whether he will really listen to them? Trump’s history of attacking the intelligence Community on numerous occasions sure doesn’t instill much confidence.
During past crises, the people who were heading the Crisis Command Centers had the President’s ear. The only way that a government, with a large bureaucracy, can respond in a major crisis situation, is for those who are leading the response to truly feel trusted and empowered. But, that’s just not Trump’s style!
At 8:30 AM EST today, the Department of Labor reported Jobs Growth of 235,000 last month, and an Unemployment Rate of 4.7%, down from 4.8%. During President Obama’s second term, Trump dismissed the favorable employment statistics as being phony. But now that they reflect upon him–and they’re good–he chooses to boast about them. Will he still like them when they are negative? Time will tell!
Jan Hatzius, Chief Economist at Goldman Sachs, told CNBC-TV: “We’ve seen almost 100,000 jobs added in the construction sector in the last two months, and the warm winter, I think, had something to do with that.” I’ve been writing this blog for several years, and one month doesn’t indicate either an economic boom or a bust. Also, as Mr. Hatzius suggested, statistics can arrive earlier, by a month or two, or they can also be delayed.
Today’s employment statistics can, however, make life easier for Fed Chairman Janet Yellen, as the next Federal Open Market Committee’s (the central bank’s monetary policy-making arm) meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday. Ms. Yellen has already signaled an almost definite rate hike. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has been trying to exert his influence, to maintain low interest rates in order to help job growth. But, maintaining low rates in the face of strong employment, can have adverse economic effects.
The Fed has a so-called “Dual-Mandate”—to balance price stability with maximum sustainable employment. In doing so, it strives to balance those two goals. If the Fed were to keep interest rates too low, in order to enhance job growth, inflation could get out of hand. Conversely, raising rates to rein-in excessive inflation; however, would hurt job creation.
But, as Sean Spicer, Donald Trump’s Press Secretary summed up his boss’s interpretation of today’s DOL Jobs Report: ”I talked to the president prior to this [briefing], and he said to quote him for this, ‘[The jobs reports] may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.’” But, how will Mr. Wonderful spin the first negative Jobs Report, issued by his Secretary of Labor, and who will Trump blame for it?
ARE TRUMP AND THE GOP MORE CONCERNED WITH IMPROVING HEALTH CARE, OR REPEALING OBAMA’S SIGNATURE LEGISLATION?
On Monday, the House Republicans released their Replacement Health Care Plan so they can Repeal “Obamacare”. Donald Trump jumped at the chance to embrace the Plan. Also, since the GOP has been so focused on devising, a replacement plan, they seem most ebullient just to mimic George W. Buh’s boast of “Mission Accomplished!”; but, the suitability aspects must have been left back at the conference room. The reception for the much touted GOP plan, so far, has been anything but favorable, even from within their own party.
Actually, the House Leadership didn’t release it; rather, they seem to have preferred to just have it leaked. There wasn’t any condemnation for it getting out, just the wiggle room to declare that it was only an early draft and, that way, they could always reel it back in. Right now, however, the House GOP leadership is trying to put some lipstick, as well as some rouge, on this pig. But really, this swine is just not gonna fly.
Since the Plan is, no doubt, being analyzed in minute detail, by all of the usual news sources, I will not try to duplicate their efforts. The NY Times article, linked above, cites various key components of the ACA, and how the House Plan compares. Specific parts of the ACA are also cited, along with explanatory notes on those being: retained; modified; or eliminated. However, I would like mention a few key points, which the GOP might have purposely preferred to be lost in the shuffle:
- What will happen to those previously uninsured Americans who, under ACA’s Extended Medicaid provision, will lose their health care coverage under the GOP Plan? Why hide that fact?
- Why would reasonably wealthy people be receiving the health care tax credits, rather than just those who need the help in order for them to buy the insurance? A tax-cut for the wealthy?
- When will the American People be advised that they will not be guaranteed to be covered for “pre-existing conditions” if they had not, in fact, already purchased the insurance coverage? Why not spell this vital detail out? Besides, no health care insurer would provide new customers with coverage that include adverse medical conditions!
- Block Grants will not insure health care for residents, when given to the states as “flexible dollars”, because the funds may just be added to the state’s General Fund. In 2009, Republican Governor Mark Sanford, of South Carolina, received Infrastructure money from the Federal government, intended to create “shovel-ready” jobs; but, he used it to pay-down the state debt. And, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, also a Republican, just refused the much-needed money outright.
The Affordable Care Act certainly can be improved, as was Medicare when it was originally passed, and also the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (Part D). The Republican Party has been extremely intent on obstructing President Barack Obama, since the evening of his first Inauguration, and Trump just wants to tear down anything that Obama had accomplished.
But, is that a reason to take Affordable Health Care away form the tens of millions of Americans who have come to rely upon it? The following Op-Ed, from the NY Times, is co-authored by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a key participant in writing the ACA Legislation.)
PERHAPS THE REPUBLICANS MIGHT HAVE UNCOVERED MORE THAN THEY HAD WANTED, IN THEIR QUEST FOR AN “OBAMACARE” FIX
As the Republican Party has been delving into alchemy, for almost seven years, in its search to replace President Obama’s Affordable Health Care, it has determined that Americans need to be able to buy health insurance across state lines. And I agree completely. But, there’s more to the overall problem, than just where the insurance is sold!
Upon further consideration, however, their search also reveals certain risks in assuming that each of the 50 states already competently regulate the respective insurance operating companies doing business within their states. The regulatory problems have also become more difficult, especially as the parent companies grow more diverse–and the industry more complex.
Banks and Securities Firms are regulated by Federal Regulators, which enables them to examine, let’s say, Bank of America or Goldman Sachs, both across the nation—as well as across their various product lines. For Allstate or Nationwide, however, different state regulators examine the individual subsidiaries independently, without any coordination whatsoever—especially with regard to self-dealing among other out-of-state subsidiaries.
The idea of buying Health Insurance in Indiana or Ohio, or Homeowners in Texas versus Oklahoma, would be a simple enough change. That’s because the insurance risks, for comparable customers, would not change just because they live on one side of the state line, or the other. If Blue Cross-Blue Shield, for instance, could operate through just one, or perhaps, several subsidiaries nationwide, that would lower some of its redundant expenses, perhaps lowering the premiums, as well. But, the highest risk is at the Home Office–where the buttons are pushed!
A NY Times article, from 2009, described some issues with AIG, one of the very largest insurance companies, which operated through 71 insurance operating companies, that were spread among 19 states, and additionally in many, many foreign countries. Eventually, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury had to provide the largest bail-out in American History—some $182 billion. Otherwise, a collapse by AIG could have brought down the overall American Economy—or even worse!
AIG was playing a shell game with itself: the various operating companies were investing in each other, rather than properly diversifying their similar risks more adequately; some companies were shifting debt to other AIG subsidiaries, making it impossible for the various state regulators to ascertain their respective financial stability; and the parent company (AIG, Inc.) had engaged in “Credit Default Swaps”, the so-called “toxic assets”, whereby it guaranteed Wall Street assets valued at more than its own Net Worth.
But, the final question is: How far will the Republican Party keep searching, if in looking for a replacement for “Obamacare” (as they call it), they might have the Insurance Regulatory Environment to deal with?
Following last Tuesday night’s State-of-the-Union Address, Donald Trump just reiterated most of the usual things—Jobs, “Obamacare”, Dodd-Frank, Immigration, Terrorism, Regulations, Trade and Tariffs, Education, etc—which he has been talking about throughout his very short political career. But, after 40 days in office, he has accomplished absolutely nothing, except to infuriate a majority of Americans.
If any of the promises he has made were based on non-practical ideas, Trump would have had people working on his proposals and, perhaps, even submitted legislation to Congress on a few. For instance, if President Obama’s Affordable Health Care were really so “awful”, we would have seen a draft of TrumpCare by now. And, if Dodd-Frank, which reined-in the banks, after they took the nation to the edge of the Financial Abyss in 2008, was so terribly bad, wouldn’t Donald have presented an alternative plan by now?
But so far, Donald Trump seems to be spending his time: talking and tweeting; holding Command Performance meetings at the White House with people who seemingly would rather be anywhere else; and having his photo-ops boarding and leaving Air Force One, and always with Ivanka and the grandchildren in tow. I wonder if Trump spends more time at Mar-a-Lago now, since taxpayers are paying for it, than he did before he took office?
Market professionals, who had been expecting a Market Boom; because, Donald Trump vowed to: put people back to work; re-build the crumbling infrastructure; cut the tax rates for everyone; de-regulate all industries; and put more discretionary income in consumers’ pockets. But now, those investors are beginning to wonder how much of Donald Trump’s agenda is smoke, and how much is mirrors? They are also wondering if he can even get any of his plans through a Republican-Majority Congress?
When people look at the Trump Regime nowadays, the question most frequently asked is: Who’s in charge? Donald Trump has demonstrated that he is certainly not a detail man, whether that means understanding the most important questions facing the nation today, or in directing his staff in carrying out those most important responsibilities. Trump himself seems to be out more often than he is in, and most of his Cabinet and other key officers seem to be kept out of sight, and few deputies are on-board. With forty days in, and nothing accomplished: that’s despicable!
The financial markets do not function well with uncertainty. In fact, Steve Bannon seems to be the only key advisor in the office, and working. And, that’s like having the fox guarding the chicken coop. Reports from the West Wing suggest a spirit of: disorganization; disruption, incompetence and disbelief. Even Reince Priebus, Trump’s Chief-of-Staff, appears to be lost, both in-space and in-time. Will he be ousted soon?
I believe that this sorry picture of our Nation’s Leadership—without experience, without leadership and without a clue—is why the stock market has paused, and backed-off from the blindly upward track that it had been on for the past couple of months. There has been more, and more, talk of a stock market pull-back; however, now it might take a “correction”, a ten percent drop, in order to adequately pass some of the false Trump euphoria out off the market.
OK, OK! Don’t get excited. But, I do believe that Donald Trump has made a great point! A really good one, for ONCE! And, let’s get this whole mess over with at one time! If President Barack Obama were, indeed, tapping the phone lines at Trump Tower, he was surely trying to prove that the Trump Campaign, and then the Trump Transition Team, had been cozying-up to Vladimir Putin, and his Russian Goon Squad!
Director James Comey, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has suggested that the investigation be scrapped, since a President cannot direct wire taps. He claims that electronic surveillance now requires the approval of the FISA Court, which was established by the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act of 1978. That Act was passed, following the GOP’s Watergate Break-in of the Democratic National Committee.
Let’s expand the wire tape investigation; however, and appoint a Special Investigator, just like when the Republicans went after President Bill Clinton. Also, as Judge Ken Starr did at that time, let’s expand the Investigation to determine both: what role President Obama had in those illegal wire taps, and also to eliminate this Russo-Trumpian Conspiracy Theory, which has been hanging around for just too damn long! But, Donald, this was a great stroke of genius on your part: demanding a Special Investigator.
Oh, by the way, in order to get this whole investigation started-off, please forward a copy of the Report and the Intelligence that you have available. They surely will be invaluable to determining Obama’s fate. And that way, you can get back to doing the People’s Business–Making America Great Again!
I’m sure that some people would find the “Books that I recommend” list much easier to use if everything were organized into quite distinct categories, such as: Politics; History; Science—or, at least, Fiction and Non-Fiction. But, that’s not how my mind works. It’s just too cluttered!
Consider the most recent addition (and yesterday’s post): “Three Days in January”. President Eisenhower left the Presidency 57 years ago; but the real story, I believe, is a combination of: World War II and Early Cold War History; reflections back to our Founding Fathers, and what their intentions were, with regard to the Constitution; contrasts of the Leadership styles between Ike and JFK, and the lack thereof with Trump. and, lastly, the peril which the Military Industrial Complex might present today, especially in the hands of a Fool. Now tell me, how would you categorize that NY Times Best-Seller?
“Freeman” is a well-researched historical novel about Racism in post-Civil War rural Mississippi. That book, not only depicts the reality of how both blacks and whites regarded one another, at the time; but, it also provides some insight as to Racism, as it is today in America today, and particularly, in the rural South.
“Moneybag” is nominally a book about baseball; but, it is really more about the use of statistics in player personnel management. The Oakland A’s had one of the very smallest budgets in Major League Baseball; however, for a time, they compiled better Win-Loss records than all but a few of the league’s 30 teams. The A’s realized that some of the more pedestrian statistics, such as: on-base average; total bases and “small ball”, won more games than often considerations: physical looks: home runs and fielding. For the owners, that approach was more “cost-effective”.
Statistics has also played an increasingly important role in general decision-making theory. Much of what is pointed-out, by Michael Lewis, the author of “Moneyball”, is based on the insight of the two Israeli Psychologists, who are his main subjects in “The Undoing Project”. Those psychologists won the Nobel Prize for, get this, Economics, in 2003. Their research has led to: the creation of the new field of Behavioral Economics; revolutionized Big-Data studies; advanced evidence-based medicine, and helped rationalize government regulation.
NOTE: If anyone can devise an algorithm, which will organize my “Books That I Recommend” tab, please send me the “For Idiots” version, so that it can install itself.