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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Is Trump the Most Honest President?

Marc A. Thiessen started off an interesting discussion by contending that Trump could be the most honest president in history.

Don’t get me wrong, Trump lies all the time. He said that he “enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history” (actually they are the eighth largest) and that “our economy is the strongest it’s ever been in the history of our country” (which may one day be true, but not yet). In part, it’s a New York thing — everything is the biggest and the best.

But when it comes to the real barometer of presidential truthfulness — keeping his promises — Trump is a paragon of honesty. For better or worse, since taking office Trump has done exactly what he promised he would.
Not surprisingly, Paul Waldman, another Washington Post columnist took issue with this:

what I really want to address is Thiessen’s claim that Trump is perhaps “the most honest president in modern American history” because of his unparalleled record of promise-keeping. Trump has now endorsed this assessment, and it is a claim he will probably continue to make for, well, the rest of his life.

It’s a sweeping historical claim, and it would therefore require some grounding in history. Are the promises made in presidential campaigns usually kept or not? How did other presidents do at keeping their promises? Did they keep more or fewer than Trump has so far?
Remarkably, Thiessen doesn’t seem to have asked any of these questions. The only reference he makes to any previous president is to slap at Barack Obama for the way he sold the Affordable Care Act. Instead, he offers a list of things that Trump has done that he said he would do
But who keeps track of these things? In this internet age, there are people who seem to keep track of anything.  From Waldman again:

PolitiFact tracked 533 promises Obama made, and judged that 48.4 percent were completely kept, another 27.4 percent were partially kept through a compromise, and 24.2 percent were broken, though “broken” is defined rather expansively. There are different kinds of broken promises: Some a president never intends to keep (such as Trump’s promise to make Mexico pay for a border wall), others he tries to keep but fails, usually because he runs into opposition in Congress (such as Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo), and others he makes a clear decision to break (such as George H.W. Bush’s promise not to raise taxes).

So according to PolitiFact, Obama kept about three-quarters of his promises in part or in full.
And Trump? It has been tracking his promises too, and there the numbers are not quite as spectacular as Thiessen would have it. Trump has kept 13.7 percent of his promises and partially kept another 6.9 percent through compromise. Another 39.2 percent of the promises are “in the works,” meaning they might happen or might not, while 7.8 percent of the promises have been broken and 32.4 percent are “stalled,” meaning that if nothing changes, by the time he is done, those too will be “broken.”
You can disagree with PolitiFact’s judgment on what to include or what has happened, but its record for being nonpartisan is pretty solid, and at the very least, it provides a point of comparison, because it uses the same methods for assessing each presidency.

 And how were those promises kept?

Thiessen notes: "Trump vowed to pass historic tax reforms and signed the first major overhaul of the tax code in three decades."
 Yes, that promise was kept.  But the reforms are partly of historic interest because so much of the tax reductions went to those who were already rich, and because of the large amounts of deficit spending that will result from them -- deficit spending increases at a time when the economy is doing well, so we would expect to run lower deficits.

Thiessen notes: "On trade, he kept his promise to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. He also committed to renegotiating NAFTA and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement — and recently signed new deals with Mexico, Canada and South Korea. He committed to imposing tariffs on China to force it to open its markets and stop its theft of intellectual property — and is following through on that pledge. Whatever one thinks of Trump’s trade policies, he is doing exactly what he said."

But Trump promised "Trade wars are good, and easy to win" -- i.e. he promised the process would be relatively painless to Americans. It seems likely that the current trade war with China will hurt both countries, with the winners likely to be the noncombattants.

So, if this is keeping promises, we might have been better off without them being kept.

Missing a few

Waldman offers up a long list of promises not kept that Thiessen didn't mention.

  • Repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with “something terrific.”
  • Provide Americans with “insurance for everybody.”
  • Allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
  • Build a wall on the southern border and make Mexico pay for it.
  • Eliminate the “carried interest loophole” that benefits hedge fund managers.
  • Pass a massive infrastructure plan.
  • Officially declare China a currency manipulator.
  • Bring back the use of torture.
  • Sue the women who accused him of sexual misconduct.
  • Release his tax returns.
  • Appoint a special prosecutor to target Hillary Clinton.
  • Provide six weeks of paid leave to women who have children.
  • Eliminate the deficit and pay off the national debt.
Those are just a few of the promises Trump hasn’t kept — there are literally hundreds more, depending on what you want to include. And that only covers specific policy promises, not things such as Trump saying “I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people,”
Some of these are also best not kept, e.g. bringing back the use of torture.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

And more good news for Trump

First of all, just so we understand where I'm coming from, I'm not a Trump supporter.

But I think it's important to understand Trumpism, which like many -isms has a core of appeal. (Mussolini made the trains run on time.)  And when I'm talking about Trumpism, I'm not talking about the reflexive lying and the corruption, but issues more clearly related to policy.

The home page of today's New York Times (June 20, 2018) contains three helpful headlines.

First, in most states more whites are dying than being born.

The birth part is planned, and this population decline covers most Western countries.  But it's not without angst.  I'm a member of a small Protestant denomination that's clearly losing members -- the school has shrunk from over 100 students to less than 10 who are church members, and the services look increasingly geriatric.  Earlier in life, I was in a seminary for a Catholic religious order.  If I had stayed in, I'd still be one of the youngest members of the order, even though I'm past retirement age.  Japan, which remains a closed ethnic society, is suffering the pains of a declining population.

Not surprisingly, whites are a little distressed at their decline, although it seems to be phrased as a relative thing -- i.e. hostility at immigrants.

Structurally, we're not set up at a country to be more family friendly.  This would demand an even longer post, but beyond the obvious things (e.g. longer maternity leave), we have more student loan debt, higher housing prices, more expensive health care.  All that debt load often means two working parents, with the logistic problems that creates and the high cost of day care. That makes having a large family very difficult.  If we go back to the baby boomer childhood era (1956, say), the cost/debt burden is much, much lower and one income is more likely to be enough.

Second, the harsh policy of separating children from their parents may be working at lowering the rates of immigration. 

That's the point of Trump's anti-immigrant policies.  So, to the Trump base, these measures seem to considered "necessary and not that cruel".

Third, applications for disability are down. 

The disability system has been a scandal for a long time, and its relation to the economic cycle clearly shows that something other than permanent disability is going on here. But the system really isn't set up at all to handle nuance.

While there haven't been any structural changes to the system, the decline in applications is a good thing.

We're paying for decades of gridlock.

America is paying the price for a generation of gridlock, going back to at least the 1990s: when health care reform failed.  We let the housing boom go, because it made us feel rich even though it locked the young out of the market (or saddled them with big debts).  We've failed to decide what we want our immigration policy to be, and set up appropriate enforcement. (Most people come for jobs; but the far right likes those cheap hotel maids and fights very tight employment verification.)  Other countries have cheaper health care and at least as good of health outcomes. We haven't reformed the disability system (or, for that matter, the larger social security system). 

We have ideas, but because they inevitably come from one side or the other, they get shot down, rather than worked on and improved.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Two Terms for Trump?

It seems unimaginable that America would re-elect Trump in 2020. Have we learned nothing?

But consider this:

1. He can probably get the nomination. He's driven many of his Republican antagonists out of Congress (Corker, Flake, Ryan). He's a sitting president, with all the advantages of incumbency. Kasich seems to be running, but the moderate Kasich made no impact in 2016.

2. Trump is extremely good at taking up all the media air in the room.  He always has been, in fact. He's appeared on talk shows as a personality since the 1980s.  Gary Trudeau (Doonesbury) has a whole book of Trump cartoons that appeared in Doonesbury before he was nominated.  Trump's ability to suck up all the media air in the room makes it difficult for competing Democrats to get known.

3. Those Democrats that are known are basically too old. Hillary, Sanders, Biden, Warren -- all are as old as Trump.  Hillary's a multiple loser with lots of weaknesses. Sanders is very old, not really a Democrat, and it's clear he's got the math right.  Biden's tried for president before, exciting about as much attention as Kasich.  Warren will get branded as "Pocahontas", unfairly but humorously. Are there new ideas in this bunch?

4. Yes, there are younger Democrats, but the weakness of the Democrats at the state level, which got worse during the Obama years, means there are fewer. Not that many are well known outside their state.

5. Finally, there's the media, where Trump has been very, very good for business. The New York Times returned to profitability in 2017. Digital subscriptions are up. The Washington Post is also doing well nationally. Cable news ratings are way up. Trump's good for business.

Much of the working media (e.g. reporters) don't like Trump.  But there's no such thing as bad publicity in the Trump world (see point #2).  And once you've got reporters on the scene, covering Trump is cheap -- a lot cheaper than, say, investigative reporting, and with better ratings than covering our ballooning national debt.

The media is much more concentrated now.  A small number of groups like Sinclair, Disney, Viacom, etc. own media outlets.  These companies are mostly public (with that pressure for quarterly earnings).

From the financial point of view, these companies would be best off with 8 years of Trump as a punching bag. A Kasich presidency, where there's a return to compromise, not insulting our allies, and little tweeting doesn't seem so good for the media  bottom line. 

So what happens if the media companies figure out how much a second Trump term is worth to them?  They can still cover the excesses of Trump, but give less airtime to the less well known Democrat.  This is easy to do, since incumbent presidents are newsworthy by definition.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

So, what disaster led to this mandatory training?

A few months ago, there was mandatory business ethics training at a company I consult for. Now, today, there's this further training from the same company:
"Recently, [CEO] announced the adoption of our revised Code of Conduct that outlines the standards of integrity and ethical behavior that should guide all our decisions and interactions at [Company].
In order to help you [!!!!!!] ... we are announcing a new mandatory training program for all employees. ...
This mandatory training is required ... and must be completed no later than [9 business days from now]."
What the heck. I'm paid by the hour.

😉But what I want to know is: WHO SCREWED UP, AND JUST HOW BADLY DID THEY SCREW UP that they need two mandatory training programs plus a new official Code of Conduct? 😉

It's hard not to be curious.

A second possibility

A second possibility is that this is all CYA: the company knows this stuff might be / is going on, and wants to be able to say "Don't blame the executives; we explicitly told everyone not to do that.", even though there may be subtle encouragement to engage in such practices.

This is what might be termed the Wells Fargo approach -- employees had official directives not to do things, and were fired when they did them, but corporate reaped big bonuses for subtly encouraging such practices AND not monitoring the employees for compliance with the account opening policies.

As to the third possibility -- that this is all sincerely meant -- I will point out that I spent my working career working in large corporations. That possibility seems so unlikely I'm not even going to consider it.

Consultant takes no responsibility whatsoever

While this Code of Conduct and mandatory training certainly provide the opportunity for the employee to be fried for noncompliance, those designing the training course clearly want to take no responsiblity whatsoever (emphasis added).

This course was developed with subject matter support provided by [some firm LLP]. Please note, however, that the course materials and content are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice and may or may not reflect the most current legal developmentsNothing herein, or in the course materials, shall be construed as professional advice as to any particular situation or constitute a legal opinion with respect to compliance with legal statutes or statutory instruments. [Some firm LLP] accepts no responsibility for their contents and the reliance on the contents is prohibited and at the user's risk. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, a solicitor-client or attorney-client relationship. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking independent legal advice.

It's not just me. This training is just CYA for employers 

Addendum: Some days later (Nov 17, 2018) the Washington Post had a nice article summarizing the real purpose of such training (specifically sexual harassment training):

there is little evidence that training reduces sexual harassment. Rather, training programs, along with anti-harassment policies and reporting procedures, do more to shield employers from liability than to protect employees from harassment.