Trump’s Presidency Proves Why Self Reliance is Key

To say that the first few months of Trump’s presidency has been a crazy roller coaster ride would be a dramatic understatement.  To be candid, I personally don’t agree with many of Trump’s policy positions (climate change, immigration, healthcare etc).   While all the topics and issues have been well documented and discussed in the news and media, I was hoping to offer a different perspective on what my two key takeaways are.

There’s Too Much of a Focus on the President

In the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey introduced a profound concept between the Circle of Concern vs the Circle of Influence.  The Circle of Concern refers to things that you worry about but have no direct impact over, while the Circle of Influence are things you directly control.  He argues that the most successful people focus their time and energy in the Circle of Influence and less on items in the Circle of Concern.  I will argue that we have collectively spent way too much time focusing on Trump (Issues of Concern) and much less time on things we can control (Issues of Influence).

To apply this concept to reality, if you are deeply concerned about climate change, Elon Musk is a perfect example of moving an issue from Circle of Concern into Circle of Influence.  Instead of being concerned about climate change and waiting for the government to solve the problem, he took matters into his own hands and created Tesla and Solar City.   For us regular people, we can directly control things like driving less, buying more fuel efficient cars, using solar energy in our homes etc.  While these things may seem small, they are actionable items that will have a big impact in aggregate.  It certainly will have a bigger net impact than blaming Trump on social media will ever have.

There’s Too Much of a Focus on the Government

The entitlement question is one that I have always been conflicted over.  I fundamentally believe people should have a safety net and the economic resources to try and better themselves.   At the same time, there is no free lunch in this world.  By relying on the government to provide these entitlements, people are “giving away” some of their freedom and self-sufficiency to bureaucrats in Washington.

I view it akin to living in your parent’s basement vs living out on your own.  As long as you rely on your parents for financial support, they will always have power and influence over you.  Your parents have the option to kick you out of the house, even if you think they never would/should.   I would argue that it is far better to be self-reliant and live out on your own.

If you apply this logic to the healthcare debate, the government is essentially taking away an entitlement (ie kicking you out of the house), and many people are being left out in the cold.  In the healthcare situation, the government literally has more control over some people’s lives than they do, which is a huge problem we need to avoid.  Instead of talking about insurance coverage, we should be focusing on driving the price of treatment and prescription drugs down so they are more affordable for everyone.

Ultimately, a Trump Presidency has taught me one key thing.  The best way to combat Trump and future people like him is to try to minimize their influence on your day to day life.  The more self-reliant we can be, the less we worry about what’s going on in Washington.

Comey’s dismissal doesn’t ring true

President Donald Trump removed Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey from his post Tuesday afternoon.

Mr. Comey had come under fire in recent months for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and the subsequent probe into potential foreign influence in the election of Mr. Trump. Calls for his firing had come from all sides of the political spectrum and though Comey likely had good intentions, his choices helped shape the political landscape at critical moments.

Removing Mr. Comey wasn’t necessarily the wrong thing to do. It’s just the wrong person removed him.

Though the FBI was investigating Trump and his administration, he was still within his power to fire the agency’s director. But why do that? And why now? It’s possible Comey was close to proving Trump knowingly aided in the manipulation of last year’s election. It’s also possible that the ties to Russia aren’t there, or they’re exaggerated, and a sociopath saw an opportunity to evoke controversy and so took it. Maybe Mr. Trump just saw it as an opportunity to promote someone within his circle to a plum position. Maybe the entire administration is tone deaf and made an insanely incompetent move. The first two possibilities could potentially result in his removal from office. Not one of the four is a good look.

Barack Obama never seriously considered removing Comey from the position to which he had appointed him several years prior. Mr. Obama realized the potential impact and made known his displeasure, but didn’t fire him. Perhaps he should have, knowing what we know now, and shouldered the political heat. But it still seems like the right call in spite of Comey’s removal Tuesday.

President Trump did what his predecessor did not, calling to mind the only other time a commander in chief terminated the head of the FBI (fun fact: noted choir boy Bill Clinton holds that honor, and Richard Nixon earns an honorable mention for ordering the firing of the special prosecutor charged with investigating Watergate). He should have let Comey and his team finish out the investigation uninterrupted. Instead, his crass and callous decision has become the most recent in a less-than-stellar few months full of them.

Anything less than a level-headed, respected man or woman with at least a little bipartisan support being named director of the FBI is unacceptable, but likely. Whether this is another smokescreen to repress something more sinister or a head of state delighting in the confusion of his political enemies remains to be seen.

-JG

Why I’m Excited about the New USA Facts Website

Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, recently launched a new site called USA Facts.

The goal of the website is to aggregate historical data from local, state, and federal government sources into one centralized location to provide a non-partisan fact based data source to show how our government is doing. The mission was to come up with a business like 10-K statement to report out three key things:

1) Where the money for the government is coming from
2) How the government spends that money
3) What results are we getting out of that money

A high level sample set of the type of data on the website is provided below:

USA Facts 1.JPG

In the era of “fake news” and anecdotal generalizations on social media, looking at a set of factual data over time is critical to understanding what is actually going on. For example, here are a couple of tidbits of information that would have been useful during the last presidential election.

1) Annual Crime in 2015 has significantly decreased since 1980 (13.4M to 9.2M). This runs directly contrary to Donald Trump’s claim that crime is at an all-time high under Obama.

2) Our annual healthcare expenditure as a % of GDP has increased from 8% in 1980 to 16.5% in 2015. This suggests that the problem with healthcare is not how much money we spend but how we spend the money.

3) The annual social security deficit has increased from -12B in 1980 to -405B in 2015. This suggest that social security will become insolvent unless we make drastic changes (like raising the retirement age).

4) The top 1% earners pay 24% of all US taxes and the top 40% earners pay 84% of all US taxes. Depending on your political beliefs, you can interpret that both ways but those are the facts.

The list goes on, but you get the idea. I highly encourage everyone to use and share USA Facts as baseline to support intelligent debate.

American healthcare isn’t exactly on the mend

The Affordable Care Act is stuck in a unique sort of purgatory at the moment. It’s fitting, really, given its tumultuous life that after rushing to sentence the bill to death, constituents of Congressional critics are now asking for a stay of execution.

“Obamacare” hasn’t been without its issues. Premiums for many popular ACA plans spiked this year and a state-run marketplace has its drawbacks. Some wounds were self-inflicted, such as rising costs that plagued the 22 states that opted not to expand Medicaid through the ACA. In spite of its shortcomings, the law still managed to help a significant portion of the individuals it set out to help.

The numbers vary (don’t they always?), but the figure that seems to split the difference from left-and-right-leaning data miners comes out somewhere near 16 million.

One can debate the merits of “Obamacare” all he or she would like, but at the end of the day it helped roughly five percent of the population find coverage. Insurance was (and is) complicated and all parties involved have their own idea of how the system should operate. Prior to reform efforts from Mr. Obama and company, providers ganged up on a vulnerable marketplace. The system was broken. Average healthcare costs in America were more than three times of those in the average OECD country. It was out of control, and the ACA took steps to address that, though results have been mixed; depending on one’s income and state of residence, some benefited greatly while others, sometimes those seeking insurance for small, struggling businesses, saw increased costs (though it must be pointed out, my family’s small company benefited from the implementation of the ACA). But the distinction must be made; there is a clear difference between not being able to afford healthcare (the primary issue with the old system) and spending more than one should for healthcare (the lion’s share of the complaints with the ACA).

Now, Republicans that have had the better part of a decade to draft an “Obamacare” replacement (Trumpcare? Ryancare? GOPcare?)have proposed plans that would walk back coverage for millions of Americans whom Trump promised could keep their plans (in fact, older individuals – a demographic largely responsible for his win, would be most adversely affected), provide billions of dollars in tax cuts to the wealthy, and end coverage necessary to addiction treatment (a stipulation that hits close to home here in Cincinnati). Some aspects even do the same thing they’re supposed to replace, such as Paul Ryan’s own individual mandate-penalty. Not surprisingly, the pushback has been pretty tremendous from both sides of the aisle.

It’s okay to voice opposition to the Affordable Care Act and its very real issues. But the GOP has spent so long vilifying a flawed bill as the worst example of oligarchic overreach in modern history that it forgot to actually do its job and put together a working replacement. The leaders of the Republican party have come to find out that contrarianism can only get one so far. At some point you’ve got to help the people that put you office – a lesson Democrats would be wise to heed.

So, for the time being, America is stuck in a quagmire of doubt and the a future with affordable healthcare for all in this country is endangered at best. Republicans could somehow forge ahead in the face of significant disagreement and pass the proposed plan that would side with insurance company wants and make matters worse for a significant portion of the population, especially the eldest in our ranks. The GOP could falter and, in the face of mounting criticism, fail to produce a replacement, which would lead to growing strife and add another interesting wrinkle to the 2018 interim elections. It’s also possible that the different camps find common ground and work towards a comprehensive reform instead of sabotaging each other’s attempts. Is it likely? Of course not, no. But it’s possible, and a few different options have been explored by lawmakers of various nationalities.

A single-payer system has been proposed by progressives such as Bernie Sanders and can face its own unique set of challenges at enormous costs to the government, even though it has found success in a number of Western countries. The once-vilified public option has reluctantly gained a spot at the replacement table in some circles as a possible patch to the current system, though critics of the single-payer system believe the public option will send American healthcare careening into the depths of what they consider to be the hell of lightly-socialized medicine. Some believe a two-tier system is in our future, though countries like Australia have found some of the same single-payer wait time issues might exist.

By now you’ve likely picked up on the common theme: not one of these plans is perfect. Each has its own pitfalls and benefits, reflected in the menagerie of health care systems around the world.

No matter the shift in policy there will always be losers in health insurance, which is why it’s so important for those in power to look out for those who are most vulnerable to such a radical change. Mr. Obama, to his credit, tried to do so with imperfect results. It appears Mr. Trump and the Congressional GOP leaders don’t seem to be bothered by such obligations.

-JG

The broader implications of Trump’s “tap” tweet

President Trump’s most recent claim accuses his predecessor of tapping his phones at Trump Tower weeks before the 2016 election. By itself, that’s a bad enough charge to levy at one’s political opponent without sufficient evidence. But it’s worth looking at Mr. Trump’s motivations more closely.

A recent Breitbart piece is generally accepted as the origin of the president’s tweet, which adheres to Mr. Trump’s trend of consuming a significant portion of his news from alternative sources. The president’s motivations are, per usual, shrouded in a muddled fog of rushed secrecy. It has been postured by some that this accusation is a deflection to distract from the scrutiny the Trump administration has received for possible ties to Russia. Trump’s camp insists the tap actually happened, though they have failed to compile any compelling evidence. Though, if Trump Tower was indeed tapped, it could have been for reasons that are well within the legal realm. At this point, Trump is either trying to beat the feds to the punch and cast doubt on the tap’s legality, there was no tap and he believed a phony tabloid, or he willingly lobbed a serious accusation at Mr. Obama with the intention to rile his base into a frenzy, renewing a vitriolic response to his adversaries while potentially hiding the aforementioned Russian ties in the process. The truth will not likely be kind to the recent White House tenant.

But it’s the second possibility that is the most nefarious. If President Trump truly believes this crock, it’s likely that his chief strategist, Steve Bannon (a man whose beliefs could have seriously adverse implications on policy), has at least a little sway over him. At best Trump is intentionally citing the kind of fringe outlets that deny the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place. At worst, he’s fallen prey to the manipulative work of conspiracy theorists.

Occam’s razor suggests that it’s more likely that the president is trying to divert attention from something else or a legal tap was warranted. But that doesn’t make the other possibilities any less unsettling.

-JG

Why Social Media Outrage is the 21st Century Guillotine

As an avid student of history, the French Revolution was one of the most fascinating historical events. In a short 10 year period, the French people revolted and overthrew centuries of monarchy, only to fall victim to the liberal Jacobin Reign of Terror, eventually leading to the conservative Thermodorian Reaction and back to an authoritarian leader in Napoleon. This was the perfect example of Hegel’s Dialectic in play, showing how progress is rarely linear but instead advances via dramatic swings and subsequent backlashes between two opposing forces.

Flash forward to 2017, the French Revolution serves as a good parable for what has happened in the US. In a short 10 year period, we overcame centuries of racism to elect the first African American president in Barack Obama, only to follow that up by electing a president with authoritarian tendencies in Donald Trump.

So for both the French Revolution and the US, what the hell happened in between?

In the case of the French Revolution, the Jacobin Reign of Terror was the bridge between the revolution and Napoleon. The Reign of Terror was symbolized by the use of the guillotine, which was used to publicly  execute “enemies of the republic” in order to preserve the liberal ideals of the revolution. In an ironic twist, the Jacobin leader Maximillian Robespierre eventually fell victim to the guillotine himself. The backlash from this chaos was swift and resulted in an authoritarian figure in Napoleon taking power.

In the case of the US, while there was clearly no Reign of Terror under President Obama, I would argue that there was a Reign of Political Correctness. The emergence of social media outrage and social media shaming acted as the 21st century version of the guillotine. Anyone who voiced a contrarian opinion was labeled as a “bigot or racist” and destroyed in the court of public opinion. In an ironic twist, steadfast liberals who expressed reasonable concerns about terrorism were labeled “Islamaphobes” by other liberals via social media outrage. The backlash from this lack of dialogue was swift and resulted in an authoritarian figure in Donald Trump getting elected President.

Net, the Reign of Political Correctness needs to come to an end. The social media outrage guillotine doesn’t work when you are not in power, as evidenced by the confirmations of Betsy Devos and Scott Pruitt. In the words of Bill Maher, “As liberals were getting outraged over fat shaming, the tea partiers were busy taking over the local school boards”. Ultimately, Democrats should focus less on political correctness and focus more on having real dialogue, expanding the tent, and winning elections.

Come on, you guys – it’s pretty easy to afford a number of federal programs on the chopping block

The first few weeks of the Trump administration have been interesting, if nothing else. Largely unburdened of Congressional oversight, the president has signed into action 12 executive orders as of Monday morning. Several more to come will likely take aim at defunding or altogether excising government programs deemed expendable by Mr. Trump and his advisers.

There is nothing wrong with exploring the options of managing the country’s expenses more efficiently, and the president is well within his means to trim some fat from the budgetary cow. It is, however, unfortunate that he’s choosing to dispose of the tenderloin.

Just as I began reading further into the programs that the new administration will likely target, I received a push notification from Youtube. One of my favorite channels was one step ahead of me.

It’s actually kind of astounding to put into visual perspective just how insignificant these costs are when compared to the sheer monolith that is the federal budget. The National Endowment for the Arts requires each American taxpayer to part with 46 cents each year. Many similar programs go a long way on tight budgets, providing invaluable services that keep us safe and enhance or, in some cases, make entirely possible the education of millions of Americans.

Mr. Trump wishing to cut back on government spending would be fine, were it not for the unfortunate, glaring prospect of unnecessary spending in multiple instances. If he truly wished to regain a more firm grip on the nation’s finances, he wouldn’t be targeting inexpensive and beneficial programs – a move which isn’t only impractical; it’s practically vindictive.

If average Americans have a firm enough grasp of these concepts, I find it within reason to ask that the government and those who lead it do, as well. Yet it appears that this administration has no such grasp or – and this is the more likely option – it does not find the cost of enacting its vision too great.

-JG