Category Archives: All Politics Is Local

The Last Line of Defense

According to reports, hundreds of U.S. State Department employees are signing a “dissent” cable.” This dissent cable is a communication to the acting head of the State Department indicating disapproval of the recently signed order by President Trump halting the processing of refugees into the United States.

Many of these signers have worked overseas with refugees and immigrants to the U.S. They are aware of our honored place in the world as guardians of the unwanted (“wretched refuse” as the Statue of Liberty proclaims) from other nations, including the grandfather of President Trump.

A dissent cable allows the expression of views differing from the official one of any political administration, not just the present one. One of the more recent ones dissented from President Obama’s decisions on Syria. It supports the discussion and frankness that a democracy, at its best, encourages.

White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said dissenters should “get with the program or they should go.” In reaction, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, has pointed out in a letter (January 31, 2017) to President Trump: “The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual prohibits reprisal or disciplinary action against anyone who uses the Dissent Channel.”

Laura Rosenberger, a retired State Department officer penned a plea to career officials in the U.S. government to stay in their jobs. (“Career Officials: You Are the Last Line of Defense Against Trump,” January 30, 2017, Foreign Policy)

Many State Department officers have the experience and education to find jobs with higher salaries and less hassle. Please don’t, Rosenberger says: “Your jobs have never been more important. You are patriots who work for the American people, largely out of sight and with little recognition or glory—and your job remains to keep them safe and secure, as you have always worked to do.”

Wall Street Is Doing Well; What About Main Street?

The bull market is setting records. As might be expected, putting one of their own into the White House appears to have excited Wall Street. Good times are here again, at least for them.

What about Main Street? Some on Main Street are excited about Wall Street elites replacing government elites. Surely Wall Street will look after them better than government elites? Of course, wasn’t it Wall Street who came up with the idea of those bundled mortgages that contributed to the Great Recession?

Some on Main Street are concerned about losing health care. Various plans have been floated to replace the Affordable Care Act. One is to replace it with some kind of catastrophic health insurance. Individuals would pay their own health costs until they reached a certain amount, then catastrophic health care would kick in for them.

The problem is how much the person would have to pay and how well they could afford this amount.

Members of Congress, who will decide on healthcare, could probably afford such a plan. For someone on minimum wage, it could be disastrous.

Whatever replacement is finally decided on, members of Congress will most likely have access to adequate healthcare coverage.

I don’t object to members of Congress having their healthcare. I don’t imagine Wall Street has to worry about healthcare, either, which is fine. I just don’t see why Main Street should have to worry about it.

Leadership Is Not About You

Prudence Bushnell was the ambassador when the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, was bombed by terrorists in 1998. Over 200 people were killed. The majority were nearby Kenyan civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Forty-six of Bushnell’s colleagues, Kenyan and American, died in the embassy itself.

“Leadership is not about you,” Bushnell wrote recently in The Foreign Service Journal, (January/February 2017 issue “Notes to the New Administration.”)

“The lesson that practicing leadership means getting over yourself to focus on others came as a whack upside the head a few weeks after the attack. I was asked to speak at an unexpected remembrance ceremony for a beloved colleague. I was burned out from funerals, memorial services, anger, and sadness. Physically and emotionally exhausted, I actually felt a stab of resentment. Whack: This is not about me.”

Some of the employees of the United States government that President Trump will supervise have, like Bushnell, seen what it means to sacrifice for their country: military personnel who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, Foreign Service officers who have been through bombing attacks, intelligence officers who risk lives to keep the U.S. government informed of dangers, and a lot of ordinary employees who come to work every day proud to serve as administrators and organizers of the vast amount of information and decisions required to serve over 325 million citizens of their country.

President Trump, it’s not about you. It’s about them and the citizens they—and you—serve. You are a servant.

Harry S. Truman, an Example for Donald J. Trump

Donald Trump, President-elect as of this writing, due to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States in two days, tends to issue orders.

Some have applauded Trump’s style, believing that Mr. Trump will operate the U.S. government with the same authoritative style that he used in ordering around employees in his companies.

Unfortunately, a couple of centuries of government under the Constitution, its amendments, and laws passed by the U.S. Congress may stand in his way.

President Harry S. Truman, very much a strong executive, serves as an example.

In 1952, in order to avoid a strike by American steel company employees, President Truman ordered the seizure of the steel companies. The President argued that the strike would affect the ability of the United States to wage war. (The country was in the middle of the Korean War at the time.)

The employees sued the government. The government lost its case when the Supreme Court found that, in seizing the mills, the president had exceeded the authority given him by the U.S. Constitution.

One of the Justices, Robert Jackson, wrote in upholding the court finding:

“With all its defects, delays and inconveniences, men have discovered no technique for long preserving free government except that the Executive be under the law, and that the law be made by parliamentary deliberations.”

Why Buy Health Insurance or Pay a Fee?

Healthy people should buy health insurance or pay a fee for two reasons. One reason is that good health is not a given, even for those folks who keep their weight down and exercise. Accidents and unplanned illnesses happen.

Also, the expenses of those who become ill or injured and have no insurance are paid by you and me and other taxpayers when whatever savings they have are exhausted.

Another reason that all should buy health insurance or pay a fee is for the same reason that people with no children should pay taxes to support public education.

Our country works better if we have an educated population. An uneducated workforce drags down the entire country.

The country also works better if we have a healthy population.

For selfish reasons as well as unselfish ones, everybody should have health insurance–or pay a fee for not doing so.

Corporate Boss Versus Public Servant

The Economist, in a recent issue (December 10, 2016) , pointed to signs that Donald Trump’s presidency would follow a business model.

Leaders of corporations are not elected by the people. In a sense, company heads are dictators, as far as the everyday running of the company is concerned. They may answer to stockholders, but for most businesses, profit is king. Only very enlightened CEO’s believe that they exist primarily to serve their customers.

But if the government of the United States, as Abraham Lincoln famously said, is “of the people, by the people, for the people,” it exists to serve. It exists for the people, not for the leaders or their political parties.

Trump, in his business dealings, can hire and fire at will. He decides, and his companies do what he orders.

Can Trump adjust to being a public servant? Can he, for example, with no experience in airplane building, order Boeing to come up with a cheaper airplane? Can he discriminate based on religion, even though the U.S. Constitution forbids it?

It will be interesting to see if Trump intends to use the dictator model or the constitutional model as his guide.

The Cost of Saving Money on Health Care

Grays Harbor County, in my home state of Washington, cast the majority of its votes for Donald Trump in the recent presidential election. According to Danny Westneat, columnist for The Seattle Times, it’s the first time in almost a century that the county voted Republican instead of Democratic.

According to state unemployment rates for October, 2016, Grays Harbor County had an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, considerably higher than the state rate of 5.4 percent. So perhaps high unemployment encouraged a Trump vote, as it appears to have done in other parts of the nation.

Westneat quoted some interesting facts about Grays Harbor County. Several years ago nineteen percent of the population had no health insurance. Today, mainly because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the rate of uninsured dropped to nine percent. One in five adults in the country signed up for it.

If the Trump administration abolishes the ACA, as Trump has said it will do on several occasions, what will happen to those people who have gained coverage?

In a more recent column (The Seattle Times, December 12, 2016), Westneat chronicles the case of a young woman with diabetes and fibromyalgia, which causes severe muscle and joint pains. Before the ACA, she often lacked money for medications to treat the pain and missed work.

When the ACA became law, the woman, no longer barred by her previous medical conditions, signed up. She was able to afford the payments because of the subsidy that came with the plan. Eventually, with her chronic conditions treated, she returned to school and received a graduate degree from Seattle Pacific University. She’s now interning in her chosen field.

What happens if this woman and others lose their medical coverage? What if their chronic conditions go untreated?

Saving money by abolishing continuing health care will cost more in the long run. And that’s only the financial cost.

Wanted: Thick-Skinned Politicians

Barack Obama was named “Comedian in Chief” by news columnist Timothy Egan.

Obama joked a lot and never complained about cartoons emphasizing his big ears. Donald Trump will have to get used to the lampooning of his hair and physical characteristics.

Even more, Obama managed to respond with civility to outrageous insults. When Philippine President Rodrigo Duarte used a vulgar epithet for Obama, Obama responded that Duarte “was clearly a colorful guy.”

A politician’s family must cope with comments about him or her that go beyond mere humor. Trump’s ten-year-old son Barron will now face what Obama’s daughters have endured for eight years.

Michelle Obama taught her family: “When they go low, we go high.” Hopefully the Trump family will practice this as well.

Trump will need to take “Saturday Night Live” spoofs and political cartoons in his stride and laugh along with the public. Americans like politicians with a sense of humor.

I think it was the newscaster Harry Reasoner who said he wouldn’t trust any politician who lacked one.

Can the Democratic Lamb and the Republican Lion Lie Down Together?

 

“It is constantly assumed . . . that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem—can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity?”
—G.K. Chesterton

Instead of wishing to annihilate those with whom we disagree (whether by eating them or suppressing them), can we acknowledge their right to exist? Not only their right to exist but their gifts?

Winners in a political contest can carry out their “mandate” in a wise and conciliatory manner or in a haughty one that humiliates the losers. Losers can react with hatred toward the winners or acknowledge their right to lead. Who knows? The lambs and the lions might discover a middle path they can walk together, one on the left, one on the right.

The Power Passes Peacefully

“Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans.”
    –Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, November 9, 2016

“I had a chance to talk to President-elect Trump last night—about 3:30 in the morning, I think it was—to congratulate him on winning the election. And I had a chance to invite him to come to the White House tomorrow to talk about making sure that there is a successful transition between our presidencies.”
    –U.S. President Barack Obama, November 9, 2016

“U.S. President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump met on Thursday for the first time, setting aside the deep rancor that dominated the long campaign season to discuss the transition to the Republican’s inauguration on Jan. 20. Their 90-minute meeting in the White House Oval Office, with no aides present, took place just two days after Trump’s stunning election victory over Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of state”
    –Reuters, November 10, 2016

The United States has endured a bitter election campaign, with unfounded hints of a “rigged” election. We can offer thanksgiving for a bit of redemption in this peaceful change of power, our tradition since John Adams took over from George Washington in 1797.

No, I Did Not Vote for Donald Trump

I am a registered voter in Island County, State of Washington. In this state, voting is by mail. I received my ballot about three weeks ago.

I spent a couple of days studying the candidates, legislative issues, and other measures on the ballot.

I marked my choices and mailed my ballot to the Island County elections office.

My ballot will be placed with others in a controlled access room with 24-hour camera surveillance. When counting begins on November 8, the machine readable ballots will be run through a scanner. The scanner is not and has never been connected to the internet.

I did not vote for Donald Trump. I voted for Hilary Clinton.

Clinton may be a political elite, but Trump is an economic elite. He is an American version of Russia’s crony capitalist.

Judging from Trump’s business practices, I believe he favors policies for economic elites. He has used all available tax loopholes to avoid paying taxes on his wealth. He apparently is comfortable with middle and working class Americans bearing the cost of our government—including our military, which protects him from foreign enemies and allows him freedom to pursue his business interests.

I believe if Trump were president, he would support policies favoring the wealthy, further widening the gap between the economic elites and the working and middle classes.

So I did not vote for Donald Trump.

Are Taxpayers Chumps and Losers?

William Falk, editor-in-chief of THE WEEK, wrote a sarcastic opinion piece, pretending he was a loser for paying his taxes (14 Oct 2016).

“As a working stiff,” he wrote, “I couldn’t write off my lunches, my car, my clothes, and my hairdresser as business expenses.”

Further, he wrote, “When I hired contractors and repairmen, I actually paid them the full amount that they billed me, instead of declaring their work shoddy and stiffing them.”

Still continuing his sarcastic diatribe, Falk says he wasted his taxes “on national defense, schools, clean air and water, medical research, and programs to keep the old and the poor from starving. What a schmuck I am!”

This last paragraph by Falk reminds me of why I pay taxes. Like Warren Buffett, I’m proud to have paid them since my first summer job as a college intern on my hometown newspaper. I consider it money well spent.