National Monument Fail

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante were designated national monuments because the landscapes and cultural significance of those regions are unique in America. A monument is defined as “an outstanding, enduring, and memorable example of something.” That’s exactly what those regions are. They are outstanding, enduring, and memorable examples of the unique American Southwest landscape that Native Americans called home long before Europeans arrived.

Donald Trump, who has ostensibly never set foot on a non-urban landscape in his life, and the corrupt Republican Utah politicians who listen to oil and gas companies more than their constituents (or, apparently, Utah’s healthy tourism industry, which would benefit greatly from these areas remaining national monuments) are forcing their myopic, foolhardy ambitions upon us by announcing and supporting, respectively, the intention to reduce the sizes of those national monuments.

Trump’s intention to shrink those national monuments is misguided and emblematic of his steadfast determination to undermine the carefully considered decisions of prior administrations, seemingly more out of spite than any carefully considered reasoning on his part. His remarks1 made it clear that he either didn’t know that hunting and cattle grazing are, in fact, allowed in Bears Ears2, or he did know and he lied to make it appear that he fixed something (that didn’t need fixing) to obscure the fact that this gesture is actually about opening these areas for commercial mineral exploration.

Hopefully, legal action will successfully prevent this latest travesty perpetrated by the Trump administration from becoming reality.

Footnotes

  1. “Families will hike and hunt on land they have known for generations … .  Cattle will graze along the open range.” Source: “Remarks by President Trump on Antiquities Act Designations,” Whitehouse.gov, published December 4, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/12/04/remarks-president-trump-antiquities-act-designations.
  2. “Bears Ears National Monument: Questions & Answers,” U.S. Forest Service, accessed December 4, 2017, https://www.fs.fed.us/sites/default/files/bear-ears-fact-sheet.pdf. In case the previously referenced Bears Ears document is deleted from the U.S. Forest Service’s website, you can access a copy of the document here: https://theanalitica.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/bear-ears-fact-sheet.pdf.

The Fallacy of Political Identity

Liberalism is rooted in the ideas of individual liberty and equality for all people. If you’re an American who believes in the values that founded this country, you are, by definition, a liberal.

Use of the word “liberal” as a pejorative by some “conservatives”, however, reveals the hypocrisy inherent in political identification. Those who use “liberal” disparagingly often champion aspects of liberalism associated with individual liberty, but reject aspects of it that call for equal rights—for example, people that adamantly protect their right to bear arms, but oppose legal marriage rights for homosexuals, or oppose women’s right to choose abortion. (One might try to reject this example as a hasty generalization, but the prevalence of this ideology is self-evident.)

Bifurcating the population into “liberals” and “conservatives” is nonsensical. It’s a form of stereotype no more valid than racial stereotyping, yet it is somehow accepted in political discourse.

Similarly, political parties are just a form of tribalism in civilized society. Political parties aren’t even beholden to their respective ideologies. They can, and have shifted their ideologies drastically through time to adopt to the will of their constituents.

The right to bear arms, for example, is one of the most liberal ideologies a civilization has ever granted to common citizens.* Yet, Republicans and “conservatives” now seem to “own” the Second Amendment as their cause.

It’s time we embrace the messy truth that our ideologies are composites that only superficially align with defined political identities. The more we can move away from political tribalism and toward a unified discourse that produces the best ideas for the greatest good, the better off we’ll be as people, and as a nation.

 

*I think it’s easy to forget how extreme the idea of a ruling class allowing commoners to own weapons to defend itself against the ruling class was and, arguably, still is. The right to bear arms has been around over 240 years now (via the Second Amendment), and we’ve been living with its existence our entire lives, but it was, then, an extreme example of liberalism in the founding of the United States.

A New Strategy For “Resisting” Trump

Theodore Roosevelt, in his famous “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick” speech at the Minnesota State Fair in 1901, said, “If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble.”

Donald Trump continually blusters, lacks civility, and his “big stick” (his Twitter feed, and his ongoing campaign rallies, sans a campaign) will not save him from the trouble he causes for himself over the course of his presidency.

Donald Trump’s self-destruction is the only cure for the scourge of his presidency. Impeachment, censure, combative rhetoric, and other stronghanded political maneuvering from his opposition will only embolden him and his base. We need to let Trump, himself, make the rhetorical missteps to fracture his support.

Trump has been careful not to significantly harm himself politically amongst his base, but shareholders of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts (NYSE: DJT) and creditors of other businesses he has taken through Chapter 11 bankruptcy know that failure, betrayal, and profiteering are in his DNA.

The rhetoric from Trump’s opposition in both parties is often centered around a desire to shut him up. Instead, we need Trump not to shut up. We should encourage Trump to give in to his basest, most despicable, most narcissistic instincts to further expose the hypocrisy and self-serving fraudulence at the root of his presidency.

We do, however, need to strategically direct Trump’s reckless bellicosity against his base’s interests. With great care, his opponents may be able to guide the boorish septuagenarian into a box where his only option is to punch his way out in ways that harm his political interests.

Surely, Trump has been steadfastly beholden to the will of his base, but he has lived a life of privilege that is antithetical to the ideals he represents to that base. His natural instincts are to belittle the very people who most support him. Let’s encourage his natural instincts to emerge.

So, I say, rant on, tweeter-in-chief. Your base is watching.

Hypocrisy at the E.P.A.

Scott Pruitt’s plan to rollback the Clean Power Plan regulations is deplorable. It’s the latest example of his duplicitous ideology contradicting the E.P.A.’s mission. The politics related to climate change are confounding, but regulations borne out of concerns for climate change still produce worthwhile ancillary results: clean air and water. I think we can all agree, regardless of political affiliation or beliefs on the validity of scientists’ conclusions regarding climate change, that reducing pollution is an important goal—one that the E.P.A. should steadfastly support.

The Unfortunate Politics of Gun Control

Gun control is unnecessarily wrapped up in politics in much the same way as climate change.

Republican politicians’ stances on those issues are used as important standards for their acceptability as candidates, regardless of the fact that there is technically nothing inherently conservative about either gun ownership, or rejecting the conclusions of climate scientists. To take a strong stand for limiting gun ownership, a Republican politician would have to do so with the understanding that they likely won’t get re-elected, and that most of their Republican colleagues won’t go along with them.

Democrats are also culpable. They’ve taken only half-measures in response to these incidents. Since gun ownership is not inherently a conservative phenomenon (despite the fact that Republicans seem to “own” the second amendment as their cause), they do not want to appear to take too strong a stand against gun ownership for fear they will lose moderates and Democrats who own guns. So, Democrats have crafted proposals that tweak gun ownership regulations only slightly. Many of their recent proposals would not have prevented the Las Vegas shooter’s ability to obtain the weapons he used to carry out his attack.

Guns are not the whole story. Guns are the means, but the shooter’s mindset provides the impetus to commit mass murder. As such, there are, at least, two ways to approach this problem.

We can try to make almost impossibly large strides in understanding why people commit these acts so that they can be prevented in the future. This research-intensive approach, however, is made more difficult by the fact that the perpetrators often commit suicide, or they are killed by police. Furthermore, the subsequent methods to monitor and identify prospective shooters, and to intervene before they commit murder, would likely infringe on suspected individuals’ rights. (It brings to mind the concept of “PreCrime” from the film and short story, Minority Report.)

The other option is to more strictly regulate the guns murderers use to commit these acts of violence. This option is comparatively simple, in a vacuum, but, in reality, it’s difficult to implement because of the politics involved.

I doubt that anything will change regarding gun ownership. No amount of tragedy seems sufficient enough for the 535 members of Congress to work cohesively towards defining what the right to bear arms should mean in the twenty-first century. If we are serious about eliminating mass shootings in this country, however, inaction is not an option.

Liberals and Health Insurance

Liberals’ proposal for a single-payer (i.e., “Medicare-for-all”) health insurance system is impractical at this juncture. Improving the ACA is more prudent. Resisting the GOP’s disastrous ideas for healthcare is more important.

Democrats are not being smart by embracing the extreme left. I would rather the country err on the progressive side, but embracing Bernie Sanders’ extreme proposal is going to cause problems for Democrats in future elections. (Full disclosure: I don’t belong to any political party. I like good ideas from any side.)

It’s no surprise that health insurance companies despise the idea of a government single-payer health insurance system. A very high-level executive at UnitedHealth Group (UHG) once admonished me for even mentioning single-payer in a discussion we were having about why UHG was exiting the ACA exchanges. I was not even arguing for single-payer, I merely mentioned the word.

One of the main reasons health insurance companies don’t like the single-payer model is because they would no longer be able to sell their insurance plans to employers. Employers knew that they needed to offer health insurance coverage to hire and retain employees. (If there were any doubt before, the ACA made it compulsory for many businesses.) The health insurance companies know this, and they possibly collude with one another, so the plans they offer are overpriced. (Anyone who sees the premiums charged for continuation coverage under COBRA after leaving a job knows this. Your employer usually pays a significant portion of the premiums for you.)

The best way to contain health insurance-related costs and improve the system, in my opinion, would be to separate health insurance from employment. Your health insurance plan should be portable. Health insurance companies should have to compete for business with the individuals who are impacted by the decision to purchase health insurance, not by competing for business with corporations who have no choice in a market where pricing is not regulated.

Single-payer is an idealistic distraction; not a solution. The health insurance industry in the US is an efficient, profitable juggernaut that employs hundreds of thousands of people. No sensible politician would enact laws that damages the health insurance industry into obsolescence. We need the health insurance industry for whatever comes next for health insurance coverage in the US.

Besides, insurance companies nowadays are less insurance companies than they are repositories of intelligence on the health of the nation. Simply put, they know how to make the system more efficient. The government just needs to force them to do it.

The health insurance system would work more efficiently for individuals if the government enforced smarter regulations on how we obtain and pay for health insurance coverage. Improving the ACA and separating health insurance coverage from employment decisions are the two best ways to start.

I do think liberals’ intentions are in the right place in proposing a single-payer system. The most important thing a government can do for its people is adopt healthcare policy that ensures fair and comprehensive access to healthcare for all. How the US makes that happen is the trillion dollar question. The ACA was a good start, but there’s more work to be done. Single-payer, however, is not the solution right now.

Postscript

I am not advocating for sparing the health insurance industry and its employees at the expense of the greater good. I agree that the greater good is more important (sorry erstwhile coal miners—but that’s a different discussion). The point I was trying to make there is that rendering the entire industry obsolete is a waste of resources. The health insurance industry has institutional knowledge that should not be wasted. I don’t believe that a government-run Medicare-for-all system would be more efficient at running a health insurance program than a health insurance company.

Regarding the impact of separating health insurance from employment, I think this is where carefully constructed regulation is necessary. Obviously, the devil is in the details, but I think it would involve regulating the insurance entities to place reasonable caps on plan premiums that solely reflect the economic realities of the risks inherent in the benefits provided, perhaps setting up a clearinghouse for plan offerings that allows insurers the flexibility to offer different kinds of plans while ensuring that the plans are fair and reasonable, and providing premium subsidies for low-income taxpayers.

There are good arguments for a Medicare-for-all system that haven’t been made. I’m not even philosophically opposed to single-payer, I just think it’s too extreme and potentially more wasteful and inefficient than the current system, especially if not implemented properly, which is a significant risk given the politics involved.

A Practical Issue Facing the United States

One of the concerns I have for the future of the country is the public debt, which is $19.6 trillion as of September 30, 2016. Donald Trump rarely touches on issues of practical consideration, and I don’t know of any well-defined ideas he has for addressing the public debt. His political naiveté and perceived lack of genuine curiosity is a concern regarding this issue, and many others.

Using debt to fund the government usually doesn’t cause problems when the economy is expanding and interest rates are low and involatile. Economic growth also fuels tax receipts (currently about $2.2 trillion), which fuels the ability to service increasing debt, especially in a low interest rate environment.

Market interest rates and the Federal Reserve’s managed Federal Funds target rate, however, have increased recently. A shock to interest rates and/or inflation will greatly increase the government’s borrowing costs. I don’t see any imminent danger on the horizon, but it’s not hard to imagine the problems that debt can cause in adverse conditions.

Real wages and real personal income have steadily increased for over thirty years, but the hard-fought organic growth in GDP and personal income pales in comparison to the growth in the government’s public debt outstanding (see the chart below). (It’s also worth noting that the debt has increased under both Republicans and Democrats.)

Real Personal Income, Real GDP, and Real Public Debt
The graph shows the changes in GDP, personal income, and public debt outstanding over time compared to their respective baseline levels in 1984.

Over the past 15 years, the government has paid for several wars, spent its way out of The Great Recession, and passed into law the heavily subsidized Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). We’re passing the invoices for all that spending on to future generations because most politicians are reticent to advocate for higher tax rates and/or reduced spending, one or both of which are necessary to reduce the debt.

I don’t expect the fiscal health of the government to become a focus in Washington, D.C. any time soon because addressing it requires nuanced discussions and, ultimately, compromise. Rather, the political climate today calls for staunch partisans to exert their will over political opponents in an effort to claim absolute victory. This political climate is counterproductive to getting things done, and until the political climate improves, the public debt will continue to be the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about—until it’s too late.

Manufacturing in the United States

While the number of people employed in manufacturing jobs has declined consistently for decades (most due to automation and other technological efficiency improvements), automation continues to add jobs in robotics, engineering, computer science, et al. Companies don’t want to eliminate jobs, they want to produce and ship products more efficiently—same as always.

The concept of a factory, itself, was also borne out of a desire to produce products more efficiently. Factories and other bulk manufacturing processes once eliminated the livelihoods of people who produced goods one at a time. (Anybody know any blacksmiths these days?) Efficiency is progress. Progress is good.

Progress has always made certain economic activities obsolete. People must adapt by growing skills and adding knowledge. The economy will move forward with or without you. Education, training, and re-training (oft-ignored) are keys to ensure everyone participates in a healthy, growing economy. They should be the policy focus, not protectionism.

Donald Trump indirectly forcing taxpayers in Indiana to subsidize those Carrier jobs is, ironically, a very liberal tactic. A thousand people keeping their jobs is never a bad thing at its most superficial face value, but the way in which those Carrier jobs were maintained is troublesome in a world where resources are scarce.

Should we subsidize every manufacturing job that becomes obsolete? We literally can’t afford to do that. So, where does it end? Why were these 1,000 manufacturing jobs chosen over 1,000 jobs in any other place? It doesn’t seem fair. I surmise that these jobs were chosen as nothing more than an opportunistic publicity stunt in a state recently governed by Trump’s running mate.