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What Next?

March 25, 2017

imagesBy mid-week it was becoming clear that the repeal/replace bill was going down. Mark Meadows and his Freedom Caucus were digging in their heels, and it had been on their square that Ryan and Trump had placed all their political chips. So, I began to contemplate what would happen in Washington in the wake of the debacle called AHCA, the plan not called Trumpcare. Last night we heard some pretty clear signals.

It could have gone one of three ways, each closely tied to the selection of the next priority for the administration.

  1. Healthcare- The President and the Speaker could decide to retrench and take another run at this thing with a new strategy to win more votes.
  2. Infrastructure- Trump could have brought to the top of the list his only campaign promise that Democrats might get behind.
  3. Tax Reform- He could bank on one of the most appealing long term rallying cries of the Republican party.

If the choice had been healthcare, it is unlikely they would look to the Democrats for votes, so the move would have had to have been to supplicate to the Freedom Caucus. That would have signaled a shift to the right in the Republican power center and, in the longer term, a complete turnover in the congressional leadership of the party.

The infrastructure plan would have led down the opposite political path. Trump would have retreated to the populist high ground from which he campaigned, angling to piss off both parties equally, and might have been able to come up with a plan that some Dems could get behind because it struck a comfortable chord: Federal spending to create jobs. Moderate republicans might have held their nose on the first half of that in order to get the second…jobs jobs jobs. The Freedom Caucus would have gone crazy and maybe flamed out. And the country would have ended up with some better maintained bridges and tunnels. (Although, a trillion dollars, while it sounds like a lot, would have been spread pretty thin.)

But, in a short speech, the tone of which uncharacteristically measured, the President made the path forward clear. (And, as of 9am EDT, not a single tweet from readDonaldTrump, let alone any to indicate an about face.) What did he tell us?:

  • It was the Democrats fault.
  • Paul Ryan is a great guy.
  • “We’re going to go for tax reform, which I’ve always liked.”

There were some mixed signals. He espoused bipartisanship, but in the end, I can’t imagine how taxes can be any less divisive than healthcare. It looks like the President is going all in with his party and banking on Ryan to this time pull off pulling the gang together. In “what the hell do I know?” category, I thought he’d throw Paul Ryan under the bus, distance himself from the Republican rightright, and focus on some getting some bipartisan wins including a major infrastructure bill.

But no, he picked the one issue that might be more complex than healthcare. Future quote prediction: “Who knew how complex tax reform could be?” You heard it here first folks.

My crystal ball runs low trying to predict how this will play out. One prediction: Zero Democratic votes, whatever the details of the bill. A strategy to unify Republicans has to be based on the classic notion of cutting taxes and depending on trickle down to increase the wealth of lower income Americans. No Democrat will buy that. And, with even the most optimistic assumptions about the economic lift, how do you get anywhere near a balanced budget? With even deeper spending cuts than those floated recently? That would further drive a wedge between the parties and would be likely to alienate the lower income Republican faithful who depend on many of the services likely to be cut. This future bill could equal the healthcare bill’s 17% popularity.

The other approach might be to focus on simplicity—there’s a lot of appeal to a flat business tax—and by removing deductions offset loss of income for the budget. But this will create multiple factions of winners and losers and will likely more splinter than rally the party. And then there’s border taxes, also more likely to divide than unite.

I’ve got to study this one a little more, gang, but, boy, I don’t see how tax reform can go any smoother than healthcare. The high wire act continues.

Gates and the Wisdom of Experience

February 4, 2017

images.jpegJust over a week ago, Robert Gates spoke at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce event. Of course, the first days of the Trump presidency were high on the list of questions he received, and he responded with unique perspective.

You have to think Mr. Gates view is balanced. A lifetime republican, he served both Bush adminstrations as head of the CIA and Defense Secretary respectively. But after the next transition, he was retained by Obama to run the Defense Department. Last, September he loudly criticized candidate Trump in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, but more recently advised the transition team, and, evidently, put forth Rex Tillerson and General Mattis for their cabinet positions.

Much of the discussion in Boston was about advice Gates would give the new president during that first week in office. About the White House and the media, he stressed the importance of a free press (and Congress, by the way) as the guarantors of liberty and that it is a mistake to make the press an enemy. Candidly he disclosed that most presidents privately share some of the feelings with which Trump has been so very public. But, rather than getting hostile, he advised that Trump should consider whether the media may be right. In fairness, he also thinks the media needs to take it down a notch and get their heads out of the Twitterverse.

Asked for his advice on implementing change, Gates was very clear that President Trump needs to listen to the career pros who have been at this for a while. Gates has concerns about foreign policy going forward. Isolationism is popular because foreign policy is so outside most people’s day to day; it’s up the president to bring a global perspective to the people. He pointed to Tillerson, Mike Pompeo, John Kelly, and General Mattis as tough minded individuals who will tell him what he needs to hear.

So how’s it going? Not great viewed through the lens of Secretary Gates’ advice. The day after this talk, Steve Bannon suggested the “opposition party,” aka the media, should “keep its mouth shut.” Relations have continued to spiral down with the latest hub bub over the Bowling Green “massacre” and subsequent travel ban, both fictional which drove the press bonkers. And @realDonaldTrump still tweeting about “FAKE NEWS” in the wake of his awkward phone call with Malcom Turnbull.. Almost unbelievably, one of today’s early morning tweets from realDonald was:

After being forced to apologize for its bad and inaccurate coverage of me after winning the election, the FAKE NEWS @nytimes is still lost!

Is the press blowing some of this out of proportion? Yes, I think so, but such is the nature of an adversarial relationship.

On the foreign policy front, Oy vey! According to the AP (a credible source in my mind if not Bannon’s) with regard to the seven country travel ban:

At least three top national security officials — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Rex Tillerson, who is awaiting confirmation to lead the State Department — have told associates they were not aware of details of the directive until around the time Trump signed it. Leading intelligence officials were also left largely in the dark, according to U.S. officials.

The reorganization of the National Security Council suggests the likelihood that the President will, now officially as well as unofficially, discount input from the experienced folks that the former Defense Secretary says he should be relying on. In the wake of that move, Gates himself went public calling the demotions of the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs “a big mistake.” Senator McCain (Republican chair of the Armed Services Committee) is “worried about the NSC” for the same reasons.

So, who is the President listening to? In Judy Woodruff’s Wednesday NPR interview with Vice President Pence, she inquired about the extent of Bannon’s influence. He responded that the President “asks for input from everyone in the senior circle, and a lot of people outside the circle.” Pence is a master of staying on message, but honest, in my estimate. Still, the “a lot of other people” seemed like a bit of an afterthought, and it’s unclear to whom he was referring. I’m sure the Presdident is calling the shots. My concern is that he is only listening to his like-minded, tight inner circle most of whom have little experience in the business of running a country (and playing nice with others). Trump took some good advice from Gates on some key appointments; it would be great it he were to listen to him and them.

My Annual Easter Joke

March 27, 2016

Kicking off the new Barefoot Phil off with my annual Easter joke:

Three Italian guys were sitting on a stoop, discussing the best holidays.

The first one opined (in English with a strong, lousy Italian accent), “My favorite holiday is-a Easter. It make me so happy to see the happy childrens get all dressed up in those costumes. And, it make them so happy to visit their neighborhood and get all that candy. ’at’s-a why I love-a Easter.”

“Luigi,” followed Cute-Happy-Easter-Photos.jpgthe second, “Easter is my favorite holiday too, but-a you got it all wrong.” He went on. “I love Easter because it’s when the fat man dresses up in his red suit and brings gifts to all the little children. He go down the chimney and it make ’em so happy. So that’s why I love-a Easter.”

“Giuseppe, Luigi, don’t-a you know about Easter?” admonished the third. “Easter is my favorite holiday, too. It’s the time when we think back to-a Christ our Lord. He-a die on the cross for your sins. And then they shut his-a body in a cave.” Wide-eyed, the other two listened as he slowly continued. “It stay there for two days. After that, He-a rise up from the dead….He-a step outta that cave…and-a…if He see his shadow…”

A new thing for Barefoot Phil

December 13, 2015

After now nearly 6 years, I continue to run barefoot 4-5 times per week. Actually, my gym and showers at work are currently under construction, so that  has slowed me down a bit, but I just finished my second run of the weekend on Cape Cod where it is unseasonably mild. Should be back in full swing by January 1. I continue to run, but I simply ran out of things to say about it a few years ago; I just do.

VanWie_TheConfluence copyBut, I still love to write. The last 18 months I’ve been working on a book abut a twenty-five year annual fishing trip. I actually mention my barefoot running in the book in a chapter where I explain about another sartorial oddity of mine–fishing without waders. (I do wear pants, though.) I mention it here in case any old BFP fans have interest in stories of friendship and the woods and fishing. Many test readers have given it a big thumbs up. Please check out the website at: http://www.confluencebook.com