Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Fifth Risk--the latest from Michael Lewis

Whatever catches the fancy of Michael Lewis is apt to receive perceptive insights.  He has a way of gathering information from people who ought to know better.  We are the ones who are better off.  Mostly in this book he talks to good intelligent people about serious concerns.

One example is Lewis has Karen Pence quoted after Trump and her husband's election victory, "You got what you wanted, now leave me alone."

The Trump team was not prepared for a transition.  In 2015 laws had been passed to make transition plans mandatory.  In short the Trump team was unprepared, incompetent and too often counter productive.  For the most part they were not interested in learning how a department functioned  Both George Bush and Barrack Obama had gone to great lengths to pass on critical information.  Doug Christie was the one who encouraged Trump to set up a transition team.  In the end he got fired by Steve Bannon and much of what he set up was disregarded.

What is the Fifth Risk?  Many mechanisms could have been developed, but the author chose a judgment of one of his contacts.  The risks were the dangers of a Trump government not paying attention to real problems.  It was admitted that each of the listed risks could have been ranked differently and others could be added  The first risk was of a nuclear disaster.  The second risk was North Korea acting up.  The third risk was the unraveling of the Iran deal.  The fourth risk was an attack on the electric grid.  The fifth risk was to project management by which I interpret to mean the government not continuing to monitor scientifically the many dangers threatening the population..

By many people with a conservative philosophy the government is a problem.  This has fostered a distrust and ignorance of the the government functions.  To some (myself included) a function of the government is to protect their citizens.  In many cases this means against the 1% who are exploiting the masses.

One almost comical appointment was for Rick Perry to the Department of Energy.  That was the department he famously forgot in one of the presidential debates.  He confessed he had no idea of its functions which included nuclear weapons controls.  His ignorance is typical.

Government employees are often portrayed as not as smart as private business employees and are not conscientious.  The author was able to find many who do not fit that description and who have been in fact crucial for the health and welfare of all Americans.  For the most part these employees had been ignored by the Trump team.

Another myth seemingly integral to the Trump team is that government cannot get things done as well as private business.  In fact most corporations are not willing to spend large amounts of money and time on research.  That critical function has been done through government.  Mariana Mazzucato had a lot of insight on this matter:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/07/the-entreprenurial-state.html

Like other Republican political leaders (and for that matter many Democratic leaders) take up the mantra that regulations stifle business.  What is overlooked is that unchecked corporations will cut corners and usually looking for ways to exploit consumers.  Many feel that the 2008 recession can be traced to lack of enforced regulations.  Allowing more money into the political process assures that many decisions will be tinged with vested interests.  Most of the Trump appointees were focused on doing away with regulations that hurt profits rather than protecting citizens.  A prime example was deleting information on climate change.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2015/10/regulation-how-we-protect-ourselves.html

Funding for research was routinely cut (partly to allow for tax cuts) and also loans to startup companies particularly for renewal resources.  Conservatives were quick to point out the mistake loaning money to Solyndra.  Nevertheless the loan program did succeed to give American renewal resource companies to boost energy preparedness and pay for itself. Oil interests are constantly fighting renewal resources.

Nutrition has been a concern of government that is resisted by many food manufacturers.  Meat inspectors, researchers, etc have been instrumental in saving lives.  Nonetheless Trump appointees take the side of profit seeking corporations.

Michael Lewis as always gets into an issue in depth.  There are so many anti-Trump books and articles out, but also adamant defenders.  It is hard to stomach that not only behind the scenes but fairly visible the Trump administration is not on the side of the "people" as they love to claim.

Maybe Americans will appreciate the positive contributions of the government as the shutdown affects over 800,000 employees taken off their jobs or forced to work without pay.  Countless services will be curtailed and businesses that depended on the spending of federal employees will notice a drop in revenue.  The lack of financing for farmers and small businesses will be slow down the economy.

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