Trump’s budget proposal is a mean, necessary, first step.

On principle, I’m a fan of some of Trump’s budget proposals. I’ve long argued our funding is upside down. There’s no reason New Yorkers should pay for art projects that get displayed in Indianapolis. There’s no reason people in Alaska should pay for a highway in Fort Wayne. It’s safe to say almost no one could name one thing paid for by the National Endowment for the Arts in Indianapolis. I’m sure there are things, but it’s unlikely anyone knows what they are on a grand scale. Asking for money from the Feds is like asking the Mayor’s office to buy you lunch.

A discussion just the other night with someone working here in Indiana suggested the millions of dollars flowing in from the federal government to help Indiana’s HIV crisis has been responsible for a hiring spree of people who work in Indianapolis and never visit the impacted areas. That’s a situation where there’s a clear order of operations: give addicts needles, then detox beds, then send them on their way with some job training. The Federal money isn’t doing much of that if any. There’s no reason Indiana can’t handle this itself. We caused it, after all.

We’d all be better off if we kept money at the local and state level, with the most going to local governments. It’ll get stuff done faster, too because nothing cuts red tape like not having any red tape to cut through.

Trump’s proposal even cuts IRS funding by $293 million, which I guess most people won’t mind.

My biggest problem with the plan is it just shifts money around, mostly to defense. There are no true net cuts to spending. If we’re going to cut these programs nationally, let’s reduce expenditures. Move money to the debt in the short term so we can lower taxes at the federal level long-term.

If I have to spend 30% of my income on taxes, I’d rather 20% of it go to Indianapolis. I live here. I walk on these streets. I have to look at the art projects done here. Cutting taxes at the federal level means we can maintain the status quo of tax expenditures if states and cities want or can increase taxes. If they don’t, at least I have some ability to move. It’s a lot easier to move from Indianapolis to Chicago than it is to move from the US to Canada. Shifting money this way would maintain the balance to a person’s tax status quo, but now people can see what they’re paying for. That’s a big deal, and this plan doesn’t do that at all. It just throws money into an existing pile no one asked for.

If there’s a big political problem in this country, it’s the perceived or real failure of governments to provide for their residents competently and efficiently. This leads to division in spending a bunch of money on taxes because you can’t see what you’re paying for. A healthy market – even of ideas – can’t function in that system.

This just leads to the federal government taking on a disproportionate amount of work to support what were always local issues and feeds more resentment. There’s no reason Congress should fund street lights for Detroit and buses for Indianapolis. The only time the federal government should provide local funding is in the event of large-scale disasters, attacks, or catastrophes that approach a scale unforgiving to a local unit of government. I’d argue flint’s water disaster qualifies.

PBS is going to be another sore point for people. We had this same outcry when Mitch Daniels cut public radio funding in Indiana around 2009. That continued just fine, WFYI is still on the air, and life went on. Remember, too, that HBO owns the rights to Big Bird first now.

It’s nuts so many great, deserving services and programs, like nonprofits funded with federal money, is so reliant on random whims of legislators who don’t know who they are. States may be in a race to the bottom on tax rates, but that’s surely driven in part by this cycle of increasing federal taxes that take money away to put it somewhere else far away. Pressure from voters in this cycle has us moving upside down.

I get that this proposal sounds bad, and there are certainly some downright mean things in there, like cutting Meals on Wheels. But we have to be adults and recognize we’re in debt. We have to make some hard decisions. One example is The Legal Services Corp., which provides legal aid to the poor, is getting cut entirely in this proposal. Legal-help services have always been over-burdened to the point no one thinks they help. They just fulfill a constitutional requirement to the minimum level. What use is that? Can’t we do better? We’re going to have to do better. A good way might be looking to the legal help in one’s community. I’d rather pay for that here in Indiana than Florida because at least the money can stay here and it might promote a stronger sense of community and pride.

A lot of America could use that right now.

Mike Pence is not “Indiana nice”

I’ve always heard this claim about the Midwest being “Midwest nice.” More locally, “Hoosier hospitality” and “Indiana nice” might as well be on our license plates. But then a guy like Mike Pence comes along, and he’s just not a very nice man. He seems downright mean.

My grandmother used to say some people “had a lot of meanness in ‘em.” No one was safe from her scorn – Democrat, Republican, young, old, didn’t matter. Her litmus test seemed to be if you caused someone harm, damage, or were otherwise uncouth, you were mean. I feel the same way about Mike Pence. More broadly, it’s starting to feel that way about the entire Republican party.

When Pence was still Governor, I began to realize why a generation of people had begun to shift to the left and continue to stay there: everyone in my generation was taught more than any other to “just be nice to people.” I can’t prove it, but I’d bet 50% of Indiana’s brain drain problem is directly related to the politics of our State House. I’m not even talking about bag bans and Tesla sales. I’m talking about all the social cruft that strikes an entire generation as somehow mean, like a bully.

The Republicans aren’t doing a superb job of framing their agenda as “being nice.” And when someone isn’t “nice,” they’re probably being “mean,” and that’s very off-putting. The Democrats may just be better at hiding their meanness because the government can certainly be a bully to a lot of people the more it expands.

“Justin, this is ridiculous. Just because a bunch of sissy millennials can’t handle some toughness is no reason to coddle them,” you might say. If you did say that I would say you just proved my point by being a dick.

It doesn’t make a generation of people weak to be nice. It just means we don’t see a reason to push large groups of individuals away. Pence’s, and now Trump’s, Muslim ban, the wall, Sessions, the Supreme Court nominees, etc. are all just mean dick moves. Their downsides are worse than the potential purported benefit.

Don’t get me wrong – everyone’s kind of a dick some of the time. Left-leaning folks love shows like The Daily Show and Full Frontal precisely because they’re mean. They poke at people in a way that you’d never do to someone’s face. Bill Maher is mean. Sean Hannity and others on the right are mean.

Pence, and certainly Trump, come across as that kind of person. A sort of faux-niceness that’s him just pushing people in ways they don’t want to be. That is against the grain of what it means to be “Indiana nice” where we stay out of the way, help when people ask, and kindly say hello and smile when interacting with others.

As an aside, I find anyone who blindly supports a specific party, votes straight ticket, doesn’t question everyone and everything, and anyone who lacks some level of empathy to be psychopathic. That can’t be healthy. In what other endeavor do we do that? Do you only drink one beer? Do you only ever always and forever buy one brand of batteries or toilet paper?

I can support a lot of reform efforts that Democrats largely don’t like. I can get behind a lot of issues that Republicans generally don’t like. And I can feel at home with a good chunk of the Libertarian party because they’re increasingly just, “Leave people alone, and be nice.”

Don’t be mean. Leave people alone when they want to be left alone. Be Indiana nice.

Last night was pretty normal

Pew in June of this year reported 55% of Democrats say the Republicans make them “afraid”. 49% of Republicans say the same thing about the Democrats. Think about that. Half the country is afraid of the other half.

Trump won last night and half the country is afraid. The other half is happy. The same thing was said when George W. Bush won. And when Obama won. And when Lincoln won.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year reading up on Presidents, their administrations, their leadership styles, and the electorate at the time. One thing jumps out at me: we’ve always been crazy. Americans, and people in general, are not very good at assessing risk. I’m not sure yet that Trump’s election is anything too out of the norm.

In fact, a lot was normal last night:

  • Voter turnout was relatively low.
  • White people turned out to vote, because they always do.
  • The country swung back to the opposite-incumbent party. It always does that. “Three terms” is rare.
  • The stock market freaked out. It always does.
  • Half the country freaked out. That always happens.
  • Urban centers voted on a slew of progressive movements favorably.
  • Rural areas voted against liberalism. They always do.
  • Everyone complains about long lines and voter suppression. One news story on TV last night was a man complaining his vote changed to Democrats when he voted straight Republican. I also just saw a man at a restaurant hand his phone to another random man and ask, “Do you know how to use Facebook? I think I’ve just posted the same thing three times.” Those aren’t related, but computers befuddle people. Nothing new.

Here’s what’s not normal (yet):

  • You being insulated by algorithms that makes you think things are how you’d like them to be.
  • We increasingly have a government that’s so large in people’s lives any changes to anything throws legitimate fear, glee, or confusion into markets.

I always tell clients that ask for “samples of previous work” that “past work is no indication of future performance, but here you go.” The same holds true here. Trump has said so many things we don’t know anything about his governance style yet. He could defer to Pence for everything. He could buck his party all the time. We have no idea.

I do think, however, that many voters are pushing for an ideal they’re not going to get: being left alone.

Everyone must stop insulating themselves from the working class. You must stop treating them like a block of “others”. To say things like, “They like this and don’t do that” is only slightly helpful and immensely harmful at worst. You’ve failed to understand deeply.

I’ll give you an example. In the modern era, starting after WWII and expanding rapidly under Nixon, Carter, and Reagan, our government structure has begun to look like this:

Where large amounts of income flow to the federal government and then down to states and local governments. This is exactly backwards of how most people would reasonably want it to be. It should look more like this:


Where our local government receives most of the income for things used in that community. Where the separation of powers and authority still applies. This makes cities truly more competitive against peer-cities. It ensures a greater allocation of resources (fewer “bridges to nowhere”), and makes sure people see the benefits, or lack thereof, of their money in their daily lives.

The fact that our government has become so large, so powerful a force in people’s individual lives, that people fear it or jump in glee when something as simple as a president is elected is the problem.  I wouldn’t be so worried about marriage rights if the government weren’t even in the business of marriage (instead opting for civil unions for all), for instance.

Today I woke up to see people saying they were unsure of what to tell their kids now that Trump is elected. Do you remember what you said when gay marriage was allowed by the Supreme Court? “You’ll tell them people can get married now.” The same response applies here: “You’ll tell them a guy like Donald Trump is President”. Because that’s what happened and like learning about gay marriage, they’ll go back to playing Pokémon.

People in my stream, left and right, are saying they’re scared for their lives. But remember that you, too, can arm yourself. You can protect yourself. Just like you can change your diet or learn something new. You may not want to, but you can. And you can, you know, talk to people. Invite them out for a beer or a cookout or something.

Today for a lot of people the ideal of a limited federal government is more appealing. For me it was always appealing. Because without a “strong” federal government you may never get Alabama and Mississippi to legalize gay marriage or expand health coverage. But it’s a lot easier to move from Alabama than it is the entire country. Despite half a century of federal intervention by progressives, none of them want to live in Alabama. And despite half a century of federal intervention by conservatives, none of them want to live in New York.

Voters are just saying they want to be left alone. I think progressives and conservatives alike can find a lot of reasons to say the same.

I know who I’m voting for

As much as it pains us to acknowledge it, America’s two party system is largely what ensures policy gets done or dies. For better or worse, it’s protected us against god-knows-what. In the US if your party receives 3% of the vote, you’re certifiably crazy. In Britain 3% is all it can take to put someone in the Prime Minister’s seat. At least we can say with some mathematical authority than an actual majority of the electorate picked the guy sitting in the oval office.

So as we hurl toward a November election, I know who I’m voting for and don’t even feel certifiably crazy about it. I think you can get behind my choice. You might even be inclined to support them, too.

I wanted someone who thinks like me, and I think like a lot of my friends like you.

  • A belief that women have a right to abortion, the government probably ought not fund it directly but should protect the ability to get one, and the duty of a woman to live with that responsibility.
  • Believing that men and women have the right to marry whomever they choose and live according to their own hearts and minds.
  • An understanding that we can’t fight our way out of every conflict and war should be rare, but is sometimes necessary.
  • Holding the knowledge that incarceration is necessary for some people, but a lot of people incarcerated for drugs have done more harm than good to many communities by splitting up families, ruining job prospects, and dragging down social resources.
  • The fiscal sense to know that access to education is immensely important, but is largely harmed by buckets full of money thrown at the problem without addressing root causes.
  • Ditto for healthcare.
  • Healthcare access is important for everyone, but let’s not settle for a government program if we can figure out a better, more efficient way. If that comes to be the only way, then let’s do it smart.
  • Deporting 11 million immigrants is bad policy, a waste of money, and harmful to economic growth.
  • Deporting, er, rounding up 500 million guns in the US is also probably bad policy, a waste of money, and, more importantly, unconstitutional until an amendment is passed.
  • That in a good capitalistic society the “pie”, the share of available wealth, can actually grow.
  • Welfare recipients shouldn’t be tested for drugs, but let’s figure out a way out of the “vicious cycle” that is welfare today.
  • Space travel is awesome, and could just as well be done as a public-private partnership with the likes of Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk.
  • Protecting the environment is important, but recognize we can’t just flip a switch overnight. Government is likely too corrupt to pick the best, most efficient, winners.
  • Muslims are people, too.
  • The path to citizenship should have a clear, efficient, and legal mechanism.
  • Common Core standards probably aren’t the worst idea, but states really are better suited to education standards. A student in Indiana that can study bio or agri-science is probably better off for everyone than a student in New York studying the same thing. The Federal government pushes out an increasing amount of that experience.
  • The wealthy aren’t to be feared, and neither are the poor. Recognize that people of all wealth levels do things most people would find bothersome. But a lot do things most people would find noble and respectable.

A lot of that probably sounds like Bernie Sanders or many progressives. A lot sounds like fiscal conservatives. None of it mentions religion. And it appears it’s not a “take half, leave the other” kind of approach. For once there is a way you can keep Democrats out of your wallet and Republicans out of your bedroom. You can actually get behind a group of people who are socially liberally and fiscally conservative. Leave people alone, protect you and your assets, and be smart with where money is spent.

I’m thinking I’ll vote for Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. A ticket that has more governing experience than Trump or Clinton. A ticket that supports the kind of governing approaches that have been immensely popular in New Mexico, Massachusetts, and I’ll add Indiana since Mitch Daniels would fit comfortably with this ticket.

In America a vote for a third party is often considered a “waste”, and like I said, our two-party system has protected us from who-knows-what kind of crazy. But it’s clear it’s also produced the current election. If there were ever a time to support a third party, this is it. It’s time the religious right go take their small corner. It’s time for racists and bigots and homophobes to go take their small corner. It’s time for the folks who would regulate everything from hair dressers to hot dog water go take their small corner. And the rest of us adults with actual common sense and a sense of fairness and live-and-let-live ethos can be heard.

I had a political science class once where the instructor mentioned if you go far enough right and far enough left on the “political spectrum” you end up meeting each other. In that reality, the spectrum is more of a sphere. The Libertarian party may conjure ideas of crazy people, but the rational among them should be dismissed no more than the far left Democratic Socialists like Bernie Sanders or the far right Religious Conservatives like Ted Cruz. Hillary and Donald may be centrists in a lot of ways comparatively, but we all have good reasons for supporting neither. Clinton’s been around in this work for too long. Trump is…Trump.

I wrote the other day how most people have one or two “vote-moving issues“. This is where a person can seemingly vote against their own interests or beliefs on most everything, but because a candidate supports one super-important issue to them, they vote on that. For a long time that was voting Democrat just to push the needle on shutting up the religious conservatives decrying marriage rights. Now that we’re beyond that, I don’t have a vote-moving issue anymore. Instead, I’m looking for a full platform, and a Johnson/Weld ticket fits.