Archive for June 2018

Root Causes

June 28, 2018

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced today his retirement.  This, not so unexpected announcement, was never the less a bummer for moderates and progressives.  But viewed in the American way, his replacement will be a result of a fair process, and a consequence of our political system.  President Trump was elected, and to the victor go the spoils.

While it is not known at this point who President Trump will nominate, smart money is on a very conservative jurist which the President has promised.  Confirmation is extremely likely since Republicans control the Senate.   Should the President pick someone from the extreme right, confirmation is not assured.  Never the less, in short order, the likelihood that the Supreme Court will tilt partisan and dramatically conservative will be known.

In tangible terms, the new Court is expected to be pro-business (anti-union), pro-States Rights (less powerful Federal Government), and pro-evangelical (anti-abortion and anti-gay rights).  It is the religious element which should mainly concern Americans since over turning Roe v Wade and striking down gay marriage are two long stated goals of the religious right.  Here’s why.

Roe v Wade is a sad story of millions of Americans being mis-lead by their chosen faiths. 

Of course, abortion should not be like candy and sought after by the masses. Simple ethics should lead one to take necessary steps to avoid unwanted pregnancies.  Once pregnant, however, there are many reasons why carrying the pregnancy to full term may not make sense (health of fetus or mother, for example).  Americans truly concerned about the unborn would be expected to attack the reasons leading to unwanted pregnancies but that is not the case.  

Gay marriage is a similar issue in that gays marrying creates NO harm for heterosexuals.  Whether married or not gay Americans should have every right to civil benefits handed out heterosexual couples that marry.  If not, why not?

IMO, the underlying driver behind the religious energy against abortion and gay marriage is one of control.  Keeping a woman in her place drives one effort and marginalizing gays keeps a large creative portion of Americans on the sidelines.  And both of these drivers can be played masterfully by religious groups’ leaders to control their flocks.

Religions above all else are businesses.  Full churches translates into full collection baskets, and the opposite leads to pastors and clerics needing to get real jobs.  Hmmm.

So back to the Supreme Court selection.  Conservatives of many stripes have found that banning together is mutually beneficial.   Imagine a libertarian who does not want anyone making them do anything, bonding with a evangelical who gets excited telling others what to do.  Hypocrisy grows and lives well in Washington, DC. 

The pillar of Christianity, Donald J Trump will get to select the next Supreme Court Justice.  Hmmm.

Little Efficiencies

June 25, 2018

President Trump has proposed no longer granting undocumented immigrants judicial “due process”.  If someone is found without proper documentation, in Trump’s world, authorities would simply deport them without any hearing or appeal.  Trump’s world is so simple and easy to understand.

There are two questions, however.

  1. How will Republican Congress members view this?  Will they salute the President or denounce Trump’s proposal as a step down the slippery slope to dictatorship?
  2. And, should this immediate denial of rights not deter further attempted immigration, would the President resort to summary executions and save the expense of transporting the undocumented back to their home country?

Where Is The Voice?

June 23, 2018

There is a television show called “The Voice”.  This post is not about that show.

  • The Voice, this post is referring to, is an currently invisible speaker and his/her’s words of clarity. 
  • Who will call out the President for his constant use of fiction while calling his words facts. 
  • Who will reason thoughtfully that the President’s polices and actions are neither original nor brilliant, and are pointing the US in an unwanted direction?  
  • Who will point out who benefits from the President’s While House actions and how the President acts deliberately to distract the public’s attention? 
  • Who will amplify the glaring hypocrisy the President dishes out gratuitously each and every day?

The President is a 5 deferment, Vietnam dogging American who has absolutely no room to criticize anyone on the basis of patriotism.


His constant labeling of Mexican immigrants (including undocumented ones) as “rapists, thugs, and murderers” bares no connection to the truth.  Crime rates among this immigrant group is lower than with permanent citizens. 


Prior to the recent tax cut, the “effective tax rate” for American corporations compared to European ones was about the same (18-ish%).  President Trump, however, claimed American corporations had the highest tax rates in the world at 35%.  What the self described “smartest man in the world” did not tell fellow Americans was few if any American corporations pay the top 35% and instead use a host of exemptions, deductions, and credits to reduce their tax bill.


Or how about healthcare.  “Worst ever”, pronounced President Trump.  Ask those with “pre-existing conditions” how bad Obamacare has been.  The Trump Administration has pushed, under the guise of affordability, new low cost (and less coverage) healthcare policies.  Hmmm.  Guess what’s not included… how about pre-existing conditions.

So where is the spokesperson, the Walter Cronkite, the Bill Bradley, the George Clooney-looking, articulate politician who in a few words can exposed President Trump’s statements’ falsehoods and correct the record?

Maybe Democrats will have to begin with three or four voices… but not those of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, or (from the past, Harry Reid).  Democrats need a new voice and new face(s).  There is no need for much policy research, the President kindly supplies each and every day a host of untruths which can be debunked, and with a little thought, can be shown as a cover to obscure some other scheme to enrich Trump, Trump family, or close Trump friends/supporters.

Following Orders

June 20, 2018

There are several popular justifications that are put forward when government programs run amok, and those in the chain of command try to escape blame including criminal penalties.  For example, “I was just following orders”, or “I need this job”, or “my bosses know better than me”, or maybe, “rules are made to be followed”.  Pick one, but be prepared to defend yourself just in case you are asked to separate children from their parents.

The Trump White House is following a playbook which begins with executive orders unsupported by law or past practice.  Consider next that the Cabinet Secretary charged with carrying out the Trump demand is “on Trump’s team”. And lastly, President Trump sees no limits to his authority and is thinking mostly of pleasing his “base” and not the majority of Americans. In short, Trump White House orders skirt the borders of ethics, morals, and customs and could require a subordinate to act unethically or immorally.  So what does one do?

As has always been the case, the most junior level is where the “rubber meets the road”, that is, the agent who actually takes the infant or child from their parent or guardian.  Usually this lowest level hands the child off to another lower level person, maybe for transportation to a holding area.  At the holding area, another lower level person takes custody.  These people all follow orders and thereby keep their job.  Is that the best we can expect?

Let’s assume these lower level workers treated the separated children carelessly or worse, with cruelty or disregard, those actions would seem inhumane.  On the other hand, these workers could have discharged their duties with care and feeling for the safety of the separated children.

Following orders while providing responsible care transfers to spotlight towards middle level managers and supervisors who developed the specific policies and practices for dealing with the process of separating the children, keeping track of them, and providing contact back to their parents or guardians.  These middle level managers are responsible also for ensuring the policies and practices work as intended.  Were the procedures or practices inappropriate for child protection and care, there is a ethical and moral responsibility for both the middle level and lower level staff to speak out and depending upon the onerous nature, to refuse to perform their jobs.

The senior executives including the Cabinet Secretary ultimately are responsible for what rules are developed and how they are implemented.  It is with senior management where the highest leverage point exists for stopping or shaping Executive Orders that smell of poor ethics or morality.  Asking subordinates to implement specious orders is the work of poor leaders.

Nazi Germany is often looked to as a place and time when immoral and unethical orders were passed from the top down to lower levels.  While separating children from the parents does not immediately rise to the level of Hitler Germany’s atrocity, President Trump’s border enforcement policies (Zero Tolerance) provides a good test run for government workers.

Are you sure this is a lawful order?

What Do Bullies Do Best?

June 18, 2018

Just when one thought that President Trump was onto something substantive with his meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jung-Un, a forest fire of President Trump’s making has flared into the front pages of our newspapers and nightly TV news reports… separating children from undocumented families arrested after entering the US.

The thinly disguised tactic of trying to discourage other Latin American refugees from attempting to enter the US (“if you try say good-bye to your children”), this White House heartless step displays clearly what type of person Donald Trump actual is.  Just as telling, is those Republicans who sit idly in Congress and say/do nothing.   Are they not fully complicit in an unnecessary short cut to reducing the number of those seeking to immigrate?

The Bully-in-Chief is finding that picking fights with US trading partners is not so easy.  The US economy is so much larger than any other country, save China.  Trump’s strategy has been to threaten large tariffs unless countries like Germany, France, the UK, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and even Korea alter their export/import balances and put the US in a more advantageous position.  Very soon the President and the US are going to find out what happens when a bully meets someone who won’t be pushed around.  Americans, be prepared for higher prices and fewer net jobs.

But reducing the number of defenseless Latin Americans fleeing persecution in their home countries challenged the Trump Administration to find a new “tool” other than walls or increased numbers of border agents. What about taking children from their mothers and warehousing the children in makeshift housing?  Hmmm.

The President is a bully, plain and simple.  President Trump is an “equal opportunity” bully, content to take a run at anyone.  The President, however, is over his head when confronting other nations.  Other countries will fight back because they must, and in the process, will bloody President Trump’s nose (through the indirect route of higher costs in key political districts followed by losses at the polls).

But what can a defenseless mother do?  Why not claim Democrats are responsible (when they are not) and let the complicity of Congress enable this un-American abuse of power continue?

Bullies are at their best when their victims are the weakest.

How Can One Be So Wrong On Trade?

June 16, 2018

With a Republican (or Democrat) Administration, how could one not expect trade policies would flavor someone?  Normally the favored ones are some sector of the US economy that votes Republican (or Democrat), such as farming, financials, or manufacturing.  With Donald Trump, there never is any free lunch so the question is, “who (which group) is getting the help from Trump’s tariff wars?

When one considers the steel and aluminum tariffs against Mexico and Canada, which domestic group is Trump thinking about helping?  Could it be US steel manufacturers, or dairy farms, or farm interests?  And why exactly is (once more) is NAFTA so bad?

While you are thinking of that answer, consider, what is the purpose of the simultaneous attack on China trade balances?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to define one set of goals before embarking upon another?

The simple answer, says President Trump, “ there are grievous trade infractions with China and these must be rectified”.  But is a trade war wise, or better said, are trade wars on two fronts wise?  Hmmm.  How about trade wars globally and include Europe and Southeast Asia?

President Trump has proposed that the trade imbalance is so wide with China, in any “trade war”, the US would easily win.  Hmmm.

I wonder whether any of President Trump’s advisors has given the President a “casualty” assessment.  While killing all the Chinese trade offenders, how many US trading partners will die too?

The infrequently discussed contribution to the US economy by trade with China is the imported costs of so many utilitarian items… such as underwear, shirts, pants, nuts, bolts, etc… where an equivalent American made product would cost 50-100% more.  In economic theory, that import advantage of low cost items should allow the US to employ its manpower and resources in other more valuable products and services, which in turn could be exported yielding even greater profit.

Each of President Trump’s tariff initiatives have been met by an equal and opposite (in value) set of tariffs against US goods humorously made in “red” States.  Soy beans, Bourbon, aircraft, and automobiles have been named as starters.  There is about one more week before these tariffs and counter tariffs take effect.  Presumably this pause should allow for further negotiations.  Which side will blink first?

These Trump Administration’s trade skirmishes could be all about misdirection and diversion of the public’s attention.   But what would be the purpose of misdirection?

How about the Trump Administrations primary focus on 2020 reelection?

Would you think that keeping the “issue of the day” new and different each day be advantageous if an Administration has no strategic goals and clueless about what domestic or foreign issues to tackle.  Hmmm.

Without a doubt, the President’s trade strategy is on course to increase consumer prices (tariffs are taxes ultimately paid for by Americans) and as importantly, will not increase the total number of jobs. Trump’s tariff war is misguided or he has an ulterior motive, or both.  The Trump trade policy, as currently being demonstrated, will result in no successes… at least over the next few years (maybe three).  The tactic of fighting trade on the basis of “east-west”, democratic governments-non-democratic, or strategic versus non-strategic ally is a losing strategy to begin with. 

While any one trade dispute might be legitimate, feuding with friends and foes alike at the same time, effectively neutralizes any legitimacy the US might put forward in dispute negotiations.  Internationally, naked protectionism is the only conclusion a reasonable person can reach.  Domestically, hopelessly inept if viewed in economic terms or calculatingly insincere if viewed politically.


Rumble In Singapore

June 13, 2018

The long awaited and hyped meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un took place Tuesday in Singapore.  As with most everything with President Trump, the meeting and his Administration’s assessment was long on words but short on facts.  The only relevant take on this historic meeting was that it did not result in outright negative fireworks, at least not yet.

The President’s claim that he had accomplished something past Presidents could not, while technically true, is a meaningless boast.  At this point, no one knows what the President has promised nor what is is willing to accept in return.  If you were South Korea or Japan, it would not be unwise to worry.  The President has little historic perspective and seems handicapped in complex, sophisticated deals.  President Trump prefers straight up “you do this and I will do that” type of thinking and deal making.

IMO, the summit should be viewed positively and a genuine attempt to change North Korea’s pension for bellicose behavior.  Without dropping all previous American requirements for ending sanctions, it is difficult to imagine an agreement emerging (with the likes of John Bolton in the Administration).  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, however.

Americans would wisely withhold praise for President Trump until detail negations play out.  As President Trump often says, peace on the Korean peninsula is good for everyone.  It should not come as a surprise that President Trump’s interest is primarily political (winning points with his base).  The actual results of further negotiations will speak for themselves and may shed light upon why previous Presidents did not meet face to face with North Korean leaders.

Kate and Anthony

June 9, 2018

This week, two well known personalities died.  If one is not into lady’s handbags or eating bazaar foods in remote places, these deaths probably did not make your radar screen.  But if you came in contact with the 7/24 news media, print, digital, visual, or audio, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s passing were featured news.

What made these events so newsworthy, unfortunately, was that they died by suicide.

Kate Spade was somewhat like the young author who writes the great American novel early in life and regrettably finds out that there are no second or third great ones left in them.  Bourdain lead a scrappy life and seemed to meet and rise above so many challenges, one was left thinking “what will come next”.  Who would have guessed?

Suicide according to news reports is on the rise.  For a number of years, hand guns have been the instrument of choice.  Pills, hanging, and self cutting have also been popular.  “Death by policeman” or “death by traffic accident” have been mentioned also as stealth suicide methods too.  So, for the 45,000 who choose to end their lives, there are a number of oft used options.  Hmmm.

The public reaction to Spade and Bourdain’s passing has been disbelief.  How could some one so talented even think about suicide?  Most of us associate suicide with mental illnesses such as depression or severe anxiety, crippling diseases like cancer, Luke Gehrig’s disease, or the onset of Alzheimer’s, and the person simple saying “no thanks” to the indignity or pain of these ailments.  Quality of life, for these people, counts more than living in pain or knowledge that the remaining part of their natural lives will be sub-standard.

Religions have tended to take a dim view of suicide.  Much as with abortion, religions have painted suicide as taboo and anyone who even contemplates suicide as a “sinner”.  And even worse, would be anyone who assists someone end their life.  If life were actually that simple.

IMO, both abortion and suicide are ethical decisions.  Again, IMO, both abortion and suicide are individual rights and should be approached in the context of each person’s responsibility to themselves and their fellow travelers.  Don’t make a mess, and don’t hurt others in accomplishing ones own suicide.

Puzzling to me about Kate and Anthony is that they left behind two daughters (one each), both of whom were still teenagers.  I would hope that both Kate and Anthony thought, if they were still capable of thinking rationally, about the future for their children without them.  Hmmm.

At the end of the day, Kate and Anthony made decisions for which there is no return or tomorrow.  But it was their choice.

Bake Me A Cake

June 5, 2018

This week, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, No. 16-111.  The case centered on whether someone can deny service, otherwise available to all Americans, on the basis of deeply held religious beliefs.  The Masterpiece bakeshop denied the service of a specially designed cake to a gay couple.  The Supreme Court cited the Colorado Civil Rights Commission of unfairly reviewing Masterpiece’s position and simply rejected their religious belief argument out of hand.  The vote was 7-2.

As in the Hobby Lobby case, the Court is attempting to have it both ways.  In the Hobby Lobby case, Hobby Lobby was allowed to not offer insurance coverage of certain drugs, fully legal, and certain medical procedures, also fully legal, which were intended to end pregnancies. With Masterpiece, the Court had already decided that gay marriage was legal and a basic right.  With this decision, however, the Court ruled that deeply held religious beliefs trump basic rights.  Hmmm.

The Court has (IMO) erred grievously and is hopelessly confused on what religious freedom is all about.  The owners of Hobby Lobby should never be forced to end any pregnancy or use any drugs or medical procedures to do so.  And similarly, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop should not be required to marry another person of the same sex.  But when Hobby Lobby denies insurance coverage to its employees when these employees perform jobs similar to millions of other Americans who receive the full insurance coverage, or when Masterpiece receives a wedding cake request from a heterosexual couple and gladly fulfills the request yet deny the request of same sex couples, these situations are not free expression of religious freedom, but rather is discrimination.

The First Amendment is about each Americans right to practice his/her religious beliefs providing these beliefs do not infringe the rights of others.  In these two decisions the Court has said “religious freedom” can trump other persons’ rights depending upon who the other person is.  Hmmm.

Campaign Promises That Just Won’t Hunt

June 3, 2018

President Trump has made keeping his campaign promises a signature aspect of his Presidency.  As I promised during my campaign, today I ….” has become a standard phrase President Trump uses to introduce some action or policy change. 

The President seems to be implying that he is heaping credibility or providing proof of the fundamental soundness of whatever he has just said.  While it may be true that Donald Trump made campaign promises, it does not follow it wise to implement any of them simply because they were campaign promises.  Executive actions need to stand a reality test, is there a gain and what ultimately is the cost? President Trump is President for all Americans, not just those he made promises to.

This weekend the news is all about President Trump’s insistence on placing steal and aluminum tariffs on Mexico, Canada, the UK, and EU countries (read France, Germany, etc).  The President actually had proposed tariffs weeks ago but had postponed implementation pending negotiations on other trade issues such as NAFTA and trade with the EU.  This strategy assumed these other countries would fold like a cheap suitcase ceding advantages to the US on other non-steel/aluminum items.  The President boasted “under his Presidency America was not getting the short end of trade deals any longer”.

Why is this frontal approach to revising trade practices unlikely to achieve favorable outcomes?

  • WTO. The World Trade Organization rules have evolved over the years to encourage the establishment of “fair and reciprocal” trade agreements.  It is entirely normal for any country to tend to favor tariffs which protect local interests such as farmers or certain industries from loss of business due to imports from other countries.  A study of the Smoot-Hawley Act should be enough to recognize the futility of tit-for-tat tariff applications.  The WTO established a “rule based” approach to arbitrating trade disagreements.  If President Trump thinks the rules do not apply to him, why should any other country think these or any other international rules, apply to them?
  • NAFTA, Fair and Reciprocal. The North American Free Trade Agreement, established in 1994, is a complex set of trade agreements which economists have described as a “win-win-win” deal… overall.  While NAFTA has resulted in some labor dislocations, these have been countered by growth in other sectors.  The rationale behind “fair and reciprocal” is the notion that unimpeded competition will drive nations towards greater productivity and the most beneficials placement of resources.  Tariffs or any other type of protectionist Government interference produces winners and losers and generally less productivity and competitiveness in those protected industries.  These are rules of economics and they do not bend to Donald Trump’s wishes.
  • Shotgun versus Rifle Shot.  Under the President’s direction, the US has opened trade disputes with allies as well as less friendly countries.  From our neighbors, Canada and Mexico, to our NATO allies Britain, Germany, and France, to authoritarian States like China and Russia no one is escaping the threats emanating from Washington.  Lost in this blunderbuss approach are the truly unfair and non-reciprocal trading situations.  What logic can the US use with China, given our current behavior, other than the US wants all trade arrangement favorable only to the US?  How can the US argue against China’s disregard for intellectual property rights or disruption of the global steel market, or refusal to open its home market in a fair and reciprocal manner as the US?
  • Where Is The Problem.  Arguably the US economy is doing fundamentally the best among gloabal competitors.  China is growing GDP faster but not without China’s government help.  Most economist believe that if China’s businesses were left to their own and the China market was truly open to foreign investors, China’s growth rate would trend down to a more normal 3-5%.  In addition, the US dollar remains strong and the economy is doing quite well.  So what is the justification for initiating a trade war when there are no glaring problems.  Why not use the WTO rules and deal with the few cases of unfair and non-reciprocal trade ?

For these reasons, the Trump trade negotiation “dog” just won’t hunt.  President Trump is pursuing the wrong strategy, in the wrong way, at the wrong time.  But one must give the President credit, he did tell us during his campaign what he was going to do.  

Hmmm, I wonder who else in America should take some of the blame?