Archive for December 2018

Year End, Is It Hopeless?

December 31, 2018

As 2018 comes to an end, news reports continue to described yet another law, regulation, or long standing precedent which has been revoked, overridden, or flaunted.  The United States has mislead allies with threats. lies, and egregious tariffs while at home denigrated long standing institutions like the FBI, the Military, and the press. Is the future hopeless?

The President and his Republican Party allies in congress 

  • have tried mightily to take away health care from Americans, especially the most vulnerable.  
  • have pushed for greater industrial use of carbon emitting materials while the evidence underscoring global warming and supporting green alternative energy sources  are mounting.  
  • have, with income inequality growing, chosen to introduce an unnecessary and unfunded tax reduction, providing little relief for the average person while rewarding corporations and the very wealthy.
  • have created a mythical Mexican border crisis, while the facts on the ground show Mexican undocumented immigrants as a steady share of our population (at 11 million !!!), not a drain on our criminal or social welfare systems (compared to our documented population), and are decent, hard working, family oriented residents.
  • made a mockery of the Office of President, taking a holiday from truthful communications, and living the life of amoral bully.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

The good name of the United States as well as the Office of the President have been besmirched, especially in the eyes of allies around the world and back at home, by successor generations of potential public servants.  

In most all countries, there exists (well mixed into the general population), residents who call themselves “nationalists”.  This population cut are highly susceptible to political rhetoric which blames others, absolves “nationalist” for personal shortcomings, and promises “impossible to achieve” future benefits.  The President has targeted this segment as “his base” and pictured the majority (every other American) as somehow part of the problem.  Have you heard or read about this behavior before in history?

As this post has written before, President Donald Trump is the President for all the United States.  He won the office of chief executive fair and square and until removed by impeachment, death, or vote at the end of his term, President Trump will remain our President.  Elections have consequences.  

There is a flicker of hope, however.  Democrats have won control of the House of Representatives and with that victory there will be no further destructive legislative actions.  The Senate can still confirm far right appointees, and the regulatory departments can attempt to reverse previous regulations.  But throttling back on future legislative missteps represents progress, and with a Democrat controlled House, “oversight” will become a part of Congress again. 

The Mueller Investigation, the upcoming Democrat “oversight”, and as the birds come home to roost (the fruits of Trump’s first two years become clear), President Trump will be kept very busy and in continual risk of impeachment or criminal indictment.  The next election in 2020 will provide the opportunity to seal President Trump as a one term disaster.

IMO, voters will step back from another “Trumpian” President in 2020.  The elephant in the room remains, however, the obscene amounts of money driving the behavior of our elected officials.  But that is a problem for another day. 

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Wall Street Highlights The Trump Genius

December 26, 2018

“I’m the smartest person in the room” or words to that effect have punctuated President Trump’s first two years in office.  Reflecting upon 2017 and 2018, one can see an opportunists who has picked the lowest of hanging fruit and cut as many corners of established good manners and protocol to claim his “wins”.  Now at the close of 2018, the world (and hopefully Americans) can see what ill considered, opportunistic, and uncoordinated adventures can bring.

The Wall Street Journal reported today more bad news for American farmers.  Japan has announced it will reduce agricultural tariffs as part of its role in the “Trans Pacific Partnership”.   President Trump rejected the TPP and pulled America’s participation from it.  Now American farmers can look forward to increased competition in Japan from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the EU.  This type of competition usually means lower prices and lower sales. Wall Street sees this.

President Trump’s rejection of the Iran Nuclear Agreement and withdrawal from the deal has changed little other than providing a wake up call to other nations that there is a new sheriff in town and one that can’t be trusted.  President Trump complained about Iran’s “bad behavior” in the region, not any violations of the agreement, as his reason to void the agreement.  And this past week, President Trump order all US troops out of Syria opening the door wide for increased Iran access (and bad behavior).  What was he thinking?  Wall Street sees this.

The President also saw if fit to stand up for Saudi Arabia over the third world-like killing of Jamal Khashoggi.  There has been plenty of media attention and condemnation but hardly an uproar from banks and industry.  The President spoke volumes about where morality and the rule of law stood with his Administration.  Wall Street sees this.

The President’s wall (not Wall Street) between the US and Mexico has prompted a Presidential temper tantrum.  President Trump has chosen to shut down about 1/3rd of the US Government until he receives funding for a boarder wall.  Forgetting for a moment that almost everyone informed about restricting undocumented immigration rejects the notion that any type of wall will eliminate smuggling or illegal immigration, the President continues to link national security with the wall.  If the President was serious about this issue, he would negotiate a trade-off involving DACA residents and increased spending on the Wall.  The President is myopic and only seems to see his role to bring satisfaction of his “base”.  Wall Street sees this too.

The stock market (Wall Street) has never been accused of being overly moral or ethical.  Wall Street is about making money for and by investors.  Unfortunately, stocks and bonds make up a large part of everyday citizens wealth and when the Market does well, so do a broad cross section of Americans.  

And to be sure, there are behaviors by Wall Street insiders which can prolong periods of market growth and soften the pain of retreats.  But there are events (like period mild recessions) that Wall Street can not make pretty and, in those situations, Wall Street becomes a herd.  “Herd Mentality” takes over and sharp swings in stock prices rules the day.  Sooner or later, unless there are legitimate corrective measures taken by Government policy makers, the natural consequence is sustained market decline.

The month of December has seen this volatility with dramatic drops in stock market valuations.  Pension funds and 401Ks are again seeing their valuations clipped.  A lot of Americans (not just the wealthiest) have less wealth today than 6 months ago.  

Lay these Trump inspired events upon each other along with market volatility, and one should worry.  Our President has driven wedges between the US and its trading partners and created global unstable situations. Wall Street knows this.

While we should not expect any moral or ethical pronouncements from Wall Street, we can expect the Street to act in its own self interest.  Wall Street will take profits when it can and care nothing about who gets hurt.  Sooner or later this instability will permeate “main street” and a recession will set in.  Wall Street knows this.

And “the leader of last resort”, the President of the United States is absent on duty.  How can anyone expect the President’s first two years of accomplishments to predict sound leadership when the country needs it?

Astonishing News

December 22, 2018

The Vatican made the headlines again today.  Sources speaking on behalf of Pope Francis expressed his anguish over more revelation of Catholic Church hierarchy impeding investigations or covering up sexual harassment allegations.  The Pope reportedly called for civilian authorities to actively investigate and hold criminally responsible any priests credibly charged.  Sources claim the Pope’s new conviction stems from worrying that the revelations and the coverups are hurting church attendance.  Hmmm.

No Sh*t.

As a large and prosperous business, the Catholic Church has been showing all the signs of a once highly regarded institution imploding.  The all male organization has been peddling dogma which is out of touch with modern life, have been slow to recognize the emerging gay life styles as normal, and have cruelly insisted on “offering their way or the highway” with respect to women’s reproductive health.  But swamping these hypocrisies was the long standing preference for protecting priest pedophiles and sexual abusers.  And the underlying rationale for this protection was to protect and not sully the good name of the church.  What good name?

No Sh*t.

In the US, evangelical and fundamentalist christian churches have been unashamed supporters of the Ten Commandments, that is until it comes to President Trump. These so-called Christians denounced former President Obama and former Democrat Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over their positions on gay rights and women’s reproductive health.  I guess some of the Commandments are just more important than others.

I am wondering whether the “hypocrisy” problem lies not singularly with the Catholic Church, but rather with the “business of religion”?

The Common Man Quandary

December 16, 2018

“Americans want… (fill in the blank)”, Senator Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan are prone to say.  “Americans have spoken and we are listening”, McConnell and Ryan chirp.  I often wonder just who those Americans are?

“Americans” is a clever way to mask who ever is the object of McConnell and Ryan’s words.  If you are informed and following Congressional debate, then it is clear “you” are the “Americans” McConnell and Ryan are speaking to.  The best part is that even if you have no idea what the debate is about, for example, you are just a “common man”, “Americans” means you for sure.  Most of America’s population resides in the common man category.

A Federal District Court Judge in Texas issued a ruling yesterday pronouncing the Affordable Care Act was now un-Constitutional, null and void.  What Constitution was he referring to since the ACA had already withstood two Supreme Court challanges?

McConnell and Ryan think the 2017 tax cut was just what “Americans” were looking for. The tax cut, however. gave most of its tax reductions to corporations and the very wealthy, and in effect, most “Americans” (who ever they are) were being played for suckers. I guess the notion that corporations and very wealthy people who were getting the tax breaks must be the “Americans” Mitch and Paul were talking about. 

But what about the “common man”?

The “Common Man” for the most part does not pay income taxes.  The “Common Man” earns too little to pay income tax although he pays other taxes like social security, Medicare, and sales and property taxes.  But the “common man” is in for a surprise.

The 2017 tax reductions zeroed out the tax on those who do not have health insurance.  Unbelievably, “Americans” who choose not to buy health insurance (even though they could afford to), and instead game the system by using the Emergency Rooms when they get sick, thereby allowing the rest of their fellow Americans to pick up the cost, have been encouraged and rewarded by the 2017 tax cut.  This bill contained language which eliminated penalty taxes on those who did not have health insurance.

But there is more. The “common man” is in for another treat.  The 2017 tax bill is unfunded.  That means the tax cuts are bringing in too little tax revenue to cover government spending.  Hmmm.  That means the government must borrow money and thereby increase the Federal debt level which at some time in the future, the “common man” or his children must pay back.  Oh, and as the debt grows, interest payments will squeeze out other government spending like fixing roads, bridges, etc and if Republicans have their way, the “common man” will receive less Medicare, Social Security, or any other government safety net benefits.

One need only look to France and the “yellow vest” demonstrations to observe what “Americans” might be in for given the current Republicans views on taxes.

Americans are mostly composed of “common men”.  The wealthy are few, so tax breaks for the wealthy means problems for others.  This makes it imperative that tax policies are carefully considered.  The wealthy can’t pay for everything but paying less than their fair share, especially in an environment of income inequality, catches the “common man” in a vice of rising costs and fixed income.  The “common man” is our society, and when our society breaks, bad things happen.

I wonder whether McConnell and Ryan are thinking this way?

The Middle East Mess

December 13, 2018

Recently, PBS broadcasted a documentary “Letters From Baghdad” which tells the story of Gertrude Bell, the British writer, traveler, and expert enormously knowledgeable about Palestine.  Ms Bell, in the early 20th century, advocated for Palestine self rule and self determination following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire.  Modern Iraqi borders bear Ms Bell’s efforts.

The Middle East we know today presents a bewildering array of seemingly intractable  contradictions.  The Israeli-Arab impasse, the Shiite-Sunni conflict, and what makes one want to be an infamous suicide bombers, seem to defy logic.  

Gertrude Bell, however, foresaw this Middle East dysfunction.  On one hand, she opposed the Balfour’s Declaration which called for a Jewish homeland because she didn’t believe the Arabs could accept giving up land to Israelis.  On the other hand, Ms Bell worked diligently advising British Governors how to best administer the region.  Subsequently, Bell proposed boundaries creating and defining an Iraqi State. Bell thought these boundaries would encompass a State internally balanced (Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd) and that no one sub-group would have enough power to rule over the others. 

Time and the sheer destructive influence of oil wealth have shown Gertrude Bell’s hopes to be unfulfilled but most surprisingly, modern scholars are just as befuddled on how to nurture a modern Middle East.  Events such as George Bush’s Iraq War, Israel’s West Bank expansions, and the Sunni Saudi Arabia face off against Shiite Iran present puzzles in the 21st century.  Oil (and the greed that follows), irrational and incompatible religious traditions, and millions of poor and largely uneducated residents characterize the Middle East but do not suggest how to end the nonsense. 

For example,

  • in Yemen, norther tribesman (Houthis) allied with Iran are fighting against Saudi backed “government” troops and in the process destroying everyone and everything in their way.  Why? 
  • Hezbollah and Hamas militias allied with Iran continually are plotting to attack Israel.  Why?
  • Israel, simultaneously, nibbles and then gobbles Palestinian land on the West Bank claiming that the bible said the land was Israel’s. Why?
  • And, what makes anyone think that blowing themselves up and killing other innocent men, women, and children makes sense?  Why?

A little more than 100 years after Gertrude Bell’s work the Middle East remains a mess. 

Homosexuals, Pedophiles, And Abusers

December 3, 2018

Pope Francis had another bad day recently.  Speaking to the Spanish press, Pope Francis said he worried about homosexual priests.  The Pope thought it would be better for these priests to remain celebrate or they should leave the clergy.  Hmmm.

With estimates that between one third and one half of all priests are homosexuals, the Pope may not realize what he is hoping for.  In addition to closing churches due to low attendance, the church may face needing to close more simply because there are not enough priests to man the churches.

It is certainly ironic that homosexuals constitute such a large percentage of active priests given the long term unloving treatment church dogma has handed out freely to homosexuals.  Sad is the only word that can describe the church hierarchy who try to conflate the scandal involving sexual abuse doled out by priests with the possibility that the priests were gay.  Chances are high that gay priests make up only a small fraction of abusers.

Far more likely is the inclusion in the priest ranks of out and out pedophiles and those who exploit the special power priests hold over every day people.  

The Pope would do well to think more about those who take unfair advantage of others and weed them out of the priesthood.  Replacing these sorry excuses of men with married priests and women priests might yield surprisingly beneficial results.