Monthly Archives: July 2017

Old Time Religion


One word keeps popping up in the discussion of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.  SACRED.  Belief in the electoral process is SACRED to the survival of democracy.   Russian interference in the 2016 election represents an assault on a SACRED cornerstone of the American experience.

Image result for votingPerhaps the time has come when we Americans start treating elections as the SACRED events they are purported to be and get some of “that old time religion.”  That does not mean everyone must be involved in civic life on a daily basis.  After all, there are Christians who only go to services on Christmas eve and Easter morning.  There are Jews who are never seen in a synagogue except during the High Holidays–Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Some Muslims fast during Ramadan although they forego daily prayers throughout the year.

Although the Constitution does not declare it so, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November should, in fact, be the highest of high holidays in the United States.  So let’s start treating it like a SACRED imperative.  We can begin by doing many of the same things we do to acknowledge spiritual holy days.

  • Declare election day a federal holiday.  With the exception of essential government services, federal, state and local offices should close for the day.  For those who oppose an additional federally mandated day off, I suggest we trade Presidents Day for Election Day in alternate years.  It seems a better way to honor our past leaders than a mattress sale.
  • Banking and other professional services should be suspended.
  • Commercial businesses should either close or reduce their hours to ensure employees have adequate opportunity to vote.
  • Discontinue broadcasting partisan political advertisements except those that only encourage citizens to go to the polls.
  • As with other calendar holidays, election day should span a full 24 hours.  And to alleviate the effect of early returns on Western states, polls in every jurisdiction should open and close simultaneously.  For example.  polls would open in Hawaii at midnight and 6:00 am in the East.  And then close exactly 24 hours later in Hawaii and 6:00 am the following day in the Eastern time zone.
  • Charitable organizations such as the Salvation Army or Jewish Family Services should provide volunteer services to help individuals exercise their franchise (e.g. transportation to the polls or child care).

Optionally, we should celebrate the occasion with:

  • A concert on the Washington Mall with fireworks.
  • An election day movie marathon with films ranging from Raymond Massey’s portrayal of our 16th president in Robert Sherwood’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940) to Franklin Shaffner’s adaptation of Gore Vidal’s play The Best Man (1964) to Alan Pakula’s  All the President’s Men (1976).  
  • Forums on the meaning of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Belief in democracy and the American experience, like religion, demands a level of faith in the intangible.  However, just as there are visible signs of spiritual devotion–a creche, yarmulke or prayer mat–election day has its SACRED trappings.  Campaign signs outside schools, churches and firehouses where votes are cast.  “I Voted” stickers.  Citizens standing in line for hours to fulfill their biennial civic Haj.

So don’t tell me democracy and elections are SACRED and then treat the time dedicated to exercising one’s franchise like any other work day.  Ask yourself.  WWJD?  What would Jefferson do?

For what it’s worth.


Connecting the Dots

I promised I would never use this blog to spread conspiracy theories.  However, laying out a counter-intuitive perspective based on fact is fair game.  There is also an ulterior motive for publishing this blog.  I want to memorialize this theory in the event it comes to fruition.  In other words, on the evening of July 10, 2017 at 9:43 pm, Dr. ESP had an epiphany.  He connected the dots and figured out exactly how the Trump era will come to an end.

It is based on the following facts.

  • Reports from within the White House suggest that Donald Trump realizes he is in over his head, is not enjoying the responsibility and would prefer to return to his former life.
  • Trump shows little, if any, interest in fully staffing the White House or many of the cabinet agencies.  This is not the behavior of someone who plans to be in this for the long haul.
  • Despite the resignation of his first national security adviser and revelations his attorney general committed perjury during his confirmation hearings, Trump brushed aside these embarrassments.
  • On Saturday, the New York Times began building a case against favorite son Donald Trump, Jr. which will surely lead to a grand jury indictment and possible imprisonment for violation of federal election law.
  • The New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN have all confirmed the source for some of the information about Junior has come from people within the White House.

This last point is critical.  Yesterday I thought members of the Trump administration, if not Agent Orange himself, were willing to throw Junior under the bus to save the boss.  But that assumes the boss wants to be saved.  When you flip that assumption, the obvious question becomes, “How does Donald Trump extricate himself from the unpleasant situation in which he finds himself and appear to be a hero rather than a quitter?”

Unlike the father in the previously mentioned episode of Longmire, Trump would never take the rap, even for his offspring.  But the self-proclaimed deal maker extraordinaire would cut a “grand bargain.”  Here’s how it will come down.

  • Trump accepts the fact an over-zealous Junior became the intermediary with Russian operatives and his son is likely to be convicted of federal crimes.
  • As a favor to Ivanka, Trump promises to extricate Jared from any criminal liability.
  • Therefore, in order to end this family nightmare and return to his former life, Trump agrees to resign after pardoning both Junior and Jared.
  • Trump will, of course, claim he was run out of office by the fake news media but could no longer put his family through this manufactured persecution.  His loyal followers will stand in line to attend the rallies billed as the “resignation tour.”
  • Trump and Steve Bannon form the media empire which they had planned when they thought Trump would probably lose the election.

I’m not willing to bet the farm on this scenario.  But just in case, remember, you heard it here first.

For what it’s worth.


Everything I Need to Know II


In a previous post, I confessed my addiction to Judge Judy.  At that time, I focused on her platitude, “If it doesn’t make sense, it probably isn’t true,” in reference to Comrade Trump’s comical explanation of why he views Andrew Jackson as his role model for the presidency.  This weekend’s antics of the “gang that couldn’t shoot straight” reminded me of a second Judge Judy saying which explains the head-shaking by Trump friends and foes alike.

When you are telling the truth, you don’t need to have a good memory.

What Judge Judy means is when you are are honest about an event or situation, you need not be concerned all involved parties coordinate their stories or what was said in the past.  For several months, the three parties–Donald Trump, Jr.,  son-in-law Jared Kushner and the Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort–in attendance at the now confirmed June 9, 2016 meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya seemed to be in sync.  By lying about it.  Kushner did not include the meeting on his national security clearance application nor, in Manafort’s case, his retroactive registration as a foreign agent.

Public awareness of the meeting resulted from Jared Kushner amending his security clearance application although, at the time, no information was provided about the purpose of the meeting.  Now the members of this unholy trinity need to coordinate a new story.  There’s just one problem.  Trump, Jr. seems to be incapable of telling his own version of the events the same way  twice.  On Saturday, the younger Trump issued the following statement.

It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.

By Sunday evening, Trump, Jr.’s own version had changed when he presented the New York Times, which broke the story, with the following.

After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.

This morning there has been considerable speculation the White House, knowing the Saturday version lacked credibility, forced the younger Trump to issue the revised statement.  If that is the case, the pretender-in-chief, who demands loyalty of everyone in his circle, appears to have no qualms about throwing his own son under the bus to save himself.  Forget being unfit to be commander-in-chief.  This would be just one more instance of his demonstrating he is a despicable human being.  (NOTE:  Ironically, my wife and I had just watched an episode of Longmire on Netflix  in which a father falsely confesses to a murder to protect his guilty son.  I guess Comrade Trump missed that episode.)

And of course, Comrade Trump has resorted to imitating Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes.  “I see nothing.  I hear nothing. I know nothing.”  On Sunday, a spokesman for the senior Trump’s lawyer said, “The president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”

Here’s the problem.  The meeting with Veselnitskaya on June 9 took place in Trump Tower.  That day Donald J. Trump was also in Trump Tower.  And his calendar includes a meeting with Paul Manafort.  So, maybe it all comes down to the meaning of what “was” was.  Did Trump’s lawyer mean his client was not aware of the meeting until it appeared on Kushner’s revised security clearance form?  Or until the story broke in Saturday’s New York Times?  Or, to be technically correct, is Trump’s legal team stating he was not aware of the meeting at the time it occurred?

This morning, MSNBC legal analyst Matthew Miller, when asked if Donald Trump, Jr. confessed to a crime in his second statement to the New York Times, suggested special counsel Robert Mueller needs to make that determination.  And that will occur when the attendees are brought before a grand jury and required to testify honestly or face perjury charges.

At that point, coordinating stories makes no difference.  And it no longer matters whether Trump, Jr., Kushner and Manafort can remember what they or anyone else said previously.  And by the way, if you believe the senior Trump and Manafort did not discuss the Veselnitskaya encounter during their  one-on-one June 9, 2017 meeting, I’ve got a bankrupt Trump property in Dubai I’d like to sell you.

For what it’s worth.

It’s a Jungle Out There


p1010870Let me introduce you to “Momma Gator.” the main attraction on the creek which runs the length of the Florida island we call home.  I have gotten to know Momma quite well over the past five years as the path along the creek is the preferred route of my morning constitutional with our adopted rescue dog.  These walks have been especially rewarding since Momma gave birth to a pod of 28 baby alligators in August 2015.  (NOTE:  One of these days someone needs to explain to me why a collective of alligators is called a “pod” when they are young and a “congregation” when they reach adulthood.)

In the interest of truth in advertising, I must concede I took the above photo with a telephoto lens, but even then I stood within 15 feet where she was sunbathing that morning.  Momma and I understand each other.  She knows I am there to observe how she and the kids are progressing.  I know her primary interest is protecting her offspring until they are old enough to establish their own territory.  Within those boundaries we have co-existed and enjoyed each other’s company for quite some time.  Or at least I have.  She has never actually told me what she thinks of me and the dog.

I have always referred to her as Momma.  I never gave her a pet name.  This week, however, I thought about calling her “Kim.”  Why?  Despite her being a female, she seems to have a lot in common with Kim Jong-un.  She’s not very attractive except to the male gator who resides up the creek and visits her every couple of years to perpetuate the species.  She is overly protective of her progeny.  And she is potentially quite dangerous. But Kim and residents/tourists on the island have lived under a combat-free armistice agreement for many years.

I have witnessed only two disruptions to this state of relative tranquility.  The most recent occurred when a great blue heron (GBH) eyed several of the baby gators as a potential breakfast entree.  Kim was nowhere in sight until the GBH got within striking distance of its prey.  Kim had been lurking under the dollar weed which covers much of the creek and lunged at the predator with her jaws wide open.  It was a scene from a  National Geographic nature special.  Kim did not catch the GBH, but it hurriedly retreated and has not since been seen in the vicinity.

Which brings us to the current stand-off between the United States and North Korea.  Hasn’t there been a relative state of tranquility since the cessation of hostilities on July 27, 1953?  When you compare the Korean peninsula to the rest of the world, one could say it represents one of the most war-free zones on the planet.  Consider this partial list of post-1953 conflicts.

  • Bay of Pigs (1961)
  • Vietnam (1961-73)
  • Israel (1967 and 1972)
  • Lebanon (1982)
  • Grenada (1983)
  • Panama (1989)
  • First Gulf War (1991)
  • Somalia (1993)
  • Haiti (1994)
  • Bosnia (1994-95)
  • Kosovo (1999)
  • September 11 (2001)
  • Afghanistan (2001-present)
  • Iraq (2003-present)
  • Libya (2011)
  • Ukraine (2014-present)

Where is Teddy Roosevelt when you really need him?  The United States certainly has it’s share of “big sticks.”  According to the Arms Control Association, the U.S. has a stockpile of approximately 6,800 nuclear warheads. (Source: ACA website, updated July 2017)  A skill that American officials have not mastered is the ability to “speak softly.”  As recently as March 8, 2017, UN ambassador Nicki Haley gave the following assessment of the North Korean leader.  “This is not a rational person.  He is not thinking clearly.”

However, there is evidence to the contrary.  Consider the litany of provocations already aimed at the Pyongyang regime.  It as been called “evil.”  The United Nations has passed a multitude of resolutions condemning its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.  The United States has levied a series of sanctions to disrupt the North Korean economy.  The U.S. and South Korea have held joint military exercises off the coast of North Korea.  And now the Trump administration is expanding the THAAD missile defense system which  South Korean President Moon Jae-in has opposed until it can be debated by the national parliament.  One would think an irrational person, confronted with such provocation, would emulate Eric Stratton in John Landis’ 1978 film National Lampoon’s Animal House.  Facing expulsion, the members of Delta House planned their revenge.

Now we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part!

Over the course of 64 years, neither Kim Jong-un nor his father nor grandfather has taken that approach.  In an April 26, 2017 article in Foreign Policy magazine, Andrei Lankov suggests the North Korean leader “is a survivor, not a madman.”  Lankov writes:

Kim Jong Un sees the nuclear program as purely defensive. Conquering the South would be nice in theory, but this task is completely beyond his reach, both due to the U.S. commitment to protecting South Korea and Seoul’s own huge advantage in economic and technological power. He knows that any unprovoked North Korean attack against South Korea or the United States will end badly, perhaps in his death, and he is certainly not suicidal.

“Unprovoked” is the operative word.  One has to assume there is some imminent threat to which Kim Jong-un, like Momma Gator in the case of the GBH, will bear his teeth.  Irrational behavior would be to increasingly test that boundary.

For what it’s worth.


America For Rent


It’s hard to look beyond Donald Trump’s continuous and escalating sociopathic behavior since Thursday’s cruel and unwarranted Tweet storm.  But this morning my thoughts turned to Agent Orange’s upcoming trip to Hamburg, Germany and the G-20 Summit.  This group, which first met following the 2008 global financial meltdown, continues to focus on putting safeguards in place to prevent future manipulation of the international banking system.

However, in recent years the attending heads of state have expanded the agenda to include other issues which depend on international engagement and coordinated policy.  Among the most pressing are climate change, terrorism and immigration (which as we now know are not totally unrelated) as well as global economic growth based on expanding opportunities for free trade.  Trump, whose “America First” platform is contrary to all of these (with the exception of terrorism), is being described as “the odd man out.”  (Source:  The Hill, July 2, 2017).  On Thursday, the New York Times reported that host German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued the following warning to her American counterpart.  She…

promised to fight for free trade and press on with multilateral efforts to combat climate change at the G20 summit next week, challenging the “America First” policies of U.S. President Donald Trump…Merkel did not mention Trump by name but said global problems could not be solved with protectionism and isolation.  (Source: New York Times, June 29, 2017)

I am less concerned with Trump being out of step with other heads of state than I am about his efforts to create what he calls “a level playing field” through protectionism, deregulation and lower tax rates.  This is a sad and defeatist indictment of American exceptionalism.  Let me explain.

The first few sessions of the Introduction to Entrepreneurship class I taught at Miami University centered on opportunity recognition, the process of identifying and introducing new goods and services to satisfy market demand.  The key to success was innovation, the ability to provide products that were better, faster and/or cheaper than those currently available.  Sometimes the product represents a quantum advance in technology such as the first cell phone.  More often it is a variation of an existing product, an example being added features (e.g. GPS, heated seats, collision avoidance systems) to automobiles.

The third category is imitation, i.e. making a facsimile of an existing product, the primary selling point being price differential.  The example I always used was memory cards for digital cameras.  When Sony first introduced the memory stick on September 10, 1998, a 4 megabite card cost $24.99.  Today, you can buy a 64 gigabite SD card for $19.99 on Amazon.  And it is not made by Sony.  In other words, when you compete solely on price, you are only renting a customer.  There is no brand loyalty.  As soon as buyers have a cheaper alternative, they will migrate to the less expensive option.

I want to make this next statement loud and clear.  The United States has NEVER competed on price.  America’s economic strength and sustainability has always been dependent on innovation and investment in infrastructure from the construction of the transcontinental railroad to the development of the Internet.  To suggest otherwise demonstrates a lack of belief in American economic exceptionalism.  Want more proof?  You don’t even have to leave the continental United States.

Those states which adopted Trump-like “Us First” development policies–Kansas, Louisiana–are struggling.  In contrast, California with its higher marginal tax rates and stricter environmental standards is prospering.  According to Bloomberg View:

California is the chief reason America is the only developed economy to achieve record GDP growth since the financial crisis of 2008 and ensuing global recession, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Much of the U.S. growth can be traced to California laws promoting clean energy, government accountability and protections for undocumented people. Governor Jerry Brown, now in his fourth term, considers immigrants a major reason for the state’s success.

California’s creditworthiness keeps getting better, measured by the declining premium global investors must pay to ensure against depreciation of the state’s debt obligations. That premium has diminished more than for any other state since 2012…Texas, which is the second-largest state in population, became cheaper compared to Treasuries and California in the market for state and local debt since the November election. Investors see security in the state with more protections for immigrants and more regulations. (Source: Bloomberg View, May 10, 2017.)

Although Angela Merkel may say she will try and convince Trump he should reverse his positions on trade and climate change, I am betting she hopes he does not.  That way Germany can become the global equivalent of California while Donald Trump becomes the Sam Brownback of U.S. presidents.  NOTE:  Brownback is the Republican governor of Kansas and has a 27 percent approval rating, second lowest, one percentage point higher than New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie.  (Source: Morning Consult, April 2017)

For What It’s Worth.