Monthly Archives: September 2018



I am now half-way through Bob Woodward’s Fear and believe it is the most over-hyped book since Paul Ryan began promoting  Atlas Shrugged as the inspirational equivalent of the Bible.  Nothing in this latest bestseller makes Donald Trump scarier than I already imagined.  What actually terrifies me is the possibility South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, someone with less self-control when it comes to the use of military power than Kim Jung Un, has become Trump’s newest BFF and could be our next Attorney General.

But that’s not what I came here to talk about.  Chapter 19 covers Trump’s decision to withdraw from NAFTA based on his belief every trade agreement ever negotiated by one of his predecessors put the United States at an inherent disadvantage.  Despite objections by every senior domestic and foreign policy advisor except Peter “there is a special place in Hell for Justin Trudeau” Navarro, the Oval Office became the setting for the revival of the 1950s sitcom Trump Knows Best.  Consider the following exchange between Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue from Fear.

Image result for trump and sonny perdue     “NAFTA has been a huge boon for American ag interests,” Perdue told Trump. “We export $39 billion a year to Mexico and Canada.  We wouldn’t have markets for these products otherwise.  The people who stand to lose if we withdraw from NAFTA are your base, the Trump supporters.”

     Perdue showed Trump a map of the United States that indicated the states and counties where agriculture and manufacturing losses would be hit hardest.  Many were places that had voted for Trump.

    “It’s not just your base,” Perdue said.  “It’s your base in states that are important presidential swing states.  So you just can’t do this.”

     “Yeah,” Trump said, “but they’re screwing us, and we’ve got to do something.”

Based on his subsequent actions, it’s hard to tell exactly who Trump thought was doing the screwing.  Our trading partners, his base or the American people in general?  Since this April 25, 2017 conversation, Trump has nullified several trade agreements, subjected farmers to retaliation shutting them out of multiple international markets and dedicated $14 billion of your and my tax dollars to compensate these same farmers for a problem for which he alone is responsible.

Now I will be the first to admit no president should ever take full credit or full blame for fluctuations in the U.S. economy.  An economist once observed, “The president has a better chance of controlling the tides.”  However, policy decisions can accelerate or temper changes in economic growth.  And the timing of such decisions may be more important than the policy details.  In a May 2016 post titled “Oh, The Hypocrisy!”, I pointed out the stupidity of blocking an infrastructure program when the cost of borrowing money was near zero percent.  Now, in terms of global trade policy, it again seems as though Trump and his GOP enablers slept through Economics 101 during the discussion of supply and demand.  Let me explain.

The theory of supply and demand can also apply to money and income.  In other words, when people have money in their pockets (supply) they can buy goods and services (demand).  Which explains why Trump is somewhat correct when he says the balance of trade has been unacceptably out of kilter the last decade.  But there is a very logical reason for that.  The financial meltdown in the fall of 2008 was a global event.  According to the World Bank, the global GDP growth rate fell from 3.83 percent in 2007 to -1.73 percent in 2010.  And for several subsequent years, the global rate lagged significantly behind the U.S. recovery.

OK, Donald.  I will say this slow enough for even you to understand.  As the U.S. economy improved, Americans had more money and there was a pent up demand for goods and services.  This demand was fulfilled by both U.S. and global suppliers.  Residents of our trading partners did NOT have cash and were not buying products from ANYBODY domestically or internationally.  Thus, an increase in the trade deficit.

But things have changed.  The World Bank now predicts global GDP will increase by 4.5 percent in 2018.  So, at the very moment the rest of the world will have the financial wherewithal to buy more U.S. goods, Trump and Navarro have abandoned free trade agreements in favor of tariffs which will redirect those dollars to non-U.S. suppliers.

Blaming the fallout from this one on Barack Obama may be the biggest challenge to date for the White House spin machine and Fox News.   And that is saying something.  But I have no doubt they will try.

For what it’s worth.


Cloning Trump


There are days when professional journalists cover the news much better than any amateur blogger with way too many degrees in political science.  And then there are mornings like today when the mainstream media cannot see the trees for the forest.

A lot has already been said about why Donald Trump, considering all of the conservative candidates put forth by the Federalist Society to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, chose Brett Kavanaugh.  He fulfills Trump’s campaign promise to appoint judges who believe Roe v. Wade was judicial overreach.  After aggressively assisting in the prosecution and impeachment of Bill Clinton, he now believes investigations of presidential conduct are an unacceptable distraction.  You get the point.

However, thanks to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who has offered to testify publicly that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both in high school, we may learn the real reason Trump is so enamored by Kavanaugh.  And it is not because they are both alleged sexual predators, which they are.  It is because they both have a blatant disregard for facts and the truth.  The saddest chapter of this saga is the necessity of Ford coming forward to make this point even though the evidence was there throughout the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing.

On numerous occasions, statements made by Kavanaugh to the Committee were contradicted by the few documents the White House and Republican Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley opened to public scrutiny.  Emails prove Kavanaugh’s claim he did not weigh in on judicial nominations during the Bush 43 administration are not true.  Transcripts of speeches and journal articles authored by Kavanaugh contradict his claim he believes Roe v. Wade is settled law.  In other words, Trump found a Supreme Court candidate who behaves EXACTLY as he would if he had been the nominee.  Kavanaugh is to Trump what Mini-Me is to Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers trilogy.

If two or more Republican Senators find Ford’s allegation to be credible, Kavanaugh’s downfall will not be the result of his behavior 30 plus years ago.  None of us would want to have every incident over our lifetimes examined under a magnifying glass.  It will be his behavior three days ago when he issued the following statement.

I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation.  I did not do this back in high school or at any time.

This could turn out to be the undeniable lie which proves Kavanaugh is unfit to sit on the nation’s highest court.  Forget concerns Kavanaugh will look at facts through an ideological or partisan filter.  To believe otherwise is to deny the history associated with many landmark legal decisions over the past 229 years.  Like his genetic twin, Kavanaugh demonstrates he will either ignore or deny factual information.  That is what is unacceptable.

Image result for wasted: tales of a gen x drunkAnd per usual, Trump will blame Democrats, the deep state or some other cabal of undermining his presidency.  But as Shakespeare would have admonished the nominee, “The fault, dear Kavanaugh, is not in your stars, but in yourself, for you are an underling.”  In hindsight, Kavanaugh might eventually understand this was totally unnecessary.  All he had to do was admit he had a drinking problem as a young man, confirmed by his boyhood friend Mark Judge whom Ford claims witnessed the assault.  In his 1997 memoir Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk, Judge chronicles the rampant alcoholism at Georgetown Prep and the accompanying questionable behavior.

Just imagine if Kavanaugh had acknowledged this educational environment, echoed Mark Judge’s conclusion it was unhealthy,  sought help and, if his drinking ever put someone in danger or in a position where they felt violated, apologized and asked for their forgiveness.  But he is Donald Trump’s clone.  And his genetic make-up precludes his ever admitting he was wrong.  And like his DNA donor, he refuses to use these occasions as a learning moment.  Deny and move on is the order of the day.

Related imageSadly, there is no provision for a national recall election as provided for in many state and local constitutions.  The authors of the U.S. Constitution left that responsibility to Congress.  So let me close with a parody of the scene in National Lampoon’s Animal House when the members of Delta House console pledge Flounder after wrecking his brother’s car.

Mitch McConnell: Hey, quit your blubberin’. When I get through with this baby (the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice) you won’t even recognize it.

Chuck Grassley: Mr. Madison(considered the father of the U.S. Constitution), you can’t spend your whole life worrying about your mistakes! You fucked up… you trusted us! Hey, make the best of it! Maybe we can help.

James Madison: [crying] That’s easy for you to say! What am I going to tell the American people?

Grassley: I’ll tell you what. We’ll tell them you were doing a great job taking care of the country, but you parked it out back last night and this morning… it was gone. We report it as stolen.  McConnell takes care of the wreck. And we offer the American people a totally different car.

Madison: Will that work?

Grassley: Hey, it’s gotta work better than the truth.

It’s time to put the Republican Party on “double secret probation.”

For what it’s worth.


It’s Complicated

I know I have used this before, but it best describes two news stories which intersected this week.  During the height of the police shootings of unarmed African-Americans, Daily Show host Trevor Noah reminded us, “You can be both pro-police and pro-Black Lives Matter.”  Life is not black and white.  A second look at two disparate events this week should remind us life is also not brown and white.

On Tuesday, Nassau County, Florida Sheriff Bill Leeper emailed that Francisco Obidio Portillo-Fuentes was due to appear in court on Thursday.  Portillo-Fuentes is charged with aggravated manslaughter, felony murder, escape and resisting an officer without violence.  These charges stem from a November 2016 incident when Portillo-Fuentes, an undocumented immigrant, ran across State Highway 200 in Yulee, Florida after being stopped at a service station by U.S. Border Patrol.   Portillo-Fuentes exited the truck in which he was riding and fled the scene.  A Nassau County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Oliver, who happened to be at the service station, joined in pursuit.   In the course of the chase, Oliver was struck by a car and died.

When the case comes to trial, one can imagine lawyers on both sides stipulating to the following.

  • Portillo-Fuentes was in the country illegally to which he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison.
  • Law enforcement officials had the right to apprehend Portillo-Fuentes.
  • Portillo-Fuentes, by fleeing, did not present a imminent threat to the Border Patrol or Oliver.
  • It was Portillo-Fuentes’ decision to try and evade arrest.
  • Oliver felt it was his duty to help apprehend Portillo-Fuentes.
  • Oliver’s death was an unnecessary tragedy in part due to Portillo-Fuentes’ decision to flee the scene.

Which brings us to yesterday in New Bern, North Carolina, where state and local governments ordered a mandatory evacuation of all residents as Hurricane Florence inched towards the coastline.  Thursday night, local resident Peggy Perry placed the following call to 911.

In a matter of seconds, my house was flooded up to the waist, and now it is to the chest.  We are stuck in the attic.

Fortunately, all involved including the first responders who rescued Perry and her family made it to safety.  But what if that had not been the case.  Suppose one of the emergency officers had drowned or been crushed by a falling tree.  Would Perry have been charged with aggravated manslaughter and felony murder?  Let’s look at the facts.

  • Perry chose to defy a government order to evacuate.
  • She was in her home illegally.
  • Perry did not represent a threat to any emergency officer or the community, only to herself and her family.
  • Out of a sense of duty, the deceased first responder attempted to rescue her.
  • The first responder’s death was an unnecessary tragedy in part due to Perry’s decision to ignore the mandatory evacuation order.

What do you think are the chances Perry, like Portillo-Fuentes, would have been charged with manslaughter and murder?

I will leave Portillo-Fuentes’  fate to the Nassau County Court jury.  But I cannot help but wonder if this is just one more example of the double standard which remains embedded in our system of justice.  It is at least worthy of debate.

For what it’s worth.


Court of the Absurd


Related imageThis is going to be short and sweet.  If you think golf is elitist, Saturday it lost its oft-deserved title to professional tennis.  This is not to take anything away from Naomi Osaka who demonstrated her star power and class and who I believe would have won her first grand slam title without the help of the chair umpire.

When I think of elitists, I immediately conjure up people who make rules which defy common sense.  The incident which triggered the chaos during the U.S. Open women’s final was Serena Williams’ coach (admittedly) making a hand gesture, suggesting the 23 time grand slam champion needed to rush the net more often.  A one point penalty was assessed when the chair umpire Carlos Ramos alleged Williams may have actually observed her coach Patrick Mouratoglu’s body language.  When Williams argued the call, she was given a one-game penalty.

What makes tennis such a senseless anomaly?  A boxer has a corner man who can remind him not to drop his guard or change his rhythm when delivering multiple punches.  A caddie can help a golfer align a putt or pick out the right club.  A baseball coach can stop the action to point out a mechanics issue with a pitcher’s motion or recommend a realignment of outfielders.  A football coach can call time out to advise his quarterback.  How many times have sports fans marveled when a struggling team has turned a game around?  Often it is a third party observer who picks up on the nuance which turns a loss into a win. For example, I am no fan of Nick Sabin, but couldn’t help but wonder what he must have said during half-time of last year’s college championship game.  Whatever it was, it turned an embarrassing rout into another national title.  Can you imagine a football coach being told he cannot talk to his players during half-time?

And don’t we want to see every athlete compete at their best.  How many times have athletes in individual sports shared credit with “their team” for their success.  Golfers will talk about how a caddie reminded them to calm down and take a deep breath during a close match when the player’s adrenaline kicks in.  Who do the guardians of tennis think they are that they would deprive someone of a resource which could raise their level of play?

Not only should a hand gesture be permitted.  A tennis coach should be allowed to sit on the sideline, able to talk with his/her charge during the break when the players change sides of the court.  Just imagine trying to justify such a rule in any other sports.  And the tennis gods wonder why the sport is declining in popularity.  Watch a replay of the confrontation between Serena Williams and Carlos Ramos.  There is your answer.

For what it’s worth.


Another 28th Amendment


Much is being made about the revelation in the New York Times anonymous op-ed that members of the cabinet discussed potentially invoking the 25th amendment to the Constitution as a means of ending the national nightmare otherwise known as the Trump presidency.  As a blogger there were multiple avenues to go down in response to the news.  Consider the following.

  • How Trump has the unique ability to get everyone with whom he comes in contact to prostitute themselves to protect him.  The latest example?  Mr. Libertarian Rand Paul now believes the government should conduct lie detector tests to ferret out the exercise of free speech.
  • In contrast to all of the national security officials who came to John Brennan’s defense knowing it could cost them their own security clearances, Trump’s “best people” treated the American people to a cacophony of “I am NOT Spartacus” or as several comedians have noted, we now have a #notme movement.
  • Is “anonymous” a hero or coward?
  • Would invoking the 25th amendment cause a “Constitution crisis” as anonymous suggests or avert one?
  • And of course, America’s #1 parlor game, “Who is anonymous?”

Image result for the most dangerous branchAs you may have noticed, I have not posted an article since last Sunday due to the fact I had been unable to find the story no one else was telling.  Until yesterday. While walking our dog,   I was listening to an interview with David A. Kaplan, author of The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court’s Assault on the Constitution.  Kaplan believes the rancor over recent Supreme Court nominees is less about the candidates but the fact the nine justices have become a de facto legislative body.  In short, he thinks the Court, which can set its own agenda, erred by taking cases which should have been decided by Congress or state legislatures.  In cases where federal or state laws were deemed contrary to the Bill of Rights, the Court’s responsibility was not to lay out the remedy but simply nullify the statute and tell legislators to fix it.

My first thought was, if Kaplan’s support of this “strict constructionist” perspective on judicial review had ruled the day, many landmark decisions (e.g., Miranda and of course Roe v. Wade) might not have made it onto the Court’s calendar.  But neither would have Citizens United or Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.  What if Kaplan was right?  But every good question leads to a better next question.  For me, that inquiry became, “How would Kaplan’s view effect the Senate confirmation process, not just of Brett Kavanaugh, but of past and future nominees to the Court?”

Which leads me to the need for a 28th amendment.  Kaplan is understating his case.  The Court not only occasionally legislates, it actually AMENDS the Constitution.  Nowhere in the original articles or any of the current 27 amendments does the Constitution say “corporations are people.”  Nor does it equate “money” with “speech.”  Likewise, the document does not define what constitutes “marriage.”  Regardless on which side of the ideological spectrum you stand, it is pretty clear the Constitution has been amended, not just interpreted, outside of the process enumerated in Article V.

Now, I am not crazy enough to think we can erase 200 plus years of judicial overreach.  That horse has left the barn.  But we can recognize and manage reality.  First, the tenure of Supreme Court justices has changed over time.  If you exclude the current panel, the average tenure of a justice was just under 17 years (less than the widely recognized length of a single generation).  Of the incumbents, Clarence Thomas has been on the Court for 28 years; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 26 years; Stephen Breyer, 25 years.  If confirmed, Kavanaugh at age 53, could easily match or exceed those years of service.

Therefore, I propose the following changes to the judicial nomination process.

  • The confirmation of a justice should require a two-thirds super majority of the Senate.  Why this number?  Article V (Mode of Amendment) states Congress may propose amendments “whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary.”  If the Senate is going to delegate its authority to virtually amend the Constitution, should they not hold the confirmation of a nominee to that same standard of support?
  • The tenure of a Supreme Court justice be limited to 12 years.  My choice of length is somewhat arbitrary but based on the belief the term should exceed that of a single president.  Similar to the 22nd Amendment, a justice could be re-nominated and confirmed for a second 12 year term, putting the maximum tenure at 24 years.

If we had a living, breathing Congress there would be no need for a 28th amendment.  Congress has the power to legislate its own procedures and therefore could establish a two-thirds majority as the minimum requirement for judicial nominees.  [PERSONAL NOTE:  During my time as a policy director at the National Governors Association, we required sign-off by two-thirds of all governors before sending a communication or policy position to the White House or Congress.  It made our jobs harder but resulted in a much stronger bargaining position.] Additionally,  nowhere in Article III (Judicial) does it specifically state judges must have lifetime appointments.  For the record, Article III, Section 1 states:

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

A strict constructionist would argue the first sentence gives Congress the right to establish not only the courts but to set parameters for their operations. The second sentence suggests only that a judge may be removed for bad “behaviour” but is silent otherwise.

But don’t hold your breath.  Which is why we need these changes in the form of a Constitution amendment.  If regulating the salary of members of Congress (the 27th Amendment) was worthy of consideration, it is hard to believe the integrity of the judicial system is not.  #28thamendment


There is also the political implications of Kaplan’s thesis if you think counter-intuitively about other aspects of an activist judiciary.  Take one example–Roe v. Wade.  Suppose the Court had not taken the case.  Then the debate over a woman’s right to choose would have been decided by state legislatures, but more importantly at the ballot box, by the people who pick the legislators.  According to a July 2018 Gallup poll, 64 percent of voters oppose the Court overturning Roe v. Wade.  Only 28 percent support repeal.  My question, “Did the Supreme Court decision give pro-choice Americans a false sense of security?”  If pro-choice advocates believed this right depended on their vote, would the election turnout been significantly higher?  Would the Republican dominance in state and local elections have been the same absent Roe v. Wade?

We might get the answer to that question in November.

For what it’s worth,