I was looking forward to hearing the testimony of Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee, particularly interested to learn more about some of the ‘behind the scenes’ actions and activities which took place during Cohen’s ten year stint as a lawyer for Donald Trump, and as an executive of The Trump Organization.

It is clear that Michael Cohen is guilty of multiple frauds and felonies.

Cohen pleaded guilty to eight charges in August 2018, including several counts of tax fraud and campaign finance violations. He also pleaded guilty in November 2018 to a charge of lying to Congress from Special Counsel Mueller’s office.

Said Cohen, “I take full responsibility for each act that I pled guilty to:  The personal ones to me and those involving the President of the United States of America.”

In December 2018, Cohen was sentenced to a term in federal prison for the eight criminal counts he pleaded guilty to in August. The judge gave him an additional two months for the special counsel charge.

Despite pending imprisonment for his acknowledged bad behavior, Cohen agreed to provide public testimony to the House Oversight Committee on February 27, 2019.

It was my expectation that – during this public hearing – committee members would politely hear testimony from Mr. Cohen, followed by a question and answer session which might provide us with a broader understanding of the issues.

Upon completion of the public hearing, I anticipated that members of the committee would meet sometime in the near future to study, discuss and debate the findings of the hearing.

At a future date, I expected that I would learn from traditional media sources about next steps:  Further investigation?  Criminal referral(s)?  Case closed?

I appreciate and covet freedom of speech, and I am cognizant of special protections afforded to Members of Congress to ensure they are not censured for statements made in their official capacity.

That said, today I witnessed two members of the House Oversight Committee go off course early in the proceedings, and they continued to cloud and obfuscate the intended purpose of the hearing almost to the very end.

The behavior and demeanor of Rep. Jim Jordan (R, OH) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R, NC) on 2/27/19 (as displayed on national television) was unprofessional; inappropriate; and absolutely unacceptable coming from elected Members of Congress.

I am a citizen and registered voter in the United States.

As such, I am entitled to all of the protections afforded by the Constitution of the United States, including the expectation that elected Members of the House will (1) behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House; (2) adhere to the spirit and the letter of the Rules of the House and to the rules of duly constituted committees thereof; and (3) not receive or accept compensation, favors or other benefits from any source which would occur by virtue of influence improperly exerted from their elected position in Congress.

It is my belief that both Rep. Jordan and Rep. Meadows repeatedly violated their basic duties of comportment and professionalism during their activities today as members of the House Oversight Committee.

I do hope the House Ethics Committee will hold each of these individuals fully accountable for their unprofessional, inappropriate, and unacceptable public behavior, and I encourage others to demand accountability from Congress.

Advertisements

Border Security

February 15, 2019

I’ve been looking into the border situation.  My goal is to reach an understanding of what’s really going on, because the political rhetoric has my head spinning.  Here is what I found:

Depending on which source(s) you are comfortable with, you may agree that the 1,900+-mile border between the United States and Mexico is the most heavily crossed – both legally and illegally – international boundary in the world.

Today – mid-February 2019 — barriers which block people and vehicles along 650 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border are in place and operational.  These barriers include stretches of steel and barbed wire, fortified with infrared cameras, imposing watchtowers, and blinding floodlights, and it is patrolled by thousands of guards. These 650 miles represent a four-fold increase over 2005, when there were 120 miles.

About 1,300 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border lacks fencing because the Rio Grande forms a natural border along most of those miles. Remaining sections are in rugged, inhospitable terrain, where building a barrier would not only be impractical, but fail the most rudimentary cost-benefit analysis.

The legislation President Donald Trump needs to build his promised wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico was passed in 2006 and remains on the books.

The Secure Fence Act was introduced in Sept. 2006 by Rep Peter King (R-NY) and was quickly passed by Congress on a bi-partisan basis.  The House passed the Fence Act 283 to 138 on September 14, 2006; the Senate passed the Fence Act 80 to 19 on September 29, 2006; and the Act was signed into law by Pres. George W. Bush on October 26, 2006.

The goals of The Secure Fence Act of 2006 envisioned helping to secure America’s border with Mexico to decrease illegal entry, drug trafficking, and security threats by building about 700 miles of physical barriers along the Mexico-United States border. Additionally, the law authorized more vehicle barriers, checkpoints, and lighting as well as authorizing the Department of Homeland Security to increase the use of advanced technology such as cameras, satellites, and unmanned aerial vehicles to reinforce infrastructure at the border.

The initial concept imagined in the King-sponsored law anticipated a continuous barrier of double-layered fencing with a sufficient gap that a vehicle could be driven between the layers.

Once it became clear that the geographic and topographic diversity along the border could not accommodate a simple double-layered fence, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R, TX) worked with the Department of Homeland Security to propose an amendment to give DHS discretion to decide what type of fence was appropriate in different areas.

The law was subsequently amended to read,

“Nothing in this paragraph shall require the Secretary of Homeland Security to install fencing, physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors in a particular location along an international border of the United States, if the Secretary determines that the use or placement of such resources is not the most appropriate means to achieve and maintain operational control over the international border at such location.”

By mid-2011, the Department of Homeland Security reported that fencing for 649 miles of border had been completed.  As described in the 2007 Hutchinson amendment, much of the total fence reported by DHS consists of vehicle barriers and single-layer pedestrian fence, deemed most appropriate at those locations by DHS.

Purists looked back to the original King-sponsored bill and decried the type of fencing DHS was counting as “completed”.  They said that vehicle barriers and single-layer pedestrian fences can’t meet the amended letter of the law.

Yet, according to Customs and Border Patrol reports at that time,  the border barriers they included in their report include: ‘Post on Rail’ steel set in concrete;  Steel Picket-style fence set in concrete;  Vehicle Bollards similar to those found around federal buildings; ‘Normandy-style’ steel beam vehicle barriers; and concrete ‘Jersey Walls’ reinforced with steel mesh.

I don’t know much about barriers, but these sound pretty substantial and imposing to me.

Many people will take exception to something President Obama said in 2011 when addressing the issue of border security.  I include this here because it is emblematic of the political discourse we seem to have devolved toward in the past decade or two:

“We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement.  All the stuff they asked for, we’ve done. But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I’ve got to say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time.”

“They’ll want a higher fence,” Obama said. “Maybe they’ll need a moat. Maybe they want alligators in the moat. They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics.”

Political rhetoric is to be expected, and most of us prefer it to be witty, sharp and to the point.

There really is no place in a civilized society for the sort of caustic and unforgiving political hate speech and outright lies we all too frequently seem to encounter in 2019.

National Emergency

February 13, 2019

Yes, we are facing a national emergency, and it’s not along our southern border.

Our real national emergency is our National Debt.

Let’s first agree that when the U.S. federal government runs a deficit, or spends more than it receives in tax revenue, the U.S. Treasury Department borrows money to make up the difference.

Next, let’s agree that our national debt is the amount of money the federal government has borrowed through various means, including: (1) by issuing bills, notes and bonds which are bought by investors (domestic and foreign), including the public, the Federal Reserve and foreign governments; (2) through intra-governmental debt, essentially money borrowed from trust funds used to pay for programs like Social Security and Medicare.

The great majority of economists and economic and fiscal analysts tend to agree that the significance of national debt is best measured by comparing the debt with the federal government’s ability to pay it off using the debt-to-GDP ratio, simply by dividing a nation’s debt by its gross domestic product.

Various sources have estimated that a healthy debt-to-GDP ratio is in the 40% to 60% range.  A longitudinal study conducted by World Bank economists published in 2010 estimated that in highly developed countries, 77% was a ‘tipping point’ where productivity and potential economic growth was constrained by adding additional debt without addition of incremental revenue.  (In emerging economies, they estimate that 64% is the tipping point.)  In either case, potential for default begins to increase once the tipping point has been breached, thus putting upward pressure on borrowing costs.

The first instance when U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio exceeded 77% was toward the end of World War II.  In the post-war years, our national debt shrank in comparison to the booming post-war economy, and the debt-to-GDP ratio fell as low as 24 percent in 1974.

Recession and rising interest rates during the Carter administration put upward pressure on the debt-to-GDP ratio, and once the tax cuts enacted during Reagan’s first term combined with increased spending on both defense and social programs, the debt-to-GDP ratio reached 50 % in July 1989.

Economic growth in the ‘90s, combined with tax increases under both Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton helped keep the debt load in line, and by the end of December 2000, our national debt was about 55% of GDP.

Following the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, U.S. military spending spiked, yet tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 during the George W. Bush administration combined with a mild recession in 2001 and the Great Recession beginning in 2007 caused significant decreases in tax revenues. By the time Barack Obama took office in January 2009, the debt-to- GDP-ratio reached 75%.

Deficit spending is one of the key tools available to stimulate economic recovery, and by the time of Obama’s 2nd inauguration in January 2013, the U.S. debt had grown to $16 Trillion – a debt-to-GDP ratio of 101%. By that time, it was clear that the economic stimulus of deficit spending had worked, evidenced by an expanding U.S. economy; signs of ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; resurgence of the U.S. stock market; continued job growth; and other positive economic indicators.

All of these positive signs at the beginning of 2013 pointed to the need to rein in government spending and to strategically increase revenues (i.e. raise taxes).

Yet, the Congress has stubbornly refused to deal with the reality that our U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio has remained above 100 percent since 2013.

In early 2018, an analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget concluded that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law in late 2017 will push the U.S. national debt to $33 Trillion — 113 % of GDP — by 2028, a ratio not seen since immediately after World War II.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a sham (and a scam) which created a situation exactly opposite of what responsible elected officials should have supported.  The sooner it is  amended, repaired or repealed, the sooner the American people will be transitioned into a less dangerous and more stable and sustainable economic environment.

Economic and Fiscal Policy

February 12, 2019

Our current POTUS rarely stands still long enough for anyone to really examine how his positions and policies impact us in the present, or potentially in the future.

Here are a couple of observations which I managed to glean from rapidly moving targets:

Fiscal Policy:  Failure

By late 2017, the U.S. economy had enjoyed over 8 years of economic expansion (since June 2009), leading virtually all economists to conclude we were moving toward the end of an economic expansion cycle. Most experts agree that the government should constrain both borrowing and spending during an expansion phase, concurrently decreasing government debt.

When the expansion phase of a business cycle comes to an end, and the economy begins to sputter – and ultimately to contract – a government with reduced debt will have the capacity to spend more and tax less, helping to support the softening economy return to equilibrium faster and smoother.

The much-touted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted at the end of 2017 introduced a $1.5 Trillion tax cut, sold as a source of economic stimulus when it was least needed.

In times of economic expansion, the government is on notice to reduce its deficit.

On February 12, 2019, the national debt passed a new milestone, topping $22 Trillion for the first time.  According to the U.S. Treasury Department, total outstanding public debt hit $22.01 Trillion, up from the $19.95 Trillion when President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20, 2017.  This is mighty dangerous stuff, folks.

Trade Policy:  Failure

Tariffs are a tax on consumption, paid by end users.

Over several decades, the U.S. developed a dependence on manufactured goods from China.  In turn, U.S. exports to China – predominantly agricultural and unfinished goods – enjoyed strong growth over time.

President Trump abruptly started a trade war with China, imposing tariffs on goods imported into the U.S. beginning in July 2018.

China quickly retaliated, raising tariffs on American goods imported into China, resulting in significant shifts by China to alternative sources.

Winners?  Brazil; Russia; Germany; Japan.

Losers?  American agricultural producers in Iowa, Nebraska, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Kansas; some American manufacturers; and American consumers overall.

It was once said, “When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win.

The evidence seems to emphatically refute that position.

More On: Media Bashing

February 2, 2019

President Trump has helped to create a new and very dedicated genre of Americans – The Media Bashers.

The entry cost to become a Media Basher is quite low – just find a story you disagree with; invent some alternative facts; and share your opinions and manufactured reality loudly, vociferously and widely.

Meanwhile, our Mainstream Media is under assault from multiple directions.  Too many platforms; too many sources on each platform; extraordinary economic threats to the established and venerable sources; individual participants who use the label “journalist” very loosely; and, probably, an overall ‘dumbing down’ of those who consume information from media sources.

OK, you’ve got me.  I do have an agenda, and it’s not particularly favorable to those media sources I have come to rely on for information that helps make me an engaged and informed citizen.

The mainstream media has wasted the past several days covering a possible 35 year old transgression by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

Why is our mainstream media laser-focused on a potential event on one day in a man’s life that — if true — occurred 35 years ago? What will the media say and/or do once the situation is fully investigated and the truth is revealed – whether guilty or innocent?

During this same time period, we’ve heard, read and watched – ad infinitum – about Roger Stone, and about U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.

What we haven’t heard about is Congressman Will Hurd (R, TX), who represents much of far West Texas. Hurd’s congressional district encompasses the longest stretch of U.S. border — some 800 miles.

Hurd introduced a bill aimed at using technology in order to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, and it is simply and concisely explained by Michelle Mark (https://www.businessinsider.com/fiber-optic-sensing-technology-vs-border-wall-2019-2)

Hurd introduced this legislation in 2017, and he has consistently championed it since then. Why has Congress taken no action on this?

With clear and undeniable evidence that fiber optic cable and other new technologies are the most effective and efficient ways to secure our border, why are so many U.S. elected officials squandering time and precious resources arguing about a physical border wall?

Why is our mainstream media essentially silent in covering this breakthrough opportunity to use technology to augment manpower and improve overall outcomes?

Concurrently, our mainstream media has given generous coverage to President Trump telling the world that our southern border is a primary threat to national security, that drugs are “pouring in” and that there are “people dying all over the country because of people like Nancy Pelosi who don’t want to give proper border security for political reasons” that Speaker Pelosi is engaging in “very bad politics” in hopes of scoring “a political point.”

I wish I had a magic solution to this dilemma – and I don’t.

I do believe that when more of my friends and neighbors are able to take a few minutes to reflect on this opportunity, magic solutions will miraculously appear.

I’m counting on you!

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid created in 1960, originally introduced as an anesthetic. Because it is synthetic, it can be easily and inexpensively made in a lab. It was approved by the FDA in the early 1990’s for use as a painkiller and anesthetic. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, but it does so faster — and in much smaller doses — than morphine or heroin. Like other opioids, it boosts levels of the chemical dopamine, which controls feelings of reward, pleasure, euphoria, and relaxation.

Today, Fentanyl is typically prescribed to treat patients who need long-term, around-the-clock relief from severe pain. When used for medical purposes, it is often given in a shot, a patch on the skin, or in lozenges.

China has become a global source of Fentanyl because (a) it can be easily and inexpensively made in a lab; and (b) the vast chemical and pharmaceutical industries in China are lightly regulated.

Some Fentanyl comes straight to the United States from China, while other shipments come in from China to Mexico (and to a lesser extent) Canada before making its way into the U.S.

There currently is no tariff on Fentanyl imported into the U.S. from any point of origin, which indicates that the Trump administration has missed a major revenue opportunity.