The Grim Reaper?

June 18, 2019

The U.S. Senate consists of 100 members – 2 elected from each state — independent of population.  Under the Constitution, our elected Vice President serves as the President of the Senate, and presides over the Senate’s daily proceedings, and only the Vice President has the authority to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Over the past 2 decades, I’ve become more and more befuddled, baffled and bewildered by the apparently bad behaviors of some of those elected to represent us in the U.S. Senate.

Currently, it seems that one of the 2 Senators elected from Kentucky – Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell – has acquired extraordinary power over the operation and functionality of this key part of the legislative branch of our federal government!

While it is perfectly clear that McConnell has usurped extraordinary power over the functionality of the Senate, he could have only acquired this power from the spineless reptiles who worship at his feet.

How can it be possible that one person – elected from the great state of Kentucky – has the arbitrary and singular power to schedule — or not schedule – votes on bills by the Senate?

How can it be possible that one person – in this case, the Senate Majority Leader – has obtained the power to fully obstruct a government of the people, by the people and for the people?

The arbitrary and unilateral power of the Senate Majority Leader is not derived from the Constitution, from any law, or from formal rules of the Senate.

Instead, it is entirely based on informal, colloquial and unwritten rules established over time by a collection of precedents, beginning with an informal ruling by then-Vice President John Garner in 1937 which created a “right of preferential recognition”.

Vice President Garner – serving in his Constitutional role as Senate President – may have been trying to create order within a body of highly assertive and opinionated elected officials from very diverse geographic and economic backgrounds.

Regardless of intent or motivation, the Garner precedent continues to serve as the foundation upon which Majority Leader power is based in the Senate today.

Today, there is one person  — elected by some voters in Kentucky — who has the power to obstruct a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Very recently, Mitch McConnell proclaimed that no issues which he objects to would be voted on in the Senate.  He said, “So think of me as the Grim Reaper” — the guy who is going to make sure that we fully support the agenda of our current President.

Is this what the American people really want?

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On Wednesday, May 29, 2019 Robert Mueller broke 2 years of silence to speak to the American public about the Special Counsel Report which bears his name.

Mueller advised Americans to read his report if we want to understand what really happened in 2016. “We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself,” he said.

The pressure is on. We need to read the Mueller Report.

The Mueller Report is huge, and it is written in ‘legalese’ – well beyond the interests and/or abilities of most American adults. You want footnotes? Volume I of the Mueller Report includes about 199 pages of text, illuminated by 1,283 footnotes.  Volume II adds another 182 pages of content with almost 1,100 footnotes.  That is almost 2,400 footnotes!  Yikes!

According to the national not-for-profit organization Reading is Fundamental, 93 Million American adults read at or below the basic level needed to contribute successfully to society.

I have to guess that the majority of these 93 Million American adults lack the motivation — and the skills — needed to read, comprehend and analyze the contents of the Mueller Report.

I’m retired and I have plenty of discretionary time.  I have read significant portions of the Mueller Report.  It is not an easy task.

Yet, I discovered that Volume I provides a powerful and comprehensive look at the events and evidence related to foreign election interference.

Volume II documents a number of actions directly or indirectly initiated by Donald Trump intended to impede or obstruct the FBI investigation into foreign election interference, and further actions intended to obstruct the Special Counsel investigation.

I predict that the Mueller Report will become a significant historical document for U.S. history scholars.

As it stands, it is just too academic and complex to become a widely-read, popularly acclaimed explanation of current events for most American adults.

Thankfully, all is not lost!

In its May 29, 2019 issue, The Atlantic published a synopsis penned by David Frum which helps bridge the gap between legalese and the typical American adult’s willingness and ability to read, comprehend and understand the conclusions reached by Mueller and his team.

I encourage you to make the time to read Frum’s article.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/05/mueller/590467/?fbclid=IwAR0ACFoJqo0UmmdOg0YXQt3ajGqeZ4XC2hEsIPRalVb6Ycoi8-P6hJbO9-0

Mueller Report

May 29, 2019

Several of my friends have wondered:  What part of “… this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” supports the “No Collusion, No Obstruction” response from the Trump White House.

My theory is based on a variety of academic studies over the past 2 decades which have determined that an ‘average American adult’ reads at (or about) the eighth grade level.

The reading skills of American adults are significantly lower than those of adults in most other developed countries, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development based on a sample of 160,000 people from two dozen developed nations.

The Mueller Report is an academic treatise written at a level which clearly exceeds the abilities of most American adults to engage; read; analyze; and conclude.

The ability to read fluently, critically and for understanding— to be able to learn from text— may be the most important foundational skill for U.S. adult citizens’ health, well-being, and social and economic advancement.

Critical reading skills are the gateway to lifelong learning, education, and training.

The internet and social networking currently operate through the written word, thus reading literacy provides access to an infinite and readily accessible library of the world’s knowledge, as well as the ability to communicate with friends, family, and employers.

The digital revolution provided access to information which is the foundation for an informed society — except for those adults who continue to struggle to read and/or comprehend.

We have a crisis in America.  The Mueller Report is written at a level which exceeds the skills of the majority of Americans — including many of those currently serving in Congress — to understand, analyze and arrive at critically informed conclusions.

The Pew Research Center recently reported that adults with a high school degree (or less) represent the majority (37%) of U.S. adults who report not reading books in any format in the past year.

I have to wonder – and I hope you will join me —  How many of these 37% of adults who don’t read books (and perhaps don’t read critically?) are members of the Trump Base?

 

 

 

 

 

We Have a Winner!

May 24, 2019

Competition for the coveted “Horse’s Patootie” award this week was fierce, almost resulting in a hung jury.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a member of the freshman congressional class of 2019, narrowly emerged as this week’s winner.

Following Senate passage (85 to 8) of a long-awaited $19+ billion disaster aid bill, Mr. Roy refused to grant his accord for the House to pass a unanimous consent resolution to move the bill to POTUS for his signature into law. (President Trump had already agreed to approve the bill as passed in the Senate.)

Although new to Congress, Roy served for several years as chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), including that period in 2013 when Cruz led a campaign which led to a 16-day government shutdown as a symbolic means to force repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Most ironic, perhaps: Even Cruz voted in favor of this 2019 disaster aid bill citing its importance to Texas, as about 20% of the $19 Billion in aid is destined to parts of Texas prone to hurricane damage.

It has been reported that Mr. Roy will be staying in D.C. over the Memorial Day holiday to avoid a “Tar & Feathers” party promised by his Texas constituents.

President Trump threw a temper tantrum today in the White House Rose Garden, forever preserved in the digital media universe.

Through his actions and words today, President Trump has provided clear and irrefutable evidence that he is unable to separate questions about his personal character from the primary duty of his current and sworn role to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” which I translate as an obligation to provide competent and impartial leadership for the entire population of the United States.

His public pronouncement that, “I don’t do cover ups” is clearly false.

Following that statement, the first image that flashed into my head was recorded for public record on Air Force One (early April, 2018) when President Trump responded to a reporter’s question about the cover-up payment(s) to Stormy Daniels that, ‘I know nothing about that’ further referring any questions to his then-Attorney, Michael Cohen.

Another indelible image again involves Air Force One and the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump Jr., various Trump campaign people, and a Russian lawyer.  In early July 2017, while flying home from Germany aboard Air Force One, President Trump personally dictated a statement on behalf of Trump Jr. which said that Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” in June 2016, further stating that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

That meeting has continued to be a constant thorn.  In late July 2018, following public testimony by Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to respond to some negative press reports, “I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don Jr….”

He didn’t know?  Cover up?  I think yes.

The most egregious example of Trump cover ups is his obstinate refusal to allow the public release of bank records, tax returns or any relevant financial records pertaining to his personal and business activities.  We know from public information that Donald Trump and the Trump Organization and/or entities controlled by him:  (a) Declared bankruptcy 6 times; (b) Have been shunned by most traditional banking organizations; (c) Consistently sell condominiums and other developed properties in ‘all-cash’ transactions, often to anonymous entities connected to Russia or former Soviet republics.

I applaud Speaker Pelosi for her insistence on a thorough and methodical process to follow and identify all of the facts. Indeed, no one is above the law, including the President of the United States.

I strongly encourage our elected officials to stay the course and to demand full disclosure and independent comprehensive review of Trump family and Trump Organization financial records.  The American People deserve nothing less.

An example of world leadership, released by Donald J. Trump on Sunday, May 5 at 9:08 AM ET:

“For 10 months, China has been paying Tariffs to the USA of 25% on 50 Billion Dollars of High Tech, and 10% on 200 Billion Dollars of other goods. These payments are partially responsible for our great economic results. The 10% will go up to 25% on Friday. 325 Billions Dollars….”  “…of additional goods sent to us by China remain untaxed, but will be shortly, at a rate of 25%. The Tariffs paid to the USA have had little impact on product cost, mostly borne by China. The Trade Deal with China continues, but too slowly, as they attempt to renegotiate. No!”

Impulsive? Impetuous? Misinformed? – OR — Calculated? Intentional? Willful?

However you slice it, when the President of the United States threatens — on a Sunday morning in May — to further disrupt world markets through his personal vision of how the world should behave, the predictable short term outcome is a stock market rout.

{One of the reasons it is predictable is that we have witnessed several similar episodes over the 2+ years Trump has occupied the Oval Office.}

Both Market Manipulators and Inside Traders know that when the Stock Market is confronted with unanticipated news, the Stock Market generally reacts with an abrupt and unexpected increase (or decrease) in value. And, Long-sellers (or short-sellers) get enriched (or damaged) as a result of their positions.

If they went long (or short) because of access to confidential information (known as “Insider Trading”) they have committed a white-collar crime that is often prosecuted as a felony, punishable by severe fines and prison terms of up to 20 years.

The Questions:

  1. Has Trump, his family, any of his cabinet members, advisors, their families and colleagues benefited by taking a long (or short) position in advance of one of Donald Trump’s unexpected and abrupt announcements?
  2. Is Trump a willful Market Manipulator?
  3. Are there any foreign (off-shore) entities which have left a trail indicating a prior knowledge of Trump Tweets?

Paul Ryan retired from Congress in January 2019 after 20 years of service culminating in his 3+ years of service as Speaker of the House.

Ryan was the chief cheerleader for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and he left D.C. touting it as the greatest accomplishment of his political career.

Ryan repeatedly exclaimed how this new legislation (TCJA) would unleash unprecedented U.S. economic prosperity, by providing:

  1. Tax relief for middle-income families;
  2. Simplification of the tax code for individuals;
  3. Economic growth; and
  4. Repatriation of $3+ Trillion of profits U.S. companies have parked overseas would generate more investment and jobs in the U.S.

16 months after passage of the TCJA, it should be crystal clear that:

  1. Almost none of the tax cut benefits have reached the low- and middle income Americans who were promised tax relief;
  2. The TCJA legislation is some 1,097 pages itself, and it states very clearly that it is an Amendment to (the existing) Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (not a simplification);
  3. Economic Growth? The jury is still out on this one, but there seems to be no evidence of growth above or beyond the existing growth trend line which began in mid-2009;
  4. American companies have returned some (+/- $500 Billion) of their profits held overseas as a result of the tax holiday which was part of TCJA. Much of that money was used for stock buy-backs and debt reduction.

In fact, 16 months following the passage of the TCJA, U.S. companies are still waiting for final guidance from the Treasury Department on many of the final rules relative to repatriation.

And, despite continued U.S. economic growth and record corporate profits, a record 60 Fortune 500 companies avoided paying any federal income tax in 2018.

Federal tax revenues have declined during a period of economic expansion and our government spending has increased, thus the verifiable result from Paul Ryan’s signature accomplishment – the TCJA — is an increase in our federal deficit, an extra-special gift to our children and grandchildren.

The Treasury Department announced in March 2019 that the deficit for the first four months of the 2019 budget year (which began Oct. 1, 2018) totaled $310.3 Billion, up from a deficit of $175.7 Billion in the same period the year prior.

The Congressional Budget Office is projecting that the annual federal deficit between revenues and expenses will hit $897 Billion in fiscal year 2019, up 15.1 percent from the $779 Billion deficit recorded in FY 2018.

The end result: Our total federal debt will reach $22 Trillion this year – about 105% of GDP.

Why is that important? A comprehensive study by the World Bank examined economic data from 100 developing and developed economies spanning a time period from 1980 to 2008, concluding that a public debt/GDP above 77% begins to create a drag on economic growth.

The World Bank analysis concluded that for each additional percentage point of debt above the 77% threshold costs 0.017 percentage points of annual real growth.

If the World Bank study is correct, we are currently missing about 0.5% of our economic growth potential due to misguided public policy decisions, in addition to the future burden of repaying federal debt which was incurred unnecessarily.

Paul Ryan achieved his personal goal of shepherding record tax reform through Congress resulting in the passage of TCJA.

Although his personal goal was achieved at the expense of American society, Paul Ryan clearly is a winner.  So, please join me in sending a note of thanks and congratulations to Paul Ryan.  He left us a legacy.

Dear President Trump:

It has been reported that you don’t want to see any additional federal aid directed to Puerto Rico.

The government debt crisis in Puerto Rico started in 1973 when the government began to operate on a deficit budget (i.e. spend more than what it collected). To cover the annual budget shortfall, the government issued bonds.

The impact of that decision had long range impacts, beginning with reduced capital spending resulting in deferred maintenance of public sector infrastructure (roads, bridges, public utilities, hospitals, electric power grid, ports, airports, etc.).

The practice of deficit spending in Puerto Rico continued for 4 decades!

In 2014 three major credit agencies downgraded several bonds issued by Puerto Rican government entities to “junk status” after the government was unable to demonstrate that it would be able to pay its debt from sustainable current cash flows. That action precluded Puerto Rico from access to the public debt markets, and forced them into the shadowy world of hedge funds and high-yield debt issuers.

I think you are punishing Gov. Ricardo Rosselló — and the people of Puerto Rico — for a situation which they inherited.

Meanwhile, there is a long-term lesson to be learned from the current Puerto Rico situation.

Fiscal responsibility requires discipline. In times of economic expansion, all eyes should be on reducing debt without creating abrupt changes in revenues or spending.
 
No responsible government should plan to operate on a deficit budget during times of economic expansion (prosperity).
 
The real job of our federal government is at a strategic level — looking into the future to create and support programs and policies which will help support a positive foundation for future Americans at the state and local base.
 
President Trump: I believe your fiscal priorities need to be revisited and carefully evaluated through an honest and open strategic filter.

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.

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.