I have reviewed some of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s judicial decisions; I’ve read some of his legal opinions; and I listened to some of the testimony he gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee in early September.

My limited research led me to conclude that Judge Kavanaugh supports highly subjective views on the 2nd Amendment; on women’s reproductive rights; and on the executive power of the presidency.

Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee shed new light on his published positions, as well on his devotion to President Trump and Trump’s political agenda.

Judge Kavanaugh is quite personable and well-spoken, yet I believe his positions are not in keeping with the mores of American society.  His responses to many of the difficult but seemingly fair questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were evasive and ambiguous.

Kavanaugh was nominated by President Donald Trump in July 2018, drawn from a carefully vetted list of conservative jurists compiled by the Federalist Society, following Trump’s campaign promise that his judicial nominees would all be picked by the Federalist Society, an ultra-conservative legal organization.

Our nation is currently at a crossroads, possibly at or near a similar state which preceded the Civil War.

It is not slavery that divides us today.  What divides us today is petty political divisiveness, exacerbated by special interest groups which operate behind the curtain, seeking to gain economic and political power over their opponents.

Our next Supreme Court Justice ought not to be an ultra-liberal or ultra-conservative individual.  People who lean heavily left or right might attempt to institute abrupt changes to our legal order.

Abrupt change is both dangerous and disruptive, and has the potential to create political paralysis, or worse.

We recently began to hear talk of the ‘Deep State’ – an invisible but powerful alliance of career bureaucrats; officials who sit in powerful positions; and who serve through multiple presidential administrations.

Candidates for elected positions in the U.S. seem to often campaign on the abrupt and transformational changes they will institute on “Day One.”

Conspiracy theorists whisper innuendo accusing career public servants of creating obstacles to enact abrupt change, turning career public servants into natural enemies of those officials who are elected on their “Day One” promises.

Conspiracy theorists whisper innuendo accusing these career public servants of creating obstacles to enact abrupt change.

Career public servants often advocate for research and planning; for using historic data and experience to predict future outcomes; for upgrades to systems and infrastructure to improve data security and data integrity.

In the end, Presidents come and go, every 4 years, or so.  Supreme Court justices serve a lifetime appointment.

Supreme Court justices should be politically neutral, above the fray of partisan politics.  The future of our nation is at stake.

Change is both necessary and inevitable.  Abrupt and unplanned change could result in a good outcome; history tells us that it is much more likely to result in catastrophic result.

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“We Fed an Island”

September 15, 2018

While U.S. President Trump continues to blame the people of Puerto Rico and their elected local leadership for delays, inefficiencies and various failures in the response to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria (2017), Trump is lavish with praise for the wonderful response by his administration.

“I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success,” Mr. Trump said.  “I actually think it is one of the best jobs that’s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.”

Meanwhile, other sources do not agree with President Trump’s assessment.

One of the true unsung heroes involved in the Island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria is José Andrés, a chef and restaurateur who helped organize others from the food industry to form a veritable army comprised of both professionals and volunteers to feed residents, medical professionals and other disaster response workers.

A year after the initial response to Maria began, José Andrés has released a book reflecting on his experiences and lessons learned from the disaster response.

This article from the Washington Post describes his passion and introduces the book in a manner I wish I was able:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/jose-andress-riveting-we-fed-an-island-calls-for-a-revolution-in-disaster-relief/2018/09/05/b126d766-ad70-11e8-b1da-ff7faa680710_story.html?utm_term=.df529f66adc0

Labor Day Reflections

September 2, 2018

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is an outcome of the U.S. Labor Movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It is an annual national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union.  It didn’t take long for the federal government to recognize it (1885), and it became a national holiday in 1894.

The inspiration of Labor Day is closely tied to both the roots of Capitalism and the emergence of Labor Unions in the U.S.

In 1983, the first year for which union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.

By 2017, the union membership rate had declined to 10.7 percent, and – most alarmingly – union representation of public-sector workers (34.4 percent) had become more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.5 percent).

The origin of Capitalism as economic system assumed that private individuals or families who directly invested in (and directly took on the risks of loss) would own the means of production, distribution, and thus ensure a free and fair market for goods and services: They had real skin in the game.

Relying on the theories that: (1) people (consumers) are rational and will seek maximum utility from their economic actions; (2) information is transparently available to all who participate in the economy; and (3) markets are self-correcting; the concepts of Capitalism are compelling to most people when contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

Worker exploitation was one of the early criticisms of the Capitalism model. The Labor Movement in the U.S. was instrumental in creating a buffer (safeguard) to help ensure a safer workplace, fair wages and reasonable hours and benefits.  The Labor Movement was enabled by Labor Unions.

Today’s version of Capitalism has morphed into ownership of corporations by passive investors (mutual funds, pension funds, venture funds, etc.) which seek maximum current ROI with little or no regard to sustainability or externalities.

The executives who are charged with achieving the expectation of the passive investors are “hired guns” who begin with no skin in the game, yet who often are rewarded with stock options when short-term outcomes are positive.

In 1978, the average CEO earned about 30 times as much as the average worker.  U.S. Census data tells us that the average income for U.S. households was $17,730, pegging average CEO income at $531,900.

In just 40 years, statistics from 2017 indicate that CEOs in the 350 largest companies in the U.S. are earning over 300 times as much as the average worker (actually, 312:1).

A recent survey by Glassdoor found that the median salary for U.S. employees is $51,272, implying median CEO compensation at nearly $16 Million.

There is no rational explanation for the explosion of the CEO to Worker compensation ratio.  It seems to reflect a total lack of oversight by those individuals who have been elected to represent the interests of the American people.

Current economic conditions ought to raise a red flag to our elected officials that our nation has navigated very close to a Feudalistic System which is on track to implode and to destroy the very notion of what is described in the Declaration of Independence.

Labor Day seems like an appropriate time to pause and reflect on what seems to be an egregious obstacle to the healthy future of our American society.

Constitutional Conflicts

August 11, 2018

We frequently hear from advocates of the 1st amendment, the 2nd amendment, the 4th amendment, et al.

We don’t often hear about one of the key concerns of our ‘Founding Fathers’, perhaps best voiced by James Madison who said, “The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.”

Indeed.

Madison and his colleagues made sure that one of the basic precepts of the U.S. Constitution was to ensure a separation of powers enforced through a series of checks and balances to prevent a single person (or branch of the federal government) from becoming too powerful, thus thwarting the potential for fraud, self-aggrandizement and to encourage timely correction of errors or omissions.

The system of checks and balances is intended to act as a circuit breaker over the separation of powers, balancing the authorities of the separate branches of government.

It assumes honest and impartial actions by each department charged with the responsibility to verify the appropriateness and legality of actions initiated by the others.

Never before Donald Trump have we had a senior elected federal official who refused to disclose the details of his finances.  And, in U.S. history there has never been a president for whom it was more important that we know the details of his finances.

Trump has a well-documented history as an incompetent and perhaps corrupt businessman. After election, he refused to divest himself of his holdings, providing an open window of opportunities for bad people to entice him – and his family – with unimaginable advantages.  Why?  Trump’s income comes from an incredibly complex web of companies that are impossible for outside observers to comprehend.

We know from public information that the Trump Organization is not just one company, but a very complex assemblage of pass-through entities.  In a March 2016 letter from his tax lawyers, Donald Trump’s financial situation is described as “inordinately large and complex for an individual” because he holds “interests as the sole or principal owner in approximately 500 separate entities (which) are collectively referred to and do business as The Trump Organization.”

Now, more than 18 months after Trump was inaugurated, The Trump Organization continues to bring in money from deals involving potentially questionable characters and foreign governments possibly looking to influence POTUS. We have no idea who his partners in those hundreds of pass-through companies are, and whether they might have compromising information on him.

How can it be that we have allowed Mr. Trump to get away with keeping his tax returns secret?

Why?

Members of Congress have abdicated their role as arbiters of Executive Branch ethics by refusing to demand release of current (2014 – 2017) business and personal federal income tax returns from Donald Trump, The Trump Organization, and any relevant and/or related entities.

We can only conclude that this is clear evidence of dereliction of duty by these officials whom we elected to represent the interests of the American people.

Economically and financially competent American voters must demand full and immediate disclosure of current tax returns by senior elected officials, particularly at the executive and legislative level.

If they who wish to serve don’t wish to disclose, they shouldn’t run for public office.

If they who are elected refuse to disclose, they should automatically be removed from public office.

No exceptions. No excuses.

Those who are schooled in the techniques of propaganda will always frustrate those of us who rely on facts and logic to arrive at informed conclusions.

Those who possess a rudimentary understanding of how propaganda works can have a rather profound effect on public opinion.

Those who are unwilling to learn from history are bound to repeat the mistakes which were made in the past.

Senator Joseph McCarthy was an American politician who served as U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957.  McCarthy rose to national prominence in the early 1950’s by initiating a probe to ferret out communists holding prominent positions in both the public and private sectors. During his investigations, safeguards promised by the Constitution were trampled.

An atmosphere of fear of world domination by communists hung over America in the post-WWII years:  fears of a nuclear holocaust based on detonation of an Atomic Bomb by the USSR in 1949;  the transition of China – the world’s most populist nation – to communism; and the effective control of half of Europe by the Stalin regime.

McCarthy picked up on national paranoia and relentlessly told his story that communist spies were everywhere and that he was America’s only salvation.

McCarthy was never elected to the Presidency, yet his leadership as head of the Senate Committee on Government Operations gave him the platform from which to launch an investigation which derailed and/or ruined the careers of thousands of public and private sector professionals.

McCarthy created a carefully manufactured series of situations and events which provided the foundation for his quest to distract the attention of a majority of the American public to focus away from the big picture toward his personal animus toward communist intrusion.

One of his techniques involved throwing Congress ‘under the bus.’  He publicly cited “..the graft, the corruption, the dishonesty, the disloyalty, the treason in high Government positions” as a critical ingredient in failure of government to protect “the 140,000,000 American people” from the “cloak of numbness and apathy” and offered to supply his spark to rekindle their passions.

McCarthy’s Reign of Terror lasted almost 5 years, until Senate leadership introduced resolutions in late 1954 to censure McCarthy for ‘behavior contrary to Senate traditions’.

On December 2, 1954, the U.S. Senate voted 65 to 22 to condemn McCarthy for “conduct that tends to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute”.

The McCarthy saga ought to provide an historical reference to the dangers of allowing a passionate and eloquent person who has perfected some of the powerful tools and techniques of propaganda to take the American people on a wild and crazy ride toward ruin.

What is most distressing to me is the willingness of congress to allow such egregious behavior to continue unchallenged:  in the 1950’s for almost 5 years; in the 2010’s for over 2 years.

Sixty plus years later, it seems that Donald Trump is using some of the Joseph McCarthy techniques to distract us away from the real issues at hand.

Trump has perfected the art of propaganda, using a myriad of techniques which were refined over the course of the 20th century.

Trump’s particular expertise is in an arena often referred to as ‘authoritarian’ or ‘totalitarian’ propaganda, a form of communication where a would-be leader offers a simple narrative which explains the root causes of pain groups of people feel, while concurrently providing a simple solution to remove the pain.

The offered reasons for the pain (and problems) point toward another group (or groups) working in conspiracy with corrupt politicians. (“Drain the Swamp”  “Lock Her Up”  “Make America Great Again”  “It’s The Immigrants”  “Build A Wall”)

The solution is very simple:  Join the New Team; Elect the Would-Be Leader; and the problems will be solved through elimination of the corrupt politicians and their entrenched groups.

The constant repetition of the simple message helps get it accepted, and it ensures a loyal and stable base.

The repeatedly false claims that Trump made during his campaign — ‘crime is at record highs, the economy is in decline, Obama has killed jobs, the military is a disaster, an international conspiracy is behind it all’ –and so on—are immune to disproof by presentation of actual facts. During his campaign, Trump created a fictional world too compelling to be weakened by reality.

Why do groups of people buy into such fictions?

Is it ‘groupthink’? A mass desire to escape from the reality of change? Or some other emotional variable?

What gives authoritarian propaganda its magnetism is the promise to fully reveal the previously secret dealings of those ‘swamp creatures’ who formerly called the rules of the game.

What such propaganda fails to reveal is the replacement of one set of entrenched swamp creatures with an entirely new – mostly inexperienced – cadre of fresh swamp dwellers.

“Those elected members of congress who are unwilling to learn from history are bound to repeat the mistakes which were made in the past.”

Our system of governance in the U.S. is highly dependent on the willingness and ability of citizens to elect leaders who will solve the problems and challenges of the current environment, and who will promote institutional adaptations in the long-term public interest.

Most of us will identify with the basic attributes scholars often point to as the foundation for effective public leaders: (1) Honesty; (2) Basic and Common roots; and (3) A reputation of high integrity and personal principles.

As I searched for the “secret sauce” of public sector leadership, I found a few terrific recipes.

My favorite might be, “If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility. A humble boss understands that there are things he doesn’t know.”

Some contenders include,

“Good leaders motivate and encourage others.” Continued emphasis on controlling and/or reducing costs in the public sector puts extreme pressure on public sector employees.  Good leaders create supportive atmospheres and encourage initiative. They invest in their people and foster skill growth. And when employees are satisfied in a healthy environment, great results likely will follow.

“Good leaders communicate clearly and listen attentively.” When good leaders sincerely listen to the needs and challenges of their constituents, they can respond effectively and bring about the greatest positive change.

“Good leaders are trustworthy.” Trustworthiness is built upon integrity and character. When people trust leaders and value their integrity, they tend to be more open to new ideas and exude a willingness to try.

“Good leaders think critically and act collaboratively.” Effective decision makers employ careful consideration and analysis of the evidence before formulating a decision. Public sector decisions can have multi-generational impact, so using a team approach incorporating strong analytical, problem solving and critical thinking skills is essential to the job.

“Good leaders are resilient.” In the world of public policy and governance, the only constant is change. Uncontrollable external variables will create unexpected challenges. Good leaders remain positive; they develop alternative solutions; and they encourage confidence in their employees to help ensure they will remain effective at the most crucial times.

My greatest hope is that other fellow citizens of the U.S. will take a few minutes to step back and think about the strategic implications of leadership.

Today, Donald Trump was in Brussels representing the U.S. at a NATO summit.

His documented behavior was at best, rude. Some have called his actions to be “obnoxious and uncivilized.” Others have said, “…consistently appalling and despicable behavior.”

Trump continues to test the lower boundaries of bad behavior, creating an internationally negative aura against the people of the United States.

How to explain this immature and puerile public conduct by a man who is currently serving as the President of the U.S.?

Here is one clue: In his 1987 book, The Art of the Deal, Trump states, “Even in elementary school, I was a very assertive, aggressive kid. In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye. I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled. I’m not proud of that, but it’s clear evidence that even early on I had a tendency to stand up and make my opinions known in a forceful way.”

The Donald attended an exclusive private elementary school (Kew-Forest) from 1950 to 1959.

Ann Trees, one of Trump’s elementary school teachers (now retired), was quoted in a 2016 Washington Post article as saying, “Who could forget him? He was headstrong and determined. He would sit with his arms folded with this look on his face — I use the word surly — almost daring you to say one thing or another that wouldn’t settle with him.”

Sound familiar?

An unsubstantiated story from Trump’s youth adds some additional credence to the potentially negative effects of a weak upbringing. The story dates to the early 1950’s (likely 1954) when The Donald would have been in 3rd grade.

Donald’s father, Fred, entered young Donny into a contest, ‘King of the Playground Bullies’. Despite being one of the youngest contestants, The Donald took second prize.

Donald’s father was quite disappointed, and from that point forward, Donald himself vowed to become the best and meanest bully the world would ever know.

———————————————————————-

Fast forward 65 years, and The Donald proved his mettle today on the world stage in Brussels.  Let’s hope his father Fred is proud of his progeny.

Let’s step back, look in the mirror and be really honest.

Who knows someone who desires to abruptly leave home in the dark of the night; taking only what they can carry; dragging along young children who are already traumatized; and expecting to travel hundreds – maybe thousands – of miles to a strange land where they don’t speak their language and where they know no one?

People who fall into this dilemma are sometimes called:  Refugees;  Migrants; and/or Asylum seekers. Whatever label seems most appropriate, they tend to number around one million people annually across the globe.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was created in 1950 to help millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes as an outcome of WWII.

Over the ensuing 68 years, UNHCR has become the premier expert on migration, working with 128 countries and assisting well over 50 million refugees to successfully restart their lives.

Mixed movements (or mixed migration) refers to flows of people traveling together, over similar routes and using the same means of transport, yet often for different reasons.

The men, women and children traveling in this manner often have either been forced from their homes by armed conflict or persecution, or are on the move in search of a safer (better) life.

People traveling as part of mixed movements have varying needs and may include asylum-seekers, refugees, stateless people, victims of trafficking, unaccompanied or separated children, and migrants in an irregular situation. Mixed movements are often complex, and can present challenges for all those involved.

An asylum-seeker is someone whose request for sanctuary has yet to be processed. National asylum systems are in place to determine who qualifies for international protection. During mass movements of refugees, usually as a result of conflict or violence, it is not always possible or necessary to conduct individual interviews with every asylum seeker who crosses a border. These groups are often called ‘prima facie’ refugees.

Donald “King of the Con Men” Trump has the attention span of a gnat, the moral turpitude of a ‘made man’ and the integrity of a Carnival Barker.

Mr. Trump has leveraged his expertise as a Carnival Barker to master the classic Shell Game which relies on distraction to temporarily fool the audience toward a false conclusion.

For weeks, Trump — in cahoots with his acolytes and sycophants – has maintained that potential asylum-seekers entering the U.S. at legal border crossings would not be prosecuted, and would be processed in turn.

Sounds good, right?  Except these elected and appointed U.S. officials concurrently made it virtually impossible for these migrant asylum seekers to cross the border legally and enter their petition for sanctuary.

These elected and appointed U.S. officials have consistently denied that their evil policy to criminalize mothers fleeing unimaginable atrocities in their home countries and accompanied by young children who cross into the U.S. at any place other than a legal border crossing – even those who tried to enter at an official entry point but were prevented by arbitrary and capricious gate keepers – was intentional, discriminatory and dangerous.

Most egregious:  We have recently learned that Stephen Miller, the White House senior advisor who is the architect of many of the Trump administration policies on immigration, is the great-grandson of a Jewish immigrant who fled the poverty and pogroms of the Russian Empire in the early 1900s.

Stephen Miller may have a serious learning disability which has prevented him from learning the lessons of history which help inform the thoughts and actions of informed, compassionate and successful servant leaders.  Perhaps Mr. Miller needs some medical intervention which could help him focus on humane, considerate and civilized thoughts and behaviors?

This event — June 20, 2018 — represents a fabulous ‘photo op’ for Trump, and it results in a Pyrrhic victory for oppressed and victimized mothers and their minor children who are fleeing horrific conditions in their homelands of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala -the so-called Northern Triangle.

Read between the lines of Trump’s Executive Order and you will find little change in the draconian American policy of abusing and torturing women and children.

Trump and his administration have embraced a tactical wholesale approach to focus, apprehend and detain the most vulnerable – and least dangerous – people who seek asylum in the U.S.

Trump has – and continues to – proclaim that “..most immigrant families and minors from Central America who arrive unlawfully at the border cannot be detained together or removed together – only released.  These are crippling loopholes that cause family separation which we don’t want.”

Probably not true, and even if true, completely irrelevant.

Statistics tell us that:  (1) Immigrants who come to United States seeking asylum from horrible conditions in their countries of origin are generally women with minor children who pose little to no criminal or other risk to the U.S.;  (2) Immigrants who come to the U.S. seeking work to support families left behind in their country of origin are predominantly men who strive to make enough money to send for the rest of their family to bring them into a positive environment.

Yes, each of these scenarios illustrates a likely violation of current U.S. immigration laws.

However, let’s not lose sight that the foundation of immigration laws of the U.S. is the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, sometimes known as the McCarran–Walter Act.  Yes, 1952.

Parts of that Act remain in place today.  It has been amended several times and was modified substantially by the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965.  Yes, 1965.

No doubt, there exist a small percentage of people who illegally enter the U.S. with nefarious intent. It seems that most of these ‘bad actors’ do not travel with children; are not female; and do not enter over the southern border.

If Trump — and his band of complicit Republican cronies – really desire to improve our national security through better immigration strategy and policy, they need to focus on fact-based, root cause analysis, and to invest in solutions which utilize “evidence-based targeting,” an approach which uses objective data to focus limited resources toward those individuals who pose the highest risk of danger to the U.S.

Evidence-Based Targeting is a strategic approach which requires planning; careful research; and a blind approach to race, religion, gender, national origin or other irrelevant factors.

Yes, Mr. Trump, we are in lock-step with you on secure borders.  We – even those of us who are not registered Republicans – demand secure borders and we want to have modern policies and procedures in place which keep bad actors out of the U.S.

That said, we need to ask you to stop acting as a bully, stop picking on defenseless women and children, and start focusing on Evidence-Based Targeting to help protect our domestic security.

And, concurrently, it would be really great if you could work with Congress to modernize that 1952 McCarran–Walter Act which probably made sense back then, but seems to need some tweaks to address the huge demographic changes which have occurred since then.

Please, Mr. Trump:  Stop the puerile ‘Beavis & Butt-Head’ rhetoric and start acting like a leader.

Another branch of our armed forces?

I just can’t imagine an Industrial Engineer who would look at the current structure of the Pentagon and the U.S. military and not conclude that we have an extraordinarily inefficient approach to defense.

Air, land and sea.  Sounds good, right?

Except that we have 5 branches which overlap, compete with each other directly and indirectly, and don’t always communicate well.

Now, the Master Obfuscator and Distracter-in-Chief wants to start a 6th branch!

I can only conclude that The Donald is running wild trying to divert attention away from some of his self-created demons: Immigration; His war on Canada; His new love affair with Kim Jong Un; A ‘tax reform’ plan which will leave America bankrupt; The deterioration and ultimate disintegration of the American health care system; The ‘Russia thing’; Cyber security intrusions and risks across the entire U.S. public and private sector; Rapidly deteriorating physical infrastructure across the U.S.; Escalating gun violence, the NRA and 21st century gun control; Mueller and his ‘Russian Witch Hunt Hoax’; Stormy Daniels; and Dozens of other critical issues which need to be addressed in an honest, responsible and strategic fashion.

Donald J. Trump has the attention span of a gnat, the moral turpitude of a ‘made man’ and the integrity of a Carnival Barker.  Despite that, he is our POTUS, and he continues to dash along his path toward fooling many of the people most of the time.