The Untouchables

April 23, 2019

The Untouchables television series debuted in 1959 loosely based on a memoir written by Eliot Ness, chronicling his career as a federal Treasury enforcement agent in the 1930’s.

The TV series starred Robert Stack (as Eliot Ness) as the leader of a team of Prohibition Agents employed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury following their efforts to bring down the bootleg empire of “Scarface” Al Capone.

The team of agents was nicknamed “The Untouchables” because of their courage, moral character, and incorruptibility; legend said they could not be bribed or intimidated by the Mob.

The Untouchables was a landmark television series that spawned numerous imitators over the decades, including S.W.A.T.;  The F.B.I.;  Crime Story;  the original Hawaii Five-O;  and countless more.

Those were the days when the American public proudly looked up to…

  • Our elected leaders in Washington;
  • Their appointed cabinet heads; and
  • The career public servants who signed on to protect our country against rascals, scoundrels and scofflaws.

Today (April 23, 2019), U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to meet a final congressional deadline for turning over President Donald Trump’s tax returns to lawmakers, setting the stage for a possible court battle between Congress and the Trump Administration.

Last week, we witnessed William Barr — the current Attorney General of the United States – in a nationally televised press conference deliver a fully fabricated introduction to a 400+plus page summary of a Special Counsel independent investigation (“The Mueller Investigation”) into allegations of Russian government  efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

We have a sitting President who has frequently and publicly besmirched, criticized and/or called into question the abilities, intentions and loyalty of the entire U.S. intelligence community, including the FBI, CIA, Treasury Department and National Intelligence Agency,

Trump’s decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan in August 2018 – apparently in retaliation to Brennan’s comments that Trump was incapable of managing the office of POTUS – is cast in complete juxtaposition to the forced security clearances for Jared and Ivanka.

Make America Great Again?

Yeah.

Let’s go back to the time when Eliot Ness and his team of Untouchables were revered by virtually all Americans, and when we were willing and able to unite against Mobsters and Criminals who threatened the very essence of our Constitutional Republic.

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Where’s Mitch McConnell?

January 17, 2019

Where’s Mitch is a question many people are asking.

There are 800,000 federal workers and their families who are going without pay right now – including thousands of Kentuckians.

Here in Florida, we have about 5,000 Coast Guard members doing their jobs to protect our 1,350 miles of Gulf and Atlantic coastline, and they are not currently being paid.

The new Democratic House, on its first day in office, passed two bills funding and reopening the government.

McConnell has refused to allow a vote on any of those bills in the Senate. He’s even twice blocked a bill reopening the government from coming to the floor that he himself voted for back in December.

Despite the fact that Majority Leader McConnell has the ability to end this shutdown right now, Mitch is seemingly nowhere to be found.

I’m angry that this one man who has the power to stop this absurd drama has refused to do his job.

If you are nearly as angry as I am, perhaps you will consider donating $15 – or what you can afford – to the Ditch Mitch movement.  Let’s shine a bright light on McConnell’s irresponsible behavior.

http://ditchmit.ch/

 

Remember Benghazi?

January 16, 2019

I refer to a deplorable attack by members of the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya during which four U.S. citizens were killed. That atrocity occurred in September 2012, just over 6 years ago.

Today (January 16, 2019) — just a month after President Donald Trump declared that the Islamic State had been defeated and that he was pulling U.S. troops out of Syria — a suicide bombing in northern Syria attributed to the Islamic State killed at least 16 people, including two U.S. service members and two American civilians.

About four hours after this vicious attack by Islamic Militants – and after having been briefed on the bombing — Vice President Mike Pence told the world, “Thanks to the leadership of this commander in chief and the courage and sacrifice of our armed forces, we are now actually able to begin to hand off the fight against ISIS in Syria to our coalition partners. And we are bringing our troops home. The caliphate has crumbled, and ISIS has been defeated.”

Cold? Callous? Confused? Disconnected?

Even some senior Republican elected officials have pushed back on this mess, warning President Trump that his statements have served to encourage and inspire ‘the enemy we’re fighting.’

Back to Benghazi: At two years and four months, Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi investigation was longer than previous Congressional probes into 9/11; Watergate; the JFK assassination; and Pearl Harbor. Add to that time wasted: the $22 Million of public money spent in a clearly partisan attempt to “get” former Secretary Clinton, it must have been deeply disappointing to those who backed Gowdy when they read the final report which found no evidence of wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton.

Lessons Learned: Despite the temptation, let us be sure to tell our elected officials in Washington:  Please don’t waste any scarce government resources investigating the direct impact of President Trump’s actions on the January 16, 2019 Islamic State fatal attack on innocent people in northern Syria.

Trump does what he is told, and there is no reason to investigate what we already know.

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.

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.

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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.

The headline comes directly from Steven Mnuchin, our U.S. Treasury Secretary, who recently penned an op-ed piece which appeared in print in the Tampa Bay Times (July 3, 2018).  https://www.whitehouse.gov/articles/trump-tax-cuts-strengthened-u-s-economy/

Mnuchin’s opinion piece seems to consist primarily of fluffed-up puffery related to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017.

Mr. Mnuchin omitted several critical issues which most economists agree must be included in any analysis of the U.S. economy.

First is the ‘business (economic) cycle’.  The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has been tracking the U.S. economy for 160+ years.  NBER defines one business cycle as: A period of economic expansion; followed by a contraction (recession); ending at the next point of recovery.

NBER’s 160+ years of records reflect that (over that time) the U.S. economy experienced 66 business cycles. Since 1945, we have experienced 11 business cycles with an average length of expansions of 5 years, followed by an average length of recessions of 1 year.

We can’t forget that the U.S. economy almost collapsed in early 2008 following a period of ebullience and expansion apparently accompanied by loose regulatory oversight of the financial sector.

Quick intervention in 2008 by our federal government saved the U.S. economy from the deepest and longest downturn since the Great Depression.  NBER data reflects the point of recovery (beginning of expansion) of the U.S. economy occurred in June 2009, and has now entered its 10th year (109th month) of growth.

Our current economic expansion is now the second-longest expansion on record, exceeded only by the expansion from March 1991 to March 2001, which lasted a full 10 years.

History tells us we are very close to the point of contraction (recession) of the U.S. economy.

Second is the ‘Skills Gap’.  When Mr. Mnuchin tells us that “…there are enough job openings in America for every unemployed person in the country” he fails to explain that the majority of open jobs require skills which the majority of unemployed people lack. In other cases, the unfilled jobs are located hundreds – maybe thousands – of miles away from the location of potential job seekers.

One solution to filling the open jobs is to encourage migration – or immigration — of skilled workers.

Another solution is to recruit, educate and train currently underemployed or unemployed U.S. residents who live in near proximity to the open jobs.

Third involves a dangerous combination of tax cuts and deficit spending to finance those tax cuts.

Mr. Mnuchin touts benefits to U.S. workers as a result of repatriation of hundreds of billions of dollars from off-shore corporate subsidiaries to the U.S.  In fact, companies thus far have paid out dividends and other withdrawals of $305.6 billion from foreign receipts which far outstripped the amount of this cash which was reinvested domestically.  By some estimates, corporations have spent 72 times as much on share buybacks as they have spent on one-time worker bonuses and raises.

The U.S. ‘current account deficit’, which measures the flow of goods, services and investments into and out of the country, widened by $8.0 billion to $124.1 billion, or 2.5 percent of national economic output in the first 3 months of 2018, virtually all of which seems to be attributable to the repatriation tax holiday.

To make up for the loss of tax revenue, the Trump administration is relying on a combination of debt financing and mystical economic growth which they expect to occur at the end of an extended business cycle.

Mnuchin tells us that U.S. economic growth is on steroids.

Some observers have noted that the appearance of economic growth is highly influenced by the infusion of repatriated cash – somewhat similar to feeding 2nd graders sugar before sending them out onto the playground.

The energy is intense, but it won’t last very long, and it is just not sustainable.

A recent report (6/21/2108) from the U.S. Office of Government Accountability (GAO) warns that responsible action is needed on the nation’s growing federal deficit, which grew to $666 Billion in FY 2017 (10/01/16 to 9/30/17) and is projected to surpass $1 Trillion by 2020.

According to the GAO’s 2017 financial report, the federal deficit in FY 2017 increased by 13.5% from $587 Billion in FY 2016 and $439 Billion in FY 2015. Federal receipts in FY 2017 increased by $48 billion, but that was outweighed by a $127 billion increase in spending.  (Note that Deficit is an annual measure; National Debt is aggregate, an accumulation of annual shortfalls.)

The aggregate (gross) amount that the U.S. Treasury can borrow is limited by the U.S. debt ceiling. As of April 30, 2018, our National Debt was $21 Trillion, about 78% of GDP.

Since its passage in December 2017, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has warned that TCJA will add $1.84 Trillion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years, which they estimate will push the National Debt to an unprecedented 152 percent of GDP by 2028, significantly increasing the odds of a new financial crisis.

Interest rates are rising, and National Debt is increasing, thus interest on National Debt will consume an ever-increasing amount of future federal budgets.

And, of great concern is the flattening of the ‘yield curve’.  Traditionally, interest rates on short-term debt are lower than rates paid on long-term obligations.

The spread between the yields of the 2-year Treasury note (2.55 percent) and 10-year Treasury note (2.89 percent) was 34 basis points on June 23. That’s less than half of what it was in early February and the narrowest it’s been since August 2007.

An inversion of the yield curve — when long-term rates fall below short-term rates — traditionally predicts a looming recession.

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It’s not clear why Mr. Mnuchin – a seasoned financial services sector professional with a clear expertise in fixed income securities – would omit such important information in his assessment of the U.S. economy.

I am drawn to conclude Mr. Mnuchin is using his position as a high-ranking federal official to ‘butter his own toast’, likely through complex – and undisclosed — derivative positions.

We’ll have to see if the Walrus is correct…..

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.

It seems wherever we look, Donald Trump’s appalling behavior sets a new and very low standard upon which to measure the 21st Century version of The Ugly American.

His most recent tweets about Canadian PM Trudeau which followed Trump’s rude early departure from the G-7 meeting are deplorable.

Then, he sent his thugs Kudlow and Navarro off to reinforce the message in harsh, scorched-earth fashion.

Said Navarro on Sunday, June 10, 2018: “All Justin Trudeau had to do was take the win. President Trump did the courtesy to Justin Trudeau to travel up to Quebec for that summit. He had other things, bigger things on his plate in Singapore.  And what did Trudeau do? As soon as the plane took off from Canadian airspace, Trudeau stuck our president in the back. That will not stand.”

Trump did a courtesy? Hello? Red meat to the Trump base; An insult to everyone else who lives on Planet Earth.

Donald Trump said what Canada has “done to our dairy farm workers is a disgrace. It’s a disgrace. And our farmers in Wisconsin and New York State are being put out of business, our dairy farmers.”

Trump has gone on to tell us that “Canada charges the U.S. a 270% tariff on Dairy Products! They didn’t tell you that, did they? Not fair to our farmers!”

No, they didn’t because it’s just not true.  There is one specific dairy product which has ignited this Tempest in a Teapot, a product which exists in surplus due to overcapacity in the U.S. dairy industry.

The product at the center of the dispute is ultra-filtered milk, which is used to make cheese and yogurt.

It is not governed by any tariffs under NAFTA, because it essentially did not exist when NAFTA was originally negotiated. The U.S. dairy industry has been selling surplus ultra-filtered milk — duty-free — to Canadian processors. And that is part of the root problem for Canadian dairy farmers.

Never heard of ultra-filtered milk?  Neither had I.

Ultra-filtered milk (sometimes called diafiltered milk) is generally a byproduct of butter production after the milk fat has been removed to provide the basic ingredient for butter.

It is a sub-classification of milk protein concentrate which is created by passing the remaining low- or no-fat milk under pressure through a thin, porous membrane to separate the components of milk according to their size. Ultra-filtration allows the smaller lactose, water, mineral, and vitamin molecules to pass through the membrane, while the larger protein molecules are retained and concentrated. The removal of water and lactose reduces the volume of milk, significantly lowering storage and transportation costs.

In 2016, the U.S. dairy industry sold about $133 Million of ultra-filtered milk to dairy product producers in Canada, a rounding error on the total trade transactions between the U.S. and Canada.

The federal U.S. Trade Representative reported a U.S. $12.5 Billion trade surplus for goods and services with Canada in 2016, exporting $320.1 Billion and importing $307.6 Billion. (The reported U.S. surplus was $8.4 Billion in 2017).

Meanwhile, the man who affirmed that he would faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and would — to the best of his ability — preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States has given us clear and irrefutable evidence that his abilities are deficient, inadequate, unacceptable, inferior and dreadful.  Or, perhaps he is an untruthful traitor.

Either way, he has put our entire world in danger of a real world war.

Martha Stewart served prison time for a conviction on insider trading.

There is a cadre of Trump Insiders who are privy to Mr. Trump’s rants which roil the financial markets, some of whom are getting rich off of their advance information of what he will say or do.

Donald Trump’s frequently irrational, generally unpredictable — and often arbitrary and capricious — tweets, pronouncements and actions have proven to significantly move financial markets, often creating a whipsaw effect.

Today – May 31, 2018 – Mr. Trump allowed tariffs to be enacted on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and the E.U. on the grounds that such materials are being imported into the United States “in such quantities and under such circumstances as to threaten to impair the national security of the United States.”

There is no credible evidence that steel and/or aluminum imported into the U.S. from Canada, Mexico and/or the E.U. pose any threat to the national security of the U.S.  In fact, there is no credible evidence that such imports pose any threat to the U.S. domestic economy.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s action today to impose tariffs on imports from our closest allies was apparently not expected in the financial markets, leading to a 1% drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

We now have several data points relating to financial market response to irrational actions by President Trump which clearly represent huge arbitrage opportunities for Trump insiders.

The ‘out-of-right-field’ announcement in early March 2018 by Mr. Trump that the U.S. would impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports precipitated an almost immediate 500 point drop in the DJI.

 

It’s bad enough that Trump’s actions pose a tremendous risk to the entire U.S. society and our economy.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) needs to reign in this illegal behavior by Mr. Trump, and to charge those insiders who are illegally profiting in the financial markets from advance knowledge of what sort of disruptive, arbitrary and capricious pronouncements President Trump will make in the near term.

Hillary Clinton has consistently refused to use alternative facts to describe her own actions and behavior.  She pays her bills.  She has never gone bankrupt.  She stayed with Bill despite some bumps in the road.  She is the mother of an extraordinary emerging world leader.

Above all, Hillary does not dwell on the past.  She learns from the past, and she offers productive solutions for the future.

And, she is a very smart, highly-educated, incredibly experienced and assertive female who represents the very essence of the threat described in Spencer Johnson’s book, “Who Moved My Cheese?”

Donald Trump built his reputation – and his empire — on his larger-than-life persona as the ‘Great White Leader’.  He wants the world to see him as ‘a man’s man’ who will lead the loyal believers back to 1957 when America reached its apogee.

Donald wants the world to believe he is both clairvoyant and razor-focused on his vision of restoring the world to his vision of how it ought to be.

Yet, Trump’s sense of self-worth is continually at risk. When Trump feels imbalanced, he reacts impulsively and defensively, constructing a self-justifying story that doesn’t depend on facts and always directs the blame to others.

A consensus of psychiatrists and psychologists have determined that Trump’s mental instability and pattern of violence –bullying words, aggressive actions and denials of truth — are dangerous and have already caused unprecedented anxiety and stress across the nation.

Meanwhile, although Hillary is her own worst enemy, Trump is the greatest threat to the viable and productive future of the U.S. – and the entire world – that we have seen since the 1940’s.