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.

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Don’t Tread on Me

May 17, 2019

The late George Wallace, former Alabama Governor, was noted for his rigid and often harsh opinions which he shared freely with the rest of the world.  In his 1963 inauguration speech, Wallace proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

In response to what he felt was federal government overreach in its attempt to desegregate the University of Alabama, Wallace said, “The unwelcomed, unwanted, unwarranted, and force-induced intrusion upon the campus of the University of Alabama today of the might of the central government offers frightful example of the oppression of the rights, privileges and sovereignty of this state by officers of the federal government.”

Or, slightly modified to address current events, “The unwelcomed, unwanted, unwarranted, and force-induced intrusion upon the reproductive rights of women across the State of Alabama today of the might of the state government offers frightful example of the oppression of the rights, privileges and sovereignty of individual citizens by elected officials of the state government.”

It’s one thing to observe the sons, male cousins and grandsons of the late George Wallace as they link hands with the remaining white male disciples of the former Alabama Governor to assert their testosterone-fueled dominance over whatever they find annoying or objectionable.

It’s another thing to listen to female elected officials in Alabama proudly proclaiming victory over the right of women — as individuals protected by the same rights the US Constitution conveys to men — to make determinations over their own reproductive health.

Alabama House Rep. Terri Collins, who sponsored the bill, publicly identifies as female, as does Alabama Governor Kay Ivey who signed the bill into law.

Have they completely lost touch with reality?

Someone recently said, “I don’t know of any woman who engaged in sexual activity – forced or consensual – with the hope to have an abortion.”

Abortion is not a sport; it is a deeply personal and painful decision which should be made carefully and rationally, because it has lifetime repercussions.

Those who fly the Gadsden flag and rail against government intrusion on individual rights are often the very same folks who are adamantly pro-life and who vehemently oppose a woman’s right to self-determination.

The Gadsden Flag says it all…

 

Trump-en-omics

May 13, 2019

Trump has formally signaled his mastery of global economics and some of the ways he believes U.S. trade policies will help guide the world economy toward optimum performance.

Some have said our president seems to be really out of control, that he must have skipped all of the courses on economics and finance when he was in school (he did go to school, right?).

I believe some further research is in order.

Although Trump continues his infatuation with Twitter where he openly shares classified information with the world, he also has his thumbs on the Tariff Buttons.

Most alarming?  He apparently has the nuclear codes.

Meanwhile, since mid-April, the actions of our president have cost me a significant amount of my accumulated and hard earned savings.  And, it could be worse!  If I was fully invested in traditional equities, it would have been even more painful!

But, enough about me.

The most recent abrupt and unjustified increase of U.S. tariffs on $200 Billion of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent triggered a response from China which predictably exacerbates continued economic damage to the U.S. agricultural sector, and compounds spillover impacts to related industries.

The Trump Trade War has been extremely harsh on farmers.  Over time, our farmers learned to deal with unpredictable weather; wind storms; disease outbreaks; hordes of locusts; crop loss during storage; and wildly fluctuating prices of both inputs and crops.

It seems clear they never anticipated having a White House which would use them as sacrificial pawns to engage in quixotic battles against imaginary foes.

Longer term and behind the curtain, tariff increases on Chinese imports will drive up domestic prices on a broad array of consumer products, finished goods, and intermediate goods – even some raw materials used in basic manufacturing in the U.S.

The good news:  the effects of these most recent tariff increases probably won’t show up for 90 days, or so.

The bad news:  the costs of the these tariff increases will be fully borne by U.S. consumers, and the effects of tariff increases will result in price increases which will temper domestic economic growth while concurrently sending signals of an increase in core inflation, likely resulting in interest rate increases by the Fed.

And, it just gets worse from there…..

Let’s be clear: the terms ‘tax evasion’ and ‘tax avoidance’ are often used interchangeably. However, only those activities which occur in a tax avoidance scheme are considered lawful.

Plenty of reliable media sources have carefully examined and reported on the awful legacy of Donald Trump’s multiple bankruptcies on a myriad of small businesses: architects, carpet suppliers, lighting and electrical distributors, even custom cabinet-makers.

A recent expose published by The New York Times focused on Trump’s taxes and revealed a previously unexposed nuance:  many of his unpaid bills were essentially ‘double counted’ through the magic of accrual accounting.  Thus, Trump and his Organization underpaid many vendors, while concurrently creating a paper loss for Trump which translated into a ‘tax loss carryforward’ good to shield future profits from future taxation.

If people had been able to look at this bad behavior as a base line, and project it forward, they might have been able to see how much damage The Donald has already done to families and communities in the U.S.

Following his inauguration in January 2017, Trump’s operating principles haven’t changed at all.

A direct result of the introduction of Trump operating principles into the Executive Office has become an oblique assault on moderate and small family-owned businesses across the U.S. — in the manufacturing sector; in retail; agriculture; mining; ranching; hospitality; media; transportation; entertainment; food; construction; business services; technology; and more.

The foundation of success epitomized in the American Dream is entrepreneurial — hard work, focus and sacrifice oriented to a long term view.

The minority of small business operators who operate like Trump — those who operate at the margins and take advantage of honest business people who operate on the platform of honesty and honor — get put out of business quickly.

Tax avoidance – using any and every loophole to avoid paying taxes – is legal, even when some of the activities involved may be considered by some to be morally repugnant.

Somehow, Trump has been able to use his unique combination of charisma and showmanship to fool a rather sizeable segment of American adults into believing his shtick.

How very sad…

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?

I live in Clearwater, FL and my elected Congressional representative is Charlie Crist.  Here is a copy of my letter to Rep. Crist regarding the obfuscation by Steven Mnunchin:

April 25, 2019

No law requires presidential candidates to release their tax returns, but historical precedent does.

In November 1963, then-presidential candidate George Romney started this trend when he released 12 years of tax returns, a full year prior to the 1964 election.

When George’s son Mitt ran for president in 2012, he released his own tax returns.

According to PolitiFact, only 7 presidential or vice president candidates since 1976 have not released any tax returns. (Jerry Brown, Pat Buchanan, Mike Huckabee, Steve Forbes, Rudy Giuliani, Richard Lugar, Ralph Nader, none of whom were elected to the position they sought.)

When Donald J. Trump voluntarily announced (June 2015) his candidacy to run for the office of President of the United States, he voluntarily left a sequestered world of privacy to become a public figure.

Americans have come to rely on full transparency from Presidential candidates, including voluntary public release of federal tax returns.

Since June 2015, Trump has been asked many times to release his tax returns, and he has often replied in specious and vague generalities, frequently citing “under audit” as a primary barrier.

Fast forward to April 2019: Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) sent a written request to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig seeking six years of President Donald J. Trump’s personal and business tax returns.

Chairman Neal issued a concurrent statement explaining his request:  “Congress, as a co-equal branch of government, has a duty to conduct oversight of departments and officials. The Ways and Means Committee in particular has a responsibility to conduct oversight of our voluntary Federal tax system and determine how Americans – including those elected to our highest office – are complying with those laws. It is also our duty to evaluate the operation of the Internal Revenue Service in its administration and enforcement of the tax laws.

“The IRS has a policy of auditing the tax returns of all sitting presidents and vice-presidents, yet little is known about the effectiveness of this program. On behalf of the American people, the Ways and Means Committee must determine if that policy is being followed, and, if so, whether these audits are conducted fully and appropriately. In order to fairly make that determination, we must obtain President Trump’s tax returns and review whether the IRS is carrying out its responsibilities. The Committee has a duty to examine whether Congressional action may be needed to require such audits, and to oversee that they are conducted properly.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to ensure that IRS Commissioner Rettig met a final congressional deadline of April 23 for turning over President Donald Trump’s tax returns to lawmakers, the second time the Trump administration missed a House deadline for the tax returns since Neal requested them on April 3.

After the deadline lapsed, Mnuchin released a letter to Neal in which he pledged to make “a final decision” on whether to provide Trump’s tax records by May 6 by which date Mnuchin expected to receive a legal opinion from the Department of Justice on the propriety of Chairman Neal’s request.

Mnuchin further stated he was concerned that the efforts by Democrats to release the president’s tax returns were ‘politically motivated’.

The powers delegated to the Chairman of Ways and Means under IRS code are clear.

Steven Mnuchin and Charles Rettig are violating the laws of our country and ought to be charged as such; arrested; and imprisoned until such time they comply with this legitimate Congressional request.

If Congress fails to act quickly and assertively to take control of this situation, then Congress is complicit in the continued efforts of the Trump administration to usurp the very essence of our Constitutional Republic.

Thank you for making time to consider my opinions on how our federal government could better serve the best interests of the people.

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.

Paul Ryan & Tax Cuts

April 16, 2019

Dear Paul Ryan,

In 1998 – at the age of 28 – you were first elected to the House of Representatives to represent the 1st District of Wisconsin.  You were re-elected a number of times, and you served for 20 years in Congress.

After John Boehner announced his intention to resign from the House and the Speakership in 2015, you were selected by your colleagues to become Speaker of the House.

You were involved in some very positive legislative accomplishments during your 20 year tenure as a Congressman representing the 1st District of Wisconsin, and during your tenure as Speaker of the House.

Unfortunately, your legacy will forever be connected to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) which was passed into law at the end of 2017.

Although the TCJA provided the Trump Administration with an accomplishment relative to their campaign platform, it is a highly flawed piece of legislation which was created on a foundation of fictitious and inaccurate assumptions.

Just 16 months following the passage of TCJA, we can clearly see the adverse impacts.

Business and corporate tax cuts have resulted in: stock buy-backs; excessive executive compensation and bonuses; acquisitions and consolidations resulting in plant closings and layoffs.  All of these have been enabled by tax cuts which have resulted in 60 major corporations paying zero federal income taxes in 2018.

Whereas in times of economic expansion, the great majority of economists advise public sector entities to reduce deficits and aim for balanced budgets, the TCJA does just the opposite.

Some of the loss of tax revenue from business and corporate entities has been replaced by increased federal tax liability on individuals (like me), the majority of the lost tax revenue has been made up through deficit spending.

The annual federal budget deficit is expected to reach $900 Billion in fiscal 2019 and to equalize in the range of $1 Trillion annually for the next decade, up from $779 Billion in 2018.

Mr. Ryan:  over the course of your service in Congress, you achieved national recognition as a conservative policy wonk and as a relentless critical observer of our federal budget. You seemed to be a relentless critic of federal deficits, winning acclaim from centrists for your detailed charts showing the dangers that fiscal shortfalls posed to America’s future.

You slipped out of Washington in January 2018 knowing that you led the American people down a dangerous and dead-end road.

In your defense, we can acknowledge that you reluctantly took on the role of Speaker knowing that it was an impossible responsibility to fulfill.  Despite this, we must hold you fully accountable for failing to disclose to your constituents – and the entire U.S. population – that the TCJA was a sham – a complete flim-flam designed to create a false reality.

Paul Ryan:  Let us hope that your family, your wife, your children – and your neighbors – are willing and able to forgive you for selling out the interests of the people of Wisconsin — as well as the people of the United States – for whatever benefits you personally gained from your treachery toward the end of your tenure in Congress when you became the champion of the fictitious Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Mr. Ryan:  Good luck to you, and God bless.

Dear Senator Scott:

I live in Clearwater, FL so I write to you today as an alert and engaged constituent.

You are an accomplished and admired American leader.  After volunteering for military service during the Vietnam era, you honorably served your country in the U.S. Navy as a radar technician aboard the USS Glover. You overcame significant social and economic obstacles to earn a J.D. from the SMU Dedman School of Law.

You are a former Chairman and CEO of one of the largest private sector health care corporations in America (Columbia/HCA).  You then admirably served two terms as Governor of Florida; and you now serve as one our two U.S. Senators from the Great State of Florida.

In fact, you have been recognized as a uniquely qualified American leader who ran the largest health care company in the world, and who cares deeply about the costs and quality of health care to consumers.

I tuned into watch and listen to Face the Nation (CBS) on March 31, 2019, eager to learn from your current perspectives on health care in America.

I was disappointed by your responses to Margaret Brennan’s questions about a renewed partisan focus to repeal the ACA (President Trump, March 26, 2019).  I was particularly concerned about your focus on drug prices as a key driver of excessive costs in our health care sector. While your observations contain some truth, you failed to disclose the background behind persistent high prices of ethical pharmaceuticals in the U.S.

On April 1, 2019, you were interviewed by Steve Inskeep from Morning Edition (NPR).

Mr. Inskeep attempted to draw out your unique expertise on some of the most critical issues facing our nation relative to our health care delivery system, noting that ‘President Trump says he wants Republicans to be known as the party of health care’.

You zeroed in on high prescription drug costs, and you cited a bill you are introducing, the “Transparent Drug Pricing Act” which aims to stop drug companies from charging more for medication in the U.S. than in other countries.

In both cases, you responded to some solid direct questions with sadly incomplete ‘softball’ answers.

I did not hear you mention the “non-interference” clause of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 which is frequently cited as the core reason for excessive drug costs in the U.S.

Medicare accounts for more than 25% of annual national retail prescription spending, and taxpayers currently pay nearly 70% more for drugs in the Medicare program than through the Veteran’s Administration, which has direct negotiating power with drug companies.

The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 precludes the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) from negotiating directly with drug manufacturers on behalf of Medicare Part D enrollees. A simple act of Congress, supported by the executive branch, can repair this problem quickly.  In fact, a recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that over 90% of the public believes that allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries is needed.

As a highly accomplished expert in the field of health care, you are certainly familiar with a comprehensive study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School which examined peer-reviewed medical and health policy literature from January 2005 to July 2016. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (August 23/30, 2016, “The High Cost of Prescription Drugs in the United States”).

Their research studied scholarly articles addressing the sources of drug prices in the United States; examined the justifications and consequences of high prices; and investigated possible solutions for the pharmaceutical price conundrum we continue to face in America.

This independent professional research concluded that high U.S. drug prices are the result of U.S. government protected monopolies granted to drug manufacturers, combined with coverage requirements imposed on government-funded drug benefits. They noted that the most realistic short-term strategies to address high prices include:

  • enforcing more stringent requirements for the award and extension of exclusivity rights;
  • enhancing competition by ensuring timely generic drug availability;
  • providing greater opportunities for meaningful price negotiation by governmental payers;
  • generating more evidence about comparative cost-effectiveness of therapeutic alternatives; and
  • more effectively educating patients, prescribers, payers, and policy makers about these choices.

Individuals in the U.S. are directly impacted by the cost of prescription drugs at the retail level, whether fully covered by their insurance provider; through a co-pay; or fully funded out of pocket.

Indirectly, each taxpayer in the U.S. helps to subsidize the cost of prescription coverage for current and retired local, state and federal government employees; veterans; and those of our neighbors who are eligible for Medicare/Medicaid benefits.  When drug prices are inflated due to a lack of appropriate government regulation, U.S taxpayers are subsidizing excessive profits which accrue to executives and shareholders of pharmaceutical companies.

It is – and has been – clear to me that our elected officials in Congress have failed the people of the U.S. over a rather long period of time.  Our elected representatives have failed to address the root causes of high drug prices which have been identified and delineated in (the previously cited) independent and non-partisan report published almost 3 years ago.

Senator Scott, I believe the great majority of my fellow Floridians join me to expect much more of you in this arena.

We count on you — A recognized expert in the field of health care — to give us the full, honest and unvarnished picture on these issues, and to support new and appropriate legislation which strategically addresses the rapidly changing operational landscape on which our economy and society operates.

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.