The Trump Trifecta

October 26, 2018

Since taking office in January 2017, Donald Trump has stood with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to proclaim various ‘victories’ for the American people.  Here are what seem to be the top three, A.K.A. “The Trifecta”:

  1. Complicit with Russia, Saudi Arabia and several other suspect regimes. Trump has continued to send public messages which downplay and/or absolve bad actors from behaviors which are contrary to existing international standards.

One clear reason:  Trump — and his close advisor Jared Kushner —  is involved in highly leveraged real estate development.  Neither Trump nor Kushner have the liquidity or availability of traditional financing sources to invest their own money.  Instead, they are forced to chase shady money from around the world, including huge sums of money sourced from Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, etc.

Essentially, Trump (along with the Kushner Companies) is beholden to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; Vladimir Putin; various Chinese investors; along with ‘dark money’ sources in Cyprus, Panama and the Cayman Islands, among others.

2. The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” (TCJA) was passed in late 2017 incorporating some modest temporary individual and small business tax cuts while focusing in on very substantial big business and corporate tax cuts.

Traditional economic models, developed and refined over countless economic cycles, encourage tax cuts and deficit spending during economic downturns as a means to stimulate economic growth.  During times of economic expansion, increased government revenue from tax collections is then used to pay down public debt and help stabilize the economy.

N.B.  There was a strong case to be made for a modest corporate tax cut as the U.S. economy began to improve post 2012; there was zero legitimate case to be made for the magnitude of the corporate tax cut which was a cornerstone of the 2017 TCJA.

The foundation of the TCJA was a promise that slashing corporate taxes from a maximum 35% rate to a 21% cap would result in dramatic increases in capital investment, resulting in job creation and wage growth.  Americans for Tax Reform, a vocal advocate for the plan, generated promises of employee bonuses, increased wages, increased retirement contributions and/or expanded business operations as a result of the TCJA.

Actual outcomes of the Tax Cuts?  Record stock buybacks; extraordinary executive compensation; flat employee compensation; and continued failure of venerable American corporations.

Definitive proof of the foolishness of cutting taxes in a time of economic expansion?  A rapidly expanding federal budget deficit.  According to the final monthly Treasury Statement for Fiscal Year 2018 (the year that ended on 9/30/2018), the deficit was $779 Billion — a $113 Billion (17%) increase over the$666 Billion deficit recorded from FY 2017.

Perhaps most egregious to the American people?  Mitch McConnell is blaming self-funded safety net programs [Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid] as the root cause of our rising federal deficit.  Visualize McConnell as he does a little smile; looks straight into the camera; and then blatantly lies to the American people.  Was he also lying when he took the Oath of Office?

3.  Incendiary, Irrational and Emotionally-Inspired Immigration Policy:

Right or wrong, the U.S. economy depends on immigrant workers – documented or undocumented. Industry sectors which rely on immigrants for between 1/4 and 1/2 of their employment needs include: agriculture; hospitality; construction; textile, apparel and leather manufacturing; food manufacturing; and private households.

Through a series of small moves that add up to dramatic change, the Trump administration has bypassed Congress to create new process and procedures which could have lasting effects on how the US welcomes and evaluates immigrants.

In his election campaign in June 2015, Trump told us, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”

By painting virtually all immigrants with a broad brush as criminals; as a national security threat to the U.S.; as bad people; as people who steal jobs from Americans;  he has created a hostile environment on the world stage, offering fear and fallacies with no attempt to find viable and sustainable solutions.

In late October 2018, facing a ‘caravan of migrants’ moving north from Central America toward the U.S. Southern border, Trump has proclaimed that there are ‘criminals and people of Middle Eastern descent among the migrants within the caravan’ and has pointed to it as evidence that the U.S. has weak immigration laws. He has also threatened to cut off aid to Central American countries in response to the caravan.

An internal report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General found that the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” crackdown at the border in early 2018 was troubled from the outset by planning shortfalls, widespread communication failures and administrative indifference to the separation of small children from their parents.

It has been said that the Trump Child Separation Policy is related to the worst abuses of humanity in history.  Child separation is connected by the same evil that separated families during slavery, and which dislocated tribes and broke up Native American families.

What’s the point?

The point is that differences of opinion are a cornerstone of society, and a critical ingredient of humanity.

The very essence of Debate relies on formal discussion on a particular topic.

In an honest debate, opposing arguments are put forward to argue for opposite  viewpoints. Genuine and honest debate can occur in public meetings, academic institutions, and in legislative assemblies.

A genuine debate requires some ground rules, particularly in the areas of logical consistency and factual accuracy, yet it also allows some degree of emotional appeal to the audience.

Sadly, today’s discussions on topics of importance to the American People seem to lack any rules about civility, logic or even factual accuracy.

Turn on the television and we find absolutism, tribalism and a “win at any cost” approach to delicate yet important societal issues. Dialogue has effectively been replaced by diatribe.

Worse, people can select news sources which support and reinforce their biases, finding comfort in “being right” by selective listening or watching. No time or need to consider other options when the platform has been fully developed to mirror your comfort zone.

Add to this dilemma the continuing disenfranchisement of American adults from the political process.

More adult males in America today are able to recite NFL statistics than are able explain issues facing American society, and women are not far behind.

Voter turnout in the United States fluctuates in national elections. In recent elections, about 60% of the voting eligible population votes during presidential election years, and about 40% votes during midterm elections. Turnout is lower for odd year, primary and local elections.

If we compare national voter participation in the 2016 presidential election to viewership of the 2016 Superbowl, we find a dead heat at around 112 Million.

Not necessarily the same people, but it does strike me that we have a real disconnect between the American public and our governance model, perhaps helping to explain why our system seems to be in need of some serious adjustments at this point in time.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

We Rely on Journalists

April 17, 2018

As a nation, we rely on Journalists to provide us with well-researched, unbiased and true information.

Until recently, I included Journalists in the same realm as Lawyers, Doctors, Accountants, Nurses, Plumbers, Electricians, Welders, Financial Planners, etc. — assuming that Journalists were professionals who received appropriate training; passed standard professional exams; and subscribed to a high standard of ethics.

Now, I’ve learned that those who identify as Journalists are often self-certified.

Alex Jones is a self-identified Journalist.  He is the host of “The Alex Jones Show” (infowars.com) which is now syndicated on over 160 AM, FM, and shortwave radio stations across the United States.

Alex Jones rose to national prominence as a result of his position that the 2012 massacre in Sandy Hook which took the lives of 26 innocent children and educators was “a giant hoax”.

Jones used his self-identified position as a Journalist to discredit the parents of the dead children.  He fixated on his mission to convince the public of a giant hoax, a conspirancy staged by the federal government, which hired professional actors for the purposes of undermining Second Amendment rights.

Jones seems to be the father of a dangerous tribe of Conspiracy Theorists who continue to twist the truth and who cloud the continuing plague of mass murders in schools and public places across the U.S.

I’ve now learned there is no standard professional exam for Journalists. And, apparently, no standards exist in the public sector regarding ethical behavior by Journalists — perhaps driven by those who rely on the 1st Amendment guaranty of the right of free speech?

I try to be a discerning consumer of information I receive from various media sources, and I admire those Journalists who consistently provide well-researched, unbiased and true information.

Question is: Given the importance of Real Facts, why is there no official credential (“license”) which can be earned by Real Journalists to help separate the Real Journalists from the Pretenders?

No threat to Free Speech:  just a ‘check and balance’ which separates those commentators who have their own agenda from true journalists who seek the truth.

Although I don’t approve of Alex Jones and his behaviors, I acknowledge his right to free speech.  However, I don’t acknowledge his right to self-identify as a Journalist.