The Grim Reaper?

June 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this what the American people really want?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankfully, all is not lost!

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

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

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

Mueller Report

May 29, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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…

 

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?

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.