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Posts published in “McKee”

The NDA’s gotta go

mckee

Most of the kerfuffle Paulette Jordan’s campaign for Idaho’s governorship is in will evaporate in another news cycle or so, with little actual damage to the candidate or her campaign.

In the ordinary scheme of things, rearranging a political campaign just before the run-up to the final event is not that unusual. Here, it is perhaps a power struggle between the candidate, the home town crowd, and some pros from afar – apparently, a political consultant and his staff brought in from Minnesota.

The hoopla over their leaving is a campaign detail that has nothing to do with the candidate’s persona, her policies, or her abilities for the office she is seeking. The problems relate only to her ability to manage a statewide election campaign, and she gets at least a half a pass here because she is new at it on the statewide level. It’s the pros from afar who should have known better. At least, to my mind, there were a whole handful of better ways they could have used to manage the transition roll out.

No matter how pissed-off the political consultant was at getting dumped, as a professional he was obligated to do no harm to the candidate or her campaign as he went out the door. The blithe statements that confidentiality agreements precluded him and his staff from giving any explanations were atrocious. His final responsibility, whether he got fired or quit in a huff, was to design an exit strategy that got him and his people out with no mud, minimal harm, and no messes to clean up after.

Jordan does need to move quickly to restore organization to her campaign, and bland press releases with no details are not the best answer here. And she does need to eliminate the one truly unexplainable and intolerable detail that might remain.

The mere existence of non-disclosure agreements is a red flag that marks clear trouble ahead. Any candidate for high office has to know and accept that every scrap of that person’s life is open to examination; one must be prepared to explain any rough or unsavory spots that might exist and under no circumstances may one be suspected of hiding anything. A non-disclosure agreement is just that - an indication that there is something to hide.

Jordan should immediately get rid of any remaining NDA’s and assure everyone that she has done so.
 

The gap cannot be ignored

mckee

Personal income as a percentage of GDP is continuing to shrink, despite the general growth in the economy and employment.

What makes this decline particularly distressing is that during the same period, corporate profits have been burgeoning and executive compensation – particularly CEO compensation – has been skyrocketing. It does not take a CPA or math whiz to figure out who is getting squeezed.

As the graph in the margin demonstrates, only those within the top 20% have enjoyed any real increases in incomes in the years since 1979. The bottom four lines represent the four quintiles of the rest of the population. The actual average incomes within each of the four quintiles of this bottom 80%, when measured in actual buying power after consideration of inflation, are declining.

In the post WWII years from 1945 to 1980, incomes at all levels grew rapidly and at roughly the same rate up and down the income ladder. The recession of 1973-1975 marked the end of the post-war growth, and with the recovery from this recession, the disparity between the top 20% and the entire rest of the country began to widen.

With the advent of the Reagan era in 1980, government policies towards the economy changed. The government shifted from its reliance on Keynesian economic theories and turned to the so-called supply-side goals of maximizing production and profits. The theory was that if the owners and shareholders were recognizing maximum profits on maximum production, the gains realized would “trickle down” to the wages and salaries of the workers.

Unfortunately, it did not work that way. Where maximum profit is the goal, every cost becomes target, and with no disincentives to protect the labor class, their wages and salaries are on the block. Total incomes of the upper 20% of the workforce began to explode in the middle 1980’s and continues to skyrocket today. The bottom quintiles flat-lined and have enjoyed essentially no part of the economic growth sustained in the last 30 years. The only real beneficiaries of the tremendous growth in the U.S. economy have been essentially the professionals and highly talented, the owners and their top executives, and the shareholders. Everybody else is falling behind. Everybody.

The middle class, which at one time was the thriving bulwark of our society, is vanishing. We have reached the point now where fully half the population lives in a low-income status, many at or below the poverty line. And this trend is continuing to worsen. Since 1980, incomes within the middle and lower ranges slowed sharply or receded. The U.S. was ranked 6th from the bottom of the 173 countries in the free industrialized world in terms of income and wealth inequality.

The wealthiest 1% now own about 40% of the total wealth – a share higher than at any point since 1962. There is more wealth in this 1% than in the bottom 90% combined. And it is continuing to widen.

The owners, shareholders and consumers are well protected and taken care of, both by market forces and government regulation. Only the labor end of the economy is totally out in the cold economically. Market incentives are really available only for the well-educated, the highly skilled and the exceptionally talented. The ordinary worker has, in essence, been abandoned.

The Republicans have buried their heads in the sand to sing the praises of unfettered free-market capitalism. They view with disdain any efforts at government intervention, labeling such as “liberal” causes, which they equate to socialism, and insist that all such should be eradicated. Socialism is considered to be a form of totalitarianism, a failed experiment, unworkable in any society that values individual incentive and innovation. Any concept of rebalancing the wealth of the country is considered the pinnacle of liberalism and socialistic thought, meaning that any aspect of this concept is a complete anathema to the coveted ideal of free market capitalism. Compromise has become unthinkable.

Too many Democrats have also buried their heads in the sand to avoid any attempt to confront these issues head on. They have allowed the Republicans to define the term ‘liberal” and to then equate it to the equivalent of a nasty, four-letter word. The Democrats then run away from any attempt see such a label attached to their efforts or campaign beliefs.

Despite the fact that every other industrialized nation in the free world embraces some modified version of socialism, or at least utilizes socialistic devices to the benefit of their populations in some areas, too many Democrats seem to agree with the Republicans, and continue to act as if “socialism” at any level or in any form is a poisonous concept, not even to be discussed as an appropriate solution for any problem facing our world today.

This means that the concept of income or wealth redistribution cannot be mentioned in polite society today by anybody. The Republicans refuse to discuss it at all, and the Democrats are afraid of the liberal label that might be attached to any meaningful efforts if they bring it up. The result is an empty void over what may be the most crucial social and economic issue of our day.

What should be becoming painfully obvious is that some level of government intervention is going to be needed to reverse the trend of an economy that is rapidly transferring all wealth to the very rich. It is the essence of what is essential. The hands-off approach is only making it worse.

There are a variety of remedies to the issue of inequality of wealth, and plenty of room for debate on most of them. They run from steps to reinvigorate labor unions to increasing the availability of higher education and post-high school training to reactivating a national minimum wage to imposing maximum ratios on compensation to enacting various tax incentives to encourage diversity. There are undoubtedly more ideas that could be explored.

What must happen is recognition by both parties that (1) something must be done and (2) the solution is a legitimate area for government intervention or assistance. This should not be a partisan issue. This is the survival of the way of life as we have grown accustomed for everyone. Both sides must commit to a diligent search for acceptable and effective remedies if we are to reverse the distressing trends that are becoming increasingly obvious.
 

Wrecking balls in motion

mckee

About a week ago, and in the dead of night according to the New York Times, Trump started his trade war. With all the other hoopla going on, not much has been done to call attention to this event.

International trade makes up around 25% of our GDP, which is a number that is not to be sneezed at. However, international trade is not the most interesting subject to examine and even simple explanations can take the reader off into the weeds by the end of the lead. There is just no way to inject any real excitement into basic accounting, trade ratios and market shares.

That said, the event noted may have more lasting and direct consequences upon more of our everyday lives than all of the other matters that the old fool is playing around with will have, even combined. It was exactly midnight that a third round of tariffs imposed by Trump on billions of dollars’ worth of foreign trade from China was to take effect. China immediately announced that it was matching the U.S. action with additional tariffs on of its own. Similar dialogues are rippling throughout Europe, Canada and Mexico as these countries prepare retaliations in response to U.S. tariffs imposed upon their exports. Trump has announced the intention of following suit if retaliatory tariffs are imposed against the United States. The result appears to be the beginning of an inevitably escalating series of retaliatory tariffs that could escalate until trade maximums are engulfed.

So, history seems on the brink of heading down a path last followed almost 90 years ago, when the isolationists convinced then President Hoover to go along with a stiff tariff program intended to protect American jobs. The Smoot-Hawley tariffs were enacted in 1930. Economists and historians estimate that these tariffs were the direct cause of U.S. exports falling by over 40% by 1932, crippling international trade. All economists generally agree that the trade war caused by the Smoot Hawley tariffs exacerbated the Great Depression.

Trump has not announced what specifically he intends to accomplish by the imposition of his tariffs. He has no clear policy to promote. He says only that the U.S. is being treated unfairly, and that we have to reign in the current levels of trade deficits. He doesn’t say why the trade is unfair. Surely, there are specific imbalances that need attention, and there are some trade practices that are unfair. Specific tariffs can be a tool in certain cases. But the task here is to find a tool to apply as a Band-Aid to a specific problem, not to attack every situation with sledge hammer or wrecking ball. Too often tariffs become sledge hammers, leaving too much unintended wreckage. Even when carefully applied, the impact of tariffs will eventually hit the consumer.

Trump’s fascination with trade deficits, and his insistence that they need to be brought into balance, is just plain wrong. Trade deficits are not inherently evil. In a healthy economy with markets that are otherwise booming, trade deficits are a perfectly normal if not even a desirable result. In the U.S. for example, with an economy that is burgeoning ahead, the huge beneficiaries of our trade deficits with most of our trading partners are domestic consumers. Eliminating deficits by definition requires either an increase in production or a decrease in consumption. Where artificial measures are applied, in the usual case it is the consumer who will suffer in the end.

Consider what happened in 2009, when the unions and tire manufacturers complained to the Obama administration that China was flooding the market with radial tires. Domestic jobs were being lost because domestic producers could not compete. So, the Obama administration imposed a punitive 35% tariff on specific types of radial tires exported from China. Because of the specifics involved, economists were able to study the market exactly, and measure the results with a degree of precision.

It might have looked like the special tariffs helped in the short run. Domestic tire producers were able to hold their prices and maintain production, and an estimated 1,200 jobs in the tire industry were preserved. But according to a study released by the Peterson Institute of International Economics, when the consumers’ side of the deals were examined, the additional cost of what had been cheaper Chinese exports cost domestic consumers an estimated $1.1 billion in higher prices. Further, when the tariffs hit, the decline in sales of the imported tires cost an estimated 3,731 domestic jobs lost on the retail side. One academic study on this specific tariff concluded that three retail jobs were lost on the consumer side for every manufacturing job saved on the production side.

In the longer run, the special tariffs did not return all radial tire production to the U.S. Instead, production migrated from China to other cheaper countries. Domestic tire production was initially boosted by the tariffs but soon sagged again as competition from foreign sources spread. One manufacturer, for example, held his employment level from 2009 through 2012, with the addition of the tariffs, but by 2017 – five years later – the employment level at this firm was down by over 25%. A study released in July of 2017 concluded that the special tariffs made no difference to production problems in the tire industry long term yet cost the U.S. consumers billions of dollars in higher prices.

The problems are even more complicated when the commerce being hit are products made up of component parts or subassemblies. According to a 2017 analysis presented by CNN, for example, every car manufactured in the United States could actually be considered an import when considering the origination of all the parts and subassemblies that go into the manufacture. To show the incongruities, by this measure the most “American made” vehicle currently on the market is a Honda pickup – a commercial vehicle partially manufactured in Japan with more than 75% of components manufactured in either the U.S. or Canada.

If tariffs are imposed on parts that are exported to the U.S., this can put the domestic parts manufacturer at a significant disadvantage. The domestic producer’s costs are driven up by the tariffs, often resulting in it conceding market shares to foreign competition which acquires the same parts and subassemblies but without tariffs. If the domestic producer can absorb the additional costs of the tariffs without raising prices, it still must reduce margins which might otherwise be available for increases to wages or reinvestment in plant resources.

All major U.S. automakers also have assembly plants in Mexico. Components are manufactured in the U.S. and elsewhere, shipped to Mexico for assembly, with the completed vehicle then returned the U.S. for sale. In a full-scale trade war, we may find tariffs imposed by the U.S. on parts and subassemblies; tariffs imposed by Mexico on the components sent to plants in Mexico for final assembly and tariffs on the finished vehicle as it is returned from Mexico for sale. Multi-levels of tariffs would hit U.S. consumers purchasing U.S. made cars from U.S. manufacturers on vehicle models intended for sale in the U.S.

One investment analysist said long range planning under Trump was difficult because no one could figure out what his policy was, is, or might become, commenting that “Watching all these trade actions is like watching a pinball machine.” Further, what Trump is doing is probably illegal. Imposition of tariffs are supposed to require Congressional action; the President is only authorized to act without Congressional authorization when declared necessary for national security. Most analysists agree that there is no true national security involvement in any of the tariffs Trump has imposed so far, or in any tariffs that he has announced he intends to impose.

What is clear is that the ultimate target of almost all of these tariffs is, or will be, the American consumer. Despite what it looks like, tariffs are not a tax or penalty imposed upon the foreign exporter. While sometimes the cost of a tariff can be absorbed by exporter; much more common in the short run, and always in the long run, is that the additional cost of the tariff will be passed along into the price to be paid by the ultimate consumer. A tariff in reality is nothing but a sales tax imposed upon the poor end consumer.

Anybody want to guess who that is going to be?
 

Now, they must organize

mckee

Trump and the Republicans keep dredging Hillary’s name up, again and again. And every time they do, some bunch of Democrats rush to her defense, playing straight into the Republican strategy of keeping Hillary’s name up in the main lights. The whole intent of this is plainly obvious: to make Hillary the face of the Democratic party, and then plant the suggestion or even hint among the most stalwart independents that where there is smoke there might be fire. And the Democrats are letting them get away with it.

At the same time, Obama’s name is starting to vanish. In the main, this is also because of Republican antics. Trump acts like Obama never even existed. He never mentions Obama by name as he steadily removes every vestige of his administration. When faced with some feature of the Obama years that cannot be ignored, Trump blithely rewrites it, revising history and inserting alternative facts more to his liking. Then he casts himself into the lead role and claims full credit for anything positive. To see this strategy in operation, all one has to do is watch Fox News. And the Democrats are letting him get away with it.

The Democrats are in disarray. If they do not recognize it, and do something about it right now, they risk losing the midterms this fall and even the Presidential in 2020. Right now the party must stop allowing the Republicans to define what the Democratic party stands for. They need to start by getting Hillary off stage once and for all. She is the totally wrong icon to leave out as the standard bearer of the party. She is the anathema of a candidate who paid no attention to the clamor for hard issues erupting all around, and whose only campaign strategy was to avoid taking a hard position on anything even remotely controversial, keeping tight instead to the platform of “It’s My Turn,” and “I’m Not Trump.”

The party, ideally, needs somebody of their choosing up on stage and under the lights who can stand as a true face of the Democratic Party. The obvious pick here would be Obama, but others might serve just as well. A charismatic chairman of the DNC, for example, or perhaps Joe Biden, unless he is determined to run himself in 2020. The objective has to be to stop allowing the Republicans to define what the Democratic party looks like, and to get a positive example out there who can do some good.

More, or at least equally important, the party must advance a core set of positive programs to frame the difference between the parties and provide a reason for support that is keyed to something other than the negative. In plain words, the “Anybody but Trump” issue is not going to be enough to win any election, and if that turns out to be the central issue this fall, it is an omen of disaster for the Democrats.

The recent primary upset of New York Congressman Joseph Crowley, the ten-term representative from the Queens who was number four in the Democratic caucus and looked on by many as Pelosi’s successor, should be a clamoring alarm to every Democrat running for anything anywhere. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old waitress and community organizer from nowhere who pulled it off, spent one-tenth the money and was totally ignored by the DNC, the DCCC and the entire Democratic establishment of New York. But she concentrated on hard Democratic issues without flinching or softening or sugar coating anything – her platform was a list of Democratic Socialism straight out of Bernie’s playbook. Crowley tried to telephone in a plain vanilla centrist campaign that would not ruffle any feathers. Ocasio-Cortez set up a grassroots organization right out of Obama’s playbook that ran into every corner of her district, and then personally hustled around shaking every hand, kissing all the babies, and talking the arm off everyone who would listen. Crowley stayed in Washington, relying on what money would buy and sending stand-ins to show up when a personal appearance was demanded. The result should have been predicted: Ocasio-Cortez clobbered the insouciant congressman by a landslide 15 points - 57% to 42%.

The lessons should be obvious. There has to be something more to the Democratic promise than “Anybody but Trump.” There have to be positive programs being advanced that will define the party and attract the essential votes from the undecided independents. The Democrats have to quit running away from legitimate Democratic principles just because Republicans threaten to call them “socialistic.” Bernie Sanders should have taught all that they did not have to cover up mainstream Democratic philosophy in order to motivate the vital core of independent or undecided voters.

Ocasio-Cortez’s list isn’t that bad: Medicare for all; free community college; increase the minimum wage; and a guaranteed jobs program for all who want work, to name a few from her basic set. In other words, a refocus and underscore of core Democratic issues promoting the social and economic empowerment for the average person. The key here is for the Democrats to step up and claim ownership of Democratic issues in Democratic terms, and not allow the Republicans to define them in Republican terms.

If the Democrats do not get busy and start to reverse these Republican stratagems right now, the midterms may turn into a disaster and the result in 2020 may very well be 2016 all over again.
 

Eye on the ball

mckrr

There is no end to the awfulness emanating from the Whitehouse. Even when Trump is right, he manages to make it wrong just by the clumsy, crass manner decisions are being implemented. Consider:

Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iranian nuclear deal for no good reason, announcing that he intended to reimpose economic sanctions. The international political problems of this move are monumental. But the economics of Trump’s actions are going to present some fascinating opportunities that no one is paying attention to, yet.

By definition, economic sanctions are two-way streets, meaning there are significant economic costs to both the imposing nation and the nation being punished that are functionally equal. It is one thing to impose economic sanctions on a targeted nation as part of a multinational plan where all the allies agree to join in; the cost of the policing action is shared among all the participating nations. But what of unilateral sanctions that are attempted by the United States alone, when the allies do not join in? Trump has announced that he will impose unilateral sanctions upon any company from any friendly country caught dealing with the Iranians.

Exactly how does Trump expect this move to go over with our allies? Or at home? All of our allies in Europe seem determined to keep the Iran deal alive. They have announced a nine-point economic plan to rescue the pact. Although no details are available yet, stripped of the diplomatic trappings the clear intent here has to be for Europe to provide Iran with a means of working around any U.S. sanctions. As this plot begins to thicken, the possibilities multiply. For anyone with inside knowledge and a willingness to bend the rules or take advantage of circumstances, there is money to be made on both ends of any sanction situation.

Take a look at what is happening in the other half of the world. The U.S. Department of Commerce announced a series of economic sanctions against a giant computer electronics manufacturer in China commonly known as ZTE. This outfit has been selling computer equipment to all the countries on the forbidden lists – Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, etc. – for years, and had already paid huge penalties imposed by the world court Then it was revealed that ZTE puts out cell phones with secret devices to capture data that is transmitted to intelligence gathering facilities in China – raising the specter of national security. As a current sanction imposed just by the U.S., ZTE was forbidden to do business with any U.S. resource for a period of seven years.

ZTE immediately began cutting back its operations, which involved cancelling billions of dollars of orders from parts manufacturers in the United States, causing panic and predicted huge losses here. According to the N.Y. Times, it is estimated that 4/5ths of ZTE’s high-tech parts come from U.S. sources. Imposition of the sanctions would result in staggering losses to some U.S. suppliers

So, Trump reversed course and announced that he will step in to help out with ZTE – presumably to lighten the sanctions and thereby save the Chinese company’s bacon. The move was announced as a measure to bring relief to the U.S. suppliers notwithstanding the national security concerns.

Then it was revealed that Trump’s U-turn on ZTE came right on the heels of the announcement of a $500 million investment by China into one of Trump’s golf course and hotel operations in Indonesia. Obviously, the Whitehouse promptly gushed, just a serendipitous coincidence.

Yeah, right. Isn’t it more likely that this fiasco means that unilateral imposition of sanctions on friendly companies in other instances will come with caveats and exceptions and back-doors so that, in the long run, all these deals can turn into one-offs that depend upon pragmatic measurement of the economic turmoil brought upon the related countries, including the U.S?

Since it looks like there might be huge bucks to be made here, why not? U.S. unilateral sanctions can easily be turned into a political morass, with corruption, influence pedaling, pay for play and every other ill that might befall. All anyone has to look at to understand the fortunes that might be at play here are the millions of dollars that Michael Cohen amassed from a handful of gullible companies for absolutely nothing. What are the odds that a substantial part of this money did not find its way into one of Trump’s pockets? Is there anyone about who actually believes that Trump and his minions will resist the opportunities that are going to spring up in the Iran business, once the spinning begins in earnest?

Let us just try to keep our eye on the ball here.
 

How do you spell ‘denuclearization’, again?

mckee

The headline says Trump to meet with Kim Jong-un. “Well now,” you say, “He’s going to do what you wanted all along! Aren’t you happy?” In a word, no, not at all. But I can see there may be some explaining to do.

A persistent theme of these random essays has been that we were going in the wrong direction with Kim Jong-un and the problems in North Korea. That we needed to reverse course on many of our hard-edged policies if we were to pursue a diplomatic solution. So, you think, Trump agrees with this, huh? Not exactly.

Up to know, our great fear has been that Trump’s bumbling about with his tweets and sophomoric threats was going to accidentally propel us into the middle of a thermonuclear war. All of us, except maybe some pack of iconoclastic war hawks, overwhelmingly and universally want Trump to pack his tweets away and STFU. We see a diplomatic solution as the only acceptable resolution.

But there is a protocol to these things that has to be observed. Our policy goes back more than 70 years when we agreed to the division of the Korean peninsula into two countries but then never formally recognized the second government. Our stated policy has been for reunification of the peninsula and elimination of the second government, which has been a consistent thorn in the side of all three Kim’s. For over 60 years, there has been no peace on the peninsula, only a military truce. We have steadfastly resisted any efforts to elevate the generals’ deal into a formal peace treaty that could be ratified between nations, and we have kept a U.S. military force on the 38th parallel – another thorn in Kim’s side. For over 20 years, ever since North Korea pulled out of the international non-proliferation pact, the United States has refused to participate in any bilateral talks on nuclear arms. This has been perceived to be a personal affront to the leadership of the Kim Dynasty. We would only condone multi-lateral talks involving all the stakeholders, and then only upon the precondition that North Korea give up its nuclear arms before commencement of any talks. Wrapping the subject of diplomacy in this much red tape has had the expected result – nothing productive has happened in over 70 years.

The intricate web of international relations with our allies means the ship of state cannot be turned on a dime. It takes a ton of international preparation, not just with North Korea but with all our allies, if we are going to zoom off in a new direction. We are ill prepared to handle this task on any hurry-up basis. We don’t have an ambassador in South Korea, nor an envoy or emissary in North Korea. There is no formal chain of communication between the U.S. and North Korea. The State department senior expert on North Korean affairs just resigned. His department has been decimated, and there is no adequate staff at State or in the Whitehouse to prepare the President for any top-level meeting of leaders. There is no agenda, nor any protocol for the creation of one. The subject is said to be “denuclearization,” but nobody knows exactly what this is, or if there is an agreement between the parties on what the term means. Even for a low-level conference between nations, these haphazard conditions would be a recipe for disappointment; at the highest level, it could be disastrous.

Also, as a matter of fundamental negotiating strategy, one seldom starts out by standing on the objective where one wants to end up. The start should be with some defined and expected matters where there is already a leaning toward general agreement, so the process can work around and up to the problem areas.

Finally, in international deal-making, any meeting of leaders does not occur first, it happens last – after others have worked over the problems and smoothed the way. To start with the leaders, with no preparation and with no effort to get all the preliminary agreements in order, there is a significant risk that if the whole thing doesn’t collapse in heap, it will end up being a hugely lopsided disaster for somebody.

It is into this midst of this hoopla that Trump suddenly stepped in and announced a U-turn on decades of iron-fisted U.S. policy. Without preamble, he has agreed to a direct, one-on-one sit down with Kim Jong-un. Over the uproar from both right and left, he has doubled down, cut the legs out from under everybody who has tried to soften or walk back any of his resolve, and announced that it is going to happen in May.

In international diplomatic time scale, that is the day after tomorrow. The old fool and rocket man. All by themselves. Across a kitchen table somewhere. No script and no menu. And we haven’t even lettered the place cards or thawed out the turkey.

What could possibly go wrong?
 

The power of knowledge

mckee

Mass gun violence is the tip of an iceberg-sized problem surrounding the issue of unrestricted and unregulated private ownership of any type of gun by any person of any age. Many believe this issue to be a Constitutional and God-given right inherent to life in our time, while many opposed consider even the subject of gun ownership to be the embodiment of all that is criminal and evil.

What are offered as solutions fly from both sides, with passionate arguments and earnest entreaties overflowing. But neither side listens to the other, and the result has become toxic. Rationale debate is not feasible. An untenable stalemate looms.

Fundamental to understanding the dilemma may be the realization that neither side truly know what it is talking about. Both sides offer empirical example and intuitive reasoning, and both sides spin raw statistics to support any proposition advanced, but neither speak from a base of actual knowledge – which is impossible, because there is no adequate base of knowledge to work from.

The inadequacy the body of knowledge concerning guns and gun violence is striking – it is essentially non-existent. Since it seems obvious that we may never find an answer to that which we do not understand, this lack of knowledge has to be a critical failing

It is true that there are extensive reports and narratives of every catastrophe that has befallen us over the years. There are press narratives and current reports of the mass shooting, and some results are occasionally tabulated by the press, but that is about all. Complete, reliable and up-to-date statistics are not available. There is no central repository for data. There are no studies examining various aspects of gun usage and comparing alternatives. There is no agency or bureau responsible to coordinate studies or correlate research. There are no reliable publications or journals for the dissemination of scientific or academic research.

As a result, there has been no comprehensive examination of any kind into gun ownership, the circumstances leading to gun violence, the types of guns used and available, the attractions that each holds for given individuals, the potential for abuse, etc. There are plenty of “what’s” and “where’s,” but there are no “why’s” or “how’s.” There has been no attempt to study or compare the events of mass shootings, or of gun violence generally, into the circumstances surrounding them, the guns available, and the individuals involved, in the same manner that events of terrorism are dissected and scrutinized, to see if any data can be extracted.

While huge criticism is being heaped upon law enforcement for failing to spot red flags in advance of the recent shootings in Florida, these are easy calls to make after the fact. The plain fact is that there is no reliable research which has developed answers or protocols of just what are red flags, what these supposed red flags might have meant, or exactly what intervention might have been taken. It is one thing to have a signal that “some” trouble might be brewing and quite another to have a catalog of specific signals to look for to determine what specific event to prevent.

It can be done. We have demonstrated the ability to step in and head off specific terrorist attacks, for example, from just such carefully researched and studied catalogs of potential characteristics, indicia of trouble, of potential individuals involved, and indications of probable action that might be taken to intervene. There are full floors full of resources at the CIA, the FBI, the Department of State and the Pentagon pouring over terrorist activities. There are even academic degrees offered in terrorism and counter-terrorism studies. The value of all this has proved its worth repeatedly.

But if guns in the U.S. are involved, it is a different matter. There are no federal programs for the study of gun violence, and no federal grants or federal resources have been devoted to the effort. Congress, at the behest of the National Rifle Association, has blocked any meaningful research into the subject for decades. The Dickey Amendment, for example, enacted in 1996, essentially prohibited government funds being used for any research into gun violence and every Congress since has refused to revisit this ban.

This should not be tolerated. Congress could immediately repeal the Dickey Amendment and all its entrails. It could immediately empower, and fund as appropriate, thorough research touching on the ownership, use and misuse of guns involved in violence. Get a responsible government agency involved to head it up and coordinate efforts. Offer some academic grants for further studies. The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control might be the place to start, or a separate agency if one needs to be created. The problem certainly merits the effort. Eliminate all the restriction on the gathering or dissemination of data, statistics, or studies that presently exist. Any opposition by the National Rifle Association to any inquiry into this subject should be ignored.

There is no partisan divide here. This is not an “either-or” issue, it has nothing to do with the “us or them” mentality that has suddenly become prevalent in discussions between opposing views, and it certainly is not a “slippery slope” of any kind. Despite any protestations of the NRA, increasing our knowledge and understanding in this area cannot be a dangerous or controversial task. It is what we do when faced with what appear to be insurmountable challenges.

Knowledge is the key.
 

The futility overwhelms . . .

mckee

Our country is now into its second year of what is becoming the most devastating era of its history.

As we take stock of the accomplishments of the 45th occupant of the Oval Office, we can see the wreckage beginning to grow amid the once towering pillars of our proud nation. The promise to “Make America Great Again” rings hollow as our Congress grinds to a virtual halt, a variety of the Executive departments spin aimlessly under inadequate, incompetent or insouciant leadership, and our international standing falters as we stumble from one bungled crisis to the next.

We watch aghast as one debacle after another continues to pile up at the door of our newest president.

Foundations of our democracy that have survived all challenges for over 200 years are beginning to crumble under a relentless stream of narcissistic attacks coming, of all places, from the man we just elected to be president. This fool has surrounded himself with an inadequate staff of incompetent sycophants and has placed stunningly unqualified individuals at the head of almost every department. He insists that they carry out a crushing decimation of each agency’s ability to function, and they are complying by systematically disassembling every facet of government. In addition to whacking out personnel and programs, they have taken a meat ax to the whole of government regulation, with administrative repeals and rescissions that are dismantling essential authority of critical agencies in almost every area.

We turned to the Congressional oversight committees expecting some sort of reprieve and found they are entwined in partisan positioning with no reason to expect objective intervention. The national press has begun to treat all these circumstances as normal happenings. After initially raising a hue and cry but receiving no adequate response, the press now seems to accept the misinformation and evasion streaming from the White House complacently, almost as though it were business as usual, but then carefully cataloging the twists and turns the administration takes as it descends lower and lower, noting only on occasion the historical observation that we have never before sunk to such depths, and opining pontifically that things are surely going to get worse.

On the international scene, any semblance of a coherent, integrated foreign policy has long evaporated. Our State Department is in shambles. The responsibility for a comprehensive military mission for the two hot zones to which we are committed has been abdicated to the generals, despite the crucial necessity for civilian oversight.

Without listening to anyone knowledgeable, without paying any attention to the historical precedents, and totally ignoring our allies who are most directly affected, the arrogant fool – by his own personal, irresponsible actions – has brought us to the brink of a nuclear holocaust on the Korean Peninsula.

We wait for the special counsel to announce his findings. But this process may come too late. With the cooperation of one cable news channel and joined by countless talk radio outlets, the old fool and the major party supporting him are relentlessly trashing the work of the special counsel and his staff, and denigrating the Department of Justice, the F.B.I. and the entire Judicial branch of government. As unbelievable as it sounds, the tactic is working. Current polls reveal that a substantial number of us no longer have faith in our legal system.

The considered legal opinion seems to be that a sitting president cannot be indicted for a crime and blunt fact is that this Congress will not impeach. Even if the Democrats gain control of Congress in the mid-terms, and the House should then vote out a resolution to impeach, unless there is a dramatic shift in attitudes there will not be 67 votes in the Senate to convict. This means that no matter what comes out of the special counsel’s office, or out of any impeachment attempt in Congress, it is going to be 2020 before we get a true chance at a respite.

The futility of it overwhelms. I have decided to take to my bed and pull the covers over my head.
 

Of alternative facts

mckee

Just one year ago, in the midst of the diversions of family and holiday, we were anticipating with rapt fascination the day coming in mid-January where control of the world’s richest and most powerful ship of state was going to be handed off to a total unknown.

Those of a mind were determined to give Trump a chance, to see if he would grow into the job and actually see it through with some degree of competence and élan. We weren’t happy, to be sure, but this had all happened before and the country had survived.

We thought of Harry Truman, the small town haberdasher elevated to national prominence by machine politics, who was suddenly thrust into an office for which he was totally unprepared. We thought of Gerald Ford, the back-bencher plucked from obscurity to rescue us from the scandal of Spiro T. Agnew, who unexpectedly found himself in a job he had never wished for in his fondest of dreams. We even remember Ronald Reagan, the B grade movie actor of little demonstrated substance, but with a charm and charisma that had propelled him through the governorship of California and onto the national stage.

All of these men seized the reins of power in the midst of significant economic or domestic or international upheaval and proceeded to guide our country successfully through difficult and challenging times, elevating themselves to places of remarkable heights, far above the marks that history might otherwise have consigned to them. Was there any chance we might eventually say the same of Trump?

This week, in the midst of the same diversions of family and holiday, and after a full year of unbelievable hullaballoo, we can answer that question with conviction. The answer, in a word, is no.

Trump is incapable of following the pattern of any other President in history. While there are some who continue to cling blindly to their optimism, most of us are now convinced that the country is in the hands of an incompetent fool. He is, in the reasoned words of his own Secretary of State, a fucking moron, perhaps even mentally impaired, and very probably a criminal. Not only is there no chance of every seeing the common sense of Harry Truman, or the consensus building aplomb of Gerald Ford, or the charm and charisma of Ronald Reagan, the reality is that it is going to get much, much worse.

Of all of his failings and incompetence, Trump’s willingness to ignore the truth is the worst. His willingness to adopt anything from fabricated versions to bald face lies, and his intransigent refusal to correct even the slightest misstatements mark the complete absence of a moral compass. This failing was suspected of Trump from stories of his prior dealings and business relationships, but the clear demonstration of his complete disregard for the truth has provided incontrovertible evidence of this mortal failing – he is fundamentally a dishonest person, and this has become the standard of what the national press and the rest of the world have come to expect from the Trump White House.

As the year unfolded, Trump’s stupefying aversion to admitting any fact that was even the slightest bit adverse to him or his position, boggled. His penchant for reshaping even the most trivial of events to recast the circumstance into his favor, no matter how obvious the wrong or how easy it might be to ascertain the truth, and to insist that his version be the only acceptable report uttered from any official White House source – also boggled. If there was even the slightest negative cast to whatever event was being examined, a new version reshaped in Trump’s favor became the “alternative fact” – a phrase coined by KellyAnn Conway – to be repeated as often as required with an earnest and sincere look and without apology, and without any attempt to reconcile or harmonize anything to the actual events that really transpired.

To reinforce the distinctions, Trump began accentuating the differences by referring to the national or mainstream press version of events as “fake news” whenever there was an “alternative fact” distinction that Trump preferred. And yet, all of this is pure fiction, made up for the moment, coming from the Whitehouse is of no consequence for nothing of it seems to stick. As incredible as it may seem, these machinations on the part of Trump and his minions seem to be working. Remember Hesse’s predictions to the Third Reich on the value of propaganda?

Gallup Polls has surveyed American trust and confidence in the mass media to report the news fairly and accurately for the last 20 years. When Gallup first asked this question in 1998, over half of both Republicans (52%) and Democrats (53%) had confidence in news organizations generally. Until 2008, the overall percentage of those who generally trusted the media either a great deal or by a fair amount – both Republican and Democrat – was consistently above 50%. During the Obama years, the overall percentage slipped somewhat, to percentages in the mid 40’s, with the Republican responses trending somewhat below the Democrats.

But then, during the campaign of 2016 and first year of the Trump administration in 2017, the bottom fell out. The polls suddenly diverged significantly between Republican and Democratic responses, with Democrats generally staying much higher and indicating continued trust and confidence in the mass media while Republican responses plummeted to levels indicating significant corrosion. In the most recent examination, released in September of 2017 and reporting on polls conducted in March and July of 2017, Gallup reported that, of the Americans who believed the news media generally got the facts right, the Republican responders stood at 14%, the lowest percentage ever, with the Democrats at 62%, an increase well over prior periods.

Trump’s intent here seems obvious: to insulate and inoculate the hard right base from the growing mountain of facts pertaining to Trump’s fundamental incompetence - the boneheaded mistakes, the hair raising risks, and the firehose stream of faulty promises, misrepresentations, exaggerations and just plain pants-on-fire lies pouring out of every opening at the White House.

With his Cabinet sufficiently behind him and Congress in Republican hands, the machinery set forth in the 25th Amendment for declaring him incompetent poses no practical danger. He only has Mueller to worry about, and the danger of impeachment or indictment presented if Mueller finds criminal involvement. But if he can tamp the media response down, and slander Mueller sufficiently to cast doubt in the minds of the public upon anything he might report, he might weather the storm no matter what. If he can hold the public response to Mueller’s action to be nothing more than political outcries, it doesn’t matter what Mueller says; if its impeachment, the House probably won’t act. If it does, the Senate won’t convict. And if he makes it through without being convicted, the hard right might just renominate him anyway, even if Mueller does call him a crook.

If this is not enough to leave you talking to yourself, consider this. If Trump can keep his base insulated or inoculated from the mainstream caterwauling, and if Trump’s constant stream of lies, alternative facts and cries of fake news can wear down the barricades and crack the Independent voter’s level of trust and confidence in the media, or just leave him fed up and determined to go hide until it’s over, quelling the potential strength of any backlash uprising or protest demonstrations even further – Trump might just take the risk and fire Mueller outright, shortstopping the whole works.

And a Ho, Ho, Ho, to you, too.

(photo/Gage Skidmore)