Writings and observations

mckee

Well, he did say he was going outside the beltway and he did promise to shake the box.

If current predictions from the normally astute New York Times pan out, the next real shake of the box will come with the selection of Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State. Tillerson is the current chairman and CEO of Exxon-Mobil, the largest petroleum producer in the world. He graduated from the University of Texas with a single degree in civil engineering, immediately joined Exxon as a junior engineer, and remained in that company ever since. He rose through the ranks of the company he now heads without ever seeking experience of any kind outside his own company.

We have no idea, and no way of figuring out, how Tillerson’s experience will translate to public service, or exactly what to expect from this appointment. We do know that in Tillerson’s immediate background is a history of extensive personal and business connections with Russia, as he was attempting to maneuver Exxon Mobil into a joint venture with Rosneft, the Russian national petroleum company, to explore the Arctic and develop the billion-barrel oil finds in Siberia. He traveled frequently to Russia in pursuit of business, occasionally even vacationing with Putin, and was personally was awarded the Russian “Order of Friendship” medal in 2013.

The joint venture effort was a pen-stroke away when it was blocked by the sudden imposition of international sanctions resulting from the civil unrest and Russian intervention in Ukraine. The pieces and parts of the venture are still poised, needing only some favorable developments on the diplomatic front to permit them to finally fall into place.

All this brings to mind the appointment of business icon Charles E. Wilson, the former CEO of General Motors who served as Secretary of Defense under Eisenhower in the 1950’s. GM was a major defense contractor during the war years, and still a healthy supplier of military armament for the Korean conflict. When asked in his confirmation hearings how he would decide if matters came up that were adverse to the interests of his former company, Wilson is said to have responded, “What is good for General Motors is good for the country.” Could foreign policy in the United States become tied to a similar mantra? “What is good for Exxon-Mobil is good for the United States?” Watch and learn.

In a move to eliminate the appearance of conflict of interest, Engine Charlie was required to sell all of his GM stock in 1952, then valued then at over $2.5 million which was an enormous sum, as a condition of his being confirmed by the Senate. Compare this to Dick Cheney, who, when he was elected vice president, was required to divest himself of all Haliburton stock, but permitted to hang on to over 433,000 shares in unexercised stock options together with a deferred compensation arrangement that paid him $200,000 per annum in benefits while he was in office. His stock options were said to have increased by more than 3000%, as the United States provided billions of dollar per year to Haliburton under direct, no-bid contracts in Iraq. Although a tiny faction in the media constantly brought these issues up, the main stream never picked up on any of it, and the story never grew legs.

What of the new guy? Tillerson’s net worth is estimated at $150 million, with much of it probably in Exxon-Mobil stock and options received as part of his $27 to $40 million annual compensation package, which varies as the barrel price of oil fluctuates. He doesn’t have to reveal the full value of any option shares that are not yet exercised, which could be a staggering amount. Will Tillerson be required to divest himself of his personal holdings? Given the obvious and immediate expectation of international developments with Russia, would placing the stock and options in a blind trust suffice? What about options: same rule as Cheney? No problem as long as he does not exercise them? Whoop-de-do.

Or will Tillerson be entitled to follow the lead of the President-elect and do nothing? Trump’s business empire is so diverse and so grounded in operations tied to the Trump name that a blind trust would be meaningless. The circumstance of blatant obsequiousness is already apparent as political entities, foreign governments, lobbyists, and others of like ilk, scramble to host extravagant galas and reserve rooms and suites in Washington’s Trump International. One suspects the same phenomena is beginning to occur world-wide in all the Trump-branded properties.

The cognoscenti have almost uniformly opined that the only acceptable means of eliminating conflicts of interest would be a complete divestiture, but Trump has shown no interest going down this route. He has clearly indicated that he has no intention of divesting himself of any of his business interests. All he has indicated that he plans to do is to turn active management of his companies over to his children. Trump and his family are showing no interest in exploring any other alternative.

Although the media and the political left are beside themselves with the specter of escalating conflicts of interest, the potential problems are being met with nothing but proverbial yawns from the inner circle, from Trump’s base, and increasingly from his fellow Republicans. Are we entering a new age, where actively monetizing the opportunities derived from public office are going to be acceptable? Will the new Secretary of State be able to move to reshape the business climate for Exxon Mobil with Russia and the billion barrel reserves discovered in Siberia, knowing of his Exxon-Mobil stock and options safely interred in his bank box, as he watches the value of his holdings react daily to his decisions on the international stage?

How about Puzder’s stock in his fast food operation, or the lady wrestler and the WWE, or Mnuchin and the CIT bank. Or anybody else from Trump’s roster of billionaires. Same deal? Anybody foresee any problems here?

Watch and learn, watch and learn.

Share on Facebook

McKee

mckee

And you thought once the race was over, things would return to normal? Hah!

Now we have to worry about which Trump are we going to get – the reasonable fellow who met with the President and gave the gracious acceptance speech after taking Secretary Clinton’s concession? Or the T.V. mogul leering at his women, polishing his brand and promising a Christmas list of changes to everything? Or the misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semitic, racist ranting about Muslim terrorists and Mexican rapists?

The next few weeks will produce some huge signals on what we can expect from a Trump administration – being the individuals that Trump announces for his key cabinet and staff positions. Not the names of the wannabees that keep spewing forth from the hangers-on in the bleachers, but the real list of real McCoys from the Horse’s Mouth himself.

Who he selects and who he leaves out in these appointments will tell mountains about how Trump’s administration will perform substantively. Will he go for ability and skill – as he promised – or merely loyalty? What will be the mix between Washington insiders and those from outside the beltway? Will everyone be a hard right conservatives, or will there be room here for a moderate voice? Will the opposition be acknowledged at all, or totally left out? Where, if at all, will women fit in, and who will they be? Consider, for example, one key appointment: Secretary of State.

Heading up Department of State is a huge job. Foreign policy is not a strong suit with Trump. He has no experience in this area, and his policy declarations to date have been bumper-sticker slogans with no substance. He has wandered all over the place in trying to come up with a consistent set of goals for the Middle East. He has managed to bring into question our commitment to NATO, our role in the defense of the Pacific Rim, the future of the Balkan states, and nuclear proliferation. The rest of the world is up in arms over Trump’s election in light these pronouncements along the way.

One thing Trump needs to do immediately is send a strong message to the rest of the world to calm the fears of foreign leaders that while some changes may be in the offing, drastic change in the relationship with our allies is not contemplated. One way to do that is to name a Secretary of State of international prominence; one that would send a calming message to all.

A truly bold move on Trump’s part to send such a message to the world and also to declare his intention to reunite the country and attempt to bring an end to the crippling divisiveness that has developed, would be to reach across the aisle and appoint a Democrat to this key cabinet post – asking Secretary Kerry to stay on, for example, or drafting Joe Biden for the job. If asked, and if either would accept, this would be a monumental step in demonstrating Trump’s true intent at being a President for everyone and to reconcile and reunite the country.

There is a strong tradition for the appointment of at least one key cabinet post from the opposition party. Every president back through FDR has selected at least one cabinet secretary or other high appointed official from the opposite party. Appointing a moderate Democrat to head State and help guide foreign policy does not denigrate the right wing’s true interest in domestic policy, commerce and taxation, and would be a huge relief to the rest of the world.

If Trump is not persuaded to go that far with this position, the Republican candidates most often mentioned for the job of Secretary of State are John Bolton, Newt Gingrich and Senator Robert Corker. Bolton is a hard right, hawkish ideologue. He could not garner the votes to get confirmed as Bush’s ambassador to the U.N., and has been on the sidelines ever since. Newt Gingrich is an enigma. More to the center than Bolton, Gingrich has been said to be of the “Reagan-John Paul II-Thatcher” strain of aggressive diplomacy developed during the 1980’s. He has been out of anything connected with foreign policy for 30 years. Senator Bob Corker is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and is clearly the most current of the three on worldwide problems. Although a conservative Republican, he is the most moderate of the three in his foreign policy, often voicing a more cautious and non-interventionist note than his more hawkish colleagues.

Barring the dramatic step of selecting a Democrat, the selection of Senator Corker would signal an intent to aim at moderation in foreign affairs. It would assuage most of the country and most foreign leaders that reason and common sense will continue to guide U.S. policy.

Selection of John Bolton would signal a toleration for brinksmanship and military intervention everywhere. It would mean a resurrection of American Exceptionalism, a tolerance for nuclear proliferation, and the return of the Ugly American. It would scare the bejesus out of half the country, the rest of the world, and me.

Picking Newt Gingrich as Secretary of State would leave it a mystery for now, until Gingrich’s policies firm up more, and it is clarified whether, on foreign policy, he tends towards the hard right or would tolerate the more moderate center. The delay would not serve to calm the fears of the foreign leaders. Also of Newt is the fact that since he has lived off the dregs of politics for more than 30 years, his appointment would not be viewed as consistent with Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp.”

Most of the picks will be conservative Republicans; that is to be expected. There will be some token exceptions, but these will be flagged and well labeled. All of Trump’s appointments should be examined for answers beyond the mere name of the individual involved. It will all come down to one question: does the individual possesses the flexibility to adjust to meet the needs of the entire country, or will all answers only address the demands of the far right?

The answer will be revealing

Share on Facebook

McKee

mckee

Starting with Harry Truman’s impossible win over Governor Thomas Dewey in 1948, Tuesday marks the 17th presidential campaign that I have personally watched – usually from the edge of my seat, sometimes with hair standing on end, but always mindful of every twist and turn, from beginning to end. Nine of these races went one way, and eight the other, meaning that overall, the end result has been as close to 50-50 as one can get with an odd total.

No matter which party, and no matter which candidate was involved, no matter the issues involved or the principles being argued or the programs being promised, in every one of these past goes, approximately half the country was convinced that the defeat of their candidate meant doom was inevitable for the end of the world as they knew it was nigh. And yet the country survives, just as it will undoubtedly survive this one.

I tried this logic on my sweet wife, and was told, promptly and in no uncertain terms, that this one was different. Perhaps it is so. This is the first time in my memory, for example, where we have elected a misogynistic, homophobic, anti-Semitic, racist who declared himself such before taking office. Most have waited at least until after the oath was administered to stumble into the issues. But then, certainly no one is contending that this will be the first time we have ever had such in the White House? Right? Of course not.

What does make this is one different in my view is that this is the first time in memory, and perhaps even in recorded history, when so little has been known about the president-elect’s true abilities at governance. To my memory, the only other candidate with no direct experience at governance from elected office was Eisenhower – but he had accumulated a reasonably acceptable record as a substitute; he won WWII.

As far as Trump is concerned, we know him only to be a business man of uncertain and somewhat controversial talents. Trump has made it abundantly clear that he is not what anyone would call a skilled politician, and we have no idea how what skills he does possess will translate into the political science arena. We do know that he organized a primary presidential run with almost no money, mowed down the entire bench of traditional candidates offered by his party, ran his end game with very little ground support, and somehow kept the significance of most of what was happening away from the cognoscenti of traditional campaign methods.

What nobody was paying any attention to, and what was not being picked up by the media, the savvy commentariat, or the data mavens of conventional polling, was that a huge segment of the voting electorate was so enraged with the status quo, so unhappy with the beltway norm, so dissatisfied with what they perceived the politicians were delivering up to now, that they were collectively willing to sacrifice it all on a total unknown, despite all the political gaffs and missteps, despite the randy women’s issues, despite the lack of depth on any of his promises and bumper-sticker slogans of policy, despite the foreign relations blunders, and despite the suggestion of chumminess with the wrong foreign leaders, all simply upon the promise that he was not your typical politician and that he, and he alone, intended to shake the box.

We may believe he is singularly unqualified to serve, but right at 50% of the voting public disagree. Because of the arcane way we count, they are in the majority and they are willing to take this chance that shaking the box will work no matter what else might be involved. And who knows what will happen here. Giving the box a sound shake up by one from the outside has never been tried before. What can possibly go wrong besides a worldwide economic depression, the dismantling of history’s most responsive democracy and thermonuclear war?

Actually, the implementation of much of the policy changes Trump is talking about by executive fiat may be very difficult to bring about. The President’s power to act unilaterally, without the concurrence of Congress, or the concurrence of the deeply imbedded civil servants in most agencies, is considerably limited. Especially if some shakeup appears to be a drastic change or upheaval from the “normal” way of things are done, it is probably going to be much, much more difficult than Trump imagines.

Changing regulations by executive order can run into trouble if the President starts to monkey around. Everything is governed by the Administrative Procedures Act and nothing can happen summarily. The agencies critical to our national security, for example, the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI and Foggy Bottom, are all loaded with career civilians who are in designated positions that are insulated from political influence. These folks cannot be fired, have out-lasted numerous changes in the administration, and can cause significant problems in the implementation of any administrative orders that are not favored. Look at the problems being encountered at streamlining the Veteran’s Administration. Ingrained methods and programs are very tough issues to tackle, regardless of the best of intentions.

Insofar as obtaining Congressional approval, having simple majorities in both houses of the President’s party is not necessarily a pathway to everything Trump desires. The razor thin majority in the Senate is not enough to get anything done if the minority digs in its heels – as the Republicans recently proved to Obama. Even among the R’s, a fair number do not necessarily approve of him or his programs. Further, the members of Congress are separately elected, and are individually going to be watching out for their personal interests, more so over Trump’s. Outright repeal of many programs with desirable features will be troublesome; we are at least likely to see amendments attached to any repealers to keep the more desirable features and prevent serious a harm from resulting.

So, Secretary Clinton had it right in her talk. The best thing here is to take a deep breath. This fellow is our president, whether we like it or not, and he deserves a chance to get it right. Some of these things do need changing and there is the possibility that he will grow into the job and be effective at it. If he is terrible and horrible and awful at it, there are plenty of resources within the government to block his way, slow things down and make it difficult if not impossible for him to do any real harm. We bide our time until the mid-terms and then corral his power completely. Or wait it out until the next general.

And that may not be too bad; remember, he was a Democrat until just a few years ago.

Share on Facebook

McKee

mckee

Let’s dissect this business of Hillary Clinton’s emails and the FBI report one last time.

Yes, I know that everyone’s mind is already made up here. But it might serve some purpose to actually look at the law and see if there really is any way that she could be found guilty of anything. There are only three criminal statutes that have ever been mentioned in connection with the email allegations, and it won’t take us long to plow through the weeds and take a look. Let’s take them one at a time.

18 United States Code § 798

With the caption “Disclosure of Classified Information,” this statute is often cited as the probable criminal statute under which Secretary Clinton could be charged for mishandling the State Department emails. However, upon a simple reading, it becomes apparent that this statute is inapplicable to any of the emails discovered on the Secretary’s private server up to this time. There are three essential elements to the crime defined by his section, and Clinton’s circumstance lacks all three.

First, to constitute a crime under this section, the information that is communicated must be “classified” information. This is a word of art that is defined in the statutes. To be “classified” requires that each document be properly marked at the top and bottom of each page with a label stating the level of classification. In fact, none of the sensitive emails or their attachments were properly marked as required by law during the time the Secretary is charged with mishandling them. Proper marking is a requirement for prosecution; any subjective expectation that the information might be, or should be, or could be classified is immaterial.

Second, the subject information must actually be transmitted to an unauthorized party for a use which will jeopardize the interests of the United States. Here, all the emails with sensitive information were to or from persons within the State Department who all had appropriate clearance to send and receive classified material. There is no proof that any unauthorized person received any of these emails for an improper purpose.

Third, the Secretary must have had the specific intent to disclose the classified information to the unauthorized source for an improper purpose. This is an espionage statute, and it is a crime of specific intent. There is no evidence that the Secretary had any intent to transmit the emails to any unauthorized persons in order to jeopardize or harm the security of the country.

The base facts are not sufficient as a matter of law to fit the requirements of this statute.

18 United States Code § 793(f)

This statute provides that whoever through gross negligence causes or permits a classified item to be removed, lost or stolen, or delivered to someone not authorized to receive classified information, in violation of his trust, may be guilty of a felony. This is the only statute in the espionage area that provides that gross negligence will be sufficient for conviction, instead of requiring specific intent.

Without even considering the issue of negligence, the statute by its terms cannot be made to fit the circumstances here. It was enacted in World War I for tangible objects and documents, and has never been amended to fit electronic media. It has only been used six times, with the last being during World War II. To violate the statute requires that the classified data first be “removed” from the place where it is supposed to be located, then taken to a place where it is not supposed to be located, where it is then either “lost” or “stolen,” or then “delivered” on to an unauthorized user.

First, there is the same problem with this statute as with the general espionage statute in that none of the emails or attachments were properly marked as classified at the time they were handled by the Secretary. This means there was no “classified” information involved.

Next, none of the occurrences proclaimed in the statute fit an email. An email is not relocated by any of the email processes; it simply replicates itself onto the email server of all the addressees. Any documents involved, and the email itself, are not removed from the location where they originate and are supposed to be kept. Everything remains in its original location, where it is supposed to be. When replies or additional comments are created, nothing of the original material gets changed; the replies and additional comments are just added to the thread, and the whole stack replicates itself with everything recorded at all the locations of all the parties to whom the email is addressed. Under a plain reading of the main elements of this statute, if nothing of the items covered by the charging allegation are in any way “removed,” or “lost,” or “stolen,” or “destroyed,” no crime is committed.

The second element of this section is that the subject item, if not lost or stolen, must be delivered to someone not authorized, breaching the trust reposed in the sending individual. Even if read broadly, there is no proof or allegation in this case that any of the emails passing through Clinton’s servers were ever diverted to an unauthorized person who was not authorized to receive the data sent. Any of the emails containing sensitive information that were passed on went to addressees within the State Department who were authorized to receive classified information.

The two essential elements as contained in the statute either cannot be fit to the circumstances here, or do not apply. To make this statute fit the facts of this case would require massive reconstruction of terms by the court, which the courts are unlikely to do. In the instant case, the antiquated language just does not fit electronic mail. The base facts are not sufficient as a matter of law to fit the requirements of this statute.

On the issue of negligence, the State Department has a separate, secure email system for transmission of classified data. Classified data is not supposed to be transmitted in any fashion other than through the classified system. From a negligence standpoint, the Secretary had no reason to suspect that classified data was included in emails sent to her private email address, and therefore no reason to be aware of any duty imposed upon her with regard to that data. Clinton told the FBI she was not aware of any classified data on any of her emails, and Director Comey testified to Congress that other evidence gathered by the FBI corroborated the Secretary’s contention on this point. While negligence is a subjective finding, the lack of any evidence that Clinton was aware of any duty upon her could be deemed overwhelming.

18 United States Code § 1924

This statute makes it a felony for any agent or officer of the government who obtains classified information to knowingly remove the classified material to an unauthorized location with the intent of keeping it there. The statute runs into the same problems as the others if it is to be applied to the email of the Secretary.

First, the material on Clinton’s server was not properly marked and labeled – meaning nothing of the private emails could be considered “classified” information for purposes of prosecution under the federal law.

Second, emails are not moved from one location to another, and replicating the emails on her server did not accomplish any part of relocating or hiding or withholding or otherwise interfering with the originals of any of the data involved. The original data, in its original form, is still exactly where it started out to be. The only thing on Clinton’s private email servers are replicated copies.

Finally, the statute defines the crime to be one of specific intent. The individual must know of the classified information, and deliberately intend to secret it away into the unauthorized location, denying it to others entitled to access. All of the objective proof is otherwise here. Nothing was properly marked as classified; classified information is supposed to be contained in a completely separate email system, and there were no objective circumstances to put anyone on notice that classified information was contained in any of her private emails. The base facts are not sufficient as a matter of law to fit the requirements of this statute.

Conclusion

The timing was awful, the optics were wrong, and Hillary is terrible at explaining herself. The whole works has been handled with the delicacy of a meat ax. But when the smoke clears, the dust settles and everything is out on the table face up, the email escapade will eventually implode upon itself and disappear.

Share on Facebook

McKee

mckee

On our ballot this year in Idaho is HJR 5 asking whether the state Constitution should be amended to add a provision permitting the legislature to oversee agencies’ implementation of their administrative regulations. Sounds reasonable enough. What could be wrong here?

Brent Hill, senate president pro tempore, wrote a guest editorial in The Statesman recently, pitching for approval of the resolution. The good senator suggested that administrative rules in Idaho come into being through arcane procedures carried out in secret with no place for public input from the constituents.

What poppycock. Under the Idaho Administrative Procedures Act, proposed agency rules and regulations are posted or published for review, with plenty of time for anyone affected to get involved. The process provides mandatory opportunities for public participation and comment. Further, most agency boards are carefully balanced politically or by region to assure wide representation of those affected throughout the areas answering to the agency action. Any inference that these things are created by disinterested bureaucrats who put them together in the dead of night, without input from those affected and without any public participation, is total nonsense.

Even more malarkey is the notion offered by the senator that the legislative process would provide for better public participation than the administrative process. As anyone who has tried to petition the legislature on any controversial matter knows, public input at a legislative hearing is at the pure whim of the chairman; most bills go to the floor on a committee vote dictated by party caucus, without any public hearing and only minimal committee debate. They often reach the floor under suspended rules, meaning even further limitation on debate, if any at all.

The senator’s article also perked my interest because he did not present a single instance of any individual or entity suffering from the lack of this legislative authority. There were no examples of wrongs that went begging for lack of this solution, of some process that had been ignored and needed attention. With the maxim, “If it isn’t broke, why fix it?” beginning to ring in my ears, I looked a little deeper.

Sure enough, there are already laws on the books that say exactly what the proposed resolution would provide, only more precisely and with a great deal of procedural machinery. Idaho Code §§ 67-5223 and 67-5291, for example, provide for legislative review of all rule making actions taken by administrative agencies in Idaho, with specific provisions for carrying out the oversight both upon the initial adoption of the administrative action and on a year to year basis thereafter. Further, the authority of the legislature to act under these statutes in this area of ensuring that the legislative intent is carried out has been specifically upheld and approved by the Idaho Supreme Court.

But the law is just hanging by a thread, the argument goes, for some future legislature may decide to repeal or revise the existing legislation, or some future court could overturn the existing case in the blink of an eye. By putting the thing into the Constitution, this would prevent future legislatures or some future court from tinkering with it.

Ignore the practical absurdity of the argument that some future legislature might, for no reason, up and repeal a set of laws that have been in place for close to 50 years, being constantly upgraded and kept current with modernizing amendments right up to the 2014 legislature. Consider instead, if it does come up, that this is exactly the sort of decision that we expect the future legislature to be able to handle. We expect our legislature to constantly survey and improve upon the laws to make sure they continue to serve the purposes for which they are intended, and when no longer needed, we fully expect the legislature to act and toss them out.

What is it about this particular power that makes it so important that it needs to be in the Constitution? What is wrong with leaving the whole works to the legislature, with recourse to the courts where needed, as we have done for the last 124 years? If something comes up that we have not thought about here, why would we want to tie the hands of our future legislators? Is there something we are missing here?

Aha – there it is, in the last line of the proposal. The proposed amendment in HJR 5 says any action by the legislature under this new power would not be subject to gubernatorial veto. It would grant constitutional power to alter or amend any administrative action by a veto proof action that the governor could not interfere with and the courts could not touch.

This would make the legislature into a super power over all administrative agencies in the government, eviscerating the concept of balanced branches of government, and elevating the legislature above the executive branch entirely.

Here is the obvious reason this unconscionable power grab is so strongly opposed by the Governor, the Attorney General, most of the members of the bar, and a by good measure of editorial writers throughout the state. Which presents a very good reason why it should be rejected by the rest of us in November.

Share on Facebook

McKee

mckee

The Republicans have paid unfettered, blind obeisance to the dogmatic tenet that government mandated redistribution of wealth is an abomination in a free market society for so long, that even some Democrats can no longer see the forest for the trees.

“Redistribution of wealth” is the singular, most dreaded anathema of the Republican objection to anything proposed that touches upon the economy. But in these changing times, this abhorrence of what may become an essential ingredient to our continued peace and prosperity needs to be reexamined.

Since around 1980 to current times, the inequality of income and wealth has gradually but dramatically shifted in the United States to the point where it might be reaching into dangerous proportions. From the end of the pre-Reagan era, around 1980, to the advent of the 2008 recession, being the halcyon period of supply-side economics, the incomes of the wealthiest 1% increased by a whopping 275%. The incomes for the top 40%, excluding the tip, increased around 63%, not bad and very comfortable; but the lower 60% did not fare nearly as well and the bottom quintile increased only 18% in close to 30 years.

From 2007 to the present, through the recovery and into the post-recession boom, in every other sector of the economy other that wages and incomes, the post-recession recovery has been spectacular. In every measured way we have returned to record levels in the financial markets, in manufacturing and production, in construction starts, in GDP, in the international value of the dollar, and in exports and imports.

In wages and incomes, it’s different. The raw employment numbers have almost returned to pre-recession levels, but the values in that employment have become even more lop-sided. The top 1% recovered much faster, with top incomes growing an additional 20%; however, incomes for the rest of the 99% have stayed flat, increasing overall less than 1%, with the bottom quintile actually losing ground. At the very tip of this number reside the top 400 wealthiest families, who now own more wealth than the entire bottom 50% of the population combined – more than the 150 million or so struggling at the bottom of the scale.

The upshot of all these numbers and percentages is that supply-side economics, or “Reagonomics,” or tickle-down economics, from the standpoint of producing a balanced economy that maintains a level field of opportunity for wages and incomes, with natural re-distribution flowing from internal market forces, does not work. The wealth and power is steadily amassing at the pinnacles. It does not trickle down. The only dramatic impact over almost 40 years of trickle-down economics has been the gradual eradication of the middle class labor force and significant impediments to the small and medium class independent businesses. We are left with the fabulously wealthy 0.1% of us growing even more fabulously wealthy; with the comfortably wealthy 1% of us staying comfortably wealthy; and with the remaining 99% of us losing ground. This group is largely beginning to sag and to struggle, and the pressures are beginning to build.

The shifting of wealth into the hands of the few amasses power in those hands, and with power comes additional pressures upon legislative bodies – state and federal – for protective measures to insulate the wealthiest proponents. While the Republican mantra may seem to be “no government regulation” period, the real mantra coming from the mouth of each of the most powerful is “no government regulation except for me.”

A prime example is the tax code, an impossible labyrinth of arcane and indefensible examples of outrageous favoritism, which everyone – right and left alike – agree should be scrapped and reconstructed from the ground up. Yet everyone – right and left alike – also agree that to attempt to do so in the present atmosphere of Congress would be a waste of time. Someone estimated that there are four highly paid lobbyist lurking the halls for every member of Congress, everyone with a different pet tax feature that they would insist be included in any attempt to rewrite the code.

If something is not done to turn this trend around and to rebalance the economy into a smoother curve of wealth across the entire population, it is going to tip over. The possible, if not probable result, if the situation continues to worsen, is a revolution. Perhaps it could be a bloodless revolution such as sustained the British as they reorganized their economy from one controlled by the medieval baronage system to the forerunner of the modern capital based system of today; or perhaps it will be as bloody as the French Revolution of the 18th century or the Russian Revolution of the 20th. If anyone is still shaking their head thinking it will never happen in modern times, all they need do is look at television, take note what is happening in many of our cities on almost a fortnightly basis, and multiply these events by any progression of numbers one picks, from 1 to 100. All that has to happen is for the present situation to continue to fester without relief.

From the standpoint of the progressive advocacy, it is not that the government should act, it is that there is no one else to act. There is no natural impetus to cause the private sector to favor more equitable balancing of wages and incomes, and most business leaders are not addressing this themselves. The fundamental principle of a free market economy is survival of the fittest, with no regard given in any respect to the individual or humane interests of the members of the economic element labeled “labor.” The assumptions from a pure economic standpoint is that all business entities are equal, and that “labor” is fungible, mobile and perfectly reactive to market forces, when in fact and individually, none of these characteristics are true. While we have many laws to protect the humane elements of the workplace – child labor laws, OSHA, workers’ compensation laws, etc., we have few laws to protect the economic strata of the individual members of the working class, and fewer still to protect the smaller businesses from unfair, predatory and sometimes criminal practices of the bigger entities.

The obvious facts are that unless the government steps in, it won’t happen. Big business won’t do it, the stockholders are not interested or are from a practical standpoint powerless to intervene, the financial markets do not reward social justice remedies, individual wealth is of no help, the individual worker has no power and no rights to act on his own, and organized labor has been stripped of resources once available, such as legal protection for union shops and striker’s rights, and has become a toothless tiger.

Government action is all that is left to increase or protect the economic standing of the individual worker. At a minimum the government could: enhance present laws on predatory and unfair business practices with a view to small and medium size entities; eliminate the presumption of “at will employment” and give seasoned workers built-in job protection; provide that participation in a legitimate strike called by the recognized bargaining unit of the business is not grounds for termination of employment; re-enact the limitation on pay ranges where the cash pay from the bottom to the top within a given business cannot exceed a certain ratio – the CEO’s cash salary cannot exceed X times the bottom individual’s actual pay, for example, with all pay rates in between equitably distributed along the curve; require stockholder approval for stock dilution incentives to top executives, such as disproportionate stock options; and enact a sound, national minimum wage, with mechanisms to keep this floor current as the economy fluctuates. This need not be a universal wage, applicable to all parts of the country; it is very true that different regions may well have different influences at work, and the requirements may shift as one moves about the country. The national government might set an index against which regional differences could be applied.

The point here is that all of these issues have been ignored for years on the national level, and this is contributing to the disproportionate shifting of income and wealth. More needs to be done if the inevitable is to be avoided, but we have to start somewhere.

Share on Facebook

McKee

mckee

If the drumbeat was only from Trump, I would put it into perspective and recognize it for an extension of his mantra that anything Hillary Clinton does or says is wrong, immoral, illegal, unethical and treasonous; all part of an underground left wing conspiracy to destroy the way of life enjoyed by the Conservatives among us – or at least that part of it guaranteed by the Second Amendment. One may have to keep correcting the outrageous lies are spewing forth, but so long as the facts are kept in line, the wacky conclusions can ordinarily usually be ignored and allowed to wither and die without undue attention. But this one has a disheartening twist.

In this case, Trump is bellowing, without a shred of hard evidence, that the connection between the Clintons and their foundation is corrupt and criminal, and an exploitation of the personal relationships involved. Trump and his minions maintain, without evidence, that it has grown into an example of the unethical and immoral practice of “quid pro quo” – the illegal payment to an individual or his campaign in exchange for the deliverance of a governmental benefit – except that the formula doesn’t make any sense when one of the parties is giving benefits away not seeking government deliverance, and no one is deriving any personal profit or personal gain from anything. Nobody has been able to even fashion a grammatically correct sentence that puts forth any hard facts that actually connects anything said or done by anybody involved with the Clinton Foundation that is illegal or immoral, or anything that is even remotely clandestine, or sketchy, or of questionable ethics or morality. Nothing. Nada.

The Clinton Foundation has raised and distributed billions of dollars worldwide, enjoys unparalleled friendly relations with governments and persons of wealth throughout the world; enjoys an extraordinary and close relationship with a huge cadre of donors and volunteers throughout the world; has received nothing but the highest of ratings from independent rating services for its organization and transparency; and has received nothing but praise for its works. Former President George H.W. Bush has frequently partnered with former President Clinton in Clinton Foundation program activities.

It is truly a remarkable organization that was conceived and brought into prominence largely through the energy and devotion to the cause of one man — Bill Clinton. It is unlike any other charitable foundation in the world. Neither Bill nor Hillary Clinton have taken a dime in income from the foundation, either for their personal use or for any of Hillary’s political campaigns.

The only thing offered by Trump and his surrogates is a collection of opinions based upon totem-pole hearsay and unfounded inferences drawn from some meeting calendars and a handful of emails recently released by the State Department. The worst admission in any of the emails may be the line in one written by Huma Abedin to a staffer at the Clinton Foundation, in reply to a request to Huma to arrange a meeting for an influential donor, where Huma’s response was, “I’ll ask.” Or perhaps, it was the email from the same staffer seeking help in finding a position with State for an employee leaving the foundation. The reply was that the person was known to those at State and that they would keep an eye on personnel developments, because the individual was “on our radar.” It is reported that no meeting with the influential donor ever occurred, although I do not see that it would have made any difference if it had happened. It is not reported whether the friend of everybody got the job.

Two reporters from the Associate Press wrote an expose claiming that fully half of all non-State department related meetings by Secretary Clinton involved donors of the Clinton Foundation – except that the entire premise of the story was promptly and completely debunked. The real fact is that most of the extraordinarily wealthy individuals on the Foundation’s list are already well known throughout the halls of power, and do not need to rely upon any particular portal controlled by the Clintons to gain access to anywhere. Networking is the lifeblood of society, not just politics, as is fully well known, and the communication among staffers found in the emails are merely indications of the normal level networking that exists everywhere.

Many, if not most of the Foundation programs already involve matters and issues that are also of official interest to the State Department. A natural assumption, born out by the explanation of many of Clinton’s meetings, is that any individual interested in supporting Foundation activities is probably also be interested in official State Department programs in the same area. Certainly in some of these areas it was the State Department that was seeking assistance in gaining access to resources back in the home of the contact, and not the other way around.

The point is that nothing raised by anybody so far is even remotely improper. Conversations of exactly this nature occur constantly throughout Washington and the seats of power throughout the world, and include every office of Congress and the entirety of the agencies and departments of the United States.

Despite all of this, the amazing result is that no one is coming to the Secretary’s or the Foundation’s assistance here. Even though the Clintons have acknowledged that if Hillary is elected steps would be taken to isolate the Foundation from any connection with the Oval Office, this is not satisfying many elements of the left. Although there is no legal reason to take action, no ethical breach has been demonstrated and no wrongs are likely to be committed, just because it is the Clintons, the media has determined that the “optics” are wrong. Many from the left are demanding the ties be severed at once, or that the foundation be dismantled. Dismantled!

Even if a cozy relationship did exist, and even if Bill and Chelsea ran the Foundation while Hillary ran the country, and even if they compared notes every night, so long as the Foundation continued to actually produce the good results throughout the world that have been produced up to now, why would this be any cause for alarm?

Hillary has enough on her plate fending off the atrocious slurs from Trump and the far right without any unnecessary sniping from her own backyard just because somebody thinks the “optics” are wrong.

The whole thing is a baseless kerfuffle and nothing needs to be done, now or later.

Share on Facebook

McKee

mckee

As I listened and watched the Republican’s proposed leader of the free world rail at his faithful minions and promise them millions and millions of dollars in tax relief, new jobs, cheaper trade, and better health care. As I heard of his intention to up-end and renegotiate all of our foreign trade arrangements, to reorganize NATO, to re-examine our relations with Putin, and to have heart to heart talks with all of our allies who he thinks might owe us money.

And as I watch the polls come crashing down, shifting into double digits in some areas and turning other regions purple that have not seen a tinge of blue for 30 years. And as I watch Hillary’s ground game begin to swell and her advertising fill the airwaves, and learn that he has none. No game. No ads. Nothing organized, nothing planned and no money to start.

And as I watch, the Republican movers and shakers literally begin to twist in the wind, with all up on bicycles pedaling backwards as fast as they could, with ashen faces and blank looks, some heading for the exits, others beginning to mutter and plan.

There came to my mind the noble Thane of the days of the Bard, with his frustrations as his world began falling apart around him. How apt the words spoken then are today, of this potential leader of the free world, this standard bearer of Republicans, as the words spill forth, first of Hillary, then of the 16 stalwart companions he defeated to get to this position, and finally to himself and this predicament he finds himself in, with a speech just given that was scripted for him by others, and which he was forced to deliver verbatim as written, and which he so obviously disdains.

And as he wonders who amongst them will claim his head to display for all to see, as others in times gone by claimed the head of Macbeth and held it high.

Can’t you all see him pacing and pacing and as these heavy words come so finally crashing forth?

(Of Hillary)

“She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.”

(Of his campaign)

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,”

(Of the 16 wannabes he vanquished in the primaries)

“And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.”

(And finally, of himself, his campaign, and the results of his reading what others have written for him …)

Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Curtain

Share on Facebook

McKee

mckee

Donald Trump picked fights with and hurled irretrievable insults at all of womankind, the Hispanic culture, the black voter, the American immigrant, Muslim refugees, a federal judge, the Pope, a handful of right leaning national columnists and commentators, and the entirety of the national media, and nothing happened. He inched up in the polls and knocked off the bottom of the sixteen contenders.

Then he did the same with a good share of the Republican hierarchy, including the RNC, most of the Republican governors, both of the living previous Republican Presidents, everyone at Fox News except O’Reilly and Hannity, all sixteen of his primary opponents, the Speaker of the House, the former Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and John McCain. John McCain!

Still nothing happened. He continued to climb in the polls, and drew cheers from the crowds gathering for his stump speeches. In any other election year, with any other candidate, any one of these uninvited, unnecessary and self-induced popovers, especially the racist potshots and the slams against women, the Pope, the judge, and John McCain, would have resulted in the heavens opening for St. Thomas More to reach down, grab the candidate by his you-know-what, and unceremoniously dump him out of the boat.

This is exactly what every one of the cognoscenti predicted was going to happen at one time or another as these gaffs spilled out of the campaign winding through the early days, through the fall, through the heavy primary season, and finally towards the National Convention. Every one of the heavy hitting pundits, who had never been wrong in the history of media-centric electioneering before, came up with egg on their face. Nobody got it right. Nobody.

To the aghast astonishment of every single one of the hangers-on, Trump gathered steam and systematically mowed down all sixteen of the contenders, without a taking a mark from any of the outrageous antics he had been pulling since the outset. He now stood alone as the standard bearer of his party. As the convention neared, Trump unceremoniously abandoned his amateur campaign boss, and brought a pro aboard.

At last, came the cry from the bleachers, we shall see some normalcy injected into the campaign. The predictions flew that following the national convention, Trump would be brought to heel by his family, his new manager, and the professional campaigners that had been recruited. Different tactics would be seen for the general election.

Recent events indicate there is not a chance of any change. In fact, Trump has stepped up the unnecessary, outrageous and boorish outbursts aimed at folks other than the political opponents he needs to best in November, just as he had been pulling off before. In recent times, in just the few days since the convention, he has managed to blast away at, in no particular order, a hapless Muslim couple who lost their son in Iraq, a retired and highly respected four star Marine Corps general, the fire marshal and first responders in Columbus, Ohio, Senator Kelly Ayotte, the Speaker of the House, and John McCain. John McCain!

All of these outbursts are miniature tantrums and none would last through a single news cycle in normal times, if Trump would only brush them off and walk away. But it appears clear that Trump is paying no heed to any past remonstrations from his staff, his family, the party stalwarts, congressional leadership, or anyone else, but insists on continuing to throw gasoline all around, ensuring that everything will continue to blaze and clearly indicating that he has no intention of reforming his campaign style in the future.

While all these shenanigans are soaking up the oxygen in the current news cycles, two other of Trumps’ outrageous antics are beginning to fester. Trump has suggested that Putin is a better leader than Obama, and more recently has come out with inconsistent and conflicting comments on Obama’s policies and what Trump would propose towards the Putin’s actions in the Ukraine. Chuck Todd caught Trumps’ campaign pro in a blatant lie over Ukraine issues on Meet the Press last Sunday. Most recently, Trump has suggested that Putin should turn his email hackers loose on Clinton’s personal mails.

This kind of stuff used to be completely off limits under a longstanding and non-political tradition going back to the advent of the Truman administration, at the instigation of Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich) and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He insisted that no matter how divisive the intramural partisan politics can become in an election year, in foreign matters we have one President at a time, and all politics stops at the water’s edge.

Until now, no one in their right mind would think of aggrandizing a foreign leader over the sitting President to the American voter, or challenging the current administration’s actions over any ongoing issue of foreign policy in the middle of a developing crisis. Trumps’ outrageous violation of history’s tradition, and his blatant aggrandizement of a totalitarian foreign leader at the expense of our sitting President is beside the fact that his statements inviting Putin to take action on Clinton’s campaign emails may even be actionable under federal laws against foreign interference with elections, against foreign interference with emails, and perhaps even in conspiracy to treason, now that Trump and Clinton will be receiving National Security Briefings.
The establishment cognoscenti’s hair is on fire throughout the inner beltway over these developments, and their apoplectic commentary is beginning to spew forth. However, having been burned so badly by their predictions earlier, nobody is willing come right out with any predictions as to what will or should happen to Trump on account of any of it.

But things do seem different this time. While the far right continues to confound, the overall public reaction is more predictable, and the polls are beginning to respond. The critics are a lot hotter and more persistent than before. In an interjection of a type that has not been since Truman slammed Eisenhower’s credentials for office in 1953, President Obama declared that Trump was not fit to hold the office of President. At least two major commentators have opined that Trump is mentally unbalanced, with these comments being repeated throughout the media.

Rumors fly that Trumps’ professional manager has gone into hiding leaving the campaign staff in disarray and ready to bolt. A handful of inside staffers have jumped ship already. At least two congressmen and one prominent mover and shaker, Meg Whitman of California, have jumped all the way over to Clinton’s side. Reince Priebus is said to be apoplectic at the recent developments, and particularly at Trumps’ refusal to support Ryan, Ayotte and McCain. The New York Times is leaking that more defections from the masses of Republican Poohbahs may be in the offing.

Underneath it all, there is at least the beginning of a cackle that, at long last, St. Thomas More has awakened and may be paying attention. If so, it may not be long now.

One can only hope.

Share on Facebook

McKee

mckee

Is the United States winning or losing in the Middle East? The answers are confusing and mixed.

Measured from purely military considerations, no one can deny that ISIS is being ground down. Their military leaders have been decimated by drones and direct attacks. Their organized forces are on the run or embattled in losing situations throughout the region. While there are still areas between Syria and Iraq under ISIS control, it is only a matter of time before military operations will strangle the organized ISIS forces and eliminate its military capabilities.

However, the military defeat of ISIS is only a fraction of the puzzle facing the United States and its allies in the Middle East. With its theological underpinnings, ISIS is not just a political entity with military power, capable of being defeated or eradicated by military force, or of being overhauled and reorganized by a dominating captor, such as the allied powers did with the German Reich and the Empire of Japan following the last world war.

Underlying ISIS, at the foundation of its existence, is the fundamental belief of Islam. While foreign powers may consider such to be radical jihadism, to the Muslim follower it is part of an intangible ideology or system of belief ingrained in Islam from the biblical times of the Prophet Mohammad.

Whether the physical entity of ISIS as we know it today survives is irrelevant to the survival of the fundamental ideology of its followers. Radical jihadism is a condition of the mind, and thoughts are incapable of being conquered and overturned by force. Converting the followers of today’s ISIS to another way of thinking is the only way of eliminating a distorted ideology, and this can only be achieved through means other than military force. It is a problem within Islam, and must be solved from within Islam. As is becoming increasingly obvious, for any entity from without Islam to attempt to impose a solution, whether it be by carrot or stick, serves only to exacerbate the situation and prolong the dissention.

The United States has proved itself to be singularly incapable in this area. Our only methods of persuasion towards cultures who refuse to embrace our ways of governance purely on our say-so have been by the brute force of our military or the economic influence of our wealth. When these methods do not work, we historically have been at a loss to know how to react.

For examples of how we have repeatedly demonstrated our inability in this area, one need look only to the consequences when our decision to prop up the Shah of Iran turned out to be wrong, when our attempts to form a balanced secular government in Iraq failed, when we bungled attempts to influence the emerging governments of Egypt and Libya, and in our continuing futile attempts to organize a viable government in Afghanistan. We – individually and as a nation — do not know what to do when power and money are not sufficient to carry the day.

The only way out of this mess is to scrap completely everything that we have been doing, and start over. Defeating the essence of ISIS is not a matter of the proper application of force or military power, or of the effective exertion of economic sanctions, or of more effective diplomatic intervention into the internal affairs of errant governments. The eventual solution will be one that eliminates direct military intervention entirely, reduces diplomatic interference to zero, gets all foreign interests out of Middle East functions completely, and treats Islamic terrorists of any brand as international criminals.

This is not a partisan issue. The present political landscape does not offer a choice between right and wrong in the Middle East, but only choices between wrong and worse. While Trump’s announced policies would lead to disaster much faster and with greater potential for catastrophic results, Clinton’s policies are also destined to fail.

Both sides must recognize that success will not come until we get out of the way while Islam cleans its own house.

Share on Facebook

McKee