Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “McKee”

When Burnim Woods to Dunsinane Might Come


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.”


An answer to prayers?


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.

Heads we lose, tails they win


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.

Good guys with guns


Let’s explore the urban myth that the gun lobby and their followers bring up every time there is a mass shooting. The one that says the best answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Donald Trump is advocating this as his answer to the Orlando shooting. He pumps up his crowd by suggesting that things would have been different if someone in that crowd had a gun, and had used it on the shooter. Trump points his finger at his forehead and pulls the imaginary trigger. “Boom!” he suggests, “end of problem,” to the sound of loud cheers and applause from his crowd.

Balderdash. Anyone truly familiar with guns, with crowds, and with what happens when somebody starts shooting should be able to easily figure out with a few minutes logical concentration that the myth is just that and that Trump’s solution is utter nonsense.

Let’s suppose that out of the crowd of 300 or so that might have been in that nightclub that there were 10 individuals who were armed. What would have been the expected result? First of all, when the bad guy fired the first shot, there would have been pandemonium. A goodly number would dive for cover or head for the exit, a fair number would rear up and look around to see what was happening, and the rest would mill around in confusion. The point is that the entire room would be immediately filled with unpredictable movement in all directions.

Into this setting, we introduce the 10 vigilantes. They do not know one another, have never practiced or trained together, and are spread generally throughout the club. (In real life, the cops practice these scenarios repeatedly, but in our situation, the 10 vigilantes are on their own.) They all pull out their guns. Now there are 11 people in the club with guns out.

You and I know that only one of these is the bad guy and that all the rest are good guys, but no one else knows this. What is worse, the 10 do not know anything of each other. For all any one of them knows, anyone else with a gun is a potential bad guy. Somebody sees somebody across the room with a gun. People are milling around back and forth, and nobody knows what anyone else is doing. Finally, this is all happening in a bar where the booze has been flowing steadily all evening, including, probably, to our stalwart vigilantes. What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s make it worse; two or three of the good guys see the bad guy shooting, and they start returning fire. Now the other gunmen can see and hear gunfire from the three good guys, but they don’t know who’s who yet, because they don’t know where the bad guy is, and they can’t tell where all the shots are coming from. If one starts shooting now, there is a good chance it will be against one of the other good guys. And the clear chances are that if anybody else starts shooting in this melee, everybody is going to start shooting. Bullets are going to be flying everywhere, and the casualty count is going up, not down.

Yes but, someone might argue, one of the good guys might shoot the bad guy and that would take the assault rifle out – which would be a big improvement, right?

Wrong. Accuracy with a pistol is an inordinately difficult task. It takes a ton of training, hours of dry fire practice, and hours more of live fire practice on a range to become even moderately accurate with a pistol. Maybe on a well-lit shooting range, with plenty of time and no distractions, a person with some training could learn to put a round or two into the target killing zone. But in all likelihood, regardless of how accurate the vigilante is on the range, the probability of that accuracy carrying over to a crowded nightclub, or dark theater, or school gymnasium, or crowded shopping mall, with all the yelling and movement and commotion that would be going on in a real life situation, is very, very slim. Once the shooting starts, the odds of anyone being able to hit whoever is actually being aimed at – unless the shooter is right up on top of his target – is going to be very, very slim.

I recall a police shootout several years ago where the cops fired close to 100 rounds at the bad guy without hitting a thing. The perp finally threw his gun out and surrendered. When I was in the military 50 years ago, I qualified on every weapon available from the M-1 rifle through all manner of automatic fire machine guns to the 105 mm main tank gun – except for the standard issue Army 45 caliber pistol, with which I could not hit a barn door at anything over ten paces. Nor could anyone else who went through the orientation with me. The point here is that to pick off the gunman from any distance with any degree of predictability would take someone who is not only an expert shot with a pistol but also is accustomed to shooting in high stress and confusing situations, where the target is shooting back.

Then the cops show up. Doesn’t take long, and they show up in force with swat teams deployed. It is still pandemonium inside, of course, with everybody yelling, the shooter still blasting away from some corner somewhere, and 10 guys with guns milling around, firing off whenever they think they have a shot. It’s dark, the cops are in swat gear. Everybody starts yelling to drop their weapons and come out with hands up. How could this be expected to turn out? Are all 10 good guys going to immediately drop their guns, stand up and walk out with their hands up? Oh yeah? Who’s going to be first? The plain fact is that it will take the police much longer to get control of the situation with a room full of vigilantes as it would if the bad guy shooter was the only one with a weapon.

One last exercise: pretend you are one of those good guys with a gun. You have been looking for the bad guy and the cops are finally on the scene. You don’t know if they have the bad guy yet or not. You move down a hall and around a corner and run into this.

Take a look at the picture: Tell me fast, what do you do? (1) Shoot the guy with the gun; (2) drop your gun before the guy shoots you; or (3) run?

Doesn’t matter what you say – all answers have an equal probability of being wrong. If you pick (1) and shoot the guy with the gun, its wrong – he was a sheriff’s deputy in swat gear, and he had the real shooter under arrest. When you shoot him, the kid grabs the sheriff’s gun and shoots you.

If you pick (2) and drop your gun, it’s wrong – the guy is actually the shooter and the other guy was the deputy sheriff. As soon as you drop your gun, the bad guy shoots you.

And if you pick (3) and run, its wrong – the guy with the gun is one of the other “good” guys just helping some kid to safety, and when you run with your gun in hand, he spooks and shoots you.

How can anyone in their right mind think that setting up a situation where some number of complete strangers would be expected to pull out handguns in a room full of other complete strangers and, not knowing each other or anything of the shooter, and never having practiced an operation like this before, and without hours and hours of practice necessary to shoot straight under pressure, manage pull off the miracle by taking out the bad guy without injuring themselves or anyone else?

Does anyone still maintain that the best answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun?

Who’s on First


The national campaigns are careening totally out of control. We have jumped down the rabbit hole and have no idea of where the damn rabbit went. We don’t know who’s driving, where we’re going, what to expect from either campaign, or how this will all play out through the conventions and into the fall. It may seem like November is still a long way off, but in real time it is just around the corner. Nobody in the entire panoply of cognoscenti has even a faint clue of what the landscape is going to look like as that critical day in November approaches.

On the Republican side, the media has become a circus, mesmerized by Trump to the point of the absurd. He has been handed the lead of every news cycle in recent memory. Any event of his campaign is now treated as though it were a national disaster, meaning wall to wall coverage of little more than the grass growing around the venues of the day, with blank time filled with interviews of ticket-takers and janitorial staff. Whenever Trump is cornered into a one-on-one, little information beyond what he wants to release comes out, for Trump is a master of the spin and pivot. Press interviews of The Donald have become reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who’s on first?” only for keeps and in real time. Trump is obviously having a ball, and the media, trying to keep within traditional campaign rules, is left collectively chasing its tail.

Although the party stalwarts are grudgingly beginning to fall in line, Donald is not making it easy. He has not made peace with the Speaker yet, and has announced that he may not even try. He continues to lob verbal hand grenades at anyone he perceives to have slighted him in any fashion – no matter who or from which party. His recent target for a totally unnecessary verbal slam-down was the governor of New Mexico, who is not only a popular Republican in a potentially purple state, but also (a) a woman, (b) Hispanic and (c) the national chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

On the issues, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Trump is not a Conservative and probably not a Republican. The purists among the R’s are appalled at all the inconsistencies and U-turns, as Trump is beginning to walk back from deeply held conservative tenets in foreign policy, national security, economics and even social issues. On policy issues he is, in a word, whatever the current trend at the present locale appears to want him to be – for that moment – if it will get him elected. All of this would, in other times, result in a mass exodus from the Republican party – except for the deep seated and unshakable fact that overwhelmingly, most Republicans so despise Hillary Clinton, that they would vote for the devil himself before they would be caught crossing over.

On the other side, the Democrats are not doing it that much better. The D’s are stuck between a proverbial Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts, as they try to figure out whether the interloper is something out of Lewis Carroll or the Brothers Grimm. Was Bernie Sanders sent by the good fairy to rescue the kingdom from the evil red queen, or is he just a Kafkaesque crusader sent in to illustrate the futility of it all? No one has nailed an answer to this yet, and no one has been able to get Bernie to quit beating up Hillary while they try to figure it out.

Hillary Clinton has focused her sights on Trump and is trying to run on policy issues germane to the general election. Her efforts to concentrate on policy keep getting overridden by process issues that won’t die. The current flap is the State Department Inspector General’s report that no one has actually read but everyone cites with hand-wringing concern. It is casting a low pall over Hillary’s campaign at the moment, even though in reality there is nothing new there. Everything contained in the IG report has been out in the open and examined to death. But despite the best efforts of the Clinton campaign to bury the issue, it keeps recurring.

What would undoubtedly be worse is for the FBI report to recommend prosecution. This report could pop out at any time, or could remain hanging until after the election. While opinions abound from all sides over what will be in it, those who appear to be more objective believe the expected FBI report will not find criminal involvement. If such were likely, letters of caution would already be flying around and the investigatory interviews would be far more circumspect. Nevertheless, until the shoe drops, the specter of a criminal prosecution continues to glow and give off heat, fanning the fervor of the entire line-up at Fox News. The issue will not die.

In times past, even the hint of such a mess would have disqualified the individual at the very get-go. It speaks volumes to the resilience of Secretary Clinton’s strength as a candidate that she has continued to weather all of this nonsense through everything thrown at her up to now, and has still sustained her position as the leading and now probable Democratic candidate. On the other hand, it also speaks volumes about how deep into the barrel the Democrats found themselves willing to reach in their search for suitable candidates this term.

Senator Sanders is now fighting a battle that is statistically impossible for him to win. Of the handful of states left, only California is of any size in total delegate count. The polls indicate that at best, it may wind up a tie. But Clinton does not need to win California to win the nomination. Even if she gets the lesser end of the election in California, unless she goes all the way to zero she will still receive enough delegates to push her total of committed delegate count over the needed line for the nomination at the convention.

In every situation in the past, the traditional step has been for the one with no realistic chance to withdraw and deliver up his support to the leader. Sanders must be gambling either upon the release of an FBI report recommending prosecution against Clinton, or upon some sort of mutiny among the uncommitted super delegates. But even in such event, from a practical electability standpoint, the enigma facing the Democrats would still be which would be worse – the patina of socialism swirling over the non-Democrat, or one more anchor added to the thirty years’ worth of anchors the leader is already dragging about?

It might appear that the predicted result will be for Clinton to succeed at the convention, albeit with a few more scars administered by Sanders and his minions. Clinton stands to beat Trump in most of the polls. But it will be close. The negative numbers might influence the final result, but both sets of negative results virtually cancel each other out. Because of the history of everybody’s predictions up to now, nobody is predicting anything on the relative negative poll standings. It is going to be an un-callable crap shoot from here on out.

On a deeper note, what cries out for further comment and analysis is that both parties managed to bring forward seriously flawed candidates for what should have been posts demanding the best of their best. We have never seen anything like the debacle that faces the electorate during this term.

How did it happen that we had to tolerate a bus load of unqualified prospects this term? How did it happen that so few answered the call to challenge Mrs. Clinton? Is it enough that every person who wants can declare themselves to be candidates, fully entitled to seats on the stage for as long as they want to remain? Would different processes at the outset have produced better candidates, and avoided the slow motion train wrecks we are viewing today?

No matter what happens, these issues need to be examined by both parties with steps taken if necessary to ensure that this nightmare is not repeated.

Strong elixir


Watching Donald Trump try to evade Chuck Todd’s cross examination on the recent Sunday’s “Meet the Press” supports the growing conclusion that the presumptive Republican pretender is nothing more than an unreconstructed huckster of snake oil in modern clothes, totally without portfolio or credential, whose sole ambition is really to become the richest man in the world.

Facts are immaterial, truth is relative, policy is fluid, and consistency has four syllables. Words are but tools to convince the listener that Trump’s snake oil will cure anything, anywhere, anytime, and for anybody. He will say anything that he thinks will operate to enhance his position.

But wait – there is not a single detail in there, anywhere to be found. The labels on the bottles are all blank, the handouts are unintelligible, and his web site makes no sense. No matter how hard one looks, nothing adds up. This huge hole in the structure will not work for the general election. Trump cannot continue this charade, and he will be found out. Won’t he?

Perhaps not. To the huckster, the lack of detail does not matter a whit; the actual contents of the elixir he is peddling is completely irrelevant. It is the illusion he is pushing, not the reality. If any direct question is posed that would penetrate to the actual core of any of his declarations, Trump’s standard tactic is to (a) change the subject, (b) immediately pivot the response to some other grandiose hyperbolic declaration, or (c) attack the motives, integrity or fairness of the inquirer. More recently, and especially with foreign policy topics, Trump has been admitting that he is providing no details and blatantly says he has no intention of doing so. He suggests that these details are part of the problem; that we should be less transparent in our dealings with foreign nations. He claims that we should keep our enemies and allies, and now apparently even ourselves, guessing about future intentions.

Up to now, all of these tactics have been more or less accepted without serious challenge. With multiple contenders in the mix, there simply was not time available to chase down all the inconsistencies, vagaries, omissions and just plain hogwash contained in the various contenders’ campaign materials. However, now that the campaign is moving into general election territory, all his may change.

The recent “Meet the Press” is an indication that things might not be so easy any more. Now that the focus of attention is on the general election, the press is going to expect much more than simple bumper-sticker sound bites. For example, when Trump contradicted a previously stated position on domestic policy, Chuck Todd immediately jumped him on it. Before Todd let up, Trump tried to change the subject twice, flip-flopped on his original answer, and then simply denied what he had originally said. It was typical of the double-talk and legerdemain that used to work where the opposition was a stringer in a press gaggle. This time, with Todd’s persistence, it left Trump looking foolish and provided grist for the media mill that was still grinding away on on Monday.

Everyone maintains that Trump will have to turn towards the center once the campaign shifts to general election mode, but his early machinations seemed to imply that he has no intentions of doing so. His personal slurs against the Clinton’s come on the heels of his promise to keep the campaign on policy unless Hillary attacks first. His battle with Speaker Ryan makes no sense if he is willing to work with the establishment Republicans in formulating policy. Picking a stepped-up fight with Elizabeth Warren is both unnecessary and just plain dumb politics. Warren isn’t running for anything, and has nothing to risk by taking Trump on full tilt. Trump has neither time nor capacity to take on a gutter fight with Warren; such is decidedly un-presidential, with no upside to gain from the fray. Trump is now only one week into the new general election mode, and he already has three open, un-presidential squabbles raging on gutter issues not relating to policy, with one being inside his own party.

An intriguing thought comes to mind. All of this may not matter at all. All good trial lawyers know the laws of primacy and recency in the art of persuasion. The law of primacy says that the proposition presented first will hold greater influence over a proposition presented later, regardless of merit or who says it. The law of recency says that the last proposition presented is more important that any propositions presented earlier, again, regardless of merit or who says it. These laws do not say anything about merit, fairness or truth. These so-called rules of persuasion simply talk about being first, and last, and loudest.

It occurred to me that Trump has been demonstrating his understanding of these rules in spades, over and over again. When he introduces a declaration against an opponent, it is a barrage. It will have any number of parts, some supported, some not, with no differentiation. When the reply comes, it will invariably hit only one or two of the key elements of the declaration. From the standpoint of logic, or from the actual evidence of what is true and important, defeating the key issues may appear to be sufficient to demonstrate the weakness of the entire declaration; but from the standpoint of the laws of primacy, addressing only the key issues leaves all of the unmet assertions still on the table.

This means from the sheer number of issues, Trump may be ahead, and he will then reiterate his declaration, ignoring the reply and referring to the entirety of his statement in shorthand versions. The reiterations come as often as necessary to assure Trump that he has made the first and last declaration on the topic, accomplished with the most frequency, thereby satisfying all the laws of primacy and recency.

The discerning examiners may not be fooled; they will have paid attention to the actual evidence, to the key issues, and to the proper weight to be attached, and will have reached their conclusions on actual policy, realistic assessment of resources, and feasible reaction. On virtually every one of Trump’s issues presented thus far, he will lose this kind of analysis resoundingly.

But the passing listeners among us who are just now beginning to look into the events of the day may well register only the volume of issues, the frequency of iterations, and the primacy and recency of the arguments advanced. To these ears, it may not matter that the arguments are not consistent, or that the facts are exaggerated, or that truth seems elusive. All of this might be passed off as the natural expectation of politics.

The only consideration that persists over the rumble of the ongoing arguments is that Trump is first and last and loudest on these matters, which may lead the undiscerning listener to believe that Trump will refuse to accept things as they are; to accept the assertion that box needs shaking; and to believe Trump’s claim that he truly intends to shake the box.

If this is how it is going to happen, and if Hillary, or the Democrats, or the establishment Republicans, or the media, or someone, cannot convince the majority out there to look past the colorful canvas and stripped awnings and the cases of unmarked elixir stashed away, and recognize the imbedded fallacy of first, last and loudest, and see instead the real issues at stake – we very well may deserve what we get.

That huckster may just carry the day.

Tangling web


In his major policy speech last week, and when on the stump generally, Donald Trump continues to berate Obama about the trade imbalance, contending in a string of bumper-sticker declarations, without detail or explanation, that the manufacturing trade deficit is approaching $1 trillion a year, that this is result of terrible deals negotiated by political hacks of Obama, and that the United States is losing jobs to other countries on account of it.

He promises to bring in high powered negotiators to renegotiate everything to get better deals, to impose punitive tariffs to get the trade imbalance in line, and somehow to reach out and retrieve all the jobs that have been moved offshore.

Trump is completely misrepresenting the scope and nature of the problem, and deliberately overstating the consequences that may be expected from any of his proposed solutions. He is only looking at half the picture. When all of the picture is examined in perspective, it becomes clear that Trump’s entire argument on this point is pure, unadulterated nonsense, and he should know better.

Fundamental to understanding what is really going on is the recognition that nations do not trade with one another, individuals do. A trade deficit is not the product of one nation making a lopsided deal with another, it is the net sum of thousands if not millions of separate, individual deals made between individuals and businesses in the separate countries, each expressing their individual choices within the countries involved. Trump’s promise to bring expert negotiators in to renegotiate all the trade deals that make up the trade deficit is a good indication that he has no idea what he is talking about.

As any economists will explain, a trade deficit, standing alone, is not a bad thing – it is merely the economic indicator of an existing condition. A trade imbalance or deficit occurs when the dollars out to buy imports exceeds the dollars in to sell exports. To determine whether any such deficit is good or bad depends upon why the imbalance occurred. The United States has almost always maintained a trade imbalance; we are and have been since at least 1975 a net importer as a nation, and we largely benefit because of it.

The average American consumer benefits hugely from the importation of cheaper foreign goods. Where the fundamentals of the economy are strong, any shortage from the excess in dollars flowing out over reciprocal dollars flowing is absorbed by increased GDP and normal growth without resulting in abnormal inflationary pressures. Capital returning in the form of investments in the U.S. or acquisition of U.S. securities (i.e., Toyota and Honda, for example, in constructing automobile assembly plants here) is providing a capital surplus that directly benefits the U.S. economy, which on balance has led or will lead to increased opportunity throughout the local markets.

According to a series of Cato Institute studies published in 1998-99 and corroborated in a 2015 analysis by the Wall Street Journal, a burgeoning trade deficit is consistent with a healthy growing economy and indicates an economy ripe with investment opportunity and flush with consumer confidence. Trade deficits tend to be pro-cyclical, growing during expanding economies and shrinking during times of recession. By almost every measure, America’s economy has performed better in years in which the trade deficit rose compared to years when it shrank.

Trump’s wringing of hands over the burgeoning trade deficit is further indication that he is either trying to kick sand in everyone’s eyes or he does not understand the fundamental economics of international trade.

The trade imbalance is not causing domestic manufacturers to take their plants and jobs overseas. Improvements in technology in underdeveloped nations – particularly the increasing availability of reliable electric power – and improvements in communications and shipping alternatives have made it possible to duplicate quality manufacturing capacity in underdeveloped countries. For labor intensive manufacturing, this means that production can be accomplished in an underdeveloped country at significantly lower labor costs. The loss of labor intensive manufacturing from the United States to underdeveloped countries is becoming and will continue to be an economic certainty regardless of the status of the balance of trade. Further, and no matter what Trump promises, these manufacturing processes are not going to return to the United States until further technological improvements here, such as robots and automation, eliminate the labor cost consideration.

Imposition of tariffs to dampen the benefit of cheaper labor overseas may appear to solve the problem of jobs being outsourced overseas, but it is only of short term relevance. Any tariffs that are imposed will be added to the price and be passed to the consumer, which will cause a decline in the demand for the foreign goods. The resultant increased price on the goods from foreign competition may permit the local manufacturer to continue to compete price-wise in the domestic market for a while. But the lower cost alternative will continue exist in the international markets, preventing the domestic producer from competing world-wide.

In very short order, the impact of imposing tariffs on one segment of the import market will reduce the amount of returning capital – reducing imports will lower the flow of dollars out which then become available to finance reciprocal trade, or capital investments, or acquisition of securities. All elements of the market will eventually be dampened to some degree by the imposition of tariffs or other artificial restrictions on any one segment of the market.

The net effect may appear to save some production jobs in some areas, but this will come at the expense of higher prices to domestic consumers throughout the market, lower reciprocal trades in other areas of the market, and lessened availability of foreign investment capital. If the domestic manufacturer in the tariff market attempts to continue to manufacture goods at the higher labor costs of the United States, he will be unable to compete in foreign markets. Determining the actual net value of all these elements is an ongoing and extremely complicated process. Suffice to say that theoretically and by definition, it will eventually balance out exactly, as by definition the markets will always strive to achieve equilibrium.

The take away from all of this is that Trump is simply blowing smoke in his tirades and promises around the trade deficit, and what he can actually deliver in the way of increased jobs and balanced trade. Recognizing that this is an extremely technical subject it can all be summarized in a phrase that anyone can understand:

Either Trump is a fool or he thinks we are.

Preserve and protect


Idaho Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo are fine lawyers and considered to be a pretty good politicians, so they both should know better.

Usually, their instincts are spot on, but to the issue of judicial appointments to the Supreme Court, they are both dead wrong. If they feel obliged to march to the drumbeat set by Senator McConnell, they should just say so and take their medicine. But in trying to make up reasons that give credible justification for ignoring the President’s recommendation of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, our good senators both come off looking foolish.

Federal judges are appointed for life. The life appointment is a key to the principle of judicial independence, which in turn is an essential ingredient of the tripartite system of checks and balances that is the hallmark of the constitutional government our forefathers designed over 200 years ago. The politicians can’t toss a judge out of office except for impeachable cause and they can’t alter his personal jurisdiction or lower his salary once appointed. The judiciary is not supposed to be subject to the demands of partisan politics, it is not to be influenced by the topical fads of the day, and it is expected to be aloof from the demagogic demands of the people. The judiciary is to take the longest view, without fear of retribution or reprisal.

Under the Constitution, the President is duty bound to appoint judges to fill current vacancies. The Senate is to advise and consent on those appointments. The Senate does not get to say who the President can appoint, nor does it get to say when he can appoint. All it can do is vote up or down on those he commends to the Senate for advice.

The Senate leadership is currently in Republican hands. Majority Leader McConnell has declared that the President should not attempt to make any Supreme Court appointments during the last year of his term, but that positions should remain vacant until the next President takes office in January of next year. Senator Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary committee, has declared that the committee will hold no hearings on the Presidential appointments this year. By assuming the power to tell the President that he may not make any appointments during the remainder of his term, the Senate has assumed a Constitutional power that is specifically reserved to the President. This is wrong, and our Senators knows it.

The Senators both say it wouldn’t matter because they intend to vote against Judge Garland anyway, if he ever does get through the Judiciary committee, because even though they have never met the man and have not talked with him, they do not like some opinion the judge wrote on gun rights. Again, our Senators should know better.

In all of history, the efforts to predict how a future judge might rule prior to their appointment to the bench based on the appointee’s views on specific topical issues of the day has proved to be largely a waste of time. The plain fact is that whether the appointee is of considerable prominence and experience or comes from relative obscurity, no one can predict with certainty how the individual will perform once appointed to the court.
When Oliver Wendell Holmes was appointed from relative obscurity 1902, he served for 30 years, becoming the most widely cited Supreme Court justice in history. When Felix Frankfurter, an Austrian immigrant, co-founder of the ACLU and personal adviser to FDR, was selected, he turned out to be a principle advocate of judicial restraint and a sharp opponent of judicial activism. William O. Douglass was a rude political hack with nothing particularly notable about his legal skills when appointed to the court in 1939. He stayed for 36 years and become the most prolific legal writer in history. When Hugo Black, the little known senator from Alabama, was appointed, there was outrage because of his one-time membership in the KKK. He served for 34 years, and turned out to be a champion of the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Governor Earl Warren was a Republican, considered by all to be a “safe” appointment when President Eisenhower named him to be chief justice in 1953. No one predicted that in his 13 year term, the Warren Court would become known as the most transformative court in history, ushering in significant and dramatic reforms in many areas of law.

The point is that nothing in these men’s personal history before their appointment gave a clue as to the greatness that would follow once they assumed the high court bench – whether one now agrees with the decisions that resulted or not. What a prospective judge’s views on some current issue of the day are, or how he might have voted on a given case of the day is irrelevant. The appointment is to be for life, society’s times and attitudes will change, and the justices themselves will mature and evolve. Any opinion on a topical issue of the moment is of no true significance. What one really wants know is how will that potential justice approach the issues before the court as they come up? Not what his opinion might be, but how will he arrive at it?

Is he curious? Is she willing to explore new ideas? Is he interested in new things? Is the applicant open to listen on issues thought closed? Or is the applicant more aloof, cautious in the consideration of new ideas and new concepts, and content to leave things alone unless there are compelling reasons for investigation or inquiry?

Does the applicant have a sound understanding of the law? Will she give due consideration to stare decisis, recognizing the impact of cultural and societal changes but appreciating the value of consistency and historical precedence? Will he consider all evidence with an open mind, keeping perspective and maintaining balance? Will she practice judicial restraint? The answers to these questions are far more important than how the appointee might vote on some current hot button question of the day.

Our Senators should encourage Chairman Grassley to take his foot off the brake. Let the process work. Hold the hearings, present the President’s appointee to the committee, and let everyone take a good look. Leader McConnell should be asked to relent; schedule a vote and see what happens. The Senators’ prerogatives are to vote no when the vote comes, but they should do so only after full and fair consideration of all of the judge’s qualifications – not just the Litmus tests some right wing factions have demanded of them.

These men have taken an oath to preserve, protect and defend the entire Constitution – not just those parts that appeal to the right wing of the Republican Party.

Both should rethink their position on this issue and then do their job. And they should encourage their colleagues to do the same.

Eeny, meenie, minie . . .


We are now 15 years into the wars in Afghanistan with no end in sight. We stiff-arm Iran in order to embrace Saudi Arabia, which is suddenly causing problems. Inconsistencies abound as situations continue to stagger and wobble from worse to worse, with no clear paths to follow, and no favorable solutions in sight. All this illustrates with unmistakable clarity that choosing up sides in the Middle East has become really, really tricky.

Some of this is inherited from Bush, some is the result of Obama’s decisions, much is just the consequence of unfolding events and choices that appeared to be right at the time but are turning out badly today.

The cacophony of bumper-sticker quality criticism from the Republican candidates, and the equally abbreviated responses from their Democratic opponents, are of no real help in understanding the depth and breadth of the problems we are about to face. It is disingenuous to think that the solutions to the Middle East quagmire is to be found in any of the sound-bite size proclamations coming from either end of the current political spectrum.

As an example of the complications that exist, let us examine one strong pull of a single tangled thread of diplomacy all the way to the end. The beginning of the thread is a bill that Congress is considering to allow individual victims terrorist attacks to bring lawsuits for damages in federal courts against the foreign countries responsible for the attacks. It might appear to be a simple little issue.

Several groups of victims of 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center are attempting to seek damages from the nation which is believed to have been responsible for financing al Qaeda operations. Their efforts have been stymied, at least in part, because of a 1976 law that recognizes judicial immunity of most foreign nations from suit for money damages brought by private citizens in U.S. courts. So, a bill has been drafted and is pending in Congress that will carve-out a narrow exception from the general policy of sovereign immunity, and allow suits for damages where the defendant nation is directly culpable for a terrorist attack that actually occurs on United States soil. The bill has some healthy support; it is jointly authored and supported by a prominent list of senators from both parties, and has already cleared the Judiciary committee on a unanimous “do pass” vote.

A laudable objective, one might think; who could be opposed to this? Well, as it turns out, plenty. Pull the thread some more, and the main foreign opponent of the bill appears. Saudi Arabia is probably the principle target for such litigation, and it is up in arms over the prospects of this bill. It has announced that it will dump over $750 billion in U.S. treasuries and related securities if the bill passes and is signed, rather than risk impoundment by an American court.

Pull some more thread out, and we see that most economists doubt that Saudi Arabia would carry out such a threat, as it would de-stabilize the economies of the entire region and do proportionately more harm to Saudi Arabia than to the United States. Nevertheless, there is now unrest in the economic markets throughout the world waiting to see what happens to this little bill in the Senate.

As a consequence, the White House is weighing in with pressure on Congress to accommodate the Saudi objection and sidetrack the bill. Aside from offending our supposed chief ally in the region, and potentially wreaking havoc on the financial markets of the world, the administration also argues here that weakening the reciprocal sovereign immunity provisions of our laws would put the government at legal risk generally abroad if other nations retaliated with their own legislation. To start monkeying around with the reciprocal provisions of sovereign immunity, the argument goes, is to play with fire. Secretary Kerry told a Senate panel in February that for this reason, the pending bill would create a terrible precedent.

Viewed from a few steps back, we see that the thread of difficulty with Saudi Arabia over this bill is but the most recent of a long line of disagreements with the Saudi royal family. Also involved are the Saudi’s interference with White House attempts to improve relations with Iran, the Saudi’s objection to our participation in the nuclear arms negotiations with Iran, the White House concerns and objections to the manner in which the Saudi military is conducting its part of the fighting in Yemen, ongoing disagreements between the Pentagon and the Saudi military over the accounting and use of military resources being provided by the United States, and, quite recently, our aghast reaction to the ISIS style beheading of 47 individuals in Saudi Arabia, including a Shiite cleric whose only crime was his vocal disagreement with the Saudi royal family.

What may be of more strategic concern, while we appear to be accommodating the Saudi requests on one hand, we also appear to be ignoring the ongoing support and financing by the Saudi regime, or at least individuals within the Saudi regime, to the more extreme of the Wahhabis and Salafist factions Islam, both in Saudi Arabia and out. These extreme factions of Sunni ideology fueled al Qaeda in the past and appear to be at the base of ISIS in the present.

In the past, our dependence upon Saudi Arabian oil forced us to turn a blind eye to such inconsistencies. Our present increased production of petroleum from the shale fields of North America have all but eliminated this economic dependence, and there is now no reason to ignore such practices by a supposed ally. Nevertheless we continue to not question the Saudi actions here.

The White House is cautiously beginning to make overtures towards Iran, but much of what will be needed to warm relations between the countries will require Congressional approval.

Further, a significant problem to improving relations with Iran is the perpetually sour relations between Iran and Israel, and the strong insistence, both by Israel and by her supporters within the United States, that the United States stand fast behind Israel no matter what. At the present time, Congress appears to favor continuing relations with Saudi Arabia at the expense, if necessary, of relations with Iran.

Western Europe, on the other hand, appears to be beginning to swing toward Iran. The apparent belief is that Iran, not Saudi Arabia, will inevitably emerge as the stabilizing force in the region. Iran is clearly seen as the key to peace in Syria and Iraq and to the containment of ISIS within the Middle East. The European community is appalled at the recent executions, and at the insouciant attitude of the Saudis towards any improvements in the area of human rights. Unless there is another change in direction, we may find ourselves backing the wrong team – or at least a different team from that of the rest of the Western World.

Swinging around to even another view, the general consensus is that the Saudis do not want any reconciliations with Iran. They would prefer that Iran be derailed from any engagement with the West, and this includes throwing monkey wrenches into any effort to bring Iran into the peace effort in Syria. It is difficult to imagine a peace accord for Syria, for example, that would not involve cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Without their joint involvement, peace in Syria may be unattainable unless refereed by either Russia or the United States.

If that day comes, whoever lands the job as POTUS will be wound into a political pretzel trying to determine whether to accept Russian participation in the region, with Russian troops occupying Syria and the contested regions, or to tolerate the commitment of necessary U.S. forces to occupy the territory, and to oversee the tasks ourselves. This probably means that countries with mixed Sunni and Shiite populations – Syria and Yemen, where civil war is presently raging, and perhaps Bahrain, where there is a potentially explosive division between the religious factions – will continue to fall even further into chaos.

After pulling this one little thread to the end, the take away that jumps out is that there are no right answers on the horizon. No matter what is done, no matter who does it, and no matter which way it goes, every action we take from this point on is going to be wrong. Period.

How could it possibly get worse?