Category Archives: Politics

Caveat Emptor

Once upon a time there was a POTUS* who said he was bound and determined to enact tax breaks for the middle class,  the result was a tax bill in which 80% of the breaks went to corporations and income earners in the top 1%.  Then he said he wanted a solution to the DACA problem, a problem he created, he wanted a bill with “heart.” He said he’d sign a bipartisan bill, but when the bill arrived he pulled a “Lucy with the football” moment and the notion that he would take the heat evaporated.

He said he would never cut Social Security and Medicare, but then supported a tax scheme and budget which both require cuts in order to mitigate the horrific debts incurred by those proposals.

So now he wants to “do something” to make schools safer. However, what he wants are hardened targets and more guns in schools, the same old stale NRA litany.

There’s an interesting point coming from the assault weapon apologists. They can’t really rely on the constitutionality of AR 15, Justice Scalia was clear on that in the Heller decision. So now the NRA has moved to the “defend the 2nd Amendment” in general.  From whom or what?

Today it was from those evil Socialists. The rhetoric was redolent of those good old days when the Red Ruskies were the Cold War bete noir.    From the incompetence of the FBI. That would be the same FBI the counter terrorism section of which told the POTUS* the real Russians had interfered in the 2016 election.  From the incompetence of the local police, whether or not the local law enforcement agencies had statutory authorization to detain persons under the pertinent conditions.  From the mental health authorities, under staffed and underfunded as they are. Mental health is always a reliable pivot from the question of how the 3% of those mentally ill individuals who are inclined to violence are able to easily obtain weapons of war.

What the NRA and the putative POTUS* seem not to pronounce no matter how long their speeches is the word g-u-n, Gun. Guns. Gun. From the old Scandinavian word gunnhildr, becoming the Middle English word gunne.  Seriously ill people can acquire guns, one did at Virginia Tech,.  The disengaged can get them, witness Columbine. The white supremacist can get them, witness Charleston.  From Sandy Hook elementary to Aurora, to Pulse, to the Las Vegas concert, to the latest atrocity in Parkland it’s the gun that does the damage.

While the NRA plays it’s culture war games, the young people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have a message, reminiscent of Elie Weisel’s call “Never Again.”

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Kids These Days

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Portraits and Love Stories

Eleanor Roosevelt was history to me, Bess Truman was largely absent from view — and intended it to be that way.  I remember Mamie Eisenhower mainly for her bangs and her recipe for fudge.  Jackie Kennedy was memorable to me as a cultured person who could make Americans care about what the White House looked like, and taught us that it wouldn’t hurt us a bit to exercise a little taste.  Pat Nixon was a stand by your man woman, for a man who, try as he might, couldn’t return her devotion.  However, it wasn’t until Betty Ford that I started really paying attention to First Ladies.

Out of what seemed like nowhere there was a First Lady who told us outright she was dealing with breast cancer treatments.  Most male politicians couldn’t seem to get the word “breast” into their public vocabulary.  Betty Ford didn’t waffle or euphemize — she didn’t “have cancer,” she had “breast cancer.” She admitted her tribulations and troubles, and she did it with the support of a loving husband. It’s no accident her portrait by Cuban artist Felix de Cossio shows us the dancer and model, proud and poised.   It was no accident the Fords and the Carters became friends.  Two American families, two love stories, played out on television as they held hands, patted shoulders, gave hugs.

Nancy Reagan, by all accounts, was a tiger in defense of her husband, his smiles in her presence signaled their relationship, one that would be tested by the trauma of his decline and destruction by Alzheimer’s.  Whatever we might think of her politics it’s impossible to question their relationship, right to the tragic end. George and Barbara Bush followed, another family complete with dogs — one of whom wrote a book (?) — and again, politics aside, the White House reflected a strong mutual relationship. The Clinton’s were more tumultuous, mostly a problem on his part than a question of the relationship on hers.  Interestingly, those who sang along to “Stand By Your Man,” changed their tune when it came to a Democratic president.  But — they’re still married, and they both appear just as absorbed by their grandchildren as every other “haul the pictures out of the wallet” grandparents in the country.

George W. Bush’s portrait in the National Gallery shows a relaxed man in a blue double pocket shirt; Laura Bush’s portrait is more formal, including a book in hand, reminding us of her literacy program advocacy.  Even more interesting is their pose at the National Gallery. She’s holding his arm, he’s leaning toward her.   They look a little “stiff,” as though after the photo session is finished they’d very much like to go home and make popcorn.  Amble through the photos of them, notice in how many he has his arm around her, notice in other shots how many times they touch each other’s faces.  Notice in how many photos George W. has his arm around someone — everyone — Michelle Obama included.  Again, ignoring the politics for a moment, the portrait painters and photographers show us a couple that lives, loves, argues, makes up, holds hands and gives hugs.

And now the Obamas have their portraits in the National Gallery,  CSPAN recorded their National Gallery portraits unveiling and it’s worth a look.  Here’s a hint: Watch the video all the way to the end.  There’s a moment after the posing for photographs (with the same sense of awkwardness hinted at during the George and Laura Bush unveilings) when we see the Obamas leave the stage.  Mrs. Obama begins to exit the stage, Mr. Obama pauses a moment, looking at her portrait, just long enough to make it obvious he’s enamored of the portrait subject — it’s a moment, then he quickly strides over to leave with her.  Once more, leaving politics out of it, for eight years we were treated to a love story.

 

 

 

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A Brief Reference Desk on Russian Interference Conspiracy

It no longer matters what the Twit in Chief thinks of the investigations into Russian interference in our election systems and institutions.  He’s staked his territory and if in a major tweet-tantrum this weekend he could not bring himself to say “Putin,” then that should tell us all we need to know.  However, at the risk of redundancy, I’d like to make a list of links to reports and information which concern the Russian conspiracy to sow discord and distrust in our democracy.

At Number One:  Please look through the Cardin Report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Here is the link to the press release summation of the report.  Here is a link to the full report (pdf).  There are also links related to the report at the press release page. Those are highly informative.

At Number Two:  Please read the US District Court for the District of Columbia versus 13 Russians and related corporations. (Also in pdf)  If anyone is not yet convinced the Russians were serious about attacking the United States, this indictment should be very educational.

At Number Three:  The Center for American Progress issued its report on election security in all 50 states. No state received an A grade. The report illustrates precisely why the current situation should be taken very seriously.  Please keep in mind that we are no longer speaking of “meddling” or ‘collusion,” but of an outright conspiracy to disrupt our elections.

At Number Four: The January 6, 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian interference into US elections. (pdf) This is the public version of a highly classified report, so it is missing a significant amount of specificity.  However, it is still useful as an early guide to the nature of the Russian’s conspiracy.

I believe these are the best public sources of information I’ve found to date regarding the Russian conspiracy and the US response or lack thereof.   I’d highly recommend a perusal of them to those who have not already done so.

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Donald Trump Is About To Do Something Really Stupid: Soy Bean Edition

This is a recyclable headline.  However, we need to be aware of the following item from Reuters two days ago:

“WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Commerce Department has recommended that President Donald Trump impose steep curbs on steel and aluminum imports from China and other countries ranging from global and country-specific tarifandfs to broad import quotas, according to proposals released on Friday.”

And, of course here comes the response:

“If the United States’ final decision affects China’s interests, we will take necessary measures to defend our rights,” said Wang Hejun, a senior official at China’s Commerce Ministry, according to a report Saturday by state-run news agency Xinhua.

The short article didn’t provide further details on how Beijing might respond. Ross’ recommendations came in the middle of China’s Lunar New Year holiday when government offices and businesses largely shut down for a week.”  [CNNmoney]

The ‘final decision’ is due in April, 2018.  There’s little to analyze at the moment because the proposal isn’t firm, but consists of options presented by the Department of Commerce.

“Ross suggested three options for Trump — impose across-the-board tariffs on steel and aluminum, target select countries with even higher tariffs, or limit the total steel and aluminum coming into the United States.” [CNNmoney]

The steel portion of the proposals advise (1) an across the board 24% tariff on steel from all countries; (2) “Tariffs of at least 53% on imports from 12 countries: Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. These countries would not be allowed to export more steel to the United States this year than they did last year.” [CNNmoney]  (3) decrease imports of steel into the US by 37% from all countries.   In short, there are three options, and from an economic growth standpoint they are all bad. [Report here]

What the administration appears to be gambling on is that the Chinese will not round off their New Year celebrations with the beginnings of a trade war.  The happy clappy analysis would predict China will not retaliate in the semi-conductor sector because too many jobs (Apple) would be lost; and, it will not retaliate against aircraft manufacturers like Boeing because that would give Airbus a monopoly, and thus higher prices and longer wait times for delivery.   So who could be caught up in the squabble?

China imports some $15 billion worth of soybeans from the US each year. $3.4 billion worth of cotton; $3 billion in copper materials; $3 billion in small engine passenger vehicles; $2.2 billion worth of large engine passenger vehicles; then there’s $1.3 billion worth of corn and $1.2 billion in coal. [CBR]

Someone might want to tell Senator Grassley (R-IA) about this Commerce Department proposal and the possible consequences for soy bean farmers because Iowa is the largest producer in the US, followed by Illinois.  Iowa and Illinois account for about 28% of US soy bean production.  Other producing states are: Minnesota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, and Arkansas. [B2Lv]  This isn’t the only crop in question.

The Chinese bought an increasing amount of corn last year from the US, but also found a new source of imports — Ukraine.  Ukraine will be the winner in any trade spat, and may be  the ultimate winner anyway.  Most US corn is genetically modified and permits are required in China for the processing of GMO corn; thus Chinese processors started buying more non-modified corn from Ukraine. [Reuters]  Add the GMO issue to a tariff tit-for-tat and Ukraine will be picking up business from — here we go again — Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, the eastern portions of South Dakota and Nebraska, western Kentucky and Ohio, and the northern section of Missouri. [B2lv]

It appears the easiest target for Chinese retaliation for tariffs/import limits would be agriculture, and then there are those large and small engine passenger vehicles.

One of the factors which makes targeting the Chinese a dubious tpoin is that China’s exports of steel have declined in the last few years (although some steel is exported in some form via other nations like Vietnam) and there’s this information on steel importation from the US Trade Representative (pdf)

 Between YTD 2016 and YTD 2017, imports increased from eight of the United States’ top 10 import source countries. Imports from India showed the largest volume increase in YTD 2017, up 209  percent, followed by Russia (up 64%), Taiwan (up 36%), and Mexico (up 23%). The two countries  which the United States had decreases in imports from are Japan (down 9%) and South Korea (down 2%).

Do we see China in this list? No, China is the 11th largest exporter of steel to the US. The top ten are Canada, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Turkey, Japan, Russia, Germany, Taiwan, and Vietnam. [USTR pdf]  Exactly how the 11th ranked export source of steel, of which 0.3% by weight is used for military purposes, makes Chinese steel a ‘national security’ issue requires a bit of a stretch, and we’ll probably find ourselves losing the argument with the WTO.  Going the Section 232 route is creative, but not really a very strong platform from which to launch a trade dispute.

Meanwhile it might be a good thing to decide if we want more Chinese assistance with the ever thorny problem of North Korea or we want to slap tariffs on Chinese steel?  Stump speeches which sound good to a crowd of Nucor employees about protecting their industry don’t necessarily make good practical policy when it comes to the point where decisions need to be made about overall economic policy, international trade relations, and diplomatic soft power.  Or, there’s a big difference between campaigning and governing — a not-so-subtle point the current occupant of the Oval Office appears not to grasp with both small hands.

Meanwhile we can only hope the Oval Office occupant doesn’t make a really stupid blunder next April.  Stay tuned, we’re only a little over a year into this E Ticket Ride.

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Rule: It is never productive to argue with idiots.

When teenagers — a subset of American humanity often associated with pleas for automobiles, electronic toys, and strange clothing — are making 100% more sense than adults in the wake of the tragedy in Parkland, FL, then it’s time to remind myself that it is never productive to argue with morons — especially adult morons.

There is no reasoning with adults who say things like: “Gun controllers have the wrong end of the stick…you can murder people with a pencil.”  Granted. Now, when it becomes technically possible to murder 58 people at a music concert, or 17 students and teachers in a school, in the space of a few minutes, with a pencil you can bet your next paycheck I’ll post an impassioned plea for pencil control.  There’s no reasoning with whack jobs who express this kind of idiocy.

I apologize to morons and idiots everywhere because there has to be a lower level of intelligence to explain someone saying, “I have a Constitutional Right to my firearms.” Yes, but there are no unlimited rights.  That is what grownups would call “license.”  Question: Would you, oh absolutist advocate for the 2nd Amendment, like for me to post flyers around your neighborhood falsely accusing you of child molestation? Because it’s my 1st Amendment right to “express myself?”  Would you have a problem if I captured your spouse, hauled the victim to the top of a pyramid and performed a human sacrifice in the name of Freedom of Religion?  For heaven’s sake why do we even listen to these people?

Forgive me if I smirk when someone argues that the 2nd Amendment underpins all the others.  Smirking is what I might do instead of outright breaking into uncontrollable giggles at your fundamental misinterpretation of some relatively simple language.  What prevents governments by grown ups from engaging in nefarious practices isn’t the 2nd Amendment, it’s the 1st.  It’s the freedom of speech which gives voice to opposition views; it’s the freedom of the press which amplifies those ideas.  No one needed a gun to find out that 13 Russians and 3 Russian corporations interfered in the US election season in 2016.  We have a perfectly good squad of investigators and an equally competent group of journalists to tell us what’s going on. No rifles required. ;

If you feel you need an AR-15 to guard your property you must have a heck of a lot more property than Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, and the Sultan of Brunei combined.  Many families make do with a dog. ($32 to bail one out of the county pound) Other families purchase home security systems.  More expensive than a dog, but also perfectly serviceable.  If you must have a gun — why not a good old fashioned 10 or 12 gauge shotgun? They are just as effective and don’t usually require you replace a wall in your home after use.  Only a resolute fool would replace a dog, a home security system, or a shot gun with a semi-automatic weapon of war.

So, I’m just going to leave this here.  I’ll talk with people who ask questions like: How can we best mitigate the lethality of shooting in public spaces?  I’ll listen to people who ask how we can preserve responsible hunting practices and activities while regulating the proliferation of weapons of war.  I’m happy to discuss common sense gun regulation with those who enjoy target and trap shooting, and who also want their children to be safe at school, at a music concert, or in a church.  However, I will not waste my time — and I certainly will NOT waste my vote — on fools who make idiots and morons sound like Einstein.

Finis.

 

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Saturday Morning: Nice Try Rick Scott

The FBI has admitted it made a major mistake mishandling a tip regarding the Parkland, FL assassin.  The reaction of Florida governor Rick Scott is to call for the resignation of FBI Director Christopher Wray.  Neither of these elements is helpful.  No, FBI you don’t get to make an apology and walk quietly away.  The Bureau needs to conduct an internal review, and if some heads should roll then make the consequences fit the incompetence.  And no, Governor Scott you don’t get to rail about the FBI as a way to excuse the incompetence of an administration which has an A+ from the National Rifle Association for “more pro-gun” legislation than…whatever. [Time]

It seems no level of government and no agency was ready to deal with an “evil kid.” Local authorities were called to his address for various and sundry forms of abuse, violence, and assaults 39 times in a seven year period.  39 times.  The shooter was detained for mental health treatment at least once.  And still he could walk into a gun store and walk out with an assault style rifle, because “freedom.”

Most kids will tell you it’s easy to get suspended from school, getting expelled takes some real work. [FL statute] This shooter was expelled, but before he was expelled he’d been admonished for his anti-social behavior, and informed that he was not to appear at school with a back pack, the only item he was allowed to carry was a clear plastic bag.  Evidently that was insufficient, he was expelled.  And still he could walk into a gun store and walk out with an assault style rifle, because “freedom.”

Where were the mental health professionals in Florida while this young man was continuing his destructive pattern of anti-social behavior?  Still reeling from state budget cuts to mental health services, and trying to figure out how to make cuts such that no one program took the entire hit? [Orlando Sent]  So, while funding for ‘receiving centers’ where police could assign individuals for evaluation was cut, a young man could walk into a gun store and walk out with an assault style rifle, because “freedom.”

The young man issued racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, anti-Islamic, violent rants on social media.  Did social media platforms flag his demented spiels?  He affiliated with a white supremacist group. (Last month a white supremacist was charged with domestic terrorism, but the public barely heard of it. [Salon])  The Countering Violent Terrorism program is still a part of the federal bureaucracy and White extremists are still listed, but expect budget cuts for grant programs to state and local governments to combat terrorism, and we can expect the administration to fold programs together in the name of greater efficiency. [Snopes]  Someone has to pay for those permanent tax cuts for corporations and the top 1%. So, still a young man could walk into a gun store and walk out with an assault style rifle, because “freedom.”

We’d probably be far better off if we’d tell Congressional representatives to forget giving corporations and billionaires a tax cut and start funding programs that adequately service the mental health needs of our citizens, adequately fund state and local anti-terrorism efforts, and require more information sources feeding into the background check database.  What we don’t need?  More concealed carry reciprocity laws. More lax restrictions on gun magazines. More lax statutes on who can get an assault style rifles.  More lax regulations on gun modifications to emulate automatic fire.  More people arguing that if an 18 year old can serve in the military he should be able to buy an assault style rifle.  How about if we said to an 18 year old — You want to shoot an M-16? Join the US Armed Forces, learn to operate your M-16 under adult supervision within a clear structure of command, learning when, where, and under what circumstances it’s appropriate to use your firearms?

Perhaps we should consider “red flag” laws which allow authorities to remove firearms from those who are a clear and immediate danger to themselves and to others. California, Connecticut, Washington, Oregon, and Indiana allow such actions. [WaPo]

Perhaps we could start listening to the kids.

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