My Dad Was Better Than John Kerry

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Former MA Senator and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is an accurate precursor for today’s 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls. Unbearably self-absorbed and phony, Kerry’s military career of was rife with controversy, surrounded by justifiable doubt regarding the legitimacy of his having been awarded three Purple Heart medals within a very short time span.  For what amounted to surface scratches incurred on three separate occasions, Kerry gleefully accepted the same citation given to real heroes who lost a limb or suffered a disfiguring injury while saving their comrades on the battlefield. Kerry should have sloughed off the very idea of accepting those Purple Hearts for injuries no worse than a shaving cut. He didn’t miss a single day of service due to those injuries. Not a day.

Unfortunately, the military does not distinguish between severity of wounds when awarding the Purple Heart. Regardless of how true or fraudulent Kerry’s Purple Heart claims are, the fact is Kerry’s having accepted the medals devalued and disrespected the serious, life-threatening injuries suffered by real soldiers in actual combat.

Critics claim that Kerry was a conniving, disingenuous shill from Day One, who always had his eye on a future political career. His preening, insufferable anti-military 1971 testimony in front of the Senate, complete with his pretentiously affected pronunciation of “Jen-Gis Con,” is so laughably transparent as to be unbelievable. Yet this dishonest, put-on, all-for-show snake-oil salesman somehow managed to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 2004. He began his acceptance speech by awkwardly saluting and squawking, “Reporting for Duty!” as if anyone in the known universe thought Kerry or any Democrat had the slightest allegiance to anything with any connection to America’s military. Since Jimmy Carter in 1976 and continuing right through today’s 2020 Democratic contenders, Democrats have been virulently anti-military, viewing its funding as robbing them of vote-bribing social program dollars and condescendingly regarding military people—from enlisted personnel all the way to senior command officers— as nothing more than unsophisticated war-mongering oafs, incapable of grasping the finer points of civilized society.

Today’s Democratic Party does not care about the good of the country as a whole, nor does any current Democratic presidential contender care about the military or understand much about its role. The Democrats are simply interested in winning elections and attaining power, not in furthering the best interests of the country. They look at the country as a big collection of special-interest groups, to be singled out as victims whose salvation shall be delivered for “free” by a Democratic-sponsored Government program. Women, blacks, Hispanics, people below the poverty line, LGBTQ, college students, seniors, and minimum-wage workers are all regarded by the Democrats as simply pieces of the electoral puzzle, to be won over with a taxpayer-funded program crafted just for them. Beneficiaries of such programs will vote for the Dems, while well-heeled liberals will assuage their personal guilt and bolster their self-esteem by voting in favor of them.

The military doesn’t fit into this plan. Military funding does not alleviate the suffering of a special-interest group in a vote-winning manner. Foreign policy success does not convince the 25-year-old with $72k outstanding in college loans to vote for you. F-35s may unerringly destroy their targets in hostile airspace but they will never shatter that supposed “glass ceiling.”

The John Kerry Democrats exploit their military service (if they even serve at all) as nothing more than a political checklist, while demeaning and devaluing the very institution they’re using to further their own personal fortunes. It’s quite a contrast to the way the Greatest Generation served their country. Very few, if any, soldiers serving in combat in WWII publicly identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans, as liberals or conservatives. They were simply Americans, united by a common goal, loyal to the country and to each other.

So it was with my dad. He served in the 338th Field Artillery Battalion in Italy. My dad was an FO (forward observer). The FOs would go to the front lines and find a suitable hiding place. There, they’d use their binoculars to observe how and where their cannon fire was landing, and they’d radio corrective instructions back to the battery.

338th Field Artillery Battalion Insignia

Obviously, the Germans hated the FOs, since they were the ones responsible for directing lethal fire down on them. One day, the Germans spotted my dad’s small group, holed up in a small abandoned house on a hill. No one knows for sure what gave their position away—perhaps it was a glint of sunlight reflecting off a binocular lens. But whatever it was, the Germans spotted them and brought their own 88mm guns to bear on the house. The Germans leveled it, with many American casualties. My dad was struck in the head by a falling beam. The survivors managed to get back to base and my dad was sent to the backlines for emergency surgery, which included the placement of a steel plate in his head.

Want to know what my dad’s most urgent request was following surgery? He wanted to know how soon he could rejoin his buddies at “B Battery.” That was not an uncommon request. U.S. soldiers had an extremely strong sense of commitment and devotion to each other and to their mission. Soldiers would routinely lie about their condition, telling the medical staff they were better than they really were, in an effort to get back to the “boys.” After the war, my dad returned home, got a degree in Civil Engineering under the GI Bill, earned a modest, respectable blue-collar salary in the construction industry and raised his family. He never spoke of the war, he never boasted about his bravery under fire, nor did he ever try to leverage his near-death Purple Heart experience for any kind of personal gain. Like millions of other WWII vets, he was simply a quiet, class guy who did his job and expected no special treatment.

John Kerry accepted three Purple Hearts for wounds no worse than falling off a bike and skinning your knee, all with the duplicitous intent of parlaying a blatantly false, inflated record of military “heroism” into a lucrative future political position. Kerry is the prototypical modern Democratic politician who is all about themselves, all about looking for electoral advantage regardless of the truth, all about Party before Country. Whether it’s favorable international trade deals, treaties/agreements between adversarial nations (like the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Climate Accords, the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty, etc.), border security or anything else, President Trump uses just one benchmark to determine whether the U.S. will continue or withdraw from an existing agreement or enter into a new agreement: Will it benefit America?

Today’s Democrats employ Kerry-like reasoning in every move they make, in every vote they take, with every press conference or interview they give: “How will this benefit my personal power ambitions?” If the truth and the country have to suffer in subservience to personal and Party ambition, so be it.

My dad was better than that. Much better.

Conventional Retirement Wisdom is Wrong!

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

There’s an awful lot of retirement information and advice floating around out there. If you use a computer during your work day and have a look at any of the popular business websites (like MarketWatch, Forbes, Investor’s Business Daily, CNBC, etc.)  from your laptop, they all have articles on retirement strategies, reports of how many Americans are or aren’t saving enough for retirement, commentaries on the best places to retire, sponsored ads with “retirement savings” calculators showing you how much you need to put away to reach some arbitrary nest-egg savings goal, and so on. It’s dizzying.

For the average private-sector worker who is not independently wealthy, Social Security is a major component of their overall retirement income picture.  Estimates are that Social Security will constitute from 33-50% of the retirement income for most middle-class working Americans. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to make the assumption that Social Security remains solvent for the foreseeable future, for the scope of this discussion. That may be an erroneous assumption, but by all accounts, Social Security, as presently structured and funded, is 100% good through around 2030, so this article concerns retirees within that time horizon.

The issues regarding extending the solvent date of Social Security are a combination of inexorable demographics (the ratio of workers currently funding SS to workers claiming it is around 2 ½:1, compared to a ratio of more than 10:1 in the 1950’s) and political will. Social Security can be made solvent by either raising or removing the income cap to which the tax applies ($132,900 in 2019) or increasing the percentage of the tax itself, or some combination of the two. Politicians will have to come to grips with this soon, regardless of the “third-rail” aspect of the matter.

In the meantime, the facet of Social Security that seems to garner the most attention from financial retirement “experts” is when: when is the best time to take one’s Social Security payment? As most people know, a person may begin to take Social Security at age 62 (early retirement). At some point a few years after that (a sliding scale, depending on the person’s year of birth) there is their full-retirement age (FRA). For Baby Boomers retiring now, their FRA is 66. For every year that the retiree delays claiming SS past age 62, their payment will increase by about 8%/year and continue until age 70. That’s when a retiree’s SS payment will be maximized.

During “early retirement” (age 62-65), the amount of money that a person may earn as regular working wages is limited before those wages are counted against one’s SS payment. For example, from age 62-64, a person may earn $17,600 without any effect on their SS payment. Every two dollars earned above that amount reduces a person’s SS payment by $1.

So, let’s use a typical (but hypothetical) example to illustrate what happens. Let’s say a 62-year-old person—an accountant at a downtown firm—earns $70,000 a year. They’ve had a good career and they’re looking to collect at 62 but they want to keep working. Their Social Security income—based on their personal earning history–will likely be somewhere around $2200/month, or $26,400/year. If they were to continue working at $70,000/year while collecting SS, they would collect nothing. Nothing.

Here’s why:

$70,000 salary – $17,600 Social Security exclusion = $52,400. At the 2:1 reduction, that will eliminate $26,200 of that person’s Social Security payment—virtually all that they were scheduled to receive in the first place.

Therefore, the experts are quick to tell us, if you delay collecting until your FRA, then your payment will increase by nearly 8%/year and your lifetime total income lines will “cross” at around age 78. You’ll collect more over your lifetime if you delay the date at which you start taking Social Security. In addition, there is no earned wage “exclusion” limit at one’s FRA—no matter how much you earn, those earnings will not affect or reduce your Social Security payments.

This is why the conventional wisdom tells us, “Don’t take your Social Security until 66. Even better, don’t take it until 70. You’ll receive much more over your lifetime that way.”

That thinking is wrong. Back-loading one’s Social Security payments—especially starting them as late as age 70—is exactly the wrong approach for the average middle-class working person (the person earning between, say $50-60k/year and around $120k/year).

There is one thing that none of the so-called experts and financial websites ever take into account when recommending a Social Security timetable. Unfortunately, it is the critical thing, the only thing that really matters at all in the final analysis of retirement planning.

When recommending that retirees delay Social Security until 66 or 70 based strictly on the lifetime “numbers,” the experts fail to take into account this all-important consideration: Quality-of-life. It’s an indisputable and inescapable fact that as we age, our health deteriorates and our energy level diminishes. Our motivation to travel, our desire to learn and accomplish new things, our willingness and zest for socializing with others, all of that is far lower at age 75-80+ than it is from 65-70. It makes no sense—none—to optimize one’s retirement income for a time when it is of far less actual value to people. What good is having more money available to travel at 83 when your arthritis is so advanced that you can hardly travel into the kitchen without your walker?

Fortunately, there is an excellent solution. Remember the income exclusion amounts we spoke of earlier? From age 62-64, the income exclusion was only $17,600/year before it began to reduce a person’s SS payments.

But there is a little-known and inexplicably glossed over fact of the Social Security income exclusion and it is this: during the calendar year when a person goes from age 65 to 66 (their full retirement age), that income exclusion amount rises from $17,600 to $46,900! This has absolutely huge implications for SS planning.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that a person turns 66 (their FRA) in July and they earn a nice middle-manager salary of $85,000. Certainly, that’s a common situation that describes millions upon millions of workers. That person could begin taking their Social Security payments a full six months before their FRA while continuing to work and earning their full salary, without any reduction in their SS payments. In July of that year, they turn 66 and there is no income exclusion, so they can work earn and collect SS at the same time or they can retire.

But for the six months prior to their FRA, that person is collecting a very substantial portion of the full-retirement SS payment (age 65 payments are over 92% of the age 66 FRA payment) and they’re earning their full salary as well. That’s the key: by timing one’s SS collection to a $46,900 block of time before your FRA (in this example, six months), you come out well ahead by virtue of this “double-dipping.” Most importantly, it gives the person a truly meaningful, substantial retirement income when they can make the best use of it and need it most—in their mid-late 60’s.

This six months’ worth of “extra” Social Security collection for those six months prior to FRA more than makes up for delaying SS collection until FRA or later.

If this person’s SS payment at age 65 is, say, $2300/month, then for those six months they will have collected $13,800 in “extra” SS payments—while still collecting their full salary. They have that extra money in their pocket at age 65. An 8% increase at age 66 from $2300 to $2484/month is $2208 more per year. It will take that person over six years to make up that difference (13,800/2208 = 6.25 years) had they waited. Instead, they have the extra money when they are most able to make the best use of it and enjoy it: from age 66 to 72. If they continue working past their FRA, they will be even further ahead, since there is no income exclusion at one’s FRA.

Taking into account the Quality of Life consideration, it makes the most sense for a healthy individual to front-load the Social Security component of their retirement plan by taking SS for a $46,900 block of time prior to reaching their FRA in that calendar year. Such a strategy balances the conflicting but highly-desirable objectives of early retirement age vs. maximizing lifetime earnings in the most advantageous manner.

Do the Democrats Have an Issue?

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

The poor Democrats: As the Russia Collusion/Mueller Investigation issue disappeared into nothingness like so much skywriting wisping away into the winds, so to did the sure-fire issue with which the Dems thought the White House would automatically be theirs in 2020. The candidate themself was irrelevant, an afterthought. We have it in the bag, the Dems thought. It’s just a matter of to which person we bestow the privilege of the Presidency this time around. Let’s pick a good one: A woman. No, a woman of color. No, a gay. No, an Hispanic. Perhaps an American Indian.

But that slam-dunk Russia issue is gone. Gerry Nadler and Adam Schiff are still flailing about, trying to collect their “undeniable” Russian collusion evidence and convince the rest of the Democratic caucus to initiate impeachment proceedings.

It looks doubtful that that’s going to come to pass. So the “President’s a crook” angle apparently is not going to deliver a greased downhill slide into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the Democrats. It appears—at this juncture, at least—that the Democrats will actually have to come up with a convincing policy platform in order to win the White House. They’ll have to identify substantive issues of actual importance and persuade enough Undecideds that the Democratic Party will improve their lives and make the country safer and more prosperous.

What are their issues? What are the candidates putting forth thus far? Do any of them seem like game-changers, the lynchpin to electoral victory?

One policy they’ve all put forth, in one form or another, is a single-payer Government-run healthcare system, sometimes referred to as Medicare for All. Almost all the Dems propose the elimination of the private insurance industry in favor of a European-styled system. After all, healthcare is a “right,” not a “privilege.”

Ahh, but the devil is in the details—how, in actuality, do we get rid of the insurance industry? What happens to those millions of workers? How do we set up the Federal Healthcare bureaucracy?  How long will that take? Medicare currently covers 80% of the Part B expenses–where will other the 20% come from that is currently funded by private insurance programs? Or will this new Medicare-for-All now cover all 100%? Has that been figured into the cost estimates? No Democratic candidate ever says. They probably haven’t thought it through that far, they probably don’t even know. Getting rid of the private insurance industry is a pipedream, a hollow talking point. It will simply never happen. Never, and the Dems know it.

Free college tuition and forgiveness of student debt is also a popular talking point for many of the Dems. Some candidates want to cancel student debt altogether. There’s never a mention of actual details, however. Debt for private universities or just public ones? Sanders and others say that tuition should be free to public college, but they never specify which debt they’re going to forgive. What about students who’ve recently paid back their loans? Do they get reimbursed? Is there a look-back period, a sliding scale of partial reimbursement? Who will pay the financial institutions the money that they’re owed if the loans are forgiven? No one ever says. That’s because it’s just a talking point, a lie.

Another one is reparations for slavery as punishment for “white privilege.” This one is especially rich with bogusity, even by present-day Democratic standards. How will this be determined? Will everyone’s ethnic background be researched and by whom? Do reparations apply only to those of actual African heritage? What about dark-skinned persons from, say, South America or the Caribbean? Do they qualify? What will happen with people of mixed heritage? Barack Obama and Halle Berry, to use two well-known examples, are progeny of mixed white-black parentage. Would they be qualified for just 50% of the award? If ever there was an intentionally disingenuous, empty-headed policy proposal, this is it.

The Democrats want to rescind the tax cut and they all brag that they’ll do it on their “first day.” As was the case when President George W. Bush cut taxes, the Democrats automatically yell, “Tax cuts for the rich!” whenever there is a tax cut. It’s a risible claim. Ask any middle-class blue-collar worker earning $60,000 a year if they want to give back their $130/month tax cut to the Government. “Sure, I don’t need it, I don’t like getting my monthly gasoline essentially for ‘free.’ You can keep your $130, as long as I have the satisfaction of knowing that Mitt Romney’s taxes are going up too.” It’s not that Joe Average wants Ronmey’s taxes to go up. Mr. Average doesn’t care about Romney, he only cares about himself and his family. Kamala Harris and Joe Biden—and the others—are the ones who will take personal pleasure in raising taxes on the Mitt Romneys of the world.

The list goes on—The Green new Deal, open borders and the decriminalization of illegal entry into the country, free health care for illegal immigrants. LGBTQ issues taken to bizarre extremes, such as males being allowed to unfairly compete as females in sports and men who “identify as women” being allowed in women’s and girls’ locker rooms and bathrooms.

Such is the Democratic platform for 2020. Nothing the Democrats are proposing so far is grounded in even the slimmest notion of feasibility or reality. None of their latest proposals can or will ever happen. They’re all just empty promises of free giveaways, made to ignorant, greedy voters, the “low information” voters. Eliminating the insurance industry, free college tuition, reparations, the Green New Deal, none of those will ever happen, ever. The Democrats are not running on any legitimate policy proposals—nothing about finding and producing new energy, nothing about keeping the country safer, no actual ideas to help grow the economy and raise employment, nothing at all about meeting any international challenges in Iran, the Middle East, Russia or elsewhere.

Instead, now that the “Russia-Russia-Russia!” issue is gone, the Democrats have taken to promising anything, saying anything—no matter how outlandish—in order to win back their voters and defeat President Trump.

Any voter with even half a brain can see right through this. And therein lies the danger for President Trump.

Don’t Fight the Other Guy’s Fight

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

There’s an old axiom in boxing that says you’ll never win if you fight the other guy’s fight. If he’s a slick boxer, you should try to pressure him, break his rhythm, force him to get into a punch-for-punch shootout.

Conversely if your opponent is a brawler, you should use fluid side-to-side movement and long, quick jabs to keep him at bay and prevent him from getting close. There’s a more colloquial expression for all of this: “Don’t hook with a hooker.”

Politics is no different. The winning side is the side that is most successful at framing the argument in terms more advantageous to their favored positions, the side that can convincingly present the talking points that play to their strengths while minimizing the amount of time and conversation spent in areas not to their liking. There are clichés that apply: Democrats don’t talk about building up the country’s military strength. Republicans would rather avoid the topic of race-based quota admissions.

Unless there is some immediate, unusual pressing emergency that forces an unwelcome issue to the fore, most of the time the candidate or party spokesperson can side-step it and not be forced into an uncomfortable defensive position.

There are times when talking about a “bad” issue are unavoidable: when cornered by a hostile media reporter during a press conference or interview, when a private citizen (a non-plant) manages to formulate an intelligent, informed question at a town hall, or during a debate when the opponent brings up a topic he/she thinks is going to make the other person look bad by forcing them to talk about what they don’t want to talk about.

What would be really effective would be if that candidate or spokesperson could turn their supposed weakness into a major strength. That would require that the opposition’s position/talking point was thoroughly analyzed, vetted, prodded and poked in advance, behind the scenes. Give it real thought, play Devil’s Advocate with it, defend it, role play with it, learn it backwards and forwards. The absolute worst thing to do is exactly what most politicians do now: merely dismiss it with a derisive wave of the hand, perhaps accompanied by a trite, sarcastic cliché.

For purposes of this discussion, let’s look at one issue. Democrats love this one. They get great mileage out of it. The “mushy middle” of inattentive, low Information voters is persuadable, being particularly susceptible to a message that is phrased simply and casts them—the voter—as a victim. When someone is told they’re a victim and I, your humble Public Servant, will come to your rescue, it can be quite compelling indeed. Elections are often won or lost by the effectiveness of messaging to this bloc.

The issue? Income Inequality. Message: Republican Fat Cats are overpaid. The implication: If the Fat Cats were paid less, that leftover money would somehow magically make its way directly into your pocket. Income Inequality is the source of all your ills. Greedy conservatives are unfairly given the money that should rightfully go to you.

That’s the Dems’ message. “Billionaires are immoral.” They push it hard and often. Republicans, to date, have had no effective counter to it. Nothing short, pithy and memorable. Nothing that is so true and unarguable that it shuts up the Democratic speaker—whether it’s a candidate, a party spokesperson or a liberal media talking head—and puts them into a state of open-mouthed shock, unable to speak.

“Conservative CEOs rake in millions of dollars in pay and stock options, bonuses, profit-sharing, etc., but the rank-and-file earns only $50k/year, 1/50th the CEO’s pay. All Republican policies are aimed at making the CEO even richer. Republicans love Income Inequality.”

The entire notion of “income inequality” is a farce, a non-issue, all-appearance/no-substance. When Republicans attempt to answer it, they’re doomed. They’re playing the Democrats’ game.

Ok, here’s the scenario: Kamala Harris or Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden or whomever is the Democratic Flavor of the Month is going on and on about income inequality, how it’s worse than ever, how it hurts the ‘little guy,’ and what they say drips with the implication that if rich conservatives are paid less, then poor derserving liberals and swing voters will somehow get more money.  “How,” precisely, they get that money is never explained, but no matter. The liberal moderator eats it up and throws one softball after another for the Democrat to hit out of the park.

Usually, the poor, communications-challenged Republican is clueless how to respond, and more often than not, follows their Democratic opponent and the liberal moderator down the one-way no-escape rabbit hole. They get humiliated, tagged—again!—with the “Republicans are heartless” label. The cliché is confirmed once more.

Not this time. This time the Republican has something up his/her sleeve. It’s called “Easily-Understood Logic,” that most rare of conservative communications commodities.

“So, Senator Harris, you’re not rich, right? But you live a fairly decent life.; Your family has enough to eat, you pay the electric bill and you generally have no real complaints. Is that a fair characterization?”

She nervously agrees, fearful that something is coming.

“And your next-door neighbor on your street, they’re in roughly the same boat, right? Not outright rich, but no actual complaints. Things are fine. Is that right?”

Again, Harris nervously agrees, knowing that something is coming.

And here it is: “Now, Senator Harris, let’s suppose that tomorrow, your next-door neighbor hits the lottery for $500 million and all of a sudden they’re incredibly rich. Yesterday, Senator Harris, you and your neighbor were in the same financial boat. There was perfect income equality. Today, they’re totally rich and you’re not. Complete income inequality. Tell us, Senator Harris, exactly how does your neighbor’s new-found wealth prevent you and your family from living a perfectly nice life?”

The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t. People’s income and financial status are independent of each other. It’s not a zero-sum game: One person’s income doesn’t go down just because another’s goes up. The economic pie is continually expanding. It’s not finite, where the size of one person’s “slice” directly impacts the size of someone else’s “slice.” GDP in America has more than doubled since 1999. The pie is expanding. There’s more than enough for everyone.

The term “income inequality” needs to be called out by Republicans for what it is: a totally inaccurate, pejorative term invented by liberals, designed to make conservatives look bad to the liberal media and to inattentive, low-information swing voters. The correct term is “income sufficiency.” As long as someone has an income sufficient to provide for their needs, that’s all that matters.

Let your next-door neighbor hit the lottery. Let Tim Cook or Warren Buffet make another few million today. Their income is not what is holding anyone back. There may be other things—structural or not—that cause any given individual to not enjoy income sufficiency, but the financial success of another person isn’t one of them.

Of all the rhetorical scams perpetrated by the Democrats, “income inequality” is among the worst. Republicans need to stop chasing that phony slickster around the ring, swinging and missing at a non-existent opponent.

Not Enough Fraziers

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

A lot of conversation these days is concerned with the degradation of American culture and society. There is a widespread feeling that too many people in this country no longer exhibit the enviable traits of hard work and self-sacrifice as a means to personal advancement, that respect for elders and traditional institutions is diminishing to an alarming degree and that an acknowledgement and appreciation of our country’s history as it pertains to the economic and societal advantages and opportunities that are afforded to the vast majority of the population is vanishing altogether.

A generation-by-generation analysis might shed interesting light on how and why the country seems to be where it is today.

Greatest Generation—this is the World War II generation. For men, many of them were in the armed forces, fighting all over the world. Although the modern conflicts from Vietnam onwards—fought in the television era—have received the most immediate daily coverage, the scale of casualties and the size and scope of the battles in WWII remain unsurpassed. On D-Day June 6th 1944, 2500 American soldiers died on the beaches of Normandy. The Pacific Island campaigns of Iwo Jima and Okinawa cost nearly 120,000 American dead and wounded in battles that lasted a combined total of mere months. As a matter of fact, Americans casualties in the Pacific occurred at the rate of more than 7000 per week, a number that is simply incomprehensible to the current American public, used to double-digit deaths per week during the war in Iraq.

The conditions in WWII were brutal, from the suffocating tropic heat of the Pacific jungles to the incredibly harsh European winters to the scorching heat of the African desert. The medical care/technology was primitive compared to today. Communications with family members at home were virtually non-existent, in stark contrast to the e-mail, texting and Skype that connects today’s soldiers to their domestic life.

For Greatest Generation women, it meant working in factories, suffering through food and supply shortages and rationing while struggling to maintain some semblance of family life and raise their children without their spouse.

The entire country sacrificed for the bigger national good, unquestioningly and unhesitatingly. When the war was over, the men simply came home, reunited with their families and they resumed a normal, unassuming life, raising their children, buying homes and living their lives. They saved the world from tyranny and bought a Ford. They didn’t ask for adulation or attention. They asked for a mortgage. The Greatest Generation, indeed.

Baby Boomers—born between 1946-1964, the children of the Greatest Generation—seem to be split into two distinct halves. A sizable segment espouses their predecessors’ traditional family and religious values and work ethic, while another segment of Baby Boomers is far more materialistic, self-absorbed and status conscious. Many of the Greatest Generation struggled through the Great Depression of 1929-1939 and vowed that “our kids would never suffer like this.” As a result, as they became financially successful following WWII, many of these Greatest parents over-indulged their Boomer children with all manner of material excess, expensive schools and societal privilege. That segment of Baby Boomers has been brought up to regard that level of extravagance to be “normal,” and they’ve passed those distorted values onto their children. The contention here is that the split between the two factions of Boomers is quite stark and definite. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground.

Generation X—a relatively small segment, born from roughly 1965-1980—is somewhat overlooked by demographers and sociologists, but as a group, X-ers appear to exhibit pretty solid values and a strong work ethic. Yes, they grew up as technology transitioned from 1940’s-1980’s wired telephones, snail mail and and over-the-air radio/TV to 1990’s-2000’s cell phones, cable TV and e-mail and thus they have a different expectation of convenience and normalcy compared to Boomers and Greatests, but as a group, X-ers have not called undue negative attention onto themselves. Given that they are the offspring of Boomers—half of whom in my view exhibit truly problematic ideals and conduct—it’s a bit of a mystery why Generation X has largely escaped the severe criticism that falls onto their younger cousins, the Millennial Generation.

Millennials, born from the early 1980’s through the early 2000’s, are criticized with the broad brush of cliché and generalization. But like most clichés and generalizations, these criticisms spring from at least partial truth. Specifically, Millennials are accused of:

  • Being given too much too soon
  • Having an unrealistic sense of entitlement, an inflated, distorted sense of their own self-worth
  • Wanting work and pay advancements way out of proportion to their achievements and qualifications—experience and seniority are not concepts they feel apply to them
  • Technological advancements and conveniences have eliminated their capacity for patience and restraint
  • Having little humility or respect for traditional institutions or the older generations
  • Feeling that the normal rules of waiting one’s turn don’t apply to them

While these are indeed generalizations and there are no doubt some fine young people in that age group, far too many Millennials are the perfect embodiment of these clichés. There are a lot of flashy young hotshots who believe they’re worth the big dollar payday right out of the gate and not enough of the nose-to-the-grindstone, self-effacing types willing to put in the no-excuses hard work in order to get the gold.

In short, the Millennial Generation appears to be woefully short of Joe Fraziers.

Joe Frazier was an American professional boxer in the 1960’s and 70’s. Fighting in the heavyweight division, Frazier was champion from 1970-1973. He’s best remembered for his epic battles with Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. His trilogy against Ali is regarded as perhaps the most bitterly-contested rivalry in all of sports, not just boxing. Frazier was small for a heavyweight and usually gave away 10-20 pounds in weight and several inches in height and reach to his opponents. But he made up for it with an amazing fighting spirit and a refuse-to-quit attitude. Yet despite his in-ring ferocity, Frazier was known for his friendly, easy-going nature and his personal generosity.

Regardless of the opponent, whether he won or lost (he won most of the time, but not every time), Frazier’s style and approach was characterized by his incredible toughness, a willingness to take a punch in order to deliver one and a determination and courage under fire that has virtually never been equalled in the annals of boxing.

A bloodied but undaunted Joe Frazier presses the action against Muhammad Ali

The Greatest generation was dominated by Joe Fraziers, people who refused to quit until they reached their goals, regardless of the obstacles in front of them. A sizable portion of Baby Boomers—the ones who built business, legal, entertainment and medical enterprises of the highest order by the dint of their own indomitable will and perseverance—were straight from the Frazier mold. Millennials? Less so, unfortunately.

Modern America—all generations—would benefit greatly by emulating Frazier’s quiet determination, kindness and class and his utter refusal to take a backwards step in the face of adversity.

Maria Butina was a Russian lobbyist. If there was possibly any other believable evidence of any other covert schemes on her part, they would have been leaked all over the media. There hasn’t been. She’s essentially been handed an 18-month sentence for failing to register as a foreign lobbyist. Should Tony Podesta get twice as much for his dealings with the Ukraine and with some of the same people Manafort worked for?

He won’t of course, and in a sick way that should give some small measure of comfort. The fact that her tough sentencing is merely a hypocritical way to somehow justify the Russia collusion narrative. A narrative that should be under ground and not moving but keeps getting yanked up to the surface and shot through with voodoo mojo to keep it wandering through editorial rooms and media sites like a ghost of scandals past.

But one should be careful to hope this is a onetime thing and will disappear when President Trump moves out of the White House, although one doubts that these collusion myths will ever die. But there’s a much more serious and long-lasting consequence to this.

When you set a precedent in an English-common-law-based legal system, it settles in and becomes nearly impossible to uproot with every passing judgement that builds on that precedent. And there most definitely a legal precedent being set here:

A foreign lobbyist in America now has to prove they are not a spy.

Do the two professions meet and mingle in places like D.C? Of course they do. But there seems to be a disturbing lack of evidence of Butina actively engaging in any form of espionage, rather than somewhat naïve attempts at winning friends and influencing people in the city where it is most valued out of anywhere on planet Earth. Here’s what the prosecution said last week when they called for an 18-month sentence, a sentence that Judge Tanya Chutkin upheld this week:

(Butina)was not a spy in the traditional sense of trying to gain access to classified information to send back to her home country. She was not a trained intelligence officer … [but her] actions had the potential to damage the national security of the United States.

These are chilling words. Potentially – if this precedent is upheld and by the sound of Butina’s legal team and her own “confession” in court over how she destroyed her life by not registering as a Russian agent there likely will not be any appeal – then any foreign investigative journalist, any academic, or any businessperson who’s looking to establish connections could be accused of conspiring with someone in their own country and by so doing potentially harm America’s interests.

And the media is happy to go along with the ride because it seems like a juicy morsel in the endless effort to keep the zombie collusion theory going. Here’s the BBC:

Butina began travelling to the US for NRA conventions, apparently armed with a plan called The Diplomacy Project, aimed at setting up unofficial channels aimed at influencing US policy.

In 2015 she attended a Trump campaign event in Las Vegas, asking the presidential candidate about his views on US sanctions in Russia.

In December 2015 she invited NRA officials to Moscow, and they held meetings with “high-level Russian government officials” organised by Mr Torshin.

Alexander Torshin is a former Russian Senator and Deputy Central Bank Governor. Here’s the BBC again:

Mr Torshin was placed under US Treasury sanctions in April, and is being investigated by the FBI over allegations of funnelling money to the NRA to aid the Trump campaign.

Although unnamed in the plea deal, Mr Torshin is clearly the Russian with whom Butina has admitted conspiring.

By this measure Christopher Steele should be on Interpol’s most wanted list with an extradition order and a seat next to Julian Assange on the next Black-Ops overnight flight to Washington from London. Steele isn’t and never will be.

But this petty and nasty warning shot across Russia’s bow will have legal and political consequences for a long time to come. There are better ways to tell Putin and his spies to screw off than to hammer a kid from Siberia who likes guns and the NRA. Even if she could have become a bona-fide Russian agent at some point.

Let’s assume that Andrew Weissmann had a major role in writing up the Mueller Report, seeing he was the special counsel’s head prosecutor by all indications. Consider this elegantly cruel manipulation in broad daylight in the much-commented second volume (should we call the report Kill Trump Volumes 1 & 2?) on the possibility of obstruction of justice charges and whether to arrive at a “binary” conclusion that says either guilty or not guilty:

Fairness concerns counselled against potentially reaching that judgement when no charges can be brought. The ordinary means for an individual to respond to an accusation is through a speedy and public trial, with all the procedural protections that surround a criminal case. An individual who believes that he was wrongly accused can use that process to seek to clear his name. In contrast, a prosecutor’s decision that crimes were committed, but that no charges will be brought, affords no such adversarial opportunity for public name-clearing before an impartial adjudicator.

And of course, the report then goes on to list President Trump’s unseemly conduct on a number of accusations and then explore a lengthy legal theory about why they couldn’t come to a “binary” decision – yes or no on the charges of obstruction of justice. It does precisely what it says is a character smear with no recourse before a jury of peers or some other impartial adjudicator.

And then it hands off the report to Congress, suggesting between the lines that impeachment is the only logical way out of the legal conundrum that they themselves wove out of dubious cloth. I can imagine Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler, (and everyone else who want Trump’s presidency annulled by one or another means), chortling with delight as their aides pointed out the relevant passages.

And at the end they have the gall to say that no one is above the law.

But that’s wrong. President Trump is being treated as if he’s below the law, not above it. If not, he would be entitled to exactly the process that Weismann outlines in the quote above, rather than a political hit job on Trump’s running roughshod over accepted D.C. norms and regulations. Which is basically what volume II is.

From pages 215 to 218 of the report, they list the famous 10 (some say up to 15) incidents of potential obstruction of justice. All of them have been previously leaked in some form or another. Many are unseemly and show that President Trump’s cabinet (which Ben Domenech recently wrote in The Transom was the equivalent to inviting the first 2000 people through the gate at a Bruins game to apply for the various White House jobs – very funny but a little too flippant if a little too real at the same time) actually respected the legal and political processes far more than he did.

Yes, some of it is uncomfortable, especially his orders to former White House Counsel Don McGahn regarding AG Session’s recusal, orders that McGahn refused to carry out through delays and various stonewalling tactics apparently. And here Weissmann’s paradox – a nifty steel trap that is circular in its logic – works beautifully. It goes something like this:

Because accusing the President of obstruction of justice would cripple his administration, we have raised the bar for obstruction to a higher level than we would otherwise and when the SOB is impeached, we’ll hopefully have provided the evidence for criminal charges when he’s no longer in the White House. We’ll give you a break Mr. President and let the whole world know that you’re basically a criminal in so doing.

That is Kafka, pure and straight.

With no way out except precisely the way Trump has been fighting it: in the court of public opinion in social media and in the media in general. Which in part was what got the president in trouble. Had he not tweeted about the investigation there would be a much shorter list of possible obstruction incidents. But had he not tweeted, he wouldn’t have alerted his base and the world in general to what has been essentially a political process from the get-go.

In a speech given at Hillsdale College in May of last year, John Marini advanced a fascinating and disturbing theory that links Watergate directly to the Mueller probe and the function of the special counsel or special prosecutor. Before you start cheering in the hope that it adds another plank in the obstruction narrative that even now is evolving into a conflicts and cover-up narrative, think again. Marini’s speech was about how Watergate was in essence a savage pushback by the administrative state against an electorally popular president (Nixon swept the 72 elections to crush McGovern) who was reportedly planning to reign in government in DC and cut back the sprawling edifice that every president from FDR through LBJ had helped enlarge. Here’s Marini:

I recall being struck at the time of Watergate by the fact that there was a tremendous mobilization of partisan opinion against Nixon, but very little partisan mobilization in Nixon’s defense. The reason for this, in retrospect, is that it is difficult—if not impossible—to mobilize partisan support once the contest is removed from the political arena and placed in the hands of prosecutors, grand juries, and judges. Nixon believed, correctly, that his partisan enemies were trying to destroy him. But even Republicans in Congress came to accept Watergate primarily in legal terms. The most remembered line from a Nixon defender was that of Senator Howard Baker: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” Nixon quickly became boxed in; he was limited to making a legal, rather than political, defense of his office.

Trump – instinctively rather than as a reasoned strategy even if he was already in his 20’s and working in real estate when the Watergate scandal played out across America and the world – has refused to make the same mistake as Nixon. He’s fought back politically recognizing and declaring to the world that Mueller has always been a political, rather than a legal process.

History may yet prove him right.

James Hohmann in his Daily 202 published a list of the size of charitable donations that major Democrat primary contenders have given in years past; as a percentage relative to their total income. Something that is possible because they have released their tax returns for the public to see. It’s interesting to read the list on the eve of Maundy Thursday – or Holy Thursday as it is now more commonly called – and reflect on what charity means in 2019.

The answer seems to lie with who’s at the top of the list as the most generous giver to charity: Elizabeth Warren and her husband at 5.5% of their total income. And as we know, Warren favors stringent regulation of the financial industry and higher taxes to pay for elaborate all-consuming social programs. But at least she’s consistent with her dogma.

At the other end of the spectrum is President Trump who maintains his taxes are none of our damn business. Which is a fairly American way of viewing the question of charity, even as America and Americans are by far the most generous givers on the planet towards charitable causes. Unlike many European countries that insist that the state should fill the gap, funded by high taxes of course.

Faith and works.

A long-puzzled-over verse from Paul the Apostle (I’ve already given away my team by naming St. Paul in such a manner) engages in an excruciatingly elegant and complex meditation on faith and works in his letter to the Galatians. Faith and works. Christians have killed and tortured and died over how to interpret those words so it can leave one weary of the endless argument that today still lives on in unexpected ways.

Like when we talk about taxes.

One can argue that the moral righteousness that some statists seem to infuse their fiscal arguments with comes from the argument over how to balance faith and works, with the statists obviously coming down on the side of works.

Government works of course.

So while Warren is surely pleased that her charitable giving (as a percentage) swamps the very frugal and very wealthy Beto O’Rourke (who gave a fraction of a percent of his and his wife’s total income), she’d much rather have her charitable giving nailed down by the IRS with a steeply progressive tax rate codified into law by a Socially Democratic Congress.

And that brings up a further point. The only way for works to be truly acceptable to the progressive woke crowd that have taken over the Democratic Party is for the IRS to raise taxes, and charity be damned. So that’s just one more reason for moderate Catholics to feel they no longer belong as Democrats, aside from the principal reason they feel that way which is the abortion issue.

But interestingly as Michael Warren Davis (who edits the Catholic Herald) writes in the Washington Examiner, Catholics are no longer a voting block the way Evangelicals are:

Catholics are such a diverse group, and we’ve become so thoroughly integrated into mainstream America, that we represent the “average American voter” better than any other denomination. A 2016 Pew poll found that 37% of Catholics are Republican and 44% are Democrats. That’s precisely the mean of all U.S. adults. With apologies to Ohio, Catholics are the most accurate bellwether in presidential politics.

We’ve spent centuries dispelling myths about papal plots to overthrow the government, proving to our Protestant neighbors that we’re average, harmless Americans, and this is what it’s gotten us. There’s not even a “Catholic vote” to speak of — nothing comparable to the coveted evangelical vote, anyway. If there were, 25% of the electorate would go to a party that agrees with Ocasio-Cortez on economic and environmental policy but to former Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum on social issues. Instead, at least half of Catholics will continue to vote for Democrats …

Even as abortion on demand becomes a litmus test for party candidates.

As signs of a growing gap between moderate Democrats (who are still arguably a majority of Democrat voters) and the party leadership become evident, one has to ask whether conservative Catholics will continue moving to the GOP to enough of an extent for them to be able to claim the GOP as their home. Or whether in America, Catholics are truly universal and reflect the broad cultural outlines of the country to such an extent that their identity and faith melt into the background.

A similar set of concerns with regard to Jewish Americans was expressed in a recent piece in Tablet written by Adam Garfinkle titled: The Collapse – Is this the end of American Jewry’s Golden Age? In the article, Garfinkle writes:

One of those reasons is that American Jews are rapidly and irreversibly becoming politically homeless. They are losing their “natural” political hearth in the Democratic Party. Partisan political support for Israel has shifted sharply to an increasingly white-populist GOP—a party the vast majority of American Jews will never feel at home in.

One can’t help but conclude that diversity of faith and culture is being driven out of the Democratic Party by hard-left identity politics puritans. It’s long past time for the GOP to truly and generously make room for them, whatever the protestations that they already have been doing so for some time now. It’s just that right now the party of LIncoln is a more populist and nativist party for understandable reasons.

But that may not prevent the GOP from ending up being the more diverse party in a few years time. It just may be possible, as long as you define diversity as something more than politically prescribed identity.

And give faith and works enough space to co-exist.

AOC is the Democrats’ Voice

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Let’s give credit where credit is due: Has there ever been a freshman Congressperson who has made anywhere near as much of a national impact in so short a period of time as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? She’s only been in office for a few months, yet it seems as if she’s in the news every day. Her commentary and progressive vision have certainly taken the Democratic Party by storm and she is the unquestioned de-facto leading speaker for her side. She’s also a media darling—on both sides—because of her fearless, flamboyant, often outrageous statements. She’s definitely newsworthy.

AOC, as she’s amusingly known, has made an astonishingly high number of notable proclamations and policy proposals in rapid succession. No subject is off-limits; there is no area of national importance where she hasn’t weighed in. She has an opinion about everything and is only too eager to share it. Significantly, she obviously feels that her take on the various subjects is important and worthy of serious consideration. Some would say she thinks her opinions should be accepted as gospel-like fact and carried out in their entirety.

Some of her more pointed declarations:

The Green New Deal:

‘The world is gonna end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change.’

‘Like, this is the war, this is our World War II.’

 ‘Today is the day that we choose to assert ourselves as a global leader in transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy and charting that path.’

‘I’m the boss, I’m trying. If you’re trying, you’ve got all the power, you’re driving the agenda, you’re doing all this stuff.’

Medicare for all:

‘’The United States should be a nation that allows improved and expanded Medicare for all.

Blocking Amazon’s New York City headquarters:

Anything is possible. Today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world.’

 Abolishing ICE:

‘An agency like ICE, which repeatedly and systematically violates human rights, does not deserve a dime.’

The most meaningful aspect of AOC’s flamboyant presence on the national stage is not her never-ending stream of continually outlandish opinions on any number of important issues, which is certainly impressive enough. Instead, it’s the supportive, almost giddy coverage afforded to her by an incredibly sympathetic liberal media, as they use her nearly-baseless pontifications to promote their own favored viewpoints, but without having to present AOC’s opinion as their own. They get to present it as “news”—something a high-profile politician said today—and thus attempt to pre-empt any direct criticism of that media outlet taking sides.

Has the rise of the AOC phenomenon caused Nancy Pelosi’s standing as the Democratic Speaker of the House—the supposed official “leader” of the Democratic House majority—to be diminished or threatened? Is there friction or conflict between them? Are AOC’s almost-daily pronunciations causing a rift in the Democratic Party between the new ultra-progressive wing and the older, more-traditional liberal faction?

Probably not.

Unbeknown to her, AOC’s newness and youth are being deftly exploited by Democratic Party veterans. They simply run her extreme radical progressive ideas up the flagpole to gauge public reaction. If her ideas seem too extreme, the Pelois and Hoyers of the world can distance themselves from them and reassure the swing/independent electorate that AOC is full of youthful exuberance and unrealistic ideological enthusiasm, but she doesn’t speak for the heart and soul of the real Democratic Party.

Pelosi will attempt to subtly put forth the notion that her party—the real Democrats—love their country, embrace the capitalistic American Dream where anyone can become a success, and fully support a clean environment with commensurate sensitivity to business and jobs. However, they are more compassionate, inclusive and aware of the needs of individual groups (like women, minorities, LGBTQ, etc.) than those hard-hearted, inflexible, further-right-than-ever Republicans. “Don’t worry—you can still advance your career and live a very nice life; we’re just going to make sure everyone has healthcare, breathes clean air, pays their fair share of taxes and that there’s common-sense diversity in the workplace and in our schools. That’s reasonable enough for you to vote for us, right?” That is Pelosi‘s and her ‘traditional wing’ Democrats’ implied stance. Whether it’s believable or not is another matter, but that’s their line, their distinction from the AOC wing.

But…if a radical idea posed by AOC seems to have legs and takes hold, then the Pelosi faction will be quick to glom onto it and claim it as their own. This way, they can have it both ways: Let AOC put everything out there. If a proposal or stance is so extreme that the mid-line swing voters reject it, then Pelosi will dismiss it as AOC’s naïve inexperience getting the best of her. If an idea from AOC seems to fire the public’s imagination and appears to become mainstream thought, then the traditional Pelosi wing can adopt it as if they were in favor of it all along.

AOC is the perfect trial horse, a no-lose proposition for traditional Democrats who are too cautious to propose liberally-adventurous, ground-breaking ideas of their own. They will willingly let AOC charge into the machine-gun fire of public opinion and take whatever hits come her way, but they will happily go along for the credit ride if any of AOC’s ideas strike a favorable chord.

For seasoned political observers, the most entertaining aspect of this entire scenario is that AOC has absolutely no idea that she’s being used by her own party. That’s how seriously she takes herself.

Among the various Democrat electoral strategies that involve attempts at damaging President Trump with the hope of preventing a win in 2020, we have the tax-return strategy. Now that Mueller has failed to come up with the goods, and given that most people realize that Nadler and company in Congress will be going over the same ground as Mueller with not nearly the same resources (neither financial nor in terms of expert prosecutors) in order to try and score political points, we have the spotlight turning towards Trump’s tax returns.

The language being used, as usual when it comes to the Trump opposition, is both apocalyptical and self-righteous. Here’s Steve Rosenthal at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, as quoted in The Hill:

[The] request tests Mnuchin’s oath of office: whether Mnuchin will faithfully execute the laws of the United States, or whether Mnuchin will bend to the will of the president.

Which also sets up the narrative of Mnuchin the faithful loyalist who’s breaking the rules for evil President Trump. But, Rosenthal’s over-the-top assertions aside, is the Secretary of the Treasury actually breaking any rules by declining to release the president’s tax returns?

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts is reportedly using U.S. Code Section 6103 (f) as a way to try and force the IRS, and therefore Mnuchin (given that the Internal Revenue Agency is part of Treasury), to disclose President Trump’s tax returns from the past few years. Here’s what U.S. Code Section 6103 (which deals with disclosure of tax information by the IRS and which in most cases stringently prohibits it) subsection (f) in part states:

Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request, except that any return or return information which can be associated with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular taxpayer shall be furnished to such committee only when sitting in closed executive session unless such taxpayer otherwise consents in writing to such disclosure.

In closed executive session. How reassuring, right? No problem with leaks from those sessions if it ever actually happens that President Trump’s lawyers accede to Chairman Neal’s written request.

While Section 6103 (f) provides the technical loophole that Democrats have been looking for, is it constitutional to force disclosure of a president’s tax returns?

Let’s start with the fact that income tax was nowhere in the constitution and income taxes didn’t appear until Lincoln needed to finance the Civil War and Congress established a tax in 1861 for that purpose. Then early in the 20th century, more income taxes on corporations followed. However, as David Herzig, a tax expert, outlines in Forbes the presumption was that taxes were public information:

When enacting the country’s first federal income tax to finance the Civil War, in 1861, Congress provided that all returns should be “open for examination.” Likewise, when Congress came up with the first income tax for corporations, in 1909, the law provided the returns “shall constitute public records and be open to inspection as such.”

But, by the 1920’s and 1930’s, the pendulum had shifted to privacy. These rules and norms were memorialized by the 1970s and 1980s in IRC section 6103.

In other words, U.S. Code Section 6103 was enacted by Congress some 30 to 40 years ago to push back against IRS disclosure of private tax information and to provide a wall of privacy. So, what we have is a tension between freedom of information and privacy. Here’s Herzig again:

IRC section 6103, protects taxpayers from forced disclosure and trumps the primary legislation for disclosure, the Freedom of Information Act. FOIA enables the public to inspect rulings and many other IRS documents, files, and memoranda, but it does not encompass “matters [that are] specifically exempted from disclosure by statute,” e.g., IRC section 6103.

Mnuchin is caught in this crossfire between administrative state regulations and Congress which of course enacted those very regulations in the 70’s and 80’s.

President Trump, as a political choice, should have been more amenable to releasing his returns. His refusal seems to reflect his thinking as a businessman rather than as a politician, which is part of why he was elected. But now we have a tactic that Democrats are going to use to hint darkly that Trump must have debts with Russian banks or goodness knows what else and this compromises him.

The problem is changing key norms dealing with taxes because Trump is president. This is something Congress should legislate if they truly believe they should make it law that any nominee for President has a legal obligation to release their tax returns. As Herzig writes:

By amending IRC section 6103 for presidents, vice-presidents or some subset (i.e., party nominees), Congress can rebalance the rules. But approaching legislation in a knee-jerk fashion is problematic. It is no fun to say we should weigh and contemplate such a change, but it is necessary.

Americans value privacy.

Or do they?

In answering that question, it is interesting to note that the two New York legislators who are pushing for a law obliging the release of tax returns for top officials in New York State, have themselves reportedly not yet done so.

If we’re going to return to a presumption that individual tax returns are public information at least for certain offices in government, then the Federal Government (rather than individual states) may be the way to go. But would that mean that private taxpayers are next?

Tax returns as instruments of shaming private citizens and not just politicians in the public square? Think about that as you consider what AOC tweeted:

We didn’t ask you.

It’s Not About the Money

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

There are probably few endeavors where human nature, psychology and communication strategy play as critical a role as politics. Whether or not a politician knows how to play the media (including the relative effectiveness of the various media vehicles), understands how their audience will react to their communication, is at ease with the subtleties and complexities of massaging and customizing a well-crafted message, all of these are central to determining if a given politician will be successful at being well-received and covered favorably.

Like him or hate him, President Trump has proven to be extremely adept at doing the one thing that all politicians hope to do: get his message out in a clear and unfettered manner, so that his audience knows exactly how he stands on a given issue or policy. He Tweets his messages daily directly to his audience, circumventing the distorting filter of the hopelessly biased liberal media, leaving them to comment and criticize him after the fact, once President Trump has already made his stance clearly and definitively known.

Another thing that President Trump does in marked contrast to virtually every major national politician who has preceded him in the last several decades is that he actually says what he means. He doesn’t couch his comments in trick phrases, codespeak and slippery euphemisms.

The Democrats are absolute masters of trick phrases, codespeak and slippery euphemisms. Being attuned to satisfying so many special-interest groups, the Dems have perfected the art of communicating in a deceptive manner, designed to deliver the message that their targeted audience wants to hear, whether or not the Democratic politician actually means it. That “targeted audience” might be a desired voting bloc (women, minorities, LGBTQ, immigrants, Millennials, etc.) or it could be a media outlet from whom that politician is hoping for favorable coverage (CNN, MSNBC, NYTimes, WaPo, Facebook, etc.). Either way, Democratic language is invariably intentionally-crafted and pre-planned to yield maximum positive political benefit.

Let’s look at some of these Democratic phrases—

“It’s not a partisan issue.”

When you hear this one, your antennae should spring to attention. This means one thing and one thing only: It is a partisan issue and the Republicans are wrong. It’s a cover phrase that then gives the Democratic talker free reign to criticize Republicans for any and all reasons under the sun while maintaining the appearance of ‘balance’ and non-partisanship.

“We can all agree on this.”

This is code for, ‘If you don’t agree with the Democratic position on this issue, you’re a prejudiced, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-minority, anti-LGBTQ self-absorbed ignorant religious conservative zealot concerned only with your fat-cat donors.’

“It’s not about the money.”

It’s precisely about the money.

“We want a fair and open process.”

Translation: ‘We’re pretty sure this investigation is going to go our way and show the Republicans to be at fault for some grievous, Constitutional-level crime so please don’t interfere with it in any way, no matter how blatantly corrupt and unfair the investigation process is.’

“I don’t think we should go down that path [Trump impeachment].”

What this actually means is, ‘I’m praying—like our entire Party is—that we’ll uncover a raft of undeniable, unequivocal crimes so heinous that we won’t even have to go through the bother of initiating the impeachment process in the first place. Instead, we’ll go straight to resignation, ideally being led out of office in handcuffs.’

You have a right to be believed. We’re with you.”

This really means than even the slightest whiff of questionable behavior on the part of a Republican male towards a woman should be assumed to be the Crime of the Century but blatantly worse, seemingly inexcusable acts by a Democratic male are to be forgiven or ignored, because ‘we need to understand the context.’

“It’s a manufactured crisis.”

This is a good one. Whenever Republicans bring up a legitimate issue, Democrats dismiss its importance, especially if they (the Democrats) do not want to address it or have no solution for it. The border wall is the latest example of that. National security, drugs and violent illegal immigrants pouring in through a porous border certainly comprise a real issue, but the Dems—looking to cultivate votes—do not want to address the problem. They also want to deny President Trump a political “win,” by depriving him of the opportunity to say he fulfilled his campaign promise and built the wall.

An ancillary benefit to the Dems of claiming this is a “manufactured crisis” is that it deflects attention away from their own manufactured crises (like the Mueller investigation, which has been exposed as nothing more than an empty distraction fabricated by petulant, detached-from-reality Democratic partisans emotionally incapable of accepting the stark finality of the 2016 election) and enables them to play offense and keep the political pressure on Republicans.

This is the language of today’s Democratic politicians. Their liberal media allies eat this up and cut them all the slack they need, never drilling down past the surface clichés or holding them to account in any meaningful way. 

In all candor, some Republican politicians employ the same type of slick codespeak, but they do not enjoy anywhere near the same degree of political cover from the popular media as do the Dems. Therefore, it’s not as effective when a Republican does it. 

Refreshingly, President Trump Says What He Means

However, unlike the Democrats, President Trump does not speak in slippery euphemisms. He says what he means:

“I will build a wall to keep out the drugs and violent criminals.”

“Europe is a mess—weak economy, weak military.”

“We’re going to have great trade deals for this country, unlike what we’ve had in the past.”

“The days of China ripping us off are over.”

“A country without borders is not a country.”

“When you look at your 401k, it’s a beautiful thing.”

People may disagree with the actual substance of his comments. People may dislike the style in which his comments are delivered.

But President Trump communicates in a manner unlike any politician before him: Direct. Unequivocal. Unambiguous. That, we really all can agree on.

Five years before Mark Zuckerberg was born, I was feeding cards (yes, those little cardboard-paper-with-holes-in-them thingies) into a large machine in order to do a regression analysis for my undergrad economics thesis on an energy pipeline’s feasibility. I suppose it was a mainframe. Maybe an IBM. I’m not sure. When Zuckerberg started up Facebook in February of 2004, I had a PC and the extent of my programming skills was manipulating a few basic commands in IRC-Chat.

In the decade and a half hence, I have tried to learn a few basics of code – python, SQL, and Html/CSS – with limited success. I have admittedly achieved far less than those who have had to learn to program for work or educational reasons, or both. But we all feel a little like we’re chasing or being chased, by something far too big to really understand.

Maybe in part that’s because Zuckerberg over those 15 years has changed the world.

And apparently destroyed some really vital things that helped us form civil society, as we’re beginning to realize. As all of us try to keep up. Even many of the employees at Facebook itself, or at Google, for example.

James Poulos – the LA-based musician/writer/commentator has unleashed in an opinion piece at the Washington Examiner, a devastating and depressing assessment of the effects of social media, and particularly of Zuckerberg’s destruction of what had been mainstream media, and what still is in some ways. But with an important difference:

Major publications have to go begging at the feet of Facebook, and that has changed how we think and deal with each other. Here’s Poulos:

Whether it’s injecting creative works into the market, opinions into the maelstrom of the online discourse, or corrective lectures into raging debates, the potential payoff for all these sorts of activities is plummeting.

The culprit is not simply digital tech’s propensity to glut markets until demand collapses. In our era when just about anyone can write, record, produce, and release a single, a movie, a podcast, or a video show, the barriers to entry are so low that the market space has filled to the brim with content that’s almost totally inessential to nearly all would-be consumers.

Most content on the net is close to zero in value, according to Poulos. That is, when you measure value as people’s willingness to pay for something.
As well, the revenue that media used to earn from advertising have been swallowed up by Facebook in the years following Napster and the collapse of the music industry. What used to be aggregators – like evil record companies and righteous monopolistic media companies – are now 2nd rate players who no longer create a shared space – one with restricted access where not just anyone could write for a newspaper or record an album – a space where we can consume and critique and think about our shared entertainment and news. And share a common culture.

Social media (and that includes video games if you think about it) blew it all up real good. Something increasingly evident over the last couple of decades.
As a result, what we are also seeing over these last few years is how social media has played a key role in the tribalizing of society into hostile factions. Here’s Poulos again:

Television is now so democratized and secularized that it has become little more than ammunition for cultural skirmishes, losing even superficial commonality. Social media, too, is faltering; influential “creatives” and creative “influencers” have begun to realize that posting their hard work for free brings them little more than fleeting attention, often of the hateful or irrelevant kind. And in the high-prestige, high-pay “knowledge work” industries that depend on mass participation in communications and culture markets, even the most expert of elites have very little idea what to do about it.

In other words, a network of over a billion users has turned us inward not outwards and made us retreat from the offline world where eye contact and conversation matter. Nowadays, eye contact and conversation are possible, but sometimes a little tricky or even dangerous, especially if political opinions collide.

Of course, if James Poulos had written his wonderful essay over 20 years ago, I likely wouldn’t have read it unless he was lucky enough to have been published by the right media players and then to have appeared on prime-time television, just when I happened to be watching. And I had then driven to some bookstore or convenience store that carried a magazine that contained that specific article and had bought the damn thing as opposed to a newspaper or a couple of Kit Kats. An unlikely series of events. Poulos is much easier to reach and to read because of the very processes that also make getting paid well a distant reality for most.

And finally, without our globalized and digitized world, you wouldn’t be reading this opinion, because there wouldn’t be anywhere for me to write it.

Yes, for most of us, making a reasonable living as a content provider is not an option. There’s too many of us, quite simply.

I’m not sure most consumers of social media mind that in the least bit. Consuming what you want, or at least what’s within easy reach and for free aside from the ads, is not a business model that the billion plus users of Facebook have any problems with.

So maybe it’s only journalists, writers, musicians, film directors, and the endless and various content providers who wish more people would read them, see them, hear them, feel them, touch them and please, please, please, pay them that is the problem. And that would be their problem. Our problem. Not yours.

So, the question becomes how do we rebuild functional forms of workable consensus in an age that is deconstructing mono-culture media at a savage pace?

I wonder if, as I read my own question again, things like broad and lasting consensuses on almost anything is possible any longer. Someone my age worries that today’s youth is too inward, too indoors, and too uninterested in the offline world. One they still live in, but hardly notice anymore between the selfies and games.

I’m wrong about that of course. The so-called indoor generation will remake the world as they grow up and get jobs, the way boomers, then gen-X’ers and now millennials like Zuckerberg have remade the world. I’m just not sure if I’ll understand or like what my son’s generation does.

I just hope and pray they’ll like and understand a few of the things that made life wonderful in my youth. Like playing Monopoly after dinner.

Oh. That’s in fact what my son’s asking me to do tonight. Play that odd game Monopoly with him. He might even turn off his play station he says. Or at least put it on pause while we play. That’s not a bad start, even if it’s a tiny one.

Arizona’s Department of Child Safety is Out of Control

In Arizona at the end of February, a family lost custody of their 3 children to the Department of Child Safety, or DCS, because of a fever. And now in late March they still don’t know when or even if they will regain custody. That will be decided by the DCS and the state’s court system. Not by the children’s parents.

This is about the state’s (in both the general and the specific sense of the word) treatment of parents who do not abide by their rules and regulations. And yes, it’s also – tangentially – about anti-vaxxers.

Let me be clear. My 8-year old son has been vaccinated thoroughly. As a child in Venezuela in the oil fields way back when, I along with my brother and sister used to get big mutha booster shots every year (with a bar of chocolate afterwards if I didn’t kick the nurses – imagine what happens today in our militarized world if a 7 or 8-year old kicks at a nurse). While my ability to do statistics or differential calculus is to be polite, limited, I don’t seem to have developed autism.

Are there some children who may be more vulnerable to conditions like autism, and who are affected by vaccinations, which might be a factor amongst others in their developing the condition? Perhaps yes, although that’s a debate that’s still ongoing. Should parents vaccinate their children? Yes, at least from some fairly serious diseases.

Like meningitis, for example.

Last February 25, a family brought a young child to a doctor in Tempe, Arizona because of a fever. Here’s azcentral.com with the story:

On February 25, the mother took her 2-year-old boy to the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine clinic in Tempe, according to Chandler police records.

It was dinner time. But the toddler’s fever had spiked to over 100 degrees.

The doctor asked if the child had his vaccinations.

The mother said no.

Concerned that a lethargic child with a fever and lacking vaccinations could have meningitis, the doctor instructed the mother to take the child to the emergency department at Banner Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, according to attorneys at a March 7 court hearing following the removal of the children.

The child reportedly improved while at the doctor’s office and the parents took the child home and took its temperature and found the fever had gone. They called the doctor to say they wouldn’t take the child to the hospital, but the doctor insisted they should.

What followed was a staged escalation going back and forth between the DCS who had been informed presumably by the doctor and the family and the police. It ended like this, as azcentral.com reported:

It was after 1 a.m. when officers kicked down the family’s door. One officer carried a shield, while another was described as having “lethal coverage.” Officers pointing guns yelled, “Chandler Police Department,” and entered the house.

The father came to the door. Officers placed him in handcuffs and took him and the mother outside. Inside, they found a juvenile who said she was sick and had thrown up in her bed.

Officers said the home was “messy” with clothing piles and concrete floors. In the parent’s room, a shotgun lay next to the bed, according to police records.

The caseworker spoke with two of the children without their parents present. He told officers it was “necessary to obtain a temporary custody order” for the parents’ two other children, according to police records.

Since there was no “criminal incident” and because the mother refused, no photos were taken inside the home, according to the police records.

Neither of the parents was arrested.

Officials took the parents’ three children to Banner Cardon Medical Center.

Next stop for the 3 kids: foster care, as in 3 separate foster homes for them. Separated with strange people in a strange home because their sister or brother had had a fever (and apparently had RSV, a respiratory disease which can cause serious problems … like most minor infections can).

According to the parents’ attorneys the DSC is out to punish the parents because of their lack of cooperation with the bureaucracy that indeed has the power to remove and hold your children. And they can and will use a SWAT team to achieve that.

But the problem is far deeper and broader. It’s the fact that the DSC exists at all. That a government agency has extensive powers which it can and does abuse by reaching into homes and tearing apart families. Arizona passed legislation requiring warrants before this type of home invasion by DSC officials and police could be done, but it hasn’t helped much. Here’s azcentral.com again:

DCS placed 4,649 children into the foster-care system in the six-month period that ended December 2018, according to DCS data. In the six-month period prior to the July law, DCS removed 4,887 children.

That’s down from a high mark of 6,815 in fall 2015, when nearly 19,000 children were in the foster-care system and families and child-welfare advocates began pushing for a warrant law.

Is the anti-vaxxer movement a conspiracy-ridden fringe group? Maybe in some eyes, like that of the family doctor or the DSC officials, or the police officers or even the judge. But when you read the facts of this story, it’s hard not to think that anti-vaxxers’ paranoia is sometimes justified.

What is the situation like now?

On March 15, the father told The Republic that DCS had placed their three children with his parents.

“We get to see them again,” he said. “Thank God.”

He still can’t shake the night police kicked down their door and entered his home with guns drawn. He still can’t believe they took all three of their children.

He said he has asked DCS why the caseworker never presented himself and showed a warrant for removal, but he hasn’t received a clear answer.

“I know people have the right not to let the police into their home,” he said. “But if the caseworker had called me or knocked, and shown me their warrant, I would’ve let them in.”

He said home security video showed police had stated they had a DCS warrant for removal, but the family didn’t hear them because they were sleeping in the back bedrooms with their sick children.

The judge’s approval of DCS’ request for psychological evaluations has created another barrier to regaining custody of their children, he said. The wait for an evaluation is months, he said.

Just to be clear, the psychological evaluations will be done on the parents to ensure they are “fit” to have custody of their children. This is Gestapo/Soviet tactics. Break down your door in the middle of the night. Take away your children. Evaluate you and your spouse psychologically to see if you answer the right way and then decide if you can have your kids back.

This is an out-of-control bureaucracy acting in conjunction with a police force in a state that has something of a reputation for heavy handedness in its police departments (the exterminator from out of state that was shot in an apartment or hotel hallway as he crawled on his belly towards heavily armed policemen, as he was trying to satisfy the psychotic instructions of an unseen sheriff, for example). The result has been a nightmare for those parents.

There’s another story about anti-vaxxers in Oregon whose son came down with tetanus (lockjaw it used to be called because that’s what happens when muscles clench uncontrollably in your body) after getting cut playing in the yard. Here’s Alex Berezow of ACSH (American Council on Science and Health a sort of activist pro-all-things-chemistry/science group that does some interesting work) on his opinion of the parents of that boy who came close to dying a horrific death and who still reportedly hasn’t had a tetanus shot:

In my opinion, this is a clear-cut case of child abuse. There’s no moral difference between this case and that of parents who for bizarre religious reasons decide not to provide medical care to their children. The parents should lose custody of the boy, and they should do time in prison.

If you’re an anti-vaxxer, there should be consequences for your irrational, self-centered, destructive behavior.

In other words, the traditional weight of a family has zero valence here. And even in the case in Arizona, I suspect. That’s the thinking that leads to the DSC ripping 3 kids from their home.

Yes, perhaps at some point authorities have to intervene to protect children. But the possibility of abuse, as illustrated in Arizona but not in Oregon, is an unintended consequence we should all be wary of.

I’m sorry, that’s not right. The abuse of power by agencies like the DSC in Arizona is not an unintended consequence. It’s the raison d’etre:

To “rationally” deconstruct the family rather than only interfere in clear-cut cases of abuse.

There was Black List first, then Black Mirror, and now we have a hot show coming to you straight from the Ukraine. A reality show, of course, because it involves yet another angle on the 2016 presidential election and campaign. The new show is called:

“Black Ledger.”

Or at least it should be, if it ever gets made into a documentary and then into an international, ostrich-coated, man-of-mystery spy thriller.

From tragedy to farce. But please this actually is interesting and could be quite important. The basic premise, based on a newly opened investigation with a new prosecutor, is that the DNC and Hillary campaign and even the Obama administration colluded with the Ukraine, and the investigation and prosecutor are Ukrainian, not beltway veterans.

I remember blogging here a couple of years ago on a strange event in the basement of Capitol Hill, I believe, that was set up to appear to its audience as the proceedings of the House or Senate. It was actually a meet and greet information session between some members of Congress and Ukrainian politicians. And the intended audience was Ukrainian of course. As the article had said, “Welcome to the strange world of Ukrainian politics.”

This latest investigation deals with the so-called black ledger detailing multi-million-dollar payments to Manafort which reportedly was found in an empty safe apparently belonging to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych who was a close ally of Putin. The accusation seems to be that the ledger was leaked by Ukrainian security officials in order to push back against and discredit Yanukovych’s Russia-friendly policies. And also to help Hillary Clinton win the election.

Look, we’re dealing with a Ukrainian prosecutor – Yurii Lutsenko – who may have political axes to grind. Like the Russian intel sources for Steele’s dossier almost certainly had a disruptive agenda in mind when an ex-MI6 spy came a begging for some electoral dirt on Trump. Seeing many of them were former or current Russian intelligence officials themselves. So, skepticism is in order here. But here’s The Hill’s John Solomon back on Thursday:

We now have strong evidence that retired British spy Christopher Steele began his quest in what ultimately became the infamous Russia collusion dossier with a series of conversations with top Justice Department official Bruce Ohr between December 2015 and February 2016 about securing evidence against Manafort.

We know the FBI set up shop in the U.S. embassy in Kiev to assist its Ukraine–Manafort inquiry — a common practice on foreign-based probes — while using Steele as an informant at the start of its Russia probe. And we know Clinton’s campaign was using a law firm to pay an opposition research firm for Steele’s work in an effort to stop Trump from winning the presidency, at the same time Steele was aiding the FBI.

As well, we also have an interesting nexus between major American intel players and some foreign officials that may have been involved in a Democrat-Ukraine scheme to discredit Manafort (not a very tough objective to achieve, admittedly) and prevent Trump from winning the election.

The Atlantic Council.

The Atlantic Council is a Washington-based think tank with a clear interest in America’s relationship with Europe, both West and East. It in fact has an initiative promoting Ukraine’s move from a Russian ally to a Western European ally, in itself a good if somewhat tricky goal to have. So with Putin’s invasion of Crimea and it’s hybrid warfare in the Donetsk region in the east of Ukraine, suddenly the tension between NATO-led ambitions and Putin’s Kremlin became explicit and far more dangerous.

Enter Trump as a candidate who still professes a rather puzzling admiration for Putin, a distasteful authoritarian who likely has far more blood on his hands than is evident at first glance, and you can imagine alarm bells going off in places like the Atlantic Council. Guess who is a key member?

James Clapper.

As well a Ukrainian billionaire named Victor Pinchuk is or was also a member of the Atlantic Council. He’s also been a major contributor to the Clinton Foundation in the past. Here’s Elizabeth Vaughn at Red State:

Pinchuk serves on the International Advisory Board of a Washington-based think tank called the Atlantic Council. This group is “connected to Ukrainian interests through its “Ukraine in Europe Initiative,” which is designed to galvanize international support for an independent Ukraine within secure borders whose people will determine their own future.”

As well, as claimed in Dan Bongino’s book Spygate, Vaughn affirms:

Bongino discovered that the Chief Technology Officer of “the only company that investigated the hacking of the DNC’s servers and quickly determined it was the Russians, is a nonresident senior fellow in cybersecurity” at the Atlantic Council. His name is Dmitri Alperovitch.

Now it may be that Alperovitch turns out to be a Ukrainian (if he indeed is Ukrainian) well-versed in Russian hacking techniques, and just be a coincidence he happens to have been the perfect hire to investigate the DNC server hack.

There’s at least one more key player.

Alexandra Chalupa.

She’s an American-Ukrainian lawyer with ties to the DNC where she worked as a staffer/consultant from 2004 to 2016, as well as with the Clinton administration where she worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison. Apparently, as Elizabeth Vaughn tells it, she hated Manafort for his role in getting President Yanukovych re-elected in 2010 as well as for doing work for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. Here’s Vaughn writing at Red State:

In the spring of 2016, she worked feverishly to destroy Paul Manafort and to promote the theory that Trump was colluding with the Russians to win the presidency. Chalupa’s smear campaign involved journalists and diplomats as well as contacts inside the DNC.

Apparently Chalupa emailed a colleague at the DNC back in the summer of 2016 where she wrote:

they put me on the program specifically to speak about Paul Manafort and I invited Michael Isikoff who I’ve been working with for the past few weeks and connected him to the Ukrainians. More offline tomorrow since there is a big Trump component you and Lauren need to be aware of that will hit in the next few weeks.

This provides a fascinating backlight to America’s intel community and its role in the Russia probe. And it may have been driven in large part by Ukrainian pro-Western activists and their sympathizers in DC. Because if the world was a little less crazy right now, maybe we’d realize that the old Berlin Wall now runs through Eastern Ukraine and just West of the Crimean Peninsula. Of course, it’s also true that Putin is no Brezhnev nor a Khrushchev, never mind Stalin. And Russia is a far cry from the Soviet Union. So we don’t focus on the conflict in the Ukraine the way we did for example during the Berlin Airlift in the late 40’s. Or when the wall went up at the start of the 60’s.

But to people like Alexandra Chalupa, and perhaps even people like James Clapper, Russian aggression against the Ukraine is almost the equivalent of the Soviet Invasion of Hungary or Czechoslovakia back in 1956 and 1968. And that made them willing to destroy Paul Manafort and attempt to discredit and even destroy Candidate Trump. And President Trump.

Elizabeth Vaughn will be blogging more on this at Red State. We should all pay attention and perhaps buy Bognino’s book. It adds a possible motivation to the Trump Resistance that hasn’t been directly talked about, beyond comments on his seemingly strange admiration for Putin. But this has more to do with the goal of a politically and culturally Western Ukraine.

And it has to do with a global, NATO-led and US-led world order. The kind that Bush 41 envisioned and worked quite skillfully to achieve as the Berlin Wall came down. And the kind that President Trump has little patience for.

No wonder they still want to destroy him in places like The Atlantic Council.

In the first few months or even weeks of the Trump administration there was a slight scandal about somebody’s comments regarding Kellyanne Conway and the article’s accompanying photograph showed Conway splendidly texting on her iPhone with a wry grin on her face while seated on a sofa of some sort in the White House. I remember looking at the photo and thinking:

Who’s she texting with?

Back in late January, Vanity Fair published a few choice excerpts from Team of Vipers by former aide Cliff Sims – a pollster like Conway and one who founded his own firm, just like Kellyanne as well – that laid into President Trump’s special counsellor and described how she was a double-faced survivor who trashed most of her colleagues to members of the press in private while professing loyalty to Trump in public. Here’s one of those excerpts:

Kellyanne was sitting at her desk texting away. Over the course of 20 minutes or so, she was having simultaneous conversations with no fewer than a half-dozen reporters, most of them from outlets the White House frequently trashed for publishing ‘fake news.’ Journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Politico, and Bloomberg were all popping up on the screen. And these weren’t policy conversations, or attempts to fend off attacks on the president. As I sat there trying to type, she bashed Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Sean Spicer, all by name.

Conway, who according to Sims, did and said things that seemed poll-tested by a focus group that existed inside her mind, responded in kind:

The real leakers, past and present, get much more positive press than I do. While it’s rare, I prefer to knife people from the front, so they see it coming.

Was that statement in response to the Vanity Fair excerpts poll-tested in Conway’s mind? Was Sims’ book poll-tested in his own mind? And is saying that merely stating a truism in today’s political world, driven in large part by social media? Or is Conway truly untrustworthy and in fact a dangerously disruptive force in Trump’s White House? And if so, isn’t that kind of the way President Trump likes things?

Which brings us to good old George Conway, Kellyanne’s husband, a lawyer with lots of beltway experience who has been attacking his wife’s boss with a crazed gusto that makes one wonder what the hell is going on. Conway’s Twitter rants against Trump essentially claim President Trump is mentally unstable and presumably deserves the 25th. Although George Conway hasn’t quite spelled that out in such an explicit way but merely left large gooey drops of crapola to be connected by a hopefully disgusted public, in his view.

President Trump has ignored Conway’s attacks for the last couple of years, but he swung back a few days ago with this Tweet:

George Conway, often referred to as Mr. Kellyanne Conway by those who know him, is VERY jealous of his wife’s success & angry that I, with her help, didn’t give him the job he so desperately wanted. I barely know him but just take a look, a stone cold LOSER & husband from hell!

The speculation around George Conway’s motives centers on an appointment to run the DOJ’s Civil Division that never came to fruition. And ever since, so the theory goes, George has been on a vengeful tear because of what he supposedly feels was denied him.

In a town like Washington D.C. this sort of thing is assuredly trite, given the ambitions and ruthlessness of many who inhabit the marshy lowlands near the Potomac. It’s even fairly trite in that it involves a power couple, one of whom ended up far more powerful than who had been presumably the more powerful member of the team. Again, a rather common thing in the beltway.

What’s different about this spat, of course, is that it’s being played out on Twitter and it involves the husband of a close counsellor to the president. And it makes one wonder if Kellyanne Conway shares her husband’s ruthless ambition even as she sits in the White House and is gladly leaking left, right, and center in order to undermine other members of the executive. Again, this happens in D.C. but not at the scale seen, especially early on, in Trump’s administration.

But President Trump seems to view Kellyanne Conway as an essential part of his team, especially because she often is the one who hits the media circuit to defend Trump’s policies in front of a hostile crowd, or to rationalize some of his impulses. Is she therefore willing to trash even Ivanka and Jared if she feels it will provide Trump with some breathing room? Or is she just knifing competitors in the back, despite her insistence that she only does full-frontal knifings?

Because if Trump decides she’s the latter – only out for herself – then her husband’s Tweets may cause the President to view Kellyanne Conway as too much of a liability. If Trump, however, sticks with her despite husband George’s rants, then we can assume that she is indeed a key, and trusted, member of the West Wing.

Either way, look for her to sign a yuge publishing deal for a tell-all when she does eventually leave.

He’s reportedly Australian, almost thirty. He wanted to show that gun control laws are absurd by legally buying 5 or more weapons that are not banned in New Zealand and slaughtering worshipers in their mosque on Friday prayers and therefore ensuring the 2nd amendment is overruled/banned or something. Thus, starting a race war in America which, in his crazed mind, would:

• Liberate the white race, and
• Crush America’s world dominance

How do you spot a fiendish madman before he commits an atrocity?

You have 3 main ways of responding to that impossible question:

• Somehow find a way to monitor and identify potential shooters, who may be sociopaths who are very adept at concealing who they really are and what they are planning to do. Or incur enormous costs by establishing monitoring forces, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter’s platforms, in order to monitor all of us and track our every move and every word typed into sites from 8chan to Facebook and therefore use AI to ensure not that we become a hi-tech paradise but rather that we stop killing each other, But what do you do when a killer livestreams on social media as apparently he did?

• Ban and then confiscate most (or all) weapons not in the hands of state-sanctioned security forces without detaining or actually having security forces shooting at millions of gun owners in the process, or

• Affirm that in a free world, it’s next to impossible to predict and identify mass shooters and therefore most people should be armed in order to minimize the effects of an attempted shooting.

All are sub-optimal choices to put it mildly.

Australia placed fairly severe limits on gun ownership in 1996 after the mass shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania. The results, according to a study by Chapman, Alpers, Agho, and Jones were positive:

Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms were followed by more than a decade free of fatal mass shootings, and accelerated declines in firearm deaths, particularly suicides. Total homicide rates followed the same pattern. Removing large numbers of rapid-firing firearms from civilians may be an effective way of reducing mass shootings, firearm homicides and firearm suicides.

Some other studies supposedly say the effect of the gun laws has been quite limited. New Zealand’s gun laws, on the other hand, seem to be focused on owners rather than types of weapons the way Australia’s gun laws are and instead rely on local police vetting. They didn’t vet Brenton Tarrant – the reported suspect – sufficiently but perhaps the fact that he was an Australian who was either living or visiting in New Zealand meant the shooter could slip through the cracks.

Beyond the fact it was a shooting this was a hate crime and it will raise the issue of islamophobia everywhere and will also be used to silence any criticism of Islam by some. It doesn’t matter. Right now, it’s more important than ever to find a way – or for each society to find a way – to put an end to mass shootings. However sub-optimal the choices appear right now.

It’s worth noting, for example, that in Australia their gun control laws seem to have overwhelming public support. But it’s also worth noting that Australia has less than 10% of America’s population while being an enormous country. So, whether Australia’s solution works elsewhere depends on where that else is.

New Zealand and America, and other nations, will each have to find their own way. Hopefully one that doesn’t invovle far more violence than the horrors unleashed in Christchurch.

I remember writing about the young girl in grade school who thought her parents were sleeping and was worried about getting to school and getting her homework in to the teacher on time. Her parents weren’t sleeping of course.

They were dead of an opioid overdose.

How do you deal with that? How do you try and prevent the opioid crisis that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year?

It seems you DON’T do what the government has done over the past year or so. Especially the decisions that were taken by ex-AG Jeff Sessions who basically decided that the DEA would be the best qualified agency to ensure that a severe, chronic-pain sufferer’s dosages are adequate. Here’s why the former AG and the government in general have created unintended consequences as a result of their policy prescriptions for the opioid crisis.

They believed the myth that opioid abuse – the heart of the crisis – is essentially a case of patients abusing their pain medication.

It’s not. As Henry Miller and Josh Bloom write in their article in the Washington Examiner:

“True addiction in pain patients is rare. Many scholarly reviews have concluded that the addiction rate is less than one percent even in patients who have required long-term opioid medication for severe pain due to injury or illness. The current death toll from opioid use is largely the result of abuse, not medical use, of these drugs. And yet, as of last October, 33 states had instituted laws that restrict opioid prescribing in some way.”

And this misguided belief has led to true pain sufferers to be deprived of the medication that makes their lives bearable. As Miller and Bloom write:

“Enter the law of unintended consequences. Opioids, including fentanyl, morphine, and hydromorphone, some of our most important and potent analgesics, which are commonly used in patients with advanced cancer and for pain control after surgery, are now in shortage, according to the Food and Drug Administration. All of these drugs had their manufacturing quotas reduced by the feds
.
Thus, the feds’ actions have succeeded not in ameliorating the scourge of opioid abuse and overdoses, which results from drugs made in China and elsewhere abroad smuggled across our borders, but in unnecessarily causing several other problems. These include a shortage of critical drugs produced by legitimate manufacturers and expanding the market and boosting the street price for illegal, dangerous imports.”

The real problem is twofold:
• People who for a number of reasons are already substance abusers turning to illegally-made, smuggled opioids to get high, and often dying as a result.
• A flood of those illegally-produced and smuggled opioids entering America with China bearing much of the blame as well as both ports of entry in general and the southern border also being responsible for the crisis.

By having the DEA decide what the level of prescription opioids should be, the government is ignoring the complex nature of painkillers and how each individual patient reacts differently, not only based on weight and body mass index but also on other factors like their metabolism which affects how they absorb the painkiller. You can’t impose standardized dosages on patients. And because the DEA is effectively doing that, real pain sufferers are going without sufficient painkillers. Their lives are literally unbearable in many cases.

As Miller (a physician and molecular biologist) and Bloom (a PhD in organic chemistry) argue:

“The decades-long war on drugs, which has never succeeded in controlling abuse or addiction, has now mistakenly declared American drug companies and doctors to be the enemy. In the name of addressing a crisis, we are focusing on the wrong targets and sacrificing freedoms in a new, dangerous way. That’s a prescription for disaster.”

Yes Mr. ex-AG Sessions, there is a moral problem here that’s also a societal problem. Healthy, happy and reasonably fulfilled people don’t take opioids for the fun of it. They have a problem. But the blunt instruments you and the DEA put together don’t even target the real culprits (who are also the victims of this crisis of course). They go after honest patients trying to deal with unbearable pain and the doctors and pharmacists who help them – a few notorious over-prescribers excepted.

Sessions and the DEA mis-diagnosed the problem. But of course, they would. They’re lawyers, bureaucrats and cops. Not doctors. What do we call that?

Quacks, I seem to remember was the term.

As the House passes a resolution condemning a fought-over list of bigotries – including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and white supremacy – with reportedly 23 GOP members voting no because of the inclusion of Islamophobia and white supremacy in what was originally supposed to be a Democrat-controlled response to Representative Omar’s remarks, there is an interesting idea for a further resolution.

Supreme policy wonk Mark Jacobs (who has burrowed deep and wide into the details of healthcare policy for the GOP) suggests in The Federalist that the GOP use a Motion to Recommit (a procedure whereby the minority in the House gets a final shot at amending a bill brought forward by the majority) to force a vote on the Green New Deal. This would be the flipside of the tactic used last week when the GOP used a motion to recommit to get moderate Democrats to agree to notify immigration authorities when illegals try to purchase guns. Supposedly we all want less guns because they say that means less violence, right? What’s not to like about that?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blew a gasket at a closed-door meeting, according to the Washington Post:

Ocasio-Cortez, the unquestioned media superstar of the freshman class, upped the ante, admonishing the moderates and indicating she would help liberal activists unseat them in the 2020 election. Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez, said she told her colleagues that Democrats who side with Republicans ‘are putting themselves on a list.’

‘She said that when activists ask her why she had to vote for a gun safety bill that also further empowers an agency that forcibly injects kids with psychotropic drugs, they’re going to want a list of names and she’s going to give it to them,’ Trent said, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

So now by using a Motion to Recommit which entails a vote on the Green New Deal the GOP would be appealing to radical progressives in the Democratic Party to vote for the enormously expensive and poorly thought-out plan, and force moderate Dems to decide if they would really vote for this sort of top-down ecological Maoism.

Yes, it’s theatrics and it’s meant to prod and provoke and reveal the divisions within the Democratic Party. But the fascinating question is, how would AOC react? I have an idea it might go something like this:

If you think I’m letting a bunch of old white guys get to decide when and how we save America by banning the internal combustion engine and slaughtering farting cows and selling Amtrak to the Chinese so they can build high-speed trains where our highways once stood, you have no idea who you’re dealing with! This resolution is immoral because of who you guys are. Not because of what it contains! Don’t you guys get it?

That’s the thing about intersectionality. Hypocrisy disappears because it is now irrelevant. You see you can change an idea, or a policy stance perhaps based on evidence that has convinced you to shift your position. Or on the polls and the fact that now your party has the majority. But changing who you are is much harder (and more expensive) to do. And we the identity police will decide who you are. Not you. You don’t even have control of who you are. We do. Ha. Ha.

So, as delicious as Mark Jacob’s idea is, it won’t work. The Democrats who would actually have the decency to be uncomfortable with the blatant hypocrisy of not voting for a Motion to Recommit on the Green New Deal (which will supposedly save us from destruction) are now cowed into silence. It will be AOC and her Gang of Three who will explain why hypocrisy is gone, dead, vanished, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible.

When identity is everything, then hypocrisy is nothing.

Of course, AOC would vote against such a Motion to Recommit without a trace of guilt or discomfort. She’d in fact do it in a bout of righteous rage. It’s all about who she is and the crazed paradises she’s pointing towards, not what she says or how to get there.

It has been suggested that the Speaker of the House is not Nancy Pelosi, it’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And if you could measure the role of Speaker by the amount of words unleashed while actually speaking (or tweeting to be a little more accurate), then it ain’t even close. AOC is House Speaker, threatening moderate Democrats with primary opponents if they ever vote for a GOP measure or add-on to a bill, tweeting furiously and unapologetically and gathering up her cohorts Tlaib and Omar in a sort of Gang of Three who are absolutely and completely and self-righteously sure of the supreme truths of their radicalism.

And it’s working for AOC.

Look at the recent flap over Omar and her supposed tropes about Benjamins (that would be the smiling face of Franklin surrounded by the number 100 on a crisp green surface) and dual allegiances. They were going to have a House vote to condemn anti-Semitism and by extension Omar’s words on the matter, which are not figurative but quite literal in intention and effect.

What did Nancy do?
• Say that she didn’t think the comments were: intentionally anti-Semitic, AND
• Express her doubt that a vote on the resolution to condemn anti-Semitism would actually take place

Here’s what AOC did.

Equate ICE with racism with a tweet that said: If we’re so concerned about implied tropes, why aren’t we concerned about this one? Where was the concern last week when 26 Dems voted for a GOP amendment to expand ICE powers rooted in the racist + false trope that Latino immigrants are more dangerous than US born citizens?

Then she aimed her bazooka at white people in general: When you don’t address them as a system and attempt to pick them apart as though they are distinct and separable issues, eventually the thing that gets advanced is white supremacy + classism.

Come on Nancy, when are you going to get control of these kids? They’re leaving you in the dust of delayed resolutions and broad-tent coalitions that used to bend to your will. Not anymore it seems. When AOC, Omar, and Tlaib (AO²C + T?) go out on a limb and saw it off they don’t worry about what’s below, unlike your own rather timid soul.

You have been exposed Nancy. You are not the sweet assassin like your daughter claims you are. You’re an older (I’m being old-fashioned and polite here) out-of-touch leader who’s desperately trying to figure out how to contain the rabid base that so loves AO²C + T without driving moderates into the GOP camp.

Not an easy task with honorary Gang-of-Three’er Linda Sarsour calling you a typical white feminist upholding the patriarchy doing the dirty work of powerful white men.

Maybe you should consult the Southern Poverty Law Center for some advice. Because it will take a miracle to get AO²C + T to shut up for just long enough to convince voters in rural Pennsylvania or Ohio or moderates anywhere that you still value their views, so you might as well join them, right?

Maybe Pelosi is an assassin and will exact revenge on them. Or maybe Pelosi is becoming like President Paul von Hindenburg outmaneuvered by the Gang of Three’s furious and radical oratory, seeing that Nazi analogies are so useful to the left nowadays, and is about to effectively concede the rule of her party to that radical fringe.

If she hasn’t already.

Here’s an interesting idea put forth by The Washington Examiner’s Daily on Energy. The wild card in this second round of talks between President Trump and Kim Jung Un is coal. North Korea’s coal exports to China, in other words. Apparently, UN sanctions have worked because China has complied with America’s demand that they stop buying DPRK coal. And of course, Trump has reportedly just recently extended the deadline for the scheduled tariff increases on a wide range of Chinese imports, thereby apparently delaying a damaging trade war as negotiations with Xi’s regime continue. Here’s what Daily on Energy’s John Siciliano and Josh Siegel write:

North Korea’s economy depends on coal exports, but crippling United Nations sanctions have cut back its shipments to China — its largest buyer — to zero.

That means that Trump has the option of a concession related to coal in reaching a deal with North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.

If Kim Jung Un renounces his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, he gets his coal trade back with China, and perhaps some exchange of expertise between the U.S. Energy Department and Pyongyang.

Trump could also look to patch up the country’s ailing electricity grid through this exchange, or facilitate discussions with American engineering and electricity firms to help rebuild its grid.

The Energy Department has been promoting U.S. energy expertise abroad as part of Trump’s energy dominance agenda, while also touting natural gas exports to countries throughout Asia.

As well it seems U.S. exports of coal to China have soared since the crippling sanctions kicked in, so China hasn’t had to go without the fuel for one of its main sources of electricity, coal-fired power plants. That means that places like West Virginia seem to have been eating Kim’s lunch. And now Trump has a carrot to dangle before Kim’s power-hungry eyes. You give up nuclear weapons, you get your coal exports to China back and we might even help you with your electricity grid, although one would suspect the South Koreans have wanted that piece of action for a few decades now.

The other interesting part to this speculation is how China would react to such tactics by America because if South Korea has an interest in any rebuilding of North Korea if a peace treaty is ever signed, one can imagine China’s interest is as great in maintaining North Korea as a client state and a junior member of their silk road scheme.

The odds of this working out are not overwhelming unfortunately, precisely because such a plan’s success depends on people like Kim Jong Un and President Xi, one of whom is a crazed communist autocrat, the other a ruthless communist leader. Trump – as Victor Davis Hanson writes in National Review – was the one whose relentless attacks on China over the past couple of years have actually caused a real China pivot among the foreign policy establishment towards recognizing the dangers of Xi’s regime and its ambitions, even as Trump tries to improvise and keep things on a personal level, often undermining his very own political instincts on the threat China is to America and the West.

Will Trump prove to be the blunt truth-teller on North Korea? Right now, that seems a stretch, because the Kims’ regime has sunk every American and Western ambition of sealing some sort of peace deal or of neutralizing its aggressive and dangerous military projects.

Once again, Trump has the chance to prove his critics and doubters wrong on North Korea. Perhaps a tactic of using coal as a bargaining chip with both China and North Korea could work. There are plenty of reasons why it might not, however. As Democrats turn up the volume on the impeach-Trump show, it would be wise to keep an eye on the meetings in Asia this week.

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