Ford Doesn’t Have a Better Idea

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Remember many years ago when Ford’s marketing tagline was, “Ford: We Have a Better Idea.”? Well, Ford Motor Company—the second-largest automotive company in America—just made a stunning announcement the other day: They announced that a tall hatchback version of the compact Focus and the iconic muscle car Mustang will be the only two cars it offers for sale in the North American market in the future. It will drop its slow-selling sedans like the Fusion and Taurus and concentrate primarily on the lucrative pickup and SUV categories. The Ford F-Series pickup trucks have been the country’s best-selling vehicles for decades. Ford will also be bringing back a new version of the mid-sized Ranger pickup.

Is this a brilliant, ahead-of-the-curve move that will leave its competitors flat-footed and unable to respond or is it a reactionary knee-jerk response based on today’s transitory conditions?

The automotive market has undergone a fundamental transformation in recent years as SUVs have supplanted the traditional passenger sedan as the vehicle of choice in almost every demographic buying group. SUVs alone now garner more than 40% of the vehicle market, compared to the near total dominance of the traditional passenger car only a few decades before. The buyers’ perception of the SUV’s greater passenger/parcel-carrying versatility coupled with the much-improved fuel economy of the newer compact SUVs has rendered the traditional sedan obsolete in many people’s eyes. Add to that the near-universal availability of AWD on virtually every SUV and their undeniably higher, more commanding driver’s position and it’s easy to see their growing appeal.

Ford’s decision to curtail its participation in the sedan sector mirrors that of Chrysler. Chrysler ended production of its mainstream but slow-selling compact Dodge Dart and mid-sized Chrysler 200 in 2016, concentrating instead on growing its ever-popular Jeep brand and launching its new, cutting-edge Pacifica minivan to universal critical acclaim.

Even stalwart passenger car brands like Honda are not immune to the shifting tastes and buying preferences of the newest generation of automotive customers. The excellent all-new 2018 Honda Accord—a mainstay of Honda’s line-up and arguably the cornerstone of the Honda brand—is languishing on dealers’ lots, missing sales projections, as prospective buyers pass it over in favor of Honda’s expanded line-up of SUVs such as the best-selling CR-V, the new-for-2017 compact HR-V and the recently re-styled Pilot.

One interesting unintended consequence of the shift from the popularity of passenger cars to SUVs is that SUVs (as well as pickup trucks and minivans) are considered “light trucks” for purposes of CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) calculations. As of 2010, the minimum average passenger fuel economy had to be 27.5 MPG weighted average in a given brand’s sales mix. For every gas-guzzling 18 mpg luxo-sedan a carmaker sold, they had to offset that with the sale of a 36 mpg gas-sipping carette in order to achieve the 27.5 mpg average.

But light trucks are held to a far lower fuel economy standard. In 2010, it was only 23.5 mpg. And with the lower-economy light truck category grabbing an ever-larger share of sales, the actual total combined average economy of all new vehicles sold is lower because a higher portion of those sales are low-mileage trucks instead of higher-mileage cars. The Government’s attempt to legislate higher fuel economy (for the ecological good of lower CO2 emissions and less need for environmentally-intrusive oil exploration and extraction) has run afoul of the real-world laws of consumerism and market choice. If they have the freedom to do so, people will buy the product or service that best suits their needs, which is not necessarily the one that Governmental central planners had in mind.

Ford may well find that it’s new “less-car” line-up decision is premature and ill-advised. The oil/gasoline market is subject to chaotic variances and disparate influences. While relatively linear factors such as long-range market-based supply/demand trends and improving exploration/extraction technology can be thought of as somewhat predictable, there is no way to foresee or prepare for a market-changing event such as extreme Mid-East geo/political unrest or a cataclysmic weather event that interrupts supply. A quick look back at the history of retail gasoline pricing in the U.S just in the past few decades will show repeated wild swings from well under $2.00/gallon to over $4.00/gallon, back and forth several times. Just when it seems as if pricing will never be low again, the bottom drops out. Just when consumers start feeling over-confident that high gasoline pricing is behind them forever, it shoots back towards $4.00.

Given the very long lead-time for designing and producing an all-new car, Ford is certainly taking quite a gamble by announcing the elimination of their high-mpg sedans in favor of lower-mpg SUVs, should the gasoline market reverse into high-price territory.  And it seems to be doing just that: The improving world economy has spurred the demand for oil and the price of crude oil (and hence gasoline pricing) has shot up dramatically in the last twelve months.

The takeaway is this: Under the old rules, where the purchase of individual cars and trucks comprised a huge segment of the U.S economy and those cars and trucks were powered by oil-based fuels, large and small vehicles would fall into and out of favor, depending on the arbitrary whims of the world’s oil markets. During times of $1.75/gallon gasoline, the bigger the SUV, the better. When gas is $3.85/gallon, the Civics of the world sell for $5000 above sticker.

But we’re not playing under the old rules anymore. As ride-sharing, “calling an Uber” and self-driving cars (available for hire as needed on a per-trip basis) continue to become more prevalent, individual car ownership will decline and lose its position as a visible, conspicuous symbol of a person’s economic standing. This shift in consumer spending will have a major impact on the economy. People will not desire to own the car that transports them from Point A to Point B any more than they would want to own the train they ride on from Boston to NYC. Not being tied into permanent ownership, people will simply hire what they need at that particular time: a mid-sized SUV to pick up Johnny and the team from Little League practice; an elegant quiet luxury sedan when two couples are going out to a nice restaurant on Saturday night.

The other rule that Ford is ignoring is that oil-based fuels will not likely be the predominant personal transportation fuel for much longer. If Ford thinks that because current gasoline pricing is moderate then consumers will show a strong preference for SUVs over sedans, they’re already betting on the wrong horse, given oil’s upward direction.

A gutsier—but actually more defensible—move would be for Ford to have announced that they were discontinuing their gasoline-powered sedans in favor of a new lineup of hybrid and electric SUVs and pickups, with available optional self-driving capability. Although Ford has made vague statements about making a “full commitment” to alternative propulsion vehicles, they’ve given essentially no specifics or timetable.

I’ve been wrong before, but it seems to me that Ford is charting their course with faulty maps. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Ford’s maps are actually fine—they just need people who can read them properly.

 

 

 

Alfie Evans – as far as we know – is still alive. He is the infant boy from the Liverpool area of England who has a rare and seemingly undiagnosed brain disease that has destroyed most of his brain, according to his hospital MRI scan results. The hospital has refused to allow him to be taken – at no cost to British taxpayers – to Italy to be given experimental treatment. These are some of the comments – usually with at least a degree or two of separation from the source in the case of anonymous NHS doctors – from various authorities in England. They are revealingly horrifying.

Michael Mylonas – The Queen’s Counsel or defense lawyer in the U.K. for the hospital – has stated that it is a “tragedy” that Alfie looks normal. Think about that comment. Because much of his brain has been destroyed, Alfie Evans is seen by the Hospital and by the Courts in the UK as a sub-human thing that must be disposed of like an aborted fetus. What a shame that he apparently is still (or was for a number of hours) clinging to life. How dare that medical misfit clutch his parents and breathe and live?

Appeal Judge Lady Justice King proclaimed:

Tragically everything that would allow him to have some appreciation of life, or even the mere touch of his mother, has been destroyed irrevocably.

How exactly would you know Lady Justice King? Can you proclaim with absolute God-like certainty that Alfie is deprived of his humanity and of all his senses? Despite his condition? Can we state that Alfie is somehow not human and not deserving of help when he breathes and lives? This is not Judicial overreach. This is not merely Judicial Imperialism. This is Godless Judicial Theocracy.

This is why America was populated by those seeking religious freedom and freedom in general. Whatever their faith. Europe with the stench of its aristocracy and it’s poisonous class systems was a jail to flee from long before socialism and communism created their own industrial versions of overlords and feudal peasants. While England and the UK may have given us the Magna Carta, there is far less freedom in vital matters of life, liberty and happiness in that clayish sodden little island than in America.

This is not some bug in the British system of governance. This is a feature. The royal we’s will ration. The royal subjects will receive everything from pronunciation (received pronunciation: look it up) to housing to hospital beds. The nation of shopkeepers might have established a common law system that has given the world some of its better countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and others) and it’s greatest republic. But it still rations its health care with a dour socialist’s disdain for the commoners.

An anonymous doctor at Alder Hey Children’s hospital apparently has said that it will take a “sea-change” in Alfie’s parents’ attitudes for the hospital to allow Alfie to be taken home by his parents. Why? They might exercise their free will and take an air ambulance to Rome. Repent and kneel before thy sovereign or thou shalt be denied.

You are not God, you anonymous NHS doctor. You are a public employee working at a state hospital. Shut the f##k up and let Alfie’s parents take care of their son as they see fit. Shame on the NHS. Shame on the UK’s courts. Shame on the UK.

Ted Kennedy: The Lyin’ of the Senate

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

The 2018 movie “Chappaquiddick” recounts the July 1969 incident in which then-Senator Ted Kennedy drove off a narrow bride on Chappaquiddick Island late at night, plunging into shallow water of Poucha Pond, killing his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, a young campaign staffer.  The movie details Kennedy’s subsequent actions, his delay in reporting the occurrence to local officials and his meticulously-planned televised mea culpa that rescued his tottering political career. With Kennedy’s name and story being thrust back into the spotlight by this film, it’s an opportune time to re-examine his long role on the national scene.

Theodore (Ted) Kennedy—the fourth and youngest son of Joe Kennedy Sr.—was arguably the most influential player of the entire Kennedy political clan. Although he never made it to the presidency, his impact on American culture, politics and society was far-reaching and has fundamentally altered this country’s direction in many ways. None of them good, unfortunately.

Here are some of the highlights of his long and storied career in the Senate:

1965 Immigration and Nationality Act

Other than abortion, probably no domestic issue flames the emotions and draws such sharp lines of political division as does the subject of immigration. The issues are well-known and it’s not necessary to recount them all here.  Suffice to say, once the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 became law, there was a fundamental shift in the ease and number of non-Northern European immigrants coming into the United States. In practical terms, the Act allowed the number—both legal and illegal— of Latino immigrants into the United States to increase precipitously.

Although Kennedy wasn’t an official author of the bill (it was known as the Cellar-Hart Act, named for NY Representative Emanuel Celler and Michigan Senator Philip Hart), he lent the full weight of his family name and personal political capital to supporting its passage. In the Senate only three years at the time (he was elected in November 1962 in a special election to fill the MA Senate seat vacated by President John F. Kennedy in 1960), his vociferous, passionate support of the Act was the first really major public policy success of his Senate career.

He championed this Act because he likely thought it would redound for decades to the profound benefit of the Democratic party. Many contend that Kennedy’s support was based strictly on demographic/political issues, because he knew (or was told) that opening up immigration to more Hispanics and Asians would swell Democratic voting coffers for generations to come. His critics would be quick to add that Kennedy was an upper-crust racist hypocrite who would never personally associate with the people the Immigration and Nationality Act was ostensibly designed to help.

It’s nearly impossible to divine the intents and motives of someone since deceased, more than a half-century after the fact. But regardless of Kennedy’s real objective, he played a pivotal role in helping pass the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which arguably altered the political and cultural course of this country as much or more than any other single piece of legislation has since.

1969 Chappaquiddick

As touched upon above, in July 1969 (over the moon landing weekend of July 18-20), Kennedy left a family party late at night and drove with young campaign staffer Mary Jo Kopechne to catch the Edgartown Ferry back to Martha’s Vineyard. Confused and tired, possibly from a few drinks at the party (although no one has ever claimed he was inebriated), Kennedy took a wrong turn and drove his car off a narrow bridge. Kennedy was unhurt, but Kopechne died in the accident.

The aftermath of the occurrence stands as Kennedy’s lasting contribution to the moral aspect of American politics and culture. His narcissistic, self-absorbed devotion to his own political fortunes, demonstrated by his leaving the scene of the accident and his stunning subsequent reluctance to immediately report it and take full responsibility, provided a veritable “how to” blueprint for unscrupulous individuals from that point forward as to how trusted people could evade accountability and blame. Trying to get the police report withheld so the NY Times and other major media outlets would focus instead on the historic first moon landing happening that same weekend, the behind-the-scenes scheming of the best way to orchestrate an effective career-saving televised explanation/apology that would cast Kennedy more as a sympathetic victim of circumstance than perpetrator, are both concrete indications that Kennedy’s only real concern was professional self-preservation.

There is no illusion here that Kennedy was the first politician or powerful businessperson to try to get away with some egregious immoral blunder. However, his was perhaps the biggest, most public misstep by a major public figure up to that point in the television age of instantaneous media coverage. What happened with Kennedy was known worldwide in real time. The world learned and took the lesson that he essentially got away with it just as quickly, being granted absolution by the sympathetic media and the Kennedy-infatuated MA electorate alike.

In addition, the entire incident revealed beyond any doubt that there are indeed two levels of justice in this country: One for the average person and another for the favored and well-connected. Both lessons—how to evade responsibility and the fact that the well-connected will not be fully held to account—are permanent stains on the fabric of American culture and decency. If this incident was a dinner party, then Senator Ted Kennedy—with the famous family name revered by the liberal media and thus granted slack that no Republican could ever hope for—knocked over the wine glass onto the white carpet, never apologized to the host, and tried to blame the whole thing on the person sitting next to him—and then expected to be invited back next week.

The Rejection of Robert Bork, 1987

Robert Bork, a highly-respected scholar and judge, was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987 by President Reagan. Being more conservative than the retiring Justice Lewis Powell that he’d be replacing, Democrats were determined to block Bork’s appointment and prevent the Court from tilting in a conservative direction.

The day that Bork was nominated, Kennedy made perhaps the most famous and influential speech of his entire career, a wildly histrionic speech in which he excoriated Bork, attacking his character with vitriolic falsehoods, gratuitous lies and totally fabricated innuendo:

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.

This was an astonishing speech coming from a supposed highly-respected leader of the country. The reality was, of course, that Bork was eminently qualified; he simply wasn’t in philosophical lockstep with the Democratic Party.

Kennedy’s performance during the Bork episode can plausibly be thought of as the beginning of the modern-day liberal media bias era as we know it today. His comments and behavior were blatantly and intentionally inaccurate, intended to shape public perception. The news outlets—overwhelmingly populated by liberal correspondents and writers—never questioned Kennedy’s statements or assertions of Bork’s unfitness. They never questioned his motives or inquired about his sources. Instead, they played his incendiary comments over and over, unchallenged, unquestioned, as if it was news, not opinion.

Stunned into non-action, the Republicans never did mount any kind of counter to Kennedy’s baseless attack. In 1987, there were no media/legal watchdog groups like today’s Media Research Center or Judicial Watch to get an opposing viewpoint out into the public space. Fox News was still ten years away. The Big Three television networks dominated the media landscape and their liberal slant pervaded virtually all the news coverage. Ted Kennedy, with a floor Senate speech born out of unabashed partisanship, personal animus and the brazen, apparent desire for self-aggrandizement, cleverly and knowingly leveraged a liberal media he knew would never challenge him and single-handedly engineered a major structural change to the country’s highest court system that would have repercussions decades into the future.

As President, John F. Kennedy didn’t have the chance to make a truly lasting mark on the American landscape. His greatest contributions were as much visual and aesthetic as they were policy: the notion of Camelot, the romance and adventurism of having begun the successful Space Program, the dramatic success of squirming out of the immediacy of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Similarly, Robert Kennedy—the “smartest” Kennedy—never got the chance to really establish his influence on the country, being cut down by an assassin’s bullet during the 1968 Democratic primary campaign, a campaign he seemed likely to win.

But Ted Kennedy, despite lacking his older brothers’ charisma, not being their intellectual equal and seemingly struggling his entire life for the approval of his father Joseph Kennedy Sr., the unapologetically ruthless head of the Kennedy political machine, has made a more lasting impact on American politics, society and culture than any of his brothers. Ted’s actions have left a permanent negative mark on America in terms of demographics, voting, morality and law.

Kennedy’s revisionist-history sycophants have coined the term the “Lion of the Senate” to describe his 47 years of supposedly unselfish, meritorious, crucial work on behalf of the American people. With a minor spelling adjustment, it’s an apt term indeed.

 

 

While the last few weeks have ratcheted up to an even higher level the swirling whirlpool that is the multiple news stories that emerge daily or even hourly from Washington, consider for just a moment Justice Gorsuch’s siding with the Supreme Court’s more liberal or outright liberal judges in Sessions v. Dimaya.

James Dimaya is a legal immigrant from the Philippines who arrived in America a few decades ago, and has since become a criminal. He’s been charged with a handful of burglaries and the issue at stake is whether Dimaya can be deported for having committed “crimes of violence.”

Surprisingly perhaps for the Trump administration, Justice Gorsuch agreed with Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan (who wrote the majority opinion). What the decision means is that the Supreme Court has struck down Section 16(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, because of the vagueness of the term “crimes of violence.”

In Breitbart of all places, Joel Pollak defends Gorsuch’s siding with the liberals, but Pollak bases his defense on what he views as Gorsuch’s originalist leanings. In other words, Justice Gorsuch’s decision was based on a deeply held suspicion of the broad net that was cast by the term, under which many acts could be considered violent and hence give the government the right to deport legal immigrants because their crimes were deemed a threat to society.

As Pollak details, Gorsuch’s opinion begins with the following words:

Vague laws invite arbitrary power. Before the Revolu­tion, the crime of treason in English law was so capaciously construed that the mere expression of disfavored opinions could invite transportation or death. The founders cited the crown’s abuse of “pretended” crimes like this as one of their reasons for revolution. See Declaration of Independence ¶21. Today’s vague laws may not be as invidious, but they can invite the exercise of arbitrary power all the same—by leaving the people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up.

How violent a criminal you have to be to have your legal status revoked is an important question to ask. It seems that Judge Gorsuch is worried that Congress has left it up to the courts, which means the prosecutors as much as the judges, to define what crimes are “crimes of violence.” And caution in the face of such prosecutorial power is warranted.

The problem is of course that this decision may very well at some point in the future be used to try and justify giving illegal immigrants who are also violent criminals 5th amendment rights. One would hardly be surprised if a Justice Kagan or Sotomayor took this position at some future date. Surely Gorsuch would never take such a position, but there is a flood of angry demands by immigration activists that seek to have anyone who makes it across the Rio Grande be as deserving of the Bill of Rights as a citizen of America. The White House surely feels that Gorsuch has chipped away at the legal barriers holding back such a flood.

Here’s the list of people in the media that Jim Comey – former FBI Director and now soon-to-be wealthy and world famous author – will speak to or has already spoken to on his book promotion tour:

  • George Stephanopoulos: a key Bill Clinton aide who ran communications for his 1992 election campaign and then became a senior White House advisor during Clinton’s first term.
  • Stephen Colbert: the television late night host was in near tears when it was suddenly apparent that Hillary was going to lose the election to Trump.
  • Rachel Maddow: Do we need to add anything? Not really.
  • David Remnick: Editor of the New Yorker since the year of Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. Has worked for the Washington Post. Wrote a book on Obama titled: The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.
  • The View: A show where you can be a cheerful part of The Resistance along with its hosts.
  • Mike Allen: The man fronting Axios who functions much like a former Obama aide – think Favreau or Rhodes – by needling and reminding seemingly every member of Trump’s Cabinet about why their lives suck and they should quit.

Comey will be speaking to this select list of nary a conservative or even moderate centrist.

But Comey last year wouldn’t speak to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as he informed them in a curt letter on June 1st of last year, a couple of weeks after being fired by Trump. Read the details in Byron York’s piece in the Washington Examiner. Apparently Comey is a righteous man who liked to use Reinhold Niebuhr as a a Twitter handle until the cat was let out of the bag. I’ll leave it to those far better versed in theology, philosophy and their relationship to politics in America to explain Niebuhr’s views. But it seems to me it’s not a modest nickname. And it seems Comey did not intend his use of Reinhold Niebuhr to be taken ironically. Rather it seems to have been meant as a tribute to … James Comey. And his honesty, fortitude, and rectitude in a fallen world.

The book will sell like crazy. Comey will be very rich. He may also become a target of both GOP enemies and Hillaryites who still blame him for the election loss. Even if it was the Russians, or one of Trump’s affairs that were hushed up. Because had they been revealed, his base would have been shocked and stayed at home that November night in 2016.

What will it say on the Russia probe? What new, convincing evidence might it suggest as far as obstruction of justice charges flowing from Trump’s firing of our soon-to-be world famous author? Comey has surrounded the release of his book with security worthy of Mueller’s probe. Sorry, if Comey’s publishers leaked like Mueller’s prosecutors, Comey would have them fired and then immediately arrested for breach of contract. Because you see, James Comey is his own walking, talking compliance department. It’s what happens when you’re the last honest man standing in DC.

But should Trump’s White House decide to remove Deputy AG Rosenstein and maybe even demand Jeff Sessions’ resignation, along with perhaps FBI Director Christopher Wray, the ensuing political storm will dwarf Comey’s tell-all book. And Trump’s presidency will hang in the balance, unfortunately. One can perhaps go out on a limb and imagine Trump doing something like that just to get back at Comey.

The truth, however, is that the White House has far more pressing matters than to deal with Comey’s book, regardless of the media storm it will produce. We’re already getting the sneak previews on that and the storm is on its way. But in a Trump Presidency, even James Comey may soon find himself yanked off the front pages by some new battle, revelation, or scandal. Let’s hope Righteous Jim can handle that.

A phalanx of photographers tracking your every facial twitch with fingers on the trigger ready to shoot like a pack of wild-game hunters surrounding their prey. That’s what Zuckerberg faced before he even took a single question from Senators from both the Judiciary and Commerce committees.

I suspect that Paul Ryan – who has finally announced that he will be retiring come next January and who will therefore not run again in the upcoming midterms – may face slightly less of a phalanx of lens swiveling image-hunters over the next few days and weeks.

Yes, Zuck is much much richer than Mr. Ryan, and just about everybody else on the planet except a few people like Jeff Bezos. But all that frantic zooming and clicking (inevitable pun) on Capitol Hill really has to do with social media and the desperation to get inside the head of the smiley global-hand-holding-connected-community-loving guy, who must also be a really smart businessman, right?

Here’s what National Review’s Rich Lowry wrote today in the NY Post:

Facebook can’t bear to admit that it has garnered the largest collection of data known to man to sell ads against and line the pockets of its founder and investors.

The problem isn’t that Zuckerberg is a businessman, and an exceptionally gifted one, but that he pretends to have stumbled out of the lyrics of John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” To listen to him, Facebook is all about connectivity and openness — he just happens to have made roughly $63 billion as the T-shirt-wearing champion of “the global community,” whatever that means.

In other words, while Zuckerberg and his top execs like Sheryl Sandberg might go on about their need to rigorously control their users’ data, Facebook makes it’s billions by selling the data all of us willingly (whether we actually stop to think about what we’re doing or not) give them permission to collect and share. And therefore to sell. And younger generations (and some older folks too) are simply not that careful about what they post online; which tends to be: Just. About. Every. Thing.

But therer’s another angle to the fascination with Zuckerberg, and that’s a sort of contempt for those (the majority of people) who don’t understand even the basics of how social media acquires and sells data. Commentators running from Reason’s Robby Soave to The Federalist’s Ben Domenech to Vox’s Emily Stewart (that’s a reasonable range of political opinion right there) have been downright dismissive of our collective ignorance on the matter. Especially by some of the older people in Washington. For example consider some of the Senators’ questions. Poor Senator Hatch asked:

How do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?

To which Zuck replied:

Senator we run ads.

Ba-dum!

One has to assume that Hatch’s aides understand a little better than the venerable Senator representing Utah how Facebook works, and a younger senator might have asked the same question but framed it like a prosecutor setting up a clever witness to then begin to chip away at Facebook’s business model and the risks it entails to its users and to society at large. Not Hatch.

But we shouldn’t hide in shame if we don’t know how, for example, an API (Application Programming Interface) works. An API appears to be a tool that simplifies app creation for app developers. As Facebook explains on one of its pages dedicated to developers:

The Graph API is the primary way to get data into and out of the Facebook platform. It’s a low-level HTTP-based API that apps can use to programmatically query data, post new stories, manage ads, upload photos, and perform a wide variety of other tasks.

Did you catch those words “query data”?? And “get data into and out of the Facebook platform”?? (italics added)

Facebook does not sneak data out the back door for the firms that are its true clients. It loads them up onto semi’s parked outside the main entrance. You’re just too busy taking selfies to notice.

It seems we are approaching a world where a working, if simple, knowledge of the basics of cryptography is going to be as important to a civics class as reading a text on the subject. Your data is being bought and sold, shared, used, and analyzed. Because you clicked HERE! We’ll have to learn a few things about how to control that process the best we can. Rather than create yet another layer of government regulation to oversee compaines like Facebook and Google. As powerful as they are. No one wants to make a Hatch of things, right?

(To be fair to Senator Hatch, he got the joke immediately.)

They came at night, the Lakota choppers crossing the dry srcubland and setting down in a hostile, violent region where borders dissolved in the desert hills and those wishing to harm America moved quietly and quickly through the darkness.

As U.S. Central Commander General Joseph Votel said:

But again, the hard part I think is in front of us, and that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes, addressing the long-term issues of reconstruction and other things that will have to be done.

Hence the National Guard arriving at night. Like in Iraq.

Oh, right. General Votel wasn’t talking about the Southern Border. He meant Syria. And how silly to expect that the U.S. military would be concerned about securing its homeland’s borders when there is an urgent need to attempt the fool’s errand of building a nation state from the rubble of Syria. Here’s what Matthew Brodsky writes in National Review in the latest iteration of neocon-speak:

Chasing every Sunni jihadist down a desert rabbit hole misses the larger and more threatening trend that the Pentagon already identified in January in its own National Defense Strategy, namely, that “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” In other words, the decade-long U.S. focus on counterterrorism strategies enabled and empowered dangerous adversarial states such as Iran and Russia at the expense of America’s position in the world.

That is why a premature withdrawal from Syria would likely match the disastrous and hasty American exit from Iraq and be far worse than President Obama’s efforts to “lead from behind” in Libya. In fact, it would double down on Obama’s worst mistakes, which set the table for the Islamic State’s rise and enriched and enabled Iran while allowing Russia to transform itself into the region’s chief powerbroker.

The security experts will always find a compelling reason to increase and spread the presence of American troops around the world, like the blossoming of a thousand PhD theses detailing yet another new world order. Be wary of the wonks and cautious about extended stays in the Middle East.

The Middle East dissolved in flames because of the Iraq War. Troops arrived in Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, and then found their mission had expanded to include reconstructing a state that no longer existed and was deeply divided by hostile factions with the fatal fault line of Sunni-Shiite divisions running throughout the territory that was once a unified country. Unified by a bloodthirsty madman. Obama’s early withdrawl, in other words, may not have been as vital to the emergence of ISIS as is thought. But we really have no way of knowing if more boots on the ground for longer would have greatly helped stabilize Iraq. Remember the troops that helped crush ISIS did not go in there to help reconstruct Iraq or Syria. They went in to destroy ISIS.

So moving those metaphors North and slightly West, and ahead in time by basically a decade, we now have Syria as the next must-fix nation in the region. With the bood-thirsty madman called al-Assad still in power. And supported by Russia as well as Iran. That should be a clear warning. To experts like Brodsky, it’s a wonderful new opportunity.

But sending a few hundred National Guardsmen and women to help secure America’s southern border is seen as a foolish impulse on the part of President Trump. A crazed policy put into motion by a restless set of early morning Tweets. To be resisted by progressive governors who seem to care more about defending their cities’ sanctuary status than aiding in trying to keep the border a safe and well-managed frontier.

There is no resource more vital to the United States than it’s men and women of the military. Even, perhaps, more-so than its creativity and its innovating genius. A military that is governed by an elected civilian government and places those men and women in harm’s way reluctantly – or should – only to help the government secure its most pressing objectives. Partisan sneering at a reasonable redeployment of the National Guard, and expert doom-mongering over a reasonable questioning of how long troops should stay in Syria, reduces those men and women to bargaining chips in a policy debate where their lives will be at risk.

Send the Guard and bring back some more of those troops from Syria. They are both reasonable decisions by the President. And while we’re on the topic of Iranian influence in Syria, let’s look at that Joint Plan of Comprehensive Action, which has helped fund Iran’s terrorist and hegemonic activity.

In a courtroom in Orlando, there has been some surprising news over the last few days, in case you didn’t notice. It has to do with the Pulse Nightclub shooting and the shooter’s – Omar Matteen’s – wife. Noor Salman’s attorney’s were faced with a bombshell dropped by prosecutors just a few days ago.

Omar’s father – Seddique Matteen – was an FBI informant for over a decade, from 2005 to 2016. And the FBI has information that he has sent money to Turkey and Afghanistan. As well the FBI had information in 2012 that Seddique played a part in helping fund or plan terrorist attacks on the Pakistan government, which, however, do not seem to have been carried out. As well, Seddique apparently managed to convince the FBI that his son Omar was not a threat despite being investigated by the FBI in 2013 for his possible ties to Hezbollah and his apparent online statements regarding the deaths of FBI agents.

There’s more.

The FBI considering grooming Omar himself as another confidential informant, alongside his father, around 2013 but decided against the idea. Interestingly former FBI Director James Comey described Omar as a “lone wolf” back in 2016 in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shootings. This now seems to be a deliberate misdirection on the part of Comey at the time.

One has to ask what the father knew of Omar’s possible plans, and if he covered up for his son both before and after the shooting. For now Judge Paul Byron has denied a motion by Noor Salman’s defense lawyers to dismiss the case because of this heretofore undisclosed evidence. According to Judge Byron it has no bearing on Noor Salman’s possible guilt of the charges of aiding and abetting her husband Omar and of engaging in obstruction of justice. There will likely be appeals by Salman’s defense team.

So if Seddique Matteen knew at least something about his son’s plans, are then the deaths of nearly 50 innocent people at the Pulse Nightclub reasonable collateral damage in terms of the information the FBI gleaned from Seddique?

That of course is an obscene question.

Of course those lives are not worth whatever information the father provided the FBI – and one doubts how useful someone like Seddique was in fact. Those 49 lives are precisely what Seddique Matteen’s information should have protected. The FBI and the intel community at large deal with people like Seddique Matteen in order, we hope and pray, to protect American lives. Not to cover up and protect their own bureaucracies. And it sure seems that Seddique as an informant chose to protect his son and not the victims of Orlando.

This needs to be investigated further. From the FBI to any other intel agencies possibly involved to every near and even more distant member of the Matteen clan. The Pulse Nightclub shooting is not what it appeared to be. It was something perhaps far worse.

Speak now, or forever hold your peace. And forever is a short time away when you’re 97 years old. Consider the case of two men who are 3 years (actually a little less) away from turning 100 years old, and what they have felt compelled to speak about recently.

John Paul Stevens is the retired Supreme Court Justice (1975 – 2010) who has written an op-ed in the New York Times calling for the repeal of the 2nd amendment. Here’s a quote from the article, a quote that refers to the SCOTUS case that explicitly enshrined or at least confirmed and supported an individual’s right to bear arms:

In 2008, the Supreme Court overturned Chief Justice Burger’s and others’ long-settled understanding of the Second Amendment’s limited reach by ruling, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that there was an individual right to bear arms. I was among the four dissenters.

That decision — which I remain convinced was wrong and certainly was debatable — has provided the N.R.A. with a propaganda weapon of immense power. Overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the N.R.A.’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.

In other words, prior to D.C. v Heller, and especially the period after 1939’s U.S. v. Miller, the Supreme Court’s view of the right to bear arms was essentially a collective right, one that was based on a narrow reading of the 2nd amendment and which placed emphasis on the 2nd’s opening two clauses:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,

Never mind that – as David Harsanyi in the Federalist points out – for the Founders, the threat of disarmament of its citizenry was the real threat. And that overbearing government regulation of individual rights to bear arms is not what that the words well regulated refer to.

After D.C. v. Heller an individual’s right to bear arms became the emphasis and John Paul Stevens – a dissenting vote on that case as he says – wishes to overturn that decision by repealing the 2nd. He says it would be easy, in fact.

Ok, one can assume his mind is still fairly agile but to think that the legislative requirements to repeal an amendment to the constitution – especially the 2nd – would be “easy” seems a stretch to put it politely. Plus the left is furious at Stevens for giving the game away. We lied, we’re gunning for the 2nd!

The other 97-year old is George P. Shultz – Reagan’s long-serving Secretary of State. And he also has a really big plan to deal with climate change: the Carbon Dividend Strategy. Here are its four pillars if you will:

  • A rising carbon tax
  • Carbon dividend payments “to all Americans”
  • Rollback of environmental regulations now that the price of carbon-based fuels and products that use them would have the so-called externalities of their environmental costs included in their price
  • Border adjustments to take into account the carbon content of imports

Easy-peasy just like repealing the 2nd right!?

Senator Tom Cotton for example would love how WalMart would have to pay way more for it’s imports from carbon-luvin’ China and the senator would never engage in legislative moves that stalled any and all attempts at bringing the legislation to a vote on the floor. To mention just one senator. Never mind state governments. And industry associations. What’s the carbon content of Facebook by the way? And do they use any Russian-sourced Gas to power the turbines that create the electricity that keeps FB’s servers that hold all your personal data humming along?

And the federal bureaucracy and Congress of course would eagerly roll back all sorts of environmental regulations now that consumers could make rational decisions based on the adjusted price of the carbon content in any product and service they consume.

And it would be a piece of cake to figure out what the carbon content of every product and service in America and the World actually is. And carbon dividends would never turn into an enormous entitlement that would be perpetually underfunded because Congress keeps diverting the monies from the carbon tax to instead use in their unrolled back regulations and pork barrel spending.

Will these two nonagenarians shift the debate on climate change and gun control? They likely already have, but actually trying to make either of their ideas work may be more of a nightmare than a dream. But speak they must. And speak they did.

It’s Friday and the Trump Tornado’s EF Scale (enhanced Fujita scale if you have to know) has blown through 100 mph and is heading towards 150 mph, indicating considerable damage ahead. At least to certain careers. And possibly much more damage than that, but that assessment will have to wait until November.

It’s literally impossible to keep up, but some of the main events these past 48 hours are:

  • McMaster is out as National Security Adviser and John Bolton is in. Here’s an interesting quote from Naomi Lim’s piece in the Washington Examiner: A White House spokesperson said the timing of McMaster’s exit had been discussed by the pair for some time, and was unrelated to the recent leak of briefing materials for Trump’s phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the Russian leader won re-election. So. They’re saying: yeah McMaster leaked but we were going to fire him anyway?
  • Good morning Mr. Speaker! Did you read Trump’s tweet this Friday morning? The one that goes: I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded. That one?
    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2018
  • Why did the President threaten a VETO? No DACA legislation (as part of an omnibus bill that would seem to be a tough ask to say the least) and also, almost no money (in D.C. terms one billion dollars is spare change) for the border wall. The latter complaint is much more understandable, but given SCOTUS’ refusal to bypass the 9th Circuit, DACA remains in place until next year likely.
  • Good afternoon Mr. Speaker! Relax, The President signed the bill.
  • John Dowd, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, has resigned and is to be replaced by the recently announced arrival to his team: Slugger Joe DiGenova. It is rumored that Dowd was not a fan of President Trump appearing personally before Mueller’s probe to answer questions. On Thursday the President said that he “would like to” appear before special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
  • Bob Goodlatte, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, has subpoenaed the DOJ to pry more information out of the department regarding the investigation into Hillary’s use of a private server and possible hacking of the former Secretary of State’s emails while she was in charge at State. They are also seeking documentation on possible FISA Court abuses, which would likely indicate the search warrants obtained on Carter Page starting in the fall of 2016.
  • Senate Republicans want to go nuclear on most appointments that are currently being held up in the Senate by Democratic Party opposition. Here’s a look into the detailed, obtuse rules of the upper chamber and how they are played to obtain maximum partisan advantage. Consider this from a story in The Hill: Under current rules, 30 hours must elapse on the floor every time the Senate votes to end dilatory debate and advance a nominee — unless there’s unanimous consent to yield back floor time.This forces GOP leaders to perform triage by making tough choices about what executive branch positions are important enough to deserve floor time, leaving some nominees in limbo for months. When procedural rules are abused by both sides to impede the party in power from executing on their agenda – especially in an area like nominees to key government posts – then maybe a house-cleaning of Senate rules is in order. Good luck with that.
  • The President signed a Presidential Memorandum that opens up the way for tariffs on up to 60 billion worth of China’s imports into America, in retaliation for China’s trade practices which have produced accusations of theft of intellectual property and unfair trade. China has vowed retaliation, but on a much smaller amount of American goods shipped to China. A trade war is not impossible at this point.

President Trump has ripped the complex negotiations between states (and even companies in the case of Qualcomm and Broadcom) out of the hands of the wonks and experts of the administrative state to instead handle them himself – at least in several key high-profile cases. Like trade with China. Or Sunday’s election in Russia which would have in normal times produced carefully worded responses by the President and the Secretary of State. Responses which would have been put together by the wonks and experts that Trump delights in overruling, ignoring, and belittling.

At some point, one would have thought that some sort of balance would have been struck between Trump’s administration and the sprawling administrative state; even one that involves reducing the power of the bureaucrats and handing it back to the Executive and Congress. That balance has yet to be established, and it’s not clear what it would take for President Trump to seek to establish that new balance. We can only observe , wait, and hope.

Meanwhile the new equilibrium under Trump is chaos. Even if solid work gets done behind the chaos. All we see is the chaos. Is that what we want?

A few fact-checks are in order – thanks in large part to the Vox story by Andrew Prokop – when it comes to Cambridge Analytica, the firm that is in the public and parliamentary eye on both sides of the Atlantic:

  • Wunder-kid Christopher Wylie apparently left the firm in 2014, a year before Trump even declared his campaign for the presidency.
  • Did Wylie’s psychological profile-based algorithms really guide Candidate Trump’s team to a shocking victory that no one predicted? Was it Wylie that put together the algorithms? Some doubt that apparently.
  • The parent company – if you will – of Cambridge Analytica is Strategic Communication Laboratories Group or SCL Group, founded in 1993 by Englishman and advertising executive Nigel Oaks. It had (and perhaps still has) a geographically diverse group of clients in places like Thailand and Indonesia, and operated as a fairly straightforward communications shop, building messaging for it’s clients. Questionable ethics, secrecy, and dirty tricks were reputedly a part of it’s operating methods.
  • After 9/11 SCL Group turned to Pysch-Ops to garnish some of the huge amounts of cash that were being offered to try and plan against the next possible terrorist attack.
  • Alexandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic/psychologist at Cambridge University created the thisismydigitallife app and obtained Facebook’s permission to use it to gather data on FB users as well as their friends on FB. He ended up with around 50 million raw profiles after around 270,000 people directly consented to give their data and indirectly (and therefore perhaps unknowingly) consented to allow the app to harvest data on their friends.
  • 30 million of those 50 million raw profiles were able to be cross-checked with other data to produce complete profiles. Facebook supposedly consented to Kogan’s data harvesting on the grounds that Kogan’s project was strictly academic. But there is skepticism about this given that social media make their money by gathering data on their users and then re-selling that data to third parties. Facebook had to have been aware of the huge profit potential provided by Kogan’s app and the data it had harvested.
  • Cambridge Analytica was put together around 2013 with the involvement of Steve Bannon and the Mercers. Kogan’s data base of tens of millions of profiles was to be the jewel in their crown as well as the input data for Christopher Wylie’s algorithms.
  • Here’s the big one: According to employees at Cambridge and staffers of Trump’s campaign, the Trump campaign did NOT even use Cambridge’s 30 million profiles. Rather the campaign team used the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) data set.

Among political consultants and communication shops Cambridge Analytica and by extension SCL Group were seen as big-talking and under-achieving lightweights. With a history of angry and disappointed clients. Including both the Ted Cruz campaign team and the Trump campaign team. And while Facebook is now desperately trying to distance itself from Cambridge Analytica, SCL Group, and the Mercers who provided the money for Cambridge on the advice of Steve Bannon, it seems that as the NYTimes’ Zeynep Tufekci states that all of this drama is an:

all-too natural consequence of Facebook’s business model … by profiling us and then selling our attention to advertisers, political actors, and others.

Alexander Nix the just-fired CEO of Cambridge Analytica may be a blowhard Brit who likes to brag about dirty tricks over drinks with prospective clients. Christopher Wylie may be a genius who has not yet been able to fine-tune his radical and earth-shattering (if we believe him) concepts to the point where they actually work.

But someone else is and someone else will effectively use Pysch-ops to understand what you are thinking and doing and to try and nudge you in a certain direction; if your data is useful to a company, a state, or an intelligence agency. Or some other organization. And that is definitely worth everyone’s attention. Even if Cambridge Analytica turns out to be an empty shell run by hucksters.

How power, even just the promise of it, changes things and divides those who professed unity when power was a more distant goal.

To wit, Democrats are already showing fractures that were at least previously papered over with the linked arms and pink hats of the Great Brave Resistance against the Bad Guy at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. But now that Connor Lamb has shown you can be a very centrist – to not say rather conservative – candidate and win as a Democrat, the party is roiling as it sorts out the spoils of its eagerly anticipated wins in the coming mid-terms.

Let’s leave aside the fact that nearly 8 months is a very long time in politics, especially with this administration, and maybe Democrats won’t retake the House, or especially the Senate. They’re already behaving as if they will, however, and so now Nancy Pelosi is coming under fire. All because a pro-life veteran faced the camera and said he wouldn’t (necessarily one assumes) support her.

So we’re already getting speculation over Nancy Pelosi’s replacement as Speaker of the House come November. Guess who’s name is somehow being thrown around?

Adam Schiff.

Imagine: Speaker Schiff with a Democrat-controlled House. While New York Rep. Joe Crowley is being touted as the steady hand experienced guy to take the baton from Nancy, one feels Schiff is not bothered by the rumors that he’s a candidate, and likely encouraged some vigorous leaking by his aides to ensure those rumors started floating around as soon as it was clear that Lamb would win PA-18.

And more than a few people had plenty to say, (anonymously of course), about Nancy Pelosi. Here’s a few quotes given to or passed on to Axios’ Mike Allen:

  • She used to be retributional. Now she’s more inclusive.
  • She could win the caucus vote [for Speaker] but lose the floor vote.
  • That would give the House to the head of the Republicans.
  • She’s the best vote counter this generation has ever seen. So she’ll know this scenario well in advance, and will figure out a way that will preserve her legacy.

Preserve her legacy? Does that sound like a ringing endorsement?? They’re already chiseling in the epitaph on her political gravestone it would seem.

But it is Nancy Pelosi we’re talking about, who’s also very good at counting the numbers written on the bundled checks that her fundraising skills rake in by the truckful for her party. So she retains a certain amount of agency here. It still is her call, but the whistle is slowly being pulled from her hands.

Will she let go or angrily hang on?

Meanwhile in the upper chamber, Senator Elizabeth Warren is in a standoff with more centrist Democrat Senators over the new banking bill that is being considered. Here’s what she said:

This bill isn’t about the unfinished business of the last financial crisis. This bill is about laying the groundwork for the next one. So I will make a prediction: This bill will pass. And, if the banks kept their way, in the next 10 years or so, there will be another financial crisis.

Senators like Missouri’s Claire McCaskill are of course more than a little frustrated by Warren’s stance on the banking bill. Will the Bernie Sanders tear-down-Wall-Street crowd be the leading voice on this heretofor invisible piece of legislation? Or will Lamb’s centrist yet politely cautious defiance of the identity politics wing prevail, allowing a Democratic Senator facing a tough re-election to vote for a bill without being denounced as a Wall Street Lobbyist?

Power breeds division. On both sides of any aisle. So even if Nancy & Elizabeth have agency in this struggle for the Democratic party’s soul, there’s another group with more than a little agency: voters. If Democrats want to ensure victory, they will have to remind themselves that a voter in Missouri may not have the same concerns as a voter in San Francisco. Are the foaming-mad progressives ready to do that?

Nobody says thea-tuh anymore. Not even people my age. Maybe grandma when she’s making fun of someone or has had a tipple too many.

So I won’t say that David Marcus works in the thea-tuh (as well as being a correspondent for The Federalist and publishing elsewhere, like the NYTimes occasionally.)

I’ll just say he runs a thee-tur company in Brooklyn apparently, and has an interesting take on Pennsylvania’s 18th District Special Election this Tuesday. The one in which Connor Lamb narrowly appears to have beaten Rick Saccone, the GOP’s disappointing candidate.

While the GOP and the media in general are anguishing, or delighting themselves, over the possibility of a Big Blue Wave in the coming mid-term elections, Marcus points out quite reasonably that the Democrat party has to decide what kind of platform they’re going to run on this fall.

  • Hard-left identity politics? Or …
  • Moderate and centrist policies like those held by Connor Lamb?

That would include pro-life positions or at least, in Lamb’s case, a stance that identifies as pro-life while accepting the left’s idea that Planned Parenthood should continue to receive funding from taxpayers. That’s not very pro-life, but it’s a ways to the center from what appears to be Democrat orthodoxy that claims abortions as healthcare. That also includes knowing how to handle an AR-15, something more than a few of us can’t lay claim to, but that Connor Lamb can, and he showed voters that he did on video for his campaign..

So after all the celebrating by progressives and left-leaning media over the victory of a pro-life and not-gun-phobic candidate in Western Pennsylvania, the question then becomes: will candidates like Connor Lamb be the exception to Democrats’ campaign for the mid-terms? Operating at the margins and only praised when they win an election and then shut down by party leaders the rest of the time? Or will the Democrat Party grudgingly accept that in many districts which they want to flip, radical candidates will not do the job?

Right now that question has been pushed to the background amid all the gloating over how supposedly Trumpism only works for Trump and maybe no longer even that. It’s all about how Trump undercuts candidates and has staked his presidency on mistaken candidates in Alabama and now Pennsylvania. Yes, the GOP is being roiled every week by President Trump, but the divisions on the other side are real and do matter. They will matter even more if Democrats take back either or both Houses of Congress.

The Democrats have to decide if they will continue to ignore large swaths of America that they are openly hostile towards under their current progressive leadership. And who Hillary continues to blame for her loss in 2016, to such an extent that many in her party truly and heartily wish she would shut up.

So let the celebrations continue over a district that will be re-drawn and which Connor Lamb will have to contest once again. Who and what the Democrats are is just as much a question as who and what the Republicans are.

Play Ball!

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Here’s a thought and I’d love to hear some responses.

There are about 120,000,000 households in the US. That’s about 2.75 people per household, since the total US population is around 330,000,000 people.

Now, the poverty rate is around 15% or roughly 50,000,000 people living in poverty. I realize that poverty is a relative term, whose meaning changes over time and in comparison to other countries. There is a huge difference between living between “poverty” here and living in poverty in one of the poorest countries in Africa. The meaning and nature of “poverty” can also be said to be quite different in the 1930’s to what it is today.

Nonetheless, let’s not get bogged down in those semantic particulars. Let’s just agree that “poverty” means whatever you understand it to be.

Liberal Democrats are always carping about so-called income inequality, the gap between what the richest and poorest make, or the difference between a CEO’s compensation and that of their average employee. In reality, it’s a non-issue since one person’s income is pretty much totally independent of another’s. Your neighbor’s financial fortunes do not affect yours. If they suddenly hit Powerball, the income inequality between the two of you has abruptly skyrocketed to astronomical proportions, yet, for you, nothing has changed. Your financial ability to provide for your family and pay your bills is totally unaffected by whether your neighbor’s income is equal to yours or 1000 times greater than yours. The economic concept of “income inequality” is a hoax, a straw man, vaporware. It’s merely a liberal pretext to justify higher taxes on the wealthy and create evermore income redistribution policies to buy voting support.

However…what if there was a solution to poverty? Immediate, total, complete, permanent? There is.

Jeff Bezos Bill Gates, Tim Cook, Warren Buffet. They own Amazon and the Washington Post, Microsoft, Apple and Berkshire Hathaway. They have lots of dough—combined, over 500 billion dollars. Bezos’ personal fortune alone is estimated to grow by 2.8 billion dollars/day, an amount normal people can’t actually comprehend.

They could combine to give everyone in the country a few thousand bucks. and they wouldn’t even notice. $76 billion (that’s four thousand bucks to every person in America, young, old, black, white, brown, chartreuse, any/all genders, etc.), to them is ppfffftttt, nothing. That’s 76 billion. They’ve got 500. In a month, they’ll have 75 billion more. In two months, 150 billion more.

In English: It’d be like giving away 76 dollars if you had 500 bucks in your pocket. It’d be like buying dinner for yourself and a friend.

Tomorrow. They could do this tomorrow. They’re generous, caring, feeling, compassionate, concerned, green, altruistic, liberal icons. So they should, right?

Let’s look at households—120 million. 15% are in poverty, so that’s 18 million households living in poverty. How much debt are they in? Let’s look at that realistically. What will it take to get them out of debt, pay off their bills? One thousand each? 5 thou? 10 grand for each household to get the lights back on, buy some decent clothes, fix the ’02 Olds, send Jr. to community college? Just enough to get them out of poverty. Let’s say an average of 10 grand for 18 million households.

That’s 180 billion. They have 500 billion now. In two months, they’ll have 650 billion. Two months after that, they’ll have 800 billion. They can easily afford the 180 and still fly first-class to Marseille for vacation.

The interesting thing is why no Democrat/liberal politicians have called for this. The Dems seem to favor wealth re-distribution to directly help the impoverished. Here is income-redistribution to the nth degree, exactly like the Dems like it. It’s perfect. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Dem politicians only resent Republican fortunes, like those infamous brothers they’re always complaining about. It seems as if Democratic/liberal fortunes get a pass.)

Nonetheless, the Big Four—liberal or not—could make their donation directly to the Treasury, who has all the data, names and addresses of each family living below the poverty line. The Four could make a wire transfer tomorrow. Checks could go out in two weeks. Poverty would be over by the beginning of the baseball season.

Play ball!

 

 

You’re Fired!

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

“You’re fired!” Those are the sweetest two words in the entire language. Those two words make possible everything that’s good in our daily lives: our freedom, our safety, the many modes of transportation at our disposal, the rich abundance of foods we get to choose from, the widely-varied forms of entertainment we enjoy, the incredible array of medical technologies that keep us healthy and the expansive selection of schools that educate us.

“You’re fired.” Those are the lyrics to the Anthem of the Free Market, which is the engine that keeps us safe, healthy, well-fed, entertained and educated. Those are the words that indicate that, in our system, there is personal accountability and responsibility and that there are negative consequences for doing a poor job.

The most obvious and familiar indicator of the free market is the profit potential that exists for success. Whether it’s an innovative new medical device or life-enhancing pharmaceutical, a viable large-scale alternative energy source, or a great new political drama on Netflix, in a market economy, virtually unlimited profits await the inventor or company that delivers a winning product or service, and deservedly so. Driven by hungry competitors looking to wrest their paying customers away, individual entrepreneurs and large corporations alike are motivated to perform at their best in order to stave off their adversaries. The consumer benefits from continually improving products as a result.

The penalty for marketplace failure is financial ruin. If the quality and value of a company’s offerings slip, then the company loses market share or goes out of business altogether. The threat of this degree of disastrous marketplace penalty (going out of business) is an even stronger motivator than the promise of unlimited riches. Being one of many successful entities in one’s realm is perfectly acceptable; there is no absolute requirement that you be no. 1, as long as you’re active and viable. Mazda is a profitable and ongoing company. They don’t have to overtake General Motors to be considered a successful business. But they do have to avoid making the ill-fated product and marketing decisions that sank American Motors and Studebaker. The threat of free-market penalty is what drives them.

The concept of free-market reward/penalty applies perfectly all the way down to the individual worker level. Any individual can be considered to be a small “company”: they have their product attributes, they are in a competitive environment against other “companies” vying for the same “customer,” perhaps a promotion or a new position. When the individual performs well—a TV writer creating a compelling script, an engineer improving the fuel efficiency of an engine or a research scientist synthesizing a new pain reliever without side effects—the company that employs them becomes stronger in their particular market sphere and either maintains or strengthens its financial standing. Employees continue to be employed.  Money continues to be earned. Bills continue to be paid.

It’s the fear of marketplace penalty that keeps many individuals motivated to go a good job. Yes, of course many people do an excellent job because of personal pride and a strong work ethic, or because their innate talent and aptitude enables them to perform their responsibilities well, without undue effort. But for many, the unpleasant prospect of losing one’s earning capacity is a prime motivator of doing a good job.

The aforementioned “unpleasant prospect of losing one’s earning capacity” is far, far more prevalent in the highly-competitive for-profit private sector of a market economy than it is in the Government-employed public sector. The cliché of the uncaring, inattentive DMV worker who shuts their window and puts up a “Closed” sign just as you reach their station at 30 seconds before 5:00 PM exists for one reason and one reason only: for the DMV worker, there is essentially no “marketplace penalty” for barely-acceptable, mediocre work. The quality of their work doesn’t affect the profitability or continued existence of their employer. The Springfield DMV is not in free-market competition with other DMVs and that window clerk’s performance has no real bearing on anything. Since they really can’t be fired for anything other than a gross dereliction of responsibility or some horrendous personal/moral transgression, it’s easy to understand the “I don’t care, it’s 5:00 PM, I’m closed” attitude.

This chart is illustrative of the marked difference in year-on-year price increases between the competitive for-profit private sector and the lessened financial accountability of the Government sector. The categories that show the greatest cost increases are the areas in which Government subsidies play the largest role. When the entities involved know that “free money” in the form of Government payouts are coming their way, costs tend to rise. The competitive aspect of keeping pricing low relative to market competition is not there.

The healthcare/hospital services area is particularly interesting. When Government money—“someone else’s money”—pays for medical services, costs go up dramatically. But when the individual is paying out of their own pocket and free-market rules apply, then the providers engage in fierce competition, improve their quality and lower their costs, in an attempt to woo the customer. Nowhere is this clearer than in the areas of cosmetic surgery and corrective eye surgery. Neither is generally covered by insurance or Medicare; customers must pay with their own free-market discretionary cash. As in every other area of for-profit consumer product development, quality and innovation are way up and costs are down compared to what was available just 20 years ago.

The liberal utopia of Government Run Everything will never work. Individuals must feel as if their own job security is directly related to the caliber of their work. Companies must operate with the knowledge that their continued existence is not assured and that customers are not automatically going to buy their product or service—they must be won over with quality and value. Private sector individuals and companies can be “Fired!” The DMV worker has no such fear, nor are the Meriden Public Schools worried about going out of business in the face of new competition.

While some Government/public sector portion of the economy is necessary, the more we can get the phrase “You’re fired!” into our economy, the better things will be for everyone.

 

 

The Hatch Act of 1939 was signed into legislation by a reluctant FDR as a legislative remedy for a political and partisan problem with FDR’s Works Progress Administration – it’s employees to be precise – in local or state or senate elections. Employees of the WPA were accused of campaigning for FDR’s favorites in campaigns. So the fact that the WPA (it was renamed the Works Projects Administration in the same year the Hatch Act was passed: 1939) was the administration’s public works jewel-in-the-crown (if you take a progressive viewpoint) and employed millions and doled out huge amounts of money and jobs, made it a perfect vehicle for campaigning by the administration.

Now, here’s the fussy point, because we’re talking about whether Kellyanne Conway did or didn’t violate the Hatch Act. If senior FDR (or any) administration officials wanted (or want) to use a specific project as backdrop for a campaign that is not prohibited by the Hatch Act. What is prohibited is lower-level government employees actively campaigning for any given candidate. In other words, federal employees and some state and local employees are the target of the Act’s restrictions, and only on certain political activities.

Senior administration officials who are involved in policy decisions are exempt.

Was Kellyanne Conway targeted because the Office of Special Counsel felt she was just ever-so-slightly low enough on the totem pole that they could stick a charge of a Hatch Act violation on her forehead and see if it could stick? She’s not a Cabinet level official, we can go for her!

Because this is really a symbolic poke in the eye of the President by the OSC. Who decides Kellyanne Conway’s fate according to the Hatch Act?? Uh … the President does. And either an official reprimand by the President or a fine of up to $1,000 are the penalties generally available; if the President sees fit to apply them.

Give me a break.

Who filed the complaints that led to the OPS determination regarding Conway’s two televised interviews on the Roy Moore v Doug Jones Alabama election last December? Why former Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub who called her interviews a “slam dunk” violation back then.

Now Democrat politicians like Elijah Cummings are demanding Trump deliver “swift and serious” punishment . Which he won’t. Which Democrats know perfectly well because Conway’s case is at best a borderline fussy finagling interpretation of what in fact does (or doesn’t) constitute a partisan display on the part of a federal employee during an election. It’s part of Conway’s JOB to go on TV and talk about those sorts of things.

Accusing Conway of violating the Hatch Act in a town populated by federal employees leaking classified information in order to disrupt and even sabotage the Trump administration is an ostentatiously blatant exercise in partisan hypocrisy.

So Trump’s rightfully refusing to punish Conway will then be used to talk about the “corruption” in the White House. Even FDR would roll over in his grave.

First it was Scot Peterson, the armed Broward Sheriff’s Deputy, waiting outside the school in Parkland as the gunfire sounded for a period of several minutes, and only calling for back-up rather than going in.

Then, we find out he was also on the radio with the Sheriff’s Office and likely receiving instructions. In other words, Peterson, along with several other Broward Deputies who sheltered behind their vehicles, were likely following orders.

Then we find out that Broward Sheriff Scott Israel had received countless calls and several explicit warnings, and had responded to many house calls, all relating to Nikolas Cruz and his family. But Cruz was never charged and therefore there was no information on Cruz in law enforcement data bases. It’s not just that Miami’s FBI Field Office didn’t act on information. There was No. Criminal. Record. on Cruz. So officially he couldn’t be flagged.

Why in the world did the Broward County Sheriff’s Office refuse to charge Cruz?

Because of a change in policy under the Obama administration that was intended to shut down the “pipeline” from school to prison for young offenders, especially minority offenders. And among the 50 odd counties in America that put this new policy into practice (it was seen as a rollback of zero-tolerance policies) Broward County was a leader in implementing the new policy.

In a revealing and disturbing article in Real Clear Politics, Paul Sperry outlines this change in policy and how it was put into place in Broward County. First of all, you had a key player in the shape of Robert Runcie, Broward School Superintendent. Runcie is a Chicago-born and bred, Harvard-educated and with close ties to Obama and to Obama’s then-education Secretary, Arne Duncan.

Runcie put in place a collaborative agreement with local police that downgraded various misdemeanors and other offenses to incidents that would no longer be reported to police. Sheriff Scott Israel signed that agreement around 2013, and became an enthusiastic supporter of the new discipline guidelines. Expulsions and suspensions plummeted, violence in schools increased, and Runcie obtained millions in grants from his old boss, Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education. While Runcie raked in the subsidies and grants, teachers’ lives became far more risky with apparently increased incidents of student violence against teachers.

So, it wasn’t so much a case of negligence in Nikolas Cruz’s disturbing and horrific example. It was a matter of deliberate, progressive government policy being put into action in Broward County.

So while Runcie might have proudly claimed he was giving students a chance and turning back overly strict disciplinary codes that could ruin a student’s life and their chances to get a job, or go to college, or join the military, he and Duncan and Israel were putting in place the blinkers that deliberately overlooked Cruz’s behavior and allowed him to even remain in the school system, rather than in jail or an institution.

A program with good – if misguided – intentions becomes a sweeping social experiment in education and sets the stage for a horrifying tragedy. Should we be shocked and angry? Yes, by all means. Should we truly be surprised? No.

Impatience with due process. Legally, it’s not a crime unless you do something against the law as a result of that impatience. Politically, it’s not really an impeachable offense, unless enough members of both Houses of Congress decide it somehow is.

But it can make for bad politics as in Trump’s latest impatience with due process. Although he has been quoted in a way that does not reference the targeted context – people displaying dangerous behavior and how local law enforcement and the courts should deal with those types of people.

So when President Trump says this:

Take the guns first, go through due process second.

You know the headlines won’t mention that he was talking about people like Nikolas Cruz. But even if that was the context, one wonders how his base will react. Especially gun owners in general. But even more than just the headlines, what Trump’s comment did was give an opening to his critics – like the Washington Post’s James Hohmann – to describe him as the President who tramples due process. And of course heres the main reason why Hohmann riffed on this in his Daily 202:

AG Jeff Sessions.

And the President’s anger at his use of the DOJ’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, to investigate potential abuses of the FISA warrants issued against Carter Page in 2016 and 2017. President Trump is angry that Sessions is using an Obama appointee – Horowitz who apparently is a well-respected official who has worked with both GOP and Democrat administrations – rather than DOJ lawyers to investigate possible FISA abuse by the FBI and by the DOJ itself.

Republican officials and conservative commentators in places like National Review have sided with Sessions, unsurprisingly. And the Attorney General pushed back with this statement:

As long as I am attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and the constitution.

Sessions also said that the Inspector General’s investigation is the appropriate process to be using.

Yes, part of the reason Trump won the election was his promise to poke a finger in the eye of due process and to: Drain. The. Swamp. And unfortunately, government and its various institutions and branches are viewed with suspicion and precious little trust by majorities or significant pluralities of voters, depending on what specific institution we’re talking about.

But if the only way to ensure justice – and President Trump has every right to feel that many in government would love to see him impeached – is through unconstrained partisan behavior at every level of government, then why even have a Department of Justice? Why even have an AG? Why even have an Inspector General? It would all just be sham. And even if it already basically is a partisan sham – a geniune possibility – how do you regain voters’ trust?

It may be too late. Trust is at all time lows. We’re getting worked up about an inspector general who is investigating if the FBI and the DOJ followed due process with Hillary’s server investigation and now with Carter Page’s surveillance warrants courtesy of the FISA courts. We’re investigating the Russia investigations, rather than let them run their course and reveal that there may be no there there.

The government doesn’t trust itself, in other words.

Many Democrats still don’t trust the election results or they no longer believe in the electoral college. Republicans don’t trust key law enforcement and intel officials like James Comey or John Brennan. Gun owners don’t trust liberals’ intents with regard to their legally owned weapons. Progressives/liberals in turn don’t trust guns in any solution to school shootings that doesn’t limit itself to a state monopoly on violence.

And the President doesn’t trust his own AG.

Trump is not an isolated Nixonian figure. Trump is a sign of the times. And due process may end up being nothing more than a sham in the eyes of far too many voters nowadays by the time all these investigations and counter-investigations and investigations of investigations finally conclude. Or slowly swallow their own rattlers like a nest of crazed serpents, gorging on their own flesh.

Barbara Streisand thinks Trump is to blame for the school shooting in Parkland. According to her:

I think even that shooter was affected because Trump brings out the violence in people.

Ok Barbara, let’s look at some historical data on school shootings and then maybe we can blame some more people who were in the White House when the shootings happened. If you read Allie Nicodemio and Lia Petronio’s piece at this link https://goo.gl/tCHYtn you’ll see that school shootings are down since the 1990’s when Bill Clinton was president. A graph of mass school shootings which clusters the injured and the dead, shows that the late 90’s were one of the worst periods for school shootings in terms of fatalities and injuries. But Streisand wouldn’t think of connecting those shootings to Bill Clinton because of his policy positions (for moderate gun control).

The worst cluster of deaths is of course in 2012 with Sandy Hook. Obama’s reaction and his attempts at moving some sort of gun control legislation make him beyond criticism for what occurred on his watch, if you’re Streisand and most Democrats in general.

In other words, the data on actual school shootings under any given administration doesn’t matter, it’s your position on gun control that makes you an enabler of school shooters in Streisand’s world. If only we had gun control like in Norway, we could keep our schools safe. If only Hillary had been elected president, Parkland wouldn’t have happened.

Sorry Madame Streisand, Parkland was a ticking time bomb in the shape of Nikolas Cruz. Had the authorities – whether local Broward Police, FBI, or school officials – behaved the same way they actually did on February 14, 2018, with the same lack of reaction to the information they were given or the calls they had to take on Cruz himself, it is likely that Cruz would have been able to take weapons to school and shoot innocent students and teachers. Whether it was Hillary or Trump in the White House.

This is what Criminology, Law, & Public Policy Professor James Alan Fox of Northeastern University, and who put together the study linked above, says about mass (more than 4 victims) school shootings in America:

There is not an epidemic of school shootings.

HIs study showed that there are around 55 million school children in the United States and on average over the past 25 years about 10 students per year were killed by gunfire at school.

Yes, that’s 10 too many, but mass shootings and school shootings have occurred with a statistical consistency over the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now President Trump. We can argue about how effective gun control regulations would be or whether NRA policy positions will be nudged by Trump, but to say that Trump – unlike previous presidents – is somehow to blame for Parkland is ridiculous.

But go back further in time Madame Streisand. Wikipedia has a list of school shootings throughout most of America’s history. It may be less than foolproof or not perfectly authoritative, but it’s a bit of an eye opener. There have been school shootings for a long, long time. Vicious and vengeful or crazed or alcohol-fueled. Involving teachers and students and parents and outsiders. This did not start in Austin in 1966. For example:

  • In Louisiana in 1893, 4 were killed at a High School Dance, after a fight broke out and shooting started.
  • In West Virginia in 1898, 6 were killed when some young louts tried to break up a school performance and shooting and stabbings resulted.
  • In California in 1940, a fired teacher ran amok and killed 5 of his colleagues.

Did America collapse, rending itself into pieces as a result of these horrifying, violent tragedies? No, of course not. A solution to school shootings can be and will be found, but it has to bridge the enormous distance between a gun owner who may or may not be an NRA member, and a gun control activist in say, San Francisco. That means seeing each other as citizens of the same country and not as enemies from an opposing tribe. That in turn means that proposals like raising the age limit or banning bump stocks or improving data bases and screening procedures – steps suggested by Professor Fox – have to be seen as pragmatic steps that may help but may very well not prevent another school shooting from ever happening again.

So it also means being ready for the next one, not in terms of thinking legislators or police departments have always got it covered, but by being an active member of the community. If you’re a gun owner nowadays that means getting screamed at. But if the screaming can stop maybe we can notice the next crazed loner who’s showing signs of snapping. And try together to contain and perhaps avoid the next tragedy.

Mike Allen of Axios – who I think of as a former Obama official given his rabid necessity to defend the former president’s legacy by attacking the current administration constantly – thinks Trump is all powerful now. At least that’s the direct conclusion one is forced to draw after reading this:

President Trump has a rare political superpower – he can get Republicans to do what seems like the impossible:

Allen then lists evil things the superpower has achieved like getting the GOP to soften its stand on Putin – a debatable point if you look at this administrations actions and not Trump’s personal reticence to criticize Putin. Then he says this:

Every few months, friends, family and advisers like Ivanka Trump, Rupert Murdoch, and Gary Cohn fantasize that Trump will tap his superpower as a force for good – to pass a big infrastructure bill, fight global warming, strike an epic immigration deal.

Ok, so is this a blatant clue as to who does lots of leaking in the White House? I wouldn’t be surprised at all that Ivanka would chat constantly with certain key members of the press. But that’s not Mike Allen’s point. It’s this:

Now they (Ivanka, Murdoch, and Cohn) dream of new gun controls to protect schools, kids, and the innocent.

He could. No politician can move Rs to unthinkable places and provide more cover in the toughest of states or districts.

So now Mike Allen is telling us that President Trump is superman, if he only would take the kryptonite/guns out of the hands of evil/clinging/bible-reading American gun owners? Because SuperTrump could??

Or is it that Ivanka is telling Mike Allen that her dad is superman if only he would listen more to Ivanka instead of that annoying former general in the Chief of Staff’s office?

Look, it appears that President Trump will put together some modest gun control reforms, (bump stock bans, increasing the age limit for long guns, more background checks), that hopefully don’t anger his base too much and have the appearance of action after the growing momentum (yes, some of it helped by gun-control activists but it’s real regardless) gathering around the NeverAgain movement.

But one suspects that Ivanka and Cohn, and Murdoch, (who perhaps wants an Australian-style attempt at confiscation of guns), all want more than what President Trump will propose shortly.

Like the country, the White House appears deeply divided on the issue of gun control, and across America the divisions grow deeper with each shooting. It’s hard to say what could bridge that gulf. Because the NeverAgain movement is preaching to the converted, while GOP voters are far more negative on things like banning automatic weapons than they were back in the 90’s when the last ban was put in place, and then lifted.

Will Trump signal an important shift in the GOP’s gun-control policy positions? And what does that mean for Democrats and the upcoming midterms? Could gun-control be the issue that sweeps Mueller’s probe off center-stage? With SuperTrump himself handling the broom?

For the record, and it’s hardly surprising, Mike Allen thinks SuperTrump will stay in the phone booth as far as gun-control goes. That might be a mistake, because with President Trump nothing is certain until it’s done and signed.

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