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.

While proposals like banning bump stocks or tightening up guidelines for gun sales to mental health sufferers might be part of the post-Parkland shooting media landscape, there’s a far more direct argument being made by The Federalist‘s John Davidson, a veteran reporter who tends to think through issues to their logical conclusion. Despite the uncomfortable or horrifying ends that those thought processes might lead to.

This will be upsetting, I’m warning you.

Davidson uses a thought experiment done by author David Foster Wallace in Atlantic magazine in 2007 that had to do with 9/11, and the policies put in place in the wake of the terrifying and horrifying event in 2001. Foster asked the question:

What price are we willing to pay for freedom?

An overused word, because there is not much freedom left. But a word that is a cornerstone of any democratic state, and a loadstone for everyone who needs to believe and live at least some freedom in their lives, freedom that is not constrained by the ever expanding laws and regulations that govern every last little detail of one’s life nowadays in America, never mind places like Europe, or say Canada.

Basically Foster asked if we would be willing to accept a certain amount of deaths as a result of terrorism in exchange for less NSA surveillance, less TSA frisks and metal detectors at airports, less DHS bureaucrats with their rules, less spying on Americans; less wars abroad, and so on. Would we?

In other words, are those freedoms worth some of us dying for?

Most of us would likely say no. Wouldn’t we? Ever since progressive ideas – starting with Woodrow Wilson – have become the accepted goals of a modern and post-modern society, keeping us safe has become far more important than keeping us free.

Now, here’s the leap into the abyss that Davidson takes:

Would we be willing to consider the deaths of innocent young girls and boys with their lives ahead of them and their parent’s love nourishing and guiding them into the future, would we consider their deaths a price we would pay to keep the 2nd amendment in the constitution? Because that’s what it would take, following Davidson’s line of thought.

I have a 7 year old son. I ponder every syllable of the 2nd amendment and it’s nuanced construction that still provokes such debate over 200 years later. I am not a gun owner but I know full well that statistics show that gun-owning towns in Texas – for example – are some of the safest places to live in America. But when put in the terms Davidson puts it, I can’t say yes. My reptilian cortex (preservation of self or family) and my limbic cortex (emotional bonds) outweigh my neo-cortex’s reasoning. Of course, a gun owner would say that’s precisely why she or he upholds the 2nd.

Because – as Davidson points out, bravely following the logic of his argument – that’s what it’s going to take to make a difference. America adopting European style regulations and restrictions on gun ownership. Anything else is just dicking around the margins and is only a way to deflect the anger and pain and show some sort of action is being taken. If you’re serious about your belief that government is actually capable of eliminating these types of shootings – a debatable if noble belief – then wo/man up and say you want to repeal the 2nd amendment.

So, you repeal the 2nd amendment with it’s 27 words and it’s dependent clause that sets up and meshes with the main clause in such powerful and complex ways. Then what?

Yes, it would be harder for a Nikolaus Cruz to buy guns. People would weep in memory of their lost, loved and beautiful children, saying silently to their departed souls: we did something. It could prevent future shootings, but perhaps only to an unknown extent, more-so if combined with efficient and coordinated law enforcement and education policy.

But lone mass shooters are a poorly understood if much-studied phenomenon. We have to realize that it is an evil (or a sociopathic if you wish) that may not have that much to do with the 2nd amendment. We may have to do more. We may have to both accept this deranged behavior and try to contain it before it happens, and sometimes fail at that. That means an even more invasive state. Are you bipolar? Then you go on an FBI potential-shooters list! Things like that.

And of course, having banned the 2nd amendment – a process that will likely be slow and conflictive and may even push some states to threaten secession – you will face the problem of disarming tens of millions of law abiding citizens. Or grandfathering their right while denying others their repealed 2nd amendment rights. How will the courts – especially SCOTUS – deal with that? And if citizens don’t give up their guns?

And aside from the horror of school shootings, what about more mundane everyday shootings? Will a crime wave rise up and reverse decades of falling crime rates as a direct or even indirect result of the repeal of the 2nd amendment? Hard to tell at this point, but it’s certainly a possibility. Which would mean trading lower school shootings for more violent crime everywhere else.

So. Will the 2nd exist in 50 years? And if it’s gone by then, what will the constitution look like? What other parts will be repealed or modified beyond recognition? What will America look like?

These are some of the questions that the price of freedom demands we ask. Kudos to John Davidson for obliging us to ask them, at such a difficult moment.

Can’t Anyone Take a Joke?

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

We have two adult daughters. Both are married with children of their own. One of them lives overseas in Italy (don’t ask, it’s a long story, but it gives us a great place to visit), the other lives 10 minutes away in the same upper-middle-class suburban town as my wife and me, in the eastern part of the country. One of our local daughter’s neighbors is a broadcaster for a sports radio talk show. He and his wife are perfectly nice, normal people. Their young daughter plays with our daughter’s 6-year-old several times a week. They are remarkably unremarkable, regular in every sense.

A few days ago, he made an on-air a quip in which he mimicked the stereotypical speaking style of a foreign ethnic group. It was a joke, the kind of thing every one of us has done a thousand times, in reference to any one of a dozen or two well-known ethnic/national groups.

Well, apparently in this highly-charged, everyone’s a victim, incredibly thin-skinned and humorless environment in which we all now live, it wasn’t a joke. It was a heinous personal crime, betraying a shocking lack of sensitivity and cultural awareness on the part of the “joke” teller, injurious to the self-image of the target group to an irreversible degree. The morally-indignant brigade struck with Blitzkrieg-like (I probably can’t say that, either) suddenness and fury: No less than three very high-profile sponsors immediately—and very publicly—announced that they were pulling their advertising from the station. The station, trying desperately to get in front of what could be a PR disaster, instantly issued a public apology on all fronts—on-air, on social media and on its web site. And of course, they wasted no time announcing that the offending on-air host was suspended at once without pay, pending further investigation—with the implication that a firing might be imminent.

This relatively recent development of widespread social/professional victimhood coincides very closely with the rise in identity politics, particularly as practiced by liberal politicians and supported by the liberal media. Liberals seem to orient their political strategy and activity around the notion of identifying special interest groups based on age, ethnicity, gender and gender-orientation, religion, socio-economic class and education. Liberal politicians then convince the group in question that they’ve been victimized (either by society at large or by conservatives in particular) and so the liberal politician proposes a specific program to cure their ill and garner their vote. Humor has no place in the liberal paradigm. There is no innocent humor; there are only intentional, degrading insults, designed to maliciously hinder or prevent the group in question from advancing to their deserved standing in our culture.

Really? Every joke is meant to harm someone and prevent them from progressing?

I work in the music industry, in the marketing department of a very large company that owns and manufactures several very well-known brands of electronic musical instruments and keyboards, DJ gear, recording equipment and musical composition computer software. It’s a “hip” company—everyone is into music and we have frequent contact and interactions with today’s biggest recording artists and DJs (arranging endorsement deals, loaner equipment, etc.). As the senior marketing person (both in age and tenure), I supervise the marketing department. Our department is so diverse, the generals of the Politically Correct Army should pin medals on us. You name the gender, ethnicity/race, age group and sexual orientation, and we have them.

Connected by our love of music, our common professional drive for marketing/sales success in a highly competitive industry and our shared familiarity and interest in the gear itself, we all get along great. Pick your favorite cliché and it fits: a well-oiled machine, a winning team, an engine firing on all cylinders, whatever. They all apply.

About a year ago, I began telling a quick joke at the end of the day once or twice a week, to send people off with a smile. I have that public-speaking “performance knack,” and it’s really become something of a deeply-entrenched tradition now. People come from all over the building, not just marketing. Everyone waits for it. “Joke today?” “Do we get one today?”

Most of the jokes are squeaky-clean and decidedly un-ethnic. Not all of them, however. There are a lot of Jewish jokes, a never-ending stream of Yo Momma jokes and the occasional good-natured (never distasteful or nasty) off-color joke. When a joke is going to stray off the straight-and-narrow path, I preface it with a humorous disclaimer:

“This joke may be construed as being ever-so-slightly off-color or ethnically-insensitive in nature. If anyone here feels that such a joke contributes to a hostile work environment or hearing it would be at all unwelcome, I invite you to avail yourselves of this opportunity to vacate the area. I will take it as explicit approval anyone who chooses to stay.”

People wait for the disclaimer itself, it’s so dry and tongue-in-cheek. But I do say it, and it’s “on the record,” so to speak. By the way, everyone always stays. Everyone, always.

Then the joke follows. Our 34-year-old female marketing coordinator is the most disappointed of all when the joke that day isn’t going to be off-color. No one laughs harder than our African-American brand managers when I put on my exaggerated Black affectation and do a rapid-fire string of “Yo Mammas.” (I’m a middle-aged white Jewish guy, so it is particularly funny, I can assure you.)

People are people. We can all tell when we’re being seriously disrespected and when it’s just a routine situation. My feeling is that we’re united by things like humor, personal/emotional connections to other people, shared interests, and professional drive far, far more than we’re separated by any differences in ethnicity, age or gender/orientation.

It was a joke on that radio station. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Let’s get more jokes into our everyday lives, and let’s take the transparently-calculated over-sensitivity to well-intentioned jokes out of politics and the media. No joking.

 

 

The Grand Immigration Debate has begun, under a deadline that may not be deadline, and with several competing plans, some of which we don’t have all the details yet. And it all may be for naught in the end anyway, as anything that can muster 60 votes in the Senate (which means at least and likely more than 9 Democrat senators voting in favor) will have a hard time passing the House, which is whipping up its own plan at the same time.

Then there’s a couple of judges – U.S. District Court Judge Garaufis in Brooklyn and U.S. District Judge William Alsup in California – who have placed injunctions on President Trump’s executive order that ended Obama’s executive order that created D.A.C.A. With the Supreme Court about to rule this Friday on whether to directly hear the government’s appeal against the Alsup injunction; or to let the case percolate up through the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Does that clear it all up? Let’s take a closer look. Here are some of the proposed plans:

  • The Secure and Succeed Act 2018, sponsored by Iowa’s Grassley and Arkansas’ Cotton. It’s a Four PIllar Plan: Pillar 1 Border Security with $25 billion for a “border wall system” (talk about covering all angles) and lots of specific security tightening measures, including enacating Kate’s Law; Pillar 2 ends chain migration; Pillar 3 cancels the Visa Lottery; and Pillar 4 provides a 10-12 year path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million Dreamers. Trump likes it seeing it’s close to what the White House has proposed.
  • The Senate Bi-partisan bill, sponsored by Collins and perhaps Jeff Flake and perhaps Tim Kaine and perhaps Don Rounds and who knows who else but not Lindsey Graham who will not support a “narrow” bill which means kicking out at least one or two of the GOP pillars in the Secure and Succeed Act.
  • Coons and McCain have a proposal that would give legal status to Dreamers without any money – at least not right away – for border security or wall construction. Not a serious contender at this point.
  • The Goodlatte bill in the House is Secure and Succeed plus. The plus being plans to force employers to ensure they hire legals through an E-Verify program as well as authorizing the Department of Justice to withhold grants from sanctuary cities. It would also include an agricultural guest worker program which people like Bernie Sanders liken to “slavery.”

Will Secure and Succeed pass the Senate? That’s a tough call and if it does it almost certainly will be watered down to get Democrat votes and reach 60 votes over all. And if the House Goodlatte bill passes (no Democrat will vote for it in the House so only 22 House Republicans can defect) that means a large gap between the Senate and the House on what kind of solution to the Dreamers and immigration they each see as viable. Immigration has been radicalized and weaponized by the left, and arguably by some on the alt-right side of things. It’s no longer about the laws on the books. It’s about painting the other side as racist or as un-American. This kind of debate cannot be done in a week, if ever.

Please Don’t Blame the Liberal

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Why is it that liberal politicians and liberal causes always seem to escape severe criticism and close scrutiny while their conservative counterparts are continually fighting off one allegation after another, no matter how fanciful and misleading those allegations might be? The standards to begin an investigation into rumored conservative wrongdoing appear to be essentially non-existent, while the requirement for serious media attention into liberal misdeeds must be something more ironclad than a non-Photoshopped image of a person standing over a body holding the dripping knife.

Some recent examples:

Uranium One

Hillary Clinton’s Uranium One mess seems pretty significant, doesn’t it? Supposedly, she facilitated the sale of some 20% of American uranium and mining rights (through a Canadian intermediary) to a Russian firm in exchange for three million dollars to be paid to the Clinton Foundation. If true, it looks to be a clear case of “pay-to-play” influence peddling, done while Hillary was still Secretary of State.

The United States imports more than 90% of its uranium, so it’s a rare commodity already. We produce very little ourselves. Why we would sell off such a significant portion of the material used to make nuclear bombs and nuclear reactors to our most dangerous worldwide strategic adversary defies even the smallest semblance of logic.

The details of the development of the entire transaction were provided in minute detail to three Congressional committees by an FBI informant who had followed the Russian and American players for several years. His account of what happened certainly has passed the threshold needed to take a closer look into the matter. The subject is deadly serious to our national security, as opposed to its being merely political rooting points. The details provided by the FBI informant are credible enough to take seriously. The American players involved are very high profile. It merits “investigation,” no? Investigation. Not pre-judgment, but certainly investigation.

Me too

Another pet liberal cause is the “Me Too” initiative, where women who’ve been subjected to past gender-related pressures and improper treatment have been encouraged to come forward with their stories under the #metoo hashtag, naming names and exposing these past offenses for all their inglorious unseemliness. That this long-term objectionable behavior is now coming to light is a very good thing. Gender-based oppression and discrimination has absolutely no place in civilized society and many of the actions that have been reported are far past “shameful.” They are intolerable and inexcusable.

However, as is often the case, liberal politicians and the liberal mainstream media pick and choose who to vilify and who to let off the hook. When California Democratic assemblywoman Christina Garcia—a central figure in the Me Too movement—was cited as accosting a male staffer, it went largely unreported. The liberal #metoo narrative is all about male mistreatment of women, not about inappropriate sexual pressures in general.

Bette Midler-Rand Paul Tweet

During the recent budget negotiation, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul objected to the budget proposal, threatening to derail the bi-partisan agreement and trigger another interminable Government shutdown. In the short time that the agreement was in question, entertainer Bette Midler (is she actually Joy Behar? Has anyone ever seen them in the same room at the same time?) tweeted, “Where is Rand Paul’s neighbor when we need him?”, a reference to the recent attack on Rand Paul by his neighbor. Apparently, Midler thinks Paul should have been attacked for opposing the budget agreement. A conservative never could’ve gotten away with “joking” about violence being committed against a liberal. But violence against a conservative? Don’t blame the liberal. The joke is sloughed off and quickly forgotten.

Liberals do and say things all day long that a conservative could never do, and the liberal mainstream media follows suit, ascribing crime-of-the-century seriousness to any conservative transgression—real or imagined—while poo-pooing away liberal missteps with only the slightest acknowledgement. Most liberal transgressions are covered by the liberal media in a bare-minimum fashion: Just enough so CNN or ABC can claim to have done their journalistic duty, while stopping far short of actually doing any damage or raising the issue’s visibility to the point where the casually-attentive news consumer might notice.

The preceding few examples are just the tip of the iceberg of conservative “crime” and liberal “innocence.” A concerted effort will easily identify dozens and dozens of additional examples. The issues will change tomorrow, and the examples of “never blame the liberal” will change accordingly. Yet one thing remains constant: Conservative politicians and causes are criticized and harangued to a far greater degree than liberal politicians and causes.

However, this is not an article on the fact that that happens. Instead, the real question is, of course, why? That the mainstream media is liberally-biased is a matter of record, well-known and not in question. Most of the editors and news managers are products of college journalism programs from ultra-liberal schools like Columbia or Harvard or Northwestern or Boston University, so the stream of liberal mainstream media gatekeepers is constant. That’s widely-accepted and it’s not going to change any time soon.

Is there a more fundamental reason why conservatives continually allow themselves to be made into punching bags for liberal politicians and liberal media bias? Keeping the boxing references, in boxing, effective, skilled aggression usually contributes to a winning effort. “Effective aggression” does not mean wild swinging, but rather an organized attack, where one boxer’s approach keys in on the other’s weaknesses and shortcomings. As the boxing cliché goes, “Don’t get beaten to the punch.” Strike first and strike effectively.

Liberals are quite good at this. They continually look for openings, for political weaknesses, then they strike and exploit those weaknesses, and whether or not the thrust of the liberals’ attack has anything to do with an important policy issue or not is immaterial. In contrast, conservatives unfailingly make the mistake of thinking that the merits of the issue at hand will carry the day and persuade the voters.

Here is a possible reason why liberals avoid blame and constantly have conservatives on the defensive. This explanation will no doubt be met with howls of protest by liberals, either because they disagree or recognize its utter truth and are too embarrassed to admit it:

Liberals look at everything in political terms. Everything is a political contest, a political situation, a public perception confrontation to be won or lost. Everything. Liberals orient all their activities and communications around that premise. An excellent example—absolute proof, really—is the way that liberals view the voters and how they craft their election strategy. Liberals look at the electorate as nothing more than a collection of sub-groups of special interests. If they can identify and satisfy the desires of those individual groups, then they win the election.

Liberal politicians don’t see a unified country with common interests; rather they see Blacks, Hispanics, immigrants (illegal and legal alike), gays, transgenders, women, Jews, environmentalists/Warmers, millennial college students, seniors, unionized workers and teachers, the pro-choicers, and welfare/food stamp recipients. Liberals endeavor to craft specific policies and entitlements for each group (funded mostly by taxing the underserving “rich”) and thus win those groups’ votes with Government-funded programs that benefit them directly.

Conservatives don’t think in such callous political terms. They tend not to promise specific groups an explicit “reward” for voting for them (there are a few exceptions, like the gun lobby, but very few). The basic conservative approach is to create policies that help the country as a whole. Theirs is the “rising tide lifts all boats” philosophy. A less-restrictive regulatory business climate that leads to more hiring helps everyone—black/white, male/female, straight/gay—but it doesn’t have the immediacy of being able to address group ‘x’ and say, “I’ve created this program just for you.”

Liberals think in definitive political terms: win the public perception battle right there and then, the one that’s happening that day. Master the 24-hour news cycle. Dominate that day’s headlines, the trending stories. Investigate your opponents, whether there’s evidence to justify an investigation or not. Make damning allegations, whether they’re accurate or not. Perpetuate negative stereotypes against the opposition party, in order to keep your special-interest groups loyal. Never concede even the slightest sliver of credit to the other side. Always cast everything they do as being hurtful to your constituency. Always remain blameless. If anything goes wrong, it’s the conservatives’ fault. Blame them.

Liberals do this as naturally as breathing. They’ve been conditioned and trained by 75 years of post-WWII pandering to special interests in the mass-media age as to how to win those perception battles. They win most of them. Conservatives—they of the ill-conceived, hopelessly naïve ‘the voters will see the merits of the issue’ bent—are clueless as to how to fight the liberals’ fight. Conservatives are always beaten to the punch, always late to answer the bell.

Generally, the only time a conservative wins a post-WWII presidential election is when the liberal is either patently unlikeable or such a buffoon that even liberal shenanigans can’t improve their image. However, even in defeat, it’s not the liberal’s fault. Their excuses are put forth repeatedly and forcefully, and enough of the electorate, the punditry and the media buy into it such that the liberals’ record of never being at fault continues virtually unblemished.

 

The Democrats have moved their retreat to the Capitol complex. Which means they’re not moving anywhere over the next few days. Which means that maybe, or even likely, a shutdown will be avoided with full-year defense funding balanced by Community Health Centers and a lifting for 2 years of spending caps. In other words with lots and lots of spending.The House has just passed their version of the spending bill, but the Senate has yet to add their touches, which may be significant, if the leaks about lifting spending caps turn out to be true.

Meanwhile, Christopher Steele – the British former MI6 spy of Dossier fame – apparently also wrote a memo which is now being called the October memo. Apparently because a few things about this memo – which listed Steele’s concerns about Trump’s campaign and alleged connections with Russia – are rather unclear at this point.

  • In The Hill’s piece on the October memo by Jonathan Easly and Katie Bo Williams they write: The memo, dated October 19, was given to Steele by a contact at the State Department and was based on information provided by “a friend of the Clintons” Grassley said. So again, Steele is not the source just like when he was a third or fourth or even fifth-hand transmitter of information from his Russian contacts for the Steele Dossier.
  • The contact at State seems to have been Jonathan Winer, former Special Envoy to Libya and former deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement.
  • The actual sources for the October memo are two Clinton aides from the 90’s: Sydney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer, according to unnamed GOP officials.
  • On Sunday Talk, former Obama Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said this: Chris had a friend at the State Department and he offered us that reporting free so that we could also benefit from it. … He passed to two to four short pages of notes of what he was finding, and our immediate reaction to that was this is not in our purview. This needs to go to the FBI if there is any concern here that one candidate or the election as a whole might be influenced by the Russian federation.
  • In other words, a deputy assistant secretary of state hands Steele some information, perhaps from Clinton confidants. Steele makes notes and hands those notes back to the State Department, who then contact the FBI.

Does this strike you as just a tad circular? And unverified? Just asking.

So now it looks like Nunes and the House intel committee want to turn their sights towards the State Department while Schiff and the Democrats cry breach of House committee rules. And another chapter gets started in the Trump Russia saga.

 

The “Real” Russia Collusion: Oil

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Russian collusion is indeed a major issue threatening the well-being of our country. It’s just not the Russia collusion that’s been bandied about in the news for over a year. No, it’s Russia colluding with OPEC to intentionally raise world crude oil pricing. That is a real threat to our economy and living standard, unlike that other, totally imaginary Russia collusion.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, crude oil prices have been on an upward tear for the better part of the last two years. From a low in the high-20’s/barrel range in February of 2016, WTI (West Texas Intermediate) closed at $65.45 on Friday Feb 2nd. Goldman Sachs goes so far as to say that North Sea Brent crude oil (the other benchmark oil besides WTI) will likely top $80 within six months.

WTI generally runs about 5% lower, so look for WTI to be around $76/bbl by the summer of 2018.

Before we look at why this is happening, it’s a good idea for a quick refresher on the four main drivers of crude oil/retail gasoline pricing. Why is oil and gasoline rising? What’s happened?  First, let’s dispense with any simplistic “the oil companies are conspiring to raise prices” nonsense.  That’s not what’s happening. Oil is a commodity, traded on the world market like any other commodity, such as gold, copper, natural gas, diamonds, etc. Oil is subject to market forces like every other commodity is.

There are four main factors that influence the price of crude oil-retail gasoline on the world market:

  1. World supply/demand
  2. Exploration/extraction activity and technology
  3. Refining/delivery capacity
  4. Geopolitical influences (Iran, North Korea, terrorism, etc.)

(There’s also a 5th factor: currency value, or the “exchange rate,” since oil is traded in dollars. However, this is normally a peripheral factor that only shades oil pricing a little bit one way or the other.)

Today’s situation is primarily one of tightening supply coupled with greater demand as the worldwide economy, led by the U.S., continues to improve. See #1 above. When the world was awash with over-abundant oil in 2015-6, with loaded tankers sitting by the dozens offshore, unable to unload their cargo for lack of empty storage facilities, it seemed as if low-priced crude oil and $1.899/gallon gasoline was a permanent fixture on the US economic landscape. Never again would we be beholden to the arbitrary whims and evil manipulations of greedy, anti-American, anti-Semitic Arab oil sheiks.

The over-supply of oil was primarily because of the shale oil boom (fracking) in the U.S. With newly-developed exploration and extraction techniques, America was finally able to tap the previously unreachable mother lode of crude oil trapped in the huge shale rock deposits in the western and southern parts of the continental U.S. With a huge influx of additional oil being delivered to the world market, supply exceeded demand and world pricing plummeted.

At first, OPEC was unsure how to respond. Initially, Saudi Arabia actually increased their oil production in an effort to lower world pricing even more and drive the U.S. shale producers out of business (since shale oil has a far higher cost of production than Saudi oil, which is easy to extract).

That didn’t work. Shale extraction technology got better and better and the Saudis were never able to force pricing down far enough to permanently hurt the American frackers.

So, they resorted to the tried-and-true economic dictum of supply and demand. Led by the Saudis, OPEC instituted strict oil production quotas to limit the amount of oil that they would supply to the market. Restricting supply would re-balance the market and bring world oil demand and supply back into equilibrium, thus raising prices as market forces began to have their normal effect.

However, Saudi Arabia is only one of the top three oil producers in the world. Although the combined oil output of the 14 OPEC member countries is certainly significant (over 40%), the other two top three countries are the U.S. and Russia, each of whose oil output is roughly equal to that of Saudi Arabia (OPEC’s largest member). The Saudis convinced Russia to voluntarily join them in their production quota. With all of OPEC now joined by another top-three producer—Russia—the world’s oil supply has come down considerably, much faster than anticipated. Pricing is on pace to more than triple from its 2016 low and the impact on our economy and spending sentiment will be significant.

Note that the recent rise in pricing has essentially nothing to do with reason #4—terrorism and geo-political tension. As of right now, there are no hostilities with North Kores to rattle the world commodity markets, Israel is not at war with anyone and since the institution of the Iranian nuclear deal a few years ago, Iran is once again supplying oil to the world market without any problem. So the terrorism front is quiet right now.

The rise in price is all pretty much #1—supply and demand, with supply being restricted by the OPEC-Russia agreement. That fact points out the truth that even though total US oil production exceeds 10m bpd, the U.S. alone can’t determine the ultimate price of oil on the world market. We can be an influential factor—larger now, to be sure, than 20 years ago before the shale boom—but the U.S. can’t control oil pricing by itself.

Nor does the potential of future alternative fuels have much influence on today’s pricing. Some industry observers have opined that EVs (electric vehicles) will reduce worldwide oil demand by the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s entire current oil production by 2040. But that, in reality, is just a random individual guess and such statements have no actual impact on today’s pricing.

Applying the rough approximate numerical multiplier of 4x to WTI crude to get U.S retail gasoline pricing, that means that U.S retail gasoline will be above the psychologically-important $3.00 mark (4 x 76 = $3.04) by this summer. People see the price of gasoline on the corner gas station every day as they leave the house. It’s like a daily “scoreboard” telling them whether they’re winning or losing their personal economic game. When Joe/Jane middle-class sees $2.27, they feel like they’re winning, like they can spend a little more somewhere else, like things are going in the right direction.

When they see gasoline rise very quickly, seemingly for no good reason, to $3.04—especially after a prolonged period well under $2.20—it’s a very negative sign. Maybe things are getting worse and I haven’t been paying attention. Maybe I should play things safe for a while, keep things close to the vest. Let’s cut down on dinners out and tell Johnny, sorry, no new sneakers just yet. Yeah, I know my brother Bill finally got a job again after two years, but let’s not get too carried away.

Rising oil pricing impacts everything at retail, in the construction and agriculture sectors and in manufacturing, because everything is delivered from the factory to the seller and from the seller to the end user by a transportation device that uses an oil-derived fuel. Milk, sushi, iPhones, lumber and fertilizer are all made and delivered with the assistance of oil-based products. Rising oil pricing also negatively impacts business and domestic heating and utility pricing. It’s like a tax that takes billions and billions of dollars out of the economy, wrecks the exuberant business outlook and shreds consumer confidence. Rapidly-rising oil pricing is a five-run uprising in the 9th inning of a game you were leading 8-1 after eight innings. Now you’ll just be happy to hang on for the win.

Consumer and business sentiment is central to the spending that drives our economy, the very backbone that supports it. Anything that puts a damper on that sentiment will drag down spending and hence drag down economic growth along with it.

Russian “collusion” is indeed a big threat to our country’s well-being: It’s the collusion between OPEC and Russia to restrict the world’s oil supply and drive up pricing. It’s working and the tangible, undeniable, clear-as-day proof is posted in big numbers on every street corner. Maybe the media should pay some attention to that.

 

Pieces of the Same Puzzle: SOTU, DACA, FBI

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

There are three issues swirling around in the news lately that may appear to be unrelated: The recently-delivered State of the Union (SOTU) address, the ongoing controversy over the DACA immigrants, and the about-to-be-released FBI memo regarding the basis of the FISA warrants in the Russia collusion investigation. They are not unrelated. Quite the opposite: They are all incredibly important pieces of the same puzzle. Let’s look at them individually and then put the pieces together into one big picture.

Piece 1—The State of the Union Address

President Trump, by all accounts, delivered a very direct, surprisingly inclusive, clearly-America-first State of the Union address last week. Polls indicate Republican and Independent approval of the speech in the 75-80% range and even Democratic voters gave him a mid-40% approval rating. On issue after issue, he pointed to clear evidence of the success of his policies and approaches, coupled with a clear vision for moving the country forward.

His harshest critics, the ones who will never concede to him even the smallest smidgeon of credit, the ones to whom he is an “embarrassment,” an “aberration,” had their minds made up about his SOTU speech before he uttered even a single word. Their take on his dynamic, inspiring performance was—sadly, predictably— “Well, he did a pretty good job of reading a speech that someone else wrote, but in my mind, he doesn’t deserve credit for that.”

As if every president doesn’t “read a speech that someone else wrote.” The president may or may not actually write a majority (or any!) of the speech itself, but regardless, the speech is directly, accurately reflective of the president’s policies, plans and future strategies. The president edits, shapes, tweaks and ultimately approves the speech. The SOTU speech is the president’s speech, regardless of the actual authorship.

The written/spoken line, “We’re going to keep Guantanamo Bay open” was as indisputably Trump’s as “I’m going to close Guantanamo Bay” was Obama’s. Regardless of who originally wrote it, those lines represent each president’s intended policy and they each deserve the credit or criticism as appropriate. That’s the way it is with the entire SOTU speech…and with every speech given by any president, for that matter.

However, much to his opponents’ unending irritation, President Trump has an unambiguous, clear, and yes, inspiring manner of expression. He is capable of reaching and convincing a significant portion of the undecided “casually-attentive” voting bloc. That talent was clearly on display this past January 30th. The sophisticated liberal sect and their liberal media allies would never succumb to such a simplistic, transparent presentation. Instead, they purport to see right through his rhetoric, as if it was nothing more than the intentionally-misleading, disingenuous pap of an old-time snake-oil huckster.

Unfortunately for the Democrats in Congress and CNN/MSNBC, President Trump pointed to much success for which he can justifiably take credit:

  • Extremely low unemployment, especially among Blacks and Hispanics
  • Dramatic stock market gains, to the direct tangible benefit of individual investors, pension participants and educational savings account owners
  • The decimation of ISIS as a direct result of new military Rules of Engagement instituted under Trump
  • The personal and corporate tax cuts, resulting in immediately greater individual disposable income and greatly increased corporate investment and expansion.

Piece 2—The DACA Compromise

President Trump is on the cusp of pulling off a political coup by giving into a key Democratic demand—the acceptance of DACA. Not just the 800k actual DACA persons themselves, but 1.8 million, which includes giving unequivocal amnesty to extended family members of the so-called Dreamers. Democratic Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, fresh off his humiliation in the ill-fated Schumer Shutdown, is now in the uncomfortable position of having to take “yes” for an answer on the Dreamers in return for agreeing to funding the Wall, ending chain migration, instituting a merit-based immigration system and ending the visa lottery system. The American public favors all of these positions.

Trump has artfully maneuvered the Democrats into either accepting what the public views as a perfectly reasonable compromise to the hitherto vexing immigration conundrum, or, with a refusal to compromise, exposing what many feel is the real Democratic aim on immigration: to simply maximize the importation of future low-income/Government-dependent Democratic voters by turning a blind eye to illegal immigration.

President Trump’s strategy has yet to bear fruit and there is no guaranty that it will. The Democrats’ stubbornness and willingness to avoid working with President Trump is incredibly deeply-ingrained, bolstered by their never-lessening resentment over his having beaten the anointed Hillary and their certainty that their liberal media allies—no, stronger—accomplices will sway public opinion in their favor regardless of the Democrats’ actions.

Piece 3—The FBI Memo

The Democrats’ ace-in-the-hole is, of course, the Russia investigation. If the investigation can somehow uncover some conclusive, destructive evidence of Trump Administration’s legal wrongdoing, then the Democrats will have succeeded in dissembling and delegitimizing the Trump presidency and, as a bonus, ruining the Republican brand for several voting cycles to come. By which time, of course, all those extra imported Democratic voters will be securely in place, ensuring comfortable Democratic national electoral victories in perpetuity.

The Democrats’ real fear about the FBI memo being released is that it will show the FBI to have acted in a corrupt, overtly-partisan manner that tried to influence the 2016 election in Hillary’s favor. If that is shown to be true, it removes the legal basis for the investigation of Trump in the first place, exposing the Democrats’ blatantly political motives for the entire matter.

Without their “collusion” investigation, the Democrats are shorn of their ability to distract the public and thus it lays bare the fact that they are not cooperating with President Trump—purely for political reasons—on an immigration policy with which the public approves. Bolstered by the extremely strong public approval of his SOTU speech, President Trump’s DACA proposal is now much stronger than it would have been.

If the released FBI memo badly damages the Democrats’ anti-Trump activities, it sets in motion for them a nightmare domino scenario that will derail their efforts at unfairly manipulating public opinion and forces them to actually settle the immigration matter—something they are loathe to do. Absent their treasure-trove of illegal-immigrants-turned-future-Democratic-voters, the election process will return to something of a level playing field, issues-oriented contest. A nightmare indeed for the Democrats.

It all fits together so neatly. The completed puzzle presents a crystal-clear picture: For the Democrats, it’s all about collecting votes by any means possible and gaining power. Maximizing illegal immigration increases the number of future Democratic voters. Ruining Trump’s image with a ginned-up investigation wrecks the Republican brand and increases the number of future Democratic voters.  A strong Trump SOTU address coupled with his sane DACA proposal and the danger posed by the release of the FBI memo does not add up to a pretty picture for the Democrats.

 

Warren Henry is the pen name of an Illinois attorney who writes an annoyingly compact and nuanced email that I receive. Annoying to me, because apparently his purpose is to “question his priors” and his emails often contain enough OTOH’s to leave one begging for a positive affirmation that does so in no uncertain terms. He is undoubtedly a very thorough lawyer.

One of his latest missives deals with technology – social media in particular – and the dangerous collapsing of institutions in terms of trust, but also in terms of how they are run. He links to a wonderfully written if alarmist article in Buzzfeed by the site’s political editor Katherine Miller titled: Donald Trump, #Me Too, Facebook, And The Breakdown Of Institutional Power. In her article she links the sex abuse scandals by the powerful towards those who lack it, to the general degradation of institutions:

Smash the exterior of an institution and you may reveal catacombs of cruelty, shame, sickness, all the terrible things people with power can do to those without it in the corridor of a hotel suite, inside an office, inside a home, in small places you feel you are not meant to be.

After wondering why our institutions do not foster and protect virtue, or kindness (she leads her list with the church and the military, two of the institutions that try to do precisely that and have not fallen nearly as far as somewhere like Hollywood or mainstream media or Congress) she turns to the new institutions of social media:

And then there’s all of us, consuming this weird year through our phones, living inside new institutions that are mind-blowing in scale and horribly ill-equipped for the task of handling us.

Or is it that we are ill-equipped to handle the way we interact on social media platforms and the way we seek out information on them? The connected global village (to use a phrase that is so quaint nowadays it seems hopelessly archaic) has turned out to be a rather toxic place. Back when people didn’t laugh at you for using phrases like “global village”, radical academic Lawrence Lessig wrote this:

Ours is the age of cyberspace. It, too, has a regulator. This regulator, too, threatens liberty. But so obsessed are we with the idea that liberty means “freedom from government” that we don’t even see the regulation in this new space. We therefore don’t see the threat to liberty that this regulation presents.

This regulator is code — the software and hardware that make cyberspace as it is … For unless we can understand how cyberspace can embed, or displace, values from our constitutional tradition, we will lose control over those values.

I can barely write a few (mostly wrong) lines of code in Python or HTML, but let me just say it’s really the software we’re talking about here when we say code. No kidding huh? But to the bigger point: Code is Law. That seems to be the creed for hacktivists whether related to Wikileaks or to the fact that you were dumb/unlucky enough to let someone hack your Ether coin. Code is law. And if you’re good at code, and good at a little psychology and bithneth, you build platforms that acquire a critical mass that makes them dominant players in today’s world. And where the engineering-dominant culture, according to another Buzzfeed article by Charlie Warzel, is:

… one that views nearly all content as agnostic, and everything else as a math problem.

Ok. Really? What scares you more? Content viewed as agnostic? Isn’t that the liberty that Lessig was crying out for back in 1999? Or non-binary transgender queer activists threatening you physically if you work at Google and don’t agree with their world views, and them deciding what content you should see?

Katherine Miller ends her article with the following words:

Whatever it is, now we are free to tear apart every last institution until every last vestige of that kind of pain is gone, hurtling towards some new future where you can only hope the kindness in our hearts wins out.

Allow me to dissent from Miller’s apocalyptic and poetic vision. Let us hope instead that the founder’s sober wisdom on the nature of mankind provides us a guide with how to live with social media in an age of partisan division and conflicting values. And to use that wisdom to sort out how to prevent another Russian or other foreign assault on America’s political system and it’s values. To do that we need to know more than we do right now on what happened this past election campaign. And to be able to come to some sort of judgement on what in fact happened. We’re not there yet.

Also, “liberty” and “code” are truly now inseparable. They will be part of every debate from here on in. Code is becoming law. But law will, or should, still lead us.