Tuesday, March 27, 2018

School shootings produce protest march, which produces what, exactly?

An unspeakable tragedy, carried out by a maniac who had given people close to him – as well as health practitioners and law enforcement – ample warning of his deficient mental state, has set loose so many reactions. Some of these reactions are natural and necessary, like grief, sorrow, and anger. Others, not so much.

Certainly, citizens of any age have the right, and should be encouraged to express their beliefs in appropriate ways about issues they feel are important. And hundreds of thousands of school-age kids recently marched to protest gun violence. It is a good thing for America’s future that this many young people have enough interest in an issue to strongly support a solution.

Whether it will accomplish positive results, however, depends upon how successful the protesters are in convincing the nation to accept their solutions, and that depends upon how sensible and potentially effective their solutions are.

Some of the prominent youngsters in this movement are smart, thoughtful and sincere, while others are merely reactionaries, and still others have become fond of the spotlight and the adoration that comes with it. It is difficult to tell which of these groups comprises the majority.

When you examine the solutions favored by the protesters, gun control measures and blaming the National Rifle Association (NRA) lead the list. These two targets appear to be the result of immature and faulty thinking, if thinking occurred at all, or perhaps encouragement from special interest groups. And trumpeting them alienates quite a large portion of the American people right off the bat.

Such gross miscalculations raise the question of just how much these young folks know about their country, its history, and the U.S. Constitution.  To find a real solution, one that does more than make some folks feel good, requires understanding the intricacies of the problem, and addressing them.

The shooter had mental problems, and some had known that for years.
But the failure of those who knew of his problems, and those of law enforcement and the other failures, were not caused by guns or the NRA.

The school, like most schools, was publicly known as a “gun-free zone,” which is an open invitation to someone like the shooter. Further, the school had insufficient security measures, as evidenced by the shooter’s ease of entering the building. And after he got in, there was absolutely no one inside that could confront him.

It seems like common sense that if you want to prevent school shootings, don’t let shooters come in. Beef up security so that only those who should be in the building are allowed in. The NRA would likely support such a measure very enthusiastically.

Sensible measures that address the actual problems – people with mental problems, inadequate security measures at entrances to the school and no armed security in the building – would likely have prevented this attack or ended it sooner.

And these solutions have the added advantage of not challenging areas of the Constitution’s protection of rights, or foolishly trying to pass the blame to an organization of approximately 5 million innocent, law abiding Americans.

Just because hundreds of thousands of teenage students feel strongly enough to protest a problem and lobby for a solution does not mean that their proposed solution should be adopted, or is the best one.

Further, this large protest is not without its share of irony. The marchers, who were protesting in support of gun bans, were protected by … good guys with guns. And at least one of the good guys had an AR-15, the weapon of choice of the shooter, and the target of the protesters, along with the NRA.

So, if protecting protesters with armed security, and protecting some elected officials and some well-known people with armed security makes sense, why not protect defenseless students with armed security at schools?

Too often, possible solutions that pop up quickly are lousy ideas. One such idea might be: If you want to stop school violence quickly, close down schools. That will stop violence immediately. Without gun-free zones that are shooting galleries: no school shootings. You don’t need expensive buildings and fleets of buses to carry kids back and forth. All schools will be online.

Is that a lousy idea?

And, is it a good thing that organizations and individuals with money got behind this movement and helped with organization, transportation and even the armed security personnel?

Who are they? What did they hope to achieve? Do they have an ultimate goal, and what is it?

Columnist Walter Williams has a far better idea of why school shootings occur: “Gun ownership is not our problem. Our problem is a widespread decline in moral values that has nothing to do with guns. That decline includes disrespect for those in authority, disrespect for oneself, little accountability for anti-social behavior, and a scuttling of religious teachings that reinforced moral values.”

No offense to those truly sincere students who want a solution, but Williams has a far more mature and scholarly grasp of the problem and its causes. Starting from his position is far more likely to produce a good solution to this problem.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

McCabe earned being fired, and things are getting more interesting

In late January FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe announced that he was resigning his position effective March 18, after being removed as deputy to Director Christopher Wray after Wray was appointed to the position that was previously held by Jim Comey. McCabe has had a dark cloud hanging over him for a while, and last Friday Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired him before his resignation took effect, denying McCabe his retirement benefits.

Sessions released a statement, saying, "Pursuant to Department Order 1202, and based on the report of the Inspector General [IG], the findings of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility [OPR], and the recommendation of the Department’s senior career official, I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately."

“McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor including under oath on multiple occasions,” Sessions continued. "The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and accountability. As the OPR proposal stated, 'all FBI employees know that lacking candor under oath results in dismissal and that our integrity is our brand,'" he said.

Reportedly, the IG report was based on statements McCabe made to his own agency that were not true, lies told to the agency of which he was second in command.

In response to his firing, McCabe said, "This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally.” Apparently, McCabe has been studying Hillary Clinton’s technique of blaming everything and everyone in the world for her problems, instead of herself.

McCabe might just continue to follow the Clinton Blame Motif and shift blame to the Russians, to Donald Trump, or even the dreaded Evil Unicorn, as things progress.

The tainting of the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals to which McCabe referred is a too-broad statement to begin with, but it has been clearly shown that people in the upper echelons of the FBI are the ones who have done the tainting, and not to all of the FBI, just the echelons they inhabit.

McCabe has single-handedly ruined his professional career, a man who rose to the number two position at the agency, and who was, as reported by Fox News, on Trump’s short list for the directorship.

Do his comments following his firing add weight to allegations of his anti-Trump behavior as FBI deputy director? Perhaps. Is it also a similar sign that Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) has offered McCabe a job, and if he takes it would extend his federal government service for at least long enough to restore his retirement benefits? Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) is reportedly also interested in hiring McCabe.

The interest of these lawmakers fits into the Republican narrative and criticism of McCabe as being too closely tied to the Democrats. Among the items on the Republican list is that McCabe’s wife received campaign donations for a 2015 Virginia Senate run from Clinton ally and former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, even as the Clinton email probe was underway by the FBI. That should have caused McCabe to recuse himself from the Clinton probe.

McCabe is also a central figure in the matter of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) abuses connected to the Russian collusion probe. He is said to have signed a FISA warrant that targeted former Trump campaign volunteer adviser Carter Page.

McCabe testified before a congressional committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISA court without the Steele dossier information. The Steele dossier was unverified, and financed as opposition research by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

The Hill reported on Saturday, “McCabe is accused of misleading investigators about allegedly giving information to a former Wall Street Journal reporter about the investigation of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton family’s charitable foundation. McCabe asserts in his post-firing statement that he not only had authority to ‘share’ that information to the media, but also did so with the knowledge of ‘the director.’ The FBI director at the time was Jim Comey.”

“I chose to share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal counselor,” McCabe said. “As deputy director, I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that. It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter.”

So, McCabe’s comment directly contradicts Comey’s congressional testimony last May. When asked if he had “ever been an anonymous source in news reports about matters relating to the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation,” or if he had “ever authorized someone else at the FBI to be an anonymous source in news reports about the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation,” Comey replied “never” and “no,” respectively.

The upper echelons of the FBI appear to contain an Office of Duplicity staffed by, in addition to McCabe, FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strozk, FBI attorney Lisa Page, and other fellow travelers that allowed politics to trump their integrity.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Critics say Trump’s tariffs will bring on a trade war, but will they?

President Donald Trump continues with his “America First” campaign, announcing a move that is aimed at the tilted playing field on international trade. Critics say Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum coming into the country will usher in a trade war, and it will harm America.

However, the fact is that we are already in a trade war; we have been it for many years; and we are losing it.

Most Americans probably don’t realize that we are in a trade war because, first, they don’t really follow such things, and neither do the major news media. Also, when a situation exists for a long enough time, it becomes “normal.” That is the case with the uneven tariff situation with other nations, and quite a few of them are our allies.

"We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others,” Trump told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We support free trade, but it needs to be fair and it needs to be reciprocal. Because, in the end, unfair trade undermines us all."

 “We cannot get our product in [to the European Union], Trump said in a TV interview in late January. “It’s very, very tough. And yet they send their product to us - no taxes, very little taxes. It’s very unfair.” Germany was singled out as a particularly guilty nation.

Trump points out how this has created America’s huge trade gap with foreign countries. “In 2017, the U.S. trade gap leaped 12.1 percent to a nine-year high of $566 billion,” as reported by MarketWatch, which attributed the rise  “to high oil prices and also to a strengthening economy. When Americans are more prosperous, they tend to buy more imported goods.”

“The latest statistics released on March 18 [2017] by the BEA [Bureau of Economic Analysis] show that for every dollar that the United States bought from China in 2009, the Chinese government only let its people buy 28 cents of American products,” reports “Although the Chinese economy was growing by 8.7 percent, the Chinese government managed to shrink Chinese imports of American goods and services.”

The report states “China still maintains high duties on some products that compete with sensitive domestic industries. For example, the tariff on large motorcycles is 30 percent. Likewise, most video, digital video, and audio recorders and players still face duties of approximately 30 percent. Raisins face duties of 35 percent.” However, China did cut tariffs on a few minor items last November.

Trump has also criticized China's currency manipulations, which increase costs of American goods and services by 25 to 40 percent.

As The Washington Times reported last December, “India is still using high tariffs and other protectionist measures to keep U.S. manufacturing goods from entering its domestic market.” The result: America has a $32 billion trade deficit with India, the second largest country on Earth. The Times concludes, “It’s a problem that the Trump administration needs to address — and soon.”

Cars and electronics are largely the fuel for Japan’s $69 billion trade advantage, America’s second largest trade deficit, after China’s. All told, eleven nations impose tariffs on America’s Harley-Davidson motorcycles with engines over 800cc: India at 100 percent; China at 60 percent; and Thailand at 30 percent.  And the EU has had steep tariffs on U.S. imports for years.

To all of that, add in that the tariffs Trump wants to impose resulted from an investigation by the Department of Commerce that showed that imports of both steel and aluminum are sufficiently high that they pose a national security threat.

With those listed anti-American tariffs at work against us, what do we do? Do we merely leave things be, and continue to have our economy and Americans’ pocketbooks negatively affected? Or, do we try to fix the situation.

Trump is not one to merely look the other way under such conditions, and has proposed tariffs that at this point exclude only Canada and Mexico. This, of course, has attracted quite a lot of negative reaction.

So many people are obsessed with criticizing everything Trump does or doesn’t do that they repeated fail in these efforts, and then can’t resist advertising their failure. They don’t go the extra little bit. Instead of instantly denigrating and ridiculing Trump, do a little work and see what he is really doing below the surface.

Trump is a negotiator, and that is a major factor in how he does things. He can propose a 50 percent tariff on a country or some products, and then modify his terms if some accommodation is made, or maybe double down if no accommodation is offered. Ultimately, the conclusion of this exercise will usually be more moderate than the initial proposal, and actually will provide positive change for our country. This is the nature of negotiation, and Trump is a professional negotiator.

As for his many critics, why not just wait and see how the situation evolves, instead of jumping at his first words to try and create the most exciting and damaging comment about something that is just getting under way?

Thursday, March 08, 2018

We need some of the things from “the good old days” back again

Some of us seasoned citizens look out across the social landscape and are aghast at what we see. Our relatively stable culture of a few decades ago has certainly changed. And not for the better.

Many people in the U.S. have come to a point where for them reality has degenerated into a matter of “whatever I think it is.” And an associated mentality is that whatever someone or some group of people thinks is important must be treated not only with respect but even acceptance, no matter how silly or irrelevant it seems to others. Kid gloves are the new fashion trend, lest someone’s tender feelings be affected.

Of course, only certain types of things qualify for this special treatment, and other things are automatically disqualified, and by golly, you had best know the difference.

If you are not hip to Political Correctness (PC), you are likely to run afoul of the PC Police, and be labeled any of the fashionable “ists,” like racist, chauvinist, sexist, or one of the “phobes,” like xenophobe, transphobe or homophobe, but not Anglophobe.

For example, it was once considered inarguable that men and women are different. Then came the women’s movement, and after many years of that, a famous magazine of the day published an edition with its groundbreaking discovery that “Men and Women are Different!” emblazoned on the cover.

Our society is plagued with problems that many of us could never have predicted, and have trouble accepting, or even believing. Among these are the younger generation’s penchant for ingesting Tide pods, the idea that the Christmas song “Jingle Bells” or bulletproof glass in certain crime-ridden business areas are somehow racist, or that any word containing the syllable “man” that has been part of the vocabulary for centuries now needs to be changed because it is sexist.

On the subject of sex/gender, in our time it was uncommon or non-existent for someong born with the physical plumbing of a male who thought they should be a female, or vice versa. In those days sex and gender were the same; if you were born a female, you exhibited female characteristics of behavior, and vice versa. While it was true that some females might demonstrate less feminine/more masculine traits than most, and some males might demonstrate less masculine/more feminine traits than most, the differences between one’s biological sex and preferred gender did include people actually trying to switch genders, as is being done today.

These days many people react emotionally, believing those reactions are the solution to many problems. Finding causes through logical analysis has become a foreign concept. The horrific tragedy of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida is a recent case in point.

Many people automatically returned to banning weapons like the one used by the mentally ill shooter used as the solution. Yes, some of those do so out of ideological impulse, but others are unable to see past the knee-jerk reaction of blaming the gun rather than the perp. And it is increasingly the case where mere disagreement with these emotional responses produces insults rather than productive discussion.

Also these same people want to blame an organization for the tragedy, for the same reasons. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and its five or so million law abiding members through some illogical magic have become the reason this young cretin killed 17 students and teachers at his former school.

Some questions for these folks:
Did the NRA fail to follow up on multiple warnings about the shooter’s mental state and criminal activities?
Did it prevent the school from installing security measures that could have kept him out of the buildings?
Did it tell the deputies who were on site not to go in and confront the shooter?
Did it persuade local authorities to stop arresting young wrongdoers and instead send them to counseling so the area’s profile would look better?
Did it whisper in the ear of this mentally ill fool that he should go to the school and kill people?
Was the shooter one of its members?

The answer to each of these questions is, of course, a loud and definite “no!” Further, as time passes, we learn more about what actually happened, and what didn’t happen that should have happened, which should reiterate the wisdom against reacting too strongly, too quickly.

These things demonstrate that America isn’t America anymore. And they outline the problems facing the country. How do we start from this crazy situation and restore the nation to the America that was the most free and stable yet imagined by humans?

Americans have done a lousy job teaching the younger generations the history of America and the traditions that evolved as a result of its creation. Too many of us do not know those traditions, and more than a few do not appreciate them. Consequently they do not honor them. The current culture is one that has few strong, unwavering principles, and those that remain are under attack.

How long can America survive floating aimlessly along, having abandoned the very traditions and values that made it the great nation it once was?

Thursday, March 01, 2018

We have to stop deficit spending and lower the national debt

The national debt virtually doubled in the 8 years of President Barack Obama. From the $10.6 trillion debt when he took office in 2009 that was created by all the presidents before him, until the end of his terms in 2017, the debt grew to nearly $20 trillion. That was, of course, the largest increase under any president in history.

President Donald Trump claimed that in his first month in office he actually saved money, reducing the national debt by $12 billion. That is true, but is a mere pittance compared to the $20 trillion total. It was a baby step in the right direction, but it was also only a moment in time for a number that rises and falls month-to-month.

Campaigning in 2016, Trump promised voters he would balance the budget. His first budget does not accomplish that difficult task, and in fact, the budget for fiscal year 2019 is projected to add another trillion to the existing debt, contrary to his promise to voters.

Trump’s proposed spending plan is a $4.4 trillion monster for fiscal year 2019 that some describe as dangerously unbalanced. He still has some time to balance the budget, but what a great thing it would be if his first budget actually moved decidedly in that direction.

Everyone who manages a business or organization, or a home budget understands the situation: ideally, income exceeds expense. Historically, the federal government achieves surpluses only rarely, and a properly operated government shouldn’t produce large surpluses, or large deficits.

Our gargantuan national debt is the result of gross budgetary malfeasance, and it is at crisis proportions. The nation’s debt now exceeds its GDP, and net interest payments on the debt are estimated to be 6.8 percent of all federal outlays at $276.2 billion this fiscal year. That is enough to pay for all administrative office employees for this year.

A comparison of what the government is doing with what it is allowed to do by the U.S. Constitution needs to happen.

The Preamble to the Constitution lays out its purpose, in broad terms: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

James Madison, one of the Constitution’s creators, certainly can be cited as an expert on the document. “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined,” he wrote in Federalist No. 45, in 1788. “Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”

But in direct opposition to this founding principle, phrases such as “promote the general Welfare,” have been expanded well beyond what the Founders intended, and contribute greatly to a government that has grown in size, control and cost beyond all reason.

The federal government has its nose and fingers in far too many areas of our lives. It should not regulate mud puddles or control education. It should not use its power against some legal businesses or organizations to the benefit of others. The federal government owns and controls 640 million acres of America’s land, about 28 percent of its total surface, the majority of it in western states. The list goes on.

Given the degree to which these improper activities have grown and are so much a part of life, it may not be possible to completely eliminate them, but there are certainly areas ripe for reduction.

As designed, the federal government should not require much money from citizens to operate, and the tax cuts that finally made it through Congress have been a boon to taxpayers and businesses. Businesses can expand, replace equipment, hire new workers and/or increase wages, and taxpayers will have more of their earnings at their disposal to buy things they need and want, which will increase spending in the private sector and increase tax collections.

And government positions left unfilled by the administration will provide some reduction in government spending. But even under the best of circumstances, these factors will not make a large dent in the deficit.

According to, “The federal government employs 2.1 million civilian workers in hundreds of agencies at offices across the nation. The federal workforce imposes a substantial burden on America’s taxpayers. In 2017 wages and benefits for executive branch civilian workers cost $276 billion.” And that does not count the courts, the Congress or postal workers.

Getting federal spending down to the balanced budget level requires drastic cuts in government, and will require closing some unnecessary administrative agencies, and reducing the number of federal workers in the remaining agencies. As Madison reminds us, the powers delegated to the federal government are few and defined, and the rest of the things needed are to remain the responsibility of the state governments.

One of Trump’s favored phrases in the campaign was “draining the swamp.” Getting government under control and reduced to its proper size and function has never been more important than it is today.