How Much Is This Going to Cost Us?

April 13, 2017

The Mar a Lago Summit made me bit curious about something that more and more people are talking about. (I could even be Trumpian and say “Everybody is talking about it…”). How much is the Trump Presidency going to cost us? While Candidate Trump railed against Obama golfing and once said to The Hill “I would rarely leave the White House because there is so much to do…”, President Trump has barely spent 7 days in a row there. Of course, there is no problem playing hard if one works hard in the private world, but we pay for Presidential playing and protection. What is our bill so far?

Trump has gone golfing 19 times in the first 90 days, more than Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton combined in their first year. Of course, virtually all the golfing trips have been to Trump resorts, so in a sense he is double dipping – making a profit from tax payer paid golf outings. You might argue that the Mar a Lago outings are often accompanied by “diplomatic efforts”. Of course, none of these pseud-summit golf outings have produced any tangible results, but the costs of flying there, altering the resort to accommodate security concerns, and housing the diplomatic staff, family members and security teams means that every golf outing is costing the tax payers an estimated $3 million per day (not including golf fees). That’s $57 million dollars for Mar a Lago outings in the first 3 months, or $144 million over 4 years, with a profit for Trump resorts as well.

The decision by his wife Milania to refuse to move with Donald to the White House, while certainly understandable, is also expensive. The costs of providing protection to Trump Tower is $500,000.00 per day, not including alterations to accommodate diplomatic guests. That’s $730 million over 4 years.

The decision to include the entire Trump family as part of the Administration means around the clock Secret Service protection, estimated at a combined $183 million per year, or $732 million for 4 years, not including every “mission” family members undertake. A conservative estimate then, is that Trump will cost us over $16 billion just to occupy the White House, visit Trump Tower and golf, with profits for Trump Resorts in the tens of millions. That does not include any vacations they take.

We are suckers.


Making China Great Again

April 12, 2017

President Trump entertained President Xi this past weekend without any demonstrable results, at least as far as our national interests. The “great negotiator” was apparently as successful with the Chinese as he was with his own Republicans in the House.

There were no agreements on the military expansion into the South China Sea, unfair trade practices in Africa (the Chinese have had no compunction over using bribes to cornering precious metal mining in the entire Continent). No agreement over the North Korean nuclear development, military cyber-espionage or military cooperation with Iran. No agreements over the protectionist policies on Chinese technical markets, Chinese currency manipulation, or commercial cyber-theft. Nothing. Which is why the Chinese considered the Mar a Lago Summit a huge success for them.

There’s lots to consider since the Chinese now are moving rapidly to control the entire Pacific Rim, leaving the United States as the former great power in the Pacific. When President Trump withdrew from the Pacific Trade Pact without any policy or trade initiatives to replace it, the Chinese moved aggressively to fill that vacuum. Indonesia and The Philippines were already establishing extensive trade and diplomatic relations with China before PTP, and American influence over these key countries was already waning.

However, since PTP was withdrawn, Australia, Thailand and even Viet Nam (no friend of China in the past) are negotiating new trade pacts independent of American interests. In the age of international corporations and banking, the economic importance of multi-lateral trade pacts has increased even as the logistical considerations have diminished. However, trade and commerce are also important to establishing popular and political influence in other countries and this may be the most important loss we are suffering.

Since the end of WWII, the Pacific has been solidly under our control, economically and politically. Now China is becoming the controlling power in the Pacific Rim and even traditional allies are drifting to the Chinese. Australia is negotiating directly with the Chinese and are rumored to be putting the expansion of military cooperation with the U.S. on hold. For all the PTP rhetoric during the campaign about “America First”, the complete absence of any Pacific trade policy is rapidly becoming one of the most historic disasters in our political as well as commercial history.

Is it any wonder then, that the Chinese (and European) media are raving about the lack of any tangible result from the Summit. The Chinese are certainly happy to keep things exactly as they are now – an unambiguous win for China. If the Chinese are successful in their current efforts, American influence will become an historical footnote.

“Making America Great Again” is a nice slogan and feeling, but at this moment America is becoming not just weaker in the Pacific Rim, but also irrelevant.


WTF FBI?

April 3, 2017

The testimony of BFI Director James Comey to the House Intelligence Committee was historic for several reasons, and troubling for even more reasons. For the first time in our Country’s history a sitting President and his campaign are the subject of a counter-espionage, criminal investigation of “coordination” (i.e. criminal conspiracy) with a hostile foreign State. Contrary to the constant comment that “there is no “there” there by the Trump administration, there clearly is enough evidence of collusion to trigger a criminal investigation by the FBI. It’s called “circumstantial evidence”, but there is a lot of it, and credible enough for the Justice Department to publicly announce the investigation. That is history.

The hearings were also historic in another sense. For the first time ever, an FBI Director called out the President for lying, not once but twice in the same sitting before Congress. When Comey stated that the official position of the Attorney General’s Office is that there is no evidence that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, it was significant. Nowhere in the U.S. government was there any evidence of Trump’s accusation. The second time came serendipitously after Trump Tweeted yet another lie and Comey was asked to “truth-check” in real time.

It was also a significant hearing because Democrats were allowed to take as much time and as long as they needed to ask questions of witnesses and not one Republican defended Trump. In every other Congressional hearing so far, Democrats have been severely limited (if not prohibited) from any meaningful inquiries by their GOP Committee Chairmen. It was a carefully choreographed hearing that said as much between the lines as it did in the transcript. Nobody sticks their political necks out that far in DC unless there is something about to happen.

However, the most shocking revelation was that Director Comey knew of a counter-intelligence investigation of the Trump campaign at the same time he broke FBI protocol and announced the re-opening of the Clinton server investigation just weeks before the election. In other words, he decided that an investigation of Hillary’s potential negligence in mishandling classified information was more important to announce than an investigation of potential treason by the Trump Campaign! That is poor judgment of epic proportions. If the Country had learned that Trump was being investigated and why, at the same time they were told about Weiner’s laptop, would the results be the same? Very doubtful. Was Comey possessed by the spirit of a past FBI Director dressed in a Tu-tu? Was he choosing his President?

I have never been a fan of the FBI, for good reasons. Their history in our Country is one of political persecutions as much as political prosecutions. Consider the role of the FBI in attempting to destroy political movements, civil rights movements, etc. However, the interference of the FBI into the past campaign may have been just as influential to the outcome than any “fake news” or hacks. The fact of Comey’s poor judgment in this matter just reaffirms the need for a Special Prosecutor.

We can handle the truth.


Justice(es)

April 1, 2017

Hearings for the nominee to be the next SCOTUS have started. These hearings, obscured by the announcement of a criminal investigation involving Trump and his campaign, should also be shaped by the announcement of that investigation as well.

It is starting to appear likely that a Constitutional crisis is developing, and the questions being asked of Judge Gorsuch should have addressed to that possibility. For example, it seems likely that the tax returns of Trump will be subpoenaed by investigators at some point. No doubt Trump will refuse, which will trigger a crisis. If there is sufficient evidence to indict the president or one of his key aides, the justice department will have to make a decision to prosecute. Trump will likely try to prevent that prosecution, leading to another crisis. If Trump himself is indicted, then all bets are off, and the Supreme Court may be the only Branch of Government functioning for a while.

Gorsuch has a reputation for loyalty and protecting powerful interests. That does not bode well for the country. Democrats had plenty of reason to delay and deny this nomination before the specter of the looming Constitutional crisis. They should be even more wary and determined now because it is no longer just a matter of judicial ideology. It may mean the security of the country at stake.

They might also consider asking him his legal opinion of the GOP refusing to perform their Constitutional role of advise and consent with President Obama’s nominee over a year ago. What should happen when one political party refuses to even allow hearings for a nominee? If one year is not too long to refuse to allow any hearings on SCOTUS, how about two years or three? How about waiting for the next election, 3 years away? What happens if Gorsuch says the GOP action was unconstitutional? What remedies should be available? What happens if he says it is Constitutional? Does that mean Dems can refuse to do the same indefinitely? Either way, he should be required to answer that question.


Reality – Where Art Thou?

March 14, 2017

No information from any government agency, or Branch of Government has emerged supporting Mr. Trump’s historic accusation against President Obama (I am talking about Obama wire-tapping Trump Tower, not the birther thing). Unless Mr. Trump offers some evidence to support his Tweeted claim to the world, then he will lose even more credibility with the world, well, the vast majority of the world anyway. It seems that for approximately 30% to 40% of Americans, nothing could ever shake their support. To paraphrase Mr. Trump “the facts are the enemy of the American people”.

Consider the growing list of broken promises and lies in the last 50 days. Full and affordable insurance premiums for every American, ISIL will be destroyed “immediately” via his “secret plan”, Muslims will be banned, the wall will be built and paid for by Mexico, he would not take a salary as President, he will release his tax returns… The list goes on and on, dwarfed only by the lies he unabashedly Tweets nearly every day: largest crowd ever at an inaugural, and they saw the rain stopped and sun came out when he spoke, 3 million illegal votes cast in the election, no one from his campaign had any contact at any time with Russians, the transition was running like a well-tuned machine – and (one of my personal favorites from the vagina grabber in chief) “I have the greatest respect for women.”

Consider the reverses in policy in the same time. “I will drain the swamp and run the most ethical administration ever” to “me and my staff are not bound by ethical rules” and appointing a foreign agent as the National Security Chief; Wall St. has been “robbing the Country” to reversing protections from Wall St. such as forcing financial advisers to disclose that they are getting bonuses to recommend certain investments; repealing and replacing Obamacare simultaneously, protecting clean water supplies to suspending the Clean Water Act…

He has delivered on a Supreme Court nominee, and I guess that was important enough for some voters to risk a national catastrophe, but the thing that bothers many of us is the utter contempt of Trump supporters to facts. Nothing Trump does or says matters to their support of him. It’s a predictable pattern of responses from them, no matter what the issues or facts are:

  • “He never said that” or his “his words were taken out of context” until after seeing the video or reading a transcript, then,
  • “He’s not a politician and you can’t take everything he says literally” becomes “he was just joking around” until he says he was not joking around and was serious, then,
  • “The mainstream media” or “the Deep Government’ or “Illuminati” or “CIA” are trying to sabotage him, until his nominees admit they are a foreign agent, lied under oath, have obvious conflicts of interest or broke laws, then
  • So what? Hillary did….

Far more disturbing than anything Trump says or does (up to this point), is the lack of consideration, let alone respect for facts about what he does or says to his supporters.

 


Litmus Test for a Nation’s Soul

March 13, 2017

Decades ago Dr. Martin Luther King delivered a speech (“Beyond Viet Nam”) that questioned the spiritual costs of investing more in developing weapons and conducting the war in Viet Nam than we did in the poor and the sick. Militarism, he warned, was poisoning the soul of the Nation. It was an important moment in the anti-war and in the civil rights movement. It was a moment when the most important prophet of our lifetime delivered what was clearly a message about a choice we had to make and the consequences if we failed to make the moral choice.

Today we face a similar moral choice and it is just as profound as any we have faced in our past. The choice has been put at our feet by Sen. Paul Ryan and the Republicans of the House: The American Health Care Act. We have a fundamental choice on the moral and spiritual future of the Country, and the consequences to American citizens and to the existential definition of our Country.

The American Health Care Act as presently constructed essentially boils down to this: a tax break for the wealthy at the cost of human lives – millions of human lives, mostly among the poorest, the sickest and the elderly. The terms of the Act are straight forward and we really didn’t need a CBO analysis to define those terms.

The youngest, healthiest and wealthiest Americans are given a choice between lower premiums for themselves, or to continue to contribute to the collective care of children, the sickest, poorest and oldest Americans (and ultimately to their own care someday). The moral and spiritual choices are clear: less than 30 pieces of silver in savings on healthcare premiums or saving human lives and suffering. Christ gave some clear instructions in this regard, and no Christian or moral person could deny the choices to be made. Neither could a “Christian” or moral nation.

Paul Ryan and his Congressional co-authors have offered you a choice – and you must choose. To remain silent on this law is to allow the weight of special interests to cause suffering to millions of people and the burden of conscience. I understand that Mr. Ryan portrays himself as a faithful Roman Catholic, but his bill runs as contrary to Catholic teachings.  Christ Himself declared “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.”

If Dr. King were alive today, I suspect it would not be a surprise to see him leading a march, and hear him declare a law that will literally cause suffering and death among so many people and is “evil”. This American Health Care Act is an act of evil and therefore an opportunity – a litmus test – of what kind of Country we remain or will become.


Dems Get It Wrong (Again)

March 9, 2017

Donald Trump woke up the other day and decided that President Obama authorized wiretaps of Trump Tower during the election and therefore, was guilty of a felony. He had no evidence to make the libelous claim and still refuses to provide any evidence.

This followed the leak of information that 15 encrypted cables from trump Tower to a bank owned by Vladimir Putin were sent around the time Wikileaks was releasing the DNC hacks provided by Russian intelligence agencies. President Obama, The former head of the NSA, CIA, Attorney General and the current FBI Director all deny there was any wiretapping. (it might be noted that revelations that various Trump campaign officials had been lying about contacts with Russians has come for foreign intelligence agencies from Great Britain and Netherlands).

I am sure some Trumpanzies will take the accusation seriously, but apart from that alt-reality fringe most Americans believe that Trump was either creating a diversion from his own scandals, or was providing another indication that he is mentally unbalanced. Instead of providing any of the evidence that convinced Trump, his surrogates called for a Congressional investigation on the accusation. The Dems are resisting an investigation. They are wrong.

A Congressional investigation on Trump’s accusation would be in everyone’s interest. They could call witness after witness from every agency involved with the process of wiretapping, or investigating suspected criminal or espionage activities. They could subpoena the staff of President Obama, and even president Obama himself. After every witness testifies that they have no idea what the heck Trump is talking about, Congress should subpoena President Trump, since he is the only person with knowledge of this alleged crime, and a crime of profound significance at that.

Of course, Trump would invoke privilege which would be the closest we would come to an admission he was simply lying again. His credibility would be even further eroded, and hopefully so will his ability to implement policy. The only alternative outcome would be the discovery that a FISA Court found sufficient evidence that people in Trump Tower were engaged in a crime or espionage to authorize a warrant, and wouldn’t we like to learn of that evidence?

The other, more disturbing aspect of this latest Trump scandal is that he either is mentally unbalanced and delusional, or so stupid as to act on a conspiracy that has no basis in reality. For the leading proponent of the Birther movement, the latter theory seems most likely. God help us.