Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Is 2018 The Most Important Election Ever?

(first published in North State Journal 10/31/18)



Every election is important. That is why our founders instituted two-year election cycles for the offices closest to the needs of the people: the U.S. Congress and state legislatures.

Delegate Roger Sherman of Connecticut explained why regular elections were necessary during the Constitutional Convention in 1787: “Representatives ought to return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of Govt. they would acquire the habits of the place which might differ from those of their Constituents.”

AKA “Potomac Fever.”

Delegate Rufus King of Massachusetts pointed out the balance biennial elections would bring to the new democratic republic: “It seems proper that the representative should be in office time enough to acquire that information which is necessary to form a right judgment; but that the time should not be so long as to remove from his mind the powerful check upon his conduct, that arises from the frequency of elections, whereby the people are enabled to remove an unfaithful representative, or to continue a faithful one”.

We are about to elect our 116th Congress next Tuesday. Just how important can any single election be, really?

According to sociological historians Neil Howe and William Strauss, the 2018 elections are very important. As a postscript to 2016 and a prelude to 2020.

In 1991, they co-authored the book “Generations” in which they meticulously chronicled the group dynamics, characteristics and identity of every generation of Americans from Colonial days to 30 years in the future and beyond in 20-year age cohorts.

Everyone knows that succeeding generations are different from their older siblings and parents and grandparents. Boomers see life a lot differently from their “The World’s Greatest GI Generation” parents mainly because of far different life circumstances that shaped their formative years.

Howe and Strauss identified four generational identities that have been repeated in 80-year cycles dating back to before America’s founding. After a crisis — such as World War II in 1941; the Civil War in 1861 and The Revolution, ending in 1781 — America has experienced roughly the same cycle of generational attitudes toward government, institutions and individualism three times now.

By their reckoning, we are entering “The Fourth Turning” of American history, which is also the title of another book they published in 1997.

After a “Crisis Era” subsides, a high period of renewed faith in public institutions is followed by an “Awakening Era” where social discipline starts to falter and spirituality and personal awareness become more important to people. An “Unraveling Era” ensues where institutions become more distrusted, as government has been for the last 20 years, and special emphasis on individualism, freedoms and rights become paramount. The next Crisis Era creates “heroes” who emerge to lead our country back to its foundational roots to start the cycle all over again in a generational “turning.”

If this sounds like hocus-pocus this Halloween, consider the fact that each war above was almost exactly 80 years apart from the previous one.

2020 is 80 years from 1940.

Hopefully, we will avoid such bloodshed and mayhem. However, Howe and Strauss predicted in 1991 and then in 1997 that before the year 2020, we could witness a major terrorist attack on American soil (2001); a major financial meltdown (2008-09) and the rise of angry rebellious voters (Tea Party 2010; Antifa 2018), so maybe they are onto something.

Maybe they are crackpots like soothsayer Jeane Dixon.

They foresaw the elections of 2016, 2018 and especially 2020 as being pivotal to what America would look like for the rest of the 21st century.

Will the 2018 election bring back more socialism as we saw under President Obama? Or will the 2018 and 2020 elections end the modern Progressive Era for good as it was defeated in the 1920s during its last heyday?

It sure feels that way.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The 'Silent Majority', Chicago 1968 and Mob Rule

 The great majority of Americans are neither radicals nor reactionaries. They are middle-of-the-road folks who own their own homes and work hard and would like to have the government get back to its old habits of meddling with their lives as little as possible…It sometimes seems as if this great ‘silent majority’ had no spokesman. But (he) belongs with that crowd; he lives like them, he works like them, and understands’.
In 1968, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago erupted when student protesters against the Vietnam War clashed with older mainstream Democratic delegates on the convention floor and then with police outside as protests turned violent.

Middle-of-the-road American voters nationwide watched the riots in the streets of Chicago on the evening news and reacted with horror and disgust.

Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon called on this ‘silent majority’ of voters to vote for him to bring law and order back to the streets of America. Nixon soundly defeated Democrat
Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey and third-party candidate Alabama Governor George Wallace to win the White House in the fall.

50 years ago, the national Democratic Party forgot the ‘silent majority’.  They apparently have forgotten them again in 2018.

Democrats win when they have candidates such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama appealing to the basic common interests of all Americans regardless of race or class.

Jobs. Security. Education. Opportunity.

Just as Republicans do when they do the same.

The current Democratic Party offers voters none of those. They embrace mob rule; denying opponents of their right to free speech; willfully disdain of national immigration law; establishment of sanctuary cities and ‘free everything’ from education to health care regardless of cost to the taxpayer, tens of millions of whom are part of the ‘silent majority’.

Democratic mobs harass Republicans when they go to restaurants (Senator Ted Cruz and his wife); wail primal screams in the gallery during confirmations of Supreme Court nominees (Brett Kavanaugh); they even tried to shout down 95-year old former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at NYU last week while yelling ‘Rot In Hell!’ ‘Rot in Hell!’

Those are not winning arguments to get the silent majority on your side. Any competent political consultant on either side will tell you that.

An international public education non-profit organization, More In Common, published a report last week, ‘Hidden Tribes’, which concluded our current extremely polarized environment is not universal but a battle between 8% of rich white radical liberal extremists on the left and 6% of rich white conservative extremists on the right.

The other 80%~ voters are the ‘Exhausted Majority’. All they want is the government to work together to get things done and stop blaming everyone but themselves for their failure to do so.

Just like the Silent Majority voters of years gone by. The same bell curve of voters who have existed since the beginning of the American Democratic Republic.

Older idealistic Boomers who grew up in the tumultuous 60s are now on both extremes running our national politics. In many ways, our idealism has proven to be a disaster, the national debt being a prime example. Boomers would rather be proven ‘right’ on every issue rather than compromise on any common solution for the good of the nation.

The report confirmed what many seasoned veterans of campaigns have been saying for the past 20 years: Republican and Democratic candidates are not speaking directly to the interests of the independent, unaffiliated voters or any moderate registered Democratic, Republican or Libertarian voter.

Was Bruce Barton of Colliers Magazine talking about Richard Nixon or Donald Trump in the opening quote above?

No. He was talking about Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge. In 1919.

Maybe history really is repeating itself. Every 50 years or so, the silent exhausted majority is ignored.

Until they rise up at the polls.

(first published in North State Journal 10/24/18)

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Trump Tariffs and Trade

(first published in North State Journal 10/17/18)

Tariffs are bad. They are just “taxes” by a different name.

Higher taxes and tariffs retard economic production and growth. The higher the tax, or tariff, the lower amount of product is sold.

Would the imposition of the Trump trade tariffs lead to a worldwide recession all by themselves as some fear? Or will they lead to a tariff-free world which has been the dream of every free market philosopher in history?

The total amount of trade on which new tariffs could be imposed by President Donald Trump is approximately $640 billion in dollar terms on items shipped from China, Canada, Mexico, the EU and Asian Rim countries to the United States.

The amount of business transacted worldwide today is roughly $80 trillion in dollar-denominated terms. Global economic growth is expected to be 5 percent this year, so world GDP could grow by an additional $4 trillion on top of the current level of $80 trillion.

If the tariff rate imposed by the U.S. is 25 percent on $640 billion of trade in volume, $160 billion would be collected by the Trump “tariff/tax hike.”

The Trump-imposed tariffs would represent a miniscule 0.2% percent of world GDP output for the entire year. They would amount to only 4 percent of the nominal GDP growth of the entire world of $4 trillion over the next year.

Both assume that the tariffs will be enacted. Many say President Trump is using the “threat” of imposing tariffs to force nations to the bargaining table to get a better deal for Americans.

What is truly big and significant?

Chinese pilfering of U.S. intellectual property rights.

Based on the 2017 Commission on Theft of American Intellectual Property, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said: “Chinese theft of American IP currently costs between $225 billion and $600 billion (in lost sales or economic value) annually.”

Up to $600 billion annually in America alone; four times the size of the possible Trump tariffs. That is as if the GDP of the state of Ohio is removed from American soil and given to Chinese workers and government enterprises as a gift each year.

China has been stealing intellectual property rights in the form of patents, copyrights and designs for decades from every advanced nation on earth. Intellectual property protection is the core of free enterprise everywhere around the globe. Failure to protect IP from being stolen without due process and payment of royalties devalues every product, service or technological breakthrough American inventors, creators and businesses make every day.

Chinese government and corporate engineers and businesses steal designs and technology from every sector imaginable and then manufacture products at very low wages and costs so Chinese products dominate the market and then destroy their foreign competitors who invented it in the first place.

Why don’t the Chinese worry about protecting their intellectual property rights? If China ever produces innovations as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Benjamin Franklin did, maybe then they will start clamoring for intellectual property protection for their products instead of stealing ours.

The Trump strategy appears to be coming into focus: Revamp existing trade agreements with all trading partners around the globe first and then build a worldwide coalition against the Chinese to force them into submitting to the basic tenets of fair play in a world of free trade.

Otherwise, a coalition will in effect erect global trade embargoes on China to bring their economy to its knees until they do agree to play by the rules of free and fair trade.

No previous administration or Congress has taken such a blunt force posture toward China. Gentle or turning-the-other-cheek diplomacy obviously has not worked in the past, so why not try another tactic?


Such blunt force may be the only way to bring China into the community of nations where true free trade can prevail for the 21st century.

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

'Kavanaughed'

 

(first published in North State Journal 10/10/18)

Why does our political discourse get so nasty from time to time?

Human emotions get hyper-inflamed over hot-button issues. In the 19th century, it was slavery. In the mid-20th century, it was communism and then civil rights.

Since 1973, it has been abortion rights post-Roe v. Wade.

Minnesota Senator Joe McCarthy gained nationwide notoriety in the early 1950s by mercilessly accusing 205 public servants in the State Department of being ‘card-carrying communists’ often without offering any evidence to back up his claims.

On June 1, 1950, freshman Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith gave a speech on the floor of the US Senate as the first Senator to take McCarthy to task for his reckless ways which was the beginning of the end for him politically.

On June 9, 1954, Joseph Welch, attorney for the Army during the Army-McCarthy hearings destroyed McCarthy with this statement: ‘Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?’

68 years later, another brave Maine Senator, Susan Collins stepped up to reverse the collapse of decency which hopefully hit its denouement in the Kavanaugh hearings.

Nowhere has vitriol been more on display than during US Supreme Court nominations since 1987:

  • Robert Bork was ‘borked’ where Senate Democrats opposed to his view of constitutional originalism used every possible negative tactic to defeat him which worked when he lost 42-58; 
  • Anthony Kennedy was subsequently unanimously confirmed; 
  • David Souter passed 90-9;  
  • Clarence Thomas was ‘thomased’ after allegations from Anita Hill but narrowly confirmed 52-48; 
  • Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and John Roberts were confirmed easily;
  • Bush 43 nominee Harriet Myers withdrew when her legal knowledge and ability to be on the High Court was questioned;  
  • Samuel Alito was confirmed 58-42;  
  • Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed 68-31 with 59 Democrat votes and 9 Republican Senators voting aye; 
  • Elena Kagan was confirmed 63-37 along similar lines; 
  • Obama nominee Merrick Garland was ignored by the Republican Senate because it was a presidential election year; 
  • Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch was confirmed 54-45; and 
  • Brett Kavanaugh was ‘kavanaughed’ but confirmed Saturday to the Supreme Court 50-48.

Students of history will notice that the nominees who were most viciously attacked were conservative Republican jurists. Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh were ruthlessly savaged by Democratic Senators in public.

The truth of the matter is that these bloody nomination battles had little to do with personal character issues or even judicial philosophy and temperament.

When a justice was nominated whose judicial philosophy threatened the fragile majority on the Court as it pertains to abortion rights, these nomination fights got nasty very quickly.

The only Democratic nominee who was ‘not treated fairly’ in the eyes of Democrats was Merrick Garland in 2016. Former Democratic Senator Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee had this to say about nominations during a presidential campaign year in 1992:

“(President George H. W. Bush should) not name a nominee until after the November election is completed” (and, if he did), “the Senate Judiciary Committee should seriously consider not scheduling confirmation hearings on the nomination until after the political campaign season is over.”

Republicans followed Senator Biden’s dictum with regards to Judge Garland.

Former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked the ‘nuclear option’ when he allowed votes on judicial nominations during the Obama Administration without requiring a 60-vote hurdle to close debate and proceed to the vote on the nomination.

Republicans followed Democratic precedent again with the Gorsuch and Kavanaugh confirmations.

Short of a political truce or a medical technological breakthrough to allow a transfer of a human zygote to another host to take it to term, such nasty political attacks will continue.

The only way to prevent them is to elect new Senators who won’t stoop to such base level tactics to win at any cost.

It does not do the American Republic any good when they do.


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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Cut All the 'Red Tape' Out of the Federal Budget

first published in North State Journal 10/3/18)

Until 1925, the federal government used to wrap official federal documents in red tape. It made things look ‘official’, borrowing from regal Spanish and British traditions of long ago.

President Calvin Coolidge and his budget director, Herbert Mayhew Lord, with whom he met personally every Monday morning at 9:15 am sharp, reasoned that if they replaced the official ‘red tape’ with regular white string, they could save tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars each year.

So they did.

President Coolidge and Lord literally ‘cut the red tape’ out of government spending.

Even ‘waste in government’ was turned into budget savings. An employee on the General Supply Committee figured that ‘seven barrels of spoiled, soused (pickled) seal shoulders from Alaska’ could be sold for $20 as ‘crab bait’ to New England fishermen.

That $20 was used to pay off some of what was then a very slim national debt of $21 billion. 0.1% of the $21 trillion of national debt we have today.

It worked. Under President Coolidge, the federal budget was reduced to close to $3 billion (not trillion) and held flat for his 6 years in office. As a result of his initial tax cuts, the economy took off and generated surplus revenues to the federal treasury which, combined with budget restraint, allowed the Coolidge Administration to reduce overall federal debt by 33%.

Tax cuts; economic growth; budget restraint, debt repayment. Lather, rinse, repeat and do it again and again and again.

It works.

The major thing missing in that equation in Washington lately has been ‘budget restraint’. We did not have a Calvin Coolidge in the White House when Presidents Obama and Bush 43 were occupants.

It remains to be seen if President Trump will put the brakes on spending; he has 2 more years to become the next Coolidge.

We have not had a majority of 50%+1 Democratic or Republican Calvin Coolidges in the US Senate or Congress either where it really has to start anyway.

What is so hard to understand about not spending other people’s money?

Former Congressman Alex McMillan with whom I worked for a decade used to say that he thought of every new dollar spent by the federal government as if it came from the pocket of a hard-working person to whom $1 was very important. He was determined not to spend that person’s hard-earned dollar in a frivolous manner not critical to the overall best interest of the nation.

What would the budget look like today if everyone thought the same way? Would we spend taxpayer money on expensive pork-barrel projects such as the Railroad Museum in Strasburg, Pennsylvania?

Or the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska? How about any superfluous and unnecessary defense program that out-lived its usefulness in the last war?

If you are a liberal and like the idea of more federal welfare and support programs, you have been duped for the past 40 years.

Explosive growth in spending on health care entitlements, Medicaid and Medicare plus the military and veteran health plans have crowded out spending on domestic programs which in 1960 was 68% of the budget.

Today it is less than 32%.

Here’s an indisputable fact: If we hold medical cost inflation to 1-2% per year or below, we could balance the federal budget in the next 5 years with no tax increases and no other cuts in the budget anywhere.

It can be done without sacrificing health care quality outcomes. Small creative entrepreneurial companies are helping several large corporations hold their health care cost growth to 1-2% per year today.

But we need to elect modern-day Coolidges to elective office first. To cut more than red tape.

(budget facts from ‘Coolidge’ by Amity Shlaes 2013)
Picture courtesy of Jarek TuszyƄski / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GDFL, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16038266


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