Blithering idiot? Or … ?

If more evidence is needed that President Trump is a blithering idiot, then his recent Damoclean threats to impose increasing tariffs upon Mexico for its perceived indifference to our immigration crisis —and his subsequent tissue-thin claim of having achieved another “victory” after hurried negotiations — provides it. The President announced not long ago that he would impose 5% tariffs on Mexico, increasing by 5% a month until they reach 25% — unless Mexico took some unspecified, concrete action. He then claimed to have obtained more promises of such, and the talking heads didn’t know what those promises were, either. Of course, anyone willing to allow this President to be the final arbiter of that issue or any other issue involving Latin American countries is subjecting the United States to a ruinous loss of influence, and other losses. Such tariffs would surely harm Mexico’s economy, but it would also damage the United States. One near-term result would be U.S. job losses of over 400,000, according to the Perryman Group. (That’s 400,000 taxpayers going over the side at a time when the deficit is increasing by trillions.) On that basis alone, a rising tariff wall against Mexico is a harebrained idea.

Of course we can bear these losses better than Mexico, but is that a reason for acting like a bully? What we need is a prosperous and sympathetic Mexico. How are we doing on that front? And we’re not even addressing the real cause of the Central American exodus that Trump thinks Mexico should stop for us. The people leaving Central American countries are leaving because their lives are in peril. Why else would they walk – that’s right, walk – over 1,500 miles with their families through additional danger and unsympathetic countries to seek asylum?

It seems that a tapeworm has invaded the President’s cerebral cortex—immigrants. Yes, the same type of people who worked for years at underpaid jobs at the various Trump “resorts,” in violation of wage and hour laws, but for the benefit of Mr. Trump, now cause White House tweetstorms. If anything, we need those immigrants. The domestic birthrate has fallen so far that the U.S. is not even replacing its population. I challenge every reader of this blog to take Uber or Lyft just twice in the next week. The odds are you will meet an immigrant, many of whom came from Latin American countries. Make up your own mind whether they contribute to our country. Last week, for example, one driver was a refugee from Nicaragua in the ‘90’s, whose plight was similar to the plight of those currently willing to take the long walk to the U.S. She is a single mother (horrors!). Her son just graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in information technology. And he has a job in that field. (He didn’t “take” it from someone – he earned it.) How can we not want those people as fellow citizens? They are not illegal, except for the fact that we refuse to make available the facilities and personnel to adjudicate their status. With more immigration judges and a decently staffed Border Patrol, we would not be “overrun” with purported terrorists-in-waiting, but instead would be creating more citizens, employees, employers and taxpayers.

There’s another downside to using tariffs for all purposes. Patrick Jankowski, the senior economist at the Greater Houston Partnership, told the Houston Chronicle, “Right now we’re picking a fight with just about every trading partner we have.” That bodes ill for a country that is trying to export goods to other countries, and it is especially dangerous for Texas, a leading exporter. It’s a shame that business leaders in Texas (not to mention our spineless Senators) have not spoken out more forcefully. It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous, destructive and foolish initiative than Trump’s latest blunt-instrument approach. Even the President’s (mostly-rational) apologist Marc Thiessen, while blaming the Democrats for the border crisis, admits that “China is our real adversary” and that a “two-front trade war would be devastating to the U.S. economy.” He, like any non-rabid person, knows that tariffs are not paid by overseas producers, but by the U.S.– manufacturers and consumers. And Thiessen also admits, perhaps accidentally, that the Border Patrol needs more manpower – staffing that is stalled by Trump’s inability to compromise. (Thiessen returned to his slavish pro-Trump position shortly thereafter, saying that the President had leverage and he used it—another way of saying, “we always do better and get more when we bully our friends.”) He wrongly claims that we “won” with Mexico, forgetting his own words of just a couple of weeks ago. Our President and his claque of supporters confuse short-term gain with victory. But when has this President ever thought long-term? It’s astounding that Trump chose to endanger his own NAFTA 2.0 (sorry, the “USMCA,” since he keeps claiming that NAFTA is no more) with this tariff surprise. The USMCA was already imperiled, but nonetheless it was on a winding path to ratification when Trump threw this spanner in the works. Now we’re supposed to ratify a treaty that would be completely upended by threatened new punitive tariffs? Using tariffs as an instrument of foreign policy, which might be appropriate to deal with a real adversary, cannot be a good idea in dealing with one of our allies. A local commentator summed it up well: “The bigger worry is how many more of these manufactured crises will our trade partners tolerate before they do permanent damage to the U.S. economy and reputation.”

The bottom line is that this President is a short-term narcissitic grifter focused on whatever he thinks will give him temporary advantage rather than looking out for the welfare of our country. He is brutally, ferociously wrong on immigration policy. He might be right on Iran and China, but he is wrong on every other foreign policy issue, from North Korea to Russia to interference in U.K. affairs. That will cost us when we want help on the real issues.

Will we look back on 2016 as the year the United States gave up on being “great” and instead turned to being irredeemably mean, selfish, loutish—and inevitably, a loser? A second term will make that reality.

Please, Sir, Can We Have Some More Immigrants?

What kind of people are willing to walk 1,000 miles from Central America with their entire family in order to enter the United States? What kind of people are willing to risk all, including being preyed upon by outlaws, just to try to obtain asylum status here? I’ll tell you what kind of people they are – the kind we desperately need more of in these United States.

While the President brays about criminals and terrorists invading the country, the reality is starkly different. James Pethokoukis, a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote that “immigrants account for nearly half of the U.S. workforce with a science or engineering doctorate, including 60 percent of workers in computer and mathematical sciences,” and that 64 percent of the engineers in Silicon Valley are foreign-born. And, most important, “more than half of U.S. startup ‘unicorns’ have at least one immigrant co-founder.”

Further, the children of immigrants are crucial to our economic growth. The Brookings Institution, hardly a leftwing organization, published an article by Ian Hathaway of the Center for American Entrepreneurship—the title alone tells the story: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2017/12/04/almost-half-of-fortune-500-companies-were-founded-by-american-immigrants-or-their-children/. From Intel to Google, from Panda Express to Chobani, from eBay to Yahoo!, not to forget Tesla and the Huffington Post, immigrants and their children make waves here.

This writer has not conducted any academic studies on immigration. But the evidence is right in front of anyone who wants to see. I dare anyone who uses Lyft or Uber to ask the drivers about their backgrounds. In Houston and elsewhere, my personal experience is that over half of them are immigrants, that the single ones are attending some kind of school to increase their skills, and the ones with children have enrolled them in school and take pride in their achievements. Are they “taking advantage?” No, they aren’t. They are raising our future computer programmers, healthcare professionals, secretarial staff, and oilpatch roustabouts (and engineers), all of whom will pay taxes.

Put simply, contrary to the President’s claim, we’re not “full,” and there’s plenty of room. Immigrants are not flooding the country. If anything, the number of immigrants illegally residing here is declining slightly, from around 12 million to around 11 million over the last decade. The replacement rate for a country to merely maintain its population is approximately 2.1 children per resident female. We are quickly aging and the birthrate in the United States is now 16% below that. https://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2019/01/u-s-fertility-rate-continues-to-decline-reaching-lowest-level-in-40-years/. To steal a line from a close friend, “Pretty soon we’ll have more people sitting in the wagon than people pulling the wagon. When that happens, the wagon stops.” Wouldn’t it be great if we had new citizens and they were paying income taxes and social security taxes, too?

And, by the way, they are not terrorists. How many mass shootings are attributable to immigrants, let alone illegal immigrants? From Charles Whitman in the University of Texas Tower in 1966, to Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris in Columbine, Colorado, to the perpetrators of horrific massacres over the last two years, virtually all of them were American-born:
• Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada, killed 58 people in Las Vegas in 2017.
• Devin Kelley of New Braunfels, Texas, killed 26 people at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas that same year.
• Nikolas Cruz, a nineteen-year-old who had been expelled as a student, killed 17 people at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018.
• Also in 2018, 28-year-old Ian David Long, a troubled Marine Corps veteran, started shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California, and when he was done, 13 people were dead, including himself and a police officer.
• 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers killed 11 people at Or L’Simcha synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2018.
• Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a 17-year-old student at Santa Fe High School in Texas, killed 10 people there in 2018.

What do these shootings tell us about illegal immigration? Nothing. None of these gunmen were immigrants, let alone illegal immigrants. Most of them were homegrown Caucasian males who were mentally unstable, full of hate, or both.

Once upon a time, there was a group of levelheaded Senators—the Gang of Eight—who sponsored a comprehensive immigration reform and border security package. It passed the Senate overwhelmingly in summer 2013. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Border_Security,_Economic_Opportunity,_and_Immigration_Modernization_Act_of_2013#Developments_after_Senate_passage_of_June,_2013 And there progress ended. By that time, then-Speaker Boehner had lost control of the Republican House caucus. The legislation died. And since that time border security has become uber-politicized, and discussion of immigration “reform” consists of little more than family separation and idiotic threats to close the border.

What are we doing? Are we really going to let a golf aficionado, whose most intimate contact with illegals is hiring them at his resorts, bamboozle us (or worse, incite us) for 2 or 6 more years?

It is long past time for the job creators and employers in this Nation to find their collective backbones and insist on immigration reform. (And to deny all political contributions to the politicians who insist on blocking it.) And everyone should visit the websites of their Senators and Representatives and provide comments where the officeholders purport to seek constituent input. Ask what they are FOR, not just what they are against. Then monitor the responses you receive from them once you post your message. See whether the responses make any sense, or are simply deceptive pablum or worse, dogwhistles for some unreasoning “base.” And if that’s what you get, then support their opponents. Loudly and financially. It’s time we reassert common sense.

There is a Deal to be Had on the Shutdown

I sent this letter to our senior Senator from Texas today.

Dear Senator Cornyn:

It’s long past time for you to exercise some leadership and state publicly that this shutdown is bad for the country—and to stop casting blame but find a deal.  There is a deal to be had. (I am not calling it a “compromise” because that’s a dirty word to some; nor am I calling it a “win” because that, too, is a dirty word when gifted to political adversaries).

Try this:

  • $ 5.7 billion for “border security” to be spent however the Administration decides.  One hopes the President and his “advisers” will spend it wisely (and that means very little for a “wall”), but that will be in the Executive’s discretion.
  • A DACA solution that allows all “Dreamers” to ultimately become true American citizens. All of them, so long as they were younger than 18 when they came to the United States.  You must know that the original DREAM legislation had bipartisan support; it was co-sponsored by Orrin Hatch (not exactly a liberal). The bill should be exactly as proposed way back in 2001.
  • End the current chokehold on H-1B visas (which you must know is absurd, damaging to American competitiveness and also hurts our overseas influence).
  • Reopen the Government.   Even with the Administration’s transparent attempt to mitigate selectively the burdens of the shutdown, it affects all of us, not just the 2,000,000 Americans in 800,000 households who are missing paychecks (which they need to pay rent, mortgages, and credit card bills for Christmas presents).  As just one example, shutting down a terminal at IAH (see enclosed clipping)* is just the kind of dangerous stupidity we need to end.

This is a deal that requires everyone to swallow hard and accept.  The question is, are you courageous enough to propose it publicly?

Sincerely,

Lee L. Kaplan

*See for example, https://www.chron.com/business/bizfeed/article/TSA-closes-security-checkpoint-at-IAH-Terminal-B-13530619.php

Two Million Americans Just Don’t Count

The partial government shutdown started early morning on December 22.  We are now two weeks into a government shutdown that has left 800,000 employees without paychecks (although many of them are expected to work without pay during that time).  That’s 800,000 employees – but we should think of them as belonging to 800,000 households.  At 2.6 persons per average American household, that’s over 2,000,000 Americans.  The Americans in those affected households undoubtedly bought Christmas presents, often with credit cards. How many of them are receiving Visa and MasterCard bills they cannot pay?  How many of those Americans could not pay their rent at the first of this month?

For a man who routinely brags (falsely) about saving jobs, he’s not doing very well.  President Trump, who stated bluntly that he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security,” that he would “take the mantle,” that he would “be the one to shut it down,” and not blame Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi for it, now takes a different tune.   But does any rational person believe him?   Let’s also not forget that, during this same time frame, the President even lied to soldiers, telling them he had gotten them their biggest pay raise–10%–in 10 years.  He’s just a serial liar.  (But I digress.)

The pettiness that has brought the country to this point is staggering.  But what is even more staggering, and truly despicable, is the utter cruelty that a coddled millionaire (or maybe billionaire, who really knows?) is willing to visit upon regular Americans who work for our government, all out of personal pique.  So I have just one more question.  Other than Mitt Romney, is there a single Republican in the United States Senate who will speak out against this pettiness and this cruelty?

WHERE’S THE OUTRAGE?*

Remember when our current President and his now-fellow-travelers criticized President Obama in 2009 for “bowing” at the G20 summit to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia?  Nevermind that Obama was taller (and younger) than the king; the outrage on the right was palpable.  The Washington Times, Fox News, and others – including our current Tweeter-in-Chief – continued to cite that alleged genuflection as more evidence of spinelessness, all the way through the 2012 election campaign, and throughout the 44th President’s second term.  (This is not a defense of President Obama; his disappearing “red line” in Syria speaks volumes.)

But fastforward to 2018; who’s bowing now?  In the face of obvious murder, and Saudi stonewalling, our President trots out a theory about “rogue killers.”  And even though published photos show mops and cleaning materials being delivered to the Saudi consulate before Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance, the White House merely dispatches our Secretary of State to “ask tough questions” (read: help the Saudi Crown Prince come up with a story).  Gee, maybe the rogue killers called the consulate in advance to usher their cleaning supplies and garbage bags through the door because “you never know when someone might accidentally bleed out someday in your consulate.”  When 15 people fly in from Riyadh and spend just a couple of hours in Istanbul before fleeing (along with the Saudi consul), everyone knows this was a premeditated killing.  Unfortunately, President Trump’s comments show that any story, no matter how ridiculous, that exonerates Mohammed Bin Salman and scapegoats someone else, will do for the current Administration.

What is the President’s stated motivation for this kid glove treatment of the Crown Prince, a/k/a Jared Kushner’s lunch partner?  Domestic jobs from arms sales.  “[W]hether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country, knowing they have four or five alternatives, two of them very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me.”  (It’s only $14.5 billion so far, but in any event…does even $110 billion make complicity OK?)  Can that really be the reason, or does the President just not give a damn?

At least a few Republican senators (Messrs. Corker and Rubio) have indicated that they have some glimmer of understanding how our failure to speak out forcefully (let alone take meaningful action) is devastating to our image and influence throughout the world.  Unfortunately, my own Texas Senators – Cornyn and Cruz – have shown no such inclination.  Their disapproval of murder is in the abstract.  It does not extend to individuals, or perhaps just not to journalists.

The only way to influence the behavior of our governing class is to let them know that hypocrisy and indifference to evil has consequences, including the loss of their positions.    The only way to supply even a teaspoon of “Dutch courage” to Republican officeholders who are afraid to cross the President, is to provide concrete evidence that Americans disapprove of making excuses for homicidal dictators, whether they are in Riyadh, Moscow, or Tehran.  In other words, we must VOTE. Expressions of dismay over the dinner table won’t do the trick.  If we want to encourage truthtellers and discourage cowards, we have to VOTE.

There are well over 235,000,000 Americans of voting age, but in 2016, a presidential year, not even 60% of us bothered to vote.  Voter suppression does not account for 100,000,000 citizens failing to exercise this most important right.  We are better than this…aren’t we?  Maybe we really don’t care, but we should.  Everyone should either vote early or make it a point to find a few minutes on November 6 to confirm America’s decency and greatness.

*Thank you, Bob Dole.

What are we FOR?

We have to have principles and standards of conduct in order to criticize others. For it is by those principles and standards that we are able to discern breaches and violations thereof — and condemn them.   But how should we go about that?

It’s hard to live up to high principles and standards.  It’s easier to condemn others’ defaults than our own. More than ever in my lifetime, Americans resort to labels when they talk politics and social issues.  So-and-so is a “gun nut” or a “socialist” or a “baby killer” or a “Nazi.”  In the wake of the 2016 election, people who are truly invested in President Trump, and those who are ardently invested in his fall, are perhaps more prone to this.  Candidly, I fall into that ditch, too, becoming so angry at shenanigans by “the other side” that I call the rascals out for it.  But we need to remind ourselves that the most important question — the one we should pose to ourselves first — is a deeply personal inquiry:

“What am I FOR?”

I am a capitalist, free enterpriser and free trader, laissez faire on social issues, a fervent believer in the first amendment as well as civility, a respecter of heroes, and a foe of dictators and autocrats.  I am willing to impose the death penalty on cold-blooded killers who have rejected our social contract, and I support public and private charity for people who need help through no fault of their own.  Not everyone shares that entire set of beliefs.  But we should all stand perpetually in awe of this 242-year-old American experiment that enables us to have sets of beliefs and to advocate for them.  Yes, what we enjoy in these United States IS an experiment, and even though we may think it is enduring because it has endured thus far, our democracy is still vulnerable to being upended and damaged by reckless leaders, just as a careless lab assistant can break a beaker and destroy years of research.

This last week of mourning for John McCain has provided us an opportunity for reflection — if we will take it.  It calls on each of us to rise to our better natures.  John McCain’s views on many political issues were somewhat beside the point – the point was his ability to reach decisions independently, to oppose bluntly without malice, and to keep as his guiding star the welfare of our country and our citizens. McCain withstood five and one-half years of torture and still refused early release from that hell.  How many of us could do that?  And then, having endured years of captivity and suffering at the hands of Vietnamese jailers, Senator McCain rose above that pain (and his continuing physical limitations caused by torture) to help lead the reconciliation between our two countries.  What he did over his military and political careers is both dazzling and humbling.

McCain was a giant.  At the very least, we should honor him by trying to emulate him, avoiding wherever possible the kind of meanness and selfishness that now pervades public discourse, and supporting public figures who embody at least a part of his towering values and character.

This November, as we are given the opportunity to engage in America’s most important and world-renowned tradition, we must VOTE.

November 6, 2018 is a Red-Letter Day

This is a plea that I will repeat more than once in the next 4 months or so.  I haven’t blogged much during the Trump Administration and the current (115th) Congress, mainly because the disappointments occur almost daily, and I cannot keep up.  Frankly, it’s too hard to put aside my outrage to try to be clever.  Instead, here is my message, blunt and simple.  I want you to circle the calendar for November 6, 2018—and VOTE.

In November 2016 Donald Trump was elected President with roughly 46 percent of the vote; Hillary Clinton received roughly 48 percent.  When matched against the overall turnout of just over 60 percent, that means Donald Trump was elected by 28% of the voting age population.  That’s right, barely a quarter of us pulled a lever for him.  But he’s there in the White House, along with his parasitic family — Large and in Charge.  And he’s gotten his way, mainly because his party majority in both houses of Congress has generally lined up behind him, notwithstanding his boorish, destructive conduct. 2018 is not a presidential year, but the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate, and innumerable local officeholders, are up for election on November 6.

Sooooooo…

  • If you are repulsed by the likes of Stephen Miller and people who think every immigrant who doesn’t look exactly like them is a member of MS-13, then tell them so on November 6.  VOTE!
  • If you think due process should extend to families seeking asylum in this country, then hang on to that November 6 date.  Don’t fail to VOTE!
  • If you think it’s a bad idea to punish competitive American businesses such as Harley-Davidson that export to the world by starting a blunderbuss trade war and subjecting those firms to retaliatory tariffs from our best trading partners, you can say so on November 6.  VOTE!
  • If you’d like to send a message to the slugs who admire Putin and disdain Trudeau, Macron, Merkel and May, then November 6 is your chance to do so.  VOTE!
  • If you think it’s grotesquely wrong and dangerous for a sitting President to label a (U.S.-born) federal judge as a biased “Mexican”, you can say so on November 6.  VOTE!
  • If you think a longstanding lawyer-client relationship with a bare-knuckles fixer like Mike Cohen is some indication of the client’s own ethics, then VOTE!
  • If you think that Senators and Congressmembers who once championed civility, not to mention due process and free trade, are cowards for failing to speak out in favor of those concepts, and against a President who trashes those ideas, you need to remember that calendar appointment for November 6.  You need to VOTE!*
  • If you think it’s wrong for 40 or 50 know-nothings to hold the entire House of Representatives (or at least the putative Republican majority) hostage until they get their way, then remember that on November 6.  VOTE!
  • If you think that it’s at least possible for our elected representatives to have higher standards than blind fealty to a narcissistic, early-morning tweeter, then VOTE!
  • If you think making war on the FBI by continually impugning its integrity is dangerous to the rule of law and respect for the rule of law, then VOTE!
  • You don’t have to sympathize with foul-mouthed actors and media personalities to disagree with the way the Administration is running the country, but to do that effectively, you have to VOTE!

Many of us already vote, either by early voting or on the formal Election Day.  But this time, we must beg, persuade, cajole, urge, and embarrass everyone we know to get off the sofa and do the same.  And we need to start early, and encourage early voting.  Our goal should be for 2018 to have the largest turnout in history.  Otherwise we will deserve everything that happens to the country over the next two years.

*Among others in a long list of craven officeholders, I am referring to my own Senator Ted Cruz and my own Representative John Culberson of Texas, both of whom are seeking re-election this year.