The Most Despicable Gambit Yet

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to limit each Texas county to one drop-off location for mail ballots is the most transparently despicable act in his entire career in public life. Harris County, the state’s most populous county, spans 1,777 square miles. Voters in the town of Tomball would have to drive over 30 miles (35 minutes or more) to drop off ballots. It’s hard to imagine a more naked effort to discourage voting, particularly in Democratic bastions.

Maybe he’ll get away with it. But we should remember. In the meantime, this writer urges everyone to call the Governor’s office at (800) 843-5789 or (512) 463-1782 to express his or her views.

John Cornyn, you’re no John McCain

In August 12, 2008, during the heat of his presidential campaign against Barack Obama, a woman came up to John McCain at a campaign rally and said, “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him, and he’s not, he’s not — he’s an Arab.” Without hesitation, Cain took the microphone back and said:

“No ma’am,” McCain said. “He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

That was in 2008, or in the words of George Lucas,  “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”

Since then, Donald Trump has campaigned for and become President, and here is a tiny sampling of what have we learned  about him — or heard from his lips:

Porn star payoffs from campaign funds (and lies about same),
mocking people with physical disabilities,
encouraging rally supporters to beat up protesters,
paying judgments by robbing a charity,
curiously expedited Chinese trademarks for family members,
taxpayers’ money going to Trump golf clubs that hired illegals and short-paid them,
leveraging foreign officials over foreign aid in “perfect phone calls” to get dirt on opponents, seeking help from Her Majesty’s Government to land the British Open at the Trump Turnberry golf course,
multiple convictions of Trump lawyers, campaign officials and other parasites for various crimes,
clearing peaceful protestors from public property in violation of their First Amendment rights (and lying about same),
making wild, unscientific recommendations about the pandemic, minimizing its consequences, and undercutting real scientists,
condemning mail-in voting as fraudulent without any basis,
attempting to defund the United States Postal Service to skew the election and impair citizens’ voting rights, even  to the point of removing mailboxes in key states,and, most recently,
in a smarmy trope reminiscent of the “birther” controversy with President Obama, wondering out loud whether Kamala Harris is really an American citizen.  

Back to John McCain.  We know what he said when someone expressed hateful ignorance about Obama’s citizenship.  Is there anything Donald Trump might do or say that would elicit disapproval (never mind condemnation) from our senior senator John Cornyn?  Most likely no reporter has been able to catch Cornyn in the hallways for comment on the issue of Senator Harris’s citizenship, but we can guess.  Based on past experience, either Senator Cornyn will mischaracterize Trump’s inquiry as legitimate or he will excuse it as unserious.  Earlier this year, Cornyn defended Trump’s decision to clear a path through peaceful protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets so he could go hold a Bible upside down and take a photo in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church as “a necessary security measure” because the protesters did not clear the area when they were asked to do so.  In other words, even though the order was blatantly illegal, the protestors were at fault.  And, when President Trump suggested that the November election might be delayed (which did not happen even during the Civil War or World War II), Senator Cornyn’s reaction was, “I think it’s a joke, I guess, I don’t know how else to interpret it,” he told reporters. “Obviously he doesn’t have the power to do that.”   

Where was the condemnation?  Or the outrage?   

Yes, 2008 was a long time ago, in a different age. 

Senator Cornyn, you served in the same Senate with John McCain, but you’re no John McCain.      

Think again!

There seems to be an assumption among Democrats that Donald Trump is so odious, dishonest, narcissistic, corrupt and petty that he cannot possibly win in November.  His impulsive, often false narratives during the pandemic and in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police have cemented the Democrats’ contempt for Trump and reinforced their view that November should be a walkover.  MSNBC talking heads gleefully cite bad poll numbers, while occasionally barely nodding to the fact that the election is still 100 days away.  Trump cannot win?  

Think again.

“Defund the police.”  Is there any expression better suited to reinvigorate Donald Trump’s re-election campaign?  Where would we be without law enforcement?  The average voter still believes in policing, so this catchphrase, which has been massaged to mean many other things, is frightening.  And Trump knows this.  His ad “Abolished” capitalizes on this fear. Watch it and think again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOOlOMLaFho

There have been many sober discussions about what really needs to be done about policing–community based policing, more outreach for recruiting, better training, higher standards.  But all of these require funding.  Even if we strip the police of their surplus DoD equipment, it will take more, not less funding for such labor-intensive tasks as increased training, recruitment with higher standards, as well as quicker and more certain punishment for criminal rights violators.  How about “Reform the police?” Or “Fix the police?”

Joe Biden seems to have recognized this.  In early summer, he said, “We don’t have to defund the police departments, we have to make sure they meet minimum basic standards of decency.” https://apnews.com/afs:Content:9083703494  Decency. That’s the word that should infuse the Biden campaign.

In the era of soundbites, and the 24-hour news cycle, Trump is currently winning the war, notwithstanding the fact that all but one major media player denigrates him.  Part of the reason for this is Trump’s cavalier disregard for the truth.  He is not deterred even when decisively contradicted by a Fox News employee—Chris Wallace – on this occasion, regarding his false allegation that Biden signed a charter to defund the police. (Side note:  how does a journalist like Chris Wallace keep his job at a network so singlemindedly devoted to the President’s reelection?) 

But the Democrats have made it too easy for the incumbent.  What in the world is the Mayor of Portland thinking?  How can he not deploy the Portland police department to prevent demonstrators from trying to torch the federal building?  Mayor Wheeler may be right that the federal agents are “inflaming the situation,” but a little more common sense on Mr. Wheeler’s part would be helpful.  All he has done is provide the GOP with more video for what will be 100 days of inflammatory, deceptive advomercials for Mr. Trump.  And why won’t Lori Lightfoot admit that Chicago has a problem instead of telling Trump’s press secretary to “watch [her] mouth.” Mayor Lightfoot should be out there telling Chicagoans that if they try to torch anything, they will be dealt with. Firmly. But the Mayor is seemingly more focused on Bill Barr’s bullyboys, not law enforcement. So, think again.

The Democrats are their own worst enemy.  Trump won the last election over a qualified, capable but flawed opponent by portraying himself as caring about the Forgotten.  Ironically, this millionaire who steals from his own charity set himself up as the enemy of the uncaring Elites—the Elites who think free trade is a good thing even if it displaces some bluecollar workers, and who wring their hands over some “isolated” rough stuff (like murder) by police while being indifferent to violent civil disobedience that includes torching private shops.   .

Why is this? Marc Thiessen, one of the President’s more rational apologists (setting the bar low here), observed recently that the pandemic has impacted Trump’s voting base much more deeply than it has the upper middle class: “The brunt of the damage is not being borne by the elites who work in the information economy but by those at the middle and the bottom of the economic ladder — the forgotten Americans who were finally doing better under President Trump until this crisis arrived. Before the pandemic, the U.S. economy had added a half-million manufacturing jobs and low-wage workers were experiencing the fastest pay increases. Most of that progress has been wiped out. For these Americans, today’s lockdown seems like a return to the nightmare they experienced following the 2008 financial crisis …. Now, these Americans see the same elites dismissing their suffering once again — insisting we must continue draconian lockdown measures that are putting them on the brink of financial ruin. They see the contempt of the media elites who mock the anti-lockdown protests taking place across the country (look at those rubes, they’re not even social distancing while they march!) and who heap scorn on Trump for his focus on reopening the economy. The message they get is: The elites don’t understand the utter devastation I am experiencing, but Trump does.” 

Of course, the Republicans are their second-worst enemy. The fact that the GOP is in disarray over the next round of help for the truly downtrodden doesn’t seem to register – yet. 

My sideline, amateur, but earnest advice to the Dems is:  support “law and order” but emphasize that it means good, non-brutal policing, join in bashing China, and continue to point out Trump’s affinity for the rich, even including Ghislaine Maxwell.  Fight hard for a stimulus that focuses on the truly needy.  Finally, don’t forget the key distinguishing factor between Joe Biden and Donald Trump  — decency. SIx-pack Joe is decent in a way that Trump does not aspire to, let alone could ever become.

Decency will pave the way.

The Next President?

Greg Abbott has fired the first shots of the 2024 Abbott for President campaign.  Texas Governor Greg Abbott is more affable than the incumbent, but that is deceptive.  Students of history will remember how Dwight Eisenhower outmaneuvered Robert Taft, and then Joe McCarthy, all behind a deceptively mild façade.  Abbott is more facile than Ike, more restrained than Trump (setting the bar low here), but as hard-edged and calculating as either. The Governor’s mostly-successful effort to ban hospitals from performing “non-essential” surgeries (read: abortions) during the COVID-19 pandemic provides an excellent example of marrying allegedly highminded notions to catering to his base.  His detailed plan for a phased re-opening of Texas is a master stroke.  It calls for most establishments to reopen at 25% capacity now, and 50% capacity after an evaluation to occur around May 18.  It also distinguishes between urban and rural counties, which makes some sense but also liberates his voters, many of whom reside outside Texas’ large cities. https://gov.texas.gov/news/post/governor-abbott-announces-phase-one-to-open-texas-establishes-statewide-minimum-standard-health-protocols

But most telling, while working in apparent tandem with the Trump Administration, the Governor has presented a plan that seems comprehensive, thoughtful, and workable, and without the haphazard caterwauling that characterizes so many Trumpian initiatives.  A few weeks ago, Abbott appointed like-minded personnel to his Strike Force to Reopen Texas—Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, along with media-savvy business types such as Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale and Tilman Fertitta.  Contrast that to the revolving door in President Trump’s university (I say “university” because so many of his acolytes are “schooled” by Trump and later cast aside as scapegoats). The Governor makes no such mistakes, in part because his pronouncements are limited and nuanced.  He will not be blamed if COVID-19 cases and fatalities spike after a phased re-opening of our State.   He will simply pull back on his plan.    Although he may have been unsettled by President Trump’s 24-hour turnaround on Georgia Governor Brian Kemp for attempting to follow the President’s signals to reopen his state, Abbott retains the flexibility to slow down his initiative.

Abbott believes in “federalism”—but only to the extent it favors the position he currently occupies.  Local governments have been pilloried by Governor Abbott for years, perhaps because Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio contain voting majorities well-disposed toward his political opponents.  His plan to re-open Texas also had the effect of superseding and nullifying directives from Democratic county judges in the major urban counties (who are the chief executives for those counties), including mandatory masks, thus achieving the two-fold purpose of gratifying the base and frustrating officeholders who are political opponents.

Meanwhile, Governor Abbott has touched every radical base during his tenure.  The first eyebrow-raiser occurred early in his first term when he directed the Texas State Guard to “monitor” U.S. military exercises in central Texas (the Jade Helm exercises) so that Texans would “know that their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.”  Who else but a wingnut could think that the U.S. Army was plotting to take over Texas?   Later. when Abbott signed an open carry law, he chose Red’s Indoor Range, a popular gun store and shooting range in Pflugerville, as the site for the signing ceremony.  By turns during his gubernatorial tenure, Abbott has made overtures to the anti-vaxxers and those who oppose local ordinances limiting plastic bags.  But he’s careful about it.  The Texas Supreme Court bailed him out on the plastic bag ordinance by finding that cities did not have the authority to enact such ordinances.  When Dan Patrick advocated for a “bathroom bill” to force everyone to use a restroom corresponding to the gender of their birth, and wasted a legislative session that had serious issues such as education funding to address, Abbott stood on the sidelines waiting to see what would happen.  When the bill failed, Abbott was unsoiled.  On the other hand, the Governor expressed outrage at the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision upholding gay marriage. He actively encouraged Texas’s 254 county clerks to refuse to issue marriage license to gays if their conscience forbade it.  And this from a licensed attorney and former state judge who presumably understands the meaning of Article III of the Constitution.  

Governor Abbott’s hostility to immigrants, a key ingredient of our economy, is palpable.  (Houston is home to the renowned Texas Medical Center, where at least 25% of healthcare workers, including physicians, are foreign-born.)  A few years ago, Abbott announced that Texas would refuse to admit a pitifully small number of Syrian refugees who had managed to escape Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime and had been thoroughly vetted by the Trump Administration.  (His lawsuit against the federal government was, not surprisingly, unsuccessful).   The Catholic bishops of Texas, despite hearty approval of Abbott’s strong anti-abortion stance, nonetheless condemned his stance on refugees.

Governor Abbott’s record on voting rights is reliable. That is, reliably hostile to making it less onerous to vote by mail.  He also opposes votes by non-citizens.  (Well, who doesn’t?)  A few years ago, David Whitley, the Abbott-appointed Secretary of State and chief elections officer, sought to purge over 90,000 registered voters from the rolls — wrongly.  Many of those individuals were legitimately registered and entitled to vote and Mr. Whitley had to backtrack—and resign. The Governor’s protestations that he had nothing to do with that debacle were disproved by emails showing that he was advocating strong action to purge the rolls to the officials involved before the policy was implemented.  So he’s not just a conservative, he’s a prevaricator. 

Most disturbing, Abbott has called for a national convention of the States to write a new Constitution to remedy perceived abuses by the United States Supreme Court.   Presumably he wants to make sure that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.  But the possibilities and dangers inherent in a constitutional convention are endless.  Such a convention requires just 2/3 of the state legislatures to call for it—in other words, 34 states.  Trump carried 30 states in 2016, so it could happen.   Over the last 40 years, many state legislatures have called for constitutional amendments, ranging from anti-abortion moves to a balanced federal budget to adjusting the Electoral College.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_state_applications_for_an_Article_V_Convention  The mind boggles at the thought of such a convention influenced by a President with Abbott’s inclinations.  Just imagine a new American regime, but instead of an Attorney General like William Barr, a President of similar ilk.

This man is a calm, unruffled, purposeful radical, whereas Trump is simply an impulsive, self-centered lout.  Abbott is smarter than Mike Pence (who actually visited the Mayo Clinic without a mask just this week).  He’s the governor of a large state and will receive outsized attention both within and without Texas.  And he will undoubtedly leave Nikki Haley in the dust.  That’s not necessarily based on Abbott’s talents, which are formidable, but an accident of birth and heritage.  The Republicans are not going to nominate a woman who was born Nimrata Randhawa, even if she has a “neighbor girl down the block” nickname, even if her husband is Methodist and served in the military, and even if she has slavishly complimented Mr. Trump over the last few months.  Better a handsome Anglo male than a sometimes-even-tempered woman from a deep red state like South Carolina.

You have been warned.  

This is Not Impeachable

Phase I of the “trade deal” with China is not an impeachable offense.  But President Trump, who fancies himself a master dealmaker, has once again managed to maneuver the United States out of a strong position into another unmitigated defeat.  Notwithstanding all of his foreign policy outrages and blunders, including offending most of our allies, Mr. Trump was on the side of Right when he identified China as a serial cheater deserving of retribution.  But the key issues on China trade have always been its theft of our intellectual property, often through limiting access to Chinese markets to foreign companies that shared their IP with their Chinese counterparts—and then sponsoring the theft of that IP.  Phase I of this trade deal does nothing – nada, zilch, bupkus – to address this.

What was our key leverage on China?  First, tariffs on Chinese imports.  Approximately $160 billion in tariffs were scheduled to go into effect later this month. And second, although it was not widely reported, rising citizen discontent arising from food shortages, exacerbated by a pig disease (African swine fever) that has caused the price of pork to nearly double in China.  Pork is a staple in China on most household tables.  In the last year, nearly half of China’s hog population has died, whether from the disease or slaughter.  That’s around 100 million hogs.  There aren’t enough hogs in the rest of the world to satisfy Chinese needs. So China needs our pork.

With a predictable political master stroke to enhance his personal re-election chances, Trump and his courtiers (Lighthizer, Navarro, Mnuchin, and Kudlow) abandoned the fight. We have agreed to halt the scheduled imposition of additional tariffs in Phase I, lower some existing tariffs, and (we think) secured an agreement from the Chinese to buy more of our agricultural products.  Sounds like a win-win?  Not at all. Some U.S. farmers will be happy.  But the Chinese have scored a great victory—they can continue to sell into our markets, keep their component manufacturers happy, and steal our technology while satisfying their citizenry’s need for protein.  The President has also bought a few more votes in the Midwest, enhancing his reelection chances—not to mention deflecting attention in a timely fashion from the impeachment process.  But on the key issues, Phase I is merely another example of the American President and his claque benefitting Trump while allowing the USA to be taken to the cleaners.  We have no reason to even expect a Phase II. 

What he has done is Not Impeachable, but it is incredibly damaging and boneheaded.  If one considers only American interests, Mr. Trump has now moved into second place behind Neville Chamberlain in the pantheon of Great Suckers.  The Dealmaker has sold us out and virtually guaranteed the Chinese will proceed in their planned march toward hegemony—in Asia and sooner than we should have expected, the world.

Please, no more 10-point plans!

The other day I expressed my dismay to a more liberal friend that Elizabeth Warren was steadily gaining ground in the race for the Democratic nomination.   Not because Senator Warren is not book-smart; she is.  Not because she doesn’t want to make life better for average Americans; she does.  But I am dismayed because she seems to have so little sense about the engines of our American success and seems not to recognize that all her “ambitious plans” are fantastic nonsense.  That critical deficiency will get Trump re-elected.  (OOPS!  There…I said it.)  My friend replied, “She doesn’t mean it.”  Oh?  And that’s good news?

Take “Medicare for All” as just one sad example.  We think we know what that means, but what we don’t know is how much it will cost and how will we pay for it.  And neither does Senator Warren.  Or, judging by her evasive answers, perhaps she knows the number is so huge that she just won’t say.  Is it because she knows we cannot pay for it, or because she knows that the costs are so outrageous that they would bankrupt the economy, or because she really doesn’t care to know?  All those possibilities are disheartening, whether they reveal an immense cynicism about the electorate that mirrors Donald Trump’s — or a willful, immense ignorance about economics that (wait for it!) rivals Donald Trump’s.   The truth is that Medicare for All will cost in the trillions, takes away private options, which even President Obama knew better than to advance, and worst of all, it will merely extend our historic unwillingness to confront the underlying problems that create our healthcare crisis.  We are obese, we eat and drink stupidly, we don’t exercise, and we smoke too much (although in this one area, we are making progress).  Treating the citizenry with ever-more-expensive drugs and interventions is about the least cost-effective way to address the problem.  And, according to PriceWaterhouse, which studied the problem, it will get worse.  https://finance.yahoo.com/news/pwc-backs-alternative-approach-to-health-care-delivery-spending-114953894.html.  One wonders how Elizabeth Warren, who professes to understand Everyman, hasn’t walked through enough Walmart parking lots and shopping aisles to face up to this, let alone understand its policy implications. 

Let’s face it – we ration healthcare now.  Warren pretends that we won’t have to.  That’s a lie.  Whether employers, insurers, or the United States Government rations healthcare, it will be rationed.  How should we do this?  By treating seniors better than children?  By purporting to cover everything with no thought to the greater good?  Why not at least charge a premium for obesity?

And what about “Free college for all?”  It’s laudable that Senator Warren empathizes with those who face high student debt or who passed on college because of cost.  But she seems never to have come to grips with the fact that if you make something free, it will be purchased with little thought for its utility, and it’ll just cost more.  She wants to reward people who took on debt, regardless of their course of study.  We need anthropology majors, but just how many do we need?  I prefer the blunt honesty of Amy Klobuchar, who told an audience of college students, “I wish I could staple a free college diploma under every one of your chairs.” “I wish I could do that, but I have to be straight with you and tell you the truth.” Instead, she supported refinancing of student loans, the expansion of Pell grants, and free community college.   She also supports helping more students get certificates or two-year degrees to enter trades — “everything from welding to technology to robotics” — where a bachelor’s degree isn’t necessary.  That makes sense.  It’s not sexy, it’s not Total Free Stuff, but it’s sensible.  And it might do more for our economy and our society than “free college for all.”

 We need a new paradigm, actually, one that is really not so new.  It involves real honesty – putting forward ideas for things that just might work, not initiatives that attract the most short-term interest or “energize the base.”  And with that honesty (we hope) will come other aspects of simple decency, and rational discourse.   Call me naïve, but I believe there is a great hunger in the land for straight talk, which is in its own way as eloquent as any paean to the impossible. I don’t think that 48 percent of the country has horns and a tail, as some people believe of “the other guys.” Democratic strategist Michael Starr Hopkins recently observed,“No 10-point plan will solve the moral crisis that has infected our discourse.  The next president will not be able to rely on policy prescriptions to heal the wounds inflicted by the Trump presidency.  He or she will have to offer the type of inspirational leadership that has historically reserved for moments of profound tragedy.  Because let’s face it, we are in the midst of a horrific tragedy.”  

Please don’t scoff at the notion, but we need another Ronald Reagan.  Or a George H.W. Bush with eloquence to match his earnestness.  Or a Barack Obama who is not so contemptuous of the democratic process (not that many members of Congress are not deserving of contempt), so that future Lois Lerners get prosecuted rather than shielded, and future immigration reform comes through the Congress, not executive fiat.  (That’s why Obamacare has survived and DACA won’t.)  Similarly, true reform of our firearms laws will come through reaching out to the populace, above the heads of the current pack of obdurate, quarrelsome legislators, to inspire voters to force their representatives to do the right thing, even if only incrementally.  Trite?  Perhaps so, but one advantage of being trite is that you’re less likely to be wrong.  It will be very, very difficult to effect change, but it’s worth the effort, step by step.  There are plenty of Democratic candidates who have the capacity for that kind of patient, persistent effort; whether they will be recognized and rewarded for it with the nomination remains to be seen.  But I am convinced that blunt-instrument “solutions” won’t work.  And undemocratic shortcuts birthed by impatience divide us; they don’t unite us.

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?