Unsolicited Advice for the President-elect

On the off-chance that she survives all of her self-inflicted wounds and emerges in a week as our President-elect, I offer the following unsolicited advice to our next President:

Dear President-elect Clinton:

It’s 8 a.m. Wednesday.  Call Paul Ryan.  Keep calling until he answers.  Tell him you want to make a deal.  Maybe many deals.  Tell him that the social issues are off the table, but you want to know what he really wants on the budget/tax front (we know that will be a combination of entitlement cuts and certain tax reforms), and let him make the case to you that those items will stimulate job growth (he’s right — they will).  Trade that for some more taxes on people making over $500,000.  Both of you will need to show some backbone and make the case for this compromise to the country, over the heads of the leftwing cranks (read:  Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) and rightwing crazies (too many to name) in both Houses of Congress.

Next, call Mitch McConnell, but if he doesn’t answer, just leave a voicemail.  Tell him the train has left the station on the right wing’s social agenda, but if he’ll confirm Merrick Garland, maybe you will hold off on appointing Barack Obama to the Supreme Court, and even wait until your second term to drive the coal industry out of business.  While you’re at it, figure out what tweaks and revisions can be made to TPP that will allow you to gracefully reverse your absurd pre-nomination opposition to it, ramrod its passage through the Senate with McConnell’s help, and you can both claim victory.   Also, tell McConnell (sweetly—see below) that if he thinks he can make you a one-term President, he’s welcome to try.

See, there is something you can do with each of these guys. I promise you, Americans are yearning for bipartisanship.  If you succeed in injecting just a little of that back into public life, you will be the beneficiary.

While you’re at it, promise both Ryan and McConnell that you’ll support under cover of darkness any ideas they have for encasing Ted Cruz in carbonite for at least the next 20 (uh, make that 200) years.

It’s Wednesday afternoon.  Tell the First Gentleman-elect that he can give all the speeches he wants – for free.  And only for free.  After all, isn’t a household net worth of over $100 MM enough already?  You and Bill need to find someone — not Sidney Blumenthal or John Podesta — to take steps to fold all the Clinton “foundations,” “global initiatives,” and “charities” into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or at least turn them over to Melinda to run.  Maybe she’ll give Chelsea a job.  After all, your real daughter appears to be the only one in those outfits with a conscience.  The rest of the hangers-on, sycophants, courtiers, and FOB’s can go out and get real jobs.

When I hear “Abedin/Mills,” I think “Haldeman/Ehrlichman.” And we know how that turned out. Thank Huma and Cheryl for their past service and don’t take their phone calls, emails or texts – and don’t make or send any to this duo, either, and under no circumstances allow them anywhere near the White House.  Really.

Call Bob Gates  and Colin Powell and find out who they think would make a good Secretary of Defense.  Consider James Webb for the job.  Call Condi Rice and ask the same question about State.

Call Philip Zelikow and tell him he must accept the post of National Security Adviser.  He’s up to it.

Announce that you will appoint a blue ribbon (at least one-third Republican) commission to revise Social Security.  Make sure the commission members know that they must (a) raise the retirement age by at least one month per year for the next 36 years, (b) advocate means-testing benefits, and (c) ensure that the COLAs are honest, not manipulated in either direction.

Announce that you will appoint the gaggle of defeated GOP Senators (they’ll all be moderates) to “fix” the ACA.  Put it on their backs, and let’s see what they come up with.

Freeze civilian Government hiring. ‘Nuff said.

Expand the military by 1,000,000 personnel.  This was the stimulus package I advocated waaaayyy back in 2009 when President Obama took office.  Such a program would have had, and will still have, immense benefits: (a) decreasing the ranks of the unemployed, particularly 18- to 25-year-olds, (b) providing discipline in work habits and training in technical skills to those same young persons who most need it, so they ultimately become net contributors and taxpayers in the civilian economy, (c) providing medical care to the same group –- a better alternative than Obamacare with its stratospheric deductibles and co-pays — while training them in healthy habits that will ultimately bend the cost curve, and (d) letting Putin and the Iranians know that there’s a new sheriff in town, while heartening our fearful allies, and moving the fence-sitters in our direction.

Make a speech before Thanksgiving that explicitly supports Israel and a two-state solution, and insist that the Arab world and Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, on pain of isolation.  We don’t need their oil the way we used to.

It’s time to heal.  When dealing with your political adversaries, try to act like Bush 41, or Ronald Reagan — not like Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie, or Rudy Giuliani.  Act like Franklin Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter (most of the time), not like Harry Reid or Elizabeth Warren.  This will be a hard lesson for you, and old habits die hard.  But you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  And enforce rigorously the same level of civility among your courtiers, advisers, and other minions.   Believe me, if you can do it (and with your iron will you should be able to do it), you’ll be glad you did.

The preceding is unpaid advice, but I think it’s worth a lot more than some of the advice you’ve gotten so far.  I really want you to be successful, even legendary.


Lee Kaplan


A Four-letter Word

I’ve been looking for a word.  A word to describe Donald Trump.  No word encapsulates the Republican GOP nominee perfectly, but this one about sums it up:  he’s a lout.  Not since Joe McCarthy have we seen a personage on the national scene that so aptly fills, even overflows, that little four-letter word.*

Trump stands alone.  From insulting Megan Kelly (and bringing her to heel), Trump took all the wrong lessons.  In the month since he cleared the field, Trump has managed to double down, or even triple down, on his efforts to alienate huge voter blocs.  It is a commonplace that GOP candidates cannot afford to lose the women’s vote by more than 10 percentage points.  In 2000 George W. Bush eked out a win because, although he was 11 points behind Gore among women, the results were exactly reversed among men–and the Electoral College overcame his losing the national vote.  In 2004 Bush narrowed the gap significantly (48% to 51% for Gore with women voters) and won handily.  Barack Obama crushed McCain and Romney by 13 and 11 percentage points, respectively, in that demographic and cruised to victories.  It’s pretty obvious that women, who are over half the voting public, are a critical group.  So what has Trump done to entice, or at least hold some of them in a race  where his opponent almost certainly will be the first female presidential nominee of a major party?  Uh, nothing.  He keeps calling Hillary Clinton “shrill” – just the kind of borderline sexist comment guaranteed to grate like fingernails on the chalkboard for independent voters—male and female alike.  Why do that?  If it’s calculated, he is a lout.  If it comes naturally to him, he’s still a lout.   Earlier Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton didn’t have the stamina or strength to serve – which has enough unpleasant overtones anyway (not to mention being demonstrably untrue).  But “shrill”? There are plenty of substantive issues where Hillary Clinton is vulnerable, not to mention character issues.  But this?

And now, despite the staring-you-in-the-face facts that Republicans must make inroads in the Hispanic vote for a GOP nominee to have a chance of overcoming the electoral math, Trump continues to assert that a judge with a Hispanic surname is a biased “Mexican”.  And he piles on by claiming that any Muslim is also disqualified from presiding over his many lawsuits.

In Trump’s world, being questioned about his business ethics is sacrilege, and anyone doing so (or merely presiding evenhandedly over one of his lawsuits) must be a sleaze, or a Mexican, or a Muslim, or maybe all three.


Even if we give The Lout a pass on the recent rally where he referred to a member of the audience as “my African American,”  Wow again.

Who in the GOP will step up and not merely condemn Trump’s statements, but also affirmatively refuse to endorse this man?     Well, Lindsey Graham, for one.  After Trump’s riff on Judge Curiel’s presumed ancestry-based bias, Senator Graham said, “This is the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy.”  And “If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it.”  And, “There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.”

Paul Ryan, are you listening?

The Freak Show

November 2016 should be a “no-way-the-Republicans-can-lose” Presidential election.  The country is in a sour mood and senses, rightly, that things have gone awry.  Our President is snubbed at airports all over the world (and it’s cold comfort that the “snubbers” are people “on the wrong side of history”), our best friends the Brits take offense at being lectured and threatened if they don’t vote “the right way” on the EU, true U.S. employment is still millions of jobs below pre-2008 levels, and many of the new jobs pay less than the jobs previously lost.  From ISIS to insurance premiums, Americans feel threatened, anxious and unhappy. That is tailor-made for the opposition party to capture the Presidency.   But it’s highly likely that the next President will be a Democrat, and more specifically, an ethically-challenged, been-on-the-national-scene-too-long, finger-to-the-wind, Nixonian-persona Democrat.  The Republicans really have no one to blame but themselves.  How has this happened?


Any Republican with a pulse and an IQ above 85 understands that the GOP must frame this election around just two issues:  jobs and national security.  The Democrats are vulnerable (and should be mortally wounded) on both issues.  To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s 1980 rhetorical checklist:  “Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago?”  Here we are, nine presidential election cycles later, and the Gipper’s questions should be the Republicans’ talking points.  But they (or at least the ones energized enough to vote in GOP primaries) apparently have all been bonked on the head and suffer from collective amnesia.



Even now, after almost five years of anemic “recovery,” our true employment rate (not the phony, manipulated unemployment rate) is probably about 73 percent, versus around 75 percent in pre-Great Recession 2007.  Put it another way, we are at least 2 or 3 million jobs lighter than we should be, given the increase in the size of the work force during that time. And the jobs mix is tilted towards lower-paying, less-secure positions.  No matter how much they may try to blame others, neither the Obama Administration, nor its surrogates, nor MSNBC can put much lipstick on this pig.  But other than vague promises, the GOP debates and talking points have touched on jobs only tangentially, having opted instead for an anti-immigration, anti-trade free-for-all and a discussion of small hands and transgender bathroom predators.


A strong jobs economy affects almost every aspect of national life:  it means more taxes paid to help decrease the deficit and the appalling national debt; it helps pay for the “entitlements” that many Americans now regard as their birthright; it finances a strong military so that we are more credible overseas, and most important, it contributes to a sense of well-being among American families.  By contrast, our on-again, off-again 7-year “recovery” is angst-inducing.


National Security

It is a commonplace that these are troubled times in the world.  However arguable the merits of the Obama/Kerry initiatives in Iran and Cuba, it is beyond dispute that our relationships with traditional allies are frayed.  When Joe Biden discusses the Administration’s “overwhelming frustration” with Israel (read: Prime Minister Netanyahu), and claims that Israeli settlements and land seizures are “moving Israel in the wrong direction,” when the Saudi king greets two-bit Gulf rulers but not the U.S. President at the airport, and when we tell Canada that its natural resources are too dirty to move through the U.S., things aren’t going well.  And when China builds airbases on hitherto-barren reefs, and Russia is unmoved by sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, and sending its pilots to do barrel rolls around U.S. military planes (not to mention being rightly perceived as having displaced the U.S. as the influential player in Syria), Americans are uneasy.  Further, our halting, incremental response to ISIS, which the President unfortunately once called a Jayvee team (a quote he tried to walk back), does not jibe with Americans’ view of what the United States should be able to accomplish.  Our unease is truly justified – the overseas situation is baaaad.  But what has been the GOP response?  Suggestions of carpet-bombing ISIS (Cruz’s non-starter when ISIS is billeted with local populations) and admiration for Putin (Trump’s “he’s just a strong leader” approach) are worse than boneheaded.  The official Ted Cruz response to terror seems to be to forbid all immigration by  “Syrian Muslims” – without any explanation for how one can tell the Syrian Christians from Syrian Muslims.   And the official Donald Trump response to terror is – gee, who can tell?


So what ARE they talking about?

As it turns out, the two GOP frontrunners’ main contribution to the national security debate seems to be anti-immigrant talk.  The Republicans’ descent from former California Governor Pete Wilson (who first made this a GOP issue and just emerged from the dustbin of history to endorse Cruz) through strident drumbeaters such as former Rep. Tom Tancredo and current Rep. Steve King to the current Republican contestants virtually guarantees that the Hispanic vote will tilt heavily Democratic.  The odds are overwhelming that in November the Republican nominee will be someone who has so alienated Hispanics that the Democrats will get at least 65 percent of their vote, which could alone be decisive in states such as Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia.  That’s a huge chunk of electoral votes (68), and the Republicans lost all of those states but Arizona (11 votes) the last time around.   And, in the meantime, Ted Cruz is railing against letting any Muslim immigrants into this country, because the FBI cannot vet them all. Logically, that means banning all immigration.  After all, Ted, how can you tell if they are Muslims?  What if they claim to be Christians—but they’re lying?


What about domestic initiatives?  Apparently the Republicans have also forgotten that at least half of the electorate is female and that a large majority has had enough of the anti-abortion activists.  Maybe these women don’t like abortion, and cannot imagine ever being in the position of wanting, let alone undergoing an abortion, but they don’t particularly think that legislators should be that involved in ruling their bodies.  How is it that the Republicans believe in laissez-faire capitalism (including letting unwanted babies receive little or no social services once they are born) but simultaneously resist letting women choose on this most intimate of decisions?  Does anyone doubt that this position alone dooms Donald Trump and probably Ted Cruz as well in the general election?


What else are the Republicans talking about?  Mythical assaults in public restrooms!  Is there some reliable statistic showing that transgendered people (news flash:  they are people) are more likely to assault young girls than oversexed heterosexual frat boys—or that they are more dangerous to young boys than high school gym coaches (and future Congressmen)?  And, just when we thought the debate had already descended below the lowest bar anyone could imagine, out comes Trump citing as gospel a National Enquirer story linking Rafael Cruz to Lee Harvey Oswald.


It’s a freak show.  Cruz or Trump, Trump or Cruz…they’re gonna lose, and based on their issue-free, bottom-dwelling campaigns, they deserve to lose.

The Best and the Brightest?

I digress from political and economic issues to one that may seem more parochial, but speaks volumes about the absurd extent to which college administrators at elite schools refuse to accept that students can — and should — grow during their college years and at least begin to find their own way.  One wonders whether students in China, Russia or India are patronized and demeaned to this extent … and what it bodes for our future.

A brief history:  Approximately 10 years ago, the previous Princeton administration under President Shirley Tilghman embarked on a plan to balkanize the already-intimate University community (there are just about 5,300 undergraduates) into residential colleges.  The University spent tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars creating these residential colleges in order to combat purported student isolation and improve the Princeton experience.   Although the University asserts that these residential colleges “are the center of residential life and offer an array of academic and social programs that enhance the undergraduate experience,” apparently utopia has not yet been achieved.  The recent Princeton Alumni Weekly reported on the findings of a blue-ribbon task force appointed to improve on the existing model.  The 25-page Report of the Task Force on the Residential College Model  (with elegant prose, numerous bullet points, and three appendices) represents Princeton’s backhanded admission that things haven’t changed much and that there is still much work to do. (You can find it online at http://www.princeton.edu/strategicplan/files/Task-Force-Report-on-the-Residential-College-Model.pdf.  I recommend a cup of really strong coffee first.)  To quote from the report:  “The Task Force on the Residential College Model embraced the University’s commitment to provide its students with a vibrant residential experience that advances learning, enables interaction and meaningful engagement, and supports both personal growth and community development. The task force further intends its recommendations to realize a vision in which the residential colleges truly feel like home to our students. They should provide a place where they feel welcome and accepted, and where they come together to learn from their diverse experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds, and challenge and inspire one another.”

Yes, that’s a direct quote. And it’s sad.  Princeton has accepted students whom it rightly believes are brilliant, inquisitive, intellectually curious, and open to diverse and interesting experiences, but has also concluded that they lack the capacity to create or obtain those experiences without additional University intervention.  The message of the task force is that 500-person residential colleges are still too large for students to feel at home, the students are just not up to the task of meeting and making friends, and that the University must arrange, manage, and even order appropriate student interaction. 

Here’s a news flash – young adults who are continuously massaged and managed so that they never experience occasional uncertainty, confusion, discomfort and even isolation between the age of 18 and 22 are not getting value for their education, let alone preparation for “the real world.”  But the University appears dead set on making sure that is the new social order.

May I suggest a cheaper, promising alternative to the next expensive initiative?.  Hire a motivational speaker with comedic chops to deliver during the first week of school a message to all incoming students (Jimmy Fallon or Seth Myers might do it gratis, as this gig will supply material for multiple monologues, or perhaps Princeton has at least one or two charismatic faculty who are already on salary):  “Hey, newbies!  We let you into this beautiful, idyllic place because you are brilliant, inquisitive, intellectually curious, have a lot to offer to others, and are open to learning from them, too!  So go out and do it.  Don’t just learn in classes.  Walk around the campus with your head up, and (gulp) make eye contact! Make new friends!  Sit down with new people in the dining hall and ask questions! Invite people to your room for late-night arguments!”

If 21st century Ivy Leaguers with 2300+ SAT scores can’t do this on their own, then should anyone do it for them?

“Thank you, frackers!”

2015 has been a pretty bleak year for the country.  Labor force participation remains at a stubborn four-decade low and even The New York Times admits that we are 2.8 million jobs behind pre-recession levels of employment; the economy is so “fragile” that even a ¼-point Fed rate increase is treated like a live hand grenade.  ACA enrollment has yet to meet any predictions, despite multiple extensions and two gifts from the Supreme Court. The Iran deal was so laughably one-sided that the Administration made sure that Democrats would not even have to vote on it.  And now, with terrorists spraying bullets and bombs in California and France, we have only a climate change photo-op to oppose it.

But  there is one immense Christmas present under the White House tree and on the doorstep of every American household.  The fracking revolution wrought by the U.S. oil industry (without any help from the Administration) has resulted in every American family having at least $1,000 in extra spending money.  It’s better to be lucky than good; President Obama has dodged one bullet and he has the Saudis and the U.S. oil industry to thank.  That technology leap developed by the “oil barons” spurred an increase in domestic production that the Administration retarded wherever possible (by stonewalling and stalling drilling permits on federal lands, where production has not increased).  It caused the Saudis to open the spigots to protect their turf.  So, instead of $90 a barrel, we’re at $40 a barrel.  By a very conservative estimate, every family has approximately $1,000 in extra spending money — due explicitly to the decline in gasoline prices.

Here’s the math.  American households average well over 20,000 miles driven each year.  Let’s take the low figure.  Household vehicles (allegedly) average 20 miles per gallon.  No one who actually drives a car really believes that the current U.S. household vehicle gas mileage average is this high, but let’s take it on faith.  Those figures work out to every household buying at least 1,000 gallons of gas per year.  Gas is a dollar cheaper than a year ago, and that will continue.  As early as January 2015, GasBuddy.com senior analyst Patrick DeHaan predicted that plummeting prices would save U.S. motorists about $97 billion overall this year, or about $750 per household.  But that number was based on gas prices averaging $2.64 per gallon, when oil was about $53 per barrel. The real number for 2015 is roughly 60 cents less, barely above $2.00 a gallon … i.e. 25% lower.  So households have at least $1,000 extra in aftertax money, to save or spend as they wish.  That is what has helped average Americans and their pocketbooks.

Once the Saudis moved to open the taps in response to the U.S. fracking revolution, the price dropped.  And dropped.  And dropped again.  So the much-maligned Saudis have also screwed the Russians, the Iranians, and the Venezuelans, all of whose malignant regimes depend on petrodollars for their schemes.  You think Putin and the Iranians have had us over a barrel this year?  Well, they have, but think how assertive they would have been were it not for the villainous U.S. oil industry.  Forty-dollar oil is crushing the bad guys.   Think how bad things could have been if Putin’s, Khamenei’s, and Maduro’s coffers were being topped off by selling $90 oil instead.

So, thank you, ExxonMobil.  Thank you, frackers.*  Thank you, King Salman.


*In particular, Texas and North Dakota.  Neither of those states voted for Obama in 2008 or 2012, and the President surely doesn’t spend much time worrying about whether their economies are now in freefall.  But he (and we) should at least acknowledge the gift they have bestowed upon the country.