#314 What’s Artificial Intelligence? What’s Going to Happen to Working Stiffs? (#3 in Series)

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”   The previous four entries (#310-#313) broke from conversation format.  Characters return with this entry.

Scene: Jordan’s office, Washington, DC.  Continuing conversation with Gelly, Jordan’s assistant.  Conversation began Entry #308.

092615_2031_Characters7.gifGelly: “The last lesson we had on economics, professor, was about how tariffs usually don’t work. As a result, when tariffs are imposed it’s often the working stiff that ends up…well, getting screwed.”

Jordan: “Where’s this conversation headed? And, please, no more of the ’professor’ stuff.”

Gelly: “Alright, no more name calling. But I would like to learn more about AI.”

Jordan: “For AI, you talking about ‘artificial intelligence’ or ‘artificial insemination’?”

Gelly: “You know which one – artificial intelligence.”

Trump DunceJordan: “You mean artificial intelligence…like Donald Trump’s intelligence — artificial?”

Gelly: “Get serious, please. A lot of people are talking about AI and I really don’t know what it means or how it works.”

Jordan: “First, I’m not an expert on AI and don’t know exactly where it’s headed. But I’m not sure anyone does. What’s even more confusing is the term ‘artificial intelligence’ gets applied to a broad range of what seem to be not overly sophisticated software applications.”

dude-with-questionGelly: “I’m also confused about what I hear people calling ‘machine learning.’ Is machine learning the same as artificial intelligence or part of artificial intelligence?”

Jordan: “Let’s try to simplify the entire category. I know some techies would probably go apoplectic if they heard this explanation but we’re not trying to prepare you to write a thesis at MIT. To get started, think about AI as using more advanced software. And there are a lot of applications. At the same time, the software is designed for…”

Gelly: “Let me try, please. Rather than software for say Excel or Word, the software for AI is a designed so some kind of machine can learn to do things?”

Jordan: “That’s a good way to think about it.”

Gelly: “But does the machine end up writing its own software program? How does it learn?”

Hammer NailJordan: “Think about how you learn to do some task. Could be learning to use a computer. Maybe something easier like hammering a nail. What’s the first step?”

Gelly: “Usually you watch somebody do it.”

Jordan: “Then what?”

Gelly: “When you first try you’re usually not very good at it.  So you have to practice and practice. If you’re lucky there’s a teacher around to help correct your mistakes. Eventually you get better and do whatever it is on your own.”

Jordan: “You just described how a machine learns.”

Boxes in WarehouseGelly: “So, if somebody shows the machine how to say pick a box off a shelf and load it on a cart, then the machine can learn to do that?”

Jordan: “Basically, yes. The person demonstrates to the machine how to find the box, pick up the box and load it on the cart. The machine records the movements — say with some kind of camera.  Then the machine tries to repeat the movements.”

Gelly: “What if the machine makes a mistake?”

albert-einsteinJordan: “Good question. That’s what different about today’s machine learning and attempts in the past.  In the past, the limitations were software and computer processing. To get the machine…a robot…to do something required a lot of very precise programming. Plus the capacity of machine ‘memory chips’ was limited…intellectually challenged…so the robot couldn’t really do much.  Today’s chips are like Albert Einstein compared to earlier chips.”

Gelly: “I know computer chips have gotten more powerful. But can a machine learn a more complicated task right away?  How would it do that?”

Jordan: “The power of the computer chips is a key.  Let’s say the machine response is not quite right.  The person can do another demonstration and the machine can correct itself.  But let’s say the task is a lot more complicated.  The demonstration can be broken into smaller steps.  The machine then learns each step.”

SuccessGelly: “If I understand correctly, by learning a set of small steps, the machine can adapt  if some part of the task changes.  For example, if the first box is small and the next box is larger, the machine could pick-up either size box and load on the cart.  I understand there’s some range of sizes but, as long as the machine has been taught to pick up a bunch of different size boxes, the machine can pick up any size box within that range.  Right?”

Jordan: “You got it.”

Gelly: “What else can these machines be taught to do?”

drone-manJordan: “That’s the question that seems to be scaring a lot of people. As computer chips continue to be more powerful, the capabilities of the machines will continue to increase.”

Gelly: “Guess the machines are like children. As they get older, they can learn to do more things. But people seem to reach a limit as to what they can learn and do. What about machines? Will they reach a limit or will they keep on learning…and maybe outsmart humans?”

Jordan: “No one knows for sure. When I hear that question, I go back to a fundamental of learning, whether learning for humans or machines, but especially machines.”

Gelly: “You mean GIGO – garbage in, garbage out?”

Jordan: “Exactly. People need to think about what machines are being trained to do. And then think about what happens if the machines turn against the trainers.”

Gelly: “If we go back to machines picking boxes in a warehouse, what kind of bad things can the little robot do? At most, some people lose their jobs. Not nice for the people but not a societal crisis. If we talk about some sort of robot war machine that seems like a lot more risk.”

TurtleneckJordan: “That’s the point. War machines are a different story. While it seems like a bit of science fiction, very sophisticated war robots could decide to turn around and attack.”

Gelly: “Now, that does seem scary.”

Jordan: “A rogue war robot…or even worse an army of rogue robots…is still an abstract idea. Because the idea of a rogue war machine is still abstract and not yet a reality is why we need to start thinking through what we’re training machines to do…and start now.”

Gelly: “Back to the more mundane. Seems as if machines can replace lots of people, even some who are considered highly skilled.”

Jordan: “Yes these robots can and probably should replace some of these people.”

Gelly: “What does society do with all the people who end up losing their jobs to machines? If a bunch of people lose jobs, won’t that negatively affect the economy?”

Steam Engine Old RenderingJordan: “Yes, but countries having to manage the transition from an existing to a disruptive technology is not something new. Countries worldwide have faced this very problem for centuries — what about the introduction of steam engines, planes, cars, telephones, internet…and the list goes on. Some countries have managed the transitions well, other not so well.”

Gelly: “Seems to me the United States has managed well so far. But I’m not so sure going forward. Trump’s whole theme seemed to be attracting people who had been or likely to be negatively affected by new technology. Then after Trump, we had another upheaval with the Revenge Revolution. How do we manage going forward? Now, I’m getting nervous.”

Jordan: “Hold on, Gelly. Let me go get a coffee refill, then we’ll talk. Or maybe that coffee robot could get a coffee refill for me.”

Gelly: “Funny, Jordan. But I really am concerned.”

 

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#313 “I’m So Proud of My Son. He Lies, Cheats, Steals and Discriminates.”

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”   The last four entries, including this one, break from the conversation format.  Characters will return soon.

What a proud moment for any parent. Being able to proclaim, “I’m so proud of my son. He lies cheats, steals, and discriminates. Exactly what I wanted him to be.”

Proud FatherIf you’re a parent, or have a brother or sister, wouldn’t you be proud to be able to make such a proclamation? Well, you can make such a proclamation if you support Donald Trump and his Republican enablers.

Put aside your political party and look at the behavior. Do you want your child or sibling to be known for lying, cheating, stealing and discriminating?

If you said “yes” unequivocally or said “yes” but included a list of caveats in your answer – such as “You need to look at what Trump has accomplished” – then read no farther. You are someone who is willing to let the ends justify the means, no matter how unethical the means and no matter how questionable the ends.

Ten CommandmentsIf you’re religious…if not pretend you are for a few minutes…then show me where in your religion is a list of basic tenets indicating acceptable behavior includes lying, cheating, stealing, discriminating. Even if your religion “forgives” such behavior, doesn’t the person being forgiven need to stop such behavior first?

Trump has not stopped lying, cheating, stealing or discriminating. So why do you support him? (If you think Trump doesn’t steal, dig deeper into how Trump and family have repeatedly cheated on income taxes due. His cheating, by the way, means you are paying more in taxes.)

ConstitutionLet’s put religion aside and talk instead about the oath of office taken by the president. The oath, which is part of the US Constitution, reads, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Notice the oath includes “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” So, why do you support someone who thinks he has the power to change the Constitution at will — such as the 14th Amendment?

We know Trump didn’t attend civics classes and certainly has never read the Constitution. But if you’re a Trump supporters who made it past 6th grade, then you should know the way to modify the Constitution is not some half-assed Executive Order but ratification by 2/3 (67%) of the House and Senate, then ratification by 3/4 (75%) of the states.

Gee, you say, don’t be so picky. Its election time. Everyone distorts the truth. Quit being such an elitist liberal.

PinocchioNo, I won’t get over it…and neither should you. By latest count, Trump has been lying at least 30 times a day with the rate of lies increasing with each day closer to the mid-term elections. And those 30 lies per day are the ones known to the public. How many more lies does he tell inside the White House? Trump supporters – would you tolerate your child lying 30 times a day?

Fellow Americans, like it or not, the president’s words and actions matter. The president’s words and actions help set the tone of behavior and dialogue for the country. Think of the president having the same type influence on many people as a parent’s behavior influences a child.

If you think behavior does not matter, look at families where one or both parents is abusive and/or lies constantly and/or steals and/or discriminates. How does such a toxic atmosphere affect the behavior of children? Compare the long-term behavior and success of children raised in such a toxic environment to children raised in more stable environment where parental behavior is open, honest and encouraging. Which atmosphere do you want your children or grandchildren to be raised in?

Trumpsters, forget brining up examples of people who end up thriving despite a toxic home environment as a child. Such individuals should be praised for their success…but they are outliers, the exceptions. For every one who has been able to overcome the effects of a toxic environment, there are probably 100 who, unfortunately, have not.

Voting LineMaking a choice about what type behavior you want from the president and other political leaders is not difficult. Do you want someone leading the country and/or representing you who lies, cheats, steals, and discriminates? If you would be proud of such behavior by your child or sibling, then Trump and his gang of enablers are for you.

Just keep in mind continuing to support such unethical behavior by Trump is a sure-fire path to having the Revenge Revolution sooner than later…and a sure-fire path to making the Revenge Revolution more intense. Trumpsters, it’s your call.

 

#312 Republicans Have Given Away Their Soul…and the Country’s Soul. How Do We Get It Back?

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”   The last three entries, including this one break from the conversation format.  Characters will return soon.

Ever notice how many adults seem to take statements at face value, never asking, “Why do you make that statement?” or “What’s the source of your data?” The lack of curiosity seems particularly prevalent around elections and among those who quit reading newspapers regularly and rely primarily on the internet and/or specific cable channels for what is often opinion disguised as news..

Hear Speak See No EvilHow many people do you know have joined a “political tribe”?  And as a member of that tribe, no longer question even the most outlandish statements of tribal leaders?  Think about how passive these tribal members have become.  Do you know of any self-respecting four year-old who would take your statements as gospel and quit asking “why?” Chances are you’ll have a hard time finding a four year-old who fits that category.

dunce capsI know some blog readers think that lately I’ve been beating up the Republicans too much.  Maybe so, but given the behavior of the so-called leaders of the Republican Party, such criticism seems more than justified.

For starters, has anyone in the Republican Party asked “Why do we so ardently support a president whose actions are seemingly contrary to everything the Party has promoted the past decades?”  Maybe the Republicans should start to act like that self-respecting four year-old and ask some questions.  Here’s a start on a list of questions:

  • Why are we…yes, we Republicans…supporting a guy who coddles known enemies, starting with the Russians but including a host of other bad characters?Putin
  • Why are we no longer supporting free trade, a bedrock of the Republican Party for decades?
  • Why are we trashing our best allies in favor of known enemies?  (Ever think about the implications of alienating countries that we might need later?  Do you behave this way toward your friends?)
  • Why did we knowingly and enthusiastically pass tax legislation that transfers more money to the wealthy, takes away money from the middle class and is already resulting in ever-larger and unsustainable budget deficits?
  • Why are we following Trump and effectively promoting violence against certain groups within the US?
  • Why are we ignoring a basic tenet of most religions to treat thy neighbor as thyself?
  • Why are we barring refugees from entering this country legally?  (Yes, refugees have a right to enter.)
  • Why are we cutting funding for public education, which has been the bedrock of economic growth for decades?School Bldg
  • Why are we encouraging companies and people to pollute when there are numerous directives in the Bible to leave the earth a better place?
  • Why are we encouraging discrimination against people who are gay?  (Look folks, nearly every family has someone who is gay.  Get over it.)
  • Why are we ignoring a key provision of the Constitution by not letting citizens vote or making it extremely hard for citizens to vote?  (The Republican Party has produced no evidence in any location in the US of voter fraud.)
  • Why are we ignoring the 1st Amendment right to a free press?  (Yes, a free press is protected by the 1st Amendment.)NYT Logo
  • Why are we supporting claims that a free press is the “enemy of the people” when such claims are used by dictators?  (Need some evidence aside from Trump’s outright statements that the media are the enemy?  Start with the killing of Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi government…and the tepid, if not bizarre, response by Trump.  If that’s not chilling enough, please read some history about how Hitler and others claimed the media was the enemy as part of their plan to help create dictatorships.)
  • Why are we accepting and even cheering “trash talk” and “name calling” by the Duncepresident when such talk from your children would result in punishment?
  • Why are we going to great lengths to support someone for the Supreme Court who lied under oath to Congress?
  • Why are we supporting a president who, after a mass shooting in a synagogue, says the synagogue should have armed guards?  (And, who was wounded at the synagogue — a mere four police officers who were heavily armed.  Do you think all religious institutions should have armed guards? )
  • Why are we trying to take away individual rights of women (Roe v Wade) yet insist on individual rights for gun owners?  (The gun-owner argument is based on a wild exaggeration about rights granted the 2nd Amendment.)    pants-on-fire
  • Why do we support a president who is a serial liar and lying more frequently each day?
  • Why do we support a president who cheats on taxes and then appoints someone to head the IRS who will minimize the likelihood of any serious audit of Trump’s taxes?
  • And the list goes on and on and on.

The questions are not political questions.  No one is challenging whether an individual has the right to be a Republican and/or conservative and/or fundamentalist Christian.  The questions are ethical and directed at making sure Republicans understand the core values of a democracy.

ScreamWhy have Republicans decided to abdicate truth in favor of Trump?  Why have Republicans decided to abdicate core values of a democracy for a guy who openly courts leaders hostile to the US?  Why have Republicans given up having America be the shining light worldwide for fairness and moral standards?

I am baffled why Republicans support such behavior.  I have no clue other than thinking the  Republicans have been brainwashed.  Whatever the cause of the brainwashing, giving away one’s core values, as have Republicans, is like giving away one’s soul.  And what did all but a handful of Republicans get in return?  Think hard because the answer is “You got nothing.”  Even if you got a bunch of money, whatever amount you got likely wasn’t worth your soul.  Further, once the trade for your soul has been made, getting back the soul will be very difficult, if not impossible.

fife-drum%201 (Just to be clear, Democrats are not completely clean…but the behavior by the Republicans in supporting Trump overwhelms any bad behavior by Democrats  Claiming the behavior is equal is a false equivalency.)

So what’s the consequence of Republicans selling the country’s soul to Trump and his cronies?  Unfortunately, so many Republicans seem to have sold their soul, the only way the country can likely start to get back on the right course is with a revolution — aka the Revenge Revolution.  And, even with a revolution, the road back will be very long and very bumpy.  Not a pleasant thought, I know, but one all of us should be thinking about.

#311 Why I Left the Republican Party…Rather It Left Me

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I break from the normal formatting and do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”   

This is second consecutive unanticipated entry.  In entry #310, “Will Kavanaugh Accelerate the Revenge Revolution?” I indicated I had voted for Republicans in the past.  A reader asked me to elaborate on why I left the Republican Party. This entry addresses the question.

abraham_lincoln_clip_art_15515As noted in #310, my reference point is a Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln, Everett Dirksen and Jacob Javits. The attitude of that Republican Party could best be described using a slogan from Bush 43’s 2000 presidential campaign, “compassionate conservatism.”

Why that reference point for the Republican Party? I grew up in Illinois with very early years on the north side of Chicago but formative years in Central Illinois. Central Illinois is an interesting mix of agriculture and manufacturing with the center-point the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. For those unfamiliar with the area, the soil is stunningly productive for farming – corn, soybeans and many other crops. Throw in a seed and a plant grows.  They soil color is coal-black and crumbles easily in your hand. The soil is not gray, not reddish-brown but black.

The farms ring a number of medium-sized towns that provide the center of commerce for farmers. For many years, the towns were supported by manufacturing plants, and in some cases corporate headquarters — Caterpillar in Peoria, for example. Populations for most of these towns ranged from 25,000 to 75,000. Population mix was mostly western European and a smaller percentage of blacks, many of whom had migrated from the south. Religions leaned more toward Protestant than Catholics and some towns had a surprising number of Jews. In our neighborhood grammar school, for example, about 20% of students were Jewish.

School BldgIn our particular town – population approaching 50,000 – the public school system was top-notch with quality teachers in all grades. High-school students had a choice of three tracks and could switch between tracks for a limited number of classes – college prep, general education, technical training. The town produced a disproportionate number of famous and successful people in a wide range of occupations – education, entertainment, medicine, military (early astronaut), science and industry.

Like most school districts years ago, busing was limited to outlying areas that could not support a school. Most everyone attended a neighborhood grammar school and a middle school that was reasonably close. There was one very large, well-equipped public high school (and a parochial high school). And guess what? As a student, you needed to figure out how to get to high school on your own.

As far as fiscal attitude – conservative. If a family was wealthy, it was expected to be discrete about displaying wealth. Everyone was expected to share with others to the extent possible. A description for sharing can best be described by Nike’s tagline – just do it…and keep quiet about it. Shouting and bragging were definite no no’s.

This town was part of the ellipse in Illinois where Lincoln spent most of his time before heading to Washington.   While the area was solid Republican, the voters were not tribal Republicans. Most people, from what I recall, voted a split ticket.

And, no, the town was not Mayberry II, although there were many of these same attitudes. The town did have its problems. Most blacks were clearly on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. While doubtless discrimination existed, I do not recall the discrimination being overt and certainly no signs at restaurants, drinking fountains and other public places. Further, different groups seemed to work together to address problems.

Shake HeadSo that’s a description of the Republican Party I grew up with and use as a reference point for those running for political office. Such a Republican Party no longer exists. When I hear a Republican call it the party of Lincoln, I shake my head and want to scream. Most of today’s Republicans have no clue about the values of the party of Lincoln.

Back to the reader’s question, “What made me leave the Republican Party?” Based on my reference points for the Republican Party, I didn’t leave the Party, it left me. While I’m still a compassionate conservative – compassionate socially and conservative fiscally – I’m now branded a screaming liberal. What happened to Republicans’ social conscious and fiscal conservatism? The party now can be described as bi-polar…and not taking medication. The Party has shifted to the extreme ends for social issues and fiscal recklessness.

The slide from fiscal conservatism started under Ronald Reagan. How can that be, you say. Reagan was a fiscal conservative.

buffettI share the view of many economists that a very good way to assess the potential impact of debt for a country is to measure outstanding debt as a percent of GDP (gross domestic product). Think of it this way. Pretend you’re a banker. Two people walk into a bank and want to borrow $25,000,000. One of them is someone like you…and the other is Warren Buffet.   The bank decides on loans based on income and assets. For someone like you, the $25,000,000 is likely to be multiples higher than your income and assets. For Warren Buffet, the $25,000,000 is considered chump change. Thus, a large amount of debt isn’t necessarily bad if you have a large income and/or large asset base, which the US does. The US government owns lots of land and buildings.

ReaganFollowing WWII and up to the Reagan Administration, debt as a percent of GDP declined. During the Reagan Administration debt as a percent of GDP increased from about 30% to about 50% — a relative increase of 60%. Under Reagan, the relative increase in debt was only somewhat less than experienced during the New Deal under FDR. Under Bush 41 relative debt percent increased over 25% beyond Reagan. Under Bush 43, relative debt increased over 40% from the Clinton years.  Under Trump, despite a very strong economy the Federal debt for FY2018 was the highest in 6 years. The deficit under Trump is expected to balloon to over $1,000,000,000,000 annually because of the gigantic tax cut that reduced taxes primarily for the wealthy.

Debt and GDPWhat about debt increases under Democrats? They were even worse, right? Well, no. Throughout the Clinton Administration, debt as a percent of GDP decreased a little over 12%. During some years under Clinton, the US ran a surplus. Under Obama, relative debt climbed about 35%, even with the combination of fiscal stimulus required to avoid another Great Depression and the introduction of the Affordable Care Act. Debt under Obama, despite all the cries from Republicans increased less than under either Regan or Bush 43. So, which party is more fiscally conservative? If you look at fiscal policies under Republicans, one term comes to mind – red ink.

Let’s look at social policies since Reagan. Policies to concentrate wealth, as have been implemented by Republicans, negatively affect the general well-being of the populace. Tax cuts primarily for the rick, aka “trickle-down economics,” does not work, nor has any Republican provided any empirical evidence of it working in any developed country. As more wealth has flowed to the top, there has been less wealth in the middle.

Minimum WageFurther, Republican have resisted increasing the minimum wage. When Reagan was inaugurated, the minimum wage in real terms (adjusted for inflation) was about $10.00 per hour. Today’s minim wage is $7.75 per hour, a decrease in real terms of more than 20%. The decrease reduces further the ability of lower-skilled, entry-level workers to earn enough to exceed the poverty line. What happened to the “compassion” of the Republican Party?

Adding to the lack of “compassion” is the effort by Republicans to take away individual rights…at least for people who don’t buy into the Republican doctrine. According to Republican right, the US is a Christian country – just forget why the Pilgrims left England. Therefore, all laws should follow what the religious right believes. Take Roe v Wade. Forget the rights of the mother, she does not matter. Forget that the baby cannot survive outside the womb until much later in the pregnancy. All abortion must be banned…despite the First Amendment.

ConstitutionJust in case today’s Republicans have not read the Constitution, as is abundantly clear from listening to President Trump, the First Amendment reads as follows, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press (see the press is not your enemy but protected!), or the right of people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

While Republicans want to deny individual rights with regard to abortion…and ignore the First Amendment…Republicans insist that the Second Amendment is all about individual rights.  Well, individual rights are OK as long as guns are involved. The Second Amendment reads, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

What does the Second Amendment really mean? The wording allows individuals to own firearms. In Central Illinois, most households, including ours, had some type of firearm. In fact, I have the same rifle I purchased at about age 14.

WashingtonAt the time the Constitution was written…for all the “Constitutionalists in the crowd” that was 225+ years ago…the United States had a very small “standing army.” The defense of the country relied on “well-regulated” state militia – think National Guard. Members of the well-regulated militia were “citizen soldiers” and expected to provide firearms, as implied in the Second Amendment. Over time the US created a permanent military for “the security of the free state,” thus the standing army eliminated the need for citizen soldiers.

With the advent of a standing army, a strict interpretation of the 2nd Amendment might have banned citizens from owning firearms. But citizens have been allowed to retain firearms. With a standing army there is absolutely no need or justification for military-grade weapons to be held outside the “well-regulated” standing army. Weapons such as military-style assault rifles and higher-caliber rifles, especially a .50 caliber rifle, are designed to kill as many people as possible.

These weapons are not designed for deer hunting or target shooting. Yet, thanks to the NRA and some politicians, an individual is able to own a military-style assault weapon, and even worse, a .50 caliber rifle. For those not familiar with these weapons, a .50 caliber rifle will blow a hole in the side of a brick building. You don’t need that much firepower to take down a herd of charging elephants, which are not common in most US neighborhoods. If you want to go play with these type weapons, then go join the US military.

Now, what about consistency? Republicans state that since one must register and get an ID to drive, have an ID get on an airplane, have ID cash a check, and probably register your dog, plus who knows how many other instances, then one should have to register and show an ID to vote. All the registrations and ID are for your safety. OK, then following that same line of thinking, surely Republicans would support mandatory registration of individual firearms – for your safety, of course.  Mmm, so what’s the big objection?

I could go on but it should be clear why I no longer vote Republican. The Republican Party of today is not compassionate, not conservative…and not consistent… and certainly does not hold the same values of Lincoln, Dirksen and Javits. Your comments welcome.

#310 Sense Check: Will Kavanaugh Accelerate the Revenge Revolution? Is There a Moderating Force?

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I break from the normal formatting and do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent standard “sense checks.”  

This “sense-check” entry was unplanned. What precipitated this entry was the confirmation process to have Brett Kavanaugh become a SCOTUS justice.

fife-drum%201As a result actions during the confirmation process, I increased the chances of a 5th US revolution to “highly likely.” However, my reasons for changing to “highly likely” may be different from what many others have stated or written about the Kavanaugh nomination/confirmation process.

Some background – the Constitution states the president shall nominate candidates to be SCOTUS justices. The Constitution requires Senate approval of the nominee. The Constitution does not provide many guidelines. For example, the Constitution does not prohibit a president from nominating someone whose views or interpretation of laws are considered to be extremely right or left, and therefore likely outside the views of the populace. Nor does the Constitution require the nominee be a current member of the judiciary. The nominee could be a dishwasher at a restaurant.

ConstitutionFurther, there is no requirement that the president nominate, or the Senate confirm, candidates to ensure a balance of opinion on SCOTUS. While the situation unlikely, say if all liberal-leaning justices left the Court during the term of one president, the president could nominate and the Senate could approve, justices so the entire Court supported rulings considered far right.

With that background, my assessment of the likelihood of a 5th revolution associated with the Kavanaugh confirmation has little to do with Kavanaugh’s political views or interpretation of the law. What I believe is the wedge that will almost ensure a Revenge Revolution is the attitude and actions of key members of the Senate – most notably Senators McConnell, Graham and Collins. Most of the balance of this entry is directed at the behavior of Senator McConnell, whose actions I believe have deepened the chasm between parties to such an extent that it might be another 50 years or more before the Senate functions as it should. The chasm will exist even if the US experiences a Revenge Revolution.

(And readers, if you think I’m a bitter hard-core liberal, you are sadly mistaken. For years I was a “thinking” Republican, in the vein of Lincoln, Dirksen and Javits. But the Republican Party has shifted far right and key members of the Party seem to have lost their ability to think and reason. There is no room for me in today’s Republican Party. In today’s Republican Party, Lincoln would be considered a screaming liberal, if for no reason other than he liberated “those people.”)

Supreme CourtOver the decades, what has allowed SCOTUS rulings to be recognized as law of the land by the populace? Obviously not everyone has supported every decision but why have even controversial decisions become the law of the land? Trust by the people in the objectivity of the justices.   In parallel, the Court’s decisions likely have been moderated to a degree by public opinion. Justices have recognized the need to create trust and acknowledge public opinion so the vast majority of SCOTUS rulings have not been too far left or right.

What’s changed with the Kavanaugh nomination? McConnell blindly led the charge to confirm a candidate that far less than half the American public supported. What’s even more puzzling, McConnell stated achieving the confirmation for Kavanaugh was “…his greatest achievement (again).”

McConnellLet’s take a closer look at McConnell’s greatest achievement. The initial phase of this latest “great achievement” was McConnell denying president Obama the right to have the Senate consider a nominee to fill an open seat on SCOTUS. According to McConnell the vacancy should be filled “after the people vote.” Forget the Constitution, forget precedent, McConnell alone should decide when a vacancy on SCOTUS should be filled.

Waiting for the people to vote applies only to nominees of Democratic presidents and not Republican presidents. Following Justice Kennedy’s retirement after the 2017-2018 term, McConnell flip-flopped. The hell with the rationale used to deny Obama his rightful pick by never having a hearing re Merrick Garland – and instead let’s push for a shorted confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh. This time the Senate should confirm the nominee before the elections. Now McConnell thinks the people shouldn’t speak. Just to make sure any thinking Senator couldn’t make an informed decision about Kavanaugh, McConnell (through Senator Grassley) withheld a vast number of documents written by Kavanaugh during the Bush Administration.

Dig HoleTo further build public trust…or maybe that’s distrust…in Kavanaugh, McConnell (this time thru Grassley and Trump), stonewalled efforts to dig deeper into Kavanaugh’s past. Charges ranged from sexual assault to excessive gambling. Rather than let the FBI explore a series of allegations fully, the Judiciary Committee allowed only one key witness to testify – yes, only one – Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.   Kavanaugh followed Dr. Ford and managed to create even more concern about his truthfulness and demeanor as publicly insulted Senators seeking answers to some basic questions and even lied about what he should have dismissed as youthful indiscretions.

Just to make sure even more trust in Kavanaugh was eroded, McConnell, again through Grassley and Trump, restricted a supplemental FBI background check. The FBI investigation was limited to basically asking if Kavanaugh regularly kicked his dog in public. There were no follow-up interviews with either Ford or Kavanaugh. Equally baffling, 40 or more witnesses who could have provided more insight into Kavanaugh’s past were never interviewed. Let’s see Mitch, the FBI was not allowed to interview Dr. Ford, Kavanaugh…or anyone who possibly had relevant information. Great way to build trust in the FBI report. And, one more thing – remember Mitch the Judiciary Committee hearing was not a trial. It was a job interview. People with demonstrated nasty dispositions are usually not hired for positions of public trust.

092615_2031_Characters12.gifWhile those on the political right might view with great satisfaction McConnell’s tactics of attempting to hide the truth about Kavanaugh, thereby giving the finger to the left, how would the right react if a nominee from a Democratic president had the same questionable background and exhibited the same rude behavior as Kavanaugh? I can hear the cries now, “Lock him up! Lock him up!”

Among people who actually think about issues and people’s behavior…yes, there are such people…hypocrisy and lack of trust are major negatives. Among people who think, the end result does not justify unethical means to achieve.

I’ve said in several entries that many Republicans appear to be brainwashed. I continue to be dumbfounded at how seemingly intelligent people make incredibly stupid decisions. Under the Trump presidency the brainwashing seems to have been especially effective on Republicans in Congress.

CollinsSenator Susan Collins is among the brainwashed or brain-dead. Collins gave a 45-minute talk justifying support of Kavanaugh. Her remarks included some truly nonsensical statements. For example, she claimed that as a sitting judge, Kavanaugh has consistently supported legal precedent…unless he considered the precedent wrong. Huh, Susan? In real speak that means precedent plays no part in Kavanaugh’s decisions. Why would anyone ever make such an inane claim? Collins was also interviewed on “60 Minutes” the day after the confirmation. Based on her comments during “60 Minutes,” no one would ever accuse her of being a deep thinker. Enough about Collins.

GrahamThen we have Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham’s behavior of late could be compared to that of Stormy Daniels in one of her movies – constantly taking on new positions and new partners, including cuddling up to president Trump. At least Stormy Daniels has been straightforward with the public about her beliefs. No so for Graham. Say Lindsey, do you not remember any lessons from John McCain?

McConnell’s claim that his greatest accomplishment was getting an unqualified, unpopular nominee who lied to the Senate, approved for SCOTUS sets the stage. Mitch baby, if you think Kavanaugh is your greatest accomplishment, then your value system is highly skewed in the wrong direction. Worse still, you are a perfect complement to Trump. Neither of you has any principles.

Goes Around Comes AroundAmong people who have principles, there is an adage that most learned early in life. Mitch you must have missed the class…again and again and again. The adage is, “What goes around, comes around.” The follow-on part of that adage is when it comes back, the intensity is usually much greater. My suggestion Mitch? Be on the lookout because your life is about to begin heading down a very steep hill.

Where does all this lead? The Revenge Revolution seems “highly likely.” What’s worse, with the Revenge Revolution there may be far more bloodshed than any “revolution” since the Civil War. Just as a reminder, entry #1 in this blog talks about a roughly 50-year cycle between US revolutions. Some of those revolutions have been military and some social. The last great social upheaval in the US began with the events of 1968. If I do my math, 2018 is just about 50 years later.

John RobertsIs there any hope? Yes, there’s some. While we probably can’t avoid the Revenge Revolution, the intensity could be moderated by one person – Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts is a smart guy. Roberts knows his legacy will be determined by how credible the public views decisions of SCOTUS. Roberts also knows he’s got two justices who are considered illegitimate by many people – Thomas and Kavanaugh.

What can Roberts do? Move left on a number of high-profile cases, making sure the decisions are more balanced. Roberts is likely to twist some arms and seek some 6-3 or 7-2 decisions. People understand not every decision will be what they want. But thoughtful decisions that consider the concerns of groups left and right will help maintain credibility of SCOTUS.

Thanks for your time reading this entry. As always, comments welcome.

#309 Can We Talk Economics? Do Tariffs Really Work…or Does the Working Stiff Get Screwed Again? (#2 in Series)

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I break from the normal formatting and do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent “sense checks.”  Your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.  Thanks for your time and interest…and comments, please.

Scene: Jordan’s office, Washington, DC, start of workday.  “Can We Talk about Economics” conversation began Entry #308.

092615_2031_Characters7.gif

Gelly: “Professor Jordan, now that you’ve had a break, ready to explain more economics?”

Jordan: “Professor, hardly, but yes, let’s continue. Any topic in particular?”

Gelly: “I’d like to know more about tariffs. I think I understand the concept but not sure how effective tariffs really are, especially for worker bees.”

Jordan: “OK, tell me your understanding of tariffs. Why would a country implement a tariff?”

Shaking HandsGelly: “First, let me make sure I understand the idea of trade between two countries. I get the part where one country might have stuff the other country needs, or makes some product more efficiently than the other country. That all seems logical. What also seems logical is that trade should be fair. Maybe I’m being naïve but shouldn’t trade between countries be like what we were all supposed to learn as kids…you know, treat your neighbor as you want to be treated?”

Jordan: “Gelly, how do you boil complex issues down to such basic ideas? You’re right, trade should be fair to both sides.”

Gelly: “Like most any relationship, sometimes trade probably gets out of whack and one country has an advantage that needs to be adjusted. Is that what tariffs are supposed to do? Provide a balance? Or maybe protect some industry or set of products?”

Jordan: “Yes, that’s the theory. However, for trade to work long-term, the industries being protected should be considered ‘critical’ for some legiimate strategic reason.”

Coffee Bean GuyGelly: “Critical such as growing and exporting coffee beans might be critical to the economy and welfare of the people of say Costa Rica? Coffee’s probably a big deal to Costa Rica but hardly of any importance to the US…other than maybe Hawaii.”

Jordan: “Right.  Because coffee has such a major impact on its economy, Costa Rica could add tariffs to any coffee imported from say Brazil or Columbia in order to protect its economy.”

Gelly: “I get that part.  Then what impact would a tariff have on exports from Costa Rica? People in Costa Rica can’t drink all the coffee grown there. If Costa Rica added tariffs to products imported from other countries…and those countries then added tariffs to Costa Rican coffee…wouldn’t that hurt exports? Tariffs seem like a two-edged sword to me.”

Poker PlayersJordan: “For countries with only a few products to export and where those products do not have much competition, tariffs might work. But, for most countries, tariffs are a high-risk poker game. While coffee can’t be grown in every country, in can be grown in many countries. Unless your country is a real big dog for that product or commodity, the country adding tariffs runs the risk of losing exports.”

Gelly: “For countries with lots of different kinds of products – Germany, Canada, China, the US – tariffs seem a lot more complicated.”

Jordan: “I said earlier you were becoming an economist. Keep talking.”

Gelly: “Isn’t trade between countries also affected by currency rates?”

Jordan: “Yes, but put currency rates aside for a few minutes. We’ll cover that later.”

Gelly: “OK, so if the US say claimed China was selling steel at too low a price, the US might put a tariff on steel made in China or goods produced with steel made in China. But what really happens after the tariff is implemented?”

CornJordan: “Well, for one thing, China can then decide to add tariffs to some goods imported in China from the US – say corn or soybeans, which is exactly what they did after Trump put tariffs on Chinese steel.”

Gelly: “Those tit-for-tat tariffs can go on for a long time. And what do they accomplish?”

Jordan: “Good question.  To answer your questions let’s look at what happened after Trump put tariffs on raw steel and aluminum from China…and Canada, of all places.”

Gelly: “Did the price of Chinese steel increase after the tariffs?”

Jordan: “Yes.”

Gelly: “Did American companies start selling more steel?”

Price IncreaseJordan: “Some but the US steel companies did what often happens in the US when tariffs are implemented – the US companies immediately raised prices.”

Gelly: “C’mon, how much could that increase really cost a company? Couldn’t have been that much, could it?”

Jordan: “Soon after the tariffs were announced, Ford said tariffs on steel and aluminum would increase their cost at least $1,000,000,000 per year. And that’s the cost to just one company.”

Gelly: “This might sound dumb but if a company’s costs keep going up, wouldn’t the company raise prices? For Ford, they would have to increase prices of cars and trucks, right?”

Jordan: “You got it.”

ScrewedGelly: “Then, unless I’m missing something, the tariffs really end up being a tax on consumers. The government might collect revenue from the tariffs but the consumer – the working stiffs – are the ones who gets screwed.”

Jordan: “Now, remember what happened to the corn and soybean farmer after Trump put tariffs on Chinese steel and then China retaliated?”

Gelly: “The Chinese didn’t stop consuming corn and soybeans…but the Chinese began buying corn and soybeans from other countries. So the tariffs caused US farmers to lose exports to a major market…and the same farmers ended up paying more for their tractor and pick-up truck. So why do tariffs like the ones Trump imposed seem so stupid?”

Confused Clip ArtJordan: “A lot Trump’s tariffs were head scratchers. In fairness, sometimes trade between countries does get out of whack. And tariffs can help resolve the issue. But tariffs are like a Band-Aid, for small wounds and to help only temporarily. There’s a better way to solve issues when trade gets out of whack…and a better way to manage trade.”

Gelly: “You mean like trade agreements? Agreements such as Nafta or whatever Trump tried to rename it?”

TurtleneckJordan: “Yes, trade agreements. The agreements usually include what you might call a trade court.  That court helps revolve issues and avoids tariffs.”

Gelly: “I’m interested in learning more but need to put this conversation on hold, please. I’ve got a conference call in a few minutes and need to get ready. Let’s continue later, OK?”

Jordan: “Deal.”

(Continued)

#308 Can We Talk? What Economic Policies Should the Federal Gov’t Really Implement, Please?

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I break from the normal formatting and do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent “sense checks.”  Your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.  Thanks for your time and interest…and comments, please.

Scene: Jordan’s office, Washington, DC, start of workday

092615_2031_Characters7.gifGelly:  “Good morning, Jordan.  Sorry I didn’t make it back from the conference yesterday.  Long day.  How was your visit with Walt?”

Jordan:  “Visit was great.  His thinking seems to have returned to normal.”

Gelly:  “So his ‘de-brainwashing’ of Trumpism really helped.  The whole idea of brainwashing someone or some group seems a bit odd to me but it must have worked.”

BrainwashedJordan:  “Worked on Walt and millions of hard-core Trump supporters.  Say, what’s with the sling on your left arm?”

Gelly:  “That’s why it was a long day yesterday.  On the way out of the conference, I slipped on something and landed on my left elbow.”

Jordan:  “Yikes that must have hurt?  Go to ER?”

Gelly:  “Yes, it did hurt.  Fortunately my doctor’s office is close to where I fell.  Went to the office and got an X-ray.  PA said my elbow was fractured.  Then I got this cast.  Well, not really a cast but keeps me from moving my elbow.”

TurtleneckJordan:  “Any idea how long in the sling?”

Gelly:  “Apparently 6-8 weeks.”

Jordan:  “Can you work at all?  Seems as if we should get someone in here to help…at least for a couple of months.”

Gelly:  “Some help would be great.  As far as work?  I can hold a cup of coffee in my left hand but not much else.  Serious typing, trying to file or even moving anything is out for a while.”

Jordan:  “OK, then let’s get somebody in here no later than tomorrow morning.”

Gelly:  “Now, back to business.   At the conference there was a lot of discussion about the effect of government economic policies.”

Jordan:  “Such policies as…?”

Gelly:  “The topic for one of the sessions was Federal government economic policies following the Revenge Revolution.  A couple of speakers kept touting that Trump’s economic policies in the first two years in office were highly effective and should be the basis for future government economic growth.”

Tear PaperJordan:  “You mean such policies as tax cuts for the wealthy, tearing up trade agreements with other countries that the US drafted after WWII, efforts to severely restrict immigration and then allow only people with money to get green cards and finally citizenship.  Those kinds of policies?”

Gelly:  “Yes, but the speakers seemed so convincing.  In the past I’ve heard you debunk those policies.   What I’d like to learn is a simple, but meaningful way to decide which government economic policies are appropriate for certain conditions.  Can you help me?”

Know NothingsJordan:  “Of course.  I have three guidelines – really basic questions that might help you.  The first question is about tax policy.  Ready?”

Gelly:  “Yes, have on my thinking cap.”

Jordan:  “If the Federal government is going to use personal income and taxes to help spur economic growth, to what kind of people should it direct most of the effort?  Who, for example, is likely to spend say $1,000?  A person or family making $35,000 per year with little savings or a person making say $235,000 with a decent stock portfolio?”

Gelly:  “The person or family making $35,000.  That person probably has 5-10 things the money could be used for.  The person making $235,000 will likely never notice the $1,000 and just leave the money in the bank.”

Unemployment2Jordan:  “Question #2.  If the Federal government wants to stimulate employment, which policy would be more effective – trying to create even more new jobs when unemployment is already low or trying to create new jobs when unemployment is high and a lot of people ae looking for work?”

Gelly:  “Why would the government try to create more jobs when unemployment rate is already low?  That makes no sense to me.  Create more jobs when unemployment is high.”

Jordan:  “Question #3.  If you’re the Federal government, when is a better time to save money and pay down the Federal debt?  When Federal tax revenues are high and maybe likely to grow or when federal tax revenues are falling and likely to fall more?”

Money BagsGelly:  “When tax revenue is high.  That’s when government should pay down debt and save for a rainy day.  When the economy starts to get bad is when the government should start spending more money and create more jobs.”

Jordan:  “Gelly, you are on your way to becoming an economist.”

Gelly:  “Those questions and answers seem so basic.  But the left-over Trump supporters kept spouting exactly the opposite of what we just discussed.  They kept taking about more tax cuts for the highest income people. Their argument was if the government doesn’t reduce taxes for people with the most money, they won’t invest, build new plants and create more jobs.  A lot of people seemed to buy in to that argument.”

Jordan:  “Here’s another question.  Say you own a business and the government just reduced income taxes…but mostly for very wealthy people.  And let’s say your factory produces chocolate candy bars.  Are you going to increase production of candy bars in hopes that people will eat more chocolate?”

StupidGelly:  “No, that would be stupid.  Sounds like a waste of money.”

Jordan:  “When would you add production capacity and hire more workers?”

Gelly:  “When I kept having to produce candy bars on overtime and it was hard to keep up with demand.”

Jordan:  “You’re right.  The idea of ‘build it and they will come’ works only in the movies.”

Gelly:  “Then why did Trump promote all those economic policies that seem illogical?  And, even worse, why did the Republicans in Congress pass the legislation?”

Me FirstJordan:  “Short answer is greed.  The Donald was never, ever for anyone but the Donald.  He did not care how economic policies affected the country as long as he and his family could make more money.”

Gelly:  “What about the Republicans in Congress?  Could they have been brain-washed like Walt was?”

Jordan:  “Some maybe.  I think the old adage about ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ applies to Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and some of the committee chairs.”

McConnellGelly:  “When you mentioned McConnell you know what popped in my head?  The scene from ‘The Graduate’ where Elaine is in Benjamin’s rented room near Berkeley, she’s just screamed and the landlord is headed toward the room and turns to Benjamin.  The landlord says to Benjamin, ‘You are scum.’  Seems to fit Trump, McConnell and some others.”

Jordan:  “I’ll buy that.”

Gelly:  “Have you got time to explain more economics to me, please?”

Jordan:  “Of course.  Keep in mind not all economics is as basic as we just discussed.  And some parts are counter-intuitive.  We can talk more about fundamentals…after I refill my coffee.”

Gelly: “OK and I’ll call the temp agency.”

 

#307 Good Witch Saves US from Becoming Banana Republic (#6 of 6)

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I break from the normal formatting and do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent “sense checks.”  Your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.  Thanks for your time and interest…and comments, please.

Scene: Jordan’s office, Washington, DC.  Jordan having coffee with Walt, a friend from college days.  Conversation began entry #302.

Jordan:  “OK, Walt, I know your head hurts from all the conversation about your ‘de-brainwashing’ of Trump.  But, what you’ve gone through is really interesting.   If you have time, have a couple more questions.”

Baldheaded ManWalt:  “I agree it was an interesting experience.  Yes, I’ve got time for a couple more questions, then I’m outta here.”

Jordan:  “Let’s start with Bob Woodward’s book about Trump.  You know, ‘Fear.’  How’d you react?”

Walt:  “React in what way?  Not sure what you mean.”

Jordan:  “First, did you believe what Woodward wrote?”

Woodward and Book CoverWalt:  “Yes. Best I can tell, Woodward is about as credible a journalist as you can find.  I’ve never heard what I call a true Washington journalist say he’s anything but top drawer.  Forget what the talking heads say about him.”

Jordan:  “You mean talking heads like Limbaugh and Hannity?”

Walt:  “Those two guys and their ilk are not journalists.”

TurtleneckJordan:  “How’d you react when Trump claimed the book was full of lies and made-up quotes?”

Walt:  “Before I was ‘de-brainwashed’…is there a different term than ‘de-brainwashed?’…anyway, before being ‘de-brainwashed’, I would have believed Trump.  But when I was able to cut through the mental fog and start looking at the facts, I had to laugh.”

Jordan:  “You mean laugh at Trump?”

PinocchioWalt:  “Yes, and sometimes at myself for having believed him.  Trump lied who knows how many times a day.  He was a serial liar…even about stuff that didn’t really matter.  He made Pinocchio look like a penny waiting for change.  So the serial liar claims this highly respected journalist made up key parts of the book…and then the serial liar expects rational people to believe him.  C’mon.  At that time Woodward had written I think 7-8 books about presidents.  And he’s going to make up quotes?”

Jordan:  “What about your reaction to the general theme of the book?  Woodward described the Trump administration as operating more like what you’d expect in a banana republic.”

ScreamWalt:  “Woodward’s book title was spot on.  The word ‘fear’ was a great descriptor.  Fear among the White House staff and the agencies about what crazy stuff Trump might try to do and fear of the consequences for the country.”

Jordan:  “You think Woodward…and some others…helped bring Trump down?”

Walt:  “Trump put himself in self-destruct mode during the campaign…even before the campaign.  One thing I can say about Trump – he was an incredibly effective bully.”

Jordan:  “You think Woodward’s book took away his bully pulpit, as it were?”

Walt:  “You know what came to mind when you were just talking?”

Jordan:  “I’m game.  What?”

Witch Bad OzWalt:  “The scene from the ‘Wizard of Oz’ where the bad witch tries to bully Dorothy to give up her ruby slippers.  Then the good witch – in this case Woodward rather than Glenda – shoos off the bad witch and protects Munchkin Land.”

Jordan:  “Pretty good, Walt.  A bad witch gets intimidated by a good witch – as you said the good witch being Woodward.”

Walt:  “Or the good witch could have been Mueller.   The scene from Oz seems to make perfect sense since Trump kept calling any investigation about him a witch hunt.”

MunchkinsJordan:  “When bad witch was shooed off, the Munchkins…aka Republicans…had the opportunity to return to normal.”

Walt:  “Unfortunately, the Munchkin Republicans waited too long before showing any spine and the country ended up with the Revenge Revolution.”

Jordan:  “I agree the Republicans were wimps, especially Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.  Both so-called Congressional-leaders enabled Trump’s bizarre behavior rather than restraining it, but…”

Walt:  “…But what?

Jordan:  “I think the US was headed toward a Revenge Revolution anyway.  The population was too polarized and Congress did nothing to bring the country back together.”

Walt:  “If that’s the case, are you saying Trump and Woodward had no effect?”

BananaJordan:  “No.  Trump’s actions made the polarization much worse.  He allowed the wacko fringes to come out of the closet.  In fact he seemed to promote the wacko far right.  Maybe even worse, his economic policies and efforts to control the judiciary accelerated the country’s slide to becoming a banana republic.”

Walt:  “What do you think Woodward accomplished?”

Jordan:  “You tell me what you think Woodward accomplished.  You’re the former Trumpster.”

Emporer No ClothesWalt:  “Woodward…along with a few others…confirmed what a lot of people suspected about Trump.  Except what Woodward showed the situation was much worse than most anyone thought.”

Jordan:  “The emperor with no clothes and it was pretty ugly, huh?”

Walt:  “Very ugly.  We, as in collective ‘we,’ owe Woodward and the others a big ‘Thank You’ for helping stop Trump.  And helping stop the US from sliding into a banana republic.”

Jordan:  “A certain percentage of the populace still views Woodward as the bad guy, not the good guy.”

Walt:  “That’s the ‘shoot-the-messenger’ crowd.  Most of them are all talk and no guts.”

Trump KingJordan:  “Or, as they say in Texas, ‘All hat; no cattle.’  That’s the same group who wanted staffers to resign if they didn’t totally agree with Trump.  ‘Hail the king.  He can do no wrong.’”

Walt:  “You been in that kind of situation before?”

Jordan:  “Yes, a couple of times, although obviously not at the White House.  Let me tell you in those situations, it is very high risk to try to get the truth out.    The messenger is often the one shot and the real message gets lost in the sound of the gunshots.  We can save those stories for another time.”

Walt:  “OK.  In the meantime, here’s a toast to the good witches – Bob Woodward and the people in the Administration who tried to act like adults.”

Jordan:  “Hear, hear.  To the good witches, ‘Thank you.  And yes, we have no banana…republic.”

Walt:  “I’ll let that one pass.  Now, I have to go.  Great visit.”

#306 What Happens if We Don’t Counter Trump’s Trash Talk about Judiciary? Banana Republic. (Part 5)

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I break from the normal formatting and do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent “sense checks.”  Your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.  Thanks for your time and interest…and comments, please.

Scene: Jordan’s office, Washington, DC.  Jordan having coffee with Walt, a friend from college days.  Conversation began entry #302.

Baldheaded ManWalt:  “So, you want my thoughts on next steps to help the US recover from Trump and his brainwashed supporters, right?”

Jordan:  “That’s what I asked.”

Walt:  “First step would be to rebuild trust in the judiciary system.  Look, I used to cheer when Trump would talk about the crooked FBI or how unfairly he was being treated…and all that crap.”

Know NothingsJordan:  “What changed your mind?”

Walt:  “Like most things about Trump, after a few real facts…not Fox facts…but real facts penetrated my brainwashing cap, I asked myself, ‘Why would the FBI all of a sudden switch from being good guys to bad guys?’”

Jordan:  “And your answer was?”

RantWalt:  “I couldn’t come up with a good answer.  I also thought if the president had been a Democrat and had done 1/10 what the public knew Trump had done, Republicans would have been ranting and raving, demanding impeachment and jail time.  Just look at how long Republicans were obsessed with Hillary’s email server.  Even when no one could find any evidence of criminal activity, they kept probing.  They wouldn’t give up no matter what the evidence was.”

Jordan:  “Well, how would you compare Trump’s behavior to say presidents Clinton or Nixon?”

Walt:  “Clinton was no one’s angel.  Yes, sex in the White House might be tawdry, but Monica a threat to national security? C’mon.”

NixonJordan:  “What about Nixon’s behavior?”

Walt:  “The Watergate break-in was illegal.  The cover-up worse.  But, again, was there any threat to national security?”

Jordan:  “Only if you consider Nixon might have become so unhinged about the investigation that he’d try to start a war as a diversion.  But I think the military would have ignored the orders.”

PutinWalt:  “Trump, on the other hand, set a new standard for illicit behavior.  OK, most everybody can overlook being in bed with porn stars.  But in bed with the Russians?  No way.  Think about it.  The president of the United States, and much of his immediate family, in bed with the Russians.  Some of his sleaziness was well-known and not a surprise.  So, with his known background, why did Republicans let him on the ticket, let alone get nominated?  When the info on the Russian connection started to come out, why did Republicans sit on their hands and do nothing to get rid of him?  I admit I’m not innocent…for a while I retweeted some of his stuff.  But what about Republican leaders in the House and Senate?  They had access to confidential information and did nothing with it.  They’re still in denial.  Bunch of whims.”

TurtleneckJordan:  “You know why they’re in denial.”

Walt:  “Probably same reason as I was – brainwashing.  And that’s my point — now that there has been the Revenge Revolution , the next step should be to start rebuilding confidence in the judiciary.  The country needs a credible counter to the Congressional clowns — the judiciary.”

Jordan:  “Stating the obvious…or at least what should be obvious to the populace…if a country does not have a fair-and-objective judicial system, there can be no democracy.”

BananaWalt:  “We’ve joked…maybe more like gallows humor…about how the US could slide into becoming a banana republic.  You really think that’s possible?”

Jordan:  “Yes, and let me give you an example.  An example of what happens when an fair-and-objective judiciary and a fair executive branch are ignored.  The result is lack of sustained economic growth…and for some countries the result is so bad that ‘Yes, we have no bananas.’”

Walt:  “You really think there’s a link between a fair judicial system and economic growth?”

Jordan:  “No question about it…but for some reason many people don’t make the link.  And politicians don’t talk about it — maybe they don’t know it either.  Here’s a chart that I keep close at hand as a reminder why fair government matters.”

ArgentinaWalt:  “If I read this chart correctly, in about 1900, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita was about the same in the US and Argentina.”

Jordan:  “I’ve seen some studies that indicate Argentina was actually ahead of the US.”

Walt:  “Wow, look what happened over the next century, and especially after WWII.”

Jordan:  “Amazing huh?  Argentina migrated to less and less of a democracy with a less objective judiciary — one that favored the wealthy.  And what happened?  Economic growth stagnated compared to the US.”

Walt:  “So by 2016, real GDP per capita in the US was 4-4.5 times greater than Argentina.  I never knew that.  And you’re saying a lot of the difference was due to a fair-and-objective judicial system.”

Jordan:  “That’s not the only cause but I think the foundation.  Sure, the judicial system in the United States has never been perfect, but until Trump tried to pack the Supreme Court and lower courts with benefit-the-rich only cronies, the system had been reasonably objective.”

HitlerWalt:  “At the same time, we had Trump trash talking, claiming the judiciary was crooked.  Remind you of someone from the 1930’s?  Anyway, when I suggested it was important to rebuild confidence in the judiciary, I never considered that without a fair judiciary, sustained economic growth was not possible.”

Jordan:  “I’m not sure many of Trump’s wealthier supporters didn’t realize that either.  Do me a favor.  Next time someone claims that only economies with minimal government oversight can grow, ask them about the value of an objective judiciary.  After the blank stare, then remind the laissez-fairer’s about what happened to economic growth in Argentina compared to the US.”

Walt:  “I will.  I confess, I never realized for the country to grow its wealth, there must be an objective judiciary.  And the judiciary must not just protect businesses and/or those with money…but an objective judiciary must protect everyone.  You know what?  I need another break.  My post-Trump ‘de-brainwashing’ is emotionally draining.”

 

#305 Republicans Brainwashed by Trump? So, Truth Isn’t Truth? (Part 4)

Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, Entry #1.  Most entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.

Occasionally I break from the normal formatting and do a “sense check.”  Auditing one’s own work is problematic but I try to be objective.  Entries #300 and #301 are the most recent “sense checks.”  Your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.  Thanks for your time and interest…and comments, please.

Scene: Jordan’s office, Washington, DC.  Jordan having coffee with Walt, a friend from college days.  They just returned from getting a coffee refill.  Conversation begins entry #302.

Baldheaded ManWalt:  “I’ll tell you another event that penetrated the brainwashing cap.  In fact, I still shake my head when thinking about it.”

Jordan:  “Which was?”

Walt:  “Remember when Rudy Giuliani, then Trump’s attack dog, stated on ‘Meet the Press’ that ‘truth isn’t truth’?”

Jordan:  “Remember it well.  I did not see the live broadcast…think I was doing something important like playing golf…but saw the video several times.”

Walt:  “Did you see the look on the host’s face?  What’s the guy’s name?”

Jordan:  “Chuck Todd.”

ConfusedWalt:  “That’s it.  Todd looked more dumbfounded than a deer in headlights.  Then he tried to let Giuliani correct his mistake.  But Giuliani in true Trump fashion, refused to admit an error and proceeded to straight-jacket himself.”

Jordan:  “You know Giuliani was right…if you add just one word.”

Walt:  “Not sure what you mean.”

Jordan:  “Giuliani’s right if you state it as, ‘Trump’s truth isn’t truth.’”

Alarm BellWalt:  “Hadn’t thought of it exactly like you phrased it but Giuliani’s comment was so stupid an alarm bell went off in my head.”

Jordan:  “So you had two Trump-related brain-penetrating epiphanies in a couple of weeks.”

Walt:  “Like I said before we went to get more coffee, after Trump’s order to revoke security clearances for high-level people who could protect the country, I began asking myself, ’Self, what have I been thinking?’  Then other Trump actions started to migrate from logical to questionable.”

Jordan:  “You think Giuliani’s ‘truth isn’t truth’ could have accelerated the questioning?”

Alternative FactsWalt:  “Probably.  But I’m still embarrassed to talk about my brainwashed state.  I mean, when I was brainwashed, Kellyanne Conway’s claim about ‘alternative facts’ never caused me to pause.”

Jordan:  “Not to press too much but didn’t you think Conway’s statements were pure BS?”

Walt:  “No.  I even repeated her stuff in discussions about Trump.  One time while having coffee with a friend of mine the conversation turned to Trump.  He made an assertion and I responded that you have your facts and I have mine.”

Jordan:  “How’d he respond?”

Walt:  “After I repeated the claim about alternative facts, he said I was brainwashed, then left the restaurant.”

Jordan:  “Ever get back together for coffee?”

Walt:  “The next time he asked me to provide a data source supporting some Conway-like claim I’d made.”

Jordan:  “And…?”

PinocchioWalt:  “I asked him if he was calling me a liar.  He asked again for the source of information.  I repeated my claim he was calling me a liar…then I left.”

Jordan:  “Seen him again?”

Walt:  “No.  Maybe I should call him.  He was right all along.  But see, that’s another example of being so embarrassed about past behavior.  I mean, what do I say?”

Jordan:  “Why not call him for coffee and let the conversation take its course.”

Walt:  “Good idea.”

Jordan:  “Were there any other what you might call epiphanic events that caused you to think you might have been brainwashed?”

Walt:  “The incident might not qualify as an epiphany but one that I still find humorous.”

Jordan:  “There was humor in the Trump fiasco?”

Walt:  “Well, guys probably think it’s funny.  Not sure about women.  Most guys never progress beyond sophomoric humor.”

Jordan:  “I’m game.  What was the event?”

Walt:  “Remember when Trump’s so-called confidants started to flip?”

Jordan:  “Started with Michael Cohen.  What’s so funny about Cohen flipping?”

Nat'l EnquirerWalt:  “Nothing.  What still makes me smile was when the owner of the National Enquirer was granted immunity.”

Jordan:  “You mean…?”

Walt:  “Yep.  Who ever thought a Pecker could be granted immunity?  Had we known a pecker could be immune from prosecution our college life could have been a lot more fun!”

Jordan:  “That is pretty funny…and so sophomoric.  Seriously, anything else stand out?”

WhyWalt:  “Once the brainwashing cap got penetrated, I started to look at the flood of Trump’s tweets a lot more critically.  What I noticed was that virtually every tweet laid the blame for a problem on someone else or on some Federal agency.  Trump seemed to forget he was in charge.”

Jordan:  “So, now you’re beginning to view Trump a bit more objectively.  What happened to your political position?  Did you start to shift left?  If so, how far?”

Walt:  “I shifted to probably right center.  Still basic conservative values but with a social conscience.”

Jordan:  “Reminds me of how Bush43 tried to position himself – compassionate conservative.  Then he got steamrolled by the neocons and lost focus.”

Walt:  “Guess my ‘right center’ is more like pre-Reagan Republicans.  That was before the party got pushed way right and eventually just refused to work across the aisle.  I know the Democrats seemed to shift to but at one time the Republicans and Democrats actually worked together to get things done.”

TurtleneckJordan:  “OK, now we’re in a new era.  Trump is gone and the country has gone through the Revenge Revolution.  And you’re more open to crossing party lines.  What about other former Trumpsters?”

Walt:  “Some will never get it.  Remember after Nixon resigned, there was what, 20-25% of the populace still supported him?  So those people will stay in their Trump cave.  But the rest of us need to start working together to avoid becoming a banana republic.  People don’t think the US can slip that far but it can.”

Jordan:  “I’m delighted you want to make the government work again.  Now, what’s next?”

(Continued)