Time for the politicians to once again learn the difference between what they perceive as reality and how the rest of us see it. Two examples are the hearings before the House Oversight Committee with Michael Cohen and the end of the Trump-Kim summit.
I will not waste a lot of time on the Cohen hearings since it was just a political circus not meant to archive anything other then to push forward an agenda. Nothing new was learned from a full day of statements and political attacks from both side. What we were told is what we knew: Donald Trump spent his life as a real estate developer and had for years attempted to build a hotel in Moscow. It never happened and other then Trump associates saying they tried to get it done is a nothing. Donald Trumps attorney facilitated payments to two blackmailers in order for their stories, true or false, not to tarnish the image of Trump. Since according to Cohen, Trumps personnel money was used this is again a nothing. The rest of the time was spent on rumors and innuendo as well as personnel attacks by the members on Cohen and each other. Paying hush money is not a crime and if it was to enhance the election possibility then it might be a crime except for the fact that it was Trumps personnel money of which there is no limit on use in his own campaign. The only facts that are evident in the hearing are that Cohen is going to jail for perjury and tax evasion. What was gained by this stunt is negligible, those that like Trump, still like him. Those that hate Trump, still hate him, and most everyone else was not tuned in and was not fooled by this Congressional circus.
The other story, one that was buried by the news and through manipulating the timing of the Cohen hearing, was the Trump-Kim summit. It is only front page today because of its perceived failure. This is the story that points out the greater difference and lack of understanding between politicians and the real world. While hoping to achieve the next stage of denuclearization on the Korean peninsula the negotiations ended early because the North Korean leader wanted more then the US was willing to give. The fact that the US then ended the negotiations and left must have come as a shock for Kim who, like the rest of the world, was trained to understand that the West would give into anything just to get a deal. Welcome to true negotiations Mr. Kim. I could make that welcome to most of the politicians and diplomats who have lived in a bubble for years.
Negotiations between people, companies or nations required certain elements. Among these are a give and take with known parameters, a set understanding of the end state and realistic expectations. In this case the North Koreans came with unrealistic expectations of complete sanctions relief while giving only limited movement toward the goal of denuclearization.
The world however has seen in recent years that the US, when negotiating, will accept almost any end state just to have an agreement. The most notable of these is the Joint Comprehensive Plain Of Action, or the Iran Deal. The Iran Deal saw the west give Iran everything it wanted and receiving nothing but empty promises in return. This was apparently the Norths expectation, leaving when it became obvious that there would be no true negotiated end, the US left.
The main stream media immediately called this a diplomatic failure showing Trumps lack of negotiating skill or knowledge of international relationships. Those of us who have been in business, or just life, understand this as reality. When you realize that the negotiation is going no where or that the demands of the person on the other side of the table are more then you are willing to give, you end the negotiation. This is standard when any two people or companies sit down to talk, this is however a sea change in government and diplomatic circles.
This is all part of what Donald Trump has brought to Washington, part of the drain the swamp movement. I fear however, like so many other reform movements, this will run into the wall that is Washington. Conservatives and progressives alike are very resistant to true change. If this change is going to be effective almost all who are a part must be removed, which is highly unlikely.
The hypocrisy of the west knows no bounds. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a prime example. There is no doubt that the government of Saudi Arabia murdered Khashoggi at their embassy in Turkey, we all accept that as fact. That the world should be outraged is not in question, but that Turkey led the original call for justice is the height of hypocrisy. An opinion piece in Newsweek in September called Erdogan’s Turkey the worlds biggest prison for journalist. While true numbers are hard to come by the estimate is that between one-third and one-half of all journalist imprisoned in the world are sitting in Turkish jail cells.
The murder of Khashoggi was a despicable act, of that there is no question, the reaction however could be said to be excessive when put in the light of other events around the region. The moral outrage from the press and the call for the United States to punish Saudi Arabia is valid, but it has dominated the headlines and has been politicized. The facts are that Khashoggi was a Saudi citizen who engaged in actions that opposed the Saudi government and especially the Royal family, which is a crime in Saudi Arabia. He was technically executed on Saudi territory, inside the embassy, under orders from someone in the Saudi government. While this violates international norms and laws it does not violate Saudi custom of an absolute monarchy. Let’s look at the region.
Staying with Saudi Arabia, criminals can be executed by beheading for crimes that range from murder to adultery and vary from blasphemy to homosexuality. There were 146 executions in Saudi Arabia in 2017 and according to human rights organizations the number rose by over 70% in the first quarter of 2018. The kingdom also imposes other punishments such as stoning and lashes for crimes, all of which violate international norms. The world knows of these barbaric practices and yet continues to ignore them, likely for the sake of oil.
Turkey, once a shining light of democracy in the region, has devolved into a dictatorship where the rule of law is up to the capriciousness of politicians and judges. Based on political beliefs or ethnicity, Turks as well as foreigners are tried and sentenced to long prison terms with no transparency or right to defense. This system has been used to silence and imprison not only journalist but political opponents as well as shut down opposition news papers and news outlets. Foreigners traveling to or transiting through Turkey are subjected to searches of there computers and other electronic devices for anything that may be anti-Turkish and subject to arrest and prosecution if materials are found. While widely publicized in the United States the arrest and detention of US Pastor Andrew Brunson on trumped up charges are just an indicator of how Turkey subverts its laws. Less well know is the case of German journalist Mesale Tolu who was held in detention for months on terrorism charges but was allowed to leave the country in order to leverage the German government. There has been no call from the world or US politicians to punish Turkey.
Iran is without a doubt the worst abuser of human rights in the region if not the world. There is no covering up the crimes, in fact they seem proud of how they treat their citizens. Their interpretation of Islam and sharia law allows them to do so under the guise of religion. There is no free press or even freedom of expression. Recently a young woman in protest stood up and took off her head covering, she has been sentenced to 19 years in jail. Not long ago a 16-year-old was stoned to death for crimes against chastity because she was raped. The war against the Kurds is ongoing, declared terrorist or apostate Kurds are hung every day in Iran, woman are stoned to death and the jails are filled to over capacity by Iranians and foreigners. The jails are filled through the use of closed courts and unknown charges, while the world objects to these actions they are more then willing to allow them to continue in order to do business. There is no outcry for protection of the innocent. While the Trump administration has withdrawn from the Iran deal and reinstated sanctions the rest of the world objects to these actions and continues to deal with Iran.
Iraq has abandoned all pretense of a true legal system and has subverted or ignored its constitution. The highest court in Iraq was to be appointed by the government with apportioned seats so that all of Iraq was included. This has never been done and the court that rules is left over from the Saddam regime. Recent activities have included the illegal attack on Kirkuk and other disputed territories following a legal referendum in the Kurdish region that the central government disapproved. This was preceded by more then a decade of ignoring article 140 of the constitution calling for resolution of the problem. Illegal use of private militias such as the PMF and the suppression of individuals and groups is the norm, and yet the world ignores this in hopes that Iraq can be held together and some how become a functioning democracy.
There are many countries that violate human rights or operate outside of international norms and are ignored by the world, but this must be addressed. The world is getting smaller and cultures are clashing harder. This is not to say there should be a culture war, but moral outrage cannot be a light that is turned on and off for the convenience of governments. Saudi Arabia should be held accountable for the extrajudicial execution of Jamal Khashoggi, it should also be held to account for its barbaric justice system. Turkey and the others as well should be made to address their systems. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be a key not just a document. It was once said that human history would be much less bloody if we were as upset over the death of millions as we can become over the death of one individual.
So now the process of government is to be slowed by a single unsubstantiated allegation about something that happened almost four decades ago during a drunken High School party. Unless there are additional accusations or some evidence of this being indicative of a continuing pattern of abuse then it must end, and the process allowed to continue.
Having been vetted by the FBI since 1993 with no derogatory findings the allegation cannot be proven, and the man’s character should not be called into question, but will be. If inappropriate behavior doing high school is a bar to government service, then the halls of congress would be empty. This is not to say the accusation is true but given context to life it is of little relevance to the process unless it were part of a pattern. While this is one letter from someone being reported as a left leaning social justice warrior it is counter balanced by a letter signed by 65 woman who knew him when, who say this is not indicative of the person they knew. All we have for evidence is the accuser’s letter supposedly backed up by a therapist note from a session 30 years after the fact and denials from the accused and a friend of his that was implicated.
Should these allegations be investigated, yes, but how? Considering the amount of time that has gone by and lack of any concreate evidence what can be done at this late date. Senator Dianne Feinstein has had the accusatory letter in hand since July, long before the hearings began. Claiming to honor the writers request for anonymity Feinstein did not disclose the letter to anyone other then some staff until after the committee had finished its questioning and was moving toward a vote. I am sure the committee could have designed questions about the incident without revealing names. But the minority decided to wait until the week of the confirmation vote to spring this surprise.
This maneuver is without a doubt designed to confuse and delay the vote as well as an attempt to sway those in the majority and give them reason to not vote for confirmation. Even if this event did happen, and I seriously doubt that it did, it is not as some are saying an automatic disqualifier. If there were a history of drunken sexual assaults over years then yes it would be, but on this there is no evidence.
The court begins its next session in about two weeks, congress must do everything in its is power to ensure for the people that there are nine qualified justices on the bench. All I ask is that everyone PLEASETHINK if there is truly enough here to delay the vote or that disqualifies Brett Kavanaugh from becoming a justice.
When I read “Art of the Deal” years ago I was impressed by the pragmatism but did see some parts that to me as a young man starting out in business did not make sense. I have continued to read Trumps books, “Art of the Comeback” etc., and they now make sense. I also remember a scene in the movie “Patton” in which, after defeating Rommel, Patton yells out “ I read your book.” Today we don’t read books but get our information from TV or the web, at least that’s how it appears listening to politicians and pundits. If you see Trump as an enemy I suggest you follow Sun Tzu and “Know your enemy as you know yourself,” read his books and study his back ground.
The most recent political blowback on Trump has been his pulling out of negotiations with North Korea, with the talking heads and opposition politicians trumpeting how Kim has played us and that it was never going to work etc. Many of those who are saying these things went to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard or got there degree in political science from Georgetown and so forth. Had they gone to Harvard Business School or Wharton they may understand how Trump will handle negotiations. It would also have helped if any of them had bothered to read his books.
What we are seeing, playing out in the open is the give and take of true negotiations. These types of negotiations used to go on in government and between governments after the lights went out, at cocktail parties and behind closed doors. Today there are no negotiations just posturing for the cameras and picking positions based on ideology and the latest poll. Little thought is given today on the impact of decisions for the future if that future goes beyond the next news cycle. Business cannot run that way and neither should government. A politicians legacy should not be decided on just getting a deal but getting the right deal.
The other difference here is that Trump is use to moving fast while government moves glacially, if at all. There will be a summit with North Korea, just don’t know when. The stage has been set and Trump maneuvered China to our side which has blocked North Korea. This is a beginning and will play out. It will take time and more back and forth, but it will end. Its time for those who report the news and work in government to catch up with the new paradigm or get out of the way. The cost of failure is to great and should not be the subject of a sound bit.
While everyone is concentrating on the recent interview of an overaged porn star trying to extend her 15 minutes of fame, while writing a cheap crime story, the president has again improved the US position in the world. With the announcement that President Trump was going to impose a tariff on steel and aluminum, the economic experts went nuts. Tariffs are counterproductive, tariffs will cost more jobs then they save, this will start an all-out trade war with the rest of the world, etcetera. The problem is that we have been taught over the years to only see the close in results on a narrow timeline. We have lost the ability to see a larger picture over an extended period. In other words, we have lost the ability to think and reason out situations.
Much of this has been the result of politicians learning to respond to news cycles in the past and to the present day 24/7 news coverage. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have learned to be circumspect in any statement and not take a firm position. The exceptions are those who demand ideological purity. Then along comes Donald J. Trump, a complete amateur in the field who speaks his mind and is willing to change position as needed to accomplish a needed end. Add to this the fact that he accomplished the impossible by defeating the anointed one for the presidency causing the news media to declare all out war. We need now return the American people to the point where they can think and reason.
Trump is a negotiator and as anyone who has negotiated knows, the first thing to do is set up the conditions of the negotiation. In the case of the tariffs it appears that the initial conditions were just that, setting the stage. Since the declaration of the tariffs the President has exempted counties such as Canada and Mexico and has begun trade negotiation with several others. One such negotiation was with South Korea which has now agreed to reduce the amount of steel exported and to double the number of US manufactured cars to be sold in the country. While South Korea is the third largest exporter of steel to the US we have also begun to negotiate with China which has now come to the table.
We must also look to the claims of the tariffs on US production and employment, which the talking heads scream will be negatively impacted. To begin most steel used in the US is domestically produced. Of what is imported 26% comes from Canada and Mexico which we have said is already exempted from the tariffs. South Korea accounts for an additional 10% of imports. To find the rest we see Brazil contributes 14%, which now brings us to 50% of all imports. The rest of the worlds top ten contributes another 27% and the balance of the world adds 23%. All this imported steel represents around 25% of all steel used in the US. Domestic with US mills are running at about 75% capacity. This means US mills can cover the loss of imported steel. The problem is not in the amount of steel however it’s the cost. All of this is not to confuse the issue but to point out that this issue, unlike what many are claiming, is complicated and needs thought, not emotion to reason out.
Because of several factors US manufactured steel is more expensive then imported steel, tariffs are designed to compensate for the difference. Which leaves two potentials, products that use steel will increase in price or the price of those products must come down. There is also the probability of US steel manufactures finding ways to reduce the cost of steel, which likely would cost jobs as efficiencies increase. The Trump administration has cut several cumbersome regulations and passed a tax bill that gives both corporations and most Americans additional income therefore we can look to market equilibrium containing pricing.
What have we learned, first that we should not react to actions without thinking about them in the long term. Second many negotiations begin without the intent that they will meet all the initial demands. Which brings us to the conclusion that nothing is black and white. That all things are negotiable if both side understand the rules and that obviously both sides don’t always understand the rules. There will be an impact on US markets, but it will not be the end of the world.
The release of the memo from the House Intelligence Committee is coming. To start I have no idea what is in “The Memo.” Like all of you I know its four pages long and is an executive summary of the committee hearings on the investigation of alleged Russian interference with the 2016 election and collusion by the Trump campaign. Some say it is devastating and will expose corruption and criminal activity in the highest reaches of the FBI and the Obama administration writ large. Others say it is cherry pick information without context designed to destroy the FBI and attack the news media. The Democrats on committee wrote their own memo which is not going to be released with the majority memo. It will however be released to the House members for review, so we can be sure it will be leaked.
What facts do we then have to guess what is in the memo, none. We can only infer from actions taken and what has been leaked as well as rumors, what we may see in the memo. Many on both sides of the aisle are concerned it will contain classified information. I hope this is not the case and that it will be a summation like the report released by the Intelligence Community detailing what they knew of Russian activities in the 2016 election. While based on classified information it was a summation with sources and methods redacted.
What we do know is it will cause a major debate across the country. It will not likely destroy the FBI as an institution but will cause a shakeup in senior management. Will it cause a disruption of the ongoing special investigation by Robert Mueller, we don’t know but suspect it will have an impact based on the reaction the news of the release has caused on the left. Will it have context, probable not, it’s a summation of a year long investigation.
What is the one thing we know? After going to the committee vault and reviewing the memo, as well its hoped at least some of the underlying documents, FBI Director Wray retuned to the FBI and the next day Deputy Director McCabe was gone. Beyond the memo is talk of a devastating report from the FBI’s own Inspector General on the handling of the Clinton email investigation. This all follows on the heals of revelations of two FBI agents text messages who were involved in both the Clinton and the current Mueller investigation, being biased against Trump and pro Hillary. While it is OK for people to have opinions, it is not OK for investigators to text about attempts to direct the outcome of their investigation to a foregone conclusion.
The questions to be answered by this memo should be, was the FBI weaponized by the Obama administration, did the bias of the investigators influence their ability to conduct the investigation. Has the investigation into Russian interference been tainted to the point that it must be ended? The last question, is the memo based on political bias and should it be disregarded.
When you read this memo, it should be with some skepticism since it is coming from only one side, but it should be read without prejudice. It will likely contain enough truth to decide if the actors named have hurt the country. It will be bad for the nation if the FBI was politicized but it will not have been the first time. During the red scare of the ‘50s and the civil rights movement of the ‘60s the FBI was weaponized against our citizens. These revelations will not destroy the nation but hopefully make it stronger.
So PLEASE THINK when the memo comes out. Use your sense of reason and not emotion.
As the countdown to a government shutdown continues the politicians seem more interested in assigning blame then getting to an answer that would keep the government running. What this all comes down to is whether or not it is more important to keep thousands of government employees at their jobs providing service to America or in making political points. On the other side we have a debate on whether it is more important to approve a short term stop gap measure or put thousands of people out of work to demand a full budget. In other words, politics as usual.
I heard the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tell a press conference that the Democratic representatives held together against what she said was a bad Republican bill, of course there was nothing in the bill that the democrats objected to other then it did not have everything they wanted in it. I think it is time that the people told their representatives that we are less concerned with party loyalty then having the people we hire, do their jobs. While the Republicans can get a bit of a pass this time, they did exactly the same thing in the last shutdown period.
I personally believe we do need to address those immigrants who were brought over as children and know no other home then the United States. Some will say they had time to get US citizenship, but many did not know they were illegal till adulthood. But this can be fixed without holding the government hostage.
Its time to remind the congress that they have one major job assigned to them by the constitution, pass a budget, ONE JOB. It is time they did it.