Thursday, May 30, 2019

Bias, Rights and Facts

The things I like to do best in BeeLine is expose bias in the left-leaning news media and to provide necessary context to the issues of the day. By doing that it is my hope that you will better understand the real truth about the issues of the day.

There is no better way to do that than with a few examples involving the abortion issue. As I have written before, there is no more emotional, contentious and divisive issue in America today. Much of it was avoidable if we had let the constitutional process play out as our Founders intended our system of governance to work. In that we circumvented that process we now find ourselves with some states now stating that abortion is legal up to and through birth. Others are stating that it is illegal in almost all cases, including incest and rape.

All of this has occurred because we let nine judges decide a fundamental issue balancing the right to life of an unborn child with the rights of a mother to choose whether she wants carry and care for that child.

In that nine judges decided the initial case, nine judges can decide it a different way. This has led those favoring abortion in some states to move to the most radical positions they can think of on the premise that a federal right to abortion could be limited by the Supreme Court. At the same time, pro-life interests in other states have reacted to this abortion expansion by passing legislation that extensively restricts abortions in their states.

Let's look at the "reporting" of this issue in the media for any signs of bias.

Let's start with NPR. Yes, the NPR that is taxpayer-supported and should absolutely not be showing any bias in its reporting.

The Washington Examiner's Quin Hillyer reports that "NPRs coverage of abortion is pregnant with bias."

It seems that NPR recently sent out a memo to all of its reporters and correspondents on how to refer to various terms in the abortion debate. It claimed it was seeking to remain "neutral" in its reporting. You can be the judge of that.

Here are a few examples.

NPR reports are never to refer to babies in the womb. They are to be referred to as a fetus as "babies are not babies until they are born".

NPR reports are not to use the term "unborn" because it implies there is a baby inside the womb rather than a fetus.

NPR reports are not to use the term "abortion clinics" to describe where abortions are performed. They are to be referred to as "medical or health clinics that perform abortions".

NPR is not to use the term "partial birth abortion" to describe the procedure where the baby is partially delivered outside the womb before its skull contents are vacuumed out while still in the mother. This is to be referred to as an "intact dilation and extraction medical procedure".

NPR is also not to use the term "late term abortion" as it conveys that the fetus is viable.

NPR does not want the term "pro-life" or "pro-choice" to be used in reports. Its reports should only refer to "abortion rights advocate" or "abortion rights opponent".

I thought the suggested usage on the last item is particularly telling. NPR is claiming to be neutral but is claiming that abortion is a right. Moreover, there are good guys advocating for that "right" and bad guys opposing" that "right".  Of course, there is no mention of any rights of the developing human being inside the womb. How is that neutral? I can think of no better example of inherent bias. It appears that they can't even see bias when it is right in front of them.

Not to be undone, The New York Times published this op-ed by a doctor who specializes in performing abortions late in pregnancy.

Pregnancy kills but abortion saves lives?

There is no doubt that women do die every year due to pregnancy-related deaths. How many are there?

The CDC reports there are about 700 deaths per year as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications.

The CDC preliminary report for 2018 states there were 3.8 million births last year.

That puts the incidence of a pregnancy-related death at .0018421053 based on the number of live births.

Contrast this with the fact that there were an estimated 879,000 abortions in the United States in 2017 (the most recent year that data is available).

This would mean there were actually around 4.7 million pregnancies when you add these numbers to the live births above and the 24,000 still births we have in a typical year.

Let's put deaths from pregnancy and abortions in context.

There is about one death resulting from every 6,714 pregnancies.  .014894251%

On the other hand, almost one in five pregnancies ends with an abortion.  19%

Abortion is justified because it save lives? What is the greater threat to life?

The "health of the mother" is the principal argument that many make for the justification for abortion as seen in the New York Times op-ed.

Rape, incest and a serious fetal abnormality are also often given as reasons to justify abortions.

How often are these actually a reason for an abortion?

The State of Florida records a reason for every abortion performed in the state. These are the results for the 70,083 that were performed in 2018.

State of Florida
Reasons for Abortions, 2018

These numbers closely track a national survey that was done in 2016 by Wm. Robert Johnston.

Reasons Given For Abortions in the USA
by Wm. Robert Johnston
last updated 18 January 2016

All of this should show what is really true.

Abortion is really not about the life or health of the mother. It is not about rape, incest or fetal health.

It is about choice. It is about rights.

It is really about one question.

Does a woman have the right to put her rights above the right of the life growing within her?

If so, is there a point at which those rights end and the right to life of her baby take precedence?

Is it at conception? The point at which a fetal heartbeat is heard? The point at which the child would be viable outside the womb? At birth? After birth?

Tough questions involving a very tough issue. It always is when you start balancing "rights".

Just make sure you understand the bias inherent in much of what you see and read on the issue.

You also need to understand the facts behind the issue and be able to put those facts in the proper context.

As I have stated in the past, the balancing of those "rights" is not an issue for any one man or woman to decide. Or nine men and women on the Supreme Court. Or NPR, The New York Times or the National Right to Life Committee for that matter.

It should only be decided by a true consensus of the governed. That appears to be what is occurring now at the state level with New York seeing a woman's rights continuing up to and through birth and Alabama seeing the child's rights beginning when its heartbeat is heard.

In that we did not follow the federal constitutional process that was established for this type of issue we now find ourselves in the place we are today.

After 46 years would you not expect it to be a better place?

The Founders did everything in their power to keep us from getting to this place. Such is the result when you try to short-circuit and short change our constitutional process.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Doubling Down

Now that the Mueller Report has cleared Donald Trump of any collusion with Russia in the 2016 election the Democrats seemingly have changed their tune. Mueller was everything for them before his report came out. Now they seem to think he missed something.

Mueller spent almost two years and over $35 million investigating what the Democrats and mainstream media said was collusion with the Russians. The Democrats and media also claimed that Trump had attempted to obstruct justice over his alleged "crimes".

Over those two years Special Counsel Mueller employed 19 lawyers who were supported by a team of 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants and other professional staff.

Mueller and his team issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, made 13 requests for foreign government for evidence, and interviewed 500 witnesses.

Nothing was found by Mueller to warrant any charges against Trump in that two year investigation.

It should be remembered that for two years Trump vociferously denied all the charges. For this he was called a liar, a reprobate and unworthy of the office by both Democrats and the mainstream media.

Has anyone heard any apologies because they got it so wrong?

We have not only not heard any apologies but the Democrats are now saying that Trump is engaged in a "cover up."

Here is what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week.

"We do believe that it's important to follow the facts," the California Democrat said. "We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States. And we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up."

This all seems to stem from the fact that Trump refuses to release his tax returns to Congress and he has invoked executive privilege to prevent his former White House Counsel (who already testified for over 30 hours with Mueller) from appearing before a Congressional hearing.

The Democrats apparently have decided to forego its legislative responsibility in favor or doing nothing but investigating, investigating and investigating some more.

The Democrats claim that they need to see Trump's tax returns in order to see if he had any financial dealings with the Russians that resulted in collusion. 

I find this interesting because just last week President Trump filed an 88 page financial disclosure as is required for all federal executive branch officeholders. Most anything that the Democrats say they want to know about Trump can be found in that document.

While it is true that a tax return can be helpful in discerning some details better than a financial disclosure statement, I generally believe that the latter is more revealing than the former for someone like Trump. This is the case because a tax return only documents personal income and deductible expenses. For example, if an asset is not producing any current income it never would show up on a tax return. A debt would not be disclosed unless interest was paid and deducted on the return.

Trump's personal tax returns would also be very limited in understanding his entire financial picture. They would only provide details related to his specific individual items and any sole proprietor income. They would not provide any detail on income, expenses or debt on those things held in partnerships, limited liability companies or corporations. The financial disclosure is much more informative for someone like Trump who has significant and wide ranging business interests.

So how is it that the Democrats are claiming "cover up" in the same week that Trump filed an 88 page financial disclosure form?

I think you can figure out the answer to that question.

As to the financial disclosure, here is the page relating to all of Trump's liabilities. It reflects outstanding debt of at least $315 million.

I would put the entire Trump income and asset schedule in here as well but they take up 18 pages in the report. This is the first page of that section of the financial disclosure. Note the disclosure shows both estimated value and annual income of all assets within a range. A tax return would generally only reflect income.

There are an additional 7 pages related to other assets and income which relate primarily to checking, savings, money market accounts and stock investments. Again, these list values and income.

This is the first page of that schedule.

One of the more interesting items I found in the financial disclosure is that Trump is receiving pension payments from the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. These combine for almost $100,000 in annual payments.

You might think that his membership in these two unions was tied to the beginning of his role in The Apprentice which began in 2008.

However, he actually began participating in these plans in 1992 and 1989, respectively, as shown in Part 3 of the financial disclosure.

Trump is credited with 22 acting roles on dating back to 1989.

Will there ever be a time when enough is enough with the Democrats in Congress?

They had a special counsel investigating Trump for two years who found nothing on Russia collusion or anything else and the Democrats then conclude that Trump must be covering something up?

A recent poll by CBS News found that by a 58%/37% margin Americans say they have heard enough about Mueller and Trump. 53% of those surveyed want Democrats to drop the investigations of Trump and move on to other issues.

However, among Democrats, 73% want Congressional Democrats to keep investigating. Democrats in Congress have to decide between angering their base or further frustrating the rest of America with their endless investigations of Trump while doing no legislating. That is why Trump is now referring to them as the "Do Nothing" party.

Incredibly, the percentage of Democrats who want to continue investigating Trump is higher today among Democrats than it was before the Mueller report was completed and cleared Trump and his campaign of any Russian collusion whatsoever.

How is that possible if not for Congressional Democrats and a complicit mainstream media who fed the false Russia collusion narrative to their base for two years and now can't find a way to retreat graciously. They seem to think they have no choice but to double down and maintain the support of their base. Democrats also seem to be pushing for more investigations of Trump to deflect attention from the Justice Department investigations of those who promoted (and possibly even created) the Russian collusion smear to drive Trump from office. (the so-called "insurance policy").

Unfortunately, all is proceeding as I predicted in October, 2018 shortly before the mid-term elections.

I made two predictions of what would occur if the Democrats captured a majority of seats in the House of the Representatives in my post "A Consequential Election" that appear to have proven accurate.

The first was that we would see almost nothing done legislatively for two years because all the Democrats would want to do were endless investigations of Trump.

If we think we see chaos in Washington now, think for a second what things will look like with a Democrat Congress.
I can assure you that there will be almost nothing of value done legislatively for the next two years with the Democrats in control.
Will we get a Congress focused on legislation or on investigations? 

The second prediction was that a Democrat takeover of Congress would embolden Democrats to pursue a much more radical and progressive agenda. That would also carryover to the candidates who would announce they were running for President in 2020. We should expect much more radical views from the candidates as well if Democrats took over Congress. That is exactly what we have seen. The Democrats believe the country has turned hard left because of their gains in Congress and the social media attention Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has received.

The consequences of this election will also go far in shaping the list of potential 2018 Presidential contenders.
Will we get a radical or a realist as the Democrat Presidential nominee in 2020?

It remains to be seen whether this is a correct reading of the electorate.  

Democrats have been very good in the past at "covering up" their own views in order to get elected. For example, they would say they were personally against abortion but they believed women should have the choice. They would never say they wanted to raise your taxes or take away your private healthcare. They would never tell you they wanted to double the price of gasoline or triple your utility bills.

Of course, that it exactly what they wanted to do. They just knew they could not get elected saying it.

Those days are gone. There is no "cover up" involving what most Democrat candidates want to do and how far left their views are any more. It is all out there for everyone to see.

The Democrats are doubling down on Trump and doubling down on their radical, progressive agenda.

Will this result in the end of Trump or the end of the Democrat party as we know it? 

We will learn a lot about these questions over the next 18 months.

There is no question that the Democrats are obsessed with finding a way to get rid of Donald Trump. However, they could actually die as a national party as they attempt to do it. Such are the risks of doubling down.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Lifting Us Up

Memorial Day began as a day of remembrance for those who perished in the Civil War.  It originally was called "Decoration Day", a term I still remember my grandparents using to refer to the day. That was because the origins dated back to ceremonies where the graves of those who died in battle were decorated with flowers to honor their service and memories.

The late May date was chosen for Decoration Day as that was the time in which most flowers were in full bloom.

Memorial Day started to be used as the name for the holiday in the 1880's but the name did not start to gain popular acceptance until after World War II. It did not officially become "Memorial Day" until Congress declared that the official name in 1967.

I became very aware of its origins and the divide that still existed between North and South when I attended law school at Emory University in Atlanta in the early 1970's. Memorial Day was not even recognized as a holiday at the school and in much of Atlanta at that time.

It originally was celebrated on May 30 of each year which I also remember. The holiday was established as the last Monday in May by an Act of Congress that took effect in 1971. Despite that, my law school classes were still held as usual in 1973 on Memorial Day as if it was any other day. That was a little difficult for a Yankee like me to understand. I recall that it was not until the following year that Georgia fully joined the union in celebrating Memorial Day.

Lest we ever think about forgetting, these are the numbers of Americans who have laid their lives down for our freedom over the years.


I have featured Angela Pan's photography in BeeLine previously. Angela is based in Washington, D.C. and some of her best work features the the monuments and memorials in our capital city. Featuring her photographs has become a BeeLine tradition on Memorial Day.

These images truly honor the men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedom through the years.

Vietnam War Memorial
Credit: Angela Pan

Arlington National Cemetery
Credit: Angela Pan

Iwo Jima Memorial
Credit; Angela Pan

We should also not forget that the sacrifices of these men and women have ultimately allowed us to be better in the end. Those losses allowed the rest of us to gain more and achieve more. They have truly lifted us up.

I came across a great example of that this week when I saw this image of the Golden Bridge in Da Nang, Vietnam. The area around the bridge is actually the site of the famous American military base during the Vietnam War. Notice that the hands "holding up" the bridge were apparently carved from stone outcroppings.

Golden Bridge
Da Nang, Vietnam

Here is another image which shows an overview of the bridge. To think that something so magnificent has been built in area today which was so central during the Vietnam War and the death and destruction that accompanied it speaks volumes.

Golden Bridge

I can think of nothing better that represents how those who have sacrificed have lifted the rest of us up.

May we never forget.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Communists and Coincidences

Many members of the younger generation today seem to be intrigued with socialism or communism.

A 2018 poll found that 52% of Millennials would prefer to live in a socialist (46%) or communist (6%) country rather than a capitalist (40%) one. If that is not a shock consider that 8% of Millennials would prefer to live in a fascist country.

Those approval numbers drop dramatically for older generations as you can see from the chart below. Could this be because those that are older saw the horrors and human toll of the socialist and communist states of Russia, East Germany, China, North Korea and Cuba in much more graphic detail in the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's while they were coming of age?

I also find it interesting that those in Gen Z (those born between 1995-2015) have more negative views about socialism, communism and fascism than their older brothers and sisters. Could this be because the college indoctrination process by left-wing faculty has not yet been completed on this generation?

Why do I bring this up?

When I was growing up it would be extremely rare for any member of my generation to express socialist or communist views. The red threat was real and people took it seriously. Identifying as a communist or socialist or voting for a Communist party candidate was way, way out there. Someone who did it was on the furthest reaches of radicalism in that day and age. Young people my age might have protested the Vietnam War but almost none embraced communism.

I have known for a long time that former CIA Director John Brennan admitted that he voted for the Communist Party candidate Gus Hall for President of the United States when he was in college in 1976.

John Brennan is also the same guy who converted to Islam after he was young CIA analyst.

It always amazed me that Brennan could have a top secret security clearance and get the CIA's top job with his background.

What I did not know until recently is that former FBI Director James Comey also admitted he was a communist in his college years as reported in this New York magazine article from 2003. If he was joking it certainly is not apparent in the article.

“In college, I was left of center, and through a gradual process I found myself more comfortable with a lot of the ideas and approaches the Republicans were using.” He voted for Carter in 1980, but in ’84, “I voted for Reagan—I’d moved from Communist to whatever I am now. I’m not even sure how to characterize myself politically. Maybe at some point, I’ll have to figure it out.

You have to ask the same questions about James Comey. How did he ever become Director of the FBI with that in his background?

John Brennan and James Comey
Credit: EpochTimes

Is it not pretty extraordinary that two men who grew up in the same era as I did were infatuated with communism in their college years (which was extremely rare in those years) and both ascended to the top national security and law enforcement functions in the United States?

Is it not also extraordinary that both were appointed to these top jobs by Barack Obama?

Is it also just a coincidence (not to also mention extraordinary) that Brennan and Comey appear to have been at the center of the efforts of the FBI and CIA to spy on Donald Trump's campaign and at the forefront of pushing the discredited Russia collusion narrative from the beginning.

Of course, what is more extraordinary is that two guys who seemingly were enraptured with the communist ideals of Russia in the 1970's were the ringleaders trying to smear Trump of colluding with Russia today.

Now that the spying and smears that were directed at Trump and his campaign are coming to light, it appears that Brennan and Comey are are pointing fingers at each other as this article headline points out.

The launch of a formal inquiry into the origins of the Russia investigation -- being led by one of the Justice Department’s toughest prosecutors -- has touched off a new round of behind-the-scenes finger-pointing among Obama administration officials who could have some explaining to do about efforts to surveil the Trump campaign.
A key dispute that flared this week concerns whether then-FBI Director James Comey or then-CIA Director John Brennan  -- or both of them -- pushed the unverified Steele dossier containing claims about President Trump and his relationship to Russia. The dossier’s more sensational claims were never substantiated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team.

All of it is quite extraordinary...and laden with a lot of coincidences.

It will be very, very interesting to see how this plays out.

As a wise friend of mine used to say to me often,

"There is such a thing as coincidence in the world, it just is extraordinarily rare."

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Celebrating Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence.

Credit:Wikipedia Commons

He served as the Secretary of State for George Washington.

He was Vice President of the United States under John Adams.

He was the third President of the United States.

When Jefferson was President he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase that doubled the territory of the United States.

He founded the University of Virginia.

Jefferson also invented and improved many innovations including the cipher wheel, polygraph, swivel chair, dumbwaiter and iron plow.

There have been few men that have had more impact on the history of the United States than Jefferson.

Despite all of this, left-wing students from Hofstra University have been pressuring the university administration to remove a statue of Jefferson that stands in front of the student union. They argue that Jefferson represents "slavery and racism."

“Jefferson’s values aided in the construction of institutionalized racism and justified the subjugation of black people in the United States. "

If that isn't bad enough along comes Democrat Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg (the Mayor of South Bend, IN) weighing in on Jefferson by stating that he thinks annual Democrat political fundraising dinners bearing Jefferson's name (Jefferson or Jefferson-Jackson dinners)  as well as buildings bearing his name be renamed.

Those dinners are so named to pay homage to Jefferson (and Jackson) who the Democrats claim as the founder(s) of the party. The Republicans have similar dinners named for Lincoln who is considered the founder of the GOP.

Mayor Pete cautions he would not go so far as to remove Jefferson from the history books. He also seems to be fine with the Jefferson Memorial right now. However, where does all of this nonsense stop?

I find this particularly interesting because, if you look at the history books, Thomas Jefferson actually did as much to try to end slavery as anyone during the time he was alive.

Many are not aware that in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence Jefferson included a provision that attacked slavery and the King's actions in "suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce."

Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence

This passage was deleted in the final Declaration that was approved but I think it pretty clearly shows that Jefferson was not aiding in "the construction of institutionalized racism and subjugation of racism".  He was actually attempting to deconstruct it.

This is how  describes the "The Deleted Passage of the Declaration of Independence".

When Thomas Jefferson included a passage attacking slavery in his draft of the Declaration of Independence it initiated the most intense debate among the delegates gathered at Philadelphia in the spring and early  summer of 1776.  Jefferson’s passage on slavery was the most important section removed from the final document.  It was replaced with a more ambiguous passage about King George’s incitement of “domestic insurrections among us.”  Decades later Jefferson blamed the removal of the passage on delegates from South Carolina and Georgia and Northern delegates who represented merchants who were at the time actively involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. 

Why did Jefferson and other Founding Fathers accede to removing this language. Quite simply, if they were to be successful in breaking away from Great Britain, and gaining independence, all 13 colonies had to be totally united. Everyone who put their name on the Declaration of Independence was literally putting their their life, livelihood and fortune on the line. As Benjamin Franklin famously told those that were assembled to sign the Declaration on July 4, 1776,

"We must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately."

The larger goal of independence from Great Britain took precedence as it was not possible to move forward with only 11 of 13 colonies united on the issue of slavery. Tough compromises are necessary on tough issues. Moving forward allows for a fight for another day. Retaining the status quo accomplished nothing for the cause of freedom in the 1770's---for anyone---colonists or slaves.

Jefferson was later instrumental in making sure there was a ban on slavery in the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 and it was Jefferson who as President initiated the legislation that banned the importation of any more slaves.

Thomas Jefferson did own slaves. So did George Washington and Andrew Jackson for that matter.

In other words, the two people that the Democrats celebrate as the founders of their party were both slave owners. If they are serious, why don't they wash away both of those names and change the name of the Democrat party while they are at? Everything is tainted if you look at it that way Mayor Pete and these left wingers see it.

Of course, the reality is that all men are imperfect. Jefferson and Washington and our founders inherited a world that was imperfect but they did their best to change it for the better.

Did they make it perfect? Were they perfect? No.

However, they made it a whole lot better than it was. They also established a foundation of freedom that endures today. Should that not account for a fair and balanced view of the contributions of Jefferson, Washington and others who founded the United States at great risk and cost to themselves?

The framework they established also provided a model that has provided rights and freedom for billions of other people on this earth that was unheard of before these men made that Declaration in 1776.

This subject should not even be the subject of any debate after nearly 250 years.

Jefferson, Washington and the others should be celebrated, not denigrated.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Courage and Commitment on Trade

A lot is being made of the 25% tariffs that President Trump has imposed on $200+ billion of Chinese imports.

Trump originally imposed a 10% tariff on these goods last September as a way to get the Chinese to the bargaining table. Sources say that the Chinese had agreed to a comprehensive trade deal in those talks only to renege at the last minute. This led Trump to turn up the heat on the Chinese some more with the higher tariff rate.

Another $300+ billion of Chinese goods that are imported to the United States have not been included in the tariffs. These include phones, shoes, apparel, auto parts and other items. Trump continues to hold this back if he needs more leverage.

China's economic power has grown over the years with its one-sided trade views. China effectively closed off imports of U.S. goods for decades. To do business and get access to its huge consumer market the Chinese government forced many U.S. companies to commit to manufacturing sites there, in addition to requiring them to provide their most valuable intellectual properties in order to have an entry into the Chinese market. What intellectual property China did not obtain legally they stole illegally.

At the same time, China began flooding the U.S. with imported products fueled by cheap labor and lax environmental and labor standards.

Republicans and Democrats alike did nothing about the inequity or the illegality. Our elected representatives literally gave away substantial portions of our domestic economy by thinking short-term rather than long-term. They had the advantage of having the most attractive market in the world and yet they gave it away and did not get anything in return.

China grew and got richer with each passing year. At the same time, the United States saw millions of high paying middle class manufacturing jobs lost. This change also caused a further worsening of the social and economic divide between the college-educated service class and the high school educated worker class.

Only one man really stood up and questioned the wisdom and fairness of it all. That man was Donald J. Trump.

It is not easy negotiating with the Chinese on trade because they have had it so good for so long. No one wants to give up an extremely advantageous situation easily. The Chinese are no different.

The mainstream media seems to be portraying all of this as another example of an unhinged Donald Trump who is going to do great damage to the American economy and consumer.

Here are a few headlines in the wake of the tariff announcement.

Source: NPR

Source: Bloomberg

However, as I have written before in these pages, Trump understands the big picture. He also understands the long game. Trump also understands that to win you have to fight and take calculated risks. Of course, it is easier to do that if you have less to lose than the other guy.

Trump has been derided in the past for stating that "trade wars are good, and easy to win."

I don't know that is always true but it is a lot easier to win a trade war when your country is importing a lot more than it is exporting. And that is the case with the United States today---by a wide margin.

Beyond thinking about the long term, rather than the short term, Trump understands that in order to do deals and reach agreements, you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses. You also have understand the strengths and weaknesses of your adversaries. You also have to be able to apply leverage when you have it. Most everyone on the planet is driven by enlightened self-interest. There are not many who have something that they are going to give up willingly.

It might require a little bit of short-term pain to get the right long-term deal with China but I think a lot of the media scare mongering is overplayed.

Late last year I pointed to an analysis by a group of European economists who projected that most of any tariffs on Chinese imports would be borne by Chinese producers not American consumers.

U.S. companies and consumers will only pay 4.5 percent more after the nation imposed 25 percent tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods, and the other 20.5 percent toll will fall on Chinese producers, according to authors Benedikt Zoller-Rydzek and Gabriel Felbermayr.

Did we even notice any effect on prices from the 10% tariff already in place? Inflation is still running below 2%.

On the other hand, there has been a noticeable effect on the U.S-China trade balance since the tariffs were implemented.

Consider this report from the AP in which it was reported by the Commerce Department that the trade goods imbalance with China dropped 28% in February.

Exports to China rose 18.2% to $8.4 billion.

Imports fell 20.2% to $33.2 billion.

That is a pretty big change in a short period of time.

President Trump is also threatening tariffs on all foreign auto imports to correct the trade imbalance in this sector. That is also getting media push back. In this instance Trump is using the threat of tariffs in order to bring pressure on the EU and Japan to negotiate better bilateral trade agreements.

The rationale for this is that U.S. auto research and manufacturing are "vital to national security interests." That was a finding of a recent Commerce Department report. The same logic was used to justify tariffs in the steel and aluminum industries earlier and it is hard to disagree with that conclusion. The United States would be very vulnerable from a defense standpoint if it did not have metal and vehicle producing manufacturing plants.

Autos are another sector that the United States has given away large segments of the U.S. market and has gotten very little in return. $200 billion of cars/light vehicles are imported into the United States annually. That is almost four times what the United States exports.

The EU currently levies a tariff of 10% on all car imports. The similar U.S. tariff---2.5%. In addition, every car in the EU is also subject to the imposition of value-added taxes in individual countries that average around 20%. There is no corresponding value-added tax in the United States.

The EU exported $37 billion of vehicles to the United States in 2018. The United States only exported $7.7 billion to the EU the same year.

Japan has no tariff on cars entering its market but it has historically put many non-tariff barriers in place to protect its automotive market such as special standards, discriminatory taxes, and bureaucratic entry procedures. The result is that the average American car costs thousands more dollars in Japan than in the United States.

Japan argues that buyers in that country don't want U.S. cars and the U.S. automakers have just not made the effort to win buyers over. However, those automakers have been beating their heads against the wall trying to gain entry to that market for years which has made it difficult to put the dollars into making that effort worthwhile.

To give you an idea of how large the trade imbalance in autos between the United States and Japan is, consider that U.S. automakers currently sell only 15,000 cars a year in Japan. Japanese automakers are selling over 6.5 million cars in the United States of which about half are manufactured in the U.S. and the balance imported. Does that seem right?

Credit: The Wall Street Journal

Keep all of this in mind as you see news reports that try to paint Trump as unbalanced, unhinged or unreasonable.

Does it look like the United States is playing on level playing field in trade?

In the first few decades after World War II there were good reasons for Europe and Japan to want to protect their markets in order to allow them to rebuild their manufacturing base.

The same held true for China as it attempted to get beyond its status as an emerging economy.

Those days are gone.

It is long past time to have free and fair trade that goes both ways.

Fortunately, we have a President that understands all of this and is willing to hold those to account who don't want to play fair.

Would any other politician have the commitment and courage to do what he has done?

Those who like to criticize Trump should consider that question and think about what real leadership is all about. They may not like all that he does but doesn't an honest person at least have to recognize how much Donald Trump has singlehandedly changed the conversation on trade (and immigration) in a few short years. If nothing else, it is real testimony to what one man who believes in something, and is willing to back it up with courage and commitment, can accomplish.

Based on what I have seen, I think the Chinese and others would be wise to take him seriously.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Eyes On Your Eats

The weekend is coming up and I would wager that there is a good chance that a few of you are going to eat out at some point in the next few days.

That is a pretty good bet because Saturday is the most popular day to eat out.  Friday is the next most popular and Sunday is third.

If you tell me where you live I would also have a better than average chance of guessing what type of restaurant you might eat at.

How would I be able to do this?

Google provides the answer.

Google recently did an aggregated, anonymized data set based of all users who had opted to use Google Location History to show what types of restaurants people had eaten in different locales around the United States.

Yes, Google knows all the answers.

Here is the national map that The Pudding put together from the dataset.

Who knew that pizza had such a stranglehold in the heart of the Midwest?

Sandwiches seem to be the king only in the area radiating out from the Philly Cheese Steak capital in Philadelphia.

Steakhouses only seem to be packing them in where men are men---Montana, Wyoming and Alaska.

There is little doubt that those in Wisconsin like those butter burgers.

The data set also allows you to see just how popular each restaurant cuisine is by region.

Here is the pizza popularity heat map.

Compare that to the BBQ popularity map.

The Mexican map. I am talking about Mexican food, not the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico. However, there is probably a pretty strong correlation between the two..

How about the coffee map? What is it about the West and coffee?

Google also provided the top 10 metro areas for each cuisine type. It should be no surprise that Memphis is #1 for BBQ, San Antonio for Mexican or Seattle for Coffee. However, Detroit is #1 for Pizza and Washington, DC is the Burger Capital of the United States?

Google's dataset actually can drill down to restaurant visits by neighborhood.

Here is the neighborhood view for Washington, DC. You can see all those burgers being consumed in the heart of DC near The White House and Capitol Hill. You only see pizza, seafood and Chinese becoming more popular in the outskirts of the District.

Where do all the lobbyists wine and dine our legislators? Five Guys?

Bon appetit this weekend!

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Necessary and Proper?

In my last blog post I wrote about the concerns that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has about the United States Postal Service.  She seems to think that its financial struggles are most directly caused by the fact that it must accrue and account for its massive retiree pension and health care costs.

Never mind that this is what every prudent private sector business is required to do based on generally accepted accounting principles. Never mind that this is also a key worker protection requirement.

AOC also teamed up with Bernie Sanders last week to suggest the the USPS should expand its business to include banking services. To that end, Sanders and AOC have introduced a bill to have the USPS offer basic banking services as a "public option" for what they refer to as "underserved Americans"

“Post offices exist in almost every community in our country,” Sanders wrote in a blog post. “There are more than 31,000 retail post offices in this country. An important way to provide decent banking opportunities for low-income communities is to allow the U.S. Postal Service to engage in basic banking services.”
Some of the proposed services a postal banking system could offer include low-interest loans, checking and savings accounts, debit cards, check cashing, bill payment, ATM services, online banking services and electronic money transfers. The measure was framed as a way to prevent lower-income Americans from falling victim to predatory payday lending practices – and from having to rely on Wall Street’s largest institutions.

Credit: The Nation

A government-owned bank competing with private financial banking institutions?

Isn't that a national bank?

We have been down this road before. There are great advantages in the lessons of history.

Alexander Hamilton was the first Secretary of Treasury serving under George Washington. In 1791 her proposed to Congress that the United States form a national bank. He quickly got both Houses of Congress to pass the law.

However, James Madison (a Congressman from Virginia and who many consider "the father of the Constitution") opposed the legislation as did Thomas Jefferson who was serving as Secretary of State for Washington. They argued that the formation of a national bank was unconstitutional and that Washington should veto the bill forming a national bank.

There is an excellent article on this episode in U.S. history entitled "The National Bank: An Exercise in Constitutional Fidelity" at

Their dispute turned primarily on the meaning of the Necessary and Proper Clause. The Constitution certainly does not authorize the creation of a bank in express terms. Such a measure could only be justified as an exercise of an implied power of the federal government. The source of such powers flows from that provision of the Constitution that follows the main enumeration of federal powers and authorizes Congress to “make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”
According to Jefferson, this language could not justify a national bank because the bank was not really necessary to executing any of the government’s enumerated powers. A bank might be a useful or convenient tool for executing, say, the government’s taxing, spending, and borrowing powers. It was not, however, necessary in the sense of being indispensable.
This, Jefferson argued, was the true interpretation of the term “necessary” in the Necessary and Proper Clause: It only authorized those measures without which the federal government’s enumerated powers would be “nugatory,” or without which they would amount to nothing. Jefferson, moreover, contended that any broader interpretation, such as could justify the bank, would be not only wrong but also dangerous, insofar as it would open the door to unlimited government and thus render the Constitution a dead letter. 

Isn't that interesting? I guess we don't have to wonder what Jefferson or Madison would have thought about how "necessary and proper" it is for the USPS to get into postal banking, or for that matter, how "necessary and proper" it was for the federal government to establish Obamacare or taking over the student loan debt market?

In the end, Washington sided with Hamilton who argued that the "necessary and proper" language should be construed more liberally to mean "useful".

Washington did sign the bill into law and a national bank was established in the United States in 1791. However, it was ultimately disbanded in 1836 when Congress refused to renew its charter due to opposition from President Andrew Jackson and complaints from the private banking sector about its federal ownership and control.

Postal banking was actually put in place by Congress in 1911 at a time when there were far less options for banking and a true national economy did not exist-especially for those east of the Mississippi. However, after World War II there was little need for these services as private banking services proliferated and nonprofit credit unions were also introduced to supplement the private banking system.

The fact that most credit unions are now open and available to all potential customers raises an additional question of how "necessary and proper" a USPS bank is as a non-profit public option. A non-profit option already exists for the public. Why is that not sufficient as an option against the evil banks and their profit motive?

There are almost 6,000 credit unions with 21,000 branches in existence across the United States.

This is in addition to 87,700 bank branches in the private banking system.

What exactly is the USPS going to do that is not already being done?

Why do we need additional bureaucracy and costs from a government entity that is already running in the red?

Do Sanders and AOC have any idea of the technology and other costs that would be necessary for the USPS to get into the banking business? ATM machines. Web-based banking services. Back office operations. Retrofitting post offices for the necessary security measures. Where is the added value to the economy? Where does the money come to provide this duplicative services for the American public? How is any of this "necessary and proper"?

I do not understand it.

Of course, there is little that Bernie Sanders and AOC say or do that I understand.

The biggest thing I don't understand is how a guy who never held a real job until he was 40 years old, when he was elected Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and a woman who was working as a bartender two years ago, believe they can run the United States and its economy better than anyone else.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Lot of Garbage

It is truly mind boggling how very little Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez knows or understands about anything.

What is even more mind boggling is that she has millions of acolytes who hang on her every word and believe she knows what she is talking about.

Last week she was on her Instagram account saying she didn't know what a garbage disposal is. This is a 29-year old woman who was elected to Congress?

OK everyone, I need your help because I just moved into this apartment a few months ago. And I just flipped a switch and it made that noise and it scared the daylights out of me.
“I am told this is a garbage disposal. I’ve never seen a garbage disposal. I never had one in any place I’ve ever lived.”
“This DC apartment is bougie and has things I’ve never seen before. Is this what social mobility is? Using kitchen appliances you never saw growing up?”

Of course, she went on to ask whether this contraption was "environmentally responsible". I guess she is looking for other things to ban in her Green New Deal. (By the way, garbage disposals are generally favored by environmentalists for the food waste that they prevent from ending up in landfills.)

Perhaps she never had a garbage disposal when she was growing up but she didn't even know it existed and what it did? Talk about living under a rock.

You would think that saying something that crazy might slow her down. However, AOC was showing her utter lack of knowledge later in the week arguing that the GOP was causing the Post Office to fail because the law requires the US Postal Service to fund their retiree promises to its employees. She seems to think that the USPS should not have to accrue retiree costs as they are incurred.

Note that this inane tweet got 9,500 retweets and over 50,000 likes. That is not only mind boggling, it is downright scary at the same time.

Despite what AOC says, prefunding pensions decades out is what prudent businesses do. As employees perform the work that will eventually result in a future pension the employer should be putting money aside for that future obligation currently. It is not prudent to put this expense on the business in the future. In fact, accounting principles dictate it and private businesses are required to do it based on the Employee Retirement Security Income Act (ERISA) of 1974. It is a "worker protection" law. Isn't AOC concerned about protecting workers?

The GOP "business model" that AOC seems to be referring to is a 2006 law that requires the USPS to fund their gigantic retiree health obligation which is a separate obligation from pensions. Again, private business have been required to accrue these costs since Financial Accounting Standard 106 was issued in 1990. FAS 106 requires that post-retirement benefits be accrued as an expense during the years that the employee earned the benefit rather than accounted for on a pay-as-you-go cash  basis during retirement.

The fact is, that the USPS like many government entities, ignored this fundamental accounting principle for many years. As a result, they did not properly account for current expenses and kicked the can down the road. You can see this readily by looking at the funding levels of most governmental pension and retiree programs today. Taxpayers are currently on the hook for over $6 trillion in state and local government pension plans according to a recent study by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The reality is that what has really hurt the USPS is email, electronic bill payments and more and more businesses advertising through social media than using direct mail or advertising circulars. It was not the Republican party "business model" or an accounting provision that has done it.

Look no further than the fact that the USPS is handling about 30% less mail pieces today than it was a decade ago as explained in this article on the USPS's financial condition.

79% of the annual costs of the USPS are in labor and benefit costs. The USPS has responded to the decrease in mail volume through attrition by not replacing employees who have retired or left. (It would be unheard of for a government entity to actually layoff workers). This has resulted in a reduction in employment from 800,000 a few decades ago to 500,000 today. However, the USPS now has 600,000 retirees receiving a pension and retiree health benefits.

The pensions and health care benefits for those retirees (and future retirees) are currently underfunded by over $100 billion. If the 2006 change in the law had not occurred, the amount underfunded would be close to $150 billion. AOC thinks this would be a better business model?

You can also see in the chart below that, contrary to what AOC wants people to believe, the USPS has been running a loss (or is barely above break-even) even if retiree health expenses are excluded from its profit and loss statements.

It solves nothing to think you can ignore the obvious as AOC suggests. There are 600,000 retirees today and that number will undoubtedly grow as the USPS has to further shrink its workforce. What good does it do to just kick the can further down the road and allow the USPS to get further in the red when only massive future postage increases or a large federal government bailout of its retiree obligations can save it?

On her Instagram post AOC also said this about her garbage disposal. (You can see it yourself.)

"...It is terrifying. I don't know what to use it for or what its purpose is."

My answer to AOC would be this.

A garbage disposal would be very useful for you to use to deposit your policy proposals and other random statements you are prone to make on how the world works.

You simply have no clue about what you are talking about most of the time. What you say is not only dishonest but dangerous to those who believe your garbage,

Please be courteous and dispose of this garbage properly. By doing this you will also stop spreading this garbage to others.

You also will have the added comfort of knowing that it has been disposed of in an environmentally sensitive manner.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Words That Work

About ten years ago I was invited to speak at a seminar in Washington DC on strategies for businesses to better promote health and wellness in the workplace.

Frank Luntz was the headline speaker at the program and he also facilitated a question and answer panel that I was on during the day.

Luntz is famous for the focus group panels he often puts together and facilitates during the political season as well as the best-selling book he wrote in 2007, "Words That Work".

I thought about Luntz and his book when I recently came across an interesting article on that did a survey on word sentiment and the power of various positive and negative words.

For world leaders, journalists, CEOs, or anyone who has ever had to explain a dicey report card, word selection can have an enormous impact on how a message is perceived.
Does it make any difference whether a presentation went quite good versus pretty good, or if an earnings report is described as awful versus poor? According to a new survey from YouGov, word sentiment isn’t as cut-and-dry as one would expect.

The big takeaway from the survey---"Certain words more precisely communicate positive and negative feelings." 

Here is an infographic that shows the sentiment score of negative and positive words on a continuum. Note that the size of the hump shows where the most people were in agreement on where each word fell on the positive-negative scale.

Consider that "Very bad" is more negative that terrible, dreadful, abysmal or appalling.

Why? I think a big reason is that it is much simpler to understand.

Note the second hump for abysmal in the graph at about the "5" level. I attribute that to a fair number of people who probably don't know what the word means. If you are in doubt on a 1-10 scale survey you mark it down as a "5".

Another word that must have thrown some people was appalling.  Look at the number of people who gave a positive score to appalling.

On the other side of the sentiment scale, perfect is more positive than excellent, fantastic, incredible, superb or awesome. Perhaps Millennials should say "perfect" rather than "awesome" at times.

The lesson here is that you will not be misunderstood if you say something is perfect. There is nothing else that can be done. You can't get more positive than that.

In the middle of the sentiment scale, I found it interesting that "alright" is better than "ok" and "not bad" is better than fair, average or mediocre.

Although they share the same language, those in the UK perceive the same words in the English language differently than their brethren in the USA.

Here is the sentiment scale for the Brits.

Those in the UK clearly know what abysmal and appalling mean and they believe it is more negative than being "very bad".

Perfect is still the most positive word you can use in the UK as well as in the US.

The Brits have more defined "humps" in the graph indicating that there is more agreement where each word falls on the graph. Is it due to a better education in the English language in the UK?

I did not really understand how the word "great" is seen by the Brits as just a little more positive than good and it is actually not as positive as really good or very good. I see the sentiment progression on the American list as making more sense---good, quite good, really good, very good, great. (Is that because I am an American?)

On what word do both Americans and Brits have the most agreement on where it falls on the sentiment scale---AVERAGE. It was nearly dead center on both scales and there was also the most agreement by people on its overall score.

I hope you don't see this as an average blog post.

It may not be perfect but how about an "Excellent" or "Outstanding"to describe it to make my week?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Can You Believe Anything They Say?

Do you remember the doom and gloom predictions the Democrats made right before the Trump tax bill was voted on in December, 2017?

Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democrat leader, said this according to the New York Times.

 As the final vote approached in the Senate, Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, gave his closing argument against the bill and scolded his Republican colleagues for talking during his remarks on the floor.
“This is serious stuff,” Mr. Schumer said. “We believe you’re messing up America. You could pay attention for a couple of minutes.”

That was relatively tame compared to what Democrat Nancy Pelosi had to say about the bill.

Pelosi called it "the worst bill in the history of the United States."

Of course, Bernie Sanders also weighed in at the time.

" is the day of one of the great robberies, criminal activities if you like, in the modern history of this country, because the federal treasury is being looted tonight."

I wrote at the time (right before Christmas, 2017) that we ought to refer to them as "The Democrat Grinches".

Not one Democrat in the House or Senate voted for the tax reform package.

So how has this all worked out almost a year and a half later?

Is the country messed up?

Was it the worst bill in the history of the United States?

Was it a criminal robbery unlike we have ever seen in the modern history of the country?

Here are a few recent economic indicators.

The unemployment rate is 3.6%. That is the lowest in 50 years. Further, the unemployment for women is 3.1% (the lowest since 1953), for Hispanics 4.2% (the lowest since this was first tracked in 1973), and for those with only a high school degree 3.5% (lowest since 2000). The unemployment rate for Blacks is 6.7%.  It was 8.0% in November, 2016 when Trump was elected. The all-time low (5.9%) was also set in the Trump administration in May, 2018. That is almost a full two percentage points lower than it ever was in the Obama administration.

5.8 million jobs have been added to the U.S. economy since President Trump was elected.

Wage growth over the last year has been 3.2%. Year over year wage growth has exceeded 3.0% for 9 straight months. Before 2018 (when the Trump tax bill took effect) there had not been wage growth in excess of 3.0% in any rolling 12-month period since March, 2009.

Inflation (measured by CPI) is at 1.9% over the last 12 months meaning that we are seeing real wage growth.

Can you believe anything they say?

In addition, despite what Bernie Sanders called the criminal theft of the federal treasury, taxpayers (especially middle income taxpayers) are keeping more of what they make rather than being forced to turn it over to the federal treasury. Why do they always think it is their money, not ours?

A recent report by H&R Block, which included an analysis of all the tax returns it filed for its clients (most of which are middle or lower income filers),  found that overall income tax liability was down 24.9% compared to last year.

Refunds were up 1.4% compared to the prior year.

By the way, H&R Block prepared 20 million tax returns in its most recent reported fiscal year. That is a pretty good sample size of working class taxpayers.

I found this data particularly interesting in that we saw so many stories in the mainstream media during tax filing season that middle income taxpayers were not seeing any benefit from the Trump tax bill. Of course, a lot of that narrative was fed by Democrats who continue to repeat the falsehood that only the "rich" benefited from the tax bill.

Why did so many middle income Americans believe this falsehood?

H&R Block explains that most people ignored the increase they got in their take home pay once the W-4 withholding tables were adjusted in March. They only considered their tax refund when they filed their return. The average reduction in tax liability for H&R Block clients was $1,200 but the average refund was up by just $43.

In effect, the money was in their pockets the entire year rather than being held in the Treasury. That money in the hands of the American worker and consumer has had a big impact on the economic numbers we are seeing right now.

I thought this was a particularly interesting chart in the H&R Block report in that it shows the average tax liability decrease by state.

Why do I find it interesting?

Look at which states showed the largest tax decreases.

New Jersey (-29.1%), Massachusetts (-27.6%), California (-27.1%).

These are all very liberal states where you heard a lot of noise about the limitation of the state and local (SALT) tax deduction for those who itemized.

As I wrote when the tax bill was being discussed, this provision hit higher income earners and those with high property taxes disproportionately. It was the best way to skew the greatest tax benefit to the middle class.

Limiting the SALT deduction clearly had very little effect on middle income and lower earners. Taxpayers in these deep blue states with high state and local taxes actually benefited more from the Trump tax bill than any other states. This is the exact opposite of the narrative we keep hearing in the media.

Of course, none of these facts are stopping the Democrats from continuing to rail about the Trump tax cuts.

Joe Biden was on the stump this week and said this.

"First thing I'd do is repeal those Trump tax cuts."


I guess Joe is not aware of the facts.

Is he really going to repeal the 25% cut the average H&R Block client got this past year and take an average of $1,200 out of everyone's paycheck?

I thought he was middle class Joe. I have to think if he does that the average taxpayer might figure out rather quickly that Trump really was on their side.

My advice for the Democrats is this. If they truly believe what they say, what are they waiting for ?

Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats control the House of Representatives.

Article 1, Section 7, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution states that all bills for raising revenue must start in the House of Representatives.

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

If it is the worst bill in the history of the United States, why wait? Why not vote on a bill to repeal the Trump tax law right now? There is nothing to stop them. After all, not one Democrat voted for it in the first place. It should not be a difficult vote for them.

Have had it.

What could go wrong?

Could it be that the Democrats might really experience the doom and gloom they were talking about in December, 2017 if they actually have their way?

Can you really believe anything they say?