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TGIF – August 11, 2017

A surfeit of news

Some weeks you wonder if 24-hour cable news was a good idea after all. Certainly when stations get fixated on one or two stories and that’s literally all they talk about, it’s time to hit the off switch.

Then you get a story about Rally Kitty, and you’re kind of glad you didn’t miss it. Note to people catching seriously frightened cats…either hold it firmly by the scruff of the neck or leave it alone. Still, you gotta give the guy credit for hanging on.

Or the Navy honoring a 102-yr-old  World War II veteran by naming a 900-man barracks after him. It’s doubly nice, because he was there to see it.

Cuba hazardous to your health?

If you’re planning to visit Cuba, take note of the story of diplomats from the U.S. and Canada who inexplicably returned home with severe hearing loss, reportedly from some sort of acoustic attack last year. That probably isn’t what was envisioned when we reopened the embassy in what is still Castro’s Cuba.  Maybe tickets should carry a health warning.

Get a life.

Then there is the made-up outrage over POTUS’s tongue-in-cheek comment about Russia expelling some 750 or so of our diplomatic staff.  One DNC talking head even waxed poetic about how hard it was going to be for the ousted employees’ children to switch schools. Good grief, lighten up. BTW –  what do over 1300 people do in Russia?

Waiting game.

Of course there is the North Korea affair…but rest assured, if that turns into a shooting war you’ll know about it.  Until then, don’t obsess over it, because there’s damned little you or I can do about it. This was bound to happen sooner or later, just as even if you ignore a boil, it will eventually come to a head on its own.

The trouble with blaming “excessive expectations.”

It’s a pretty fair bet that America at least tacitly agrees with the President when he takes issue with Mitch McConnell’s statement that he expected “too much” from Congress. They would argue that Congress expects too little of itself.

Perhaps the President’s business background did not adequately prepare him for the time it takes to turn grain into flour by letting it grind ever so slowly through the millstones of Congress.

And perhaps the stones are simply worn too smooth to do the job. That’s not necessarily the fault of Mitch McConnell, but rather of the process itself and the passage of time.

The Founding Fathers designed a system that was intended to provide both yeast and leavening via the process. They were adamant that Congress not become a rubber stamp for any president.

The House was meant to interpret the needs and sometimes the wishes of the people, while the Senate was there to act as a brake on irrational popular exuberance.

But that’s a brake, not a brick wall. This discontent with the process is more than simple redneck rebellion.

Critics point out that in the 17th and 18th and most of the 19th century, news of global events moved at the speed of sailing ships. Their argument is that the process needs to catch up with the 21st century a bit more. Taking months to decide on policy and implementing it no longer has the luxury of time.

So far nothing of any substance or national importance whatsoever relative to the GOP campaigns of 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016, save the inevitable confirmation of Justice Gorsuch, has managed to wend its way all the way through the political process.

No healthcare insurance reform.  No consensus, indeed no work at all on the budget. No working framework for tax reform. No new bridges or resurfaced highways. When Congress went home this year, confirmations were running far, far behind.

Meanwhile the critics complained that Trump is not clearing out Obama holdovers fast enough and insurance premiums shot through the roof while citizens cried foul and the media blamed him for not being “involved” enough .

No wonder the President is a bit cranky.

Switching metaphors for a moment, Republicans have been burning rubber on the starting line for so long they’ve worn out their tires and blown up their engines. It’s time to release the line lock.

Yes, this President is impetuous, impatient, demanding and often woefully naïve about politics. He often does create chaos when he shouldn’t.

But his impatience is mirrored on Main Street. Listening to Senator McConnell prattle on about procedure, while putting process above results was not and is not what America voted for last year.

Perhaps the first place to achieve the much ballyhooed compromise is not across the aisle, but between the House and Senate leadership and the Oval Office.

In the end, the country wants to see progress on the issues they voted on last year. It’s been nine months, and yet we seem to be no further along than we were on November 9, 2016.

It’s even conceivable that if the President got more cooperation he might be more willing to back off on some of his confrontational habits a bit too.

So far, the only bipartisan cooperation seems to be on the resist movement, and don’t think for one minute that voters don’t see the lack of results in that light.

The people delivered the GOP the best harvest they could, but what good is a truckload of grain, if it doesn’t wind up as bread before it becomes moldy?

This North Korean thing.

Every American generation since at least 1918 has lived under the cloud of a global war threat.

People of a certain age can readily remember the “duck-and-cover” drills of the 1950’s and ’60s, which even 10-year-olds knew were pretty stupid. Believe it or not, pre-internet, they had access to newsreel footage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombs dropped. Somehow, our desks didn’t seem like they would protect us very much.

Hot wars or cold, some dictator seems to have always been available to threaten every generation.

Forward to 2017, and we have North Korea.

In hindsight, the so-called Korean War, or as it was called then, police action, was one of the United Nations’ early failures, although it didn’t seem like a failure at the time. There was never a peace treaty signed, and technically, the war between North and South Korea is still on.

For those students who think history began with the internet, the United States did not declare war on Korea.

As a member of the newly formed United Nations, America did provide the bulk of the men and material  expended during the Korean War, as they were required and indeed expected to do under, yes, Article Five.

So much for the history.  If you want to know more there are innumerable books on the subject, and the Cliff’s Notes version on Wikipedia provides a reasonable overview.

In other words, President Trump, and in all fairness, past President Obama didn’t start this conflict, because it really never ended.

Various administrations have sought to keep the lid on the simmering kettle, largely through the carrot-and-stick approach. North Korea rattles its sabers until the West gives in on some point and North Korea tends to benefit most from the political dance. The lid rattled a little, but it stayed on.

That all changed when NoKo decided to go nuclear.

In a way, NoKo is the victim of its own prior successes. Threats have always worked in the past, so why not keep making them?

If the country had a rational leader and only had conventional weapons, perhaps the world could still make that work. After all, blackmailers want the spoils, and if they kill the victim, there are no more spoils to be had.

Unfortunately that isn’t the case.

Decades of being taught to hate the West has produced the guy we have now. It’s a good bet that the man doesn’t care whether this conflict ends in the decimation of his country. It’s about pride and revenge at this point, and he probably really believes that he can win.

From the U.S. point of view, the stakes are too high to keep placating North Korea with the current dictator calling the offensive shots.

The difference now, as it was in 1951-53, will be whether Kim Jong Un can count on the Chinese to back him up.  In the 1950’s they did, with some help from the then Soviet Union.

Today, China has to weigh whether having an all-out nuclear war on their border is in their best interests.

Make no mistake, if President Trump or any other president wanted to, he could reduce the North Korean landscape to one large bomb crater.

It’s somewhat interesting that NoKo is threatening Guam.  If their objective is to recapture South Korea there is nothing to be gained by getting into a shooting war with the U.S. on home turf, because one of the casualties of that war would be South Korea as well. Clouds of nuclear detritus would not stay in the North.

That’s also a consideration for President Trump. We have nothing to gain if we lose South Korea and part of Japan to an all-out nuclear conflict.

The fly in the ointment is whether Kim Jong Un is reckless enough to actually deliver a nuclear weapon into the United States. So far, he has given only scant hints that he has a rational brain cell or two left.

China also hinted they may have assessed their role differently than their mid-20th century predecessors when they voted for sanctions.

It is those few hints that keep this a war of words at present.

At this point, if the recent intel on NoKo’s nuclear timeline are more accurate than the ones that suggested we still had a few months or even years left to solve this conflict diplomatically, time has run out.

After all, every blackmail victim eventually reaches the point where they simply cannot pay up anymore.

We are there.

The opioid epidemic – a failure of vision?

The “opioid epidemic” makes it sound like we have just discovered a new and threatening virus from outer space.

In truth this is largely another political football.  It’s something to talk about besides Trump, Trump and more Trump.

A few years back this was called white collar drug addiction but by any name it is almost as much a part of the modern human experience as the free love movement or draft-dodging of the 1960’s.

Of course the answer to it is surely another government program.  All sorts of inane logic and manual “solutions” will be proposed, electioneered on and finally have boxcar loads of tax dollars shoveled into them.

Note that this has become a separate issue from the “war on drugs”, which we lost decades ago.

In its purest form, opioid addiction stems from the overuse or misuse of legally prescribed narcotics,  although it often crosses into the shadowy underworld of street drug dealing.

The reaction is somewhat similar to the temperance movement, or war on alcohol, in the late 19th and early 20th century, the culmination of which was the ill-fated 18th Amendment.

The deleterious effects of that law have been debated ever since, but it surely did not turn the United States into a “dry” country even when it was in effect.

Now, as then, you have all sorts of mechanical solutions pouring forth. Don’t allow anyone to possess or be prescribed more than “X’ number of pills, outlaw certain drugs like Fentanyl (which when used correctly is useful and humane in conditions such as the terminal phase of cancer patient care), sue the drug makers out of existence (although no drug manufacturer can prescribe for a patient), etc. etc. etc.

The truth is, there are few pharmacological treatment protocol choices between NSAIDs and opiate medications available to patients with severe pain, whether acute or chronic.

All these one-size-fits-all solutions will do is waste a lot of money and penalize those people who truly need and use the drugs properly.

There are other pain treatment protocols, such as biofeedback, physical therapy, some of the Eastern medicine routes, such as acupuncture or even hypnosis, but opiates used properly will continue to be necessary as long as the underlying need for pain control exists.

Perhaps a better use of those Federal (read as “your”) billions proposed for inclusion into the next Federal healthcare plan might be to develop better, localized and non-addictive pain control alternatives, such as nerve blocking without the often undesirable side effects, as well as filling the pharmacological void between aspirin and morphine.

But that of course would require that someone look for solutions to the real problem, rather than just using it for yet another political football.

That’s hard, and what politician would ever pass up a chance to pass a new law in favor of actually solving a problem?

Certainly none existing today.

Staying in at recess?

With Congress in recess, many constituents are poised to pounce on their representatives like coyotes watching a gopher hole.

They are ticked off about a whole range of issues, from healthcare to the seeming desire of many politicians to disregard the people’s wishes, so long as they can stymie the Trump agenda.

Those members running for office next year almost have to engage with the electorate in their states.

Others are contemplating electronic town halls or tightly controlled television photo ops. Given the simmering anger in the country, you really almost feel sorry for them.

Although the economy remains high on voters’ minds, the issues span a wide range.

It will be interesting to see how many senators and representatives actually attempt to connect with real, live, fire-breathing people.

In the meantime, the media has a great chance to fully concentrate on the President, and they are sure to take full advantage of that circumstance.

This will be a great test of any new direction in the White House. If POTUS can manage to get through the August recess without any major PR missteps, it will not bode well for his opponents.

One problem with Congress being at home and not in Washington is that it’s going to be at least marginally harder to play CYA with the Justice Department.

If AG Sessions is as committed as he says he is to stopping leaks that endanger national security this would be a great time to look for the weak links in the chain.

For the President’s part, being out of the White House while it is being renovated makes this a grand time to hit the political reset button and tighten up his operation.

It’s obvious by now that his strategy of expecting Congress to deal with multiple major legislative issues isn’t going to work, and he needs to deliver on at least one of the big three (healthcare, taxes and infrastructure) by the end of 2017.

Congress has certain duties it has to address, namely  the budget and debt ceiling.  After that, someone in the administration had better decide what will carry the most weight with voters as well as delivering the most bang for the buck, relative to the next three years.

It obviously isn’t going to be healthcare at this point. Anything they come up with now will of necessity need to prop up the current system for at least another year.

Infrastructure is dependent on the budget, and a trillion dollars of potential savings went out the window, courtesy of John McCain.

That just leaves taxes. Voters not only want but need to see something good happening to their paychecks.

At this point it appears that any comprehensive overhaul of the tax code is far too heavy a lift for the do-nothing, stall-until-the-next-election Congress to deal with this year.

With any luck, the President’s team can design an effective campaign to at least get meaningful tax cuts in place.

If they can win on that, they will buy themselves enough time to tackle the other issues and also give the Republicans something good to talk about in 2018.  If not…well, it won’t be pretty.

TGIF – August 4, 2017

The West Virginia take-away

If there was a message from the people the left dismissed on election night as white, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic illiterate trailer trash, it could be summed up in three words.

Beware the forgotten.

Of course the headline will be the West Virginia governor changing parties.

But it also served to remind the anti-Trumpers that these are not the people being polled who get reported as losing faith in their guy.

Regardless of their age, there was nary an Ivy League millennial in sight in the Mountain State yesterday afternoon, or at least they had the good sense to keep their heads down.

Sure, it was expected, even designed  to be that kind of photo op, but underneath it all there is a very real  message.

New O’Care rates starting to appear

With rate hikes already released ranging in the 28-81% range, perhaps recess feedback from constituents will accomplish what party loyalty couldn’t.

While anti-Trumpers will try to lay this at the President’s doorstep, make no mistake, this is the path O’care was designed to take.

Idaho and Illinois have released requests from exchange insurers to hike rates by an astonishing average 40%, with Idaho reporting one carrier asking for 81% and all insurers together averaging 38%. Illinois has reported an average so far of 48%.


Today’s 11 a.m. ET press briefing by AG Sessions and DNI Coats was meant to highlight the seriousness of the leaks of classified information to the press.

It will not pay to be the next Realty Winner or Edward Snowden.

Originally this short comment was meant to highlight the true seriousness of the leaking of verbatim transcripts of the President’s private conversations with other world leaders, even though the content was basically political in nature.

Thanks to AG Sessions and DNI Coats, you are spared Musings personal editorializing. They said it better than this blog ever could.

Although the scope of the investigations concerns classified information, any time you are releasing the supposedly secure conversations of world leaders, even those which are largely political, it concerns national security.

If this is handled as it should be, watch for heads large and small to roll, inside and outside the White House.  It’s doubtful the AG would have had this briefing if he didn’t already have information on the source of at least some of the leaks.

Welcome to the Wednesday fights.

If you happened to watch the White House press briefing yesterday you probably have your own opinion of the President’s RAISE bill  (Senate Bill 354), but if you are one of those folks whose primary reason for liking and following the goings on in the people’s house is for its entertainment value, you got your money’s worth yesterday.

BTW.  Unless you actually watched the whole thing start to finish, you probably don’t have any idea what really happened.  That’s because all you are going to see is clips of Stephen Miller going at it hammer and tongs with CNN’s Jim Acosta.

Mr. Miller presented the talking points for the RAISE bill, and did it well. Things went sideways from there.

Predictably, the MSM reporters immediately attacked everything from the explanation for the need for the bill to quite clearly defining it as racist, as did CNN’s Acosta when he made the crack that only immigrants from England and Australia would be eligible under the bill.

In fact, according to this article, almost one-third or two billion people are required to study English as a second language, with some 15 or more nations having people who are proficient or somewhat proficient.  Like it or not, most of the world’s commerce, aviation and business dealings use English as the lingua franca (common language). Some 60 countries in total teach English, with some starting at age three.

In the briefing process, it was abundantly clear that the reporters either didn’t know or didn’t want to know that the bill addressed LEGAL immigration, a point that Mr. Miller had to keep reminding them of throughout the briefing. It has nothing to do with DACA or guest worker programs or illegal immigration or refugees or deportation.

For the record, this isn’t a law.  It is a BILL being introduced to modify the number and define the qualifications for legal immigrants to be granted green cards in the future.  Mr. Miller made it quite clear that any it didn’t address anyone already here, explaining those people would be grandfathered should the bill become law.

RAISE is essentially a change from wholesale immigration, where you admit one million people without any regard as to whether they have any skills or even a way of making a living, to half a million people annually that have a necessary skill that benefits the U.S. and enables them to find work that supports them at a living wage or above. It also seeks to change “chain immigration” to limit what family members the initial immigrant can then legally bring into the country.

As a side benefit, the bill may also reduce the instances of ethnic ghettoes and their attendant poverty that drive the violence in immigrant communities. It’s hard to assimilate if you can’t even complete a job interview.

The bill, among other things, seeks to recognize that our country no longer needs just a pair of willing hands to do hard physical or menial labor.  While that need drove our immigration policy for many decades, the world has changed so much that just having an open door policy no longer serves the needs of the country, and indeed doesn’t serve the immigrants well either.

That’s a vast oversimplification, but it suffices for the purpose of this post. If you want to read the whole proposed bill you can view it here.  If the bill advances through the legislative process, Musings will get into more detail. Given that it starts, as it must, in the do-nothing Senate, that need may never materialize.

What does matter is the seemingly never-ending emphasis on promoting race and class warfare.  Honestly liberals, America isn’t buying that line anymore.

Another invalid criticism is that the bill was introduced at the wrong time, that it takes away from tax reform and healthcare discussions.

No.  It doesn’t, unless you believe that Congress should be totally incapable of focusing on more than one issue at a time, and not even doing that very well.

Congress should be able to have multiple streams of discussion and handle multiple legislative foci.

That’s a totally different discussion than whether they actually can or will.