Monday, April 16, 2018

The impact of Jim Comey's book and interviews: not much

The quote that will probably linger after this will be Comey's belief he stated that Trump was morally unfit to be president. It probably will have no impact on those who support him because after the Access Hollywood tapes that had little impact on his poll numbers , even the Steele Dossier's salacious and unproved accounts of a night in Moscow and fact checkers blowing whistles on factual lies ,he still was elected. His supporters put other issues above his character profile.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

We struck Syria; what next?

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News April 17, 18, 2018

The attack by the US, the UK and France on Syrian  chemical weapons facilities April 13, 2018 was a success for what it was. Execution of the mission worked as planned.  The US, UK and France made their point with the strike that most of the world does not approve of the use of chemical weapons and  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons again would get a similar response. The well planned and executed strike avoided civilian, Russian or Iranian casualties and  spread of the conflict from becoming hotter and wider. So what now?

The  ability to shape matters in Syria  to benefit US interests is even more  dismal than it ever has been and no one in the US seems to have a plan or a  goal farther reaching than just punishing the use of chemical weapons. Pundits and politicians  of the April 13 attacks on both sides of the aisle laud the reason, success and limited nature of the attacks, but grouse that the Trump administration has no long term strategy or goals. They complain  he should have run his attack plans by Congress first and he should get a new authorization to use force instead of relying on the post 9 11 one that broadly provided authorizations that did not envision the Syrian civil war.

To say Donald Trump had no policy or plan is not true. He had laid it out in campaign rhetoric and tweets.Some of his plans and policies were  suddenly reversed in the past two weeks and dumped in the trash bucket with no discernable replacements in sight . He had read public sentiment right that was a continuation of public reluctance dating back to the Obama era to get involved in the Syrian civil war .He took that a step farther recently and  proclaimed Assad had won the civil war.. Humanitarian concerns or violations of human rights were not to drive any US policies. In addition, he slammed the doors on accepting many refugees to the US. He turned over the conduct of the civil war in the western half of Syria over to the Russians and let the US and Kurds take the east to drive out ISIS from the territory they had conquered earlier. None of those policies and goals have changed.

What did change was significant.  By this early April , Trump’s devotion to  isolationism and avoiding multilateral action , a withdrawal of troops from the area he promised his voters  two weeks earlier , have been abruptly reversed. He brought the UK and France into the strike and sought and got United Nations disapproval of the use of chemical weapons.

The political left wing of the Democratic party's plan is to complain the Republicans have no plan.  Some on the left decry use of any force under any circumstance. One cannot bomb their way into peace, they argue,  though there are instances in history where it has. What is the alternative to military strikes? Democrats offer no constructive way to end the humanitarian disasters of victims of chemical warfare or refugee problems. To preserve credibility and moral superiority, the left needs to focus on the victims and a solution to the problem by diplomacy, no fly zones, protecting our allies, the Kurds,  prosecution of human rights violations, a civilian based strategy to keep terrorist groups like ISIS from retaking the liberated towns if our military presence leaves, and negotiations that may include breaking off parts of Syria. _____________________________________________________________________________

Thursday, April 12, 2018

We were warned. What our founders feared is happening

Or. how the separation of powers to protect us from tyrants is being corrupted now....

From the Federalist papers:

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

What we are witnessing now is the very thing  founding father Madison warned our new country about. The writers of our constitution tried to establish a form of government that would make it difficult for a tyrant to take control of our country. They divided  the power centers of government into three, executive, legislative, and judicial, each with a check on the other. Madison knew there was a way to undermine their checks and balances. What was not yet on the horizon when he wrote this were political parties, but he described them above as “accumulation of all powers in ...the same hands”,  of many or a few.

There are various ways to define a tyrant in more contemporary terms. Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, called a form of it fascism in her recent book and op ed pieces.  She identifies a movement on many countries to embrace fascism. She sees President Trump as admiring them, aspiring, and instinctively using similar techniques to gain and to consolidate power, from attacking opposition media, promoting racial and ethnic scapegoats, and demanding a judiciary and law enforcers loyal to him instead of to the rule of law. Former FBI James Comey's bitter book that fires back at the President for firing him, compares Trump to a mob boss he once prosecuted, complete with loyalty oaths and blurs lines between politics and the law.

Paul Ryan is  leaving Congress.  He is the leader of  the House, one of the legislative branches, the House of Representatives. His leaving  demonstrates if anything is that a legislative check on a president who is a wannabe tyrant has not happened . That  only party in control of Congress and the White House, and working to control the judicial branch, is one, the Republican Party.  Ryan left, unwilling or unable to shape a House that has any desire to serve as a check on a president dedicated to using means he has  to secure loyalty to himself. Along with that MIA House is a Senate, equally gone AWOL. The Senate is currently engaged in fast track approving appointments to the judiciary loyal to the president or his views. They are  only muttering and cowering to check a president who sees all other branches, judiciary, law enforcement , including the FBI, as instruments to serve him and to be staffed only by his loyalists. They are so far refusing to pass legislation to protect  Special Counsel Mueller from the president firing him.

There are two other checks to prevent  a breakdown of our form of government. Voters have a chance to do that in November 2018 electing others to Congress.

The other check is a free press with a wide varieties of opinions and presenting facts as they discover and present evidence of  them. Through  preferred  media outlets he has launched an attempt to paint even those who belong to his same party investigating him, the special counsel Robert Mueller , as a criminal head out to get him.  The reason: Mueller’s investigation will be soon issuing a report on the Trump campaign’s coordination with the Russians in the 2016 race, followed by reports on financial crimes. Trump  want to make sure his supporters do not take Mueller’s findings as fact. Recently, he tried to punish the owner of the “opposition press”, the Washington Post, by attacking the other business the paper owner has, Amazon , using easily disproved lies.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A dirty word that begins with F

1958-1959 I was spending my university junior year abroad in  Berlin. It was a heady time for a US political science major wondering what did  happen and why what was happening now was going so wrong and so right simultaneously. It was a bit over  twelve years after World WW II ended. I walked through the rubble and desolate stretches of bombed out empty spaces on both sides of the Brandenburg Gates. The Wall had not yet been built. It was a hands on view as one form of fascism lay in ruins and the Soviets consolidated control of their conquered eastern sector.  Fascism was fresh in the memories of my fellow students who had survived Hitler’s regime and my roommate in my British sector governed dormitory was from the now Soviet controlled sector. I met a young medical student from Yugoslavia, then a communist country headed by dictator Tito. We later married and we were together for over the next 50 years until he passed away. He became a US citizen, active in civic affairs, with certificates and plaques hanging on our walls to attest how much he loved life in America, democracy, and the freedom to pursue his dreams.

At my age now there are  few left who have institutional memories of three forms of government and their impact on people's’ lives. It is easy to read history books, but it is  also easy to miss the lessons we could learn from them. Human nature being what it is, there are innate tendencies to steer us directions that gets us into unanticipated misery.

This is what I have learned:  When people are fearful, confused by chaos out of their control, feel victimized or losing  economic and political power they once had, communism and fascism find fertile ground. There is a human streak  longing to be part of the ruling group (some call that tribalism or racism) and to find blame and to put down the offenders. Demagogues play on fears of loss of power and a sense of victimization.  At the same time, those feeling wronged look for a leader to lead them from the wilderness. What both communism and fascism leadership had in common is that they played that “strong man “ role. One buried capitalism; Hitler and Mussolini harnessed  private sector business. These totalitarian dictators seized the reins of governmental power, Hitler and Mussolini by democratic means, Stalin by taking over a revolution. They then began consolidating power step by step, often under the public' radar or with majority's tacit or enthusiastic approval. The fascists gained control of media by destroying opposition by violence or  by manipulating governmental processes and destroyed the rule of law to their benefit. They eliminated whomever got in their way or were “others” in gulags, firing squads, assassinations, concentration camps, and ovens. They demanded total loyalty to them personally instead of to the rule of law from citizens and those in government, including judges and once freely elected governing bodies. Theirs were the only truth and facts; any realities to the contrary were buried. Their regimes and their citizens ended in figurative and physical rubble.

Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that  reviewed the current tendency throughout the world to revert to autocratic leaders and to manipulate the destruction of  democratic institutions to consolidate their power. She saw that same tendency in the US in the instinctive modus operandi of Donald Trump who disdains the rule of law, finds "others" to scapegoat, sees critical media as fake or enemies of the people (sic. himself), and dog whistles to the racists. Albright is no left winger given to extreme speech. She has the gravitas of hands on experience from WWII to now. The question posed by her opinion piece headline was “Will we stop Trump before it is too late”.  The word she used describing what she fears starts with F. Fascism .


Her book launched at the same time, Fascism: A Warning
in which she lays out in detail why she sees those tendencies in President Trump. It is not only calling it as she sees it rising in may parts of the world, she connected the word Fascism to Donald Trump, making use of that word in public discourse to describe his modus operandi more historically fact based than just inflammatory. She does not leave it at that and issues a call for action as well.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Hold onto your seats, Colorado. Our teacher pay is 46th

On April 16, Englewood District schools were closed as teachers walked out in protest of school funding levels.Jeffco teachers will do likewise April 24. Teachers have been walking out in  Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky and demonstrating in other states recently  in protest of their low pay. Hold on to your seats, Colorado. Our teacher pay is ranked 46th in the nation. We are ranked 50th in the nation in terms of teacher pay compared to cost of living. Teachers are threatening a walkout in Pueblo and the Denver area.. There is a teacher shortage in Colorado with 3000 unfilled vacancies . Low pay  is the reason. Rural areas are the most hard hit.

From the Sky Hi News April 18, 2018 on the ballot in November," Initiative No. 93, seeks to increase school funding across the state through the implementation of a new taxing regimen for Colorado citizens and businesses. According to East Grand School District Superintendent Frank Reeves, if the ballot measure is approved, East Grand would receive an additional $2.3 million in operational revenue per year.".." From 2009 to 2013, the district eliminated 40 positions from its workforce.... "  
Does this underfunding our teachers impact our kids’ education? By one measure, ACT scores, the educational achievement of our pre- college students is in decline and we are below the national average in composite scores.  We should be above the national average, not below it. Our adults’ educational level ranking is 7th in the nation and our per capita income ranked 13th, both often factors affecting the degree of student achievement scores.  These should ring alarm bells for those smitten with reports that recent test scores have improved. The new tests used by the state to evaluate teachers and student achievement are showing improvements while masking a general decline in the  quality of education our kids are getting in Colorado.
It is difficult to measure historical differences in test scores because the standard and measures  keep changing. But trying to compare scores with past years is like comparing old apples with new oranges.  One measure that shows more consistency with fewer fundamental changes in method is ACT scores which indicates  career and college readiness. ACT scores in Colorado have declined steadily between 2009 per 2016 . The greatest declines have been in reading,  math, and English . Only science scores have improved.
What accounts for Colorado’s low pay scale for teachers?  One of the most consistent arguments against teachers’ unions has been that the teachers are experienced but mired in old techniques and incompetent teachers cannot get fired. In reaction to that came the charter school movement, a union busting one, since charter school teachers are not unionized and incompetent teachers should be easier to fire in theory. There has been a steady increase in tax payer  funded charter schools, answerable to their board of directors, with less review and accountability from the local districts than are public schools.The number of publicly funded charter schools has increased from 50 in 1993, to 226 in 2016.

Charter schools pay $15,000 per year less than public schools for their teachers and those they hire are usually with less experience.  The more skilled teachers, with higher ranked evaluations seek employment in public schools as a career advancement and for economic survival.  The average public charter school teacher earns $39,052 per year; the average public school teacher in Colorado earns $54,455 per year . Per capita income in Colorado averages  just above $53,000. The hiring of less experienced teachers in public schools has also become a practice fueled by pinched budgets

The publicly funded charter school  movement has experienced great popularity with parents who have found that the “one size fits all students” of public education does not suit their child, Some school boards like it, too, for more than economic reasons.  Low income students in charter schools have higher test scores than those in public schools. However, charter schools also serve fewer kids with disabilities, which may account for part of higher test score comparisons with public schools. The rate  of firing ineffective teachers has not changed, either. The teacher shortage  could account for this.

Full disclosure: I have a daughter who is a teacher in a Colorado public school and she has taught in her 15 year career in public, charter, and parochial schools.  I have had children and grand children as students in all of those, plus private and elite boarding schools.  All have their value, but the most valuable of all for the most people are public schools.

Teachers are walking out in Colorado, too.


CPI) of $53,504.Mar 22, 2018


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Heads up Colorado: Tradewars with China hurt Trumpland the most

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News April 11, 2018

Northeastern Colorado is like Nebraska,  from Ft. Morgan through Hillrose (my father’s birthplace) past Sterling  to the Nebraska line. The last crop my grandfather raised was soybeans.  In fact, Colorado State University has recently promoted more soybean planting because of its potential as a biofuel.  Beef in Colorado is a $3.7 billion per year industry. I live in Colorado’s cattle and hay raising country. China had just lifted bans on US beef imports, but now they have just raised tariffs on  US beef as well.

A couple of weeks ago family members and I took a 2400 mile  round trip drive from Denver to Iowa’s southeastern border with the Mississippi , mostly following !-76 and I 80, for a memorial service for a family member. It had been over twenty years since I had traveled across far northeastern Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa, the roots of both sides of my parents’ and my  grandparents’ families. When I last made that trek I remember passing one corn field after another. This year for every two cornfields I saw was one field planted in soybeans. Towering above the landscape were new looking ethanol processing plants. Farm houses looked well maintained and the heartland looked prosperous. However,  Donald Trump’s trade policy has just resulted in China retaliating by raising tariffs on US imports from our agricultural heartland.

The Chinese are no dumb bunnies.  China is also the largest market for US soybean exports.They know GOP political leaders in Congress come from soybean, corn and hog land and they targeted their trade retaliation to hurt them the most. Several  Colorado GOP members of Congress represent agricultural producing districts, as well. When President Trump announced his war on China’s steel imports to make good on a promise to the rust belt, I wondered if China would retaliate against the agriculture sector .They did.
The Chinese announced  their retaliation and raised their tariffs on soybeans, beef, and pork.   I recall listening to the radio in my early years in traveling across the heartland that livestock and grain prices and their  future markets were reported early in the morning which would determine what farmers would plant or what and when take to market.    The agricultural futures market and the DOW crashed because of the Chinese retaliation to Donald Trump’s trade policies. The DOW recovered some when China seemed to back down on threats to raise tariffs on the import of US cars, but so far that would help the rust belt but does nothing for the heartland. At this time the tariff raising wars are at the threat stage but it looks like agriculture will still be left in the dust.

But wait, you say, those farmers can still make money on raising corn and soybeans for biofuels. Do not count on the Trump administration itself to care about soybean farmers’ biofuel agriculture. Last week Scott Pruitt,  who heads the Environmental Protection Agency, announced a roll back of clean car engine standards.The auto industry that has relied on biofuel mixed with gasoline to reduce emissions. Pruitt is the administration's’ chief fossil fuel supporter . He hails from Oklahoma and is beset by scandal for his closeness to oil lobbyists.  Ron Zinke, secretary of the Interior, a former congressman with campaigns funded heavily by the fossil fuel industry , is the same who opened up much of Utah’s Bears Ears for oil and gas exploitation. The fossil fuel industry has always resented biofuels that cut into their sales of oil and gas.

 One of the pillars of Trump’s support is a thriving economy, but this could be weakened  in both the heartland and by rising food prices to consumers everywhere thanks to the trade wars just launched by the President. As this is being written, Trump is ignoring howls from the heartland and threatening China with even more tariffs.