Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit could backfire on Trump

The United Kingdom’s vote to exit from the European Union (Brexit) will be a learning experience for those of us in the United States. The question becomes if the Brexit vote validates Donald Trump’s strategy of tapping into similar currents in the United States or backfires on him.  The answer to that depends upon what happens in the United Kingdom during the next four months and if financial impacts in the United States get anyone’s attention.

It appears that driving the United Kingdom’s vote were same currents that are feeding the support for Donald Trump: “Our nation should control its own destiny, borders, and laws and to heck with international cooperation and trade .We do not like all of those foreigners who are migrating to our own country, especially if they are not people like us.”  The demographics of those voting in favor of Brexit  in the UK were also similar to the supporters of Donald Trump, less educated,  unhappy with the unequal distribution of wealth, and from rural and “rust belt” areas.

 If the United Kingdom breaks  up as  Scotland or Northern Ireland vote to leave the United Kingdom, the lesson for Brexit supporters  is that sloganeering of  “making our country great again” or “the UK First” had the opposite effect,   making  “ our country weaker, poorer and smaller  again” . Balkanization has never been good for economies or peace and bargaining power belongs to the larger, stronger.

A breakup of the UK is the most likely consequence: The irony is Trump owned golf courses are located in Scotland which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the United Kingdom, not in favor of Brexit. Recently a Scottish referendum to leave the UK was defeated because the winning argument was that the UK was in the European Union which the Scottish concluded they wanted. That has been turned upside down by the Brexit vote and it is highly possible another referendum to leave the UK would win this time  since Scottish (and Northern Ireland ) membership in the EU could only be achieved by  their independence.

 If the UK slips into a recession, and capital flees elsewhere with job loss and a crash of the pound results price inflation, the lesson is that making decisions based on anger, xenophobia, hyper nationalism and immigration policy leads to even greater pain of a bad economy that hurts the most  those who voted for Brexit.

The lesson for us in the US is “beware what you wish”   Anger and bigotry do not necessarily result in good economic policies in the public interest. The most direct impact on the United States by the Brexit vote would be on holders of 401K’s and retirement accounts if the US financial markets are slow to recover from what appears initially to be very bad news.

Donald Trump’s reaction to the Brexit win was typical of his egocentric, self-serving viewpoint. This may be good for his golf resort business if the pound collapses, he said in the morning after the UK vote, making it cheaper for US tourists to come to the UK to play golf at his Scottish golf courses. That was good business for him, but not for the loss of value of 401k’s or retiree accounts, or anyone else, for that matter.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Trump's NATO policy has a Grand County impact.

There are many in Grand County who have more than a passing interest in what happens to NATO.  They still have family in eastern European countries that are current members of NATO and were once Soviet satellites.  Lithuanians and Poles  have settled here and have become respected members of our community. Those countries belong to NATO.  Other Eastern European settlers in Grand County from countries not in NATO are Russians and Moldovans.
Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians (the three Baltic States) and Poles in particular must be looking at alarming statements from Donald Trump for his comments that “We don’t really need NATO in its current form. NATO is obsolete…if we have to walk, we walk.”  Many  look with raised eyebrows  at the  sometimes called “bromance” with Russian President  Vladimir Putin.  Putin called Trump  "a brighter person, talented without a doubt." Putin reiterated has admiration of Donald Trump June 19 on Fareed Zakaria ‘s CNN program, as well as asking why the West still needs NATO.
Trump’s public assertion that not only is NATO obsolete, but their members are not living up to their promises to contribute. There is far more at stake than money.
Russia is on the march in a seeming attempt to reassemble former Soviet satellites , restoring past glories.  Russians also resent and fear  their former neighboring buffer states becoming NATO members and permitting missile defense installations (even if the defense systems are turned toward the Middle East) . Their grabbing  or helping surrogates grab   parts of non NATO members of Georgia, the Crimea and eastern Ukraine has been seen as a threat in particular to the NATO member Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.  NATO was quick to move more forces to the Baltics in response as a warning to Russia not to mess with members of NATO. Without NATO, the small Baltic states in particular would be vulnerable to a Crimea and Ukraine like grabs, making Poland and Romania especially at risk. In his June CNN comments, Putin slyly ignored Russia’s land grabs which would have answered his question of Why NATO?

There may not be a conspiracy involved, just a case of Trump’s ignorance or isolationist advocacy or wanting to make a deal with Russia,  but there is an interesting connection with his most inner advisor. It is his campaign chairman,  Paul Manafort, who was a political consultant to  once  president of the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was attempting to stop some in his country who wanted greater trade ties with the West, while he was closely connected to Russia  and wanted his country to be more connected to them. A revolution followed in 2014.  During that revolution, Yanukovych fled first to the eastern Ukraine and now resides in exile in Russia.

Many in the United States’ foreign relations community on both sides of the aisle  look at Donald Trump’s foreign policy with alarm.  A particularly large howl was raised in a March open  letter  by 121 GOP national security leaders.  George W Bush’s secretary of State, Richard Armitage, announced  this month June,2016, he would vote for Hillary Clinton. would vote for Hillary Clinton.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Colorado's jihadist roots

Fareed Zakaria of CNN has a must see hour special that seeks to explain why “they hate us”, to answer a puzzle.  Why are the jihadi Muslims killing mostly Muslims as well as some of us?  He concludes that these radical terrorists are at war with the modern world and all who embrace it. This also might explain why nightclubs in Paris and  the gay night club in Orlando were chosen for terrorist acts. Embedded in Zakaria’s special is that it all began in Greeley, Colorado, and the top Al Qaeda English language recruiter was a student at Colorado State University and a former resident of Denver.

The modern  seeds of a  revolt had already been planted in Greeley in 1947 per Zakaria.  An   Egyptian foreign student with beliefs firmly immersed in traditional Islam attended a church dance was  appalled by all the bare skin, tight fitting dresses, and close up dancing.  He returned home, and wrote a series of books which exhorted a return to Sharia law and traditional Islamic values as practiced in the 8th century.  That resonated with an older Islamic movement of Wahhabism.  Its clerics cherry picked verses in the Koran (which had contradictory passages, as well) to foster a belief  in a return to Islam as practiced in medieval times and exhorted killing those who did not follow their religious interpretation, including Muslims . Zakaria believes that a small percentage  of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are followers of this interpretation.  The movement  became the driving ideology behind ISIS , al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

 A  New Mexico born Muslim student at Colorado State University visited post- Soviet invasion Afghanistan and was appalled by the poverty and conditions.  He became the American  voice of al- Qaeda recruitment,  Anwar al Awlaki.  While he was killed in Yemen by US strikes, as was his Denver born son, his voice lives on in al -Qaeda’s recruiting videos.

I am not surprised with Zakaria’s conclusion.  In 1959, during spring break travels in my junior year abroad in Berlin, I took a trip throughout all of what was then Yugoslavia, and I became fascinated with a  culture, the  moderate, westernized Turkish oriented Muslims in  Bosnia, once a province of Turkey and later a separate country. On my return to Northwestern University in spent my senior year learning more about the modernization of a secular Turkey, on Islam, and the impact on people who were struggling within themselves to become part of the modern world. We concluded the religion was locked into  very conservative traditional values.  Sometime in the future, there would be a revolt against all things Western.  

But Islam is not the only religion in revolt against modern society. So are fundamentalist movements in  Christianity and Judaism, as Karen Armstrong wrote in 2000 in “A Battle for God”. Donald Trump, who wants to make American Great Again, has tapped into that yearning for the old order  while using bigotry and racism to make his point.

American security  depends  upon cooperation of the 3.3 million  Muslims in the United States and our Arab allies abroad.  We should not fall for hate speech that paints all Muslims with the same brush.  Such rhetoric  is harmful for our national security as former CIA director Michael Hayden said, Trump’s rhetoric has “already made America less safe”.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Will Donald Trump be unhorsed at the GOP convention? No.

Will Donald Trump be unhorsed at their party convention? No. He has the votes and the support of his base.
That is because 65% of the GOP do not believe Trump's attack on the judge was racist. The provisions of the Constitution and amendments are clear on so many levels...from rule of law and independent judiciary to religious tests to civil rights and protection of minorities are so involved in his statements. He may himself not be racist and he is angry at the judge, but he used racism to make his case. That  is very disturbing and the sign of very dangerous demagogue. It is especially serious in this case where he is using his bully pulpit as a candidate of a political party to protect his own financial interests and not even a political or moral issue. The connection is that
if all looked at Trump U and how it was marketed, it would verify charges that he is a con man that is a minimum unethical. The implications of the impact on an independent judiciary and the rule of law were carefully spelled out by Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren yesterday.   
For Warren's speech 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Why Trump could make racist statements and still maintain his base's support.

The question is why Donald Trump can get away with racist remarks and still keep his base's support. The reason, over 65% of Republicans do not believe his attack on a judge ruling in a case that affected his business interest was disqualified because of his Mexican heritage was racist.   Either they are in denial  out of loyalty to their party or support of Trump or they truly harbor racist feelings themselves and are reluctant to admit it or are ignorant of the Constitution.

Even worse, they and Donald Trump have no concept of one of the basic premises on which America was founded, as Joe Scarborough so elequently pointed out today on MSNBC Mourning Joe, citing agreement by such diverse founders as Madison to Jefferson.  Trump's attack on the judge based upon his heritage buts up to fundamental provisions in the Constitution, freedom or religion and non discrimination based upon religion and the independence of the judiciary.

Scarborough owed the Muslim Ban proposed by Trump to his using fear of Muslims to advance his candidacy, playing on dislike of  1.4 billion practioners of their religion.  For that reason, the racist and prejudicial position could be explained, but the danger is that violating that principle allows those who dislike Jews, or even those who do not like Southern Baptists, or anyone else they disliked,  could ban them as well and disqualify them  or pass discriminatory laws against them.

The background of why freedom of religion was so important to our founders was that when given the opportunity to discriminate or persecute those who worshipped differently, was that the colonialists who came to America to escape discrimination and persecution themselves, were themselves practitionist of religious discrimination.

For anti discrimination clauses in the Constitution, visit

For the most conservative view of "religious tests" provisions in the Constitution, an argument used against the Muslim ban, see!/articles/6/essays/135/religious-test

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

So now the GOP has become the party that tolerates racism

The reaction to Donald Trump's use of racism to divert attention from a class action law suit concerning Trump University that would verify claims that he was a con man leaves the Republican Party in a sad position. It is now the party of tolerance of racism. In reaction,House Majority leader Paul Ryan, highest ranking GOP official, refused to withdraw his recent endorsement of Trump, While Ryan was  admitting Trump's comments regarding the judge with Mexican roots in the case would be biased because of that, Ryan's rationale was that  Trump is the best bet to get Ryan's agenda enacted.  Much of the rest of GOP leaders have fallen in line, even while acknowledging that Trump's remarks were racist.

Some gave their excuse that was   similar to Ryan's. They expressed hope that Trump would retract his statements and start behaving. Trump's racism and bigotry, whether he believes it or not, have become the statements of record, For him to change his spots or apologize for such statements is neither part of his character nor is it possible to erase evidence of his real feelings with any credibility.

The message is loud and clear.  Even when admitting Trump's comments are racist and still maintaining their endorsements of him, they put winning their races or issues over the immorality of racism, the independence of the judiciary, and the anti discrimination clauses in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  For the party, winning trumps those civil rights in importance  and in constitutional matters.  Added to the attempts to restrict minority and elderly voter access to the ballot box in  Republican coordinated state by state legislative efforts, the Republican Party  even more has  become the party that harbors and tolerates practitioners  and their fellow travelers of  racism and bigotry.

The GOP down ballot candidates need to be put on the spot about where they stand on Trump's racist statements and on racism in general.   That is a challenge their Democratic Party opponents can easily  make,  especially in swing states with large minority populations and a history of supporting civil rights.

Scrutiny of the Trump University class action law suits should not be buried in racist charges against the judge

Scrutiny of the Trump University  class action  law suits should not be buried in the flap over Donald Trump's racist charges against the judge hearing the class action suit who authorized releasing some of the court records.   It may tell a lot about his ethics and his sincere caring about those he promises to help.  The suit will not go to trial until after the November election, but releasing some of the court documents, as the judge did, could shed some light on why consumers sued and what they are charging.

My antenna is still  raised when I smell a con game.  Many years ago I was the director of a white collar and consumer fraud unit for local district attorneys .Later, I was the public trustee of Denver supervising foreclosures and even later as an executive with non profit Consumer Credit Counselling Services in Denver.

 I smelled a con game when I heard about this suit. The scheme of  holding seminars, charging big bucks, and marketing to those who were in need of additional income, not necessarily those who had the wherewith all to make use of the information in the seminars, has been around for a long time.  Trump University took this to another level, turning it into a major marketing opportunity to make a dime. High pressure sales tactics appeared to have been used to target lower middle income participants to max out credit cards and to buy extensive educational material, whether they were financially able to afford what the Trump U school taught or even to afford to participate.

 Is this a crime? Not all unethical business practices are criminal, but if  the participants feel they have been sold with deceptive trade or advertising practices, it could be criminal or civil. Promising blue sky high returns while knowing participants could never or were unlikely to realize their investments is an example of this.  Criminal prosecution may get the perpetrators in jail or fined, but the victims would probably not get their money back. Cvil suits are easier to prove than criminal charges and c ivil suits are the method needed to get restitution.  It is particularly sad when victims are lower income and could not sue individually, to get refunds. because of the cost of attorney fees, as they appear to be in the Trump case.   In the Trump University case, those who felt victimized have been represented in a class action suit which allows attorneys on their own dime to represent all of those who feel victimized, gambling if they win the suit and get compensated for their time and efforts, as well as getting money back for all in the "class".

  At the risk of embarrassing a good friend of mine, here is a story worth repeating. Over ten years ago and freshly retired,  she asked me about "investing" her money in a course to  learn how to get rich on real estate investing.

  There have been and are traveling conductors of seminars held in rented hotel rooms  that sound similar to the kinds of courses taught at Trump University.  Those travelers charge high dollars for the "secrets' that are mostly calling on their students to borrow money to pay for their courses that  then urge  them to  buy property, go into debt, and  flip it later for a buck.  Of course, that only works if a market  is on the upswing or if investors have cash or  the credit and means to borrow,  but she was not told that.  She was a single woman with few savings, living on Social Security and a small employer pension.  She maxed out her credit cards and showed me the material the seminar distributed.  It was mostly xeroxed newspaper clippings.  I warned her. Later she told me that when she was attending the seminar, law enforcement officials raided the class room and carted away the instructors in hand cuffs.  I do not know if she ever took such courses again, but her savings and cash flow went to the seminar and she never was able to invest or flip.   She is now in her late 70's and in her "retirement years", she is still working to supplement her  income. The only ones who usually  get rich are the seminar conductors law enforcement  or  civil and class action plaintiffs do not catch.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Our country's better angels appeared on Sunday, June 5. That should not be lost on the Muslim world

The irony of it all, yet the better angels of the US eclipse the dark, ugly messages of Donald Trump
 While Donald Trump doubles down on banning Muslims from the US and tells reporters yesterday, yes, he would not want hislaw suit to come before a Muslim judge, because the judge might possibly  not be objective, a mosque in Louisville, Kentucky was filled with people of all faiths saying goodbye to a Muslim, a devout one, the great and beloved Muhammad Ali.

 On the same day,  President Obama issued a statement on the beginning of the Muslim holy days of Ramadan, leveling criticism of Donald Trump's advocacy of a ban of Muslims coming to the US without naming him.

An interfaith service, attended by dignitaries of many faiths, including Jews and Mormans will be held Friday.

These services and attendees and Presidential statements are the real spirit of the United States and that  of   Donald Trump  represents  a minority that does not grasp what makes America exceptional nor do they have any concept of the provisions in our Constitution that protects this country from bigots like him and those who buy into his views.