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Black America in Peril

A recent issue of The Economist on p. 25 carried the headline Black America in peril. The article begins with a quote from Dr. W.E.B. Dubois in 1899: “The most difficult social problem in the matter of Negro health…” was why were so few whites bothered by that problem. He carried out a pioneering sociological study of “Negro health” in Philadelphia. His research indicated that: “The Philadelphia Negro” lived and suffered in the worst sections of the city with abominable health care.

Regarding the alleged police murder recently in Minneapolis by a white officer against a black unarmed citizen, one really should see if the issues Dubois identified are still in essence true? The answers point to YES they are. Take a look at D.C., for example. In the two poorest black wards the black residents have little access to decent food and health care. Thus, it should not be surprising that the group most impacted by Covid-19 are blacks. If they contract the virus, they are 2.4 times more likely to die from it than whites. Covid-19 was bound to especially harm those in tightly compacted neighborhoods with high poverty rates coupled with obesity and diabetes issues.

President Obama made a serious effort via the ACA to address these issues by extending Medicaid. The 20 million Americans who received health care thanks to that act were most likely blacks or Latinos. As The Economist pointed out, this helps explain why the opposition to the ACA came primarily from whites especially connected with the GOP. This conclusion was reached earlier by Dr. Kevin Fiscella in The American Journal of Medicine in August, 2015: “In summary, opposition to ACA is largely by white Americans. This opposition seems to be associated with increasing political polarization surrounding the Obama presidency, perceived self-interest, and racial attitudes.” It is noteworthy that now former President Trump had been shrinking the act’s reach through technical changes.

If you add to the Covid-19 results the unemployment rate, due to the various shutdowns, is twice as high among blacks as it is for whites then you are in a better position to understand why there are so many protests and with that riots. Further, there is likely to be a rental crisis regarding payments for those who have lost their jobs or are on layoff. That is especially likely to hit blacks. In Minneapolis, black home ownership was much less than white home ownership.

Finally, we come to perceptions of police relationships with blacks and whites. The gap is large between blacks and whites. Close to 81% of blacks believe that police are far more likely to use deadly force against them than 61% of Hispanics and 33% of whites. Research shows that DWB (driving while black) IS a reality.

Many blacks are certain they are more likely to be followed by department store security guards in upscale stores than whites. Why should it be that a professional black would feel that he must introduce himself to his white neighbors after he and his wife bought a house in their neighborhood to help insure that none of them will call the police about a “suspicious” person in their neighborhood? Why should black professional women need to worry about their sons or husbands being detained by police while driving in a “nice” community? Or how come a well dressed black man hears the sounds of car doors locking as he walks near them in the middle of the day? Or, a black university student having to show a student ID to campus security while walking to the University library on the campus?

Perhaps the most significant current disconnect is the gap between who certain elected politicians blame for the riots and those who actually did cause them. The politicians are quick to blame “outside agitators” (sound familiar to those involved in the Civil Rights movement?) such as Antifa on the left; or, right wing white hate groups. In fact, the evidence suggests that the majority of the perpetrators are local, not from outside. The CBC news team reported that the majority of those arrested, for example, in Minneapolis, came from that region. They have also reported that it appears that too many PDs have not learned the lessons from Ferguson, MO.

They need to be trained in and then held accountable for practicing community policing. That means the police need to know their neighborhoods. That can only happen by walking in them to meet folks and not just drive through them. If its a Spanish speaking neighborhood, the police should be able to converse in Spanish.

In short, we still mostly live in a racially divided society; and, have done so for a long time. Dr. King’s Dream has yet to be fulfilled. So, what will you do about that?

How to end the main political dysfunctions?


1. The states should do away with gerrymandering districts by their Governors and legislatures.  We have a situation where the real election within both parties is the primaries.  Politicians of both parties are scared of voting for anything that might bring on a serious primary challenger, typically a “purist” from the extreme.  In 2016, only 17% of eligible voters participated in GOP primaries and only 12% in Dem primaries.  The whole nominating system is seriously flawed.  We need competitive elections and not have the primaries be the election.

2. Get rid of the limits to donations to parties and set strict limits on donating private money to candidates.

3. Require prospective candidates to get petition signatures from elected officials and county party chairs. Send unbound delegates, such as elected officials and county party leaders, to their conventions.

4. Restore earmarks because they help grease the give and take of politics and compromise. Earmarks never amounted to large sums of money, but they helped promote genuine bargaining. I’ll vote for your proposal if you vote for mine works best with some pork.  Trying to be a party leader is meaningless unless you have some carrots to dispense or withhold which should include earmarks and committee membership/seniority.

5. Seriously restrict the availability of swarms of political ads from PACs for individuals and shift that money into the hands of the political parties.  Do that with restrictions on how the internet can be used to raise funs for candidates and NOT for parties.  The parties should be responsible for money raising and spending, not the candidates.  We have private political machines such as the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove on the right; and Tom Steyer on the left.  Those drive who gets nominated in the primaries and not the parties.

6.  Break up the oligopoly of social media platforms of Twitter and Facebook.  They are unregulated by the FCC.  Restore the “fairness doctrine” to the use of the airwaves in TV, the internet, and radio.

7. The Constitution has no system for holding elected politicians accountable.    It should be impossible for one Senator to shut down the government as Cruz did.  Such a rogue person should be “fired”. 

8. Re-establish the seniority system in both Houses of Congress for appointments to committees. That system rewarded party loyalty and ensured that those at the top were experienced.  Restore Gingrich’s cut of committee staffs by one third.  We need professionals helping the committees function well.  Allow the committees to meet in private so they can put packages together.  Delicate negotiations CAN’T be carried out in public.  I know that from being the facilitator for labor-management negotiations.  You can speak candidly in private.  No sane person would negotiate publicly.  It is noteworthy that the House and Senate Intelligence committees carried out much of their discussions on Benghazi in private; and, thus produced highly credible reports which torpedoed the various conspiracy theories of the time.

9.  We must find ways to reduce the antipolitical sentiment.  Trump, Sanders, and Cruz had in common that they were political sociopaths—they did not care what politicians thought about their behavior and they DIDN’T NEED TO CARE.  That has to end.  Biden’s election should help here.

An analysis of Trump’s trade policies

Now that President Trump’s term in office is nearing its end, it may be helpful to take a look at his trade policies.  We should look at his intentions and how well they were accomplished.  What is his legacy?  These policies naturally have led to a fair amount of controversy so it is my task to make as fair minded an approach as can be done at this point in time.  

His principal strategy was one of economic nationalism to be pursued primarily but not exclusively with bilateral agreements rather than multilateral.  He felt strongly that the U.S. had been unfairly taken advantage of and that bilateral agreements were likely to improve our situation.  This is perhaps his most consistent belief since the 1980s.  In particular, he campaigned for the Presidency intending to be rid of what he regarded as a scandal of a negative trade deficit which for him was the worst of the U.S.s disastrous policies.  Indeed, his main economic advisor, Peter Navarro, was sure that the deficit would be eliminated within the four years of his first term in office. 

He also promised to bring back manufacturing jobs which he believed had been taken from us by foreign competitors and by defective trade policies pursued starting with President Reagan.  He intended for competitors like China and Mexico to pay for his tariffs on their goods.

He has not done well in achieving those goals.  Indeed, most economists including the late Milton Friedman have believed that trade deficits usually were a sign of a healthy economy.  Trump did not succeed in lowering our trade deficit.  In fact, it has gone up and is on track to be at its highest level in 12 years.

He has not been notably successful in bringing back manufacturing jobs.  The percentage of jobs in manufacturing has stayed roughly the same as they were when he came into office.  What jobs that were preserved were done at great cost.  As an example, for every job saved in the steel industry, U.S. businesses and consumers have had to pay up to $900,000.  Farmers incomes have been sustained only because of massive subsides to them to compensate for their lost markets as in China.

American consumers have had to pay for the tariffs he has imposed on foreign goods.   The amount of revenue gained from those tariffs did not come close to the costs that American consumers have had to pay.  Yet, Trump persists in his belief that tariffs bring in substantial revenues.  

Trump promised that China would buy many more American goods.  Instead, China has only bought about 53% of what they agreed to buy in the Phase I deal finalized in February 2020.  They are importing less from the U.S. than they were in 2017. China has pursued a policy to be less and less dependent on a trade relationship with the U.S. Trump’s targets were unrealistic.  Further, he has attempted to negotiate trade with China without the aid of allies like the EU who had offered to work with him.  Trump has correctly identified a number of China’s mercantilist policies but has not been able to substantially change them.

Perhaps President Trump’s eeriest decision was his claiming there was a “national security” threat existing from our steel and aluminum imports—primarily from Canada and other friendly nations.  Critics see this as an abuse of his authority to impose tariffs on those imports.  Canada has retaliated with tariffs particularly on American ag products forcing the Trump administration to pay billions to American farmers to make up for his decision.  Steel and aluminum are essential for producing washing machines as from Whirlpool.  The few jobs that have been created here by these protective tariffs have come at the cost of an $86 average price increase.

The GOP once stood for free trade and has abandoned that principle.  All in all, Trump’s tariffs have cost the average American household about $1,000 a year by making American products more expensive along with the costs of imported goods.

That is the general picture.  Now is the time to look at specific trade agreements.

The Korus renegotiation (with South Korea) has, despite much ballyhoo, amounted to a minor tweak in the U.S./South Korea trade relationship not a wholesale redo.

The Japanese trade deal was designed to make up to some extent for what the U.S. lost by Trump’s decision to withdraw from the TPP.  It was not a “game changer’ as he described it.  It did increase some access for some American products but it did not touch the main issues related to autos and auto parts, aircraft, liquefied propane gas, rice, and semiconductor manufactured goods from the U.S. 

USMCA—First of all NAFTA was not one of the worst deals the U.S. had ever made.  Yes, significant numbers of American jobs relocated to Mexico estimated at somewhere between 500,000 and 750,000 but those jobs were not as safe places to work in as in the U.S. and were more harmful to Mexico’s environment.  But, the transference of jobs to Mexico significantly reduced the large numbers of Mexicans who had been coming here illegally.  It also led to extensive supply chains in the U.S.  Mexico’s economy improved enough to become part of the G20 and thus a much more substantial market.  However, the deal had wiped out much of Mexico’s agricultural base as it could not compete with American farm products.  Further, though the jobs that went to Mexico paid better than what Mexicans were used to, they did cost the U.S. significant numbers of jobs.  And American jobs that remained now paid less.

But, trade between the three countries tripled in a short time.  The amount of direct investments also tripled in value.  NAFTA reduced the prices of goods thus benefitting consumers in all three nations because of the absence of tariffs.  It improved government spending as contracts were now available to entrepreneurs from all three nations.  That improved costs for all because of increased competition.

On balance, NAFTA was a good deal for all three nations.

Well, how about the USMCA?  It was NOT a full overhaul by any means of NAFTA.  It did augment trade and the production of autos in all three nations.  But, over 6 years, it will bring in no big numbers of value.  It is estimated to improve the American economy by close to $86.2 billion or 0.35% of American GNP.  It is marginally better than NAFTA was.

What about leaving the TPP?  That has proved costly to the U.S. as American products have had to pay their tariffs.  But, what seems to have escaped the attention of most Americans, as Fareed Zakaria has pointed out, was the enhancement of the TPP to now be the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) of 15 Asian nations which created the world’s largest free trade pact by value this year.  It encompasses about 30% of the world’s GNP, larger than the EU or NAFTA.  The U.S. is NOT a part of it and thus Americans have to pay their tariffs to get into it.  Obama’s pivot to Asia epitomized by the TPP has been left in the dust.

And, if Americans have not been paying attention to that, odds are they are even more likely to not be aware that of the 55 nations in Africa, 54 have joined what started out in 2018 as an African free trade agreement between 28 African nations.  It is geographically THE largest free trade bloc in the world.  That IS a game changer as it should increase the value of trade within Africa by 15-25 percent by 2040.  Here, too, the U.S. is on the outside looking in.

China is in the process of working with Japan and South Korea to create yet another free trade pact.  China recently reached in October of this year a trade pact with the EU leaving the U.S. out in the cold.  The EU had offered to work with the U.S. vis a vis China but were turned down so they reached their own deal with China.  China has now replaced the U.S. as the EU’s main market. 

What has the Trump administration been doing while all this has been taking place?  Pursuing Trump’s economic nationalistic trade policies. 

The world now has major trade pacts in Africa, between the EU and China, the RCEP agreement covering much of Asia, and the USMCA.  The U.S. also has a much smaller regional trade agreement with the Central American nations plus the Dominican Republic that was negotiated under the Obama administration.  Finally, there is the largest Latin America trade agreement which is Mercosur that includes Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. The elimination of most tariffs among the trading partners has resulted in trade revenues of more than $16 billion annually.

President Trump’s preference for bilateral agreements has been greatly surpassed by the major multilateral trade agreements. This is a rough environment for President elect Biden to inherit.

The 2020 Presidential Election Was Stolen?


That is what President Trump and his 100% supporters have been claiming.  It is the mother of all conspiracy theories.  As Fareed Zakaria recently put it well, this canard is akin to the “Stab in the Back” conspiracy theory launched and widely believed in Germany post WWI.  Its supporters claimed that the German Army had not lost the war.  They believed that Germany had been stabbed in the back by civilian leaders including Jews by signing an armistice to end the war that had no reason to be signed. That gained quite a bit of traction that was a major factor in fueling the rise of the Nazi Party and the demise of the Weimar Republic, a democracy.

The moral is that democracies can commit suicide.  Lincoln predicted that if the U.S. ever fell it would come by suicide not by some transatlantic giant.  Suicide was seriously tried in the Civil War.

Now, we have the President and many of his 100% supporters claiming the election was stolen.  They do not accept that the vote counts in the key states were honest in spite of the fact that in key cases GOP officials, such as Georgia’s Secretary of State, have said this was an honest, transparent election.  All major networks, including Fox News, have called the election for Biden.  Naturally, Trump has attacked Fox News.

Trump’s lawsuits have failed to provide convincing evidence of fraud sufficient to change the results of the 4 states in question.  His big-name lawyers quit since it was embarrassing to be in court without proof.  Guiliani is inadequate to the task.  Recounts will not change the fact of a Biden victory.  Recounts at most normally change the vote one way or another by a few hundred votes.  Trump recently tweeted a false claim about 6,000 Biden votes in AZ.  He has made so many false claims that one would wonder why anyone would believe anything he has to say about the election.

Still, Trump and his personal lawyer Giuliani have been claiming that the votes were fraudulent because they were counted by software provided by a foreign firm owned allegedly by Venezuelans and Chinese.  There were human error glitches, but NOT any conspiracy to subvert an honest count.  Dominion IS a foreign firm—owned and operated in Canada with offices in the U.S.

From such small errors, a big conspiracy theory has emerged.  See:

These conspiracy theories do nothing more than attack the integrity of our democratic voting processes.  They are designed for Trump to hold onto his Presidency at any cost.  He may not concede that he lost as a result.  Then, what?  Maybe he could only say he lost but by a rigged election.  That way he could launch a movement to win it in 2024.  The states are certifying their results, but democracy depends on the losers accepting the results.  He does not and may not. His 100%ers may be a thorn in Biden’s administration along with Trump.

In addition, several states such as PA and WI also had paper ballots and all contested states involved had a paper trail suitable for audits.  For example, recounts of the paper ballots in GA and WI would have exposed any electronic fraud.  None was found.  In those WI counties that used Dominion, WI law requires that each ballot must be hand counted twice to make sure the machines are accurate.  They were accurate.

Secondarily, there were multiple metropolitan areas that did not use Dominion such as Philadelphia and Allegheny in PA not to mention Milwaukee and Dane in WI.  There were other counties that did not use Dominion.  It is very strange that the Trump campaign would demand recounts in Milwaukee and Dane counties as they did not use Dominion.  The recount actually added a few votes to Biden’s total.  Not surprisingly, the Trump campaign at once issued a lawsuit to prevent certification of the vote. It has failed.

In PA, most counties used a hand marked ballot so they had a paper trail for audits.  The Secretary of State carried out a required risk limiting audit of the votes.  No frauds were found.  PA tested every entry point, all software and firmware in its voting machines.  All machines were pre-tested before the election.  All machines had voter-verifiable paper records.  All machines had multilayered security systems in place.  None were connected to or permitted to be on internet facing networks. They partnered with the DHS to conduct multiple in-depth vulnerability assessments of their machines.  All machines had locks with tamper-evident seals in place. No fraud was found.  Again, keep in mind that PA’s two major metropolitan areas did not use Dominion voting count machines.

In Michigan, they have a paper trail for all of their ballots and auditing procedures to ensure vote accuracy.  State officials invested in upgraded voting equipment and increased security measures on the Qualified Voter File—its master database of voter info.  They have had experienced hackers attempt to hack their system to expose vulnerabilities to be fixed.  All Michigan counties used hand marked paper ballots that can be checked in case of any issues.  They developed a new type of audit to enhance security, a risk-limiting audit.  Dominion was only used in two of the counties with issues in GA and MI and the issues were investigated and reported on. Human error, not Dominion, was the problem in both cases.  Not fraud.

GA also had a paper trail system in place.  Its recount required their election workers to look at each of the nearly 5 million paper ballots to determine if there was any fraud in the original machine tallied results. Contrary to another of Trump’s false claims, the human vote counters were required to check all voter signatures against the data base of registered voters signatures.  The machines all printed out paper ballots and the absentee ballots were all hand marked ballots with multiple security items imbedded in them.  The results of the recount disclosed some missing ballots; but all were accounted for in the final totals.  It is counter intuitive that the GOP required a second recount using machines. Strange choice since the GOP had been railing against Dominion voting machines.  Paper ballots are the acid test for determining if the machines had been tampered with.  A printer was used to produce a paper record of voters of voting machines.  The recounts did not change the results of a Biden win.

Finally, GA’s Sec of State held an audit whereby the Dominion machines were gone over by multiple experts to make sure there was no miscounting.  The audit turned up no evidence of any.

In GA, the Sec or State pointed out that something like 24,000 GOP voters voted in their primary but not in the general election.  He has been sure that had they voted Trump would have won, but he is also sure they believed Trump’s accusations of a rigged election so they didn’t bother to vote.  That Sec of State has, along with his wife and co-workers, faced death threats.   Where are the honorable GOP leaders to defend them?

In AZ, state law requires random samples of the ballots be taken from precincts chosen by officials of both parties and they do a hand count to find if the machine tallies add up. They did.  NV also had rigorous audits for though they used Dominion, the machines were geared to produce a paper record.  The audits showed the tallies did add up for the reported Biden win.

None of those audits found any fraud from the machines.  It is crucial if you use machines that you also have a paper trail.  All of the states in question did.  Trump’s early on accusations helped solidify the election officials determination to make sure the vote counts were accurate.  And the vote counts were accurate.  The specific charges of dead people voting have all been refuted.

Finally, and this is telling, it appears that the real threat has not been voter fraud; but Trump’s baseless accusations.  A stab in the back déjà vu?

An addendum: TX filed a lawsuit recently that lacked substance and merit.  Besides not having the standing to make this suit, the suit made a number of proven false claims that the 4 states had violated their own laws.  Trump’s legal team filed over 50 lawsuits arguing that the states in question had done that and had also allowed a great deal of fraud.  I have studied each of the lawsuits filed; and the suits were either rejected or withdrawn for lack of proof with only one exception.  That exception took place in PA; but PA election officials had set aside the ballots in question.  The number of ballots in question came nowhere near the number needed to overturn the results.  The suit attempted to claim that TX had somehow been harmed by the actions of how the 4 states in question had in effect poisoned the election results and thus those results should be rejected.  That was an egregious request.  If we buy that request then any “blue” state could have sued TX for not following its own laws.  After all, the TX governor had on his own authority issued an order to change the election laws in TX:

The Supreme Court had no choice but to reject hearing this suit.  They had already rejected a GOP effort to overturn the results of the election in PA.  The Supreme Court had to be aware of the results of the Trump legal team’s failure to prove their claims.  They also had a deadline to deal with since today is the day the Electoral College makes its decision.

The bottom line is this: Trump lost the election, fair and square.  If he persists in being a poor loser, this will be his eternal legacy.  A stab in the back déjà vu? 

Trends to be aware of in funerals

A summary of a report by a funeral director and a Monument company owner

On Thursday, October 29, 2020 on a Zoom Elmhurst Rotary meeting we had an informative presentation by a funeral director and a Monument company owner about trends they have observed in their line of work.

  1. A major shift from burials towards cremations.  It used to be rather rare to have cremations but now it is close to 50/50 between burials and cremations.  It is surprising to many that cremations are not as inexpensive as they thought they would be.
  2. Those who elect to have a cremation almost never have thought through what to do with the cremains.  If the cremains are to be buried, they need to have a marker which essentially conveys the future message to not dig there.  If they are not to be buried, what is the family going to do with the cremains?  Contrary to myth, few put them on their mantel piece.  A closet is more common.
  3. Those who elect to have a burial rarely know the kinds of mandatory expenses they will face such as having to have a concrete enclosure for the casket, the grave site dug and then filled in after the burial.  Few have done the research needed before they see a funeral director and a monument provider.  Few realize the importance of having a monument to guarantee the burial site will not be disturbed.
  4. The nature of the religious commitment of those coming to funeral directors and monument companies has changed from the great majority being affiliated with a specific religion towards close to 50% non-affiliated.  The latter are looking usually to have a religious service but do not know how to arrange it.  So, the funeral director has to inform them of their options.  Most funeral directors have a short list of those who are going to provide a thoughtful service at a reasonable cost.  A significant number of the non-affiliated do not want a religious service; but wish to have some kind of service.  However, they do not know what their options are.  There still are religions that insist on there being no cremations such as the Eastern Orthodox, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews.
  5. A growing trend towards the majority thinking: It’s all about my convenience.  So many are adamant about having some kind of service; but not anything that would interfere with their existing commitments like a soccer match for one of their children.  These folks are ignoring the reality of death and the need for a grief process.  They do not want a funeral or memorial service to interfere with their existing commitments.  Many appear to have only a little commitment to honoring the family member that died.  Those folks do not provide support for the family that lost someone.  They will put off services of any kind until it is convenient.
  6. Few are aware that in many urban areas there is a growing lack of burial space. There are cities such as San Francisco that have no burial sites available.  Many cemeteries are going out of business for lack of income.  The U.S. is not yet to the stage of parts of Europe where burial space is rented, not owned.
  7. There are fewer and fewer monument providers.  Be sure to choose wisely.  There is also a trend of funeral homes going out of business.
  8. COVID has hit cemeteries hard with more bodies to bury than would be normal just as many hospitals lack sufficient space for patients especially in rural areas. 

Concerns about Iran buying weapons

There has been a fair amount of concern expressed about Iran being at liberty now to improve its weaponry.   It is correct that the UN embargo imposed on Iran’s purchase of weapons has expired.  What will Iran do?  There is also concern about whether Trump’s sanctions are having the desired effect and that more will surely get Iran to toss out its regime.

The Trump administration had demanded that the UN embargo stay in place; but it faced a humiliating defeat at the UN by America’s allies and adversaries.  Thus, the embargo expired on October 18, but the restrictions on Iran’s development of ICBMS with nuclear capacity remain in place for three more years.

Yes, Iran could now buy and sell weapons at will.  Russia and China have expressed interest.  Iran may pursue some opportunities as with Venezuela.  However, a full-fledged effort to buy and sell weapons is not likely.  Iran’s annual military spending has been only 1/5th of Saudi Arabia’s; and, Iran will not be able to catch up any time soon.  American sanctions are so deleterious to Iran that few are going to take the risk of buying and selling weapons with Iran.  Russia and China have stronger interests elsewhere.

Plus, Iran does not need to enter into this market. Their military strategy does not depend on traditional weaponry.  They have put an emphasis on asymmetrical weapons and even more on their continued strong relationships with armed militia groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria along with the Houthis in Yemen.  Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are the real power here and not Iran’s seriously degraded regular military.  They are not about to buy a bunch of warplanes or tanks.  They operate through drones and proxies as mentioned above. They will focus on producing their own better cruise missiles and maybe enhancing their diesel subs. 

Iran does not have a history of huge arms deals since the Shah fell.  They may make some weapons purchases but not enough to change the strategic picture in their region.  Pompeo has actually been ridiculed for saying that new Iranian warplanes would mean that “Europe and Asia could be in Iran’s crosshairs.”  The map he attached to his tweet displayed ranges that would amount to one-way suicide missions.  Just not going to happen.

Well, how are Trump’s sanctions playing out?  They have effectively strangled Iran’s economy.  They have made it real hard for Iran to keep its domestic consumers satisfied.  Plus, even long before the sanctions, their economy was a wreck.  Iran just never was much of a likely market for goods, tourism and investments then and certainly not now.

However, the regime has only tightened its grip. The opposition is fragmented and leaderless.  The regime has not shown any signs of collapse and is not likely to.  Further, Iran has responded to the American actions by developing their nuclear capacity.  Trump’s sanctions have had the exact opposite effect of what they were intended to do.  It was a touch of hubris to think they could do otherwise.  President Trump has no support from any of the other signatories of the Iran deal. Without that, he cannot succeed.  He has backed himself into a corner that it is hard to get out of honorably.

Well, what about carrying out a military attack on Iran to really cripple Iran?  Invasion would be no more successful than have been our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Further, Hezbollah and the Houthis have made it crystal clear they will come to Iran’s defense.  Hezbollah is formidable with its thousands of missiles and its combat experience.  The U.S. would face a much wider war.  Iran has the capabilities to shut down the Strait of Hormuz for a couple of months.

All in all then, Iran is not going to be a significant threat to the U.S. and its position in the Middle East. It is not now and it won’t be.  I predicted back in early January that Trump’s approach to Iran would fail; and, it has.

Partisanship and the Supreme Court: Is there a way out?

I would like to take this discussion to a level above partisanship.

Here’s how partisans see it, as in any serious partisan conflict, there is no agreement on when the fight for control over the Court began.

Republicans and their supporters like to say the cause of the judicial conflict started with the attacks on Bork since Ted Kennedy ignored a long-standing de facto agreement to weigh a nominee based on their qualifications and not on their values.  And, that the Dems followed that up with their allegations of sexual abuse against Clarence Thomas and later Kavanaugh.

Democrats counter by pointing out they readily supported Anthony Kennedy as Reagan’s alternative to Bork.  Further, the efforts to block Thomas and Kavanaugh were not successful.  They feel that the GOP’s angst is based on the feeling that the Court became too liberal in the 60s, maybe you, the reader, remembers the Impeach Earl Warren sentiments.

The issue at hand involves Mitch’s actions.  There is a strong feeling that Mitch abandoned fair play by blocking Garland’s nomination without any hearing let alone a vote—an unprecedented action in a President’s last year in office.  He lied by inventing the fraudulent idea that there were precedents for his action.  He said let the voters decide in the next election. Graham and Grassley both said the same thing. 

Mitch and the rest all abandoned that notion by saying that it was not relevant when the Senate and the President are of the same party and by the Democrats being nasty to Kavanaugh.  They thus ignored the Dem Senate’s resounding support for Reagan’s appointment of Kennedy in Reagan’s last year as President.  They also abandoned the tradition that a replacement for a Supreme should be a like-minded successor. They had forgotten that in 1968, the Dems controlled the Senate and with members of the GOP rejected both of LBJ’s appointments of Fortas and Thornberry leaving Nixon the opportunity to fill those two seats.  Fortas was the first one rejected for his views and not for his qualifications.  He and Thornberry were rejected for cronyism with LBJ and for backlash against the Warren Court.

The bottom line is that Mitch had the power to do what he has done; and, he used it.  He has used it to guarantee a 6-3 conservative majority on the Court.  Dems fear what that majority will do to the ACA and Roe v Wade.  They believe that it was Mitch that ignored norm related niceties.  They have reason to think that.

Understandably, Republicans fear that if the Dems win the Senate and the Presidency in this upcoming election they will retaliate by using their power to do so. They don’t want to acknowledge that the thirst for revenge has a solid basis in Mitch’s actions.

However, Dem moderates are highly unlikely to do that. It could set off a fire storm akin to when F.D.R. tried court packing in 1937.  Yes, there are progressives like AOC who want to do what the Reps fear, but they are a relative fringe of the party.  Biden and his rivals, including Sanders, ruled court packing out in the Primaries.  Biden does not feel he needs to repeat what he has already said.   Essentially, he is saying much depends on how much the GOP would do to stiff Biden’s attempts to reform, for example, the ACA.  Further, it is unlikely that the Dems will gain more than 51 seats. 

Is there a way out of this partisan war that has threatened the public perception of the Court being above partisanship?  It is hard to see how this partisan war can end up well.  The Court’s authority really rests on the trust of the public that they are not there for partisan reasons; and, will be impartial.  The more audacious the attempts to skew its membership the more the Court will lose in credibility.  The Court needs to be trusted as being impartial.  That has been Chief Justice Rodgers main thrust.

How to get to that stage?

There is a way.  As The Economist has pointed out, we are the ONLY democracy whose judges on the highest court enjoy lifetime terms.  Germany, for example, is a good example where their constitutional court justices sit for 12 years.  In our case, 18 year non-renewable terms would fit the bill.  It would guarantee that each four-year Presidency would have the ability to appoint two new judges.  This would reduce the partisan spectacle of big battles over the ideology of the judge.  It would reduce the court being central to our politics and more centered on the law.  Let us make RBG the last judicial superstar.

I will end with what I have said before that in any normal universe Barrett would be confirmed and should be confirmed.  I am not troubled by her faith.  She has made it clear that her faith animates her in private; but, she would be ruled by law on the Court based on Scalia’s originalism theory.  I do not agree with that theory but not enough to oppose her candidacy.

It is a fact of our history that once Judges are free to not have to worry about our partisan battles they may not act as their supporters would have wished.  That has already been the case with both Gorsuch and Cavanaugh not to mention our Chief Justice.  They will do what they believe is the best way to resolve very difficult cases.  I think Judge Barrett is well-qualified to do that and I do not worry about how she will treat the ACA and Roe vs. Wade.  I also do not think Trump can count on her ruling in his favor in a contested election.

Fair enough?  I think so, but I could be wrong. What do you think?

Has there been a presidential election as contentious as in 2020?

Yes, we sure have.  More than one, in fact.  Historians still regard the 1800 election as the nastiest on record.  1824 had to be settled in the House; and the losers refused to accept the results by doing everything they could to make sure the elected President was not successful, and they succeeded.  1860 led to the Civil War.  2000 and hanging chads comes to mind as well.  The 2008 and 2016 elections were also quite divisive.

But, the closest parallel to this one has to be the one fought out in 1876.  It took four months to finally arrive at an accepted winner with the 1876 Compromise. It came close to tearing the fabric of the Union apart, again.  There has been quite a bit written about this terrible situation so I can only summarize the story for you.

By the evening of election day, the GOP chairman went to bed believing that their candidate Rutherford B. Hayes had lost and the Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden had won.  But, it became clear to the GOP headquarters that if Hayes won South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana, which were all controlled by the GOP, Hayes would win by one electoral vote.  So, the GOP leaders in their states made sure the results made Hayes the winner. 

Needless to say there were outcries of fraud from the Democrats. Threats of severe civil strife broke out.  There were stories that circulated of armed partisans descending on D.C. to determine the outcome.  It was so contentious that the results were not clear as the inauguration date in March approached.

What had happened?  Two separate slates of electors provided by the two parties in the states in question were presented to Congress.  The Constitution did not provide a remedy for this and that could be what would happen this time since the Constitution has not been amended to fix this.  The GOP feared that the party of secession, the Democrats, would prevail—though Tilden had strongly opposed secession at the time.  He had also opposed slavery then.

What was done?  It took until January for Congress to pass an Electoral Commission Act setting up a special commission to settle matters.  The results awarded all disputed electoral votes to Hayes on a party line vote thus making him President by one electoral vote.  Democrat did not accept those results so a behind the scenes compromise was worked out that had long standing consequences, especially for blacks in the South.  The Democrats accepted Hayes as a one term President while the GOP gave up on Reconstruction.  This meant southern white Democratic party rule until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  It meant white Southerners, who called themselves Redeemers (Meaning “redeeming” the south from any rights worth spit for blacks.) could do whatever they wished to maintain their rule.

Former Union soldier and Alabama legislator Charles Harris described these results well in 1877:

                We obey laws; others make them.  We support state educational institutions, whose doors are virtually closed against us. We support asylums and hospitals, and our sick, deaf, dumb, or blind are met at the doors by invidious distinctions and unjust discrimination.

Matters would progressively get worst as slavery by another name became well established.  See the PBS documentary Slavery By Another Name.  Hundreds, even thousands, of white mob extralegal lynchings of blacks took place.  The eugenics movement, fueled by a distorted Social Darwinism, justified all this. It was THE Nadir of race relations which still impacts us today.  The past is never really past.

There was a very important other consequence which must be understood in view of Trump’s threats to derail the results of this election if it looks like he will lose.  He and his enablers are apparently prepared to contest the election results claiming fraud in the use of absentee ballots.  They could send in their own set of electors by declaring the results by the end dof election night.  But, the Speaker of the House is not obliged to accept them; and could insist on waiting until the votes have all been counted leading to a different set of electors being selected.

What to do in this nightmare scenario?

The parties involved in the 1877 election took a decade of intricate squabbling to come up with a law to deal with issues like this in the Electoral Count Law of 1887.  The results would not be sent to the House floor or to the Supreme Court as apparently President Trump hopes because in either case he has said he would have a likely winning majority. 

By the 1887 law, The House and Senate would each serve as a referee with the governor of each contested state would be the tie breaker if the two Houses can’t agree on which set of electors should be used.  It is a complicated and in sections opaque law, but it is all we have.  The authors expected that it would be amended to make it clearer; but, this never happened in large part because the threat of another 1876 mess didn’t take place.  One important provision under this law is ff the results are not straightened out by Jan. 20, then the Speaker of the House is sworn is as Acting President. 

Right now, there are 8 likely battleground states: Arizona, Fl, GA, Mich, MN, N.C., PA, and WI.  The first three have GOP governors and the last 5 have Dem governors.  Biden is leading in all of them but barely in FL, GA and N.C. at the moment.  A close race seems likely.  Biden’s lead nationally has stayed consistent at 7-9 %, though polls can be inaccurate, but it’s the individual states that matter.

To put it bluntly, as one sarcastic comic put it, an asteroid may hit the U.S. on November 3 upsetting all results.  Let’s hope that reason and rationality prevail.  Let’s hope that Trump and his supporters don’t contest the results. Let’s hope that neither party cheats to get the voting results it wants.  There are already a near multitude of claims of fraud now—so far all that I have read or watched have been debunked, and there will surely be more. The best solution would be a Biden or Trump landslide where there’s no question of a winner.  It would help if the great majority of those who have or soon will receive absentee ballots will vote early.  Biden’s legal team is preparing for all contingencies.

But, a real mess could be heading our way, much worse than hanging chads. 

What is your view of this controversy?

Iran’s foreign policy from their point of view

Iran is in a very tough neighborhood.  To its east is nuclear armed Pakistan which quietly backs the Taliban—both are Sunni and Iran is predominately Shia.  To its Northeast is Afghanistan which has a significant U.S. military contingent and a civil war. Next to Afghanistan is secular Turkmenistan with whom Iran gets along despite their issues with gas ownership and its close working relationship with the U.S.  Iran has been building better ties with Turkmenistan to counter its ties with the U.S. To its far west is nuclear armed Israel. In between is Sunni Jordan which works closely with Israel along with the U.S.; and, has tense relationships with Iran.

In between, there is a seriously destabilized Shia controlled Iraq. Iran also borders a mercurial Sunni dictatorship in Turkey which has the second-best indigenous military in the ME second only to Israel.  Turkey and Iran edgily work together because they do not care for American support for the Kurds. In the Persian Gulf there are multiple U.S. bases along with a French base and a British base (both are nuclear powers).

In short, Iran has its reasons to be able to protect itself.  Iran believes that the U.S. is hypocritical in criticizing Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas.  The U.S. has consistently supported opposition groups to Iran including the MEK which has been on the U.S. list in the past as a terrorist organization and sided with Saddam in his war with Iran.  The MEK intends to overthrow the regime in Iran and replace it with itself—the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran.  It has a complicated history:

It allegedly has a secret training base in Albania and has been carrying out secret operations within Iran with quiet support from the Trump administration. It has little hope of success.

The U.S. aided Saddam in his war with Iran with weapons, and satellite photos of Iranian troop dispositions in 1987. In the same year, the U.S. destroyed two of Iran’s oil platforms in the Persian Gulf and attacked the Iranian navy in the Persian Gulf.  In 1988 the U.S. shot down an Iranian airliner carrying 290 passengers.  Since 1995, the U.S. has done all it could to prevent foreign investments into Iran.

When Trump withdrew from the Iran deal, his withdrawal was arguably illegal under international law.  When the JCPOA was signed in 2015, it was endorsed by the UN Security Council, which approved unanimously Resolution 2231 expressing its endorsement. The Resolution was filed in the framework of Chapter VII of UN Charter that deals with peace and stability in the world. According to the Charter, it is mandatory for all members of the UN to abide by the provisions of any Resolution filed under Chapter VII. Thus, not only has the US broken its promises to Iran and violated its commitment to the JCPOA, it is also in violation of its obligations toward the U.N. Security Council.

Add to that the U.S. has levied sanctions against Iran without the approval of the U.N. Security Council. There also it is in violation of its obligations towards that Security Council. To Iran and the other signatories of the Iran Deal, the U.S.’s arguments about the rule of law are hypocritical. None of the existing signatories accept those U.S. sanctions. This is a case of America First–alone. Withdrawing from the deal was one thing, to levy unilateral sanctions isn’t supportable under Security Council rules. The U.S. in addition put sanctions in place against Iran’s Foreign Ministry while claiming it wanted to negotiate. That is a non starter to Iran and the other signatories.

Iran’s economy was already a mess before Obama or Trump took any action.  It has become worse thanks to the U.S. sanctions. See the Heritage Foundation’s 2019 report: Iran’s economic freedom score is 51.1, making its economy the 155th freest in the 2019 Index. Its overall score has increased by 0.2 point, with higher scores for judicial effectiveness and investment freedom exceeding declines in labor freedom and business freedom. Iran is ranked 13th among 14 countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, and its overall score is below the regional and world averages. Even if we developed relations with Iran, it has little potential for foreign profitable investment.

Iran supports Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthi in Yemen.  The first has existed since Hezbollah organized in reaction to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982.  Israel got rid of the Palestinian presence in southern Lebanon, but got worse on its hands in exchange.  Hezbollah is determined if it could along with Hamas to eliminate Israel; but, will never have the capability to do it without fearsome consequences.  Hezbollah was instrumental in helping Syria’s government survive with Iranian assistance.  Syria is a ruined country.  Hezbollah suffered significant casualties in rescuing Syria to the dismay of Hezbollah’s base in Lebanon. 

Hezbollah is part of the government there so to call it a terrorist group is a bit of a misnomer.  But, it is state supported terrorism.  Hamas has its own miserable state in Gaza so it also isn’t like Al Qaeda but it too is state supported terrorism.  Iran sees supporting these groups as essential for its own survival and to advance its interests in the ME. Iran is highly unlikely to give up its support for these groups as the U.S. demands.  The Houthis control the northern part of Yemen and are in a civil war with the opposition supported by Saudi Arabia.  It has become a miserable stalemate.

Iran has developed multiple asymmetric weapons so that it could shut down the Persian Gulf for a spell but at the cost of a likely unwinnable war with the U.S.  They are developing ICBMs but the U.S. demand that they cease runs right against Russian and Chinese interests in selling them weapons. Iran can not possibly hope to dominate the Middle East, however.  Turkey, Russia, Israel, the U.S., and the Sunni states will make sure of that.  The U.A.E. has committed itself to working with Israel and other Sunni Arab states already have been doing that de facto. Some may make that formal as the U.A.E. has.  Iran is Shia and the bulk of the ME is Sunni.  The numbers are not in Iran’s favor.  Iran also can not hope to be an existential threat to the U.S., Israel, or NATO.  We should not treat it as if it is.

So, if you’re Iran faced with what it sees as threats to its existence especially from the U.S., what would you do?  Probably what they are already doing including enriching uranium.

Secretary of State Pompeo’s demands amount to requiring regime change. Regime change will almost certainly not lead to a more friendly government to Israel and the U.S.  It would probably lead to the Revolutionary Guards taking over; and, they are really bad news.  The Ayatollahs are a check and balance to that taking place.  Iran has a written Constitution of checks and balances in its own fashion.  It is better structured than the total top down Saudi system. The RGs opposed the Iran deal arguing that the word of the U.S. could not be trusted, but went along with it.  Their argument turned out to be accurate which gives them credibility within Iran.

Now, we have to realize that Iran along with Hamas and Hezbollah would eliminate Israel if they could.  Genocidal ambitions.  You would think by now Iran would get the message that this goal is unachievable and thus would very grudgingly accept Israel’s existence. Working with Israel would make sense from my view.  Israel has so much to offer. But, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah show no signs of doing that.  We have to take their aims seriously.  Israel certainly does. 

So, we must do what we can to help Israel maintain a serious technological/military advantage over these nasty enemies.  And, we do.  Obama did with the technological and material support needed to aid Israel build a multi layered anti-missile system.   Obama also negotiated a multi-year arms deal with Israel–the best deal they’ve had.  Trump has added to these efforts. Israel also has serious offensive weapons that could readily turn Iran, Gaza, and Lebanon into smoking, radioactive wastelands for a long time. If Iran were to develop nuclear weapons, they would not be able to have first strike capability against Israel.

I suspect all we can hope to do is to contain Iran.  Containment with the long-term view of hoping they will sometime come to their senses; and, accept that Israel is not going to disappear.  Maybe we could rejoin the Iran Deal but I doubt that Trump will do that.  And, I’m not sure Biden, if he wins, would be able to do that.  Iran just doesn’t trust the U.S. for good reasons. And we shouldn’t trust them either. We should recall that the Iran Deal was not based on trust.

Is this a F.D.R. moment for Biden?

First of all, the stock market crash precipitated much of what followed under Hoover.  It crashed because so many had bought their stock on margin meaning they had to borrow to buy them.  That can’t happen now.  The SEC helps make sure of it, plus other regulations.  Second, literally thousands of banks went under making what had been a panic into a depression.  ¼ of all family savings had been wiped out.  The FDIC changed that for good. Third, the federal government had never been involved in housing, but it still is.  The Federal Housing Administration is THE largest home insurer in the world. Third, the Smoot-Hawley tariff was designed to protect American industries and jobs resulted in retaliations and international trade was seriously harmed and jobs with it. 

Fourth, there wasn’t any unemployment insurance, a 40 hr work week with 1 ½ pay for overtime, safety standards, social security, workman’s compensation, and a federal labor relations board.  Fifth, so many farms went under particularly due to the Dust Bowl that the New Deal created the Farm Credit Bureau which is the largest farm lender in the U.S. Sixth, there was no social security and the New Deal created it.  Unemployment was so catastrophic that F.D.R. did what Hoover would not do and that was to put millions to work with the PWA, WPA and the CCC.  Those agencies did what they were supposed to do and thus were all put to bed in WWII.  And, finally, the T.V.A. which is still with us—the one lasting socialist institution created as the federal government owns and operates the dams and sells electricity.

Whatever Biden may be able to do, he can’t possibly be as consequential as the New Deal.  That fundamentally changed the relationship between the public and the federal government. 

Well, what about LBJ?  Not a better comparison since he did not inherit an economy in turmoil.  Quite the opposite as he inherited an incredibly prosperous economy. He used JFK’s murder as a rationale for pushing for lasting civil rights legislation in the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965, and 1968.  And, he went far beyond that because he won one of the most resounding electoral victories in our history.  He made multiple lasting reforms in our society with Medicare and Medicaid, Headstart, and many others.  He introduced 87 bills to Congress and 84 of them passed or 96%–a record never likely to be equaled.  The trade off was that his legislative agenda spawned a counter revolution among conservatives which led to growing partisanship that has led to a pretty toxic political environment.  It also led Southern white Democrats to desert the Democratic party to become Republicans which led to Nixon’s successful Southern Strategy and painted the GOP into a likely demographic mess.

And, of course, there’s Vietnam. Our grandchildren will still be paying for its consequences.

So, I don’t think there’s enough of a comparison here either for Biden to latch onto.  If he wins, he inherits a very different set of circumstances than did either F.D.R. or L.B.J.  And, even if he wins, his supporters agree on one main goal—to retire Trump. If they succeed, I don’t think his supporters will be able to coalesce long enough to get anything like the legislative records of F.D.R. or L.B.J. passed.

What will Biden be faced with?  First of all, he has to deal with a seriously dysfunctional political party system which has managed to secure very little public trust.  How can he rebuild that trust?  Good question.  He has the temperament and experience to make a good effort.

But, from the get go, he will face considerable opposition from Trump’s base.  Many look at Biden and Harris and can only see what they term as “baby killers”.  I don’t think Biden can cure that.  That base will believe Trump’s accusations of a fraudulent outcome.  Many more believe that Biden’s win will bring the unwanted Progressives to power. There have already been a plethora of conspiracy theories about Biden and/or Harris. I expect that to get worse. However, as I suggested above, his own coalition will likely fray.  Those who fear the progressives taking over have little to fear.  They are a minority within the Democratic party which is an unwieldly coalition.

Second, the pandemic and its consequences have exposed multiple serious weaknesses in our system.  Inequalities between the bottom and the top are imbedded and hard to resolve. Unemployment insurance and paid sick leave have been woefully inadequate. Many of the former jobs will be gone for good.  Their employers have not survived.  Congress passed palliative temporary care, but not lasting fixes. 

Many, many more are without health insurance and Trump is in court to dismantle the ACA with no plan to replace it.  How to improve on the ACA in a manner that can gain enough support to get through Congress is a hard question. Other democracies have done much better in doing the needed testing and care.  They have universal health care and we don’t.  We are still a long way from having control over Covid without a useful vaccine.  Partisan conflicts over opening schools, wearing masks, and other issues have divided us; and the President has aided in enhancing those divisions.

The rise of telework; the demise of retail; the uncertainties of the gig economy; more automated manufacturing; and even the role of restaurants, theaters, tourism, and theme parks in this new environment will take time to sort out. The economy will NOT go back to where is was before Covid hit.

The third challenge is international.  In previous crises, the U.S. took the lead in dealing with them.  That has not happened.  America First has meant trying to be THE hegemon with little international support and trust from its allies.  The world IS multipolar and the U.S. has not adjusted to this reality.  It has tried to muscle China into an agreement without international support.  How to contain China’s worst tendencies without alienating the regime is a hard road to go without that support.  How to work with China where we can and contain them is a tough challenge.

What a tough agenda for Biden if he wins.  If Trump wins, we can expect even more of the same of what he’s done so far. And, our structural weaknesses will likely not be addressed.