New Platform

Dear Subscribers,

I will be sending out future Risk & Opportunity newsletters from a new platform – The High Road on Substack. When you see an email from The High Road, you will know it is from me.

Note: I have posted the historic Kentucky Derby victory by Rich Strike on The High Road. You can watch it any time. It will remind you that life is good, and anything is possible.

Best regards,

Michael Cuddehe

Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid

The Atlantic has just published what I feel to be one of the most important articles in recent memory, by Jonathan Haidt: “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid.”

This OnPoint interview of Haidt by Meghna Chakrabarti provides a roadmap every American can use to help mitigate the destructive effects of social media, and restore order and sanity to public life.

More to come on that thought.

Everyone even remotely involved with media, politics or public policy should listen to this interview and read the entire article.

Best regards,
Michael Cuddehe

Are Women Citizens?

In light of recent events in Texas, I thought it might be a good time to re-post my 2020 article on women’s rights.


With the ascension of two new conservative justices to the Supreme Court, anti-abortion activists have been busy ramping up an array of anti-abortion bills in Republican controlled states, with the ultimate goal of overturning Roe v Wade.

In the course of 40 years of destructive political warfare over abortion, public sentiment has remained surprisingly unchanged. Fewer than 20% of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, while less than 1/3rd think Roe v Wade should be overturned. These percentages have remained constant within a narrow band since 1975.

Anti-abortion extremists, frustrated by their inability to move public sentiment, have resorted to increasingly dishonest and anti-democratic efforts in an attempt to force their agenda on the nation.

The spate of radical anti-abortion bills sweeping the country have focused on the rights of the unborn, by espousing the made-up principle of fetal personhood. This notion defines a fetus as an unborn child, a person, whose right to life must be protected by the state.

It follows, however, that if the fetus has an inalienable right to full development and birth into the world, enforced by the state, then the woman is not really a citizen at all. Her status is that of a vessel serving the citizen growing within her. It seems that the real issue is: Are women full citizens or not?

The Supreme Court of Kansas, recently addressed this issue in an important 6-1 ruling, holding that “The recognition of inalienable natural rights in Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights is intended for all Kansans, including pregnant women.”

The Court wrote that “Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights affords protection of the right of personal autonomy, which includes the ability to control one’s body, to assert bodily integrity, and to exercise self-determination. This right allows a woman to make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life – decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy.”

Given the persistence of the “pro-life” faction, and their rejection of the fundamental rights of women illuminated and upheld in this ruling, it seems worthwhile to investigate the origins and motivations of the anti-abortion movement, and also to consider the direct consequences and implications if their efforts to ban abortion are successful.

Origins and Motivations

The most strident anti-abortionists are the evangelicals – Southern Baptists and other Christian fundamentalists. But this was not always the case. Prior to 1979, opposition to abortion was generally considered a Catholic thing.

American Catholics are not monolithic on this issue, but the Catholic Church has always held the position that a woman’s role in society is subordinate – to the Church, to the men in the Church, to their husbands, and to the new bodies growing within them.

In the past, Christian evangelicals disagreed with the Catholic Church on the matter of abortion. Randall Ballmer, in a 2014 Politico article entitled “The Real Origins of the Religious Right,” documents the evangelical transition from pro to anti-abortion.

In 1968, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, cited “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy.

When Roe v Wade was decided, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century, had the following to say: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

This stance was not surprising coming from a fundamentalist preacher, given that Jesus had nothing to say on the matter of abortion as far as we know, and the Bible itself has only one passage that directly addresses the beginning of human life – Genesis 2.7: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

This passage brings up the curious absence of the issue of the soul in the abortion debate. Most, if not all, Christians would embrace the concept of the soul; that which makes us human beings, which separates us from the animals, which survives the body and ascends to heaven or descends to hell when the physical body is finished.

When does the soul occupy the body? A strict biblical interpretation, which is what fundamentalism is all about, would argue for with the breath.

Given the history and the evidence, one would expect evangelicals to be at least neutral on a woman’s right to choose the outcome of her pregnancy, as they were before 1979. Which raises the question: what happened in 1979 that changed their position?

Ballmer makes a convincing argument that the pro-life position adopted in 1979 was a cover issue promoted by key evangelicals to help defeat Jimmy Carter and safeguard school segregation in the South. The success of that effort changed everything. Once evangelicals had a taste of political power, the kingdom of heaven was relegated to the back seat, and the rest is history. Had Jimmy Carter been re-elected, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion.

One thing is abundantly clear. The true motivation of the pro-life faction is not the sacred life of the unborn. If the pro-lifers were as concerned with the welfare of the unborn as they claim, they would be just as concerned, if not more so, for the already born, which demonstrably they are not.

It’s no mistake that states passing draconian abortion laws are also the worst in per capita infant mortality, child poverty, hunger, and quality of education. And wherever these forces are in control, education and women’s healthcare are under assault. Once the children are born, they and their mothers are on their own. The hypocrisy of insisting that every fetus come to term, and then turning a blind eye to the needs of every born child and their mothers for nourishment and support cannot be overstated.

Barney Frank summed up the “pro-life” position: “The Moral Majority supports legislators who oppose abortions but also oppose child nutrition and day care. From their perspective, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

Certainly, there are many good Christians who sense that something is wrong, who are uncomfortable with the dishonest and increasingly violent messaging, and the hypocrisy inherent in embracing the values, the actions and the persons who are the antithesis of the life and teachings of Jesus in their efforts to impose their political agenda. This is especially true in the ardent support for Donald Trump, who, by virtue of evangelical support, makes a mockery of any pretense to moral authority inherent in Christianity.

True believers who sense that something is amiss are kept in line by tribal reinforcement, led by bad faith preachers who have weaponized the existential fear of eternal damnation, while ignoring the teachings of the master.

The day that these preachers meet up with Jesus is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, really bad day for them.

A thorough discussion of the cultural and theological issues involved is beyond the scope of this article. But Molly Worthen’s excellent piece, “The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society” captures the essence of the matter.

Direct consequences and implications

The alleged debate around the issue of abortion has long since devolved into an intransigent and mindless recitation of pro-life and pro-choice, accompanied by increasingly hysterical and dishonest messaging by the “pro-life” faction.

There is little discussion of the consequences for women or for our society if abortion is made illegal and the notion of fetal personhood becomes the law of the land. Those who insist on the rights of the “unborn” children don’t seem to have much interest in the abrogated rights of women.

The bottom line is – you can’t have it both ways. If the fetus is given agency, the woman loses it. Full stop. This is a binary choice. Either women are full citizens and autonomous persons, or they’re not.

If the notion of fetal personhood becomes the law of the land, women will not have the rights of true citizens until menopause.

Once women are under the supervision and bodily control of the state, they can, and will, be inspected and violated as the zealots impose their will on women under their purview. Even now, some states require any woman pursuing an abortion to undergo an invasive procedure that meets the legal description of rape.

If it becomes the law of the land that abortion is murder, the authorities will be obligated to investigate any report that someone has had an abortion (a murder has been committed). How can it be otherwise? This will be an invitation to the culture war version of swatting.

If the reader thinks any of this is hyperbole, check out this article, and this, and this. Women in America are already being arrested and charged with manslaughter or murder for not behaving properly while pregnant, based on the principles of fetal personhood and the rights of the unborn. Some even want to impose the death penalty for women who have an abortion.

Furthermore, if the state presumes and assumes the right to govern women, control their bodies, trample their autonomy, and force them to carry pregnancies to term, it follows that the state must shoulder the responsibility of taking care of these women, and their offspring. Are taxpayers willing to assume that burden?

Not so long ago, women were wards of their husbands, property in fact. Women have fought long and hard to gain independence from second class status. If the “pro-life” position wins the day and the principle of fetal personhood become the law of the land, women’s rights will be set back at least 150 years.

 Maybe it’s time to try something different.   

Public sentiment on the issue of abortion has remained remarkably stable for the past 40 years. There is no public mandate in the U.S. to make abortion illegal. Even nearly half of those who identify as pro-lifers do not want Roe v Wade to be overturned. There is widespread recognition that abortion is a complicated and intensely intimate personal matter.

Furthermore, many of the loudest and most strident voices from the “pro-life” faction are men. But this is not the business of men to decide; nor their right. It’s not possible for any man to know the true nature of pregnancy, or the intimately personal considerations involved in continuing or ending a pregnancy. This is a women’s issue, and men should respect their right to decide the matter.

The pervasive dishonesty around this issue is corrosive, degrading to society and damaging to everyone.

Those who wish to see fewer abortions (there will never be zero) will have greater success by favoring supportive measures rather than engaging in judgement and punishment, which only heap more harm on women and their families.

It’s time to do something different – try supporting women with healthcare, honest non-judgmental counseling, alternatives and real support – childcare, education, opportunity and protection. And then trust the women to do what is right!


An Impeachment, an Extraordinary Speech, and a Turning Point

Donald Trump’s second impeachment, on the surface, delivered the expected results. 43 Republican Senators voted against conviction despite absolutely damning, irrefutable evidence and a riveting, emotionally powerful presentation of the evidence by House impeachment managers.

The final vote was 57-43 to convict, 10 shy of the 2/3rds majority required for conviction. But that is not the whole story.

First, 7 Republican Senators voted to convict. This alone is unprecedented and significant. Every presidential impeachment has been partisan, and never before have so many Senators from the party of the impeachee broken ranks to convict. In the Clinton case, the party crossovers went the other way, to exonerate.

The most remarkable and unexpected turn of events, however, was the speech Mitch McConnell gave on the Senate floor after the vote. Bear in mind that McConnell is as responsible for the Trump phenomenon as anyone. His refusal to set guardrails on Trump, as well as his court-packing and serial abuse of the filibuster, has done immense damage to our national unity, security and democratic institutions.

So, no tears for the abuse he is receiving for his vote to acquit, based on the alleged principle that the Senate can’t convict someone of impeachable offenses once they are out of office, after he deliberately made it impossible to conduct the trial while Trump was still in office.

Despicable as this log-rolling behavior was, it was also a “known known” as Donald Rumsfeld like to say. None of it was surprising. Disappointing, appalling, but hardly surprising.

The big surprise was the absolutely savage attack McConnell unleashed on Trump after the vote. McConnell is famous for inscrutability, and nicknamed “the turtle” for same. He never says anything that is not calculated, precise and minimal, and he often refuses to say anything at all.

But this speech was not vintage McConnell. In this speech he absolutely let it rip. It was a brilliant speech, seething with anger, and holding back nothing. I encourage my readers to read the entire speech out loud to get the full impact of it. Incredibly powerful, and historic. Imagine what McConnell could have done for America if he had used his rhetorical skill for honorable goals.

Even in its unrestrained fury, this speech is McConnell at his best, and worst. Make no mistake, if Trump’s actions had been successful, we would never have heard any of this from him. And he took plenty of time – six weeks – to let Trump run his “election fraud” scam until it became clear that it was a failure. Only then did McConnell announce, tepidly, his acceptance of Biden’s victory.

McConnell finally threw Trump under the bus because Trump’s actions and the consequences of his actions, so vividly and powerfully displayed by the House impeachment managers, penetrated the right-wing Fox News / talk radio media bubble, and showed the majority of Republican voters, for the first time, what really happened and what Trump has done. The damage done to the Republican brand has been extensive, and possibly terminal. This, and the fact that Trump cost McConnell the Senate leadership, is the source of McConnell’s fury, not anything Trump did on the merits.

This speech after the impeachment vote, in my opinion, marks the nadir, the bottom of the 40-year Republican race to the bottom. This the beginning of a Republican civil war, and either the reform of the party, or the end of it.

I have pasted in McConnell’s speech below. Read it out loud for full impact.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding the impeachment trial:

“January 6th was a disgrace.

“American citizens attacked their own government. They used terrorism to try to stop a specific piece of democratic business they did not like.

“Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the Vice President.

“They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth — because he was angry he’d lost an election.

“Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty.

“The House accused the former President of, quote, ‘incitement.’ That is a specific term from the criminal law.

“Let me put that to the side for one moment and reiterate something I said weeks ago: There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.

“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President.

“And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated President kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.

“The issue is not only the President’s intemperate language on January 6th.

“It is not just his endorsement of remarks in which an associate urged ‘trial by combat.’

“It was also the entire manufactured atmosphere of looming catastrophe; the increasingly wild myths about a reverse landslide election that was being stolen in some secret coup by our now-President.

“I defended the President’s right to bring any complaints to our legal system. The legal system spoke. The Electoral College spoke. As I stood up and said clearly at the time, the election was settled.

“But that reality just opened a new chapter of even wilder and more unfounded claims.

“The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things.

“Sadly, many politicians sometimes make overheated comments or use metaphors that unhinged listeners might take literally.

“This was different.

“This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.

“The unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence began.

“Whatever our ex-President claims he thought might happen that day… whatever reaction he says he meant to produce… by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world.

“A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty to him.

“It was obvious that only President Trump could end this.

“Former aides publicly begged him to do so. Loyal allies frantically called the Administration.

“But the President did not act swiftly. He did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed, and order restored.

“Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election!

“Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in danger… even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters… the President sent a further tweet attacking his Vice President.

“Predictably and foreseeably under the circumstances, members of the mob seemed to interpret this as further inspiration to lawlessness and violence.

“Later, even when the President did halfheartedly begin calling for peace, he did not call right away for the riot to end. He did not tell the mob to depart until even later.

“And even then, with police officers bleeding and broken glass covering Capitol floors, he kept repeating election lies and praising the criminals.

“In recent weeks, our ex-President’s associates have tried to use the 74 million Americans who voted to re-elect him as a kind of human shield against criticism.

“Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters.

“That is an absurd deflection.

“74 million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Several hundred rioters did.

“And 74 million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it.

“One person did.

“I have made my view of this episode very plain.

“But our system of government gave the Senate a specific task. The Constitution gives us a particular role.

“This body is not invited to act as the nation’s overarching moral tribunal.

“We are not free to work backward from whether the accused party might personally deserve some kind of punishment.

“Justice Joseph Story was our nation’s first great constitutional scholar. As he explained nearly 200 years ago, the process of impeachment and conviction is a narrow tool for a narrow purpose.

“Story explained this limited tool exists to “secure the state against gross official misdemeanors.” That is, to protect the country from government officers.

“If President Trump were still in office, I would have carefully considered whether the House managers proved their specific charge.

“By the strict criminal standard, the President’s speech probably was not incitement.

“However, in the context of impeachment, the Senate might have decided this was acceptable shorthand for the reckless actions that preceded the riot.

“But in this case, that question is moot. Because former President Trump is constitutionally not eligible for conviction.

“There is no doubt this is a very close question. Donald Trump was the President when the House voted, though not when the House chose to deliver the papers.

“Brilliant scholars argue both sides of the jurisdictional question. The text is legitimately ambiguous. I respect my colleagues who have reached either conclusion.

“But after intense reflection, I believe the best constitutional reading shows that Article II, Section 4 exhausts the set of persons who can legitimately be impeached, tried, or convicted. The President, Vice President, and civil officers.

“We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen.

“Here is Article II, Section 4:

“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

“Now, everyone basically agrees that the second half of that sentence exhausts the legitimate grounds for conviction.

“The debates around the Constitution’s framing make that clear. Congress cannot convict for reasons besides those.

“It therefore follows that the list of persons in that same sentence is also exhaustive. There is no reason why one list would be exhaustive but the other would not.

“Article II, Section 4 must limit both why impeachment and conviction can occur… and to whom.

“If this provision does not limit the impeachment and conviction powers, then it has no limits at all.

“The House’s ‘sole power of Impeachment’ and the Senate’s ‘sole Power to try all Impeachments’ would create an unlimited circular logic, empowering Congress to ban any private citizen from federal office.

“This is an incredible claim. But it is the argument the House Managers seemed to make. One Manager said the House and Senate have ‘absolute, unqualified… jurisdictional power.’

“That was very honest. Because there is no limiting principle in the constitutional text that would empower the Senate to convict former officers that would not also let them convict and disqualify any private citizen.

“An absurd end result to which no one subscribes.

“Article II, Section 4 must have force. It tells us the President, Vice President, and civil officers may be impeached and convicted. Donald Trump is no longer the president.

“Likewise, the provision states that officers subject to impeachment and conviction ‘shall be removed from Office’ if convicted.


“As Justice Story explained, ‘the Senate, [upon] conviction, [is] bound, in all cases, to enter a judgment of removal from office.’ Removal is mandatory upon conviction.

“Clearly, he explained, that mandatory sentence cannot be applied to somebody who has left office.

“The entire process revolves around removal. If removal becomes impossible, conviction becomes insensible.

“In one light, it certainly does seem counterintuitive that an officeholder can elude Senate conviction by resignation or expiration of term.

“But this just underscores that impeachment was never meant to be the final forum for American justice.

“Impeachment, conviction, and removal are a specific intra-governmental safety valve. It is not the criminal justice system, where individual accountability is the paramount goal.

“Indeed, Justice Story specifically reminded that while former officials were not eligible for impeachment or conviction, they were “still liable to be tried and punished in the ordinary tribunals of justice.”

“We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former Presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.

“I believe the Senate was right not to grab power the Constitution does not give us.

“And the Senate was right not to entertain some light-speed sham process to try to outrun the loss of jurisdiction.

“It took both sides more than a week just to produce their pre-trial briefs. Speaker Pelosi’s own scheduling decisions conceded what President Biden publicly confirmed: A Senate verdict before Inauguration Day was never possible.

“This has been a dispiriting time. But the Senate has done our duty. The framers’ firewall held up again.

“On January 6th, we returned to our posts and certified the election, uncowed.

“And since then, we resisted the clamor to defy our own constitutional guardrails in hot pursuit of a particular outcome.

“We refused to continue a cycle of recklessness by straining our own constitutional boundaries in response.

“The Senate’s decision does not condone anything that happened on or before that terrible day.

“It simply shows that Senators did what the former President failed to do:

“We put our constitutional duty first.”


40 Years of Voodoo Economics

40 Years of Voodoo Economics

The 40-year project to transfer the wealth of the nation to a new oligarchy is complete.

The coup de grâce was delivered unexpectedly by Covid-19, which stripped the façade from our Potemkin economy, revealing tens of millions of Americans on the brink of penury, even as the 1% reaped a Fed generated windfall.

Billionaire wealth gains during pandemic: Jeff Bezos +$81 billion, Elon Musk +$60 billion, Mark Zuckerberg +$41 billion, Daniel Gilbert +$38 billion, Bill Gates +$15 billion, Charles Koch +$6 billion.

Let me begin with a disclaimer:   I am NOT anti-business, or anti-capitalism. I love our free enterprise system (what’s left of it). I am entrepreneurial by nature, and I have been an independent businessman since I was tall enough to push a lawnmower and wield a snow shovel.

I am, however, anti-crime. In particular – white collar crime, corporate crime, political corruption – abuses of our free enterprise system. The notion that efforts to call out and reign in destructive, corrupt and outright criminal activity by corporations and super wealthy individuals is somehow anti-capitalist, or anti-business, is oligarchic propaganda, propagated by the Republican Party and right-wing media.

I find it especially offensive that Republicans portray themselves as the “real” Americans, standing for our traditions, for the common folk, and most shockingly, fiscal responsibility, even as they provide a conspiracy-laden smokescreen for their financiers while they strip-mine the nation and load up future generations with a mountain of debt.

As the charts below demonstrate, prior to 1980 the fruit of the U.S. economy was fairly equitably distributed between wage earners and the “rich,” going back to the ‘30’s. The disparity began to manifest in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan and the onset of Reaganomics, or supply-side economics, more properly known as voodoo economics (the term coined by George H.W. Bush). This is the latest iteration of an old con generally known as trickle-down economics. A previous version in the 1890’s was known as the Horse & Sparrow theory: ‘If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.’

This can become confusing for the uninitiated. So for the sake of clarity:

Reaganomics = supply-side economics = trickle-down economics = voodoo economics.

These terms are all synonymous. There are those who will try to mislead you on this. Those people I refer to David Stockman, Reagan’s economic advisor, budget director and the architect of “supply-side” economics.

It’s kind of hard to sell ‘trickle down,’ so the supply-side formula was the only way to get a tax policy that was really ‘trickle down.’ Supply-side is ‘trickle-down’ theory.

— David Stockman, The Atlantic

Trickle-down apologists will point to technology and globalization as the culprits in rising disparity. This is a convenient misdirection.

Technology and globalization are certainly factors in the rise of disparity, but they are not the cause. They are the disruptors that have been exploited by the oligarchs and their political enablers to fleece the masses in America. One need only look at the relative disparity in Europe during the same time frame to see that the response to the disruption created by technology and globalization could have been handled far more equitably in the U.S.

Ever since Ronald Reagan successfully sold voodoo economics to America, Republicans have been repeating the winning formula over and over: keep saying it long enough, with great certainty and righteousness, along with diversionary smears against the “liberal press” and divisive campaigns on social wedge issues, and enough of the people will follow. Why bother doing real analysis and offering honest solutions when a con is so easy to pull off?

A 2015 study conducted for the International Monetary Fund concluded that GDP growth actually declines over the medium term after trickle-down tax cuts, and that if you really want to use deficit financing (which is what the tax cuts are) to create growth, you would give money to the bottom tier, which needs things and has to spend the money, and not to the upper tier, which uses the money to create asset bubbles, not growth.

40 years later, Republicans are still following the Reagan playbook. The fact that this “theory” is demonstrably bogus has not stopped Republicans from continuing to promote tax cuts using the trickle-down rationale. They insisted that the 2017 tax cut would pay for itself by creating “so much” growth.

We have been like the proverbial frogs, not realizing until it is too late that it is we who are being served for dinner, because the heat has been turned up very gradually.

We are still collectively averting our eyes to this reality, wanting to call ourselves middle class, still believing in the American Dream, when in fact we’re (almost) all working class now, and that dream has become an historical artifact.

The great American middle class is no more. 80% of Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck. 70% have less than $1,000 in savings. 40% don’t have the ability to meet a $400 emergency expense. When you factor in student loans and the cost of housing in high income regions, even those we generally consider upper middle class are struggling.

All of this was pre-Covid!!!

The cumulative effect of decades of voodoo inspired policy and “favors” to the wealthy has had an especially devastating effect on young people trying to get established.

Education for example:

The cost of higher education is increasingly out of reach, and unless young people have family resources, those who go for it anyway find themselves saddled with crushing debt. 70% of students take out loans, and the average student loan debt for the class of 2019 was almost $30,000. Those pursuing graduate studies typically accumulate debt of $50,000 or more. MDs average $150,000 up to $300,000 by the time they finish their training.

What kind of society starts its young people off in life with a debilitating debt burden?

My answer: A society that has lost its moral compass.

And then there is healthcare:

Americans spend more on healthcare than any other nation – 18% of GNP, triple that of 50 years ago, and more than twice the OECD average. For all that spending, our health outcomes are near the bottom of all OECD nations – lowest life expectancy, highest chronic disease burden, highest rate of obesity, highest suicide rate.

This bloated system is the product of billions of dollars spent lobbying Congress by big pharma, insurance companies and hospitals, and the burden of it falls most heavily on young families.

The average health insurance premium for a young family in 2019 was $15,000 with a $5-10,000 deductible! Add on average childcare cost of $200 a day, almost $50,000 a year, student loan debt service, the high cost of housing and stagnant wages. Even with a good job, it’s increasingly difficult just to get by, let alone get ahead. Single parents face especially dire financial conditions. The U.S. leads the world in single parent households (23%).

Economic anxiety and downward mobility are the dominant economic themes for this generation of young Americans.

So how did our society become so imbalanced?

This situation didn’t just happen all by itself. It is the result of deliberate policy decisions, bought and paid for, year after year for the past 40 years, that steadily, incrementally, tilted the flow of economic gains to the upper tier, at the expense of wage earners and the general public.

This is not the picture of a prosperous society, or a society in balance, or one that has it’s values in the right place. It did not, and does not, have to be this way.

The primary driver of this disparity has been trickle-down tax cuts, especially the Bush tax cuts, which alone are responsible for approximately one-third of the entire national debt.

But it wasn’t just the tax cuts. The “government-is-bad, markets-solve-all-problems” philosophy that spawned voodoo economics created a vast network of tributaries feeding into the wealth transfer pipeline.

Scores (probably hundreds) of below-the-fold policies and special favors, tucked into footnotes on page 273 of this or that legislation, have spiked the gains for the upper tier at the expense of the general public.

These issues generally fall under the categories of arcane tax policies, exemptions, carve-outs, no-bid contracts, regulatory capture and neglect, unaccountable corporate malfeasance – tax fraud, accounting fraud, offshore headquarters, off-balance sheet expenses, executive compensation abuses, “carried interest,” financial engineering, high frequency trading, special purpose vehicles, and epic scale political corruption that has gradually, steadily, transferred the fruit of American labor to management and shareholders, while offloading the cost of “externalities” like pollution, environmental degradation and negative health outcomes onto the public.

These policies and special favors are shepherded through committees and into laws and regulations by an army of lobbyists, drawn from the ranks of corporate lawyers and executives, former representatives and staffers.

One of the most appalling features of the current state of affairs is that lobbying has become the single most popular career path for former lawmakers. Witness the sad case of Bob Dole, former Senator and Republican Presidential candidate, collecting a $140,000 paycheck from Taiwan for his “success” in getting newly elected and clueless President Trump to give a shout out to Taiwan, which immediately drew a threatening rebuke from China.

And then you have insider political “operators” like Paul Manafort, who often don’t even bother to register as lobbyists, representing the interests of warlords and kleptocrats in Washington.

How is this possible, you might ask?

For one thing, Congress thinks the public is way more conservative than it actually is. And the reason for this is that they are paid to think that way. It’s not that they don’t have access to polling data that tells them differently. The need for money trumps all other considerations in Washington.

A recent survey found that “45% of senior legislative staffers report having changed their opinion about legislation after a group gave their Member a campaign contribution.” Is anyone surprised? And those are just the ones who admitted it.

Due to the nature of our political system, politicians listen to those who remunerate them, not to the American people.

Not surprisingly, when only the affluent strongly support a proposed policy change, that policy is adopted 46 percent of the time; when only the middle-class strongly support a policy, that policy is adopted only 24 percent of the time.

Likewise, when a policy is strongly opposed by the affluent, but not strongly opposed by the middle-class, that policy is adopted only 4 percent of the time. But when a policy is strongly opposed by the middle-class but not by the affluent, the policy is adopted 40 percent of the time.

So what to do about this?

Guiding principle: The wealth of a nation is like the blood in the body; it needs to circulate everywhere.

Our current economic paradigm does just the opposite – concentrating the flow to the head and constricting the flow to the rest of the body.

Applying this guiding principle requires a service-oriented mindset, considerable creativity, and an environment of open inquiry and trust, supportive of nuanced discussion, and debate of policy objectives and options.

That sounds impossible given current conditions, but I think we’ve all had enough of the current degrading, profoundly dishonest, scorched-earth political paradigm, so this may be the time for change.

For at least 250 years, the prevalent economic debate has revolved around the binary notion of capitalism vs socialism. The recent iteration of this framing has been “pro-market” vs “pro-government.” This false dichotomy has served only to elevate factional partisans rather than genuine public servants, and to perpetuate endless class warfare that has seriously limited the upside potential of human civilization.

The reality is that in the U.S. we have had a mixed economy since the 30’s, and for 50 years it worked quite well for us, generating an unparalleled period of shared prosperity and growth, the envy of the world. That wave of prosperity began to flatten and then wane in the 80’s. The ensuing period of laissez-faire capitalism and rampant corruption it enabled has generated the imbalance and chronic disparity with which we are currently living.

Our advancing technology is offering us an unprecedented opportunity to transcend this state of perpetual conflict, and manage our affairs in an equitable way going forward.

Presently, our technology is not being implemented toward that end; it is being used to consolidate wealth and power in the hands of the few, and to deliberately create division, confusion and conflict among the many.

What we are currently lacking is the political will, courage, and the economic morality to put aside animosities, personal and factional priorities, and work together to make best use of the new tools and capabilities that are being delivered to us, to uplift all of humanity, not just the favored few.

We are not condemned to continue on the low road of endless conflict. I will follow up this letter soon with an outline of principles, policies and priorities needed to set things on the path to the high road.   The first step is the election. Then the real work begins.


Navigating Chaos

Navigating Chaos

It’s summertime. This was when the virus was supposed to back off for a while. That’s certainly not happening.

America’s response to this pandemic has been a tragedy, and a national embarrassment – the result of a catastrophic failure of leadership, and the deliberate politicization of recommended measures to limit the spread of the virus. The resulting “conservative” backlash against CDC guidelines for social distancing and mask wearing has made things worse, setting us up for a truly miserable winter, when it was already expected that things will get worse as most activities move inside and the virus double teams us with the flu.

The combined impact of the virus, and the nation-wide protests against police violence and racism, against the backdrop of historic polarization and economic disparity, has sent stress levels through the roof.

So what can one person do to improve the situation?

On the macro scale, not much. This destructive cycle has been building up a head of steam for a long time, and we are now in a blowoff phase. Like a fever, it is going to run its course until it finally breaks, or until the host dies. The double impact of the virus and the protests has been like pouring gasoline on an already raging fire.

On an individual level, you can vote, you can respect your neighbors, you can practice good pandemic social hygiene, you can take courses, gain skills, you can pray. If you are so inclined, you can phone or text bank for your favorite candidate. Most of all, you can take care of yourself and those close to you as best you can, and lend a hand where you can to those less fortunate.

Here are the best resources I have found for info on the virus:

Best I’ve seen on transmission risk:
The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them by Erin Bromage.

A good explanation on confusion over “airborne” transmission:
The Debate Over “Airborne” Coronavirus Spread, Explained by Brian Resnick

A sobering article on the reality of vaccine development:
A Dangerous Link Between Our Search For a Coronavirus Cure and Bloodletting by Robert Pearl, M.D.


To help weather the storm, I have a few additional recommendations:

  1. Transcendental Meditation. TM is a simple practice and a fundamental benefic for all that ails you, but especially so now. I have been practicing TM for 40 years, and I have never been more grateful to be able to close my eyes and effortlessly let the day’s stress wash away. And don’t think that all meditations are the same. They’re not. Not even close. TM is unique and it is the gold standard.
  2. Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). This site features a new photo every day from Hubble and earthbound sources. I have it on my desktop and check in every day. It reminds me of the vast expanse of creation, our miraculous place in it, and the utter foolishness of our petty arguments. I find it calming, and uplifting. Despite the madness consuming our country, nature remains unperturbed. All is as is should be on the grand scale.
  3. The news. It’s hard not to be consumed by the daily news cycle. Many individuals and entities are working overtime to keep you obsessed with each new day’s scandal, outrage, calamity. The sky is always falling, and they will show you why you should be upset and who to blame. Even so, there are important developments, historic even, taking place affecting all of us, and it’s important to stay informed. So how best to be informed without being propagandized, manipulated and exhausted?
    • One – realize that you are being manipulated and propagandized. Try not to buy in. And don’t buy the notion that the manipulation and propaganda are only coming from one side. Media left and right make their money on ears and eyeballs. They are all playing the same game, at your expense.
    • Two – avoid cable news at all cost. They are all toxic. Avoid Twitter & Facebook. You’ll find yourself siloed, propagandized, and increasingly polarized.
    • Three – check in with dedicated non-partisan groups like Braver Angels and No Labels.
    • Four – select your source for news wisely. Probably the single best source for news is The Economist. Weekly, covers the world, in-depth, objective, no hype, no propaganda.
    • If you just have to follow the daily news cycle, Google News and Memeorandum give you the headlines from a spectrum of sources. And NPR news is very balanced.
    • If you want honest, responsible, left-leaning journalism and commentary – Talking Points Memo. If you want honest, responsible conservative commentary – The Bulwark. For the gold standard in polling – Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight. For in-depth legal and national security analysis – Lawfare.

The daily Trump show and the political warfare over the coming election was already consuming the nation. Add to that the Covid pandemic, and the nation-wide protests against racism and police violence ignited by the murder of George Floyd, and there is not much bandwidth left for anything else.

The pace of debt creation is not getting much attention – $3 trillion in pandemic relief so far, and the need for even more extends as far as the eye can see. $3 trillion fills in a lot of potholes in the short term, but this level of support is not remotely sustainable. Big changes are coming…a topic for the next letter.

The election is still 4 months away. Seems like a very long time with all that’s going on. Pray that this election yields inspired and dedicated servant leadership. We’re going to need it.

Good luck!

June 2020: New Beginnings

The inauguration of Donald Trump brought on a whirlwind of scandal-a-day chaos that has made it impossible for me to assemble the long form Risk & Opportunity newsletters that I have published since 2002. As a result, I have only published twice since the 2016 election: “Donald Trump – The Chaos President” in July of 2017, and “A Republic, If You Can Keep It – Part 1” this year.

These newsletters are labor intensive. It typically takes me at least several weeks and sometimes months to assemble a R&O newsletter. But the Trump strategy to “flood the zone with shit” has rendered my normal process unworkable. By the time I have finished a first draft, the ground has already shifted several times, and the initial framework seems no longer relevant.

At the same time, few have time to read anything long form anymore. So it seems to be time to try something different.

The most frequent comment I have received from readers of The Politics of Unity is appreciation for the delivery of my ideas in short chapters.

I have decided to try publishing shorter, more narrowly focused articles, rather than trying to assemble a comprehensive picture of the state-of-affairs.

This is an experiment. I hope that it will be useful for my readers in finding balanced and more meaningful insight into current affairs and their implications for the future – delivered in bite sized portions.

New issues will be forthcoming shortly. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated. Please, no rants! Send to:

Best regards,


2020:   A Republic If You Can Keep It – Part 1

Steve Bannon once held forth that the agenda of the Trump Administration is the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” In its place he envisioned a no-holds-barred nationalistic capitalism, grounded in a medieval Christianity – waging war against secularism and Islam.

As time goes on, however, it has become clear that President Trump has something else in mind, which is more of a subordination of the administrative state, to impose an authoritarian regime in thrall to Dear Leader Donald Trump. Trump has made no bones about his admiration for autocrats and dictators, and his contempt for the limitations imposed by the rule of law. With William Barr running interference at the DOJ, Trump has aggressively embraced the notion of the unitary executive, declaring the Constitution gives him the “right to do whatever I want,” and insisting that he has “absolute immunity” from any constraints or oversight by Congress.

For an in-depth review of the systematic campaign to corrupt and subjugate our government to the personal whims of Dear Leader Trump, read George Packer’s brilliant article “The President is Winning His War on American Institutions.” The bottom line: Trump’s campaign to impose autocracy is producing a steady elimination of expertise across government, and the rise of incompetence.

The administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been instructive. After having previously decimated the government’s pandemic response team, the administration’s response to the outbreak has been to first (and continuously) downplay the threat, then claim it’s a “hoax” perpetrated by Democrats to “take down” the President, threaten anyone who differs from this messaging, pressure the Fed for a rate cut (a rate cut!!), demand that health experts get approval from the White House for any public statements, and warn military commanders not to “surprise” Trump with virus guidance to the troops.

This fiasco has rendered the established pandemic containment protocol useless, with the inevitable result that the spread will be far worse than it could have been. At press time, 2 months after the first documented U.S. case, testing, essential to controlling the outbreak, is still not generally available.

To date, the damage done by Trump’s campaign for autocracy has been extensive, both to our democratic traditions and institutions, and to America’s reputation and standing in the world. Domestic matters might be repairable at this point, if Trump is held to one term. But if Trump is re-elected, I think the Republic is finished.

America’s place in the world, however, will never be the same. That is not entirely a bad thing. The end of Pax Americana was coming anyway, but it could have unfolded with some semblance of honor and respect for, and from, our allies.

The last Risk & Opportunity newsletter – Donald Trump: The Chaos President – has proven to be remarkably prescient, and is worth reviewing. As noted in that letter, Yale historian Timothy Snyder predicted that Trump would attempt a coup, and he appears to be doing just that.

The “Russia Thing”

From the first days of the Trump administration, and the revelation that Russia had been involved in efforts to help elect Donald Trump, the “Russia thing” has been the elephant in the room, hanging like an ominous cloud over Trump and his administration.

Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, explicitly over “this Russia thing,” resulted in the appointment of Robert Mueller as a Special Counsel to investigate the matter.
Trump then spent the next two years making sure nobody forgot about it, daily attacking Mueller, the “deep state,” the FBI, and anyone involved with the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, insisting that they are “traitors” and “scum,” involved in an attempted “coup.” Update: The DOJ Inspector General has formally put a stake in the heart of all this nonsense.

Then there was the notorious Helsinki press conference where Trump emerged from a 2 hour one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, from which he reportedly confiscated and destroyed his translator’s notes, and proceeded to take Putin’s side against U.S. intelligence agencies regarding Russia’s meddling in the election.

Trump’s actions, tweets and comments have continuously kept the issue lively, and have done nothing to allay suspicion that there is something more than fishy about his relationship with Vladimir Putin.

The unresolved question was, and remains: was Trump “colluding” with Russia in its efforts to help him get elected President?

The Mueller Report

Robert Mueller’s heart was clearly not in his task. You can’t really blame him. After all, what patriotic American wants to be the person trying to prove that the President of the United States is essentially a traitor?

For 2 years, Mueller conducted the investigation in near total secrecy, with only court filings for the press to divine what he was up to. Other than the report itself, there were no leaks, no press releases and no public statements whatsoever until the end, when he sent a letter to William Barr to take issue with Barr’s misrepresentation of The Report.

In the end, the Mueller Report threaded the needle, documenting all manner of unsavory and illegal activities by the Trump Campaign and the President himself, while refusing to pass judgment, thus giving the President the opportunity to put the “Russia thing” behind him.

Volume I of the Report focused on the question of “collusion,” or more precisely, “conspiracy” of the Campaign with the Russian government, documenting “numerous links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” and the mutual appreciation of each camp for the activities of the other.

The Introduction states: “[While] the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities…A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts,” noting that inability to secure evidence and gain testimony from certain individuals, including the President, contributed to the final assessment.

Mueller allowed Trump to stiff-arm him on the request for testimony, deciding that it would be too much trouble and time consuming to try to force him to testify, ultimately accepting Trump’s rather laughable written answers to a negotiated set of questions. Trump responded “I do not remember” 3o times in his answers, with no follow up.

The investigation also “applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of ‘collusion,’” and gave Donald Jr. a pass on that basis for organizing the notorious Trump Tower meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. They decided Junior probably didn’t realize he was breaking the law (too dumb to prosecute?), and therefore they couldn’t prove “intent,” a central element of conspiracy.

So, off the hook on “collusion,” but not exactly a vindication either.

Volume II, which focused on obstruction of justice, reads like an indictment on 10 separate instances of obstruction, without actually making the charge. Handling the matter delicately, the Introduction states:

“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgement…Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

The Mueller “witch hunt,” as the president calls it, filed 34 indictments and has so far secured seven convictions of Team Trumpers, including Trump’s Campaign Manager, Deputy Campaign Manager, National Security Advisor, and personal attorney; but Mueller refused to drive the case home, accepting the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel opinion that he was not allowed to indict a sitting president, and left it to Congress to pick up the case, which it has been unwilling to do.

Predictably, Trump claimed total vindication. “No collusion; no obstruction.” A total lie (just one of literally thousands). But again, Mueller refused to push back.

But the unfinished business of the Russia investigation, and the inability of the president to leave it alone, eventually brought us full circle to…

The “Russia Thing” Part II – Impeachment

On December 18, 2019 the House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power, and obstruction of Congress. It will be useful to set this historic event in context.

Republicans have complained that impeachment was a continuation of the Russia investigation. They are not wrong about that. The “high crimes and misdemeanors” that brought about the impeachment of the president were a direct continuation of his efforts to discredit the perception that he was the beneficiary of Russian efforts during the 2016 election. This Washington Post article summarizes how the Russia investigation led to the Ukraine pressure campaign, and impeachment.

Trump’s insistence on trying to spin Russian efforts on his behalf in 2016 into something other than what it was, led him to send Rudy Giuliani and his band of misfits off to Ukraine to promote a Russian propaganda campaign that it was Ukraine that interfered in the 2016 election, not Russia, and to pressure the Ukrainian president to announce an investigation targeting Joe Biden and his son Hunter, using $400 million in military aid as leverage until the investigation was announced. Russia experts in the State Department have made it clear that the notion that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in our election is straight up Russian propaganda.

House Democrats, who had been reluctant to impeach Trump based on the abuses documented in the Mueller Report, were shocked by this blatant abuse of power and took up the cause. So Donald Trump, caught in the act of a shakedown by virtue of an alarmed whistleblower, became the third American president to be impeached.

One would think that status would be somewhat chastening, but one would be wrong. Since the Senate voted to acquit him, Trump has been on a tear, rage tweeting about the “Russia hoax” and the “deep state,” purging administration employees suspected of insufficient loyalty to the president and taking vengeance on those who testified in the impeachment hearings, issuing pardons to a who’s who of corrupt businessmen and politicians, and attacking DOJ prosecutors, the judge and even the jury foreman in the trial of his friend Roger Stone for obstruction of justice and witness tampering related to the Mueller investigation.

Is the President a Russian asset? Sadly, it’s a fair question. The NY Times published a piece titled, “With Trump, All Roads Lead to Moscow.” In an October, 2019 White House meeting, Nancy Pelosi famously pointed her finger at Trump, stating “All roads with you lead to Putin.” Rick Wilson, Republican strategist and author of “Running Against the Devil: The Plot to Save America From Trump – and Democrats From Themselves” believes that when all the facts come out, as they inevitably will, Donald Trump will replace Benedict Arnold as the greatest traitor in American history.

As if to make clear his fealty to Putin and drive the point home, in the midst of impeachment proceedings, Trump invited Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the Oval Office for an unprecedented photo-op in the Oval Office. Russia TV covered the meeting with a segment entitled “Puppet Master and ‘Agent’—How to Understand Lavrov’s Meeting With Trump,” featuring a photo of Trump sitting at the Resolute desk, with Lavrov at his right, as the “power behind the throne.” Among other disparaging comments, they joked about offering Trump asylum when Democrats come back to power.

It should be noted that Russian media would never publish such a provocative segment without Kremlin approval. Putin seems to take delight in periodically humiliating Trump. And yet the ever caustic tweeter-in-chief who so loves to “punch back” whenever he is challenged or criticized, has never uttered a negative word about Putin. One has to wonder, what compromat does Putin have on Trump that Trump allows Putin to humiliate him like this?

If you want to understand the phenomenon of compromat, read Bill Browder’s “Red Notice,” a well told true story of corruption and murder in Putin’s Russia.

Increasingly, loyalty is also a fair question regarding the Republican party. Their willingness during impeachment proceedings to knowingly promote Russian propaganda in support of the president is disturbing. See “The Russification of the Republican Party.” Subsequently, at the same time the president has launched an assault on the intelligence community over reports that Russia is again meddling in the 2020 election, Senate Republicans have blocked three election security bills.

Without Honor

Given Trump’s character and history, it’s not really a big surprise that he would put his own interests ahead of those of the country. It would have been more surprising if he didn’t. What has really been the big surprise, and disappointment, is how completely the Republican Party has fallen in behind Trump – an authoritarian demagogue who is the antithesis of traditional Republican values. And for what? Tax cuts and conservative judges? Really? Any Republican president with a Republican congress would have delivered those things.

Upon further reflection, however, especially in light of Republican efforts to suppress the vote during the 2018 election (e.g. Kansas & Georgia), and to nullify election losses in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina, it becomes clear that this subordination to Trump is of a piece with the trend of Republican behavior over the last 30 years, which has been increasingly anti-democratic, post-truth, and dedicated to maintaining power at any price. This Vice piece by Harry Cheadle sums it up.

If Obama had done any one of 100s of egregious things that Trump has done, Republicans would have been leading a civil insurrection. The hypocrisy has risen to a level where the term doesn’t do justice. Maybe betrayal is the right word.

As Max Boot put it, “I, too, am soul-weary and incredulous that so many Republicans who are “in many ways good people” could become imitators and enablers of the most dishonest and corrupt president in U.S. history.”

Many Republicans have just decided to retire rather than surrender to the cult of Trump. Charlie Dent stated the matter plainly upon his retirement from Congress in 2018: “The litmus test for being a Republican these days is not about any given set of ideals or principles; it’s about loyalty to the man, and I think that’s challenging.”

Jeff Flake gave an eloquent speech upon announcing his retirement, appealing to traditional Republican values, and lamenting the current state of the party. It’s a shame he couldn’t find it in himself to stand more firmly for those principles while in office. Here is a letter from a grieving Republican, and same from Time magazine.

Adam Schiff’s closing statement at the impeachment trial, and Mitt Romney’s statement explaining his vote to convict Trump of abuse of power, are eloquent expressions of the noble ideals of self-governance and public service that have guided America from the founding.

Contrast these high-minded appeals and lamentations with the utter nonsense on display from House Republicans in the impeachment hearings – shameful and embarrassing conflations of conspiracy theories and Russian propaganda, deliberate distractions which completely avoided the actual substance of the charges, followed by personal attacks on honorable, non-partisan public servants. They seemed to think that disrupting the proceedings by shouting and displaying contempt made their nonsense more relevant.

As for the substance of the charges against the president, take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s new president, a political novice elected in a landslide to take on corruption and Russian influence. Imagine his disbelief and distress when his most important benefactor – the United States, the “essential nation,” the “shining city on a hill,” the inspiration and hope of oppressed people everywhere – demanded his complicity in a Russian disinformation campaign to support a corrupt American President in order to get promised and desperately needed military aid.

Read Franklin Foer’s Atlantic piece, “The Betrayal of Volodymyr Zelensky”: “Before Trump, oligarchs felt relatively defenseless in the face of American efforts to strip corruption from the Ukrainian judicial system…The new U.S. president presented the possibility of salvation for the corrupt. Here was an American leader who operated in the style of an oligarch, who wanted to use the legal system to wound his political rivals.”

Summing up, Ross Douthat – the conservative NY Time columnist – brings the issue into focus:

Fiona Hill…warned members of the House Intelligence Committee that they ran the risk of themselves falling victims to “politically driven falsehoods,” regarding a bogus theory about Ukrainian political interference, “that so clearly advance Russian interests.”

Yet the person who is both the principal consumer and purveyor of those falsehoods is the president of the United States, just as he has been a purveyor of so many other conspiracy theories.

Even now, this should astound us. It doesn’t, because we’ve been living in a country undergoing its own dismal process of Ukrainianization: of treating fictions as facts; and propaganda as journalism; and political opponents as criminals; and political offices as business ventures; and personal relatives as diplomatic representatives; and legal fixers as shadow cabinet members; and extortion as foreign policy; and toadyism as patriotism; and fellow citizens as “human scum”; and mortal enemies as long-lost friends — and then acting as if all this is perfectly normal. This is more than a high crime. It’s a clear and present danger to our security, institutions, and moral hygiene.

It’s to the immense credit of ordinary Ukrainians that, in fighting Russian aggression in the field and fighting for better governance in Kyiv, they have shown themselves worthy of the world’s support. And it’s to the enduring shame of the Republican Party that they have been willing to debase our political standards to the old Ukrainian level just when Ukrainians are trying to rise to our former level.

Republicans, having given Trump their full-throated approval for his abuses, are now all-in with him as he tramples on our values and traditions, and attempts to impose banana Republican autocratic rule.

I recently watched the History channel special “Washington – Father of His Country.” It was rather shocking to be confronted with the contrast with our current president, who is the polar opposite of George Washington in every way. Our heritage is at stake in this election.


2017:   Donald Trump – The Chaos President

This has been a difficult letter to write. The turbulence unleashed by the election of Donald Trump has continued unabated. The belligerent torrent of attack tweets and “alternative facts” emanating daily from the White House leaves one wondering how this could happen in America, and what will become of us. The news has become all Trump, all the time, and virtually all of it negative, creating an ongoing and pervasive sense of instability and crisis.

Unknown is how much of the spectacle is theater, how much is mental instability and/or incompetence, and how much is deliberate distraction. Setting aside the unsettling notion that our President is mentally incompetent, inquiring minds might want to take a careful look at plans being made for war, self-dealing, and/or tax and regulatory giveaways under cover of deliberately provoked chaos.

Or, given Trump’s open admiration for authoritarian leaders, is he deliberately ramping up division and conflict until violence erupts, giving him justification to declare martial law? It’s noteworthy that Yale historian Timothy Snyder believes it is “pretty much inevitable” that Trump will attempt a coup.

The Russia Connection

The Trump-Putin bromance has been a strange one from the beginning. It has caused Trump nothing but grief, and for no apparent good reason. He has consistently gone out of his way to avoid criticizing Vladimir Putin, despite being more than willing to insult other heads of state, has promoted a Russia friendly position regarding NATO and the Middle East, and has persistently pushed back aggressively on reports of Russian hacking and interference in the election, while openly contemptuous of U.S. intelligence agencies’ consensus on nefarious Russian actions and intent.

This strange behavior, while refusing to offer up any plausible explanation for such unswerving support of an enemy state, naturally leads to questions of motivation. It is certainly plausible that there are financial connections/dependencies that Trump does not want to become public. His refusal to release his tax returns would support that theory, and press reports document long term Russian investment in Trump properties.

A more alarming theory is that Trump is compromised, as suggested by Max Boot, in effect the Kremlin’s man in the White House. That’s a pretty shocking thought, but the absence of any real information and a persistent lack of candor – putting it nicely – from the President, naturally leads people to question what he is hiding, and to think the worst.

Reports that Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, attempted to set up a secret back-channel to the Russians using secure communications in the Russian embassy only supports the worst notions, as well as Trump’s fawning treatment of Putin at the G20 meeting, and the revelation of campaign connected meetings with Kremlin connected Russians uncovered by the press, after months of denial that there had been anycontacts with Russians by the Trump campaign.

Trump’s sacking of FBI Director James Comey, while openly admitting it was due to Comey’s investigation into “this Russia thing,” was a serious unforced error. It is a rather discouraging portrait of the state of our politics to see Republican leaders silently supporting Trump in this and other related matters that would otherwise send them into open revolt if a Democrat were involved.

The firing of Comey, and subsequent appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a Special Prosecutor to investigate the Trump-Russia connection signals that this is going to be a political cage match. At some point I think it is very likely that Trump will fire Mueller, and/or preemptively pardon everyone involved, including himself, and dare Congress to do anything about it. Then it will be up to the Republican leadership: save the republic, or save the party. I think we are going to find out how robust our institutions are, and how deep the rot in Washington goes.


Republicans are now in control of both houses of Congress and the White House. They were hopeful that they would have an open field to push through their agenda, but it is not working out that way so far. This is primarily because they have no coherent governing agenda other than deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, and annihilation of all traces of Obama.

The Republican Party has long been an insurrectionist movement, and for the past eight years in particular their politics has been entirely negative and destructive, dedicated solely to obstruction and demonizing Obama. The resulting moral and intellectual decay of the Party has been on full display in the health care deliberations.

During the Obama years, House Republicans passed over 60 bills to repeal or undermine Obamacare, but never bothered to seriously consider – let alone propose – an alternative. The agenda all along was to undermine Obama, to deny him any achievements, and not in any way to improve the health care outcome for the American people. So now that they are in a position to put their stamp on healthcare policy, they have nothing to offer.

The American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA), passed by the House to great praise from Trump (who later called it “mean”), which is now in a zombie state in the Senate, took the axe to Medicaid, leaving over 20 million uninsured, while jacking up rates for the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.

According to Paul Ryan, this bill would increase choice for consumers (read: the choice to buy insurance that doesn’t cover much, or to not buy insurance at all because it’s unaffordable). It might better have been called the Medical Bankruptcy Restoration Act.

Republicans’ lack of preparation to govern has been exacerbated by the fact that Trump is not really a Republican, and his interests are not necessarily aligned with theirs. He is a populist demagogue who took control of the Republican Party because the Party has failed its constituents, just as the Democrats have failed theirs.

Many Republican policy goals will be detrimental to the very people who elected Trump, especially the wholesale evisceration of Obamacare, and the Orwellian named Better Way agenda of Paul Ryan, otherwise rightly known as Voodoo II economics, the consequences of which have been clearly demonstrated in the final collapse of the Voodoo-inspired Kansas Experiment, which put the state’s finances into a deep hole.

Henry Ford famously realized that if he gave good wages to his employees instead of exploiting them, they would be able to buy his cars. That wisdom seems to have been forgotten by the Republican Party, and by corporate America, both of which seem intent on strip mining every last dollar of every possible vein of profit from our economy, while driving American workers into penury. I don’t see how you build a thriving economy based on downward mobility and plutocracy.

A positive surprise was Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. Liberals are still upset over the outrageous sandbagging of Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. But Gorsuch is highly qualified and respected by both liberal and conservative legal scholars. The truth is that Democrats couldn’t have asked for better from any Republican administration. I don’t think anyone would have been totally surprised if Trump had picked Kellyanne Conway.

Going forward, hyper-partisanship on both sides will be the order of the day. This has long been the state on the right, but the election of Trump has ignited a rebirth of the long dormant left, which is going to be just as hard-nosed and unyielding as the right. Those who have bought into the notion that Barack Obama is a “far leftie” are going to be shocked at the emergence of a virulent left wing in American politics. They will soon be wishing for the sober centrism of Obama.

Our politics has become war by other means. And as in war, truth has been the first casualty. Facts have become partisan fluid, fashioned to suit the need of the moment. Thus we no longer have a shared reality upon which to debate issues and formulate policy. Everything is seen through a partisan lens, as demonstrated by this University of Michigan study on the dramatic 75 point partisan reversal of economic optimism coinciding with the election of Trump.


Over a long period of time, Congress has ceded it’s authority over foreign policy, including war, to the Executive. We presently live in “The Age of Unilateral Rule,” wherein foreign policy is made entirely according to the whim of the President. That’s a sobering realization, given the belligerence and unpredictability of our current President.

The whipsaw between Obama’s low key approach and Trump’s aggressive and constantly vacillating positions has thrown world leaders into a state of confusion. The uncertainty over where the U.S. stands on any given issue is straining alliances and raising tensions globally.

Trump’s “America First” economic nationalism threatens to ignite a trade war by tearing down the existing basis of global economic cooperation. One of his first acts as President was to cancel the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and he continues to threaten to withdraw from NAFTA, recently announcing a 20% tariff on Canadian lumber imports, and threatening big tariffs on steel imports. He has rejected the Paris Climate Accord, leaving the U.S. the odd man out in a 19-1 affirmation of the accord at the G20.

Long forgotten, it seems, is that the current global order was spawned by the desire to create an interdependence of nations based on shared commerce, so as to avoid a repeat of the devastating wars of the 20th century, which were waged between self-sufficient competing empires.

It’s worth listening to the NPR interview with Jorge Castañeda, the former Mexican Foreign Minister, on the importance of maintaining friendly relations with your neighbors.

Aside from the degradation of American credibility and stature on the global scene resulting from Trump’s behavior, a big worry is that he will either blunder his way into a war, or given that the traditional remedy for domestic turmoil is to redirect it to a foreign enemy, deliberately provoke one to distract attention from his problems at home.

North Korea may look like a tempting target, and Trump has already been ratcheting up tensions on the Korean peninsula. It will be a big plus for him if he can pressure China into dealing with this problem, which they no doubt can if they wish to do so. But the saber rattling could easily spiral out of control, with catastrophic consequences for the Korean peninsula, for the thousands of American troops stationed there, and possibly even for the U.S. mainland.

Former CIA director James Woolsey posted a hair-raising article on The Hill that should give pause to those who think a war with North Korea is a good idea. Alternately, Politico posted a brilliant solution to this problem by Tom Molinowski, former Undersectretary of State under Obama, entitled “How to Take Down Kim Jong Un.”

Regarding Russian hacking and interference in the election, our open society and dependence on the Internet leaves us vulnerable to this kind of meddling. As Obama said – unfortunately after the election – he let Putin know that he was unhappy about their meddling and that “we can crash their backbone” (e.g. crash their communications, transportation and power grid) but “the problem is that they can do the same to us.” And there you have it. It’s Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) all over again with cyber warfare, with nuclear MAD lurking in the background.

A disappointing footnote to all of this is that in March, China’s Trademark Office suddenly granted The Trump Organization 38 trademarks, at least some of which had been previously denied for a decade. Meanwhile foreign delegations are falling all over themselves to curry favor with the Administration by holding their events at Trump venues, including Mar-a-Lago, which has doubled its membership fee to $200,000 since the election.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed multiple lawsuits attempting to force Trump to divest from a long list of enterprises that create conflicts of interest with his duties as President. America has never seen such blatant, third world style self-dealing from a President.

Economy & Markets

Job creation has been steady, positive in 22 of the last 30 months, and the unemployment rate is 4.4%, considered to be full employment. Corporate profits are healthy, and capital spending is on the upswing. Overall, confidence is high. It might be categorized as complacent.

Investors and business interests clearly consider the political turmoil to be superfluous, and are enthusiastic for promised regulatory rollback and tax reform. The stock market reflects that enthusiasm, with all indices trading at all-time highs, although doubts are creeping in regarding the Trump administration’s ability to deliver.

Despite the optimism reflected in the stock market, all other markets – bonds, metals and commodities – have been stuck in trading ranges since the election, reflecting uncertainty over policy direction, rates and inflation.

It’s a mystery to economists that with the low unemployment rate, why pay isn’t rising. There is growing concern that the long expected inflation resulting from repeated QE campaigns might be overwhelmed by deflationary pressures from overcapacity and massive debt growth.

It’s noteworthy that Ray Dalio thinks what we are seeing is pretty much as good as it gets. The global economy is “at or near its best.” He doesn’t see any problems immediately ahead, but expects the next big downswing to be “epic.” Also, notable are recent interviews with hedge fund stars Paul Singer and Bill Gross endorsing similar themes.

Trump has committed to big tax cuts as well as deficit spending on the military and infrastructure, and has also promised not to cut Medicare and Social Security. Taken at face value, this agenda is hugely inflationary.

Republicans, desperate for the tax cuts, are trying to decide if they are still concerned about deficit spending now that Obama is out. If history is any guide, they will forget about fiscal responsibility and start spending.

Trump has also promised a big push for reduced regulation, which will be welcome everywhere in the business sector, from mom and pops to big corporate entities. We can only hope that there will be an intelligent elimination of unnecessary and burdensome regulation, while retaining that which is necessary.

One should keep in mind that the last time we had regulatory rollback for its own sake, without much thought for consequences, we got the biggest financial fraud in history and the subsequent financial meltdown, from which we are still trying to recover.


It’s very difficult to read the tea leaves in this environment. There has been a general assumption that Trump’s policies will be good for growth, and stock valuations reflect that optimism. That assumption, however, is predicated on the existence of something like a functional Trump administration that can deliver on those policies.

The investigation into Trump’s Russian connections, and his increasingly desperate efforts to derail it, are taking all the oxygen out of the room. At press time, indications are that Trump is preparing to try to discredit and then dismiss Mueller, and anyone else at Justice who stands in his way.

Six months into the Trump term, despite total control of Congress and a Republican in the White House, conflicts among Republicans have produced gridlock, and zero legislative accomplishments, raising the question – can this fractious Congress pass a healthcare plan, a budget, tax reform, or any other meaningful legislation?

As difficult and frustrating as things have been for victorious Republicans, if Trump goes after Mueller, the chaos unleashed by this act will make it very difficult if not impossible to move forward on any policy issues.

As consuming as the political drama is, this is also a time of extreme distortion and risk in our economy (see Dalio, Singer, Gross above), and geopolitical instability. The potential for economic meltdown and war is real. Yet all of these points of conflict offer opportunities for upward resolution and major progress.

For example: on healthcare, having come to impasse, Republicans now have the opportunity to drop the phony demonization of Obamacare, and work with Democrats to fashion a fiscally responsible national health care program. A simple, honest effort such as this would immediately change public opinion of Congress, and create an avenue for the resolution of many issues that have languished in the shadow of partisan warfare.

What we have been lacking is the leadership necessary to take advantage of these opportunities. I see the Trump phenomenon as a test of the American people. The leadership is a reflection of the collective consciousness of the people. If and when the people wake up and demand a more constructive politics, things will change.

There are many dedicated individuals and organizations working to bring about positive change, who have the needed expertise across the array of policy issues. Check out the resources I am following on Twitter @politicsofunity for a sampling.

Q3 ’16:   2016 Election Issue—The Politics of Destruction

As the 2016 presidential election mercifully draws to a close, the polls indicate that Hillary Clinton will handily defeat Donald Trump. There is great uncertainty, however, regarding control of Congress. The House is expected to remain in Republican hands, but the Senate is up for grabs. At the eleventh hour, an announcement by FBI Director Richard Comey that the Clinton emails are under review again has created turmoil, raising the specter of a Brexit-like shocker at the end.

Regardless of the final result, it will take quite some time for the American people to recover from the year-long outpouring of campaign venom and sleaze dumped on us daily by our corporate media. If you are not feeling slimed, you just haven’t been paying attention. Dean Baquet, Executive Editor of the New York Times, recently called out CNN and Fox News for their egregious coverage of the campaign.

Internationally, the U.S. brand has been badly tarnished. How can any developing nation be convinced that American style democracy is the best path for them, when our system has put on a campaign more suited to Honduras or The Democratic Republic of the Congo than to a country whose president is considered the leader of the free world?

The Republican Party has stood by Donald Trump even as he has taken the campaign into the sewer, with a shameful display of non-stop lies, nonsense and bigotry, while claiming the system is “rigged” against him, and threatening violence against opponents.

As President Obama recently noted, “This didn’t start with Trump.” Republicans have been cultivating the lunatic fringe for decades, with their anti-science, fact-free conspiracy theories and scorched earth politics—all spin all the time—undermining our (Democrat) presidents, our government, and our democratic traditions, by sowing division, mistrust and hatred.

The Trump phenomenon is like a malignant tumor that has burst open and is now devouring its host.

As a result, the polarization of the country has reached levels not seen since the Civil War. We now have two Americas; they don’t talk to each other and don’t trust each other. They don’t understand each other’s core values and desires, and don’t care to learn. David Brooks recently posted an excellent summary of the damage done to our civic institutions and public morality in this piece entitled, “How to Repair Moral Capital.

As the embarrassing spectacle draws to an end, it’s useful to take a perspective from outside our borders. The Economist says it all in “Debasing American Democracy.”

The Silver Lining

The meltdown in the Republican Party may well be the best thing to happen for America in decades. Republicans have been practicing the politics of division and destruction since Ronald Reagan succeeded in selling “voodoo economics” to America.

This could be the opportunity for honorable Republicans, people like Michael Bloomberg and Mitt Romney, to take control of the party, or start a new one, and re-dedicate themselves to traditional Republican values. We need the balance provided by those values.

Democrats also need to pay heed. The struggle by down-ballot Democrats to capitalize on the disaster at the top of the Republican ticket tells us that the American people are just as weary of the Democrats as they are of the Republicans, if not more so.


Economic recovery following the 2008 financial panic has been anemic, but it has been steady. The structural headwinds of debt and technology-driven unemployment have been substantial, and they are not going to go away.

Taxes are also likely to increase, no matter who wins the election or what they promise in the campaign. The question is who will pay, the general public or the upper tier? Under normal circumstances, rising taxes would produce a drag on growth, and might even produce capital flight.

As far as rising taxes creating a drag on growth, universal overcapacity, low yields, and global instability have made investors so risk-averse that they already don’t want to invest in much of anything other than non-productive rent-seeking opportunities. A modest loss of private sector capital to taxes might actually produce more growth than would leaving it where it is. If that money were invested in education and infrastructure, it would yield growth and long term returns for everyone.

Regarding capital flight—where would capital go? Capital is flowing into the U.S. from around the world. Financial and geopolitical instability elsewhere make it likely that the U.S. will continue to be the safe haven for years to come.


Markets across the board are in limbo at least until after the election, and maybe even until the 1st or 2nd quarter of 2017. The stock market has been in a broad trading range for two years, creeping ever so gradually higher on continued Fed support, with traders aggressively buying the occasional correction. The refusal of the market to go down for so long, despite persistent pessimism among traders, raises the possibility of a melt up rather than a crash.

Deflation has been the dominant macro force since 2008, but inflation has been picking up a bit lately, giving some buoyancy to commodities, but threatening big losses in bonds. Given the massive pile of kindling the Fed has created, inflation could erupt into a conflagration at any time. Hard assets should be on everyone’s menu. Gold has entered into a buy zone, and an important cycle low.

Big volatility will be coming at some point, but when? No-one knows. The biggest risk is in bonds of any kind, especially sovereign and high yield, and the most upside potential is in physical assets and stocks, although the ride could be “gut wrenching” as they say in the business. One should be cautious with the banks. When the day of reckoning comes, the banks will probably be pressured into a Cyprus style bail-in. Depositors will get the grain elevator treatment—x percent of their deposits converted to 40 year Government Reconstruction Bonds or some such fancy name for confiscation.


The global temperature keeps rising. Syria keeps going from bad to worse. North Korea is threatening nuclear holocaust against South Korea, and Russia is menacing Eastern Europe. The whole of Europe is in turmoil over immigrant disruption, the meltdown of Deutsche Bank, the rise of right wing parties, Brexit and the prospect of upcoming votes on EU in Greece, Italy, Spain, and probably France.

War cycles point to continued conflicts until at least 2020. Tensions with Russia in Syria and Eastern Europe, and China in the South China Sea could escalate into outright hostilities at any time. The Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte, has been unleashing profanity laden tirades against the U.S, and has recently announced alliance with China, declaring “The U.S. has lost,” and demanding that U.S. troops get out of the Philippines in 2 years. The balance of global power is shifting rapidly. It is a dangerous time.


Our next president is going to have her/his hands full from day one. On every front, financial and political, domestic and global, instability is the status quo. Donald Trump is not going to go quietly into the night, and Republicans are promising to block anynominations to the Supreme Court If Hillary wins the White House and they retain the Senate. Relief from the stress of the election could be brief, even nonexistent.