Comey’ Book: A Higher Loyalty

It is number 1 on Amazon’s best seller list.  Amazon was accepting pre-orders, and my copy arrived yesterday as promised.   The White House has made James Comey out to be public enemy #1, but he was well liked under both Republican and Democrats alike.   He was confirmed as FBI Director by the Senate 93 to 1.  I’m not bothering listening to Comey’s interviews, nor the White House or Fox’s  hourly attacks on Comey.  I’m too busy reading his book.   I used to subscribe to a stock advisory newsletter, whose motto was jokingly, “Frequently wrong but never in doubt.”  I think this applies to Trump.    Comey was the exception,  “Frequently right, but usually in doubt.”

The strongest asset of a democracy is an informed public. This is Comey’s memoir from the vantage point of  the highest level of  law investigation and enforcement.  It should be read from cover to cover, ignoring  the noise coming from Washington and the media.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

Trump’s fixer man, Michael Cohen, and his secret business dealings

Michael Cohen is both a lawyer and a business man.    Search warrants  were served on Mr. Cohen because he is  being investigated for possible campaign finance violations, bank fraud and wire fraud.   It is part of a federal grand jury investigation which was empaneled months ago.  On Monday,  Mr. Cohen lost in his request to have all items seized in the raid returned to him.     It was established in court, that in the last year and a half,  Cohen provided legal advice to only three clients,  Donald Trump,  Elliott Broidy and Sean Hannity.   Sean Hannity denied he was Mr. Cohen’s client.

In their search, investigators also sought to obtain records relating to Cohen’s ownership of taxi medallions — high-value assets that are often used as collateral for loans, according to people familiar with the matter.  The value of the medallions was sharply dropping in value, as a result of Uber and Lyft.   Between April and June 2017, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance filed seven tax warrants against Cohen and his wife for $37,434 in unpaid taxi taxes due to the MTA.[13]

Prosecutors are following the money on this one.   The  $130,000 payoff to Stormy Daniels, might be the most visible sign of shady business, but I suspect there are far bigger targets.   Elliott Broidy  needed Cohen’s help to hide the fact that his affair with Playboy model, Shera Bachard, who he made pregnant, and Cohen arranged a 1.3 million dollar payment to hush up the affair.    The child was aborted.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Broidy was a national deputy chairman of the R.N.C.’s finance committee, a title he shared with Mr. Cohen.  Mr. Broidy is the second member of that committee to resign this year amid questions involving their behavior with women and deals to silence them.

So,  how big is this swamp?   Here is more from the New York Times article:

During the wide-ranging October meeting, Mr. Broidy raised numerous topics high on the agenda of the United Arab Emirates, a country that has given his security company a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He pitched the president on a paramilitary force his company was developing for the U.A.E. and urged Mr. Trump to fire Rex W. Tillerson, then the secretary of state, who the U.A.E. believed was insufficiently tough on its rival Qatar.

The documents show that Mr. Broidy has worked closely with George Nader, an adviser to the U.A.E. and a witness in the special counsel’s investigation, to help steer Trump administration policy on numerous issues in the Middle East. Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, is examining Mr. Nader’s possible role in funneling Emirati money to finance Mr. Trump’s political efforts. There is no indication that Mr. Mueller’s team is looking into Mr. Broidy.

In 2009, Mr. Broidy pleaded guilty to charges that he made nearly $1 million worth of illegal gifts to New York State officials in order to win an investment of $250 million from the state’s public pension fund. Among the gifts were trips to Israel and Italy, payouts to officials’ relatives and girlfriends and an investment in one relative’s production of a low-budget movie called “Chooch.”

It is also reported that there are no emails between Donald Trump and Michael Cohen.   Trump apparently doesn’t use email.

If true, can you imagine the gall of Broidy, wanting to get rid of the secretary of state,  because of his business dealings in the UAE.    Our environmental policies, have been sold out to the fossil fuel companies,  but was  Trump also trading in our relations with other Middle East countries to help support his donors?    Broidy was also on Trump’s inaugural ceremony committee, where millions  were unaccounted for according to MSNBC’s Rachel Madlow and others (see link).

I’m honestly not that interested in Stormy Daniel’s hush money contract, or  Elliot Broidy’s affair,  but the Middle East connections, by way of George Nader.  This might help Mueller’s team.

At this point, it is a legal battle between the president’s lawyers who want to do anything possible to impede the review by the “taint team”  verses the Department of Justice who want to know to get the team’s  review done as soon as possible.   Judge Kimba Woods has stated that case law on confidentiality, applies equally, be it the president of the United States, or the man on the street.   This has also been the opinion of the Supreme Court,  dating back to claims of Executive Privilege in the days of Nixon and Watergate.   Judge Woods  will likely decide soon whether a Special Master should be appointed.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Whatever happened to the money from Trump’s inaugural committee?

 

Andrew McCabe

I wrote previously that Andrew McCabe was fired for doing his job well.   All the evidence supports that he was an exemplary FBI agent and Deputy Director.  The firing had nothing to do with the quality of his work. He was fired by the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, following a report by the inspector general.   The charges against him were unauthorized disclosure of an ongoing investigation and lying about it under oath when asked by the inspector general.  The exact wording is he “lack candor”  when interviewed.   It is not criminal to lie to an inspector general, but it’s against the rules of the FBI and can result in firing.

The unauthorized disclosure charge relates to an article written in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in October 2016.  Andrew McCabe insists that there was nothing done improperly.   The Wall Street Journal article was printed  on October 31, entitled, “FBI in Internal Feud Over Hillary Clinton Probe:
Laptop may contain thousands of messages sent to or from Mrs. Clinton’s private server.”   The article is clear that there was a fundamental disagreement on how far to push the Clinton Foundation investigation.    Andrew McCabe has stated he was interested in a more aggressive investigation of the Clinton Foundation, ironically at the same time, that Trump was on television nearly every night claiming the FBI was involved in a cover-up of wrong doing by the Clintons.

The inspector general’s report will be made public this week.  I’m certain it will judge McCabe’s action in isolation, not taking into consideration the campaign frenzy at the time.   The disclosure  occurred under extra-ordinary circumstances, with an open investigations on many fronts, and a massive attempt for the Trump team to capitalize on the “crooked Hillary” and weak FBI efforts in particular.

Donald Trump waged an extremely negative campaign in the last week of the campaign,  non-stop ranting about an incredibly corrupt Clinton (“crooked Hillary”)  and in collusion with the Obama administration (DOJ/FBI)  to hide her crimes, from violations of compromising national security via her private server,  destruction of evidence (crushing her cell phone) in an investigation,  and the links between the Clinton Foundation donors and the Uranium One deal.

All of crooked Hillary stuff, as listed above, was nonsense and no crimes were committed.  At least,  Attorney General Jeff Sessions has never charged the Clinton campaign nor the Foundation with any wrong doing, and he has all the investigative details from the FBI.    The only ones  with guilty pleas or likely to stand trial were with the Trump campaign.

My copy of Comey’s book will arrive tomorrow and with the release of the IG report, I’ve got a lot of reading to do.   The WSJ article is provided in the link below.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

October 31, 2016 FBI in Internal Feud Over Hillary Clinton Probe:
Laptop may contain thousands of messages sent to or from Mrs. Clinton’s private server

 

Strike on Syria is a success

I’ve got a lot of complaints about Trump, but the Syrian air strike is one that I consider an outright success.    It was done in close cooperation of our allies.  By all reports, the objectives were military targets, directly tied to chemical weapons production or research.   The Assad regime promised to destroy all their chemical weapons, but obviously they lied.   Russia still backs Assad.   Military solutions are the last resort, but that’s exactly where we were with Assad.   I listen to the discussion at the UN, and was very proud of Nikki Haley, as she forcefully defended our actions, along with the French and British ambassadors to the UN.   General Mattis was equally impressive.

I won’t go into the longer term strategy for now.  Let’s give credit where credit is well deserved on the tactical decision and execution.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Slime ball Comey

“James Comey is a proven LEAKER & LIAR. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did-until he was, in fact, fired. He leaked CLASSIFIED information, for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under OATH,” Trump wrote in a statement that stretched across two Twitter posts. “He is a weak and untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible Director of the FBI. His handling of the Crooked Hillary Clinton case, and the events surrounding it, will go down as one of the worst ‘botch jobs’ of history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey!”

James Comey is 57 years old, and I’m certain that he thought his appointment as Director of the FBI would be his last governmental job.  His book, A Higher Loyalty,   is scheduled to be published on April 17, 2018, and I’ve already ordered a copy.    Most people like Trump are responding to short excerpts which have been posted to the Internet.  I shall not enter the fray.  No mosh pits for me, thank you.

James Comey has served four  Presidents:  Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump in leadership positions.  His career has been a steady series of promotions.   His career has been mostly in governmental positions, although he did work in private practice.   After graduating from the University of Chicago, with a law degree, he worked as a law clerk for United States District Judge John M. Walker Jr. in Manhattan.   He joined the  Attorneys Office of the US Southern District Court of New York in 1987.   As a side note, the head of the Southern District Court, Attorney Geoffrey Berman is now considered disloyal (among other things) to Trump after approving the search warrant on Cohen.  Berman was appointed by Trump in January 2018.

There are many achievements of Comey’s career.   When he worked in the Southern District, he  helped prosecute the Gambino crime family .In November 2002, he led the prosecution of three men involved in one of the largest identity fraud cases in American history.[32] The fraud had lasted two years and resulted in thousands of people across the country collectively losing well over $3 million. He also led the indictment of Adelphia Communications founder John Rigas for bank fraud, wire fraud, and securities fraud. Rigas was convicted of the charges in 2004 and in 2005, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. Adelphia Corporation was forced to file for bankruptcy after it acknowledged that it took $3.3 billion in false loans. It was “one of the most elaborate and extensive corporate frauds in United States history.”

The links below, provides more details on the accomplishments of James Comey,  generally working  for the District Courts, the Department of Justice and ultimately the Director of the FBI, as appointed by Obama and confirmed by the Senate in 2013.  He was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 93 to 1.    Rand Paul was the lone dissenter, concerned about drone surveillance.  I think the CNN summary of “Who is James Comey” is very interesting and worth reading.    I can see why Republicans might like him,   as he was part of the Whitewater investigation, determining if the Clinton’s broke the law in their Arkansas real estate investigation.

I’ve already covered extensively Comey’s investigation of Clinton’s email server.    I concluded  his actions were appropriate for a truly unique situation, given absolute time constraints, being the US elections and the highly contentious statements by Trump at political rallies.   Comey has explained his actions, which have  at times either upset Republicans or Democrats (never both at the same time),  as he twice opened and closed the email investigation.   Being non-partisan leaves you open to partisan attacks from both sides.  As far as a leaker of information, this did occur, but what was leaked was Comey’s notes of a meeting he had with  President Trump.   It was part of his testimony to Congress, and I’ve included a link on this matter.    My comments are generally under FBI as a category and James Comey as a tag.

What I think irritated Donald Trump the most, was that Comey was a dogged prosecutor and non-partisan in all his activities.  “A Higher Loyalty”  seems a fitting title.   As far as being a liar,  Trump really is the last person to call anyone a liar.   So far,  politifact.com shows he tells the truth about 5% of the time.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Comey, A Higher Loyalty,  2018  Available at Amazon.com 

Not out yet.  I plan not to buy any more books from Amazon.  I will go to my local bookstore, buy a book, and read it while having a cup of coffee.   I might be there all day so I’ll have lunch there too.  It’s already on the best sellers list and not a copy has been sent to the public.

CNN: Who is James Comey: 7 things to know about the fired FBI director

Note:  I hate all the ads that come with these links.

Fact Check:  James Comey 

Trump lashes out at Comey as ‘untruthful slime ball’

Wikipedia: James Comey

A Leaker’s Admission: How the Media Covered, and Factored Into, Comey’s Testimony

Client-Attorney Privilege/ Alan Dershowitz

It is very common knowledge that the FBI raided Michael Cohen’s office to seize information relevant to the Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniel’s cases.   Michael Cohen is Trump’s personal lawyer.

There’s been so much commentary on the raid, that it seems hardly worth adding to it.  However, the one person who doesn’t seem terrible angry is Michael Cohen, as follows:

Two days after FBI agents raided his home and office—reportedly seeking documents related to hush payments made to women with whom President Trump allegedly had an affair, among other information—the president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen had this to say: “I just want my stuff back.” That comment, made to ABC News, was Cohen’s first remark since telling CNN on Tuesday that the raiding federal agents were “extremely professional, courteous and respectful,” contradicting the president’s claim that agents “broke into” his lawyer’s office.

I stated before that it seemed everything was done by the book.  The Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, signed off on the search warrant.  He is a Trump appointee.  There were multiple checks on this search warrant.   Michael Cohen is under investigation for bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance contributions.

The items seized from Michael Cohen are with the “taint team” to determine if what information is relevant under the scope of the search.  It is another safeguard to protect the rights of Michael Cohen, against unreasonable searches.

Alan Dershowitz, the very well known defense attorney and former Harvard professor, doesn’t see it this way.  He obviously doesn’t believe there are enough checks in the system, to allow a search and still protect the legitimate privacy of an attorney’s records outside of what is criminal evidence.  An article appearing in The Hill,  is provided in the links.  He has appeared on Fox News network, with the same opinion.  Others, particularly on CNN and MSNBC,  have voiced far more confidence in the judicial system and believe prosecutors will respect the rights of Mr. Cohen.  I am particularly concerned, when Alan Dershowitz states that FBI raids should be limited to only “major crimes”  which he then states this isn’t one of them.   What will remain in the hands of judges, is the evidence that was used to support the search warrant, so Dershowitz, like the rest of us, is completely in the dark.

We have First Amendment rights of free speech.   This is the protection for individuals, who espouse very unpopular opinions including radicals on the far right and left of the political spectrum.   It  protects  gay rights activist and  atheist organizations.   When high powered attorneys  seek to intimidate people to give up their rights in exchange for money,  I think this is worthy of an investigation.   It is particularly egregious if the Daniel’s contract was invalid and payments were violations of campaign finance laws.   The Supreme Court allows massive donations to be given to political parties, to monopolize the air waves during campaigns.  The courts can not condone campaign violations which also silence dissent during a campaign.

To ignore potential violations of law helps create new rights for the wealthy and powerful class, a form of immunity from the law.  Donald Trump felt that he could have his lawyer fix  his indiscretions through physical harm and hush money to gain the silence of others, leaving him in the clear.    This was done to help his campaign for president, running on a campaign who claimed (until today) that his opponent was crooked.   The First Amendment is needed for small people or people who work for small organizations.

Dershowitz further states that the raid will make people afraid to seek legal advice.  I seriously doubt it.   A good lawyer will be sure to take steps to ensure confidentiality by having a client sign a contract to represent them in a specific matter.   The problem Trump has, is that he wanted Cohen to fix everything, and leave him in the clear.   It likely made Cohen a partner in crime.

Dershowitz goes on, to state this highly intrusive manner of collecting evidence, was done for political reasons.  Again, this seems contrary to facts as there were reviews of this warrant in the Justice Department and the Southern District of New York.  If a similar raid were conducted on Hillary Clinton’s office, it would have to go through the same court system.  I would support this as well.

I believe Michael Cohen subdued reaction is because he knows the FBI has a mountain of incriminating evidence against him.   The role of Trump’s fixer came to an abrupt end, and now the fixer has some real negotiating to do with authorities instead of Trump’s occasional indiscretions.

The late night comedians, such as Stephen Colbert and John Oliver, are having a tremendous amount of fun over the irony in all of this.   Trump appointed an Attorney General, who has been as tough as nails on illegal immigration, drug use and against sentencing reforms.   Yet, Trump is steadfastly trying to make himself an exception to the heightened law and order approach of the Justice Department.

Trump is saying in essence, “Go after criminals, but stay away from my campaign officials and their contacts.”

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

http://thehill.com/opinion/judiciary/382459-dershowitz-targeting-trumps-lawyer-should-worry-us-all

Wikipedia:  Jeff Sessions

Search warrant for Michael Cohen, Trump’s Personal Lawyer

It appears to me nothing illegal or unethical or disgraceful has occurred. Prosecutors know about white collar crime, and they are just following the money. Attorney-client privileges are not absolute, meaning what is a lawyer’s computer or cellphone can never be seen by law enforcement officers. But it has to be done through the courts based on probable cause. Court decisions acknowledge the need for confidentiality in the defense of clients and this has resulted in more rules in law office searches, designed to protect privileged information.  There are exceptions.   President Trump has stated repeatedly he had no knowledge of hush money being paid to Stormy Daniels or the contract, so the client-attorney privilege is gone in this particular matter.

The potential criminal charges against Trump’s personal lawyer are bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. This is serious stuff. The search warrant was executed on part by a referral from Robert Mueller’s office. The decision to seek a warrant was in the office of the Southern District of New York. The lead US Attorney for the Southern District is Geoffrey Berman, who is a recent Trump appointee. Only the courts can approve a warrant based on probable cause. All the specifics on the rationale for the search warrant are confidential by law. The American people do not have the right to know everything – and that’s how our justice system has always operated for the good.

Before anything is given to prosecutors, there must be an initial neutral examination of the seized material as explained below, and more completely in the second link:

The critically important interests protected by the attorney-client and work product privileges can be preserved only if the seized materials are examined by a neutral judicial officer, or by a Special Master appointed for this purpose, to determine which materials are or are not encompassed within the privileges. Such a safeguard is essential, as a number of courts have recognized.

 

This means what was seized by the FBI, is in the control of a court appointed neutral judicial officer. The person would have no connection to Michael Cohen, the Justice Department or the Southern District of NY.
Will Michael Cohen sue for irreparable harm to his practice? Absolutely. Will he get the blessings from the legal establishment to push back? Maybe. Will he be indicted? I haven’t a clue. Will this help Mueller’s investigation? Ditto.

There’s a whole pile of other questions, which no one on the outside can answer. For the time being, it appears to me nothing illegal or unethical or disgraceful has occurred.

Stay tuned,
Dave

Links:

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers,  Challenging the Law Office Search,  Weinberg and Homan, 1996.

The above link in from 1996.   The Fourth Amendment provides all Americans the right against unreasonable searches.  The sixth amendment provides the right to legal counsel.   Many of the rules governing legal search warrants have been the result of various court cases.   The protections available through the Fourth Amendment were strengthened by the Mapp v. Ohio court decision, which made excluded all evidence obtained illegally to be used in any court proceeding  in the US (exclusionary rule).  If the FBI breaks into an office, without first obtaining a legal search warrant, then none of the information from the search is admissible.

Privilege (evidence)

Privilege belongs to the client.  If Trump had stated that Cohen acted on his behalf, then he could use attorney-client privilege to shield Cohen.  Instead, he denied knowing anything about the payoff, so the claim of privilege evidence is gone.  It also appears that more liberal judges, tend to be give more weight to client’s rights in attorney-client privileges, than to the law enforcement’s needs.  The Andresen v. Maryland case upheld the legitimacy of the search warrant over the dissent of Brennan and Marshall.

Trump lashes out as Cohen raid fuses Russia probe and Stormy case

I’m really don’t think “fuses” is the right word.   Robert Mueller really separated his probe from Michael Cohen case, when he handed it off the the Southern District office.  It seems Trump wants to lump them together as one grand conspiracy.

Fact checking Trump’s statement on Immigration and other matters

I think the CNN fact checking on Trump’s immigration comments, is excellent.   See link below:

Trump on immigration: Fact check

I think Trump is up to exactly 4 true statements this year, as follows:

  • Says China and Singapore impose the death penalty on drug dealers.— PolitiFact National on Wednesday, March 14th, 2018
  • The 2018 Academy Awards show was the “lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY.”— PolitiFact National on Tuesday, March 6th, 2018
  • Small business confidence is at an all-time high.”— Donald Trump on Tuesday, January 30th, 2018 in his State of the Union address
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average “jumped 1000 points in last 5 weeks, Record fastest 1000 point move in history.”— PolitiFact National on Monday, January 8th, 2018

The last one isn’t really that meaningful, as there have been a lot of faster 5 week moves on a percentage basis.

See link:

http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/

April 2, was the international fact checking day.   I think this is a fantastic idea.  See link:

https://factcheckingday.com/

A belated congratulations to all those involved.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Did Mexican border apprehensions soar?

Details of Donald Trump’s decision to send National Guard to the Mexican border, have not been finalized.   He needs further consultation with the governors of the states involved.  His basis is that apprehensions are surging, as a result of increase attempts to illegal enter the US.   Note CBP data combines both apprehensions and inadmissibles together and for convenience I call them apprehensions.

I conclude the apprehensions at the Southwest border to Mexico have not suddenly soared, after an examination of the Customs and Border Patrol data.  In fact, apprehensions (approx 50,000) are very much in line with the prior five years.  What was very unusual was the pattern in FY17 as shown in the orange line.  The fiscal year 2017 goes from October 1, 2016 to Sep 30, 2017.  So, October 2016, during the Obama administration had a record number of apprehensions (67,000, I’m rounding the numbers to multiples of 1,000),  followed by a sharp drop off to a record low in April 2017.

Exactly why the  apprehensions in 2017 were abnormally low, maybe a combinations of a number of factors.  Remember,  these are immigrants who were either turned away at the border or caught attempting to get in.  The most obvious factor could be the perception of tougher enforcement at the border by President Trump.    But also remember when the economy of the US is doing well, this also tends to help Mexico and the other Latin American countries, so fewer immigrants attempt to cross the border.   The Mexican coyotes control the border crossings, with a network of associates in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and other countries, and I believe they   are charging very high fees (> $10,000) for their services, based on conversations I have had recently.

 

It isn’t easy to interpret these statistics.   The high number of apprehensions  as occurred in June 2014 (68,000 apprehensions) might be the result of  diligent efforts on the part of Customs officials, and not an increase in  the number of illegal  immigrants.   In 3 of the 5 years, there is a significant drop off apprehensions from May to Jun (2013, 2014 and  2015), but 2017 is markedly different with an increasing trend extending from April to Dec 2017.

Bottom line is these are the statistics of people who didn’t get into the US, and we don’t know how many did.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Twitter page:  CBP Statistics

 

 

 

Cost of Guarding Trump’s wall in San Diego

Ok.  This isn’t about the cost of guarding any actual fence or wall.   I note that  see through fence, rather than a solid wall has been long considered a more effective border security efforts.   Some prototypes include see through sections, so are they walls or fences.  Do we care?

This is about the eight standing prototypes in San Diego.   They must be guarded day and night against  graffiti artists, who would love to deface them probably with not very favorable opinions of Trump’s immigration policies.   The task to stand guard over these eight walls/fences falls to the San Diego city police and the San Diego County  Sheriff’s office.   NBC 7 local news in San Diego reports a total cost of around  one million dollars,  of which  $278,000 is for city police and $761,000 is for the Sheriff’s office.   The Sheriff’s office estimate  is for approximately 10,000 hours of overtime, coming out to $76/hour.  The cost estimate from NBC News is provided in the links.

There has been no reported arrest of graffiti artists,  so the security must be working.  This also may be to the no nonsense Trump position (Minimum mandatory sentence to all graffitists)  or the “Trump effect” of not daring to deface his wall.

The prototypes  have already been tested, I guess, by seeing if people can get over them.  It has been reported that all the prototypes passed, even the ones with see through parts.  If these prototypes are to stay until the security fence (the word I like) is built,  we may be looking at decades of prototype protection.  It would seem there should be some way to make money off of this.   San Diego Prototype Park?   Maybe do some landscaping, and build signs, explaining the features of each fence.

Or, invite local artists to paint the walls.  In Miami, we have Wynwood walls, which is very popular among tourists.

I suspect like many walls, this one will come down.   The destruction day should  be on YouTube.

And I expect Trump to stiff the city and county for all their good work.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

This report also goes into details of the drastic drop off of illegal immigrants entering the US through Mexico.   But the Department of Homeland Security is saying that in March 2018, there was a sudden surge in attempted illegal entry.   Of course, all we have are statistics on how many failed to get into the US, not how many evaded border patrols.   There are a lot of statistics floating around, and I’ll do my best to explain them in a future blog.

NBC 7 Investigates Looks at Local Border Wall Costs and Immigration Arrests

 

 

 

 

 

Trump’s economic advisors

“It is a horrible deal, really horrible, but we’re going to fix that”

This is any particular quote from Trump but applicable to many accords – from NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to many bilateral accords, most recently his attack on he  South Korean Trade Agreement.   The same quote can be said of the Iran Nuclear deal and the Paris Accords on Climate Change Mitigation.   Everything is blamed on prior administrations, but most of the blame still goes to President Obama.

A minor case in point –  on January 12, 2018,  Trump cancelled a trip to the US embassy in London, citing Obama poor decision in moving the Embassy at a cost of 1.2 billion dollars.   It was decided upon by President Bush and not Obama.   Trump rarely lets facts get in his way.

Gary Cohen,  was the head of the National Economic Council,  and chief economic advisor to Trump.   He is generally accredited for Trump’s tax cut and jobs program, signed into law on December 22, 2017.   On March 6, 2018,  Gary Cohen resigned in March, just before the imposition of tariffs on aluminum and steel.  It was widely reported that he was against the tariffs.  Larry Kudlow has been appointed to this position.   Kudlow is a strong believer in  supply-side economics, which means that a cut in federal taxes, will stimulate the economy sufficiently to make up for the loss in tax revenue.  He been dead wrong a number of times, beginning with the opinion that tax increases would dampen the economy during the Clinton administration.  Just the reverse happened, and the economy boomed after this.

Kudlow was a strong advocate of George W. Bush’s substantial tax cuts, and argued that the tax cuts would lead to an economic boom of equal magnitude. After the implementation of the Bush tax cuts, Kudlow insisted year after year that the economy was in the middle of a “Bush boom”, and chastised other commentators for failing to realize it. Kudlow firmly denied that the United States would enter a recession in 2007, or that it was in the midst of a recession in early to mid-2008. In December 2007, he wrote: “The recession debate is over. It’s not gonna happen. Time to move on. At a bare minimum, we are looking at Goldilocks 2.0. (And that’s a minimum). The Bush boom is alive and well. It’s finishing up its sixth splendid year with many more years to come”. In a May 2008 column entitled “‘R’ is for ‘Right,'” Kudlow wrote: “President George W. Bush may turn out to be the top economic forecaster in the country”. By July 2008, Kudlow continued to deny that the economy was looking poor, insisting that “We are in a mental recession, not an actual recession.” Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008, creating a full-blown international banking crisis.

Larry Kudlow is well educated, articulate and  very straight forward.  He has been a regular commentator on MSNBC.  His comments is generally appreciated, as he is well informed.  However,  he has been frequently wrong on the basic moves of the economy, I believe because of his philosophical perspective of less government intervention.   This has been chronicled in a book entitled Superforecasting (2015).   The book explains how experts in various fields, do no better than amateurs.

Two key advisers right now, are Peter Navarro, Director of the National Trade Council  and Wilbur Ross,  Secretary of the Commerce Department.   In many administrations, these organizations and individuals might not receive much attention, as they engage in behind the scenes negotiations on trade and commerce.   However,  as fears of a trade war with China,  intensify and concerns of the impact on our economy is debated,  these two individuals are increasingly in the media, particularly in the business news reporting.

Peter Navarro is a very controversial figure at present.  Wikipedia labels him as a heterodox economist, with opinions  outside of the mainstream economistss.   He is also considered a protectionist and isolationist by Wikipedia.   According to the Guardian:

Navarro was a key architect of Trump’s “America First” policy of economic nationalism and a tireless critic of China’s economic policies – one of his books is decorated with a map of America being stabbed in the heart with a knife marked Made in China. Although he has agitated for aggressively protectionist trade policy since joining the Trump campaign in 2016, the tariffs are his first key victory. During the campaign, Navarro, the only economics PhD in the Trump team, described his role as merely a facilitator. “The president – he’s the man who leads,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “He says, ‘I want to do this. How do we do it?’ The way I help is figuring out how you might do it.”

Protectionism, or economic nationalism?  Perhaps the choice of words doesn’t matter; it is the outcomes in the long run that are important.   I’ve included links on Peter Navarro at the end of this blog.

Finally,  a key adviser to Donald Trump is  Wilbur Ross.   His view on trade, as per Wikipedia:

On the subject of foreign trade, Ross has said: “I am not anti-trade. I am pro-trade, but I’m pro-sensible trade. [Being anti-trade] is a disadvantage of the American worker and the American manufacturing community.” Ross has also said that the government “should provide access to our markets to those countries who play fair, play by the rules and give everybody a fair chance to compete. Those who do not should not get away with it – they should be punished.” Initially in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Ross has said that after examining the agreement, he found it was “not consistent with what was advertised.”[34]

In 2004, The Economist described Ross’s views as protectionist. Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel has also voiced concerns during 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos over Ross and the Trump administration views as “not the proper answer”.  Ross, at the 2018 World Economic Forum, responded to concerns by noting that “There have always been trade wars. The difference now is U.S. troops are now coming to the ramparts.”

Wilbur Ross has appeared on a number of business news stations, including MSNBC, and I happen to like his straight forward answers to questions.  He always seems to be well prepared, informed and polite.   He chooses his words well.    However, he seems to underplay the affect of the proposed tariffs  might have on the stock market.

How the Trump trade wars will finally be resolved, is difficult to say.   Republican biased news stations say that in the end,   the hard position taken  by Trump will result in China yielding, particularly on intellectual property rights.  Other commentators see only an escalation of tariffs, as China would rather fight than be seen as having given in to the US.   Economic nationalism works on both continents, sometimes escalation is easier than compromise.  Certainly, the sell off in the stock market is based on the potential for a protracted battle.

As I publish this blog, the Dow is poised to drop around 500 points.

I have included a number of links on Cohen, Kudlow, Navarro and Ross.   All individuals  have extensive biographies available on the Internet.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Wikipedia:Wilbur Ross

Wikipedia:  Peter Navarro 

Peter Navarro, the economist shaping Trump’s economic thinking

Wikipedia:  Larry Kudlow

New York Times:  Larry Kudlow is the new favorite to replace Gary Cohen

Wikipedia:  Gary Cohen 

 

 

 

EPA in self destruct mode – Part 2

The prior blog focused on the Trump administration soon to be announced rules changes  on new cars fuel efficiency and exhaust emissions.

There are a lot more of changes going into effect, to make both the Department of the  Interior and the EPA less effective in doing their job – to preserving and protect our environment.   Our environmental science programs at our universities are some of the finest in the world.   Students come from many countries including China, India, the EU and Brazil, to learn how to protect the environment.  Yet,  scientists with the requisite knowledge will not be welcomed in the Trump administration.

It isn’t hard to make an agency less effective, particularly if it is one that requires most policy decisions to ultimately require  regulations or new laws, and additional staff to actively enforce regulations.   To begin the destruction process, you simply bring in politicians to run things at the top, and let the dedicate staff leave as they become discouraged.   The names Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke come to mind.   Then you bring in more people with strong connections to the industries you are supposed to regulate, such as chemical companies,  fossil fuel companies (mining,  hydrocarbon exploration and production, refining and petrochemical) and agriculture related companies. You let them set your agenda.   And finally, you put a muzzle on what is acceptable science.

I commented on how the Love Canal tragedy took decades to be discovered, and the full extent of the harm required nearly another decade.  If this was done during Scott Pruitt’s EPA, he would probably be handing out band aids to children with chemical burns on their feet, and tell their parents the government is doing everything it can.

I think the editorial appearing in yesterday’s New York Times, No studies, No data, No rules.

New York Times Editorial: EPA’s Assault on Science

I fear as the damage done will take years to fix.

Stay tuned,

Dave

I have not included links on this topic, but there are many ones, very similar to the New York Times.

 

EPA in self destruct mode

I’ve commented on this before.  Readers can click on “EPA” to read prior blogs.

Republicans and Democrats drink the same water and breath the same air.  Contaminants in air come from many sources, including car emissions and chemical plants.  Pollutants  discharged into water bodies or the air can travel long distances and  do not know geographic boundaries.  This is the physical reality, requiring  the  federal environmentalists to be involved in preserving the environment beyond our borders.    We are one planet, and environmentalists in Kansas recognize they are affected by decisions in Beijing.     The rising water temperature, aided by increased Chinese carbon emissions and deforestation in Brazil, is a factor in the extreme weather variations as occurring in the northeast of the US now, and the hurricanes in Puerto Rico,  Florida and Texas last year.

I read a recent letter from a former EPA scientist, who made me so sad.  He had lung disease, and needed to live where the air quality was excellent.  Yet, the high standards which he was involved in, were likely not being  enforced by the EPA.

I’ve commented on Scott Pruitt before as the worst EPA Administrator it was created in 1970.   Both Republicans and Democrats have contributed to building the EPA before Pruitt began to destroy it.   One of the best Administrators, was William Rucklehaus,  the first and fifth administrators of the EPA.   He was a Republican, and first nominated to the post by Richard Nixon, and later became the Deputy Attorney General. He was fired by Nixon, for refusing to  firing the Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, but rehired by Reagan to head the EPA again.  Rucklehaus was able to transfer the approval of all regulations of pesticides to the EPA.   Doug Costle ran the EPA under President Carter, and followed a similar path as Rucklehaus.    President Reagan  campaigned against the EPA as an unnecessary government. He brought in Anne Gorsuch Buford to downsize the EPA.    Buford was  held in contempt of Congress when she refused to turn over documents on Superfund expenditures.

Environmental problems are big in the US because every industry has waste that they want to dispose of,  at the lowest cost, and still be within the law.  Only regulatory groups can evaluate the risk potential, using worse case scenarios.    Love Canal disaster should be taught in schools, as a modern lesson of how dumping of chemicals in the 1950’s underground,  can resurface decades later, and be contributing factors to leukemia.  The chemicals were dump in 1953, and Hooker Chemical thought by donating the land to a school, they could get rid of the mess.  Homes were built close to the school.  Parents noticed their children were betting burns  on their feet when playing barefoot. The impenetrable clay layer  seal was likely fractured by the filtration of water, which expanded as it froze in the winter.  Making American great again, is a fantasy,  because when it comes to environmental action, we are not great.  Not in the 1950’s,  not 1970’s and not today.

I’ll leave out most of this history, but you can check the links below, on Love Canal, and Superfund sites.

The number one threat to our environment is at present is  climate change.   The US should be the leader in curbing carbon emissions, but this was before Trump and Pruitt.  Pulling out of the Paris Accords on Climate Change Mitigation was a giant step backwards.   Transportation accounts for 27% of the greenhouse gases emitted (EPA estimate, 2015)  of which 90% are petroleum based.    We emit around 6,800 million metric tons (mtn) of CO2 equivalent of greenhouse gases, down from a peak of 7,300 mtn in 2007.    According to the EPA (current website, not the Obama archived one)

This decrease was largely driven by a decrease in emissions from fossil fuel combustion, which was a result of multiple factors including substitution from coal to natural gas consumption in the electric power sector; warmer winter conditions that reduced demand for heating fuel in the residential and commercial sectors; and a slight decrease in electricity demand.

The progress, however slight, is an unmistakable downward trend in greenhouse gases, which perhaps will not last much longer.   The lead story in the New York Times on March 30, 2018, reads:

The Trump administration is expected to kick off an effort in coming days to weaken greenhouse gases and fuel economy standards for automobiles, handing a victory to car manufacturers and giving them ammunition potentially to rollback industry standards worldwide.

Car manufacturers and oil companies will be pleased.  It is putting American first only in terms of corporate profits, not its citizens.  California is likely to fight these changes,  with 12 other states expected to follow.  It might end up with 2 sets of standards, one for most of the country, and the second for the California and the allied states.

Regulatory freedom, the right of Americans to choose the gas-guzzlers of their choice, unimpeded by big government will be EPA’s selling points.   Pruitt is expected to make the announcement at a Virginia dealership on Tuesday.   Obama had made auto emissions as strict as California, so auto manufacturers did not have to have two sets of standards for car emissions.

The states allied with California include New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and together account for a third of all car sales, according to the New York Times.  California can legally require high fuel efficiency and lower emission standards based on a waiver granted by the federal government.   Trump can take California to court, to attempt to void the waiver.   He will likely let the car industry know there will be no renewal for the waivers in 2015.

To some extent,  fuel efficiency is likely to improve as gas prices go up because of consumer demand.   Despite all the talk from Washington,  finding new oil is still increasingly more expensive and the rig count has been increasing.   However,  the consumer is not likely to care about tailpipe emissions, well until they have respiratory problems.   Then they are very interested in everyone’s emission.  So,  a newly converted Democrat, is one with breathing problems.

Thus,  a very chaotic situation is about to unfold.    California may win, at least in the short term, as auto manufacturers are not about to produce two sets of cars.   A court battle is inevitable.

It is all about the Trump administration being weak, and caving in to the big auto manufacturers.

“Environmental preservation is our test.  If we pass it, we get to save the planet.”  (ok, I’ve taken a line from Marjory Stoneman Douglas on preserving the Everglades) We can’t expect China, India and the EU to regulate their emissions when we can’t.   It will take a long time to repair Trump’s damage to our standing in the world.

I wanted write more on Pruitt’s new rules on scientific evidence, which rely solely on public information as a way of further weakening the agency.   I’ll leave this for a separate blog.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

NYT:  US Readies a Plan to Blunt Fuel and Emission Rules for Automakers

EPA:  The Love Canal Tragedy

Wikipedia: Love Canal

EPA: Sources of Greenhouse Emissions

Wikipedia:  US Withdraws from the Paris Agreement

Changes in the Administration

I did not  comment on the firing of Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State or Andrew McCabe,  Deputy Director of the FBI.  In both cases, I was really hoping that Trump would not fire them.   Rex Tillerson seemed to be working in the same mode as John Kerry and Hillary Clinton,  with a lot of travel and face to face meetings.   I think this was particularly important. He did not take sides in the Saudi Arabia – Qatar crisis, as Trump had done, but stated we would help facilitate an eventual end to the blockade of Qatar.  He understood the priority should be in Middle East unity in fighting terrorism, and Qatar with a US military base has helped this effort.   Trump on the other hand,  seems to want to intensify the Sunni-Shia rift, siding with the Saudi’s and against Iran.

There are hot spots all over the world, Yemen,  Somalia, Libya and northern Syria.   It is the United States “soft power”  that  helps keep the peace.    Proxy wars intensify as outsiders supply the equipment, making any negotiations more difficult.  Syria, Libya and Yemen are classic proxy wars.  There should be widespread condemnation of massive human rights violations,  the most recent on in the ethnic cleaning in Myanmar of the Rohingya,  the 600,000 survivors of this genocide are now living in Bangladesh.  I don’t think Mike Pompeo is ready to look beyond partisan politics.

There is no question that Andrew McCabe was fired from the FBI, as was Director James Comey, because he was doing his job, and would not be influenced by politics.   Russian meddling in the US elections to help Trump win the elections did happen.   The manner of the firing of Tillerson,  Comey and McCabe,  through Twitter or the media,  showed Trump could a very mean and disrespectful.

Now,  I am very fearful of Trump’s  new administration selections, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State and John Bolton, National Security Adviser.

The most urgent decision is on Iran, and the likely US pull out of the Iran nuclear accord in May 2018.  In the House,  Mike Pompeo led the charge against the Iran Nuclear Deal.  The New Times editorial on John Bolton, was scathing:

Yes, John Bolton is really that bad

The good thing about John Bolton, President Trump’s new national security adviser, is that he says what he thinks.

The bad thing is what he thinks.

There are few people more likely than Mr. Bolton is to lead the country into war. His selection is a decision that is as alarming as any Mr. Trump has made. His selection, along with the nomination of the hard-line C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, as secretary of state, shows the degree to which Mr. Trump is indulging his worst nationalistic instincts.

Mr. Bolton, in particular, believes the United States can do what it wants without regard to international law, treaties or the political commitments of previous administrations.

He has argued for attacking North Korea to neutralize the threat of its nuclear weapons, which could set off a horrific war costing tens of thousands of lives. At the same time, he has disparaged diplomatic efforts, including the talks planned in late May between Mr. Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. He not only wants to abrogate the six-party deal that, since 2015, has significantly limited Iran’s nuclear program; he has called for bombing Iran instead. He has also maligned the United Nations and other multilateral conventions, as Mr. Trump has done, favoring unilateral solutions.

Over a 30-year career in which he served three Republican presidents, including as United Nations ambassador and the State Department’s top arms control official, Mr. Bolton has largely disdained diplomacy and arms control in favor of military solutions; no one worked harder to blow up the 1994 agreement under which North Korea’s plutonium  program was frozen for nearly eight years in exchange for heavy fuel oil and other assistance. The collapse of that agreement helped bring us to the crisis today, where North Korea is believed to have 20 or more nuclear weapons.

The editorial goes on to show how often Bolton dismissed diplomacy and US soft power to create a more peaceful world.  Instead,  the one well woven thread, was that we should use military action to support our objectives, no matter what the consequences were, including international condemnation.  As National Security Adviser, Bolton does not need congressional approval.

One last entry into the White House staff,  is  combative lawyer Joseph diGenova, replacing John Dowd.  As Trump explained, “I’m fucking do it my way”  which is never be defensive,  never apologize, but to launch an aggressive attack on those he considers in his way.   It is more of “do them harm before they can get going at you.”   DiGenova claimed the Russian investigation was all a big conspiracy,  and Donald Trump was being framed.  So, it’s fine to trash the Justice Department, FBI and CIA, as an acceptable defense.  And of course, the mainstream media.

So, we have a case of out with the good or not so bad,  Gen McMasters,  Rex Tillerson, Andrew McCabe, and I guess John Dowd,  and in with the bad to terrible,  John Bolton,  Mike Pompeo and Joseph DiGenova.

I have not added links to this story, as there are many editorials on the White House changes available on the Internet.  The month of May is looking to be particularly  bad, with both the North Korea summit and the Iran Nuclear Deal on the table.

Stay tuned,

Dave

FIU Bridge Collapse

I promised in my last blog that it would be the last one.   Expert bridge engineers  from the National Transportation Safety Board and other organizations are investigating the accident.   The engineering firm, MCM-Fiff,  FIU,  FDOT and other organizations have stated that they will fully cooperate.   I have devoted a separate page on my site to the engineering aspects of the accident,  which will  be updated periodically.   At this point,  video footage shows the first collapse occurred about 25-ft from the north pylon.

Stay tuned

Dave