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Category: Social Commentary

Democrats’ Dangerous Game and Republicans’ Tepid Response

Democrats’ Dangerous Game and Republicans’ Tepid Response

The game the Democrats are playing with the Christine Blasey Ford accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is at least as dangerous as it is disingenuous, and the ramifications of their actions and statements stand to further undermine Constitutional government in the country. Meanwhile, while attempting to bend over backwards to appease Blasey Ford and her supporters, the Republicans are displaying a wishy-washiness bordering on cowardice, aiding the Democrats in their blatantly nefarious scheme and further lowering the public’s assessment of Congress.

Unless you’ve been trapped in a collapsed coal mine somewhere in a remote part of China, you’ve heard almost ad nauseam of the Blasey Ford accusations against the High Court nominee. She was 15, she said, when a boy she identifies as an inebriated 17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh forced himself on her, groped her through her clothing and tried to remove her one-piece swim suit, and covered her mouth to prevent her from screaming. She says she thought her attacker might inadvertently kill her. Kavanaugh denies the incident ever happened, says he never did anything of the sort Blasey Ford is alleging, many women who knew and know him assert such an act would be completely out of character for him, and the one potential witness to the incident, Mark Judge, a friend of Kavanaugh’s, also insists the incident never happened.

Now let’s start with the one clear fact that arises from this whole matter: Other than possibly the accuser and the accused, no one knows what actually did or didn’t happen at that house party 36 years ago. I don’t know, you don’t know, and neither do any of those who have taken up Blasey Ford’s side, saying they know she’s telling the truth. This includes N.Y. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand who demonstrated some sort of miraculous powers of divination when, at a Capitol Hill press conference, Gillibrand confidently trumpeted, “I believe Dr. Blasey Ford because she’s telling the truth. You know it by her story. You know it by the fact that she told her therapist five years ago. She told her husband. This is a trauma she’s been dealing with her whole life. She doesn’t want to be in a bedroom that doesn’t have two doors. People knew that about her a long time ago.”

Apparently the vast majority of women don’t agree with Gillibrand. A poll conducted by the left-leaning Huffington Post found only 25% of a cross section of women believe Blasey Ford’s claims to be credible. That’s three points lower than the percentage of men who found them to be credible. But it’s clear who Gillibrand and others in her camp are appealing to. The same poll found 53% of Democrats found the allegations credible, compared with 4% of Republicans and 19% of independents who did.

In fact, there is plenty of reason to doubt Blasey Ford’s account, including that she can’t remember the year this alleged event took place, she can’t remember how she got to this party or how she got home, and she never told anyone about the incident, never filed a police report, and kept the whole thing a secret until she mentioned it in a couples counseling session, which reportedly took place six years ago, not five. There is no mention of Kavanaugh in the therapist’s notes, parts of which were provided by Blasey Ford to the Washington Post, and those notes of the conversation say there were four boys present while now the accuser says there were two.

I know I am not alone when I say I can recall in vivid detail – detail as if the incidents happened yesterday – various pivotal events in my life. I certainly can recall in such detail incidents that happened when I was 15 and in high school, as was Blasey Ford, and that was not 36 years ago but 53 years ago. I’ve heard and read several accounts this week from others, both men and women, how they also remember key incidents in their lives from many years ago. And this includes women who actually were raped and who question how Blasey Ford can’t recall every detail of this alleged incident. But, as I said, I wasn’t there, no one else other than the accuser and accused and maybe one or three others was there, so anyone who claims otherwise is, to put it politely, either an idiot or someone with an agenda to promote.

And that is where a deeper shadow casts itself across Blasey Ford’s account. There appears to be a very big agenda in play, evidenced by the way Blasey Ford’s allegations were made and how they were handled once they found their way to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Rather then making her allegations known both to Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, as well as committee Chairman Charles Grassley, as would have been reasonable, Blasey Ford sent them only to Feinstein. That was in July. And then Feinstein proceeded to sit on Blasey Ford’s letter for two months. Feinstein now alleges that Blasey Ford didn’t want to go public with her allegations, but of course that changed as soon as Blasey Ford’s allegations could set up a roadblock to Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Feinstein didn’t even come out with the letter during the confirmation hearings and Kavanaugh’s meetings with lawmakers, but she waited until after the hearings were over and a vote on approving Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court was imminent. And then suddenly Feinstein came out with the allegations. Long-time watchers of Supreme Court confirmation hearings have called Feinstein’s actions unprecedented, and worthy of censure. The whole thing stinks of political maneuvering to discredit Kavanaugh and to block his appointment, and that raises questions about Blasey Ford’s motivations as well in this whole affair.

Then we look at the attorney representing Blasey Ford, Debra Katz, who is a big-time political activist and contributor and fundraiser for Democratic candidates – including Hillary Clinton – and with ties to Democratic financier George Soros. A fierce and outspoken critic of President Donald Trump who, of course, nominated Kavanaugh to the top court, Katz has a lot less to say when confronted with political icons on the Democratic side of the aisle who have been accused of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault. These include former President Bill Clinton and now-resigned Senator Al Franken of Minnesota. While expecting us to take Blasey Ford’s allegations at face value, Katz has demeaned Clinton accuser Paula Jones, who alleged that Clinton, at the time Governor of Arkansas, had her brought to a hotel room where he exposed himself to her and pressured her to commit a sex act. Clinton eventually settled with Jones for $850,000, most of which went to her attorneys. About this incident – by no means the first allegation of sexual misconduct, including rape, leveled against Clinton – and calling Jones’s suit “very, very, very weak,” Katz said to CNN, “She’s alleged one incident that took place in a hotel room that, by her own testimony, lasted 10 to 12 minutes. She suffered no repercussions in the workplace.”

Katz also downplayed Franken’s actions, which were even caught on film, saying they didn’t rise to the same level of misconduct alleged against film mogul Harvey Weinstein, further defending Franken to The New York Times, saying, “He did not do this as a member of the U.S. Senate. He did this in his capacity of someone who was still functioning as an entertainer.”

Now consider that, whether true or not, the allegation Blasey Ford has made against Brett Kavanaugh occurred when they were both still in high school. Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised at the Democrats’ double standard. This is the same political party that stood by 37-year-old Massachusetts Sen. Teddy Kennedy, who in July 1969 left a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, to die in his submerged car in Poucha Pond on Chappaquiddick Island rather than jeopardize his political career. There was a time when even some Democrats and the media questioned Kennedy’s actions, but that time seems to have disappeared in the rear-view mirror. Now Katz, Gillibrand, and Hillary Clinton say a woman who accuses a man of sexual misconduct should always be believed. Except, of course, when the accused is a Democrat or otherwise one of their tribe. Or one’s husband.

And then there is Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, who might exist in a class of her own. Hirono, who refused to meet with Kavanaugh when the nominee was going around and sitting down to answer senators’ questions, called Chairman Grassley’s assertion that he had made numerous attempts at contacting Blasey Ford “bullshit,” and then went on to insult all men in the country.

“Guess who’s perpetuating all of these kind of actions? It’s the men in this country,” Hirono told reporters. “And I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up.”

Hirono might as well have said for men to shut up and go sit in the back of the bus and take whatever accusation, no matter how untrue or unfair, is thrown at them. While one can marvel at the kind of bigoted moron who would make a statement like that, it also makes one wonder about the quality and mentality of voters – both male and female – in Hawaii who would send a person of this nature to Washington.

But therein lies the danger of the Democrats’ strategy (if one is to grace their actions with a word as exalted as “strategy”). There seems to be a cynical and calculated effort to discredit not only individual political actors, whether Kavanaugh or Grassley or Trump, or the Republican Party, but to discredit and undermine the very underpinnings of American government. By playing to people’s prejudices and their growing basic lack of knowledge or critical analysis of events, bolstered by a compliant and uncritical mainstream media, they are working to undermine the legitimacy of not only the President and anyone, such as Kavanaugh, nominated by the President, but the framework and processes of all three branches of government. In the process, they risk undermining the legitimacy of Constitutional government itself – of which, of course, they are a part. Already we see revelations of government employees actively conducting a kind of silent coup against duly elected officials, most prominently the President (don’t believe me – listen to the perpetrators of this silent coup in their own words).

It would seem this phenomenon furthers the Dems cause, but ironically much of the effect of this unscrupulous strategy by Party leaders is backfiring on them as it spawns upstarts on the far left who are defeating more traditional Party stalwarts, such as the what we’ve seen happening in New York, Massachusetts, and Florida.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this whole phenomenon comes not from the Democratic side of the aisle, but from the Republican side. While it is understandable that the President and Sen. Grassley want to be seen as reasonable and willing to have Blasey Ford air her allegations, they are bending over so far that they are contributing to undermining the Constitutional order in the process of Senatorial confirmation and, in the case of Grassley, giving away far more than is called for or is useful. The public, when polled, already gives the U.S. Congress a 17% approval rating. The current charade can only further lower that already low view in which the Senate is held, and stringing things along and giving in to the kind of political blackmail Feinstein and Katz and, we have to assume, Blasey Ford intended to inflict does not improve the public’s view of the Legislative Branch.

Negotiation continues to go on between Grassley and Judiciary Committee staff and Blasey Ford, through her attorney Katz. Even if Blasey Ford’s accusations can neither be proven nor disproven, there need not be any doubt about the intents of Katz or Feinstein or Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Their intents are all too obvious. So while Grassley wants to come across as fair – as he should – he should not give away the store in the process. Many of the demands coming from Blasey Ford and her supporters are patently absurd and should be rejected on their face. This includes any call for an FBI investigation, forcing Kavanaugh to make his presentation before Blasey Ford does (I can’t even imagine how that might work, and it completely flies in the face of normal adversarial procedure), or that no attorneys question Blasey Ford (in other words, let’s have the media put on the air how it’s only the “old white men” on the Judiciary Committee – combining ageism with racism with sexism for the Dems, who have no problem with any of these “isms” when they think it will favor their position – considering the veracity, or lack thereof, of Blasey Ford’s allegations).

Now here is how I think Grassley should proceed with moving things forward:

  • He should subpoena Blasey Ford to appear before the Judiciary Committee, preferably on Monday. Enough with this pussy-footing around and negotiating. If she has something to say, let her say it. She’s had 36 years to think this over and so there are no grounds for further delay. This is the U.S. Senate she’s screwing with and the power of the Senate should be brought to bear on her, just as it should be for anyone who has something material to say about a Supreme Court candidate. These are matters of national concern, not the fodder of political game playing.
  • Normal precedence will be followed – Blasey Ford goes first, Kavanaugh goes after her.
  • Every member of the Judiciary Committee should have a right to question both Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh, with the usual time and other limitations in play. And if the committee chairman feels it is necessary, committee attorneys also should have the right to question both parties.
  • The Senate should formally censure Feinstein for seriously interfering with the Senate’s performance of its Constitutional duty and bringing it into “dishonor and disrepute.”
  • And perhaps most crucial of all: There should be no further delay in the confirmation vote on Kavanaugh. It should be held by Thursday or at the latest Friday of this week. And if Blasey Ford refuses to appear or continues to equivocate, then as soon as on Monday.

The Democrats have shown they will resort to almost any sleazy tactic to get their way and block the normal, Constitutionally mandated processes of government and of the Senate. By taking a tepid, half-assed position, Republicans earn no points among their own supporters and risk giving the Dems an advantage they clearly do not deserve. With the legitimacy of public institutions hanging in the balance, this is a time for strength, not weakness, courage, not cowardice.

Image of Debra Katz via CBS and Facebook

What Does a Trillion Dollars Look Like?

What Does a Trillion Dollars Look Like?

Back in the mid-1990s I was posted as Economic and Commercial Officer to the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, Albania. This was the time of the massive pyramid schemes into which most of the small country’s population sunk their funds and, with the schemes’ inevitable collapse, when Albania was brought to anarchy. I sounded the warning of what was going on and what would happen shortly after my arrival in Tirana in mid-1995, and my prediction of when the collapse would commence, in October a year later, was accurate almost to the week. To give proper credit, it was economy watchers in other organizations that brought my attention to the building crisis, though the U.S. Embassy and the State Department were blithely ignorant of what was going on until I started reporting on the schemes, gaining me an instant and very interested audience back in Washington.

In the midst of the schemes’ collapse some of the scheme heads and promoters bandied about references to large sums of money that they had taken in, such as $500 million, or even a billion dollars. This in a country of some 3 million people and a per capita income under $1,000. No one seemed to have any concept of what such amounts really meant or how big a billion dollars was, and many were willing to take the claims at face value. So I took it upon myself to write a piece about what a billion dollars – 1,000 million dollars – look like. You can see that piece here.

Now fast forward to 2018, and we here in the U.S. live in a country where not billions, but trillions of dollars, are bandied about like they’re nothing. Consider that the current federal government debt is $21.48 trillion, with an additional $1.2 trillion in state debt and $1.92 trillion in local government debt bringing total public debt to $24.6 trillion. Consumer debt – credit cards, auto loans, student loans, and personal loans – is approaching $4 trillion, and when mortgage debt is added in, private debt in the U.S. stands at $13.21 trillion. U.S. combined public and private debt, therefore, is nearly $38 trillion. Compare those numbers with the country’s Gross Domestic Product – the total sum of domestic economic activity – of about $20 trillion, or the entire world’s total GDP, known as Gross World Product, or GWP, which in 2014 was $78.28 trillion. That means the U.S. debt ratio is approaching (and sometimes surpasses) double U.S. GDP, and is nearly half of total world economic output. Meanwhile, the federal government budget for the fiscal year that begins October 1 is $4.407 trillion, with a projected deficit of $985 billion, which will be added to the debt.

All that is scary enough on its face, but it still doesn’t tell us what a trillion dollars looks like. So let’s dive into that question and try to put a face on that number.

First, the basics. Just as a billion dollars is 1,000 million dollars, a trillion dollars is 1,000 billion dollars, or 1 million million dollars. That’s a 1 with 12 zeroes after it. Like this: 1,000,000,000,000. So if you’re fortunate enough to be a millionaire, with $1 million in assets, you would just need to multiply your fortune 1,000 times to become a billionaire, or to multiply it 1 million times to become a trillionaire. There aren’t any trillionaires in the world – the world’s richest person is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, worth some $112 billion – but Apple became, at least for awhile, the first contemporary company to surpass $1 trillion in value, based on its stock price, on August 2.

Let’s use some of the same examples I previously used to illustrate a billion dollars, but now to give you some idea of what a trillion dollars look like.

  • Let’s say you go the bank and take out a trillion one-dollar bills. Just for fun, you decide to stretch them out end-to-end. You’d find this to be a tough task since they will stretch some 95,000,000 miles (150,000,000 kms), or 3,800 times around the Earth at the Equator. Actually, since the distance from the Earth to the sun is 93,000,000 miles, you could spread them out across deep space between here and the sun, and a couple million miles on the way back.
  • If you decide you don’t have time for a trip to the sun and part-way back, you ask the bank to give you your trillion dollars in $100 bills, the largest current denomination bill issued by the U.S. Treasury. Laying these notes end-to-end, you’d only have to lay down a trail of 950,000 miles (1,500,000 kms), or a mere 38 times around the Earth at the Equator. If, on the other hand, you’re the space-going type, you’d be able lay them out to the moon and back – twice.
  • Now you go to the bank and just ask the teller to stack your trillion dollars outside. You’ll take them in $100 notes since you don’t have much room in the trunk of your car. You better be prepared, though, for a surprise. Your trillion dollars will stack 631 miles (1,015 kms) high, two and a half times the orbital altitude of the International Space Station. Now if you were to stack the federal budget deficit in $100 bills, you’d have a stack that reaches 13,554 miles (21,813 kms) high. Consider that the Earth’s diameter at the Equator is just 7,900 miles (12,714 kms), and you’ll have some idea of the scale of this. You see now why you had best not ask for your trillion dollars in singles, which would stack 63,100 miles (101,500 kms) high, almost eight times the polar diameter of the Earth. Now multiply that by 21.48 – the number of trillions in the federal budget deficit – and . . . well, you get the idea.
  • Okay, I get it. These dimensions are hard to picture. You’re more the saving type, so let’s see how long it will take you to save a trillion dollars. Notionally, you earn the average (median) U.S. national individual income of around $32,000. Since your spouse fully supports you, and you’re good at not paying any taxes, you’re able to stash away all $32,000. Hopefully patience is one of your stronger characteristics, since it will take you a mere 31 million years – 31,250,000 years, to be exact – to save $1 trillion. Of course, that could pose a problem. Humans in their current form have been on the planet only about 200,000 years. Humanoid ancestors were around about 6 million years ago. So you’re falling short by more than a factor of five of all human and proto-human life on Earth.
  • Now let’s say you’re doing a whole lot better than that and you can save $50,000, not in a year, but in a day. That means you can sock away $18,250,000 a year. In that case, it would only take you 54,794 years to save $1 trillion. If you were to save long enough to pay off all the public and private debt in the U.S., at $50,000/day it would take you 2,071,761 years, more or less, to get the pink slip on the debt. Kind of puts that 30-year mortgage into perspective, doesn’t it?
  • Forget saving. That’s not your style. You’re more the spending type, as is your spouse. You’re among the lucky one percenters, together earning $400,000 a year. You decide to spend it all (taxes be damned), and are aiming to spend a cool $1 trillion. Well, that would only take you a quarter million years – that’s 250,000 years.
  • Let’s say you’re the lucky type, instead. The very lucky type. Starting the year Christ was born, you buy a lottery ticket that miraculously wins and nets you $500 million every single year. You put away that $500 million prize, and the next $500 million prize, and the 1,998 $500 million prizes after that, and you finally reach $1 trillion in winnings – 18 years ago. Two thousand years after your winning streak began, your trillion dollars will go to your distant heirs.
  • Looking at things from a different perspective, the current U.S. federal budget deficit equates to more than $65,950 in debt for every one of the 325.7 million men, women, and children living in the U.S. Adding in all the other debt, and the burden becomes more than $116,000 per every single capita. Again, keep in mind that the average adult annual income is just about $32,000, and average U.S. household income is about $59,000.

So now you have some idea what a trillion dollars looks like. And if that isn’t enough to freak you out, or at minimum give you cause for pause, I don’t know what would.

If you have some other illustrations, please post them here in your comments.

Repeat Posting: Thoughts on “the Longest Day in the World”

Repeat Posting: Thoughts on “the Longest Day in the World”

This piece initially appeared a year ago, on June 21, 2017, the Summer Solstice. Today it is once more the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and the actual solstice officially took place at 6:07 a.m. EDT/10:07 UTC this morning. The time and other references and weather comments in the piece are as they were last year, when the post first appeared. I hope you enjoy it.

It’s June 21, the day of the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a day that holds various meanings for different peoples, and its significance goes back millennia. The solstice, whether summer or winter, officially took place at 12:24 a.m. U.S. Eastern Daylight Time this morning, or 04:24 UTC.

Just to set the record straight and dispel any questions about my scientific knowledge, I know it’s not the longest day in the world. It’s the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day in the Southern Hemisphere. But we’ll get to this a bit later.

It’s been a mixed bag today here on the West Coast of Florida. We’ve been having a lot of rain, something we didn’t have much of over the winter, and the rainy times are interspersed with sunny breaks. Right now, as I look out the window of my boat, the sun is mostly out but I’m looking at the light through rain-drop spattered glass. At least we’re not getting the effects of Tropical Storm Cindy, which is much further west and at this moment dumping lots of water on the upper Gulf Coast.

In this country, the summer solstice marks the official beginning of summer, though in other places and other cultures it marks the middle of summer, as indicated by the name Midsummer Night, which can occur anywhere from the 20th to the 24th of June. And really it is midsummer, since the days, which have been lengthening since the equinox three months ago, now will start to grow shorter, the nights longer.

The sun has reached its apogee in this hemisphere, as it stands today directly over the Tropic of Cancer. I feel summer ending, we already are on the downhill side, the side that will take us through the hot coming months but already on the slide back into winter, the cold time of year. Just as in the Southern Hemisphere the days will begin to grow longer as the seasons move back to summer.

A year ago on this day I was in Alaska, where there never really was a night. Where I was, well below the Arctic Circle, the sun went down sometime around midnight, but there was a kind of twilight that lasted until the sun rose again a few hours later. Above the Arctic Circle on this day, the sun never sets, and it truly is the Land of the Midnight Sun.

My thoughts turn to other things on this day. Someone asked me the other day, which was Father’s Day in the U.S., what thoughts I had of my father on that Sunday. But really, I think of Father’s Day as a commercial holiday. I also remember the last Father’s Day I had with my father, and how my mother did her unwitting best to create conflict between me and my father. While I may wish a happy day to the fathers I know on Father’s Day, it is today, the day of the solstice, that I think of my father. June 21 was his birthday, which in most years coincides with the solstice. I was told as a child that it was the longest day of the year, which I translated in my own way into it being the longest day in the world, and I would go around telling everyone who would listen that it was.

“It’s the longest day in the world!” I’d exclaim each year on his birthday, from morning until night.

I think today of my father on this day, the 21st of June. Gone now, for nearly 48 years. And I think back to the day of his birth, June 21, 1913. One hundred and four years ago. Even had he not died young as he did, just 56 years old, it is hard to imagine that he would still be alive today had he not died when he did. A prolongation of the inevitable.

A factoid I learned earlier is that today is not the longest day in the history of the world, as one might imagine it to be given that the earth’s rotation on its axis generally was slowing. Rather, the longest day in the history of the world is believed to be June 21, 1912, and things like the earth’s tides and recession of the glaciers have caused a slight increase in the rate of the planet’s rotation since then. My father was born a year later, which arguably could have been the second or third longest day in the history of the world, if not the actual longest day in the world.

I wonder what it was like on that June day, the day of the solstice, the longest day of the year, the day my father was born, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Did his father and mother, his Italian parents, my grandparents that I never knew, know it was the solstice? Did they even know of the solstice? Regardless, I’m inclined to think they did not think of it, if for no other reason than that they had something else on their mind that day. And then I think of the things people from then knew and were taught and how many of those things have been lost today, in these encroaching new Dark Ages in which we find ourselves, and I have to wonder. Perhaps they knew, better than most people today know. Or care to know. And they did note the auspicious day on which their son was born.

I’ll think of my father again on July 27, the anniversary of his death, and by then even our summer, the summer as we define it, will be half over.

The solstices, like the equinoxes, serve as a kind of punctuation for me. I watch the ebb and the flow of the days, the seasons, the years, and they mark the passage of time, time that increasingly slips by way too quickly. All of life is punctuation, I think. Slowing. Stopping. Breaking things, even waves on the water, into different parts, different pieces, different rhythms and fugues and movements and phrases and sentences. It is through such punctuation that we mark our lives, mark our transit through summer and back into winter, from day into night, from life into death. Watching, as a reader of a story does, while the time of our lives flows past. When we lose that punctuation, everything blends into one big mass, and we feel lost in the current, flailing and drowning as we’re pulled inexorably along. At least I do.

Enjoy this song, which I found today amid my files, and with which I end this post, and enjoy the time that nature and life give us.

This piece also appears on Medium. Follow me there, and here.

The Orchestrated Smoke Screen on the Southern Border

The Orchestrated Smoke Screen on the Southern Border

I had resolved not to fall for the smoke screen that as been raised in the media about children being separated from their parents on the southern border, and here I am about to deal with it.

I call it a smokescreen since it’s pretty obvious that it has been raised at this time and in this way to distract attention away from the hearings going on in Congress this week over the Inspector General’s report detailing unprecedented corruption and malfeasance within the FBI, beginning with the Hillary Clinton email so-called investigation.

I’m not going to ignore that report or those hearings, but the din over the children on the border has gotten to the point where it’s virtually impossible not to deal with it, and there is so much utter nonsense and dishonesty embedded in the blather that it offends the senses of anyone even vaguely familiar with what is going on. So, despite my best intents, here I am discussing the border issue. The other, no less important, issue will have to wait for a subsequent posting. Okay, let’s get going with this.

No matter where you come down on the question of whether children should or shouldn’t be separated from their parents when the parents are apprehended for crossing the border illegally, if for even a moment you think this isn’t an orchestrated crisis, I have several hundred miles of border fence I’d like to sell you at a very good price. Neither the timing nor the volume nor the shrillness of the cries nor ferocity of chest beating and rending of garments over this latest border crisis isn’t without behind-the-scenes orchestration.

To establish where I’m coming from on this, I will cite my background as a U.S. consular officer posted to what is called a high-fraud post. That’s a post that gets a high percentage of fraudulent visa applications. It was awhile back and in a different part of the world, but I saw lots of fraud and lots of tactics used by people who would enter and stay illegally in the U.S. And much of what I saw can be applied to interpreting the current situation, including how people would use and abuse their children when their goal was entry to the U.S.

Let’s start with the issue of political asylum, since a big part of the media angst has been over children separated from parents seeking political asylum in the U.S. And let’s start with the facts and not the emotions. For a moment, let’s assume (and it’s a big assumption) that someone has bona fide grounds for seeking political asylum. According to the international standard, they should seek asylum in the first country they come to where they might find protection. In this case, for those coming from Central America, that would be Mexico. But these people are not seeking asylum in Mexico. They want to declare it in the U.S., which is a long way from the countries in which they originate.

Next thing: If you wish to declare yourself as a political asylee, you do it at a port of entry. A regular border crossing. You are showing yourself openly as having a legitimate reason why you should be admitted to the country. But most of these alleged asylum seekers are crossing the southern border illegally, like any other border jumper. Then when they’re caught by the Border Patrol they say they are seeking political asylum. Well, they can say anything they want, can’t they? If they got away with entering the country illegally and managed to make it to the hinterlands, for one moment do you think many, if any, would then apply for political asylum? I highly doubt it.

When I was at that aforementioned high-fraud post, we received a communication from someone at the State Department in Washington. They explained they weren’t supposed to do this, but thought we needed to have something brought to our attention, which was that many of the people we were issuing visitor visas to were declaring political asylum once they got to the U.S. This person in the Department also sent copies of the letters that were filed on behalf of these “asylees,” and every single one of them had been typed on the same typewriter (this was back when typewriters, which had distinctive characteristics, still roamed the earth), were all worded the same, and were all put out by the same bottom-feeder immigration attorney in San Francisco. That was bad enough, but the country we were in and from which these “asylees” hailed had then none of the conditions that would justify a claim of political asylum. Let me just say we tightened up considerably on our already tight visa-issuance consideration standard.

I think it would be naive to assume that all these people showing up across the southern border and declaring political asylum just spontaneously came there. Let’s not forget that a few years ago the Obama Administration put out word on the radio and in the newspapers in Central America telling people what they needed to do to get to the U.S. so they, too, could declare political asylum. More on that period a bit later. But clearly there is something more than just chance behind this latest wave of arrivals.

As for the question about whether children should be separated from their parents, that is one especially prone to emotional responses. Assuming the adults are the children’s parents – which not all are – personally I think it’s not a great policy and generally think it can lead to more problems than it avoids. That said, let’s not be Pollyannish about this whole thing.

One has to wonder what leads a parent to put their children through the danger of a long journey through a country like Mexico, to put them at the mercy of coyotes who exploit and abuse and rape and even kill immigrants, and in some cases to put the children up on the roof of a train for a journey of several days and nights. And then those same parents take their children across the Rio Grande or into the Arizona and New Mexico desert, and all the dangers entailed in that. These are all things that might be considered, in calmer moments, child abuse, and would have the parents charged by CPS and the children taken away from them. I mean, parents have been charged with abuse for letting their kids walk home unaccompanied from school in the suburbs, and yet there are those who would defend these egregious practices that can lead to death and serious injury for the children. What is wrong with these people?

Let me tell you another tale from my consular posting, if you have any delusions about how some parents will exploit and abuse their children to get themselves into the U.S. We handled immigrant visa applications for citizens of a neighboring country which had, at the time, the highest overstay rate in the U.S. That’s the rate at which people arrive with valid visas and then don’t leave when their stay is up.

Adults from this particular country – and I’m sure it’s not the only country in which this occurs – would get a visitor visa, go to the U.S., and stay for years until their numbers for immigrant visas came up, based on some family relation or another. At that point they would have to leave the U.S., go back to their home country, and go through a visa interview, which is where I would come in. Meanwhile, these folks would leave their children behind while they were overstaying in the U.S. to be raised by the children’s grandparents in the home country. We’re not talking a few weeks or months here. We’re talking several, even many, years, so the children who might have been infants when the parents abandoned them were pretty well grown into preteens and teens by the time their parents returned to claim them. I had no compunction against asking those children, in the visa interviews I conducted, how they felt about being abandoned like that by their parents. I can tell you, most of them weren’t too happy about it. And for their part, all the parents could do was squirm in their seats and grin stupidly. Frankly, I thought it was disgraceful, and I had no problem telling the parents that. Unfortunately, this kind of child abandonment wasn’t grounds for denying them the visas they sought.

That was bad enough. But what do you say about a parent who would subject their children to the kinds of risks that they face on the trip north to the U.S., or once they cross the border? Those opposing the Administration’s policies seem to be silent on the topic.

The numbers in the current “crisis” don’t come anywhere near the numbers of unaccompanied minors and family units that overran the southern border back in 2013, 2014, and 2015, under the Obama Administration. Currently, we’re talking about a few thousand children and families. Compare that with fiscal year 2013 when, according to U.S. Border Patrol statistics, 38,759 unaccompanied minors showed up on the southern border. Or the next fiscal year, when the number of unaccompanied minors swelled to 68,541. Meanwhile, “family unit apprehensions” numbered 14,855 in FY 2013 and 68,445 in FY 2014. Do you recall the kind of outcry then that we’re seeing now? I don’t. I do remember the images of what the detention centers looked like at that time, and I have to agree with what President Trump had to say about them.

“You look at the images from 2014,” the President said, “I was watching this morning and they were showing images from 2014 and they blow away what we’re doing today. I saw images that were horrible.”

If you watched Fox News at the time, as I did, you would have been shocked at what you saw nightly. You might not even have seen those images if you watched some of the other media. Those same media that are screaming about what is happening now.

Which leads us to the conclusion that this current outcry, along with being a smoke screen, is politically motivated. It’s one more – pardon the expression – trumped-up offense the Dems think they can pin on the President. The angst and tenor of some of the rhetoric is over the top. And then, when the President relents and signs an executive order stopping the separation of children from their parents, the Dems aren’t happy with that, either. Anything short of releasing all those who cross the border illegally into the general population, never to be seen again (and ostensibly to eventually become Democratic voters, the real goal), won’t appease them. Just keep moving the goal posts and criticizing the Administration and claiming there is nothing you can do about it by getting serious about passing meaningful immigration legislation, and you can fool at least some of the people.

Many of the anecdotes coming out of all the hysteria would be amusing, were they not so serious. A bit of levity did, however, come on the news Tuesday evening when Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Senator Bill Nelson, the valedictorian and salutatorian of Democratic hubris and grandstanding in the Sunshine State, whined about not being granted access to a youth detention center in Hialeah, Fla.

Balderdash” – I’m not making this up – is the word Nelson actually used to describe what he had been told in being turned away. Obviously they thought they could just barge their way into the facility and then use it to make political hay. Or, more likely, they knew all along they wouldn’t be granted entry without going through the usual channels. Whatever. Are people naive enough not to see through this sort of thing? I fear they are. However else can these people get elected to office?

Then we have actor Peter Fonda (remember him? Easy Rider? What, 1969?) urging the kidnapping of the President’s young son, Barron, and placing him in a cage with pedophiles. Now if you, kind reader, or I were to make that sort of goad I can just about guarantee that we’d be paid a visit by the Secret Service or the FBI. I wonder what will happen in Fonda’s case, even with First Lady Melania Trump referring him to the Secret Service for investigation. Oh, he’s issued an apology. So sincere, I am sure. Like his calls for raping DHS Kirstjen Nielsen and other tasteless tweets that, were he not of the leftist persuasion, would bring down outrage. Instead we get the sound of crickets from that side of the political divide.

And then there was the near riot that broke out when DHS Secretary Nielsen was cornered inside a DC restaurant – it’s hard to ignore the irony of it being a Mexican restaurant, an irony not lost on those organizing the demonstration, either – by a shouting, jeering mob of Washington Democratic Socialists. So much for democratic discourse and tolerance amid the orchestrated hysteria (a call to the demonstration was put out in a series of tweets).

Finally, one can only wish that someone on the Democratic side of the aisle would call for an end to the offensive references comparing the Administration’s border policy to Nazi Germany and the round-up of U.S. citizens of Japanese decent during the Second World War. Really? Concentration camps? But that’s not going to happen, since some of those offensive references are coming literally from – surprise! – that side of the aisle.

Okay, I’ve said my piece, for now, on this subject. I can almost predict that all the frenzy will blow over as soon as the hearings on the FBI and the abuse of power that went on within it are over. We’ll get to that matter in due course. Meanwhile, don’t believe much of what you see and hear in the media maelstrom centered on the southern border which, I assure you, is more about putting up a smoke screen than anything really to do with the children.

Learning From the Mice, Dammit

Learning From the Mice, Dammit

For anyone that doesn’t know, I live on a boat. As life aboard often holds, there are events and occurrences – usually unexpected and mostly unwanted – that crop up from time to time, ranging from electrical emergencies to a non-functioning pump, from rain leaks to other kinds of leaks. Fortunately, though, I’ve been spared the bane of rodents taking up residence on the vessel, something that is not unknown to boaters. Until recently, anyway.

I first became aware that I might not be alone a couple weeks ago when, in the darkness and quiet of the middle of the night, I was awakened by what sounded very much like chewing. The chewing of little teeth on who knew what, in another and distant part of the boat.

My hope that what I heard was imaginary or was one of those transient boat noises that usually can be explained began to evaporate when I started finding subtle signs that something unwanted was aboard. And finally that hope disappeared altogether when one morning I found the plastic top of an oatmeal container quite thoroughly chewed up. I definitely was not alone.

Day-by-day more evidence of a stowaway began to pile up. It was no longer possible to just ignore this interloper, and there was no hope it would just go away. I was unsure whether I was dealing with a rat or a mouse, though when I began to find stowaway poop I became more convinced that this was a mouse. Or, more likely, mice. Now, given a choice, I wouldn’t want either rats or mice aboard, but between the two, I’d pick the latter.

My foray into the world of rodent traps and poisons and all the rest began at a Super Walmart on the way back from a tiny house show at the Florida State Fair Grounds. While they didn’t have anything equivalent to a live-catch trap, there were some high-tech “quick-kill” traps, along with a range of more conventional mouse and rat traps, poisons, glue strips, and high-pitched sonic devices that claimed to make the pests nuts and drive them away. Thinking that technology would get the better of these small-brained critters, I opted for the high-tech traps, as well as one traditional and huge rat trap, in case I had misjudged what I was dealing with.

Well, you know how they say pride cometh before a fall? Well, that might be the moral of my story, that night and many nights to come. I loaded up my high-tech traps with oatmeal (which the critters had already shown a preference for) and (falling for the old, though not necessarily accurate, cliché) some cheese. I set them out in places the creatures seemed to frequent, turned out the light that night, and headed to bed, visions of trapped mice lurking in my head.

Well, that’s the only place there were trapped mice, since the next morning the mice had completely ignored the high-tech traps, preferring to tear up the paper wrapping on yet another oatmeal container, chewing through the plastic top of that one, too. At that point, I castigated myself for falling for some British high-tech trap that might or might not work on Euro mice but had no apparent attraction for American ones. Now it would be war, and we were going to go low-tech and count on good old American spring traps to get the little bastards. Or so I thought.

I went online and found a site that described seven mistakes commonly made in trying to trap rodents. I followed that guidance (well, six points of it, anyway – I decided I didn’t have time to put out unset traps for a few nights for the mice to get used to them) and did the things the site recommended. I set four low-tech traps and four middle-tech traps to join the three high-tech ones. I was now up to 11 traps of four different types. The mice wouldn’t stand a chance.

Just as I was climbing into my berth in the aft stateroom that night, I heard a huge crash that originated forward in the dinette area. When I went to look, I saw the rodents had knocked over several of my champagne flutes, breaking one. Now the creatures, still not visible, had joined the fray, and I went back to the berth and to sleep with the rodents very much on my mind. So much so that I dreamt that I heard traps going off in the night, and in the morning I found squashed mice in the traps. I pictured taking their semi-liquefied remains to the railing and dropping them overboard. Ah, victory, sweet victory.

In my dreams. The reality that confronted me when I awoke the next morning was something different. Entirely different. Not a single trap had been sprung, but the mice had had a fine old time making a mess of things. My victory was all a mirage that took place in my sleeping mind. I could almost hear the mice, or whatever the hell they were, laughing at me. If you’ve ever seen Roadrunner cartoons, you know how Wile E. Coyote plots endlessly to catch the Roadrunner, but the Roadrunner beats him at his own game every time. I was now thinking of myself as Wile E. Coyote, and the Roadrunner was winning.

Now it was time to pull out all the stops. Another foray to find more, and more kinds, of traps, which I did at Lowe’s this time. I escalated to 17 traps of six different varieties, all over the galley area. It was a veritable minefield out there. The little bastards couldn’t walk across it without setting off a trap. I even put out the giant rat trap, in case I was dealing with something bigger than a mouse, and almost lost a few fingers when trying to set it, sending peanut butter flying all over the place. Why don’t they put warnings on these things?

Well, the Roadrunner won the next round, too. Somehow the mice or whatever they were found their way through the minefield. They even set off one of the low-tech traps, flipping it upside down, but there was nothing in it when I looked. That morning I consulted with someone who is something of an expert on capturing rodents, and he suggested coffee cans with torn-up toilet paper in the bottom. The idea being that the mice would climb or fall into the cans and then not be able to get out. Sounded like a neat solution, one he said worked for him. Meanwhile I was receiving such suggestions as getting a cat (but then, I retorted, I’d be left with a cat, and I didn’t know which was worse), poison (which doesn’t always work and, if it did, might leave me with dead mice squirreled away in some obscure place smelling up the boat for weeks), and using such things of dubious efficacy as the sound devices and glue strips. I thought of getting a gun and blowing the critters away, but the fear of blasting a hole in the hull with more severe consequences than those caused by some rodents deterred me from that.

Besides, between the traps and the coffee cans, something had to work. Clearly, I had overwhelming deadly force on my side, so I would win and the rodents would lose, right? Hmmm, as it turned out, not so much. Meanwhile, I had taken to telling myself not to dream of mice before going to sleep, not wishing to raise more false images of success.

Wile E, Coyote’s first victory came yesterday morning. When I got up, I found all three of the high-tech traps sprung, but nothing in any of them. What the hell? And that’s when – picture my surprise – I saw it, the small gray critter crouching on the shelf down below the oatmeal containers. It appeared to be injured, probably from one of the traps, but it was loose and not entrapped. I’m not much of a rodent expert (in case you haven’t figured that out yet), and my estimate was that either it was a big mouse or a very small rat. Probably a big mouse. I managed to sequester this cowering little beast, whatever it was, in one of those coffee cans, and put the top on it. By the time I was done, the whole dinette area looked like a war zone, littered with chewed cereal boxes, traps, torn paper, and the results of general rodent war entropy.

I later took the sequestered thing off to an abandoned shed nearby that was the territory of a bunch of feral cats. They would know what do to with it. But when I checked later in the day, not a cat was to be seen, the furry critter was curled up sleeping where I had left it, and I didn’t know what to do. Okay, maybe the cats would be back after dark. It was now Wile E. Coyote 1, Roadrunner 8. At least it wouldn’t be a shut-out.

Last night I heard a trap snap. It was one of the original high-tech traps, and when I went to move it, there was a small mouse – now I was positive it was a mouse, not a rat – caught in it, seemingly caught by the face fur. It appears the mice are faster than the traps which, I assure you, are very fast, just not fast enough. I took the trap to the aft rail, lifted the snap bar, and let the mouse fall overboard. I didn’t know what to expect, but when it hit the water the thing started swimming like crazy. Back toward the boat. In the darkness it wasn’t clear what happened to it, but I hope when it finally got to shore it had enough mouse sense not to try to re-board the boat. Okay, now it was Wile E. Coyote 2, Roadrunner 8.

A little later I heard more traps snap. I went to look, and all three of the high-tech traps had been tripped, but nary a mouse was in any of them. That’s when I saw another of the furry beasts, sitting there pretending like it had been injured. But when I went to sequester it like its brethren earlier in the day, it showed itself to be anything but injured, and it took off running, crossed the dinette table at record speed, and then disappeared as if into space. In case you don’t know, there are about a million hiding places on a boat, and as many finger holes and other ways into these hiding places, and this guy knew exactly how to take advantage of one of those finger holes. So I set some traps loaded with peanut butter and chocolate chips right next to the more likely holes through which the escapee would have to come up. Bring it on, baby, bring it on.

Later, another snap. One of the traps I set near the holes had been tripped, turned upside down and spewing more peanut butter around. It didn’t look like a mouse had been trapped, but at that hour I really didn’t care to look. More prepared this morning, I finally lifted the trap and, not to great surprise, all that was in it was some residual peanut butter. But no mouse.

Somehow the little bastards managed to trip more of the high-tech traps without getting caught and didn’t go near any of the others besides the one tripped near the finger hole on the floor. They also seemed to be extending their territory, and today I am finding mouse poop in places it had never been before, beyond the dinette and galley. Later, I went to that shed to check on the mouse I had relocated yesterday, and thankfully it was gone. Probably some predator, a cat, a raccoon, a bird, maybe even a rat, did what predators do. That’s the way of nature. But meanwhile I had lost further ground, and now the score stands at Wile E. Coyote 2, Roadrunner 10. A betting person would have his money on the Roadrunner, though I’m not about to throw in the towel, even if we have to go into overtime.

So what, perhaps you ask, have I learned from my battle with these little beasts? One thing, I can say, is how clever they are. Now I’m not about to give them credit for having some sort of superior intelligence, but they are certainly clever and seem capable of learning about dangers (in the form of traps) and how to outsmart them (with their seemingly amazingly speedy reflexes) and to drive their involuntary human hosts nuts (as I’ve described). I might say they’re arguably more clever than some people I’ve known. I’ve also learned they are resilient, and are not deterred either by the adversity posed by a human or the risk of death or capture. And I’ve learned that they are pretty good swimmers, even after being released into chilly brackish water from the jaws of a trap, and they know which way to swim to get to shore.

Like many other life forms deemed lesser to us, whether rodents, bacteria, viruses, cockroaches, moths, mosquitoes, or terrorists, they just keep going and going and going. I’ve watched videos where mice climb over dead compatriots to get to the peanut butter, and the unquenchable pursuit of their own perceived self-interest seems to be hard-wired into them. There is no time for hand (or paw) wringing, no time for tears, no time for fear. Just keep going, survive, look out for yourself above all others, and in that way the species survives.

I don’t know how much applicability all this has for our own survival, but I’m confident there is some. The drive to keep moving, to not let emotion get in the way of doing the necessary, the ability to use clever, if simple, means to outfox our opponents, are all useful human survival techniques. And the overwhelming determination to survive above all else is one of those qualities that we see among human survivors, just as I’ve seen it in the mice.

I can’t say that I have any affection for these little beasts, but I have developed a certain respect for them, as one can learn to respect a worthy opponent. I’m determined to overcome them and rid the boat, my domain, of them, but it is going to take more effort and more cleverness, by far, than initially I had bargained for.

One other thing I think I have learned is that the way to beat a mouse is through its appetite, which appears to be the one weak link in the species’ survival instinct. The willingness of the mice to play Russian roulette with the traps just to get at a drop of peanut butter or a carrot slice will ultimately prove to be their undoing. It may take just the right trap, just the right bait, and just the right set of circumstances to slow a mouse’s reaction time or the ability to extricate itself from the path of the trap bar, and it loses.

Now I’m feeling hungry as I contemplate this last point on the Mouse War learning curve, and I think about how much trouble appetite and hunger can get us into. While I won’t have to dodge a kill bar to sate my appetite, not this time, anyway, it’s another lesson, for sure, of the mice to be learned, and absorbed.