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Why It’s Become Impossible to Vote for Democrats

Why It’s Become Impossible to Vote for Democrats

I consider myself an independent. To my recollection, I have never registered with any party in the half century in which I have been voting. For many years I felt my journalistic ethics prevented me from choosing one party over another. More recently, my frustrations with the various parties and the state of the American political system in general have continued to make it difficult to cast my lot with any one party.

Over the years I have voted for what I felt was the better candidate. In my younger years that usually, but by no means always, translated to the Democratic candidate. In more recent years, as my views evolved and the Democratic Party seemed to stray further and further from my values, my choices more commonly translated to voting for the Republican candidate. And in between and occasionally, despairing of both major parties, I have voted for the Libertarian candidate, who often has represented my views best even knowing there was virtually no chance that candidate would be elected.

Now, while I still won’t identify as a Republican, after Thursday’s travesty in the Senate Judiciary Committee and seeing the despicable, dishonest, and blatantly political behavior of the 10 Democratic senators on the committee, I believe it has become impossible for me to vote for any Democratic candidate, in any race, in any locale, ever. I don’t like using words like “evil” when it comes to political behavior, but what I witnessed on the tube during the grilling of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by the Democratic senators I feel qualifies as just that – evil. What’s more, I cannot see how any right-thinking, fair person of good will could ever support or vote for one of those people or support a party that would orchestrate – as was absolutely clear was the case – such a display of utter mindless political barbarity. Certainly not me. As of Thursday afternoon, I’m out.

A big part of my antipathy stems from my feelings on hypocrisy. I’ve never been able to stomach hypocrisy, regardless the party or source from which it stemmed. But it was hard to hold down my lunch observing the unbridled hypocrisy on display on the Democratic side of the committee dais.

Here is how Merriam-Webster defines hypocrisy:

a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not : behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel

especially : the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion ”

Let’s run down the list of the most egregious cases of hypocrisy on display Thursday:

  • Dianne Feinstein, Senator from California, Ranking Member of the Minority. Feinstein received the letter from accuser Christine Blasey Ford in July and sat on in for two months. She did not mention it to the committee or committee chairman, she did not mention it to Judge Kavanaugh in her meeting with him, she did not request an FBI or any other kind of investigation of it, and she did not mention it at any point during the intensive confirmation hearings Judge Kavanaugh went through. Instead, she waited until after the process was completed and the appointment was set to go to a vote, and then suddenly she produced the letter, demanded an FBI investigation, and claimed she hadn’t gone public with it to protect Ms. Blasey Ford’s privacy (this is a whole other can of worms, but we’ll get to that a bit later in this posting). The Senate should censure Feinstein for the outrageous way she handled the whole matter.
  • Richard Blumenthal, Senator from Connecticut. Watching Blumenthal challenging Kavanaugh was, to put it politely, revolting. This fraud repeatedly lied about his military record during the Vietnam War, referring on several times during his electoral campaign to his service in Vietnam and what it was like coming back home from the war. The only problem with that was that Blumenthal never served in Vietnam. After receiving five draft deferments, and with conscription closing in on him, he enlisted in the Marine Reserve, meaning he was safe and sound in the U.S. and would never see combat, nor anything else, in Vietnam. Without faulting him for staying out of a war many people, including this author, sought to steer clear of, the issue is with how he deliberately lied and misconstrued his military service. His lies (which he explained by saying he had “misspoken”) were revealed by The New York Times, which noted that, while he had uttered them so many times they had become part of the news record in Connecticut, “It does not appear that Mr. Blumenthal ever sought to correct those mistakes.” Blumenthal at the time was the attorney general of the Nutmeg State, which would seem to carry a high bar for integrity. Blumenthal clearly lacked, and lacks, that integrity. Regardless, we can lay the blame for sending this fraud to the Senate on the voters of Connecticut, who elected him despite the falsehoods he plied on them. As is said, we get the government we deserve. Or, in this case, even less.
  • Mazie Hirono, Senator from Hawaii. This is another senator that makes one wonder how the voters of her state could ever send such a low figure to the Senate. Hirono showed her sexism last week with her own words, which I hope are henceforth always tied to her: “Guess who’s perpetuating all of these kind of actions? It’s the men in this country. And I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up.” That was bad enough, but it wasn’t the only thing Hirono said or did that underscores Hirono’s hypocrisy. She actually sent out a fundraising email 30 minutes into Blasey Ford’s testimony before the committee, seeking to garner donations for her political campaign off the back of someone she believed suffered sexual assault. When the faux pas was realized, Hirono’s crack team sent out a second email apologizing for the first one, saying any funds raised would be donated to “organizations helping survivors of sexual assault.”
  • Dick Durbin, Senator from Illinois. Now what can we say about “Dirty Dick,” a serial liar, or the voters who keep sending him back to the Senate? Dick Durbin is going to question someone’s veracity? Really? One can’t make these things up.
  • Kamala Harris, Senator from California. Harris distinguishes herself by browbeating and rudely speaking over white men giving testimony. She did this last year with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then Homeland Security Secretary and later the President’s Chief of Staff, Gen. John Kelly, and NSA Director Mike Rogers, and she did it again Thursday with Brett Kavanaugh. Harris, who has presidential aspirations, is known for protecting prosecutorial misconduct when she was California Attorney General, and while she is quick to criticize sexual harassment, she got her start and some cushy jobs as the 29-year-old mistress of Willie Brown, the married 60-year-old mayor of San Francisco who was then overseeing what is viewed as one of that city’s most corrupt administrations. There is so much corrupt and hypocritical about Harris one could write an entire piece, but we’ll let it go at this for now. As for the voters who sent Harris to Washington, she has said California is the future of the country. Let’s hope not.

While all the Democrats, as well as the Republicans, on the committee showed the highest respect for Ms. Blasey Ford – as well they should have – once it was Judge Kavanaugh’s turn to be heard, the Democrats turned into a pack of jackals, attacking him, challenging his veracity, asking him the most banal and minute questions about when he was a high school student, and demanding repeatedly that he call for an FBI investigation of himself and the allegations. Kavanaugh for his part called the Democrats’ actions for what they were, a “calculated and coordinated political hit.”

The irony of the Democrats’ clearly orchestrated campaign meant that any chance of a fair hearing for either Blasey Ford or Kavanaugh was lost. Even if one was persuaded to believe Blasey Ford, it was impossible to take her testimony out of the context of the Dems intent to derail Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation. And that same intent to derail his candidacy meant there was no fair chance given to Kavanaugh or his rebuttal of the accusations made against him, and he was forced into the impossible position of having to prove a negative. I’m inclined to think raising his voice and crying while making his statement, and later his growing belligerence at the Dems’ questions, didn’t enhance Kavanaugh’s position, but neither did it give us any real insights into the veracity or lack thereof in his statements.

Repeatedly we heard how Blasey Ford had made a compelling and credible presentation, but I’m sorry, I heard nothing of substance from her that we didn’t already know. She still was unable to state exactly where this alleged attack took place, how she got to or from the house in question (which the Arizona prosecutor, Andrea Mitchell, that the Republican senators relied on to question Blasey Ford and, at least at the outset, Kavanuagh, established was some 7 miles from Blasey Ford’s home), or the names of any other parties who could have corroborated her allegations. I don’t usually like to agree with political commentator Dick Morris, but I have to concur with his assessment of Blasey Ford as a “very damaged woman.” While something at some time somewhere might have happened to her, it was not at all clear that it was what she has accused Brett Kavanaugh of doing. I come back to my contention in my previous posting that we might never know what did, or did not, happen between Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh, and for someone to pretend they do know is absurd.

Perhaps the most contentious and most questionable issue concerns Feinstein’s insistence that she had not shared Blasey Ford’s accusations when she first received them in July because Blasey Ford wanted to maintain her anonymity. Yet Blasey Ford was attempting to share her accusations with the Washington Post, and eventually she shared those and her therapist’s notes with the Post as well. Now let’s say you wanted to preserve your privacy. Wouldn’t the Washington Post be the place you’d go to do that? Blasey Ford also acknowledged that her attorneys, Debra Katz and Michael Bromwich – both, especially Katz, strongly supportive of Democrats and Democratic causes – had been recommended to her by Feinstein’s staffers. While Bromwich said they were working pro bono, during one break Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee was caught on video handing a cash-sized envelope to Bromwich, who promptly put it into his jacket pocket. What was in that envelope, we wonder?

Until this week I have not been a huge fan of Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. But it was Graham who finally broke the tedium of Mitchell’s questioning of Kavanaugh and spoke out, just as the Democrats had had an opportunity to do, and called out the Democrats’ thinly veiled attempt at destroying Kavanaugh’s nomination, as well as his reputation.

Addressing Kavanaugh, Graham asked, “Are you aware that at 9:23 on the night of July the 9th, the day you were nominated to the Supreme Court by President Trump, Sen. [Chuck] Schumer [Senate Minority Leader] said – 23 minutes after your nomination – ‘I will oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have and I hope a bipartisan majority will do the same. The stakes are simply too high for anything less.’ Well, if you weren’t aware of it, you are now.”

Then addressing committee Democrats, Graham bellowed, “If you wanted an FBI investigation, you could have come to us. What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life, hold this seat open, and hope you win in 2020. You said that – not me!”

Speaking again to Kavanaugh, Graham said, “You’ve got nothing to apologize for. When you see [justices] Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them Lindsey said ‘hello,’ ’cause I voted for them. I would never do to them what you’ve [the Democrats] done to this guy. This is the most unethical – sham – since I’ve been in politics. And if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy.”

Graham went on to say the Democrats had no interest in protecting Blasey Ford, adding “she is as much of a victim as you [Kavanaugh] are.”

And then addressing the bigger issue, Graham said, “This is going to destroy the ability of good people to come forward, because of this crap. Your high school year book [one of the things the Democrats had repeatedly questioned Kavanaugh about].”

Even Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, often a darling of the liberal media though he is a Republican, unloaded on the politicization of the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh by the Dems.

After all was said in done, on Friday, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, after initially saying he would support Kavanaugh’s nomination, putting to rest whether the Republicans would have enough votes to secure the nomination, went off to a secret meeting with Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat. And by the time that meeting was over and Flake and Coons took their seats with the committee, Flake announced he would only vote for Kavanaugh if an FBI investigation was conducted. A time limit – maybe up to a week – he said should be set on this investigation so a vote could be held, but in one single stroke Flake handed to the Democrats exactly what they wanted, justifying his decision by saying he was doing it to keep the country from being torn apart.

Well, Sen. Flake, the country is already torn apart, and caving to such a naked political ploy won’t make it any less so. If anything, it will make the divisions deeper and more set. And as for me, the Democrats won’t get another one of my votes. After Thursday’s events, my conscience couldn’t accept giving them any.

Image CNN, AP via theguardian.com

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.

The Singapore Summit: Cautious Hope, But All Bets Are Off

The Singapore Summit: Cautious Hope, But All Bets Are Off

By the time this piece is posted we’ll be minutes away from the historic face-to-face meeting in Singapore between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. As I’ve said in my previous posting on the question of what to do about North Korea, it’s a fool’s bet to try to predict outcomes. It takes either more hubris than I am willing to muster or more in-depth knowledge than I am willing to claim to predict with any degree of confidence what is going to come out of this summit.

I will claim a few good calls, though. While many were deriding the President’s rhetoric as risking provoking Kim into pulling the trigger and attacking (fill in the blank: South Korea, Guam, Japan, the U.S., the dark side of the moon), I saw it as one bully using the language the other bully might understand. And that’s pretty much how it shaped up. That exchange of nah-nah-na-yah-nah was actually pretty productive and through it Trump told Kim he wasn’t going to be pushed around or sweet talked, as previous presidents had been.

It undoubtedly also took persuasion by the DPRK’s few allies, most notably China, to encourage Kim to consider a new tack in relations with the U.S. and, by extension, South Korea. And one can’t discount the flair and pageantry and the positive PR value of the two Koreas joining together for the Soeul Olympics.

None of this is to say that Kim and Trump will become bosom buddies and that North Korea will abandon its nuclear program or the weapons it already has. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that there will be an agreement and framework reached for advancing a process, most likely a lengthy and contentious process, that could eventually lead to some sort of normalization in relations between the U.S., the DPRK, South Korea, and other countries in the region. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo already has said that he is prepared to brief the leaders of the region’s countries on the summit, a kind of preparation for next steps.

There has been one troublesome development in the past few hours, which is Kim’s announcement that he plans on leaving Singapore later today, cutting short his stay. I’ve not only seen this tactic before, but was the victim of if when it was used on me in a key negotiation I had been engaged in. What I fear is that the North Korean leader will discuss most of the key issues with Trump, and then bow out with the most important and crucial issue left untouched. As an experienced negotiator, I trust the President will see through this ruse, but I can’t help but think this is Kim’s plan.

I don’t think it would be any surprise if either Trump or Kim, or both, walk out of the summit. One thinks back to the 1986 Rejkjavik Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, when talks collapsed, but the framework was laid for what eventually led to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and the then Soviet Union. And one wishes that Barack Obama and John Kerry had been more willing to walk out on the Iranians rather than agreeing to the weak nuclear treaty that President Trump recently pulled the U.S. out of.

Well, it’s almost show time in Singapore, so get your beer and snacks, pull up a seat, and get ready to watch the festivities.

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.