Category Archives: Social/Political Commentary

Immigation Part Four: Yaca DACA Doo…. History of the “DREAM” Act

dream

(Note: This is the fourth of a five part series)

There is much ado these days about immigration; legal and illegal, but mostly about “Dreamers” — young people brought illegally into the United States as children.

It’s all very confusing, so I thought it might be instructive to walk it through step-by-step.

“DREAM” is an acronym (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). The Act was first introduced on August 1, 2001 by Senators Orin Hatch (R) and Dick Durbin (D). It was an Act to grant conditional residency  and ultimately permanent residency to alien minors.

The first important thing to note here is that the DREAM Act  never passed  Congress, even after being re-introduced several times.  It never became law.  This is important, because it is often referred to in the media as though it were law. This is not true.

As far as the Act itself goes, there were a number of critieria to be satisfied for a person to become a “Dreamer”:  They must have entered the U.S. before the age of 16 and have been in the country for at least five consecutive years. They must have graduated from high school or hold a GED, and be of “good moral character”. There are several other aspects to the Act, but they are not relevant for our purposes at the moment, since the Act never became law.

The Battles

Without going into extensive detail which can be found elsewhere, let it be said the the DREAM Act was the basis for a number of legislative battles in Congress. Various permutations of the bill were scrapped, re-written and reintroduced over the years, most notibly during 2006-2008, when several variants of immigration reform were introduced, but none were passed, often due to partisan fighting.  Congress continued arguing and debating the bill and other variants right through 2011.

2012

In January 2012, President Obama announced his administration would cease deportation of illegal immigants who met the criteria of the DREAM Act. That same year, Obama created a program by Executive Order known as DACA, (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which allowed “Dreamers” to obtain a renewable two-year deferrment from deportation. This program was created through a Presidential executive order, which only has legal standing while the President is in office, unless renewed or allowed to stand by a subsequent President. Over 700,000 people registered under DACA.

In 2014, Obama attempted to expand the provisions of DACA, but  he was sued by several states, and the courts blocked the expansion. On September 5, 2017, DACA was rescinded by President Trump, with a six-month implementation delay.

All Hell Breaks Lose

dreamers 1

No sooner had Trump signed the recission order, and the media went crazy. Endless stories of “Dreamers” who would likely be deported filled the media. The legal issue became a social media war.

Legal/Schmegle

“DACA was legal”. “DACA was unconstitutional”. “DACA was…” anything you want it to be. Try Googling the legality of DACA and you will go blind trying to read all the pro/con arguments, many by opposing legal “experts”.  Who is right and who is wrong seems to be as much based on political pursuasion as anything else.

Here’s the thing however: Congress makes immigration law, not the President; that’s a fact. The DREAM act has always been a bill, not a law.  Implementing it or delaying it has never been a factor since it never really existed as law to begin with.

Obama was  probably within his power to create DACA, although this is  not “settled” law in any case. A Presidential Executive Order is something difficult to challenge. He issued the order, but critics suggest he went beyond  the scope of his power, saying this was “selective” enforcement of immigation law. Regardless,  it was allowed to stand until the end of his presidency.  Now that order is gone, or will be in six months.

The Water is Muddy

In reality, DREAM and DACA have nothing to do with each other, even though they have been constantly tied together in the media. DREAM is legislation that has been waiting sixteen years to become law, with no end in site. DACA was an executive order issued to pause deporation. Any person caught illegally in the United States can be deported; DACA simply stalled that process temporarily for some people.

The problem comes with interpretation. For whatever reasons, DREAM and DACA have become tied into some symbolic form of amnesty;  the notion that “Dreamers” will be allowed to live happily ever after in the United States if they file certain forms and pass certain standards. This is not true.

Current immigration law of the United States came into effect in 1965. For over fifty years, the law has been tinkered with, and the immigation issue has been simmering. Since 2001 and three presidents (Bush, Obama, Trump) the pot is now boiling and Congress can’t seem to find a way to turn down the burner. There are an estimated 11 million (or more) illegal immigrants in the country today. Technically, every single one is a candidate for deportation.

So what was the point?

I suspect Obama created the “renewable” DACA because he believed Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election, and it would be extended by her executive order indefinitely, until the DREAM act was eventually passed. If so, it was a political gamble, and he was wrong. In creating DACA, he created a larger problem.  DACA was interpreted (incorrectly) as a beginning step to permanent residency. It was like trying to start the motor of a car that has no motor. Without a law behind it, DACA had no where to go.  Thanks to an abundance of media and social media attention, DACA and DREAM were incorrectly paired, and the result was massive misunderstanding about what would (or even could) happen.

The creation of DACA exacerbated the problem. It was incorrectly presented as a “fix” when everyone in government knew that at best it was temporary.  Legal or not, it created an illusion of a solution, when it only complicated the entire process.

Ironically, Trump ending the DACA program may be the best thing to happen.  It’s not likely he will begin the wholesale deportation of “Dreamers” in six months, but it is technically possible. Trump has put Congress on the hotseat. He is being the “bad cop”. Congress now must work quickly to amend the immigation law or suffer the consequences; for the “Dreamers” and for themselves politically.

Since the first U.S. immigation laws in 1882, immigration has always been a contentious issue: Immigration Part Three: Who Gets in and Who Doesnt. Congress does not like the subject, and has traditionally kicked the can down the road, avoiding it as much as possible. This time, thanks to President Trump, they may no longer be able to avoid it. Political and social pressure will mount, and these are the two things that get the attention of politicians.

green card

The issue is fraught with political and social issues. It is a good example of politicial ineptitude. Both political parties have created more havoc than should have been anywhere necessary.  I suspect that six months from now, I’ll have more to write about.

Dream Act – Wikipedia

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – Wikipedia

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

Camouflage the Waste…

 

afghan uniform

Did you know we pay for the uniforms for the Afghan Army?

Did you know that since 2007 we have bought that army 1.3 million uniforms along with an additional 88,000 pairs of pants and it cost U.S. taxpayers $93 million dollars?

Would that little factoid bother you a bit more if I told you that $28 million of those dollars were wasted?

Gather around the campfire kiddies, I’ve got a little story for you.

First, a little background: When I got out of the Marines in 1968, we were still wearing olive drab (OD), the same color field uniform worn since World War II. They looked something like this:

olive drab

This was the color used by American troops not only in Vietnam, but before that in Korea. This color was used during World War II  in the jugles of the Pacific, in winter time in Europe, and in the desert fighting Rommel. Same color.

Around 1969, the first “camouflage” uniforms were issued. They looked something like this:

camouflage 2

Ostensibly, this camouflage made our troops less visible to the enemy,  blending in with the surrounding terrain. Obviously this depends on the pattern matching the terrain, and the military has used and experimented with any number of colors and patterns with such names as “tiger stripe”, “woodland”, “chocolate chip” and “cookie dough” for desert terrain.

Military “camo” went mainstream in the 1980’s. It’s popular with hunters and outdoorsmen, campers, military wannabes and teenagers.

The military continued to experiment with camouflage, and in 2001, the Marine Corps, thanks to computer technology,  introduced its “pixelated” uniform MARPAT (Marine Pattern) featuring small square blocks of color which was considered an improved camouflage technique. The field has blossomed since then.

Okay, there’s a lot more to this, but it gets us away from our point. What is important is that camouflage patterns can be both patented and copyrighted. The US government has a number of camouflage patterns available for it’s use without having to pay copyright fees, but there are also a number of private companies who design and sell camouflage patterns. These companies own the copyrights on the designs they create.  So far so good? Now let’s go back to Afghanistan…

It seems that back in 2007, the Afghan Defense Ministry decided it needed new, distinct uniforms for the Afghan National Army (ANA). Up until then, the US had been supplying the Afghans with uniforms from a variety of sources, both manufactured locally and “hand me downs” from US Department of Defense (DOD) stock.

It gets a little fuzzy at this point, but apparently US officials in Afghanistan approved the purchase of new uniforms, by-passing normal DOD methods for obtaining uniforms for foreign soldiers.

Disregarding normal procedures, US officials allowed the Afghan Defense Minister to “shop online” for a camouflage pattern he liked. He found one. The problem was this particular pattern was owned by a Canadian company, and was “proprietary”, or trademark protected. Using this pattern would require that royalities be paid to the Canadian company.

Using a “sole source” contractor requires a number of specific procedures be performed and permissions given. None of this was done. In addition, the color of the pattern, a forest green, did not seems at all appropriate for a largely dry desert country like Afghanistan.

No matter. The Afghan Defense Minister liked what he saw, and American officials were not willing to tell him “no”, even after it should have been realized they were violating Pentagon rules by authorizing the contract.

But they bought them anyway, from the Canadian company. In all, they bought 1,364,602 uniforms . In addition, the standard US design apparently wasn’t good enough, so they replaced buttons with zippers, added hook and loop fasteners and more pockets, making each uniform even more expensive. According to the  Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report that finally dimed this thing out, this added about 43% to the cost of each uniform over the standard non-proprietary uniform.(1)

Even as this was happening there was a dispute within the Pentagon. The DOD contracting office apparently tried to stop this purchase but were overrode by US officials in Afghanistan.

Keep in mind that throughout all this no one ever tested this pattern to see if it would actually be an effective camouflage for use in Afghanistan, a normal part of the purchasing process.

The Special Inspector General’s report was issued June 30, 2017.

In addition to concluding that the DOD paid $28 million more than necessary for the uniforms, the report strongly suggests the camouflage used could be more harmful than helpful:

“As a result, neither DOD nor the Afghan government knows whether the ANA uniform is appropriate to the Afghan environment, or whether if it even hinders their operations by providing a more clearly visable target to the enemy…” (1) The Inspector General’s report was sent to Defense Secretary Mattis in June.

There is nothing in the report that suggests criminality.  In fact, the report strikes a neutral tone, only pointing out that rules were apparently broken and/or there was some very sloppy management of taxpayer dollars.

So…. A million here, a million there.

We’ve been in Afghanistan, “nation building” for fourteen years.  Estimates on the cost of the wars there and in Iraq vary, from two to six Trillion dollars. Yes, that’s Trillion with a  deliberate capital “T”.

Let’s just say it’s been $3 Trillion. In that case, a $28 million dollar overage is a rounding error in petty cash.  And that’s exactly the problem.  We’ve reached the point where it’s easy to throw away the people’s money.  There are even stories that suggest we may be paying for a “ghost army” of Afghan soldiers and police that don’t even exist.

Back in 1965 author David Halberstam wrote a book about Vietnam entitled “The Making of a Quagmire”.  If Halberstam were alive today, he would probably be astonished to learn the quagmire he wrote about back then was just a little mud puddle.

 

(1) Special Inspector General Report (SIGAR) 

(2) Pentagon Accused of Wasting $28 million — NBC News

(3) Camouflage Intellectual Property Law

(4) Criminal Investigation Launched Over Afghan Uniforms

 

The Wall

 

wall

Donald Trump wants to build a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico. He has made this sentiment clear since the very earliest days of his Presidential campaign. He has been mocked, scorned and verbally pilliored in every  imaginable way. He has been called a racist and a xenophobe and worse.

But he’s not wrong, and here’s why:

The border between the U.S. and Mexico runs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, a distance of 1989 miles. The border touches four states; California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.  There are forty-eight (48) authorized border crossings. It is the most frequently crossed international border in the world, with over 350 million legal crossings annually.

No one really knows how many illegal border crossings there are each year. In 2016, the U.S. Border Patrol reported 408,870 apprehensions of illegals crossing the border with Mexico. As part of these apprehensions, they seized almost 1.3 million pounds of marijuana and over 5000 pounds of cocaine. (7)

Critics of Trump’s plan focus on social and economic aspects of illegal immigration. Most discussions are about jobs and fairness and being welcoming to migrants and refugees. One thing the critics rarely talk about is:

The Drugs

cartel

Drug cartels from Mexico and Central America ship their drugs into the United States across the Mexican/US border. Estimates of the value of these drugs crossing the border each year range from $10 billion to $50 billion dollars. No one actually knows the true amount, and $30 billion dollars is considered a conservative estimate. Mexico is the number one foreign supplier of marijuana into the United States. Mexico is the number one foreign supplier of methamphetamine into the United States. Mexico is a major supplier of heroin into the United States. Mexico is a major transportation corridor for cocaine into the United States.

The illegal drugs imported into the United States cost taxpayers between $200-$300 billion dollars per year  in the criminal justice system; criminal apprehension, incarceration, hospital and emergency services costs, and productivity. (3)

History of the drug cartels

Drug trafficing, (cocaine) into the United States actually dates back to the 1950’s, when the previously legal drug was made illegal. At that time, illegal drugs were controlled primarily by family “clans” in Chile.  US sponsored pressure on these drug families actually forced the spread of the product into Peru and Bolivia.

As the illegal drug grew more popular in the United States, additional pressures on these countries under President Nixon and the newly created Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) actually forced distribution networks farther north, into Colombia. This spread, along with rising profitabilty gave rise to the first drug cartel kings  in Medellin, Colombia: the Ochoa brothers and Pablo Escobar.

Under Nixon, the primary anti-drug focus was on marijuana and heroin. This focus allowed an opening for cocaine, which was often considered “glamorous” at the time, making it more expensive and more profitable for the sellers. Since cocaine was much easier to smuggle into the country, drug producers quickly shifted away from Marijuana and into cocaine. By 1980, over 100 tons of cocaine per year were being smuggled into the U.S. from Colombia alone.

The growing market encouraged more drug entrepreneurs, and along with them the cartels grew. In Colombia, rival cartels were started in the central part of the country (Bogota) and in Cali, near the Pacific Ocean.

The cocaine business blossomed in the 1980’s. Ironically, pressure from the US government and interdictions on cocoa producers, created shortages, spiking prices for the product. Wholesale prices jumped from $15,000 to $60,000 per kilo. The cartels made even more money than before.

Rivalries between cartels and law enforcement attempts by the government turned Colombia into a killing zone. For all practical purposes, the cartels ran the entire country. Relentless pressure by the US on the cartels helped eliminate some of the Columbian gangs, but proved to be an opportunity for those closer to the US market — Mexican cartels.

The Mexicans had been trafficers for Colombian product for years, but crackdowns on other ports of entry, Miami, for example, created opportunities for Mexican cartels to push more drugs into the United States. Cocaine, coupled with marijuana, heroin, and the up and coming methamphetamine business, boosted income and profits exponentially. By the 1990’s income from drugs exceeded $30 billion dollars per year, far exceeding Mexico’s largest legal export oil, which brought in $7.5 billion per year.

Coming to a neighborhood near you…. No, they’re already here

ms-13

At least nine Mexican cartels are operating  in the streets near you; in every Amercian city and most of the suburbs.

Their names are Sinaloa Cartel — the cartel of the infamous Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Others include the Juarez Cartel, Los Zetas Cartel, Los Caballeros Templarios, Beltran-Leyva Organization (BLO), New Generation Jalisco, Los Cuinis, Gulf Cartel (Cartel Del Golfo)(CDG)  and the Michoacan Family (La Familia Michoacana)(LFM).

Think thy’re not near you? Think again. Here’s a map complied by the Washington Post:

cartel3

 

The Gangs

Not all criminal gangs are cartel orginated. Others have their own origins but work with the cartels in the distribution of drugs. Some worthy of comment:

MS-13

MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) originated in Los Angeles in the 1980’s. Most members are Central American (mostly from El Salvador). This is a gang that formed in LA, but spread into Mexico and Central America and all across the United States.

From Wikipedia: “In the U.S., the MS-13 has an especially heavy presence in Los Angeles County and the  San Francisco Bay Area in California; the Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas of Fairfax County, Virginia, Montgomery County, Maryland, and Prince George’s County, Maryland; Queens, New York; Long Island, New York; Newark, New Jersey, Plainfield, New Jersey; Jersey City, New Jersey; Elizabeth, New Jersey; the Boston, Massachusetts area; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Houston, Texas. There is also a presence of MS-13 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.”

It is estimated that MS-13 has as many as 50,000 members worldwide, with as many as 10,000 in the United States.

These are some very bad boys. In addition to drug trafficing and wholesale murder, they get involved in human smuggling, child prostituion, arms trafficing, extortion, money laundering, kidnapping and a host of other felonies.

MS-13 (2)

There are countless gangs in the United States besides MS-13; the Latin Kings, the Aryan Brotherhood, Barrio 18, the Bloods, the Mongols Motorcycle Gang, the Crips, the Mexican Mafia, and on and on and on. There are an estimated 30,000 gangs in the United States, and many, if not most have their fingers in the illegal drug trade.

Finally, it should be noted that these gangs are responsible for in excess of 2000 murders each year. Those concerned with gun deaths in America should take note that gang-related murders are the largest single cause of such deaths.

Will building a wall change anything?

Critics, as expected, say “no”. To be sure, there are already sections of the border with physical boundries; some wall, and some fence. There is a ten foot high wall along a fourteen-mile section south of San Diego. Various starts and stops over the last two decades or so led to the creation of a bit over 600 miles of fence along the border. In some places, the fence abruptly just ends; making it simple to just walk around. Calling much of the existing barrier a joke would be an understatement.

There are also legal issues, as some of the border passes through privately owned land and Indian reservations. Previous attempts at eminent domain have been met with lengthy litigation.  Additionally, there are environmental issues, terrain issues, and a host of other potential problems.

Discussions about type of barrier run from the sublime to the ridiculous. Below are some of the current types of fencing used on the border. Click on the image for a larger view:

fence

All of these have been penetrated; over, under, around or through. There is no easy answer here; nor an inexpensive one.

How much would it cost?

Estimates from supporters to critics run the gamut. It seems almost impossible to get accurate figures, based on the many variables, such as type of materials, size and a maze of terrain obstacles. Based on estimates running from MIT engineers to the Department of Homeland Security, it appears a practical cost would be between $20 and $30 billion dollars, plus millions more each year for maintainence. In addition, this would be a multi-year construction project.

Is it worth it?

Focusing only on crime and illegal drugs, would a wall reduce drug trafficing into the United States?

Critics argue that trafficers will find a way to get in regardless of barriers — they always have so far. But that begs the question.  What they have surmounted to date is a hodge-podge of half-baked measures, not a completed security barrier.

If indeed illegal drugs cost Americans $200-300 billion per year in related criminal costs, a barrier that reduced that traffic by even ten percent would pay for itself almost immediately.

Reducing the amount of drugs coming into the country is only part of the problem — the supply portion. Demand is another issue altogether.  It is possible to work on both sides of that equation, but only if the public is supportive and dedicated to it. The social aspects of building a wall are legitimate topics far beyond the scope of this article.

Building a wall may be practical or it may only be symbolic. The question is whether or not the American public wants to take on the issue of illegal drugs and the crime associated with it, or allow things to continue as they have.

1. Drug Trafficing from Mexico — FBI

2. Heroin Addication Costs US More Than $50 Billion/Year — Newsweek

3. Economic Impact of Illicit Drug Use on American Society — US Department of Justice

4. A Pre-History of Mexican Drug Violence

5. Wikipedia: MS-13

6. FBI: Violent Crimes — Gangs

7. United States Border Patrol Statistics 2016

The Terrorist Wins if he Doesn’t Lose

 

isis flag

“The conventional army loses if it does not win.
The guerrilla wins if he does not lose…” Henry Kissinger

We’re losing.  I’m writing this in the aftermath of the Ariana Grande terrorist bombing in Manchester, England yesterday  (May 22nd), killing twenty-two mostly young people and injuring scores more. This one caught my attention, not because it was unusual, it wasn’t, as you’ll see from the list below. It caught my attention because my Grandaughter is a fan of Ariana Grande, a singer I know nothing about.

Evidently in this incident, the terrorist suicide bomber was a 23-year-old Muslim who’s parents were Libyan refugees. CBS News reported that he was “known” to British authorities. Apparently, according to news reports, the Brits have some 3500 “known” potential terrorists along with about 400 returned ISIS fighters back from Iraq and Syria walking around in their streets.

Wrap your mind around that if you can, because I can’t.

Apparently the British have enough on these individuals to classify them as “potential” terrorists, but not enough on them to lock them up. They can’t lock them up, but when one of their “knowns” blows himself up along wth scores of innocent people, the response is that he was “known” to them.

I don’t want to pick on the British. We have terrorist “watch lists” as well, and my guess is they are pretty extensive.

We can watch them, they can be known to us. And then they can blow up pretty much any venue, any time they damn well please. Even when they are known to have gone to Syria and fought with ISIS, they are only “monitored” in Jolly Old England.

An Ariana Grande concert; thousands of kids, many barely in their teens, flocking to have a night of excitement watching their favorite singer. They got more than they bargained for.

Now the terrorists have a new target — our kids. What could bring more terror than killing children?  The “known” terrorist got away with it. They’ll do this one again.

We’re losing.

Read the list below and tell me I’m wrong.

jihadi-john-dead-opinion-619225

 

The Terrorist isn’t afraid.

The following is from the Associated Press:

“(AP) — The deadly bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester is the latest attack in Europe in recent years. Here are some of the recent major ones:

April 7, 2017
A man driving a hijacked beer truck struck pedestrians at a Stockholm department store, killing 4 people.

March 22, 2017
A man drives his rented SUV into pedestrians at London’s Westminster Bridge, killing four people. The attacker then stabbed a police officer to death.

Dec. 19, 2016
A hijacked truck plows through a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12.

July 14, 2016
A truck driver targets Bastille Day revelers in Nice, killing 86.

March 22, 2016
Suicide attacks on the Brussels airport and subway kill 32 and injure hundreds. The perpetrators have been closely linked to the group that carried out earlier attacks in Paris.

Nov. 13, 2015
Islamic State-linked extremists attack the Bataclan concert hall and other sites across Paris, killing 130 people. A key suspect in the attack, 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, is arrested in Brussels on March 18, 2016.

Feb. 14, 2015
A gunman kills Danish filmmaker Finn Noergaard and wounds three police officers in Copenhagen. A day later the gunman, Omar El-Hussein, attacks a synagogue, killing a Jewish guard and wounding two police officers before being shot dead.

Jan. 7-9, 2015
A gun assault on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and an attack on a kosher grocery store kills 17 people. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claims responsibility for the attack, saying it was in revenge for Charlie Hebdo’s depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

May 24, 2014
Four people are killed at the Jewish Museum in Brussels by an intruder with a Kalashnikov. The accused is a former French fighter linked to the Islamic State group in Syria.

May 22, 2013
Two al-Qaida-inspired extremists run down British soldier Lee Rigby in a London street, then stab and hack him to death.

March 2012
A gunman claiming links to al-Qaida kills three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in Toulouse, southern France.

July 22, 2011
Anti-Muslim extremist Anders Behring Breivik plants a bomb in Oslo then launches a shooting massacre on a youth camp on Norway’s Utoya island, killing 77 people, many of them teenagers.

Nov. 2, 2011
The offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris are firebombed after the satirical magazine runs a cover featuring a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad. No one is injured.

March 2, 2011
Islamic extremist Arid Uka shoots dead two U.S. airmen and injures two others at Frankfurt airport after apparently being inspired by a fake internet video purporting to show American atrocities in Afghanistan.

July 7, 2005
52 commuters are killed in London when four al Qaida-inspired suicide bombers blow themselves up on three subway trains and a bus.

March 11, 2004
Bombs on four Madrid commuter trains in the morning rush hour kill 191 people.”

But Will it Power a Kuerig?

 

kuerig

I happened to see an ad for an emergency generator on Amazon recently. For whatever reason, I scanned the listing for comments.  One person asked, what I suppose, is the pressing question of our modern times: “Will it power a Kuerig?”.

I thought about that for a minute:  A winter storm, a blizzard, power out everywhere. Hunkered down, hoping we don’t freeze to death with the heat off. What concerns me the most?  How can I get my Kuerig to work?

Don’t get me wrong, I think the Kuerig thing is nifty; cute little cups that make just the right kind of coffee mixture you crave: Starbucks, Folger’s, Green Mountain. Whether its Nantucket Blend or Breakfast Blend, Hazelnut or Sumatran Reserve, it’s all in that little plastic cup. Pop it in the machine and you’re just seconds away from paradise. It’s just not my kind of coffee.

Coffee. I’m a serious coffee drinker, old school type. I started drinking coffee probably around the age of ten. I peaked in my twenties and thirties, when I was drinking a dozen or more cups a day. During my waking hours I was never without a cup of coffee. Back then, we made our coffee like this:

coffee-pot

This was called a percolator. Fill it with water, put coffee grinds in the basket inside, put the pot on a stove (or campfire for that matter), and heat the water. The water boiled, pushed up through the grinds, and like magic, coffee! The height of simplicity. No electric, no fancy gadgets, just coffee, water and heat. Coffee was, and still is a simple beverage. Basic. Fundamental. Just ask the old cowboys.

cowboys

Coffee was also cheap. For many many years a ten cent cup of coffee was standard in many diners. I remember a popular brand was Maxwell House, “Good to the very last drop” coffee. There were of course, other brands, but coffee was coffee. — Well apparently not.

In the late 1980’s, I met a woman from Seattle. She had come to New Jersey and brought her own coffee with her. She was the first “coffee snob” I ever met.  She would brew her coffee in her motel room and bring it to a restaurant in a thermos rather than drink the restaurant coffee.  She fussed and opined about the wonderful coffee in Seattle, and how backward we were in the rest of the country. I got to taste some of her wonder brew. It was good, but I didn’t see the fuss. I thought she was a bit of a snobby twit, and I think the coffee was Starbucks, which had not yet come East at that time.

The Coffee Shop

According to US News and World Report in a recent article, Americans pay an average of $2.70 for a cup of coffee in a coffee shop, leaving an average 20% tip ($.54), bringing the cost of that cup of coffee to $3.24. So what does that cup off coffee cost the retailer?

Coffee prices have varied over the years, largely due to trade agreements and growing conditions, but since 1976, the wholesale market price of coffee has remained between $.50 and $2.50 per pound. As of this writing, it is selling for $1.46 per pound on the commodities market. The mean price of coffee has been about $1.40  for forty years.

According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, one pound of coffee should yield 48 six ounce cups. Cutting that in half, we’ll suppose we can get 24 twelve ounce cups ( a Starbucks “tall”) from that pound. At the wholesale level, that’s a cost of about $.06 (six cents) per cup.

From the wholesaler, the coffee must go the the roaster, who roasts, packages, and ships the coffee to the distributor, bringing the cost per pound to around $3.00. Add in miscellaneous costs for loss, shrinkage,  other overhead, and profits, and we’re looking at about $6.00 per pound to the coffee shop retailer. That’s $.25, or twenty-five cents per cup.

Of course the coffee shop has lots of costs too; cream, sugar, the cup, napkins, and all the other overhead associated with running a retail business.  So if the coffee shop owner doubled his costs (100 percent markup), the coffee would cost the customer fifty cents per cup. If the shop tripled the cost, it would be seventy-five cents, quadrupled it, $1.00 per cup.

Which brings us to the average cost of $2.70 per 12 ounce cup. That’s a markup of almost 1100 percent!

Home Brew

The current price for our Maxwell House ” good to the last drop” coffee is running $6.00 – $8.00 per pound at the retail store. One pound of Starbucks coffee retail is about $15.00.

So let’s recap at this point. If I buy a pound of Maxwell House for, let’s say $7.00 per pound at Walmart and make it at home, it costs me about $.29 (twenty-nine cents) per cup. If I buy a pound of Starbucks and do the same thing, it’s about $.63 (sixty-three cents).

keurig-statbucksWhich brings us back to Keurig. In order to get a 12 ounce cup (keeping this apples to apples), you must buy the K-Mug pods. The price of these, from the Keurig website are about $14.00 per 12-pack. That makes the cost of your 12 ounce mug of coffee from the Keurig about $1.17 per cup. I couldn’t find Starbucks K-Mug size,  so we have to extrapolate a bit, making your 12 ounces of Starbucks K-Mug size about $1.76 per cup.

Before I go any further, let me stipulate to any coffee aficionados or “foodies” out there, I understand the “differences” in coffees — different types of beans, different growing areas, blends, etc. I get it. There is no need to tell me I’m comparing apples to oranges. People are willing to pay premium prices for all kinds of things, and if that is your desire, by all means, pursue it. I’m just painting with broad strokes here.

Here’s how I see the bottom line:

If I drink three cups of my $.25 per cup Maxwell House a day, that’s $.75/day or  $273.75 per year.

If you drink 3 cups of $1.76  Keurig Starbucks per day, that’s $5.28 per day or $1927.20 per year.

If you buy 3 cups per day in a coffee shop at the average price of $2.70 per cup, that’s $8.10 per day or $2956.50 per year.

Coffee sales in the United States alone are over $18 billion annually. Americans consume an incredible  400 million cups per day (half the population averages 3 cups/day).

Coffee prices are crazy, but some of the people who buy it are even crazier. A coffee shop in New York City recently opened selling “extraction” coffee (I don’t know what that is, and I don’t care) for as much as $18. per cup. (New York City, Most Expensive Cup of Coffee).  Some coffee aficionados are equating these coffee prices with the prices of craft beers, another overpriced commodity. Not to be outdone, Starbucks now has a “Reserve” coffee selling for around $7/cup.

“Starbucks, which introduced millions of people around the world to higher quality coffee and espresso drinks and now must find a way to avoid being labeled pedestrian when compared with upscale rivals like Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia, which are popping up in U.S. cities….” Yahoo News.

And so it goes. That ten cent “cup of Joe” is now a designer product, capable of being sold at extraordinary prices. Enjoy your Kuerig. You might want to consider purchasing a generator to power it if the electric goes off.

Notes:

USA Today – Price of a Cup of Coffee

 

Big Trouble in Little China

The world is holding it’s collective breath at the moment, courtesy of a pudgy, demented thirty-three year old with a bad haircut.

un

Kim Jong -un, son of Kim Jong- il, and grandson of Kim Il Sung, is the third psychopath in a line of psychopaths who have ruled North Korea since 1948.  Grandpop Sung started the Korean war in 1950, and the family has managed to stay in power and in the headlines around the world off and on ever since.

The 1953 cease-fire, creating North and South Korea allowed the South to become a vibrant world-class economy, while the North under the illustrious Kim family degenerated into a dark and dismal place.

Ostensibily Communist, North Korea is in reality a cult-state, with loyalty to the Kims a necessity for survival. The history of this family is mysterious, including indicators that the name was stolen from another family. That being said, the idiosyncracies of the family are well reported and can be found elsewhere. Our focus is on the current Kim, and why he matters.

Little is actually known in the West about Kim Jong-un. Little was seen of him publicly before his rise to power. Even his date of birth is not absolutely certain. Details of his early years are sketchy or kept secret. Rumors that he once attended Western schools under a pseudonym cannot be confirmed.  There are many reports of these stories and rumors which can be found elsewhere. He was declared the supreme leader of North Korea following the death of his father in 2011.

“…Kim holds the titles of Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Chairman of the National Defence Commission, Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army,[1] and presidium member of the Politburo Standing Committee of theWorkers’ Party of Korea.” 1

Since taking office, Kim reportedly has ordered the execution of several high ranking officials, including an uncle and likely a half-brother. It’s quite clear he will do anything to hold on to power.

Nuclear Weapons

North Korea began working on developing nuclear weapons in the 1980’s, under Kim Jong Il. In 1985 they agreed to participate in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weaons, but withdrew from the Treaty in 1993, after prohibiting United Nations inspections. Under President Bill Clinton, the United States tried to steer North Korea to peaceful uses of atomic energy; including  providing two light-water reactors to North Korea in return for an agreement they would not pursue weapons production. The wheels came off this cart when the Koreans gained access to Pakistan’s nuclear technology in the 1990’s. North Korea conducted the first test of a nuclear bomb in 2006.

The North Koreans tested a second nuclear weapon in 2009, larger than the first. In 2013, an even larger test was conducted. A test in 2016 may have been a hydrogen bomb, far more powerful than previous atomic weapons. During this same time, the North Koreans began developing and testing increasingly larger long-range missles. On September 9, 2016, they conducted the fifth and largest nuclear weapon test to date.

Throughout the period of North Korea’s recent nuclear development, the U.S. offered various “carrots” to North Korea in exchange for the agreement of the North Koreans to abandon their weapons program. The “carrots” included offers of oil and food. Years of talks with other interested countries including  the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan led nowhere. While there are lists and lists of the “objectives” achieved by diplomats, it is clear North Korea was simply using the talks as a cover while they continued to develop more and more powerful weapons.

Negotiations with North Korea have not worked. Sanctions by the U.S.  and United Nations and others have not worked. The clock is ticking, and the parties involved, and indeed much of the world, may be heading toward a precipice.

War

North Korean soldiers parade in front a portrait of former North Korean President Kim Il-sung during a military parade in Pyongyang's central square in this photo taken by Kyodo on September 9, 2011 marking the 63rd anniversary of the state's founding. REUTERS/Kyodo

North Korea has a formidable military, and they are not afraid to fight. During the Korean War (1950-1953), the North Koreans (with the help of the Chinese) fought the United States and United Nations allies to a standstill armistice in 1953. The UN Forces lost over 178,000 dead and 33,000 missing, along with over 450,000 wounded. Over 33,000 American troops were killed, and over 7,800 are still considered missing in action.The North Koreans/Chinese suffered over 367,000 dead and over 700,000 wounded. It is estimated over 2.5 million civilians were killed.

Today, the North Korean military is substantial. Over 700,000 frontline troops, 4200 main battle tanks, 4100 armored fighting vehicles, and 4300 artillery pieces account for some if it’s ground forces.

Its Air Force has 944 fighters and attack aircraft, along with over 200 helicopters. While North Korea has no aircraft carriers in it’s navy, it has over 70 submarines, a cause of great concern, expecially if they develop long range missle launching capabilities.

The bottom line is this: North Korea has a formidable military. They are not Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria. It would be beyond foolish to think that the United States could “take them out” quickly or painlessly. Any conflict with North Korea would likely bring casualties in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, many of them American.

Strategies and approaches

There are few potential ways to approach the situation with North Korea, and frankly none of them are good.

North-and-South-Korea-Meeting

Diplomatic — This is the approach that has been tried for years to know avail. The United States and the United Nations have attempted to have “talks” with North Korea, and gone nowhere. The “carrots” of oil, food, and financial remuneration in an attempt to get the Kim government to play nice have not worked. Sanctions, mostly financial, have also not worked, often because North Korea was getting help on the side from such places as China and Iran. Years of talking and “negotiating” have all been one sided, with North Korea using the time to develop bigger and better weapons.

seals

Clandestine — One of the more far-fetched notions recently has been “decapitation”; the notion that we could sneak into North Korea and assassinate Kim Jung-un, and possibly his high ranking advisors. The rumor was even floated that Seal Team Six, the team responsible for killing Osama Bin Laden were training for the job. Kim isn’t hiding in a safe house near Islamabad, he is heavily guarded by fanatics. Any attempt to sneak in and kill him is more likely in a movie than real life. There could be an exception to this, however: the Chinese. It seems likely the Chinese have well-inflitrated the Kim regime with spies. It seems somewhat plausible that they could have the resources to get to Kim and eliminate him. That being said, it’s still a stretch of the imagination.

Pre-emptive strike (non nuclear) —

North Korea is approximately 120,000 square miles, about the size of Pennsylvania.  It has military bases scattered all over the country:

NORK Air Force bases(Click on picture for larger image)

The map above shows only North Korean air force bases. There are naval bases and scores of army bases, many at least partially underground and hidden in the mountains. Taking out these bases is not a simple matter of firing cruise missles, as in Syria. A non-nulcear pre-emptive strike would have to be massive, and the logistics of planning such a strike would telegraph the activity long before it could be used.

Pre-emptive strike (nuclear) —

The doomsday option. The U.S. could indeed strike North Korea using nuclear ICBM’s. Such a strike would allow North Korea no time to prepare, and no ability to respond. The country would be destroyed, with millions of casualities. This option would almost certainly open the door to World War III, with consequences no sane person would even want to contemplate.

The bottom line is that there are no good choices here. None, not one.

Kim-Trump

Full Circle

We come back again to Kim Jong-un, and more importantly the current standoff between he and President Donald Trump. The United States wants North Korea to abandon it’s nuclear weapons, and North Korea is indicating it is doing the opposite; developing bigger weapons and better delivery systems. Years of negotiations have gone no where and the pot is at the boiling point.

There have been suggestions that Kim must know that regardless of outcome, war would inevitably mean his death and the end of his dynasty.  The sense is that this would somehow cause him to back down in the end. On the other hand, there have been suggestions that rather than “lose face” to the Americans, he would be willingly suicidal, and take his country with him.

To be sure, Kim may be insane or quite sane; there have been many like him before: Idi Amin in Uganda, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and certainly Adolph Hitler. All left their mark of destruction, up to and including world war, but all with one exception — none of these monsters had nuclear weapons. He cannot be left to his own devices, and time is not on anyone’s side.  His technology seems to be improving faster than the experts had originally imagined.  If the day comes that he can mount a nuclear weapon on an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S., or place a submarine with nukes aboard off the American coast, it is already too late.

The one possible solution here are the Chinese. While Korea is not a Chinese “puppet”, most of it’s survival depends on the Chinese for trade and support.  China does not want a victorious South Korea or reunified Korea on it’s border, but neither does it want millions of Korean refugees pushed across the Yalu River by a war.

The Chinese could possibly wage and/or assist in a coup against Kim. Removal of him and his most fervent supporters could take the pot off the the fire, possibly allowing for a less extreme governing force in North Korea. It seems at this point only the Chinese could do something like this, and if they did, everyone wins. If they don’t do something, this pot will continue to boil out of control, and everyone will lose.

We are living in a dangerous time.

 

Endnotes

1. Kim Jong-un –Wikipedia

2. Military comparisons — Global Firepower

3. North Korea — Wikipedia

4. The Korean War: http://www.history.com/topics/korean-war

Immigration Part Three — Who Gets In – And Who Doesn’t

 

statue of liberty tears

Recent decisions by President Trump regarding immigration have caused an outcry.  Critics screamed that Trump’s actions were unconstitutional. A New York newspaper front page carried an image of the Statue of Liberty crying.

The outcry was everywhere.  Every form of media reported it along with the oft repeated axiom that we, the “nation of immigrants” don’t do this! We welcome people, we don’t refuse them entry!

Well….. not exactly.

It seems we’ve been denying people entry into the United States for a pretty long time.  Different people at different times, but it was never pretty.

immigration law

Immigration law in the United States.

The first immigation laws in the US were enacted in 1882. The first group excluded were the Chinese.  About 300,000 Chinese had migrated to the US, many of them working on the building of railroads.  Xenophobia about the Chinese gave rise to the phrase “yellow peril”, suggesting the Chinese were taking jobs from native-born Americans.

Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, wrote an editorial that included this:

“The Chinese are uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception, without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order”

The government enacted the “Chinese Exclusion Act”,  prohibiting Chinese from entering the country. The act was enacted for ten years and was renewed for ten additional years. The act was not officially  repealed until 1943. In essense, we banned Chinese people for sixty-one years.

During the ensuing years, Congress banned imigration of people in bad health and poor education. Specifically banned were infectious disease carriers and “lunatics”.  After President McKinley was assasinated, anarchists were specifically banned in 1901.

In 1917, we added a literacy requirement and expanded the banned persons list to include: “alcoholics”, “anarchists”, “contract laborers”, “criminals and convicts”, “epileptics”, “feebleminded persons”, “idiots”, “illiterates”, “imbeciles”, “insane persons”, “paupers”, “persons afflicted with contagious disease”, “persons being mentally or physically defective”, “persons with constitutional psychopathic inferiority”, “political radicals”, “polygamists”, “prostitutes” and “vagrants”.

The same legislation banned people from the “Asiatic Barred Zone”, which included most of Asia and the Pacific Islands.

In 1921, Congress enacted the Emergency Quota Act, which created formulas allowing varying percentages of immigrants from other countries.  An annual cap of 150,000 immigrants was established, and countries were allocated 2-3% of that number.  The quotas were tilted, however to favor Western Europeans.  Southern Europeans, such as Italians, were discouraged by lower quota numbers.  Arabs and Asians were banned completely.

The law was modified over the years, favoring some groups, while restricting others.  Books have been written about the social and politcal machinations using the immigration laws.  The quota system basically stayed in effect until 1965.

Other Bans

Others have been banned from entering the United States, usually specific groups and for specific reasons. Such as:

Franklin D. Roosevelt  limited German Jews during WWII, fearing some could be German spies.  The most notorious of this was the German ocean liner MS St. Louis. The ship set sail from Germany with over 900 Jewish refugees. They were  denied entrance into the United States, and ultimately returned to Germany.  There are estimates that as many as twenty-five percent of those on board eventually died in concentration camps.

The Internal Security Act of 1950, banned Communists, despite being opposed by President Truman.  Sections of the act were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1993.

 Jimmy Carter banned Iranians during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1980.

 Ronald Reagan banned HIV positive persons in 1987, adding HIV to the list of “dangerous and contagious” diseases.  The repeal of the ban was begun by George W. Bush in 2008, and completed by Barack Obama in 2009.

In 1981, Reagan banned “Undocumented aliens from the High Seas”.

Reagan also banned all planes, ships and trade from Nicaragua, and banned immigration from Cuba in 1985.

Bill Clinton at various times blocked individuals from Serbia, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

George W. Bush blocked immigrants from Haiti.  He also blocked some people from Zimbabwe.

Barack Obama blocked people who  engaged in transactions with North Korea, or who contributed to instability in Libya, Burundi, Central African Republic or Ukraine.   He also blocked people from Iran and Syria.

Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 —  Prevents travel to the US by anyone who has been in the following countries since March 1, 2011: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen.

So all in all, we’ve done our share of preventing people from other countries from touching our shores. Some of the reasons may have been good, others were petty, and some were outrageous. But that’s who we are; we’re not perfect, and our ideals don’t always match reality.

Considering things like terrorism in the modern world, it seems likely we and others will block foreigners from time to time and for various reasons. This is the nature of the human condition today.  Knee jerk reactions and outcries based more on emotion than facts do nothing productive.

Next: In part four we will look at the actual immigration process and see how it works.

References

National Law Review

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

Public Law 189-236

Immigration Act of 1990

MS St. Louis — Holocaust Memorial Museum

Undocumented Aliens from the High Seas

 

 

They might be Giants…But they don’t have a college degree

hollywood

One of the things that really got my goat during the recent Presidential election campaign was the statement, repeated over and over again that those voting for Donald Trump were mostly those without a college education.

Pundits and talking heads clucked their tongues, implying the “educated” were voting for Clinton (or at least Bernie Sanders), while all the riff-raff would be supporting Trump. Pompous, sanctimonious and elitist. Their fawning snobbery made me sick.

One of the groups most outspoken this election were the celebrities. Every time I turned on the television it seemed, there was a celebrity pontificating why Trump was a horrible choice.

Since these folks are some of our most elite, surely they must be our best educated, right? I decided to check some credentials. Here’s a list of celebrities who do not  possess a college diploma:

No college degree:

Ben Affleck – college dropout (University of Vermont)

Jack Black – college dropout

Cher – dropped out of school at age 16

Louis C.K   — no college

George Clooney – college dropout (University of Cincinnati)

Miley Cyrus – Charter schools, private tutors, acting school. No college.

Johnny Depp – high school dropout

Leonardo DiCaprio – high school dropout – GED

Robert Di Niro – high school drop out (age 16)

Barry Diller – college dropout (UCLA)

Richard Gere – college dropout (Amherst)

Whoopi Goldberg – high school dropout

Chelsea Handler – no college

Angelina Jolie   – no college

Jimmy Kimmel – college dropout (Arizona State)

Jennifer Lawrence – no college

Rob Lowe – Santa Monica High School – no college

Madonna – dropped out of college (University of Michigan)

Michael Moore – college dropout (University of Michigan)

Rosie O’Donnell – college dropout (Boston University)

Sean Penn – Santa Monica High School – no college

Brad Pitt – college dropout (University of Missouri)

Mark Ruffalo – no college

Barbra Streisand – no college

Al Sharpton – college dropout (Brooklyn College)

Sarah Silverman – college dropout (NYU)

Ben Stiller – college dropout (USC)

Actually, they are in the majority.  Only about 32-34 percent of Americans hold a bachelor degree or higher. And that’s fine.  Many people can be perfectly successful without a degree, and many are, these included.

Until this election, education never seemed to matter, and indeed it shouldn’t.  Snobbery is never becoming. The next time the pundits talk about the “non-college educated”,  they should perhaps look among  their elitist icons.

Why Donald Trump Won the Election

presidential-seal

The pundits were wrong, and now as I write this piece the morning after the election, they are still wrong. They don’t get it. They never did, and perhaps they never will. Correction, they’ll pretend they knew, but they didn’t.

Throughout this nightmare campaign, Trump bashing, and indeed Clinton bashing dominated nearly every news cycle. Trump was a racist, homophobic, misogynistic, vile, perverted, etc. bastard. Clinton was a crook. The screaming and shouting and accusations back and forth never stopped. We had nominated the two worst people in the world, and your guy was always worse than mine. People completely missed the point.

The election was never about Trump and Clinton. They were figureheads, metaphors if you will for the underlying issues that we were never able to confront. The issues are clear, and they are there, and they are the reasons Trump won.

Before we address the real issues, let us take pause for a minute and discuss one important factor in Clinton’s loss.

Trump supporters are not “deplorables”. They are not overwhelmingly racist, homophobic, poorly-educated, gun-toting knuckle draggers that many Clinton supporters believed and the pundits wanted people to believe. They are the backbone of this country. They are made up largely of the former middle class which has all but disintegrated in the past few decades. They are not stupid, not by a long shot, and they mightily resented that condescending label foisted upon them by the media elite. If I heard about Trump’s “non-college educated” supporters once, I heard it ten thousand times. This was almost presented as some sort of qualifier, a ticket to correctness.

This patronizing and condescending tone prevailed throughout the election, oddly pushed not only by the Clinton camp, but from the Republican “elites” who clearly demonstrated what they thought of their own constituents.

Another factor in the repertoire was social issues. The “Deplorables” were against equal rights, hated immigrants and the LGBTQ community. They were racists and fascists, dragging their knuckles through the backwoods swamps of flyover country.  Wrong, wrong and wrong.

These issues were not the deciding factor in this election, no matter how much the pundits wanted them to be. Frankly, by moving these issues to the top of the Democrat agenda, they drilled holes in their own ship. While people care about social issues, they do not rise to the level of election-determining, not in 2016. There are far bigger fish to fry.

Laws and elections don’t deal with social issues, people do. Certainly the civil rights laws of the sixties were important, but they came about not from the top, but from the bottom. Society is always changing, much like the climate. We are a sea of individuals living side by side, and we learn to harmonize by our own actions and interactions. Laws can’t make people like each other. Presidents can’t dictate who will accept whom. These things evolve by their own accord and always have. People change, usually for the better. We learn from each other. Certainly there is discord at times, but this has also always been so. Making social issues the primary focus of a political campaign was a losing strategy all along.

Now let’s discuss why Trump won. There were four main issues, mostly either ignored or blown out of all rational proportion during the campaign. From least to most important, here they are:

 Number #4 Immigration:

Let’s first dispense with a silly notion: Trump supporters do not hate immigrants. Say that again; they do not hate immigrants. We are all immigrants to some degree of generations removed, and we all know that. We all know America’s history; “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” We know it, and we get it.

Trump supporters agree with legal immigration, to repeat the word: legal. We have immigration laws; whether we agree with them or not, they are the laws. If you don’t like the law, change it. But until the law is changed, it should be upheld. Rationales like illegal immigrants “do the jobs Americans won’t do”, do not get it. Change the law or uphold it.

And yes, people resented their tax dollars paying for welfare and food stamps for illegal immigrants. And why shouldn’t they, especially if they have lost their well-paying job and are scraping to get by. By definition an illegal immigrant is here illegally and by law they are breaking the law.

For months (years actually), I’ve heard about the need to “reform” immigration policy. Never happened. Congress was content to do nothing; Obama was content with allowing the laws to be broken. It could have been fixed. People wanted it fixed. The government ignored it and Trump said “Build a Wall!”  Trump and his wall metaphor became a target for hate from the left, but still the government did nothing. This should never have been an issue, but it was. The issue really isn’t about immigration, it is about government failure.

A final note on immigration: Trump’s comments about Muslim immigration were directed toward Syrian immigrants. He stated that it was impossible to “vet” these immigrants, and implied this was a possible avenue for terrorists to sneak into the county. He has yet to be proven wrong on this. No one in the Administration has ever explained how it would be possible to background check these immigrants, classified as refugees from that war-torn country. It is simply impossible to do anything but take them at their word, a definite national security risk, especially since ISIS has touted their ability to sneak potential terrorists into the United States. This part of the immigration issue was never about racism or intolerance as the critics suggested.

Number #3 Foreign Policy

We have a foreign policy, don’t we? Let’s take a look at what is going on:

Afghanistan: We still have thousands of troops in Afghanistan. We’ve been there now for fourteen years! Why? What is our mission? We have American troops dying there every week and no one in the government seems to be able to articulate why.

The Middle East; chaos in the region. Our officials celebrated the “Arab Spring” in 2010, and things have gone downhill ever since. Egypt is in turmoil. We helped take down Khadafy in Libya and there is chaos there. Syria is at war; and we’re backing who? Rebels? Which rebels? Do we even know anymore? Oh yeah, something called ISIS came along under our current foreign policy.

Secret deal with Iran? Why is all this secret? What deal are we striking with this country, and will this allow Iran to build nuclear weapons down the road? We don’t know that, do we?

Russia on the move, perceiving our weakness. Ditto China. The Philippines want us out.

And on and on and on…..

Critics and pundits have argued Trump would make a mess of our foreign policy? Really?

Trump supporters looked at what is going on today and concluded that Trump may make our foreign policy better, but it does not seem he could make it much worse.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing to those who voted for Trump was the notion of “globalism”.  This relatively new phenomena was first heard when George H. Bush referred elliptically to the “new world order”; the beginning of the idea that the United States was not special, but merely one nation among many. Trump supporters rejected that notion. They believe in American exceptionalism. Certainly this is an emotional belief, but a strong one.  Trump supporters want to be part of the world community, but on American terms. No country in history has done more to support and defend freedom around the world. No country has done more to rush to the aid of others in distress. This is exceptionalism, and Trump supporters believe this intensely.

Number #2 Trade

We have been told over and over that free trade with the rest of the world has been good for Americans. Certainly the availability of inexpensive goods and services has been positive. But what about jobs? What about the thousands of Hillary Clinton’s “Deplorables” who watched their jobs shipped off overseas, and saw their middle class dreams evaporate?

The Clinton Administration enacted the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. Since that enactment and combined with other free trade agreements, our trade deficit rose from $2 billion in 1994 to over $60 billion in 2015. Almost 700,000 jobs were lost, directly attributable to NAFTA. Some may argue these were replaced with other jobs as the economy grew, but even if this is so, which it is not, the “replacement” jobs are often at significantly lower salaries and lack the benefits the old jobs provided.

The Obama Administration has been pushing the TPP or Transpacific trade agreement, broadening free trade with Asia. Again, at what price? The price of more displaced American workers?

Curiously, when pressed for detailed specifics about the advantages of free trade, supporters always seem to come up lacking details. They are happy to cite numbers about GDP and other financial figures, but when it comes to citing actual and specific jobs, they always grow evasive.

The bottom line is that if a trade agreement is good for America, those supporting it should be able to point to specific concrete reasons why this is so. Absent that, Trump supporters don’t believe them.

Number #1 The Economy

It’s Still the Economy Stupid…

Back in May I wrote a piece suggesting that the main issue in the election was the economy http://williamwlewis.com/wordpress/?p=1506. I followed that with a second piece in August about the demise of the Middle Class: http://williamwlewis.com/wordpress/?p=1560 .

This is what bought voters to the polls in massive numbers, numbers never seen before in a national election. Above and beyond anything else, people are worried about their jobs, their families, and their future.

Whether it is trade agreements or technology or these plus other things, there are few bright lights on the horizon when it comes to the economy. In the United States, we are falling into two categories; those who have done well from these changes, and those who have not; winners and losers, the haves and have-nots.

The Middle Class have been a driving force in this country for the past seventy years. We have grown and prospered because of the blood, sweat and toil of those people labeled as “Deplorables” by Hillary Clinton. Without a Middle Class, the economy tips over. Without a Middle Class we are not the same country we once were. The Middle Class is what made America great, and that greatness is what Trump voters sought.

Trump supporters aren’t “Deplorables”. They’re not racists or homophobes or misogynists. They are just like you. They go to work, raise their families, and hope for the best. They don’t hate any more than you do. They watch TV, go to ball games, and probably eat the same kinds of food that you do. They are the same as you, not different.

The notion of division in this country is false, a construct of politics. The election is over, those barriers should fall. It’s time for everyone to stop fighting, shake hands and become Americans again. We have work to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handicapping the Election

vote-01

We are just a few weeks away from what appears to be the most contentious presidential election of modern times. If presidential primaries are any indication, we might see record turnouts as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump battle for the White House.

Every day there are new polls, new assessments, and new predictions. To be sure, no one knows who will win, but as political sport, the prognosticators are out in force.  Predictions are often based on emotions and personal feelings; handicapping is assessing the situation using as much practicality as possible. Let’s attempt a bit of the latter.

We’re not really looking at the candidates here, but rather the individual states; their histories and their political tendencies coupled with the current reality on the ground. Contrary to most beliefs, national elections are not about the country as a whole, they are about individual states. States are different, as are the people in them. These differences determine who wins and who loses.

At the end of this piece, I will make my own prediction. My prediction record is 100 percent, because I have never done it before. I may be right, I may be wrong. I’d enjoy hearing your comments on my method and your thinking on this issue.

The Electoral College

Presidential elections are won or lost in the Electoral College. States are apportioned college “votes” based on population. The total number of votes is 538, based on the members of the House of Representatives (435), the Senate (100), and three additional votes for the District of Columbia. It takes 270 votes to win, as simple as that. The person who receives 270 or more votes becomes President.

This process, although seen as unfair by some, was designed to allow smaller, less populated states parity with larger populations. Without it, elections would solely be determined by the areas with larger populations, leaving many of the smaller populated states with no voice.

Most states award electoral votes based on a winner-state-all system. This means that whichever candidate receives the majority of votes in that state receives all the electoral votes for that state. Only two states, Maine and Nebraska award electoral votes based on a percentage of the votes cast.

vote-02Most of us are familiar with the “red/blue” electoral map, red for Republican and blue for Democrat.  For the most part, states tend to retain their color, often for many years. This is because the voting constituency tends to remain the same. Population shifts can cause changes, but generally take years to do so. For this reason, it is usually reasonable to predict that a state like Massachusetts will go “blue”, and a state like Alabama will remain “red”. The few states with a tendency to change back and forth more frequently are known as “swing states” and are usually the most closely watched during an election. The number of swing states tends to vary only slightly from election cycle to cycle.
All this being said let’s look at the 2016 election, region by region to see what is happening:

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New England:

New England is notoriously a blue region, and we should expect mostly the same this election. Clinton should prevail in Massachusetts (11), Rhode Island (4), Connecticut (7), and Vermont (3).

States to watch:Two states to watch in this region: New Hampshire (4) and Maine (4). New Hampshire is considered the most conservative state in the region, and Trump showed some early polling progress there. As of this writing, Clinton is polling six points ahead. Trump is faring somewhat better in Maine, and appears to be rising in the polls. Main splits its electoral vote, so Trump could take away vote or two.

If any red shows up in New England, it could be a long night for Hillary Clinton.

 

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 Mid Atlantic States:

Another blue region, the Mid Atlantic states most often remain the same. New York (29), New Jersey (14), Delaware (3), Maryland (10), the District of Columbia (3), and last but surely not least, Pennsylvania (20).

 State to watch: The Mid-Atlantic only has one state really “in-play” — Pennsylvania. Normally a blue state, the state seems to at least the potential for “swinging” over to red this year.

Pennsylvania has two major cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and a handful of smaller cities. Much of the rest of the state is small rural towns. Pennsylvania’s economy was once largely industrial; coal mining and steel production being two. Both of these industries have been crippled in the current economy, and the future of coal mining in general is under assault by environmentalists. The one bright industrial area in the state, gas and oil fracking, is also under environmental attack.

The rural areas of Pennsylvania are sandwiched between the two cities. Philadelphia has always been a Democratic stronghold, and will likely remain so. Western Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh seems to be shifting toward Republicans. Lack of industry coupled with an aging population seem to be propelling this. Another factor is that in the rural areas, like much of the country, voter turnout has fallen in recent years. Much of this population is white, and  non-college educated, a group largely seen as leaning toward Trump. If large numbers of this group decided to vote this year, there is a possibility the state could go from blue to red.  This a state to watch.

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The South:

Much of the South has been traditionally Republican territory in recent elections. Red states tend to include West Virginia (3), Kentucky (8), Tennessee (11), South Carolina (9), Georgia (16), Alabama (9), Mississippi (6), Louisiana (8), Texas (38), Oklahoma (7), and Arkansas (6).  One can be reasonably certain these states will remain red this time. There are, however, three Southern states that bear watching.

States to watch:

Virginia (13) is an interesting example of demographic change. Home of the Confederacy, Virginia had been a red state since the 1980’s years of Ronald Regan. In 2008, however, Virginia turned blue, along with neighboring North Carolina. Both states went for Barrack Obama twice.

A good part of the changing demographic in Virginia is the increase of federal workers in Northern Virginia. This part of the state has undergone a population boom in the last ten years. Thousands upon thousands of people working for the government or government contractors have poured in. Many of these people tend to vote Democrat, simply overwhelming the past nature of the state to vote Republican. As of this writing, Clinton is polling about 5 percentage points ahead of Trump, so the blue trend may prevail here. Nonetheless, this is a state worth watching.

North Carolina (15) is an important state to watch. Typically a red state, North Carolina voted for Barrack Obama in 2008, but for Mitt Romney in 2012. Sudden reversals like this mean the state is in play, and is considered a “battleground” state — either candidate can win. Current polling put Clinton and Trump in a dead heat in North Carolina, making this an important state to watch.

Florida (29) The biggest prize in the traditional South, and one of the most difficult to predict. Florida is another state, that while traditionally red, went to blue in the last two elections. It is also one of the most contentious (Bush/Gore 2000), largely due to a highly diverse population. Florida is a “must win” state for Donald Trump. Without winning Florida, it becomes hard to visualize him winning the election.

Racial and ethnic demographics will surely play a role in Florida. The state is 60 percent white,  20 percent Hispanic, and 17 percent black. A large percentage of the Hispanic population are Cubans, who tend to vote Republican. Florida also contains the highest percentage of people over the age of 65 in the entire country.

As of this writing. Florida is another “dead heat” in polling between Clinton and Trump. Of all the states to watch, not only in the South, but the whole country, Florida may well be the most important. It is not unreasonable to suggest that whoever wins Florida will win the election.

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The Midwest:

The thirteen states of the Midwest have stayed roughly the same for the last two elections. There are some possible changes this year.

First the no-change states: North Dakota (3), South Dakota (3), Nebraska (5), Kansas (6), Missouri (10), and Indiana (11) have been red states and are likely to remain so and go for Trump.

Minnesota (10) and Illinois (20), both blue states, will likely remain so.

States to watch:

Iowa (6): Traditionally a farm state that leans conservative has shifted a bit to the left in recent years as there are fewer family and more corporate farms and young people have not gone into the family business, but off to college instead. Iowa went for Obama in 2012. Currently however, Trump is polling about three points ahead of Clinton, still within the margin of error, but nonetheless, this makes Iowa another “battleground” state.

Wisconsin (10): Wisconsin has flip-flopped Democrat/Republican a number of times over the years, but has been a “blue” state since voting for Al Gore in 2000. There are some factors in play that deserve attention. First, neither Clinton nor Trump won their primaries in Wisconsin. The winners were Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz, candidates to the respective left and right of the current nominees. Governor Scott Walker (R) has been a controversial  figure, battling the teacher’s union. The Tea Party has also played a role in Wisconsin politics. Clinton and Trump are currently polling within 4 points of each other, making Wisconsin a “key battleground” state because of it’s high number of electoral votes.

Michigan (16): While Michigan has favored Democrats in the last four Presidential elections, the state historically has favored Republicans more often. Michigan is another state where Sanders beat Clinton in the Democrat primary. Clinton is currently polling about five points ahead of Trump in Michigan. That being said, Michigan is a “rust belt” state that has lost thousands of manufacturing (mostly auto) jobs to overseas trade, a position largely favored by Democrats. Trump’s appeal to disaffected, laid-off workers could tilt the balance here.  Michigan is another “key battleground” state.

Ohio (18): The crown jewel of the Midwest, politically speaking, and another critical state for Donald Trump. Ohio has voted for the Presidential victor more often than any other state (93% of the time). It has been both red and blue, voting for George W. Bush twice and Barrack Obama twice. Clinton and Trump are polling within two points of each other in Ohio, making this state an absolute horse race.  Ohio is another “rust belt” state damaged by jobs lost from foreign trade. Eight years of being a “blue” state does not seemed to have helped the Ohio economy, so it seems reasonable to see a swing to red in this state.

The West:

Five solid red states in the west — Montana (3), Idaho (3), Wyoming (3), and Utah (6), Arizona (11), and one solid blue, New Mexico (5),  none likely to change.

States to watch:

Colorado (9): Colorado is another state that went red for Bush and blue for Obama. Currently Clinton and Trump are polling about three points apart, too close to call. As a battleground state, Colorado is unpredictable. Traditionally red, the state has been becoming increasingly liberal, and in fact Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton here in the Democratic primary. On the other hand, Ted Cruz beat Trump here, the result of an influential right-wing Tea Party population. Colorado is a toss up state.

Nevada (6): Another state that voted twice for Bush and twice for Obama. Clinton and Trump are tied in the polling here. However based upon the primary turnouts, Republicans seem to outnumber the Democrats in Nevada by a significant number, making this a close call, but seemingly leaning toward Trump.

The Pacific Coast and Offshore:

Very easy to predict: California (55), Oregon (7) and Washington (5), all blue, all solid Democrat states.

Alaska (3), red. Hawaii (4), blue.

 Outcomes:

My count gives Hillary Clinton a pretty solid 16 states and 201 electoral votes. The same method gives Donald Trump 23 states but only 191 electoral votes. Since neither candidate has enough “solid” states to win, the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election will be determined by the remaining 11 “battleground” states.

Predictions:

New Hampshire — Clinton

Maine — Clinton

Pennsylvania — Clinton

Virginia — Clinton

North Carolina — Trump

Florida — Trump

Iowa — Trump

Wisconsin — Trump

Michigan — Clinton

Ohio — Trump

Colorado — Trump

Nevada — Trump

My totals give the victory to Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in a very tight race, 275 to 263.

As a footnote: my prediction includes Wisconsin going to Trump and New Hampshire to Clinton. If these two states reversed, New Hampshire for Trump and Wisconsin for Clinton, the result would be an absolute tie, 269 to 269, throwing the election choice to the House of Representatives.

Presidential elections are often personality contests, decided by the voters individual reaction to the candidate. I believe 2016 is different, in that there are two relatively unpopular/unlikable candidates. This time, I think more people will vote on their own political philosophies, liberal or conservative. Normally, this would maintain the status quo of previous elections, but this cycle seems to have triggered far more visceral reactions than I can remember in my lifetime. With neither candidate being strong, even within their own parties, it seems to me this could be the year for the apple cart to tip over, changing traditional expectations.

I may be right, I may be wrong. What is your opinion?