Late April Musings

Generally, I try to base these notes upon some level of validated facts, expert authority, history, or logic [although a number of the learned eyes that read these pages may reasonably demur, at least with regard to the latter ;)]. This note has none of that – just a couple of admittedly gut instincts I have as what is hopefully the last spring snow melts in Wisconsin.

As to the first: I think that President Trump will grossly overplay his hand if he persists in a course of rebuffing every information request and refusing to comply with every subpoena put to the Administration by House committees. While polls make clear that a plurality of Americans are opposed to any efforts to impeach him – clearly, even a number of our citizens who oppose Mr. Trump don’t believe that obviously partisan politicians should attempt to fire a duly-elected President – my gut says that the vast majority of our people don’t want a King who considers himself above the law, either. The Mueller Report has set forth a sufficiently widespread pattern of unsavory behavior that it has arguably punctured the President’s “Witch Hunt” claim in the eyes of open-minded Americans (a point that Mr. Trump, judging by his behavior of late, apparently recognizes).

It would appear that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her lieutenants face a conundrum – the need to avoid commencing generally unpopular impeachment proceedings while at the same time preserving the House’s Constitutional oversight responsibilities. If advising them, I would recommend that they limit themselves to strategic probes where the President seems most legally and popularly vulnerable:

Aggressively push the subpoena to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for the President’s income tax returns. As has been widely reported, 26 U.S.C. 6103(f) provides a mechanism under which the Treasury Secretary “shall” furnish a House of Representatives’ committee with “any [tax] return” that the committee requests. While a committee’s right to a return may not be unlimited under the statute, it would seem that the House Oversight and Intelligence Committees, given the Special Counsel’s undisputed findings of repeated interactions between the Trump Organization and Russian interests, can readily construct a rationale for their need for the President’s returns to help them assess what, if any, relationships exist between the Trump Organization and Russian business interests that could influence Mr. Trump’s conduct of his office. I suspect that virtually all Americans, including those that support Mr. Trump, are curious about the contents of the tax returns he has so zealously guarded. By pushing a properly-positioned request to the Supreme Court if need be, House Democrats would potentially put the Court’s avowedly strict constructionists in a position in which they would seemingly be loath to look partisan. No matter the outcome, if the Democrats position themselves correctly, they will look reasonable – and the President autocratic — to the majority of our citizens who will decide the 2020 election.

Aggressively assert the Oversight Committee’s prerogative to thoroughly interview former White House Security Director Carl Kline regarding the security clearances provided to certain White House aides, including Jared Kushner, allegedly despite objections presented by career security staffers. As this is being typed, Mr. Kline intends to appear on May 1 with a White House lawyer. If Mr. Kline is less than fully cooperative, I would cite him for contempt and take any resisted requests for information to court for adjudication – again, all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. Here, the issue is national security and the Special Counsel has shown the majority of Americans that the President and his cohort are unprincipled; this seems another area in which the House’s oversight activities will appear in sympathetic light.

The second musing is perhaps more suitably offered over late night refreshers than in a sedately-toned website; nonetheless: The combination of distaste and exhaustion about President Trump is sufficiently pervasive among our people that if the Democrats present a reasonable nominee [four coming to mind for me as good matchups against Mr. Trump from a purely handicapping standpoint are former Vice President Joe Biden, VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar (whose candidacy admittedly seems to be fading), or South Bend IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg], the Democrat will not only defeat Mr. Trump; s/he will win convincingly – approximating President Obama’s 2008 Electoral College total of 365 votes. It is up to the Democrats to NOT do what they are chronically prone to do – beat themselves through internecine clashes …

On the Potential Effects of Automation and Artificial Intelligence

Although we have an avalanche of data and opinion regarding the projected dangers of Climate Change to our nation and planet, the inevitable (indeed, inexorable) advance of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) seems to me to carry almost as great and probably a more immediate threat to our way of life – a potentially destabilizing force that, if appropriate policies to account for its impact are not soon implemented, will seemingly adversely affect the United States and the rest of the developed liberal democratic world the most heavily, precisely because of the combination of their peoples’ higher standards of living, greater expectations, and power of the ballot. Attached below is a link to a Brookings Institute Report issued in January, “Automation and Artificial Intelligence: How machines are affecting people and places.” I suggest that it is worth one’s time to at least read the 10-page Executive Summary. Not surprisingly, the Report indicates that our rural areas and the livelihoods of those of our people performing what it calls “routine” tasks – those involving the most predictable physical and cognitive labors generally requiring the least education – will be the most endangered. The Report projects that in the “near future,” 55% of roles requiring less than a bachelor’s degree are vulnerable, and that in the coming decades, more than 40% of all jobs in all states will be subject to “automation risk,” with some states (including my state of Wisconsin) having perhaps 47% or more of their jobs facing such risk.

https://www.brookings.edu/research/automation-and-artificial-intelligence-how-machines-affect-people-and-places/

Immediately below is a link to a video published by South Bend Mayor (and rising Democratic Presidential candidate) Pete Buttigieg (some who read these pages may recall it; I added it to an earlier post on Democratic presidential candidates in a passing reference to Mr. Buttigieg’s candidacy – which I then thought would be my only reference to Mr. Buttigieg’s candidacy). This note is not about Mr. Buttigieg; the video is offered because it may provide a useful verbal illustration of the issues raised in the Brookings Report.

https://nowthisnews.com/videos/politics/automation-is-coming-for-american-workers-says-mayor-pete-buttigieg

I admit that I am concerned that we already face an uphill battle in developing programs to address our approaching automation risks, and about the prospects of what could be millions of our people who are unable, or perhaps unwilling, to sufficiently adapt.

On the Pursuits of Messrs. Mueller and Trump

I frequently write these notes a day or two before I post, and the Easter Holiday resulted in a bit greater delay here. Only after it was written did I become aware that UT Sen. Mitt Romney had also indicated that he was “sickened” by what he read in the Mueller Report. I am pleased to echo Sen. Romney’s sentiments.  A link to his statement is included at the end of this post.

This will not be a note on the innards of the Mueller Report; my aging eyes refuse to spend hours reading a screen and my aging printer was horrified at the notion of printing 500 pages, so I have only read the 18 or so pages constituting the Special Counsel’s respective Introductions and Executive Summaries for Volume I (dealing with Russia’s interference in our 2016 election and its interaction with Trump Campaign principals) and Volume II (addressing President Trump’s actions relating to the investigations of the Russians and his Campaign’s activities). When hard copies of the Report are available, I intend to read the gory details. What follows is heartfelt, but likely nothing you’ve not already heard or felt.

Although I have deliberately not watched a lot of the commentary that has spewed forth from either side since the Report was made public, in what little I have seen, the Progressive talking heads have focused on the Report’s description of what arguably amounts to the President’s obstruction of justice, while the President’s propagandists (I refuse to call them Conservatives) have loudly noted both Mr. Mueller’s failure to find sufficient evidence of illegal conspiratorial activity by Trump Campaign principals, and the decision by Attorney General Barr – now, regrettably, appearing to be a partisan shill – that there is insufficient evidence to find that Mr. Trump obstructed justice. Both sides have speculated whether Democrats will attempt impeachment proceedings.

To me, none is the main point. I am literally sickened by what I have read – as if I have gorged on too-rich icing of a cake even before eating any of the filling. What I find grievous is the litany, even in the few pages of these Report Volumes’ Summaries, demonstrating the moral bankruptcy of the President and his cohort. The Volume I Summary makes crystal clear that Mr. Trump and his aides flirted with an enemy nation in an attack on another American and in disregard of obvious American interests to further his own political and financial fortunes. [Although I found the President’s efforts to obstruct justice outlined in the Volume II Summary less shocking – simply the tawdry flailings of a flimflammer availing himself of the prerogatives we have accorded George Washington and his successors – it is patently clear that Mr. Mueller intended his investigation to provide the groundwork for Congress to consider impeachment proceedings (See Fn. 2, Page 1 of the Introduction to Volume II)]. I concede that there is little in the Summaries that we didn’t already know or surmise, but the sheer weight of it has had a surprisingly marked impact on me; it has laid bare the amorality of the individual now bearing the most responsibility for the wellbeing of our nation and our people.

It may come as a surprise to those that know me only through these posts – but as no surprise at all to those that know me personally – that of the Presidents of my lifetime (Harry Truman – Donald Trump), I consider Ronald Reagan the most accomplished and, at least until 2003, Jimmy Carter to have been the least productive. That said, no one has ever doubted that both, opponents in 1980, were honorable men. I will hand Mr. Trump this: in all my years absorbing politics, I had actually taken for granted that our national candidates intended to put our nation first, no matter how I assessed their abilities or their positions … until we experienced his presidency. That is not to say that all of the Presidents of my lifetime were paragons – most issues facing a President are cast in shades of gray, and by no stretch could one consider at least John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, or Bill Clinton to be choir boys — but none, as far as I am aware, ever interacted with an enemy nation for personal or political gain. It’s beside the point whether the Trump Principals’ behavior related to Russian interference in our election process amounted to criminal activity; it was wrong. Notwithstanding the high regard I have for Mr. Reagan’s performance as President and the disappointment I retain about Mr. Carter’s, if the two stood before us in 2020 as they did in 1980, and I could foresee that each would conduct the presidency as he did, but further, foresee that behind the White House gates, Mr. Reagan would conduct himself as wantonly and malignly as Mr. Trump has … I would cast my vote for Mr. Carter, and be proud of it. Our nation remains strong; although we’ve stumbled a bit in this century, we still have the wherewithal to muddle through an ineffective and/or inept presidency. What we cannot sacrifice is our honor. Policies can always be modified or reversed; character is rarely redeemed.

I find it a great tribute that our children and a number of our nieces and nephews follow these pages; I hope that our grandchildren, at some point when they’re quite a bit older, read some of these notes if for no other reason than to get some idea of their grandfather. For all of them, I note here that which those of us that are a little grayer are already aware: American leadership, whether able or misguided, has not – has never – carried a stain like this. More importantly: it doesn’t need to be like this in the future. I would hope for the remainder of their days, they will cast their ballots upon a framework, first, of their assessments of the candidates’ characters, and only then – if (as we hope will at all times be the case) both candidates are honorable people as far as can be discerned — upon their ability and policy positions.

Americans will always be better off with an honorable president they disfavor than with a scoundrel who curries their favor while seeking his/her own good. I believe that the 2020 presidential election will be the most consequential for the spirit and essence of America that I will see in my lifetime.

https://www.romney.senate.gov/senator-romneys-statement-mueller-report

On the Symbiotic Relationship between President Trump and Fox News Channel

I find President Trump’s recent criticisms of Fox News Channel mildly curious. The President has chided Fox for taking Jeanine Pirro off the air for a couple of weeks for anti-Muslim remarks directed at MN U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, for adding former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile to its stable of commentators, and for hosting the Town Hall with VT Sen. Bernie Sanders; Mr. Trump has also slapped at Fox newsman Shepard Smith, presumably for not being sufficiently supportive of Administration claims. Such outbursts have caused me to wonder whether the President recognizes the seeming vulnerability in having what amounts to a propaganda arm that he does not actually control. If the leadership at Fox, miffed at Mr. Trump, would ever choose to make even a small shift in the tenor its coverage, it could perhaps have a lethal effect on his political fortunes. Fox wouldn’t have to like Democrats, or indeed, be overtly critical of Mr. Trump, to severely hamper his 2020 re-election bid; it would merely have to be a little less supportive of the President – on-air talking heads possibly spending a bit more time discussing the fact that he won’t release his tax returns, expressing relatively greater dismay at the revelations of his unsavory behavior likely to be disclosed in the Mueller Report, etc., etc. – to quell enthusiasm for Mr. Trump in a sufficient number of Fox viewers to potentially swing what promises to be a close election. (A loss by Mr. Trump would arguably be of little account to Fox from a business standpoint; Fox is a money machine no matter which party occupies the White House, and the outlet may well consider it easier and more fun to attack a Democratic President than to lead cheers for a Republican.) Lyndon Johnson is famously reported to have said that if he had lost Walter Cronkite with regard to the Vietnam War, he had lost Middle America. The President apparently feels that he has the dominant position in his relationship with Fox; I question whether such is the case.

A Personal Note

Set forth below is a link to an announcement by the Columbia University Journalism School. As the most biased of observers, I would suggest that this year’s recipient of the Columbia J School’s Berger Award provides the best of journalism: straightforward, comprehensive reporting of the terrible difficulties in which too many of our people find themselves as we move ever faster, think (and at times seem to feel) less deeply, resort too much to slogans and labels, and focus too much on our differences rather than upon what our nation needs and can be — for those that already live here, and for those that seek refuge in the values that have set us apart from the rest of the world.

https://journalism.columbia.edu/2019-berger-tobenkin-award

I believe that one sentence from the Award Jurors’ Citation best captures our son’s work: “McCoy gives them a voice and, for us, a window into their torment.” His mother and I are more proud than we can ever put into words.

On LiMu the Emu

Retirees have time to reflect on many weighty subjects; among those topics fleetingly at top of mind this week is the notion that Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (full disclosure: my long-time employer has had a close working relationship with Liberty Mutual for many years) has determined that a large swath of our people will be motivated to buy insurance from a carrier represented by a disheveled gentleman and a homely bird (LiMu Emu) (each wearing yellow shirts; the latter occasionally vomiting paper scraps on to a desk top).  Liberty Mutual is able, and its marketing research has presumably determined that younger consumers find the spots endearing.  My reaction to them reminds me that I am perhaps now a bit further from the Pepsi Generation than I am from  the Pepperidge Farm Generation :).

The Legacies of John and Paul

No, not those of Messrs. Lennon and McCartney; rather, those of John McCain and Paul Ryan.

Mr. Ryan first. In an item otherwise not widely reported (at least I didn’t see it mentioned elsewhere), the Wall Street Journal reported in late March that the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, whom I have asserted in earlier notes did precious little to protect the sanctity of this nation or maintain a Congressional balance of power in the face of President Trump’s aberrant excesses … has been named to the Board of Directors of Fox Corp., the newly formed corporation spun off from 21st Century Fox when Walt Disney Co. purchased 21st Century Fox’ entertainment assets. Fox Corp. owns, amongst other assets, Fox News and the Fox broadcast network and television stations. Lachlan Murdoch, the son of Rupert Murdoch, is the chairman and chief executive of Fox Corp. In its piece, the Journal circumspectly noted — as all who care are aware – that the Murdoch family is a significant shareholder in Fox Corp. and the Journal’s own parent, News Corp.

Mr. Ryan is undoubtedly making more money today than he ever made in his public career. Thus, perhaps the final meaningful entry to Mr. Ryan’s legacy: If you’re a good boy, keep your head down, follow the party line, smile respectfully and dutifully … you’ll ultimately be taken care of.

Mr. McCain last … but certainly not least. At about the same time that Fox Corp. was announcing the appointment of Mr. Ryan to its Board of Directors, President Trump renewed his virulent criticism of the late Sen. John McCain. Although those that read these pages are probably well aware of the President’s recent attacks on Sen. McCain – then seven months deceased — a link to a New York Times piece setting forth the litany of Mr. Trump’s comments is included below. The article also recounts the vigorous defenses of Mr. McCain and vociferous denunciations of the President that followed Mr. Trump’s declarations regarding Mr. McCain. A huge number of commentators decried the President’s castigation of a deceased war hero who could no longer defend himself.

Although worth reading in its entirety, two passages in the Times piece seem to me particularly noteworthy:

The paragraph citing UT Sen. Mitt Romney, who tweeted: “I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain: heroic, courageous, patriotic, honorable, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, empathetic, and driven by duty to family, country, and God.”

And to me the most notable: the comment of Sen. McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, included near the article’s conclusion: “I think if I had told my dad, ‘Seven months after you’re dead, you’re going to be dominating the news and all over Twitter,’ he would think it’s hilarious that our president was so jealous of him that he was dominating the news cycle in death as well.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/20/us/politics/trump-john-mccain.html

Even before reading Ms. McCain’s comments, and while fully sympathizing with and understanding the McCain family’s vehement defense of Sen. McCain and the widespread denunciations of the President’s churlish attacks on a dead man, it had occurred to me that in whatever consciousness exists after death, as tough minded as he was, Mr. McCain would be thinking: “Trump can’t stand it. He can’t stand manifestations of honor, of guts, of sacrifice, of duty, of fidelity to something greater than himself. I’ve gotten in his head. Even when I’m dead, he can’t let it go. Even from the grave, I’ve won …”

That’s … a legacy …