Snarky Snippets — Thriving On Chaos

Never before in the history of this nation has there been a more chaotic government, one that had so little clue what they were doing or what the ramifications of their actions would be.  It is truly as if 7-year-old children are the decision-makers in Washington today!

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He wasn’t invited, but nonetheless, Mike Pompeo crashed the meeting.  A group of European foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels yesterday morning to work on how to best handle the situation with Iran that has turned into a mess, thanks to none other than Donald Trump.  The group did not grant Pompeo inclusion in their meeting, but several diplomats from the UK, France, Germany, and the EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, granted him private meetings.

The Europeans have all expressed fear not only about how Iran will behave, but equally about the aggression by the U.S.  British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said …

“We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side. Most of all, we need to make sure we don’t end up putting Iran back on the path to re-nuclearization. Because if Iran becomes a nuclear power, its neighbors are likely to want to become nuclear powers. This is already the most unstable region in the world, and this would be a massive step in the wrong direction.”

Since Trump reneged on the Iran nuclear agreement a year ago, he has been taunting Iran, as well as our allies who are trying to hold the deal together without any assistance from the U.S.  Iran finally said, “Enough”, and is threatening to cancel the agreement and return to building its nuclear program.

Apparently little, if anything, was gained by the private meetings with Pompeo, as each side dug in, with Pompeo saying that the nuclear deal should be scrapped.  Apparently, he would like to have a reason to go to war with Iran?  Pompeo has enough foreign policy experience to understand that a war in the Middle East will involve many more nations than only Iran and is a no-win proposition that can only make matters worse in the area than they already are.  If, as I suspect, Trump is all too eager to try out his nuclear button … well, you know where I’m going with that.

Trump, Pompeo, and Bolton have put our allies in a tough spot and have increased tensions in the Middle East dramatically and dangerously.  Way to go, Donnie … what else do you plan to destroy?


The trade negotiations between the U.S. and China were reportedly going well and expected to wrap up within a matter of days.  But … sigh … Trump apparently never heard that old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  He prefers to break that which isn’t broken, and that is precisely what he did last week.  He increased the tariffs on some $200 billion worth of goods the U.S. imports from China, causing China to retaliate and impose new tariffs on some $60 billion worth of goods they buy from us.

Remember how Trump has been bragging about that good economy (the one that was already doing very well when he inherited it)?  Well, guess what folks?  Based on the news of all these new tariffs being bandied about, the market took a bit of a nosedive.  Does this ‘man’ understand nothing???  No, Donnie, tariffs are not good, China isn’t the one paying for the tariffs that YOU imposed … WE are!  And NO, Donnie, trade wars are not easy to win!

Trump claimed his reason for increasing the tariffs was that China was reneging on certain concessions, but there is no evidence of that, and people who have long dealt with Trump in the world of real estate say that this is his modus operandi … he throws a fit over some imagined problem at the last minute, then attempts to bully his way into a better deal.  Trouble is … this isn’t a real estate deal and … our economy and our livelihoods are at risk here.  He is playing with the lives of real people.


I got through my first four years of college with the help of Pell Grants and by often working three jobs.  Pell Grants, for those who may not be familiar with them, are subsidies the U.S. federal government provides for students who need it to pay for college. Federal Pell Grants are limited to students with financial need, who have not earned their first bachelor’s degree.  I could not have gone to college had it not been for those Pell Grants.  Today, they are more important than ever, with the high cost of college.  But guess what?  Donald Trump has decided that playing with his space toys is more important than educating our youth.

Yesterday evening, Trump sent a budget amendment to Congress to take $1.9 billion from the Pell Grant program and give it, instead, to NASA “so that we can return to Space in a BIG WAY!” 

bullshit

Some spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) claims that it will not impact the Pell Grant program … I guess he must think we are all pretty damn stupid.

Trump has already proposed budget cuts for other student aid programs to the tune of $3.8 billion!  It would seem that his ultimate goal is to ensure that only the children of the wealthy can afford to attend college.  Picture the U.S. in 25 years.  Your children and grandchildren will be digging ditches, working in dead-end factory jobs, clerking at a grocery store or McDonald’s, while Betsy DeVos’ and Donald Trump’s grandchildren will be the corporate CEOs and will be the people running our government … if, in fact, there is still a government to run.


And now, I believe I have spent most of my snark, so I shall leave you to find a cheerier blog than mine to read for the rest of the morning.  But never fear, I shall return!

America In The Eyes Of The World — A Guest Post By John Fioravanti

I have been so pleased by the excellent guest posts I have received from friends in the UK — David, Gary and Colette — as a part of Project Coexist, giving us a chance to see how people outside the U.S. view us these days, in light of the changes in our nation.  Today I am happy to share with you another excellent point-of-view from Canadian friend, John Fioravanti!

America Today: A Canadian View

I appreciate Jill Dennison’s generous invitation to be a guest on her blog site. As a retired high school history teacher, I don’t presume to be an expert on this topic or any other – nor do I claim to speak for any Canadians other than myself. Having said that, I believe that many Canadians are profoundly saddened and anxious by developments on our southern border since the Trump Administration took power.

Having taught American history for many years, I have some understanding about the events and ideas that shaped America from its colonial days. Like all nations, the United States has evolved throughout its history in many significant ways. Today, I see America at a crossroad as many of the foundational values are being tossed aside for political expediency.

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a bilateral meeting at the G7 Summit in Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada, June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Diplomacy is a dirty word in the Trump White House and I am horrified that the president resorts to bullying and personal insult in his conduct of relations with Canada and the other Allies. Where is the dignity and respect that normally characterize international relationships – especially with allied nations? These were the tactics used against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau throughout the NAFTA negotiations. The worst part about that episode was that it utterly destroyed the trust that existed between Canada and the United States throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st.

Mulroney and Reagan sing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” at the 1985 Shamrock Summit.

I never expected Trudeau and Trump to become fast personal friends since they are divided by their political ideologies. Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan were both conservative leaders and good friends. Stephen Harper, a conservative, did not become friendly with the liberal-minded Obama. Yet, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau became good friends with Obama. My point here is that the political leanings of our national leaders often determine the temperature of the relationship. Under Donald Trump, that temperature has become decidedly frigid, and that benefits neither nation.

As I consider Trump’s poor behaviour in Washington and on the world stage, I am most concerned with his complete break with truth and honesty. I am appalled that so many millions of Americans still support him. Do they not value truth and honesty? Or are they just willing to subvert those values as a fitting sacrifice to achieve their political agenda? These are very troubling questions. I fear for my American cousins and for the rest of the free world.

Much has been written about the divisions within America. Donald Trump did not create those divisions, but he has single-mindedly exploited them to appease his base. In like manner, he has driven a wedge of distrust between the United States and her traditional allies. At the same time, Trump pays public homage to authoritarian leaders around the globe. His chaotic foreign policy has resulted in trade wars with allies and foes alike and the result is the isolation of America on the world stage.

I live a short two-hour drive from our southern border at Niagara but I have not driven across to visit friends in New York State since Trump took power – nor will I until America votes him out of power. That makes me sad. His mercurial policies cause me to be anxious and fearful about travelling in the States. Perhaps that is silly but it is my truth.

As a youngster, I remember being glued to the TV news as America’s cities burned during the race riots of the 1960s. As I listen to the white supremacist rhetoric and watch news reports of children and minority groups being targeted in mass shootings in America today, the old horror of those bygone days rears its ugly head.

Canada has its fair share of problems too. We have racial divisions of our own. There are people in Canada who think Donald Trump is a great example to follow. As a liberal, I’ve always done my best to accept that others have differing political and social views to my own, but I fear that American conservatism characterized by dishonesty and a total lack of integrity has made inroads among Canada’s conservatives.

Today, America is writhing in the midst of a political stalemate that has caused a partial shutdown of the federal government. Neither Trump nor the Democrat leaders in Congress are willing to blink. Meanwhile, thousands of federal workers find themselves used as political hostages who may lose their savings, their homes, and their peace of mind as a result. This is morally reprehensible!

Presupposing America can emerge from the next two years in one piece, will American voters elect leaders who will take steps to heal the nation and heal the broken relationships with the allies? Who can be certain? The divided house called America is frightening to behold. The fate of the free world hangs in the balance.

Thank  you so much for your perspective as one of our two closest neighbors, John!  I’m wondering if there are plans in the works in your own government to take steps, such as building a big, beautiful wall, to protect your southern border, for under our current circumstances, many of us may be fleeing to the north to escape political persecution here!

Trade War Without Ammo

Donald Trump has started a full-blown trade war with his tariffs on both allies and others. He claims that “a trade war is easy to win”, but nothing could be further from the truth, and frankly Trump’s simplistic view is tiresome and dangerous. I have a good grasp of what the short-term effects of this trade war are likely to have here in the U.S., but beyond that, my understanding of macro-economics is sketchy. Fellow blogger Erik Hare, on the other hand, is an economist and therefore understands far better than I what is likely to happen on the global scene. Please take a few minutes to read Erik’s assessment of the current situation. Thank you, Erik, for your keen insight and for allowing me to share this post.

Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

The trade war is definitely on, no matter how Wall Street wants to deny it. Serious investors have downplayed recent events as part of a grand strategy, a negotiating tool that will all work out in the end. The reality, that there isn’t really a good strategy in place here but simply petty tactics, has not sunk in yet, at least in America. But the rest of the world knows better.

For the purposes of this discussion, the European Union will be diminished to Germany. After all, this is the economic engine that powers the continent right now, and Merkel’s leadership is critical. Where is Germany going? The long and short of it, the strategic and the tactical, is to the east. This response is proof enough that there is no US strategy which makes any sense.

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Checks & Balances??? HAH!

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

That, as you all know, is the Preamble to the United States Constitution, the foundation for the government of the U.S.  Until recently, it was a representational form of government.  The Constitution calls for three separate and distinct branches of government in order to achieve a system of checks and balances so that no one branch has complete autonomy.  The reason is to protect our representational form of government from corruption, from making self-serving and destructive decisions. If there was ever a doubt in your mind that there are no longer checks on the executive branch, the presidency, you can put those doubts to bed now, for the proof is in the pudding that Congress, the legislative branch of government, is too afraid of Donald Trump to act on behalf of We The People.

You will recall that on June 1st, Trump imposed a 25% tariff on imports of steel, and a 10% tariff on aluminum, on the European Union, Canada, and Mexico – our allies – citing “national security” as the reason.  Our allies were, justifiably and understandably, disturbed by this move, as were many here at home. The tariffs were poorly received by the vast majority of economists; almost 80% of 104 economists surveyed by Reuters believed that tariffs on steel and aluminum imports would be a net harm to the U.S. economy.  The World Bank has warned that a spiral of rising tariffs could lead to a drop in global trade not seen since the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

The legal basis for Trump to impose the tariffs is questionable, at best.  It comes from Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 which under certain circumstances allows the president to impose tariffs based on the recommendation from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce if  “an article is being imported into the United States in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten or impair the national security.”  This section has never been invoked since the creation of the World Trade Organization was established in 1995, and I have to ask just how Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce, concluded that the import of steel and aluminum poses a threat to national security.

National security?  There is far more harm in starting a trade war and alienating our closest allies, our friends, than there is in free trade.  In fact, trade agreements such as NAFTA contribute to the economies and safety nets of the nations involved.

The tariffs garnered widespread criticism among members of Congress, even some conservative republicans!  On Thursday, June 7th, Senator Bob Corker filed a proposal to require congressional approval for President Donald Trump’s tariffs in the form of an amendment to a must-pass defense appropriation bill.   Corker was joined by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and eleven other senators who have grave concerns about the tariffs and the near-certain retaliatory tariffs and the damage that will be done to the U.S. economy, not to mention our standing with our allies.

Admittedly, Corker’s bill, even if passed in the Senate, stood a slimmer chance in the House, and was almost certain to fail passing with a veto-proof majority in both chambers.  BUT … it was a beginning that sent a message that perhaps Congress was finally willing to do their job, and it was gaining momentum.  BUT … on Tuesday, at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s request, Senator Jim Inhofe blocked Senator Corker’s tariffs bill from a vote.  The bill is now effectively dead, and Trump has once again proven that he has authoritarian powers.

Why did Senator Inhofe block the bill?  Because it would displease Trump.  Bob Corker said it best …

“The United States Senate, right now, on June 12, is becoming a body where, well, we’ll do what we can do, but my gosh, if the president gets upset with us, then we might not be in the majority. And so let’s don’t do anything that might upset the president. ‘Gosh, we might poke the bear’ is the language I’ve been hearing in the hallways. We might poke the bear. The president might get upset with us as United States senators if we vote on the Corker amendment, so we’re going to do everything we can to block it.”

trump constitution 1I am a voter.  I paid federal income taxes from the time I was 13-years-old until I retired a few years ago.  I am a citizen.  I do not want to live in this nation if Herr Trump can wake up one morning and make a decision without any oversight from our elected representatives, or if our elected representatives are so fearful of Trump that they refuse to represent us.  The majority of people in this nation feel the same.  If the “Mitch and Jim Show” can, with the snap of their fingers, render our voices silent by silencing the voices of those people we elected to represent our interests, then we are no longer a representational government, and rather than being citizens, we are now subjects.

Let’s Play Connect the Dots

Donald Trump does absolutely nothing simply to be nice.  He is devoid of human compassion; he cares not a whit about human beings.  But suddenly, Donald Trump is so concerned about the jobs of Chinese people employed by Chinese communication company ZTE that he is willing to walk back sanctions, forgive a breach by the company that could have put U.S. national security at risk.  And why?  We’ll get to that in just a minute.

ZTE manufactures smart phones and relies heavily on components shipped from U.S. companies.  ZTE had been shipping parts and finished product to Iran and North Korea, in violation of U.S. sanctions.  In light of their breach, the U.S. Department of Commerce banned U.S. companies from selling parts or services to ZTE.  Simple, right?  And ZTE, claimed it would have no choice but to go out of business without the U.S. components it so heavily relies on.

You may remember that throughout his entire campaign, Donald Trump was critical of the Chinese.  In May 2016 he said …

“We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country, and that’s what they’re doing. We’re going to turn it around. And we have the cards, don’t forget it. We’re like the piggy bank that’s being robbed. We have the cards. We have a lot of power with China.”

He continually said China was manipulating its currency to make its exports more competitive.  And as recently as last month he was critical of China’s trade and economic policies.  But now …

“President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost.”

Say what???

Many, I hear, are not happy with this new turn, including members of Congress, some in Trump’s own camp, cabinet members, and the U.S. intelligence community.  Not that Trump cares what anybody thinks, but most, including myself, were scratching our heads and wondering wtf?  Even for the inconsistent Trump, this was inconsistent.  But then, a possible explanation crossed my radar.  Remember the game “connect the dots”?  Let’s see how well you can connect the dots here …

  • In the week before Trump’s reversal, the Chinese government awarded five new trademarks to his daughter and White House adviser, Ivanka Trump. Two more were awarded afterward.
  • Between ZTE receiving its fine and Trump’s reversal, a Chinese state-owned corporation announced a $500 million loan package for a theme park in a Trump-branded real estate development in Indonesia.
  • Because Trump and his family did not divest themselves from the Trump Organization, they stand to gain millions of dollars from ongoing business with the Chinese government.

sharkI leave it to you to … connect the dots.

Meanwhile, from the other side of his mouth Trump is threatening to put tariffs on up to $150 billion worth of Chinese goods, and China has threatened to respond with sweeping tariffs of its own. A full-blown trade war between the two countries could cause the price of goods and unemployment to surge in both countries.

Lawmakers and the intelligence community believe that in addition to its sale of equipment to US adversaries, ZTE could pose an espionage risk to the US by covertly using its cellphones for surveillance.  Edward Alden, a trade expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, expressed concerns that it sends a message that “every US action is now up for negotiation in some way or other in the future.”

No, Donald Trump is not lifting the ban on ZTE in order to save jobs in China.  He is not doing it to be nice, for he is anything but a nice ‘man’. Regardless of his motive, to make this decision without consulting with U.S. intelligence agencies, Congress, or even Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, was foolhardy.  If his motive was personal gain for his own company and his daughter’s, then it becomes a blatant violation of ethics and just one more reason he is not qualified to sit in the Oval Office.  Think about it.

Trump’s Trade War

So, you think Trump’s intention to place tariffs of up to 25% on steel and aluminum imports won’t matter to you?  You’ve skimmed the headlines, shrugged your shoulders, and moved on to the juicier news surrounding Jared, Ivanka, Hope Hicks, Donnie and others in the chaotic White House?  Well guess what … it will matter to you, and in more ways than one.

First, how much did you pay for that last clothes dryer you bought?  Around $400?  Well, if you have to replace it, look for your next one to cost around $600.  The imported beer/wine you like from France/Italy?  Add 30% or so to the price a month from now.  And a new car?  Don’t even think about it.

Long story short, Trump has decided, against the advice of many in his administration, including Gary Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council and Trump’s chief financial advisor, to assess tariffs of up to 25% on steel and aluminum imported from … everywhere.  What happens when Maytag needs to buy more steel to manufacture clothes dryers?  It costs them 25% more.  Do they pass this cost on to you?  Of course, but not before increasing the total cost by an additional 10% – 15%, for their overhead is based on a calculation as a percentage of raw materials.  So now your clothes dryer is 35% more than the last one, and that does not even factor in normal price increases due to inflation.

Trump’s idea is that companies like Maytag, in the above example, will stop buying exported steel and buy steel made in the U.S.  Well, guess what?  There isn’t enough of it to go around.

Next scenario.  U.S. companies export goods to all over the world.  Next time Le Bon Marché of Paris or Harrods of London are deciding what brand of jeans to carry, guess what?  They may well pass over U.S.-made Levi-Strauss jeans, for the EU will have imposed a 25% import tariff on that brand, which makes it cost prohibitive, for shoppers will only pay so much for a pair of Levis.  European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the bloc is prepared to respond forcefully by targeting imports of Harley-Davidson Inc. motorbikes, Levi Strauss & Co. jeans and bourbon whiskey from the U.S. So, now Levi-Strauss is losing overseas business, thus must raise their prices to domestic buyers to cover the shortfall.  So, next time you want to buy your kids Levis for back-to-school, don’t be surprised that they cost more.

There are long-term and long-range consequences to the action of imposing hefty tariffs on imports that Donald Trump has not considered, in part because he doesn’t understand international trade.  His more intelligent, economy-savvy advisors have tried to explain it to him, to talk him out of such a foolish move, but with no luck, because when Trump decides he wants to do something, he will do it, come hell or high water.  But … there is more to this story than meets the eye.

carl icahn

Carl Icahn

Carl Icahn … name ring a bell?  He is said to be the 26th wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth of $16.9 billion.  He is the founder and ‘controlling shareholder’ of Icahn Enterprises.  The man knows how to make money, just not always in an honest, ethical or moral manner.  He is what is known as a corporate raider. Funny, but just a few days before Trump’s decision to impose the steel tariffs, Carl Icahn sold $31.3 million worth of shares in the crane and lifting equipment supplier Manitowoc Company – a company heavily reliant on … guess … imported steel.  The value of the shares he sold has since dropped by around $6 million. Coincidence?  I think not.  Oh … by the way … Icahn is also a former Trump ‘special advisor’.

Earlier today, after announcing that he would defy logic and move forward with his tariff plan, Trump said, “Trade wars are good, and easy to win.”  Another of his many lies … there are no winners in a trade war, only losers.  And it is a reverse equation, for the poorer you are, the more you will lose.  The rich, like Carl Icahn and Donald Trump, will lose very little, if anything.  You and I, my friends, stand only to lose. Republican Senator Ben Sasse hit the nail on the head when he said …

 “Trade wars are never won. Trade wars are lost by both sides. Kooky 18th century protectionism will jack up prices on American families — and will prompt retaliation from other countries. Make no mistake: If the President goes through with this, it will kill American jobs — that’s what every trade war ultimately does. So much losing.”

There is much more to say on this topic, but for now, you get the idea of why you shouldn’t pass over the news of the day, for it is another foolish Trumpian move that will cost you … bigly.

Note to readers:  Surprise Saturday will return soon, along with Jolly Monday and Wednesday’s Good People posts.  For the moment, I am still awaiting Jolly’s return, for I need his help to write these.  Thank you for your continuing patience.