The Border Wall Nonsense

trump_border_wallInvasive vines creep over the hedge separating my house from my next-door neighbor’s house. Sometimes those vines even touch trees in my yard. That’s why every night I stand on the top of a giant ladder, shouting into a megaphone, straight into their yard. “You’re going to cut those weeds right now! And then you’ll pay for a gardener to get rid of the roots! You’ll see! I’ll make you pay!”

In a related story, I called up US Representative Will Hurd, (R-TX) whose Congressional district shares the nation’s longest border with Mexico – from El Paso to San Antonio – to ask him about who is going to pay for our promised “Border Wall” with Mexico. Unlike the interaction with my neighbors, this call actually happened.

Hurd stands by his earlier statement that the Trump-promised border wall is a “3rd Century solution to a 21st Century problem.”

“I still believe that building a wall from sea to sea isn’t the most effective way to do border security,” Hurd told me.

I asked about funding the wall, something that ultimately falls to Congress.

The Trump administration managed to secure $20 million in a budgetary move called “re-programming,” to allow the Department of Homeland Security to study different potential wall designs. One prototype under study is a 30-foot tall structure, which Hurd says would take someone around 4 hours to breach.

The real wall, however, would cost a lot more than the $20 million in starter funds.

While Trump has consistently promised a $10 to $12 billion price tag, independent estimates range from $25 billion to $67 billion, with an article in the MIT Tech Review settling on $40 billion.

That kind of money can’t be gotten through budgetary shuffling known as ‘reprogramming,’ but rather requires Congressional support. At the end of April Trump threatened to hold up a 2017 appropriations bill – needed to keep the federal government from an imminent shut-down – if Congress did not set aside $1.4 billion to begin constructing the wall. The Republican Congress called his bluff, and the wall-funding request dropped for 2017. Maybe it will be back for negotiation in 2018?

congressman_will_hurd
Will Hurd

Trump says it will. “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall.” He tweeted. And then, “Don’t let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL. It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking etc.”

In the meantime, spending billions this way makes no sense to Representative Hurd. As a former undercover CIA officer deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, he’d advocate a smarter combination of technology, human intelligence, and cooperation with our Mexican counterparts.

“There’s 19 criminal organizations that we’ve identified. Let’s improve our intelligence on those groups and stop them before they get to the border. Ultimately, border security is important, and we need to do a better job.” See, that’s a reasonable, informed, approach.

Who would pay for this wall? We already know Trump’s repeated claim that Mexico will pay.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has a colorful way of expressing his country’s attitude. “We’re not building your fucking wall!” he has repeatedly stated to every media outlet on the planet. Unlike statements made by my own president, I believe him. Every Mexican schoolchild remembers 1848, even if most US residents do not know what happened that year. Mexico will no more pay for Trump’s border wall then the US will pay reparations to the Queen of England for territorial and property losses incurred between 1776 and 1783.

Realistically speaking, either US taxpayers pay directly for the wall, or US consumers pay for this indirectly through higher taxes on imports from Mexico. To do that, of course, we’re talking about big changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), something President Trump also advocates.

Hurd disagrees with that approach as well. “NAFTA is important, end of story. The US, Mexico, and Canada, we build things together. We should be thinking about how we achieve more of this. There are ways to improve it…Updating NAFTA could be a model for free trade agreements around the world. We should be talking about how to strengthen NAFTA, not pull out of it.”

As for me, I’ve driven hundreds of miles through Hurd’s district, from Big Bend to San Antonio on I-90, noting the small towns that have already suffered as a result of stricter border controls. On that long, lonesome highway you see a preview of the economic devastation a border wall – or pulling out of NAFTA – would cause in Texas.

I have tried hard to find serious analysis of the cost of the border wall, serious methods of paying for it, and serious economic impacts of the wall. It cannot be done. The subject resists serious thought. It’s a deeply unserious promise made by a deeply unserious person. But here’s the serious problem for Trump with all his “border wall” talk. When you expose yourself as a bully and a liar on your single most important campaign promise, people remember. Mexico is on to Trump and is calling his bluff. Congress is on to Trump and is calling his bluff.

In the meantime, picture me on my big step ladder every night, megaphone in hand, shaking my fist at my neighbors’ weeds. “You’re gonna pay!” After the first few months, the neighbors stopped paying attention. But I know my starting position is a strong negotiating stance. I’m good at making deals. And people like me.

 

Please see related posts:

 

Trump – Sovereign Debt Genius

Trump – Threats to Financial and Economic Security

Trump – We need principled Republican leadership

 

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100 Year Bonds In The Trump Era

The United States does not currently issue bonds with maturities longer than 30 years, but the idea of super long-dated national debt is back in the air. Long-dated, as in bonds due in 100 years. One reason 100-year bonds are kind of neat is that nobody alive right now ever needs to worry about paying the principal back!

Setting snark to the side (for just a moment), Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, in an interview in December, appeared open to the idea of 50-year or 100-year bonds, floated by financial newspaper Barron’s back in November 2016.

Barron’s followed up in February with the report that Mnuchin asked his staff at the Treasury department to look into the pros and cons of 100-year debt.

100yr_bondsSome of the best reasons for the United States to issue 100-year bonds fit reasonable, prudential, debt-management principles. Other reasons facilitate wackier scenarios. I’ll describe both.

But first, who would buy 100-year bonds from the United States? Buyers are not typically individuals like you and me, but rather institutions that have to make payouts far in the future.

Barbara Mckenna, Managing Principal of Longfellow Investment Management Co, a Boston-based firm managing over $9 billion in assets, noted to me last week that buyers of ultra long-dated bonds tend to be pension funds and life insurance companies, institutions which need assets to match their liabilities, stretching into the future for many decades.

These were the buyers for Austria’s 70-year debt issued in late 2016 at a rate of 1.53 percent. Ireland and Belgium both issued 100-year bonds earlier in 2016 presumably to that type of buyer as well, both reportedly with a 2.3 percent coupon.

“Feed the ducks while they’re quacking,” we’d often say in my old bond salesman days, when we issued new debt. There’s an element of that to justify the US issuing 100-year bonds. Right now, the pension funds and insurance company ducks would happily quack for extremely long-dated US Treasuries, so we might as well satisfy their hunger.

The three most legitimate reasons for the US to issue ultra long-term debt are:

  1. To ease “rollover” risk,
  2. To fund ourselves at historically low rates, saving money, and
  3. To facilitate long-dated corporate bond issuance

First, if your country issues mostly short-term debt, as ours does, the “rollover” problem happens constantly. If you have, on average, more long-term debt including for example 100-year bonds, you’ve gone some way toward relieving your rollover problem.

Next, the cost-savings from long-term low rates could be significant. A few numbers can help put this into context.

The federal government currently owes approximately $19 trillion to all creditors, and paid $433 billion in interest on its debt last year.

The federal government pays 2.26 percent on all of its debts, as of March 31, 2017, an extraordinary low rate.

15 year ago, the average interest rate on long-dated bonds was 8.27 percent.

10 years ago, the average interest rate on long-dated bonds was 7.55 percent.

Right now a 100-year bond – depending on a variety of factors such as the size of issuance and the demand from investors – could cost something like the current rate on 30-year bonds, or approximately 3 percent per year. McKenna agreed with me that a 100-year bond “probably would not be dramatically different from a 30year bond in terms of yield.” It might cost the US government a bit more, although it also might cost less.

bond_yieldsWhile a 3 percent 100-year bond would represent a higher rate than the US currently pays on average over all, locking in that rate for a long-time probably offers big interest cost savings over the long run.

We’ve got close to $2 trillion in long-dated bonds outstanding currently, due between 10 and 30 years from now. To point out some simple math (albeit simple math with a lot of zeros involved) a 1 percent drop in the average interest rate on a trillion dollars in long-dated bonds saves $10 billion per year in interest payments.

The third reason for 100 year bonds – and this reason appeals more to bond nerds like me, concerned with smooth-functioning capital markets – is that private corporations can issue more long-dated debt if there are long-dated US Treasury bonds to compare them to. Bond traders really like corporate bonds to match the length of government bonds, as it makes hedging and trading those corporate bonds much easier.

So 100-year US Treasury bonds aren’t crazy, could be issued affordably, and offer some capital market advantages.

Now, you’ve been patient with me and my bond math, so let’s get a little crazy. For readers interested in historical bond trivia – and yes, I’m talking to both of you – ultra long-dated bonds have interesting ties to global catastrophes.

England issued perpetual bonds to finance itself during the Napoleonic Wars, and 100-year debt to finance itself during World War One.

I think of this global catastrophe and 100-year bonds because a time may indeed come in the medium-term future when we have trouble rolling over our debts.

trump_pointingIf we were in a shooting war with China – or even just a nasty trade war – for example, we might have trouble with the fact that Chinese institutions own approximately $1 trillion of US sovereign debt. Heck, if we get into a shooting war with North Korea this week or next week we might face rollover trouble, as a signal from Chinese institutions displeased with our unilateral military actions.

Fortunately, our current President has deep experience with the inability to roll over debts. He ran his casinos into the ground this way. Given his experience, he stated his plans for federal debt issuance while still a candidate, just last summer.

“I’ve borrowed knowing that you can pay back with discounts. I would borrow knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.”

Oh, sweet mercy, please, no. But then a few days later candidate Trump clarified, default isn’t really necessary. “People said I want to go and buy debt and default on debt. I mean, these people are crazy. This is the United States government.”

I was starting to feel better.

But then he continued,

“First of all, you never have to default because you print the money, I hate to tell you, okay, so there’s never a default.”

Ah, yes. Thank you Mr. President for clarifying your views on sovereign debt.

Dear Treasury Secretary Mnuchin: Can we please issue massive amounts of 100-year bonds quickly before anyone re-reads these quotes and thinks about them too closely?

 

 

A version of this post ran in the San Antonio Express News and the Houston Chronicle.

Please see related posts:

 

Trump and the coming Financial Crisis

Trump: Sovereign Debt Genius

Book Review: The Making of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston

 

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Book Review: The Making Of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston

David Cay Johnston covered Trump as a journalist for thirty years, in the course of reporting on the Atlantic City beat. He presents in The Making of Donald Trump a greatest hits of the President’s business life. And by greatest hits, I actually mean the lowlights of his behavior with women, with business partners, with lawsuits, with his employees, and with the press.

To point out that President Donald Trump is primarily a con man with easily observed personality disorders is relatively straightforward, given what we’ve witnessed of him as a Presidential candidate, and now as President. I think the time for outrage at each new Tweet or each new attempt to subvert the best traditions of the Republic is past. We know what he is. We know he will try his best to break this country’s constitutional traditions.

But to play armchair psychiatrist for a moment, Trump is not, primarily, evil. He is a deeply insecure person unencumbered by the moral boundaries which limit the rest of us. When faced with his unrelenting narcissism, a yawning chasm of need, he chooses the fastest route to a short-term fix for that sickness. Johnston’s book is a history of this sickness, in easily digested, well-researched, chapters.

Sometimes his sickness means doing business with noted mob associates. Occasionally it means cutting family members out of their inheritance. Often it means threatening lawsuits against journalists, newspapers, and other perceived enemies who jangle the nerves of his insecurity. Often it involves an unrelenting thirst for vengeance. Sometimes it means screwing over your bondholders. Historically it has involved inventing hotel prizes, and then hiring people to award them to you, as a 4-year old child would do, if given the chance. It includes cutting corners on building costs by hiring illegal labor, working under dangerous conditions. It means running a scam University making false claims and preying on financially vulnerable people.

Sometimes it means calling up gossip columnists, pretending to be a PR man, and bragging about how Madonna or Carla Bruni or some other hottie of the day is lusting after Donald Trump. Sometimes it means not actually trying to legitimately attract a woman’s attention, and just The_making_of_donald_trumpgrabbing them by the pussy.

Johnston published this book in August 2016, after Trump’s nomination by the Republican Party but before the November election. He tried to do his patriotic duty of warning the country about a con man he’d observed closely for decades.

Anyway, life is going great here in the United States since the election, OTT.1

 

Please see related posts:

Why I Can’t Sleep At Night (post Trump election)

Trump Part III – The Authoritarian Use of Security Crises

Trump Part IV – The Authoritarian Use of Economic Crises

Trump Part V – The Constitutional Crisis

Trump Part VI – The Need For Principled Republican Leadership Right Now

The Fall of The Roman Republic by Plutarch

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  1. “Other Than Trump”

On Regulations – The Cato Warning

carrier-dealWe need to get more sophisticated in our conversation on government regulation, or interference, in private business. Despite President Trump’s statements and possibly intentions to the contrary, we’re witnessing a massive increase in federal interference in civil society.

A simple way to understanding business-versus-regulation is this: Businesses usually resist the extra cost and hassle of governments making, changing, and then enforcing rules, some of which seem arbitrary, blunt, and excessive.

To an energy company owner facing the EPA, a financial services company facing the CFPB or SEC, or a pharmaceutical company facing the FDA, regulations will seem profit-reducing at best and business-destroying at worst.

And yet, as consumers, we typically don’t want energy waste dumped in our waterways, financial shysters running amok preying on the vulnerable, or untested drugs unleashed on the sick.

Reasonable people in a reasonable society can and should debate the right level of government interference with business.

Gary Dudley and Charlie Amato, for example, founded the San Antonio-based insurance giant SWBC forty years ago, and have seen a dramatic rise in the cost of compliance with federal regulations over that time.

Dudley told me recently “Everybody can agree we need to protect consumers from being taken advantage of. But the CFPB (The Dodd-Frank created Consumer Financial Protection Board) for example has a little too much power, in my mind. If you attack the financial institutions, you drive costs up, and consumers end up paying for that.”

In the past five years alone, Dudley says, ”The number of compliance officers on our payroll has increased by four times. A reduction in regulation,” Dudley continued “would go a long way toward helping businesses like ours employ more people and boost the economy.”

So, many people believe local, state, and federal regulation of businesses in the United States has gone too far as a rule. As a profit-seeking capitalist myself, I’m open to that idea.

President Donald Trump agrees with that idea as well, and I guess that’s why he promised to business leaders in January: “We think we can cut regulations by 75 percent. Maybe more.”

swbcBeyond the semantic question of what “75 percent” really means here, I think we have to reach for a deeper understanding of how government interacts with business to properly interpret Trump’s promise, tactical style, and effects.

I say that because there’s another consequence of regulation that should make everyone skeptical of government interactions with business. By this I mean a sort of libertarian view of the regulatory state. I’ve been reading my Plutarch recently, so I’ll call this the “Cato” view of government rules and regulation, named for the Roman Statesman who famously spoke out against the encroaching power of would-be dictators like Pompey and Caesar.  The Cato view goes like this:

Every regulation acts as a bureaucratic bottleneck that a business must resolve via interactions with public officials. You don’t need to resort to outright bribes (although some will!) to understand the power that a public official wields at that bottleneck.

We’re talking about delays, paperwork, inspections, licensing, fees, fines, exceptions, certifications, committee hearings, and waivers. You get the idea.

In the Cato view, public officials empower themselves by exploiting those bottlenecks, to the detriment of everyone else in society. Businesses and consumers alike pay the costs, one way or another, of officials’ cato_the_youngerempowerment.

The Cato view, broadly understood, is what worries the heck out of me about President Trump’s approach to doing “deals” for business. He talks about “eliminating 75 percent of regulations,” but his core policies and style threaten to generate regulatory bottlenecks instead.

Restrictions on immigration, “America First” trade policy, carrots-and-sticks for on-shoring manufacturing, and Twitter-bullying of specific businesses all lead to bottlenecks that expand – rather than reduce – the power of public officials and the regulatory state.

Whatever your view of the Executive Order dubbed the “Muslim Ban,” there is no denying this creates an extraordinary bottleneck, in the Cato sense of the world. This bottleneck is why more than 100 tech CEOs filed a brief in the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals against the Executive Order. Tech CEOs understand the “Muslim Ban” hampers their ability to hire and attract the best talent in the world.

And they know, and we know, what would happen next, with this kind of ban, right? The Trump administration, in its eagerness to show it can do deals, would create special immigration waivers for those tech companies. Provided, of course, those companies “play ball” with the administration in other ways. Otherwise, they should expect delays and intransigence from federal regulators.

Whatever your view of Trump’s proposal for “America First” tariffs on goods coming from Mexico or China or other supposed trade rivals, there is no denying this border tariff creates extraordinary costs for importers. Can some group of importers cut a deal to get those costs reduced, because of a particular favored-company or favored-industry status? Do you have any doubt they will try? That’s what the corporate lobbying industry is built for!

A new set of import tariffs, as consistently promoted by the Trump administration, creates extraordinary opportunity for bottlenecks, and therefore, public-official empowerment through “deals” and “solutions.”

Whatever your view of the deal cut by Trump and then-Indiana Governor Mike Pence for the Carrier plant to maintain some manufacturing jobs in Indiana, there is no denying the message sent to other companies: If you want to get waivers, exceptions, or tax breaks, be sure to follow what the Trump administration would like you to do with respect to on-shoring, or domestic “job creation.” What manufacturing CEO would not try to get in line to curry favor with the Trump administration? Maybe they too can get a “deal” on some tax incentives? Right?

That deal may have given the appearance of “job creation” by government officials – who will certainly claim that success – but it also resembles an exploitable regulatory bottleneck, in the Cato view of the world.

When the Twitterer-in-Chief attacks a particular company like Ford or Nordstrom, it’s an extraordinarily blunt attack by the federal government against civil society.

Some of this is not particular to the current administration, but rather is inherent in government regulation. We’ve seen some of this before now. Some of it, however, is new, and forms the core the administration’s policies, tactics, and style. Regulation and interference come in a variety of forms, and we need to understand them as such.

Cato tried to warn the Roman Republic about the overreach of its leaders. Consider yourself warned about the Trump administration and its true approach to government interference in business.

 

A version of this ran in the San Antonio Express News and The Houston Chronicle.

 

Please see related posts

Book Review: The Fall of The Roman Republic by Plutarch

 

 

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Conflict of Interest and Moral Codes

I was under the impression that we all agreed that government officials should do everything to eliminate both the reality and the appearance of acting for financial gain before, during, and after serving as a public figure.

Trump_teethApparently, that was naïve of me, as President-elect Trump has signalled his plan to turn over his business to his children, with details to follow in January 2017.

Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins wrote recently that any President is “always conflicted,” and therefore maybe President Elect Trump should be cut some slack with respect to his and his family’s business interests.

As Trump declines to fully separate himself from the family business, “Why not widen our tolerance a bit?” asks Jenkins. “Why not allow that Americans have the right to pick a business owner as President? Let’s see how their choice plays out.”

No, let’s not. People who make public policy should not have a private financial stake in the outcome, or even the appearance of a stake in the outcome. Shifting the Trump businesses to his children does not solve this problem. Even if the Trump family members aren’t seeking to profit from government ties, both critics and favor-seekers will assume that’s the case. That assumption itself undermines basic good government.

I understand Trump supporters view his business success as a kind of protection against financial corruption. After all, he and his children don’t need the money. Personally, I like the idea of a wealthy businessperson in office who therefore should be “immune” to financial temptation.

But that’s not even the point. People will still assume that policy isn’t made with the public’s interest foremost in mind. His critics will assume everyone’s on the take. Allies and favor-seekers will attempt to gain an advantage however they can. Is that great hotel site with water views in Costa Rica worth $50 million? Maybe selling to the Trump children for just $40 million gets an important meeting set up. Revisiting Dodd-Frank banking regulation soon? I’m happy to review those financing terms for you, Mr. Trump, Jr.

What real estate seller anywhere in the world wouldn’t want to cut them a good deal? What bank wouldn’t offer preferential terms?

Mafia
Mafia

The widespread idea that people get rich off of public service is an insidious termite nest, eating at and hollowing out the foundations of a republic. Successful generals in the late Roman republic generated extraordinary, corrupting wealth through their public offices. Latin American governments and Putin’s Russia offer past and current examples of the corrupt practices and cynicism it engenders about government. This is not a “Let’s see how their choice plays out” situation. We already know how it plays out.

Different moral codes

Jane Jacobs in Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics argued that a completely different set of moral codes defines how people in government should act versus how people in private enterprise should act. The two moral codes are each valid, and each work independently and properly in parallel, when contained within their own system. The blending of the two moral systems, however, leads to criminal outcomes and a breakdown of trust in society.

I read this about 20 years ago and haven’t seen a better explanation since.

The partial list of the proper moral codes of government workers – and here you could picture the police and military, plus political campaigners and government office holders – include the following precepts: Shun Trading, Be Obedient and Disciplined, Adhere to Tradition, Respect Hierarchy, Be Loyal, Take Vengeance, Dispense Largess, Be Exclusive, Show Fortitude, and Treasure Honor. Those moral codes make me picture an impressive old county courthouse, commanding a bit of awe. In a government and public service context, these moral precepts work best.

 

A partial list of the proper moral actions of business people – and here you could picture a trading firm, a technology startup, or a busy coffee shop – include the following codes: Shun Force, Collaborate Easily with Strangers, Compete, Use Initiative and Enterprise, Be Open to Inventiveness and Novelty, Be Efficient, Be Thrifty, Dissent for the Sake of the Task. I’m picturing an open floorplan marketing company with comic-book colored walls, glass conference rooms, and the smell of caffeine. In a business context, these moral values work best.

The point is not which code of conduct is morally superior, but rather that each code is consistent and appropriate to the job at hand.

Jane_jacobs
Jane Jacobs, activist and brilliant writer

The problem, Jacobs explained, is when you mix the two moral codes. The mixing leads to monstrosities. The Mafia, for example, is a for-profit business enterprise which employs moral codes from the government side, like loyalty, largesse, honor, and vengeance. Government office holders, on the other side, slip into corruption when they adopt values like of profit-seeking, inventiveness, and enterprise. Private armies and mercenaries are a special kind of mixed moral-code monstrosity, as is anytime we see politicians engaging in clear pay-to-play practices. What is moral and good in one context is not moral and good in the other.

Democrats too

By no means does one party have a cleaner history than the other on this. According to biographer Robert Caro, Lyndon Johnson built an ill-gotten fortune through pressuring businesses in Texas to advertise with radio stations nominally “owned” by Lady Bird Johnson, while Johnson served in Congress and the Senate. Technically (technically!) they weren’t his, but come on, “entrepreneurial activity” in this context is obviously wrong. Al Gore reportedly left the Vice Presidency in 2000 with a $1.7 million net worth, which then grew to an estimated $200 million net worth by 2012 through media, technology, and solar investments. I have a hard time believing his business partners solely valued him for his business acumen, rather than his government experience. The $240 million in income reportedly earned by the Clintons in their post White House careers also disgust me. They mixed the separate moral codes of business and government in a monstrous way, and they unfortunately set the stage for Trump to blow off calls to fully separate himself from his family’s businesses.

The point should not be “forget it, because both sides do this.” The point is, we should not be ok with the mixing of profit and public service, nor even the appearance of it. People will assume it’s happening with Trump’s family. We can’t do what Jenkins suggests, and normalize it, accept it, and “see how their choice plays out.”

Accepting this kind of moral monstrosity moves the republic much close to the Russian and Latin American model, and that’s not a good thing.

 

Please see related posts:

Curt Schilling and Rhode Island – The Moral Monstrosity of “Economic Development Politicies”

Book Review: Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics, by Jane Jacobs

Book Review: The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs

Book Review: Cities And The Wealth of Nations by Jane Jacobs

Trump – Why I Can’t Sleep At Night

 

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Trump Part VI – Principled Republican Leadership

angry_trumpI haven’t slept well lately because I’m worried for the end of the Republic. I’m re-reading about the rise of elected authoritarians, and the uses they make of security crises. I’m concerned Trump could cause an economic or financial crisis, and then use that excuse to subvert the Constitution.

When I write all these things, I want to clarify these are not predictions, but rather my frightened projections forward of what I see Trump has indicated he will do. I will get no pleasure in being “right.” I sincerely hope Trump’s supporters and allies have the last laugh at me. As an American citizen, I hope he turns out to be just a call-it-like-he-sees-it competent businessman thumbing his nose at the elite establishment.[1]

What would allow me to sleep better? For starters, I wish there was real opposition in government right now. With the Democratic Party stripped from the top levers of federal power, that opposition has to come from within the Republican Party. That’s the real bottom line right now.

The two things I want most for Christmas this year are an assertive free press and aggressive enforcers of the separation of powers and the Bill of Rights. If I’m really laying out all my wants, somebody who can keep us from foreign wars and fiscal suicide would be nice as well.

My policy agenda

If you’ve read this far into my posts on the Trump administration, can I let you in on a little (sort of unintended) joke about my Trump fears and my policy advocacy?

I didn’t really intend this when I started writing about Trump, but the things I’m advocating here are all traditional conservative Republican values. That’s not usually where I land. I don’t know Bill Kristol’s inner dialogue deeply, but I’d like to think he and I would agree on all of this stuff.

first_orderI’m talking about enforcing strict constitutional values, like individual freedom, not collective rights. I’m talking about protections against encroaching government interventions like surveillance and registrations – the kinds of things conservative Republicans usually advocate. I’m talking about limiting our responses to foreign provocations. I’m talking about balancing our budget and paying our debts. I’m talking about maintaining national strength through an independent central bank and monetary policy. I’m talking about expanding free trade, not getting into a protectionist crouch to coddle certain favored industries. Shit, this would put me on the same page as a conservative icon like Ronald Reagan. That’s all I ask for right now.

The way I figure it, this is not the time to be pushing my more narrow progressive agenda, or any wish for the arc of history to bend my way. This is a time to keep the focus on surviving First Order threats to the Republic.

By “First Order” threats (Star Wars Episode Seven puns absolutely intended) I mean:

  1. Upholding a constitutional democracy with a real separation of powers;
  2. Maintaining a free press that hasn’t been intimidated or sued into bankruptcy;
  3. Avoiding a shooting war with another major military power;
  4. Respecting the judicial branch’s enforcement of the Bill of Rights, and;
  5. Trying to prevent a complete collapse of US government credit.

It’s a lot to ask, I know. These are the kind of existential threats we haven’t really worried about at the start of a Presidency since the four inaugurations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression and World War Two.

Because if you take President-elect Donald Trump at his literal word during the campaign, all of these threats are suddenly back on the table. This is why I’m not sleeping.

Help us, Ted Cruz!

Calling all patriotic leaders of the Republican Party: The time will come, probably very soon, for you to take brave, even historic, stands. This is your time to show America’s greatness.

help_us_ted_cruzI feel like Princess Leia here, stuffing a message into my laptop just before the Empire arrives, whispering earnestly into my MacBook Pro: “Help us, Ted Cruz, you’re our only hope.”

Here is my short-list of Republican patriots I am counting on.

Senator Ted Cruz – You believe deeply in the US Constitution and even taught Constitutional law at the University of Texas. Your senior thesis at Princeton was on the separation of powers. Before becoming my Senator from Texas you argued and won five cases in front of the Supreme Court. You have shown an eagerness to be a completely maniacal obstructionist in the Senate on principles you believe in. You nearly took down our government during The Fiscal Cliff near-default of 2013.

ted_cruzThis is a great start! You even deeply dislike Trump! We could all use a guy like you right now.

I figure you also understand the #Calexit impulse of Californians wanting to secede from the union, since that’s an old idea from the Right in Texas. You believe in protecting states from the encroachment of the federal government. You need to be a bulwark of support for these Californians who are newly frightened of the federal government! You’ve got this!

Senator John McCain – Nobody understands the grave damage torturing enemy combatants does to our security and reputation – in addition to what we might poetically call our nation’s soul – more than you. You suffered for years at the hands of torturers in Vietnam.

President-elect Trump has threatened he will torture enemies with “waterboarding and much worse.” Senator McCain, you have called waterboarding a War Crime. You have singular credibility and a duty to stand up on this issue. I’m guessing Trump – after he said of you he likes “people who weren’t captured,” is not a close ally of yours. You did make a good start when you declared that you would take the Trump administration to court if they attempt to torture people. Please continue to speak out.

john_robertsChief Justice John Roberts – Our individual, inalienable, rights may be trampled by the instincts of Donald Trump, with the appointment of people who seem to want to take these away. If they are appointed to cabinet positions, will the Supreme Court stand up to advocates for increased domestic spying, or terrible ideas like advocacy for special registration for American Muslims? Religious freedom and freedom from warrantless searches underpin our system. Justice Roberts, please guide the Supreme Court toward striking down laws or executive orders that contradict our First and Fourth Amendment rights to religious freedom and privacy.

Senator Rand Paul – Your whole career – and that of your father Congressman Ron Paul – is a fight for principles you believe in, particularly strongly on both First Amendment rights and on the idea we should not involve ourselves in foreign military adventures. We all need you to be a zealot on both of these issues right now. Our incoming Commander-in-Chief Trump exudes an appetite for vengeance and violence, with little impulse control.

rand_paul
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks during an event at the University of Chicago’s Ida Noyes Hall in Chicago on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles) ORG XMIT: ILAN114

On First Amendment rights of free speech and a free press, Trump said he was “running against the crooked media,” calling them “dishonest” “disgusting,” and “scum.” He threatened newspapers like the Washington Post with “such problems” once he has been elected.

As for foreign wars, we will certainly be threatened by other countries and terrorists in the next few years, but that does not mean we should go to war because some tinpot dictator tweeted about Trump’s tiny fingers. Senator Paul, please continue to make the principled case for keeping us out of Trumped-up wars.

As Rand Paul said about Trump during the Republican debates in 2015:

“[I]s Donald Trump a serious candidate? The reason I ask this is, if you’re going to close the internet, realize, America, what that entails. That entails getting rid of the First Amendment, ok? It’s no small feat. If you are going to kill the families of terrorists, realize that there’s something called the Geneva Convention we’re going to have to pull out of. It would defy every norm that is America. So when you ask yourself, whoever you are, that think you’re going to support Donald Trump, think, do you believe in the Constitution? Are you going to change the Constitution?”

House Speaker Paul Ryan – You made your reputation within the Republican Party as an economic policy wonk and fiscal conservative. That means spending only what we can afford, and responsibly paying our bills. You know in your head, within your heart, and on your spreadsheets that our country – with a 100 percent debt to GDP ratio already right now – cannot afford a massive tax cut and a trillion dollar infrastructure spending plan, as called for by President-Elect Trump. And certainly, not both at the same time. I know you know this, because you understand budgets.

The US Constitution’s Article 1, Section 7 mandates:

“All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.”

paul_ryanThat’s you! C’mon Speaker Ryan, you got this. Stand up for what’s right. The US Bond markets turn their lonely eyes to you.

America – you need leadership in your corner, at least until 2018 mid-term elections. I present to you the principled leadership of Cruz, McCain, Roberts, Paul, and Ryan. Let’s hope they are enough.

I’m sorry, folks. I’ll probably never sleep again.

 

[1] With the self-control, empathy, honesty, and class of an 8 year-old spoiled man-child, but still.

 

Please see related posts:

Trump Part I – Fever Dreams

Trump Part II – Review of Recent Elected Authoritarians

Trump Part III – The Use of Security Crises

Trump Part IV – The Economic and Financial Crisis

Trump Part V – The Constitutional Crisis

 

And related posts:

Candidates Clinton and Trump: Economic Policies

Candidate Trump on US Sovereign Debt

 

 

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