Friday, August 9, 2019

To Save America’s Cities, We Need to Let Them Fail

Downtown Los Angeles

America's flagship cities have become laboratory experiments for social justice. Heavily controlled by political leaders who subscribe to progressive agendas, they have indulged in costly and risky policies. Permissiveness in the name of political correctness has turned once globally envied cities into dangerous ones on many fronts including law and order and public health. Venture away from the carefully curated enclaves for the tourists and the elites and one quickly sees the quality of life degrade. The cascading failure of infrastructure makes these cities ever more expensive to run with ever smaller beneficial returns on the taxes and subsidies they can garner. They are spiraling into becoming a Third World America within our borders. We need to turn this around.

We Let This Happen

The 200 largest cities in the United States,, actually only hold about 25% of the US population. The rest of us live elsewhere in the smaller under 100,000 population cities and towns across the America. To be sure, not all of our countries 200 largest cities are basket cases and not all of the places where the other 75% of us live are golden palaces. But these big cities have advantages to the US political narrative that they exploit. Most importantly, these are the towns where the mainstream media’s radio and television FCC licensed transmitters are located. Their local issues get airtime. Their politicians and activists get bully pulpits. They have cultural power. They can shape agendas. Agenda shaping is everything in the age of the Internet.

It makes one ask why the Left was able to take over the flagship cities? Being frank, the fault is in the mirror. Reasonable America abandoned the cities. Even more frank, middle ground America, that vast majority of moderate minded Americans, abandoned the cities. Turns out, we were wrong to do so.

In the vacuum we made, we let people apportion the county in to gerrymandered territories where politicians, in league with their opposites, created fiefdoms within which social experiments could be tried unfettered. The political establishment removed risk of real debate by citizens from the business of running the country. The elites only had to listen to other elites and their theories of how the betters should manage the lives of ordinary people. How easy it was to turn a plural nation of equals back into a tapestry of nobles and serfs.

Social Justice is a Black Swan

America is very good about manufacturing systemic risk be it financial or political. Elitist theories tend to be myopic agendas that come with inevitable debacles. The artifacts of imperfection are many. From the threat of bubonic plague breaking out in our downtowns that smell of unwashed humans soaked deeply into the pores of concrete walls to having to check your right-side blind spot like a hawk lest some nut doing twenty over the limit come weaving by driving it like they stole it.
We regular Americans are tolerant, so we adapt by avoidance and accommodation. We’ve gone from leaving keys under the mats to WiFi cameras at our properly lines. We think twice about parking on the street with anything in the car; or at least, check the gutter for spark plugs and the sidewalks for large planters spaced closely together.

As someone who started life in a part of the world where you concreted broken glass in the tops of the property walls, among other things, I know when my 1st world has shifted to 3rd gear. This is not a quality of life upgrade scenario, it’s a cascading failure condition.

Unfortunately, I am pessimistic that reasonable thinking alone can turn things around. Too many community leaders have bought into the politically theory traps that enable the degradation of life for good people in our cities. To buck those theories is suicidal for the establishment, even as they see things fall apart. There is too much reputational risk invested. They're going to sit on this time bomb until the fuse burns down. We ordinary people will pay the price for their inaction, and ours.

Know Your BATNA

There's a concept in difficult diplomacy when encountering irreconcilable conditions called the best alternative to a negotiated agreement. Basically, when things have to fail the mission becomes salvaging what you can so that you have something to build a tomorrow from again. In the case of our largest basket case cities we have probably passed that tipping point. The time for tough love and saying no until reality sets in again has arrived. This is not the Internet. This is the real world. You cannot “imagineer” impossible outcomes no matter how narcissistically smart you think you are. Bad theories deserve to lose.

As for me, I’m interested in making sure that the core principles of the country that I love survive. It’s not about me so much as it is about making sure that the frailties of our moment do not collapse the vision of the American Experiment. Here’s my list of framing the future narrative I believe all of us should consider.

Think big picture. Begin to view cities with misguided cities like rogue states.

Hubris has consequence. Leaving the broader community of the America Experiment is a form of hubris. Creating sanctuaries that subvert the national interest, instituting law enforcement policies that raise the risk to everyone except the criminals, promoting prejudicial contracting policies based on political tribalism. These are rogue actions. The popular narrative of sticking it to the man, namely President Donald Trump, mostly to frustrate his administration because of emotional hatred is irrational. There’s more rational agenda in the shenanigans of the Iranians and North Koreans than there is in municipal officials finking on ICE.

Practice peace through strength. Patient siege craft is a form of statecraft. It’s OK to let cities with nonsensical agendas fail. It’ll start a constructive chain reaction.

Here’s the thing about popular fad thinking. It’s only popular until it’s not. It will only take one of two of these major cities that pursue progressive social policies to implode and the rest will change course. Honestly, the situation as I see it is that several of these cities are probably already trying to figure out how to break out of their traps. They mostly don’t want to be the one without a chair when the music stops.

There’s a lot of bluster by these cities thinking they are more like the sovereign cities of Ancient Greece than part of the larger United States. But the reality is that even the largest city in the US, New York City, is only 2.6% of the population. The City of Los Angeles is only 1.2% of the people. The other 198 of the largest US cities are fractions of a percent of the US per city. Their bark is bigger than their bite. It’s ok for the United States to patiently wait them out.

The bottom line is that medicine is bitter. The biggest cities will have to fail before they can be saved. Their leaders need the excuse of “I had no choice” cover in order to shed their ties to social justice agendas.

Practice constructive hill and valley power policy. Constructively manage the codependency between failing cities and their surrounding areas.

The United States still needs viable regional economies but that doesn’t mean we cannot better organize the power hierarchies in our Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA’s). Certain cities engage in outsized influence practices upon their neighbors in counties and sometimes even across entire states. There’s no reason the federal government, state or county systems to honor tradition once a municipality goes rogue. Rather, just as in international diplomacy, it is critical for harmony that rogues see it in their best interest to rejoin the broader community. Willingly or kicking and screaming, it’s still a good thing.

Like international interests, there is a carrot and stick element to this process. Harmonious cities should be rewarded. The selective allocation of federal grants to shape regional outcomes based is part of conducting good statecraft. The national narrative should incorporate this consideration into the how and why things happen with respect to our cities.

The US will endure. Focus on winning the long games. Target local change where it’ll work.

There’s little sense in throwing good money after bad. Nor is there a payoff to gambling at a rigged roulette wheel. There are plenty of cities where a little organizing on the margin can shift the tipping point back to the founding principles of America. You know, we hold these truths to be self-evident.

There’s an opportunity for grassroots coalitions to be born among the political orphans of this country, left and right, working together to tell the establishment and extremists the American version of “Not today ISIS.” Social media may have been used to manipulate all of us to hate each other. But it’s just a medium, a tool that can serve many purposes. It can be used to find common ground, if we are brave enough.

There are many grassroots groups that have started up around the country to take making America great again to the local level. Every city council, country boards of supervisors, congressional district can be changed if people pang together. Even “behind enemy lines” states like California have active movement of patriotic Americans willing to work. But they still need to find their organizing principle that brings together their American interest beyond the constraints of left vs. right or ethnicity. These are borders in our minds created by establishments and elites. They are artificial. They need not constrain the ordinary Americans in our middle from calling bullshit and saying we like each other. We can work towards common goals while enjoying the joviality of our differences in the kind of social cohesion America was made for. It’s time to end zero tolerance and set a new goal line, total tolerance. Don’t be PC, be Out Loud!

Tactically, it boils down to “voting blocks matter”. These are the boots on the ground. That’s how you win the day in America. All the punditry, lobbying and gerrymandering in this country is still hostage to who can organize and motivate people to just say no. Here’s the thing, while the left has been more vocal than the right in our biggest cities, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Every citizen matters in America and creating majorities that can tell the fringe to go pound sand can be organized. Middle ground America may be today’s political orphans but there’s still more of us than there are them. We just forgot this for a little while under a barrage of mainstream and social media noise. We are numb bot not hopeless. It’s time to remember who outnumbers whom.

Fight Back. Change the Game to Our Game. Expose and Oppose Trickery. Make It Your Personal Mission to Make Things Right

People like Saikat Chakrabarti may have gotten away with magic trick wins like getting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex elected to New York’s 14th Congressional District but the guy just quit as her chief of staff and is apparently being investigated for improperly routing campaign funds to private companies he owned by the FEC. Every resident of CD-14 should be considering who to vote for in 2020 to undo that bamboozle. In America, everyone eventually gets found out and pays the price. This is a principle every ordinary American should fight for, no matter where the truth leads.

My advice is go find people like Ruth Papazian who live in and honestly care about NY CD-14. People who are brave enough to say no to the carpet bagger politicians and say they care about all the political orphans in the middle. There’s a Ruth in every voting district in this country. Your mission is find them and vote them in so they can serve the interests of the country we love. We may be the people of the “cheap seats” but we matter.

An even more sinister form of trickery is the movement to divide and conquer the American social fabric. I am presently particularly appalled by the movement to openly practice prejudice against my white fellow citizens.

It’s disgustingly the same type of suppression that was practiced against newly freed blacks at Colfax at the end of the Civil War, that was the beginning of gun control as we know it in America by the way, and against Southern European and Irish immigrants from 1860 to 1925.

Our white friends and neighbors are being called unworthy simply because they embody the ethos of the post-World War II Great Society American Dream that was sold by radio and television to the Baby Boomers.

Here’s the truth. They’ve done nothing wrong. They’ve led good tolerant lives accepting of others as equals. What’s happening to them is cultural genocide. It’s wrong. Political correctness makes it difficult to impossible for them to defend themselves from this cruel and calculated asymmetric attack. But there is a way to defeat it. The rest of us need to come to their aid.

I’m personally calling upon every non-white and foreign-born American who has benefitted from the American Experiment to step up, be counted and defend our fellow white citizens from prejudice. Fight asymmetric attack with asymmetric counterattack. Because it’s the right thing to do.

Americans are good at doing the right thing when we put our minds to it. Let’s show the jacuzzi revolutionaries what America is really made of.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Asymmetric De-Stabilization; Why the S.400 Missile System is So Dangerous

In the 1980s, president Ronald Reagan took the United States down the path of the strategic defense initiative known as Star Wars. It fundamentally changed the nature of strategic nuclear warfare to the point that it was an economical for the Soviet Union to continue to pursue the strategy of mutual assured destruction. It changed the world and ended the Cold War. Decades later, the descendant of one of the Soviet anti-aircraft defense missile systems from the era of the Red Menace is set to do the same to the world's air forces. 

Black Swans Rising

The S.400 is the evolution of area air defense systems only dreamt about in the days of the Cold War by the Voyska PVO Strany Air Defence Armies of the Soviet Union. This is a very capable missile system. It is a missile system that renders almost the entire inventory of older generation combat aircraft in the hands of any air force obsolete.

Fighter aircraft, command and control planes, drones and even stand off missiles are at risk from the talons of an S.400 generation class SAM. The Israelis found this out in the hard way Syria on February 10, 2018 losing a very advanced version F-16L to a storm of anti-aircraft defenses, “Dangerous Skies” Dennis Santiago,,

You should realize that one-half to two-thirds of the cost of a modern combat aircraft is in avionics, the electronic systems that manage the offensive and defensive ability of the platform to operate in a hostile airspace. Most of the combat aircraft on this planet do not have sophisticated electronic warfare avionics. Even among the nations that do, the S.400 missile is still a threat for so-called fourth generation and lesser combat aircraft. As S.400 systems proliferate, and the technology to make them independently along with it, entire fleets of Air Forces will have to either be modernized or scrapped. Few nations will be able to afford the next generation of aircraft is necessary to operate in the type of hostile airspace. It will increasingly alter the danger of the skies above surface of the earth.

Power projection, Maritime patrols, Surveillance, Air Defense Interdiction Zones, Close Air Support. All these missions will undergo radical transformations wherever the footprint of shows up. I have to spare general readers the specifics because I don’t want to have to put classification stamps at the top and bottom of this article; but, for those of you with the clearances, I’m pretty sure your mind is now racing about what the engagement analytics means; not just for our Air Force, but for every air force that we’ve relied upon to multiply our influence.

Like Star Wars, the S.400 takes the world’s global stability planners through what’s called a non-linear junction in the rules of engagement. Everything changes from the probability of loss mathematics to the diplomatic leverage potential of US and allied force structure inventories.
This is not a small deal. This is an asymmetric threat; as asymmetric as SDI was. This is not a problem directed against the United States. This is a systemic threat to the structure of world order that the United States depends on. It has the consequence effect of undermining and eliminating the how we think power balances between nations and factions within nations. This is what academics call a Beta Risk event, a global stability Black Swan.

And it’s going to work because here’s the thing about asymmetric threats, once the ball gets moving, entropy rules. It’s you against inevitability. It’s almost impossible to stop.

Motives, Methods, Opportunities

Some will this as profiteering by the Russians selling second generation systems to generate cash and influence among second tier countries as Vladimir Putin’s nationalist pride fights to keep his country relevant in international affairs.

But there’s more to it than that. One nation alone, regardless of intent, can case that much damage. Even Russia. But changes in the topology international power can.

It's called hill and valley power. That's the name for the regional struggles for power among so-called second tier of nations. Traditionally the proxy vassals of greater superpowers, our world is now seeing the emergence of nation-state agency, the independent action of individual parties, as the era of hegemony fades and a 21st century of fragmented or fractal alliances begins.

It’s a formula for a very unstable world. As old regime militaries become obsolete, we will see arms races. Desperate efforts to preserve the status quo of force-based order. But it won’t work. More likely, alliances and advantages will change. So many old grudges will be put to new tests between countries. Minuet wars to settle disputes will erupt.

The United States is at a crossroads in how we deal with a complex network of nations as we prepare to bolster our alliances and economic partnerships to prepare for an anticipated era of competition for global economic domination. It is a complex puzzle to be sure as we ponder our national interests with a world experiencing cataclysmic realignment.

The Tier Two Club

A power balance earthquake is rocking Eurasia. Countries like Turkey, Iran and Russia, nations with gross domestic product's in the middle range of the spectrum, are banding together. It’s an economic-interests banding of nations that don’t’ fit the European Union cooperative model. But it’s not a Warsaw Pact collection of vassals either. These are peer states brought together by not fitting in to the New World Order; they are not one of those thousand points of light.

Still, like the European Union, what they are effectively doing is banding together to shelter in place for the coming battle of the titans between the world's two largest economies, the United States and China.

To put it mildly, US relations are strained with these Eurasian Tier Two’s.


Our relationships with the Russians have been beset with a series of disastrous resets going back to the end of the Cold War. We never instituted a 1990’s Marshall Plan to help them even after Boris Yeltsin wept openly in our grocery stores about the price his people had paid to uphold their end of the Cold War global stability bargain. We could have established a powerful northern alliance with the Russians; but we didn’t. We let their world go into free fall. Today’s Russia is a basket case of oligarchy and bankrupt districts where the government looks the other way at crimes committed that bring in precious hard cash any way they can. They are still scrounging. Life is hard today.

Vladimir Putin, a very proud man, is holding a hand of cards in a poker game that requires a lot of bluff and bravado. He's pretty good at it. But he also knows he's managing a House of Cards as fragile as the one Czars had to contend with in their time.

We’ve not make things easier. We repeatedly go back to our Red Menace prejudice about them over and over; often, purely for the convenience of using them as a foil in our domestic debates. The two countries’ relations remain dysfunction as ever. That’s a lot of incentive for Mother Russia to find another way.


We have a hostile relationship with Iran that exists in what conflict strategists called a grey zone conflict, a stage of strained relations just short of outright warfare. In this case because they’re quite honesty bat shit crazy. Between a grudge their religious leadership hasn’t be able to let go of since 732 A.D. and their fatal attraction to repeat the overextension of influence mistakes of their Persian Empire history, the Iranians have a knack for making themselves unwelcome in genteel circles. Heck, they even have a knack for putting their Tier Two Club allies into some peculiar pickles on a regular basis. Khamenei, Rouhani and Salami act more like Larry, Moe and Curly on the international scene.
It’s kind of sad because Persian culture and people are quite interesting.


And then there’s Turkey, the other former empire. Our relationship with the Ottomans is, well, chaotic. The good news, if there is such a thing here, is that’s par for the course. Everyone else’s relationship with them is chaotic too. They are barely in still in NATO. And warily members of the Tier Two Club.

The Turks do weird things. They openly call the most stalwart US allies in the region against ISIS, the Kurds, terrorists and would subdue them like the Ottomans did the Armenians. It’s a brutally pragmatic culture that looks out for itself first and only. This is the exact kind of persona that makes the “woke” parts of America freak from deep inside their safe spaces. Of course, given the socio-political fragmentation of the United States, the Turks probably see us as just as a chaotic a counterparty.

In a more practical sense, Turkey has its own share of problems. The Turkish economy is in a period of “retrenchment of previous gains”, to quote the type of thing that Alan Greenspan would have described it. A period of ebullient borrowing by the Turkish government to fund economic expansion has put them on the edge of a Venezuela-like national debt predicament. Political turmoil stemming from it has put the Turkish Central Bank at odds with the Turkish government led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Like most leaders in his predicament, Erdogan turns to nationalism to weather the storm.

Fragmented Planet

Under normal circumstances, these three countries have little in common. But these are uncommon times. We are seeing the fragmentation of the world. It will be marked with greater disagreement between parties then in the past. That's a formula for a dangerous time. The kind of time where someone might make a mistake and accidentally start a World War. This represents a real worry for anyone interested in global stability that can perpetuate the conditions for constructive economic competition.

Note that it also comes at a time when the United Nations has become unable to perform its function of mitigating disharmony among the community of nations. The democratization of the UN whereby the General Assembly has become dominated by Tier Three nations has made it impossible for the Tier One and Two countries to have a working forum within that body. Their differences must be solved elsewhere; so far, in fractured bilateral dealings.

Bottom line is the UN’s path to inclusiveness failed to prevent the fractal alignments are beginning to emerge on this planet. The why, the how, the who doesn't matter anymore. The fact of the matter is that it's already happened. The world has gone through a one-way door and there is no way to step back to the other side of the looking glass.

Pivotal Importance

Turkey is, in my opinion, potentially the most destabilizing pivot point to military global stability on the planet at this moment in time. The asymmetric cascading failure will either begin in Turkey or end in Turkey. It’s important that US policy makers not treat this lightly.

I do not like or dislike the Turks. I think they are as much caught in the eye of this storm as anyone else. But it’s not lost on me that Turkey is the grand bazaar of this planet. The oldest market where goods and secrets change hands.

Two critical pieces of technology make Turkey important to every power planner on this planet. They are the S.400 surface-to-air missile system and F-35 fighter. Possession of access to these two technologies lowers the threshold of technology transfer knowledge whereby the cratering of the power of global air forces will extend to threating the viability of fifth generation stealth technology combat aircraft. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of how fast.

That bombshell will be in the hands of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I cannot see any scenario where he will not attempt to exploit it.

The China Card

None of this is happening in a battle of the Titans vacuum. The other over $16 trillion GDP economy on this planet, China, is making great effort to be friends with everyone. They send delegations to cooperate with anybody who will let them in the door. There's even a Chinese military unit drilling with NATO to cooperate in case of a catastrophic humanitarian disaster that engulfs the planet requiring everyone to help.

This positioning strategy makes sense for China. Every stability analyst with his or her weight in salt needs to respect that Xi Jinping is not a fool in this regard. No pun intended, China can read tea leaves very well. They can see the coming changes in the power structure of the planet appearing on the horizon. They want to be the other superpower that appears on the scene for the remainder of the 21st century.

Personally, I am not entirely sure the China sees the global implications of the S.400 any better than the United States does. Their actions so far do not seem to see that they are as vulnerable to the asymmetric dismantling of the Post-Cold War global economy assumption as much as the United States is. My instinct says that the United States and China are about to discover that they have more in common for their dreams of the next world order than we have differences.

It reminds me of the first admonition that was given to me when I started working on the problems of arms control during the Cold War. I was told to remember that the Russians were our partners in ensuring the success of global stability. I was told a tumultuous and dysfunctional relationship to be sure; but, ours was nevertheless a deep bond of allies to organize the world and prevent fragmentation and chaos in the aftermath of World War 2.

Some things change, some things stay the same.

US Options

What we can’t do.

Read my lips. No one on this planet can afford to allow a systemic cascading failure of military power balances on this planet to happen. we do not have the international cohesion among the community of nations to prevent the accidental initiation of a World War. We need to understand our limitations. That goes For the United States. That goes for the Chinese. That goes for the Russians. That goes for everyone. We let this happen, trade imbalances will be the least of our problems.

What we should be doing.

First, we should be asking the Russians some very tough questions about whether their intentions are indeed the crater to capabilities of every Air Force on this planet, including their own. If that is not the case, the Russians need to begin to take an active role in managing the systemic danger that they are causing.

Second, we should be discussing with the Chinese the fact that we both want a world where we can continue to interact with each other primarily based on healthy economic competition, even if that intramural sport is somewhat rough at times. We need to come to an understanding with the Chinese that it is both our interest to make sure that our economies can do so successfully anywhere on this planet. We should engage the Chinese in a serious discussion about how we, the two largest economies on this planet, are going to contain the spread of this destabilizing threat to the global stability equation.

Third, we need to stop pussyfooting around and get serious about a US national strategy to break up the Tier Two Club before something bad happens. Considering we are playing for time against a global cascading failure, I would not leave anything off the table for consideration at the National Security Council.

Fourth, we also need a national strategy about what we are going to do as a supplier of weapon systems on this planet to mitigate the threat of destabilization facing the other nations on this earth who cannot afford to respond to what is coming. We cannot stop this alone. The who we help, how we help, what we supply to help, and the conditions under which we will help, need to be thought through systematically or we will screw this up big time.

Fifth, we need to manage the awareness and expectations of the American people so that they understand how serious this problem is and how important it is that we deal with it calmly and in unison. We blink, we lose. Just is.

It’s been a long time since we’ve put ourselves in a position to accidentally burn up the planet.

Let’s not.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Risky Business; Why Social Justice Creates Problems for Nike, CNN, Starbucks, Facebook

Within the internet, we live in our own personalized echo chambers. The dark side effect, we have become psychotically intolerant of anything outside our safe spaces. Borrowing from McLuhan, the medium has become our lifestyle. We now live on a planet that never looks up, never looks in each other’s eyes. We’ll never see the meteor coming.

Lifestyle Marketing.

It’s one of the most effective ways to sell things. The fashion, apparel, perfume, automobile, travel, sports, outdoor and other consumer industries depend on it. It’s about segmenting and beguiling human beings to transform them from disinterested parties into devoted purchasers. It’s brainwashing for financial gain. Since the days of Madison Avenue and Marshall McLuhan, America has become probably the most finely tuned consumer selling machine ever known to mankind. We have conditioned consumers to snobbishly crave products and hate alternatives not on measures of objective utility; but on how well they soothe our egos.

Many of us now have more virtual friends than real life ones. Author Julie Albright’s recent book, “Left to their Own Devices” chronicles how human value systems are changing because we have put our lives on the net; how we have become utterly alone with a tiny portal in our hands to experience the life. Humanity has become lonelier even as it has become more wired. Lifestyle marketing has achieved its apex goal, a world where humans almost entirely connect via machines designed to package and sell personal dreams.

We are entertained by the popularity of fads. A plethora of fads. Transient fads the go viral and just as quickly disappear. Fads segmented and tailored for each one of us. It’s made us hyper-tribal. Intolerant to degrees we would, until very recently, never be in person. We have become afraid to speak out of turn lest we be judged and rejected for being “incorrect”. Or vocal about our views so that we block off those who don’t soothe our fragile feelings. Either way, it’s a dysfunctional, traumatic experience to navigate. We allow ourselves to be codependent on people we’ve never met, or barely know, for affirmation. We declare everyone else to be blood enemies.

I’ve always viewed social justice to be one of those fads. Invented by academics to deconstruct theories of societal organization and analyze them, it morphed into a pop culture tool to bludgeon people. The feeling of entitlement and elitism being able to write one’s own rulebook with impunity in any way you’d like to imagine. It is the drug permeating the internet.

It is a cancer-causing drug that is killing our souls. Plurality, that tolerance respect for disparate values, ceases to have practical meaning in such prickly times. It is replaced with an ocean of hate groups, each one thinking they are the most virtuous. And underneath the noise makers, an orphaned society struggling to find its voice to call bullshit.

Artifacts of a Changing World.

This system that serves the demigod of the for-profit echo chamber may be omnipresent, but it’s still a house of cards. It’s built on a ground rule and assumption that you can exploit lifestyle marketing forever without consequence. Such grand assumptions have never been true. Every innovation has a half-life. Every belief set reaches a threshold of impracticality.

I believe we are beginning to see some of the tenets of the social justice fad weakening. I’m a bit of a student of societal artifacts. I’ve been studying for a while corporate sustainability reporting, an element of a public company’s financial filings. Investors know them as 10-K’s, 10-Q’s, 8-K’s and other documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

SEC filings are an echo chamber of sorts that gives you insight into what businesses America considers to be their “safe spaces”. Don’t be fooled into thinking every company is unique. That’s not how the so-called soft and squishy part of business works. It’s more like lemming.

The reality is that the sustainability portion of a company’s filings is more like the practice of carbon copying what lawyers and risk consultants tell you will work to put into that section, what the safest thing to say is. At any time, corporate America is likely to pretty much be saying the same thing.

It’s faddish just like any other fad. For some time, copying and pasting approved platitudes about social justice and environmental sensitivity have been considered the “safe” words.

That’s beginning to not be the case. In the Internet triggered era, such platitudes have themselves become the seeds of corporate reputational risk. As social attitudes change, and in America they change and rebalance very quickly, they lead markets to question if corporate management and governance are acting in the best interest of the company. Let’s look at some case studies,

Nike, Inc.

Nike is part of the apparel industry. It is one of the most aggressive users of lifestyle marketing to carve out market share in a highly competitive environment. Nike relies on edgy attitude to not only spot fads and trends; but to make them. They walk the fine line of whom to extoll and who to disrespect in the name of aiming for maximum sales volume.

Politics aside, there’s serious mathematics in the economic calculus of a company like Nike. Inventory is just one element in a larger evaluation. For instance, to sell or junk a shoe design. If a few people in the core demographic of trendy social justice lifestyle buyers indicate they might get a little uncomfortable, is it better to take a write down loss on the shoes and parlay it into lots of free viral advertising that will make Nike’s core lifestyle purchaser’s affinity grow? For the Nike’s of the world, that’s a decision they ponder all the time.

But increasingly, it’s not a decision that doesn’t also come with business sustainability risks. Attitude can radically alter what market segments you have access to. There was a reason the Betsy Ross Flag show design made it all the way into stores. Someone at Nike did the research that said there was purchase intention there; that the market is turning.

In my opinion, Nike management chickened out. There was no danger their core market was going to abandon them. They went for the “safest word” in their version of corporate sustainability. They elected to not offend the market share they knew instead to exploring how to expand their business to address objectively found emerging areas of demand.

That’s leaving money on the table for competitors. That’s hardly ever a good thing for a company. Other lifestyle apparel companies will gain strength wherever they are not. I suggest that Nike’s board of directors should be asking some serious questions about the incident.

Quoting tongue in cheek from Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, have they crossed their “shoe event horizon”?


Cable News Network is another company that invested heavily in lifestyle marketing. At one time the world’s premier global news company, CNN made a big bet that Blue America, the world of a Democratic Party controlled national agenda was the media territory that was its path to greatness. It relinquished fair and balanced reporting, gave the right of aisle market to Rupert Murdoch’s FOX News, and put their attention into battling other left of center media outlets for dominance.

The 2016 election of Donald Trump threw a wrench into that plan. Suddenly, CNN had to make a choice whether to return to the center or hold out for two years until the mid-term election. They chose the latter and proceeded to double down on their lifestyle marketing bet.

The network put its lifestyle persona bet on things like Mueller investigation and it’s ended disastrously. The network’s ratings went into free fall. They lost 24% share in as of April 2019 and estimated additional 16% of their primetime ratings in the month of May 2019 alone. They now have an estimated 1/3 the audience of rival FOX. It’s a shadow of Ted Turner’s former empire.

It hasn’t helped CNN retain audience share that the once invincible Blue Dream of the Democratic Party has descended into it’s own chaotic nightmare that sees leadership like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Charles Schumer being challenge by Saikat Chakrabarti’s Justice Democrat harem who seem to be as good at confounding the Establishment Democrat leaders on Twitter as President Donald Trump can. Sparring with AOC? Really Nan? That’s beneath you.

And then there’s Barack Obama’s prediction of the Democratic Presidential Primary Race turning into “circular firing squad” playing out like a zombie apocalypse to the horror of orphaned centrist Democrats and the delight of Trump’s MAGA voter base.

This is about as perfect a storm as it gets.

This is wounded bird case of corporate failure that just cannot be ignored. And they’ve run into a merger with AT&T, a company that runs strictly by the numbers and is looking to economize following the acquisition of CNN’s parent Time-Warner. The word is that WarnerMedia boss John Stankey wants CNN to go down the path of developing a digital arm to rival FOX’s Digital with specializes in aggregating light news to fill the internet and yield many millions of page hits per day. Can you imagine a world where TMZ has more meat than the major outlet on the same story? You don’t have to. It’s been happening at FOX and soon it’ll be happening at CNN too.

That’s kind of a journalist’s version of a perfect storm.

Seeking redemption, I’ve also noted that the opinion section of CNN online has even begun carrying contributions that are not overtly hostile to the Trump administration, albeit with the “this op ed does not represent the opinion of the company” disclaimers prominently on display. Well, post debacle, one starts somewhere.

That is an artifact that says hell may be freezing over.

CNN are not the only ones centering up. It’s back to business by the numbers for the industry. My question is whatever possessed them into thinking dividing the country into political factions was a sustainable business model? Supernormal return for a while yes. But all overtime pay eventually ends. CNN got addicted to it. These choices are ending predictably.


There’s probably no business model where managing social justice expectations is more problematic than a distributed retail franchise like Starbucks. With just shy of 300,000 employees deployed at over 28,000 stores, touching humans looking up from their phones just long enough to recite mystical incantations that turn into cups of coffee is about as lifestyle retail as it gets.

Keeping the balance of peace within the interior of their store spaces has evolved into some macabre rules. Anyone can be in a Starbucks but no one can fall asleep in one. That’s a new rule to deal with homeless people coming in and hanging out in a place designed for people doing business and homework to come in and hang out while drinking coffee. You used to be able to take a nap between reading book chapters or composing article paragraphs. No more of that.

Social justice has the weirdest side effects.

Just as weird is Starbucks being a safe space that isn’t safe if a bunch of cops come in for coffee. One squeaky wheel patron causes an employee who, trying to please that person, insults other persons by preventing them from reciting their magical incantations and getting no coffee with their misspelled names on them. Then it goes viral on the internet because that’s what we do in America now whenever safe spaces collide like particles of matter and anti-matter.

Then, Starbucks corporate must send legions of trainers out to those 28,000+ locations to teach everyone a new rule that meets the universal social justice for all algorithm and, of course, to apologize to anyone that may have been slighted; in press releases so they don’t get boycotted again.

And Starbucks does send legions because unlike Nike or CNN, their business economics are about just doing whatever it takes to not pick any fights with anyone. Besides, there’s hardly enough space in one for a good fight and the merchandise display racks have breakables.

Is this just a weird version of America or what?

The microcosm of the damage social justice has created in a store the size of a two-car garage in 28,000 places everyday kind of boggles the mind when you think about it. It’s disruption without innovation. It kind of irks me and makes me want to order my coffee using the app on my phone so I never have to look up. Plus, my name will be spelled correctly on my cup because it’s a sticker.

Is this really what post-Industrial America is supposed to be like? Bizzare rules that bear little resemblance to common sense? And we’re supposed to accept this like happy sheep? Remember what I said about everything having a half-life earlier? We are stretching too many rubber bands. 

There’s something amiss about believing this is good for ordinary Americans or for America.


Social media companies are finding out just how risky lifestyle personalization business strategies can be. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has been dragged in front of Congress to answer for the sins of an industry by a hostile government that 20 years ago didn’t want anything to do with regulating companies like these. Now, Facebook is feared because so many people have established their digital “second lives” on them. We’ve revealed our souls to a machine designed to exploit lifestyle personalization to echo chambers of one person per bubble. A universe where we are connected to each other only through the Matrix of Facebook’s omniscient engine that decides what gets through.

And we want that engine to do exactly what each of us selfishly wants. Connect us perfectly. Amplify our thoughts. Market our message. Show us only what we want to see. Make us happy. Make our experience perfect. Make anything we don’t like go away. Punish those we disagree with harshly because they don’t matter, only we, only I, matter. Make sure noise from robots and rogues is kept at bay. But not my noise. Push that into every one’s face please. Oh, and do this for free.

When you step back and breathe, it’s clear that the world doesn’t really work that way. What does amaze me is how hard Facebook works to make it come close to that as possible. Implementing technology to reduce noise in our personal echo chambers.

There are 2.38 billion active users of Facebook per month. Only 190 million of them are in the United States. The cultural echo chamber separation algorithms that Facebook uses so Americans do not see the other 2.19 billion people on the system is a lot of work just there.

And now, pushed along by the demands of social justice of every left and right persuasion, there’s the work of separating Americans from each other in our increasingly self-segregated culture. Armies of human filterers are becoming algorithmic artificial intelligence and robots tasked to make everyone happy in their disconnected loneliness.

And there’s more. I noted that there were two kinds of major earthquakes in California on 4th of July week. One was natural. A magnitude 6.4 and 7.1 earthquake centered around Ridgecrest, California just outside of what’s called the Long Valley Caldera, the site of an ancient volcano. Maybe it’s not just meteors we need to worry about.

The other, virtual world earthquake, happened on July 3, 2019. On that day, the image servers of all the properties owned by Facebook, Inc. which included Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp went dark for several hours while Mark Zuckerberg’s technology team made base object changes to the entire network. When it came back up, memes from robots, which had begun to proliferate with divisive political messages, were sparse.

Quoting from another movie metaphor, “A déjà vu means they’ve made a change to the Matrix.”

The question for Facebook is will this be enough to placate the hubris of Americans. That’s an unknown. Will that please everyone? No. That’s impossible. But Facebook can bend reality.

That’s not the important question.

The important question is does demanding Facebook do a better and better job of keeping us happily alone amount to the right thing for the United States national interest? Is this really where we want corporate governance of our infrastructure and our commerce to go? These companies will do what we tell them to either by themselves or by regulations. What should we tell them to do?

Ponder again the warning, we are losing plurality and the need to be tolerant of other Americans as technology makes it ever easier to never have to look up.

Without that cohesion, are we still Americans?

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Unable to Please Everyone, Theresa May Gives Up

Originally published on May 24, 2019 on America Out Loud,

“Is this like Brexit?” That was the question every Briton asked me and my American companions on November 8, 2016 as we sat at a bar in in London watching the television coverage of President Donald Trump’s win. We were loud, boisterous and irreverent⏤bantering about when Hilary Clinton would come out of hiding and concede. The reserved Londoners looked at us with their stiff upper lips, probably murmuring about what unruly savages we colonials were. They were in shock about this fissure in the timeline; although, not nearly as shocked as the country already beginning to descend into a cultural fragmentation grenade I would come home to a few days later.

I wasn’t sure how to answer their question that day. The United Kingdom had a few months before passed their own titanic change of direction approving Brexit, the vote to leave the European Union. They were still trying to understand what it meant and who to implement the divorce they had voted for.

To many, the European Union was more than just a socialist cooperative economic model beginning to show the stresses of many years of the richer nations supporting the poorer ones. The EU was for them the culmination of a dream of a better that began on the 8th of May 1945, Victory in Europe Day. The people of Western Europe had endured the Cold War paying the price of post-war mobilization of NATO.

In the 1970’s⏤the beginnings of a shift from swords to plowshares in the form of the European Economic Community brought an inkling of a better future to people who finally began to feel that the ghost of the Reich would not return again. And then the European Union expanded that dream to see a world beyond the end of the Cold War.

To abandon such a thing, to possibly return to the individual nation state dangers of pre-NATO Europe, to abandon the safe space of co-dependency was a not an easy thing to wrap their heads around. Being from the other side of the pond and dealing with my own rumblings about what was about to transpire in the New World, I didn’t feel like over focusing on it. So my answer then was, “I don’t know. But we’re going to find out.”

In the two and a half years hence, we’ve witness the leadership of the two premier English speaking nations of the world take very different approaches to carrying out their election mandates of 2016.

Where the US’ President Donald Trump accepted the reality that social fissures laid bare by his election and used them to navigate a treacherous maze of opportunities and pitfalls to carry out his mandate, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Theresa May sought to find a solution through painfully inclusive social justice paths seeking to smooth over the social fissures that where also emerging in her country.

May tried three times to package the Brexit mandate as a universal compromise. She failed each time. Few doubt that she meant the best for her country. But equality of outcome for conflicted constituencies within her nation in a nation-state economic divorce was never realistic. Theresa May was trying to hang on the communal dream of EU co-dependency while working on a mandate meant to turn the English Channel back into a defensive moat. It was never going to work.

Prime Minister May’s mistake was strategic. By not allowing hard Brexit divisive forces to have sway alongside soft Brexit preservationist forces that would result in an imperfect, but functional, solution, she instead led her country into an infeasible dead end. She now pays the price for that mistake.

Her successor will most likely not make the same mistake. The odds are the United Kingdom’s next Prime Minister will be more like America’s Donald Trump who is using both division and inclusion as part of his toolkit to lead.

My own opinion is that this is good fo the U.K. May didn’t have the heart to make the tough choices of establishing the self-interests of her country versus the EU in clearer terms. She tried to be nice and succeeded only in creating a self-imposed gridlock condition.

I hope the next Prime Minister does not make the same error. Victory goes to the bold. The U.K. needs to be bold. The reality is that other European Union nations are looking across the moat hoping to see a model of the future they can follow; because the true future of a healthier European Union is one where real equity and merit within it, not imaginary social justice, drives prosperity and stability. Lest the minuet fissures that have been the reality of European conflict since the Hundred Years’ War continue to spread like a the cancer. A cancer that Brexit was meant to cut out.

So how would I answer the comparative question “Is this like Brexit?”

I would say no because of how we tackled the task. The reason is not because the United States didn’t have just as strong a mandate to “Make America Great Again” as the mandate of Brexit. We did. The words are American, but the intent is the same.

It’s because we’ve been bold about pursuing our mandate. We’ve ruffled feathers standing up for ourselves not because we are hegemonistic, that we want to conquer and rule. No, it’s because we seek fairness in the world. It’s a tough love form of coexistence.

That’s the lesson in national interest here for Americans as we ponder our own future. Our dangers are the dead ends of trying to create “designer outcome” compromises; the kind that Theresa May could not achieve.

Trade War Heats Up; Will America or China Blink First?

Originally published May 10, 2019 on America Out Loud,

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping have a lot to talk about the next time they meet. The two men lead the two superpower economies of the world. The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China are bound together in what geopolitical strategists current call Grey Zone conflict; a 21st century version of the 20th century’s Cold War fought in economic, political and technology space with the occasional saber rattling of military power projection bravado.

The current hot part of the Grey Zone is trade and tariffs. The US is upping the tension by imposing roughly $200 billion in new tariffs as a way to create pressure to bring the Chinese back to the bargaining table following China’s surprising reneging of a pending trade agreement sending the US a red lined draft deleting almost all of the proposals the US had negotiated with the Chinese in good faith.

The Chinese have done this negotiate then take it away tactic before. They are known to seek to exploit perceived weaknesses in the American bargaining position when the US presidential election cycle begins.

They blunted trade agreement attempts by former President Barack Obama and seem to have believed current President Donald Trump was equally vulnerable to election cycle flaccidity.

It looks like they may have read the tea leaves wrong this time. President Trump doesn’t seem to care about the 2020 election as much as he cares about tending to the business of America in 2019. I don’t know why they thought the man they nicknamed “Donald the Strong” would change his modus operandi because a “circular firing squad”, as former President Barack Obama called it, of twenty plus mediocre Democratic presidential hopefuls are canvasing every bar and stage they can stand on and stump from.

Instead, the US moved to activate tariffs creating a real increase in friction for the global manufacturing supply chain that goes between the US and Chinese economies. Adding fuel to the tension, the US signaled that President Trump is willing to pursue taxing “everything the Chinese sell us” if we must in order to get their attention.

The two countries will next return to the bargaining table with the US likely demanding that every word in the language the Chinese deleted in the last draft of the trade agreement be restored. We’ll soon see how that plays out in the coming episode of the “Art of the Deal”.

Here’s the thing, trade friction is normal.

In an ideal world, there would be free trade between nations with the balance of trade between each counter-party being perfectly equal going both ways. But it’s not an ideal world. In the real world, imbalances are normal and fixing them requires constant tending by the governments to equalize the balances between trading partners.

The trade friction between the US and China is significant. It didn’t happen overnight though. Prior to Richard Nixon opening the door to Red China in the early 1970’s, China was a minor trading partner of the US. Things began to open beginning in the late 70’s and blossomed in the 1980’s under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. But the explosion in trade volume and the path that would eventually lead to a severe trade imbalance really began in the 1990’s.

The US globalization and outsourcing of manufacturing and supply chain logistics starting in the 1990’s helped spark a vast economic boom in China that transformed Mao Zedong’s “Cultural Revolution” into Deng Xiaoping’s “To Be Rich is Glorious” vision for the centrally planned Communist nation. It would see China’s economy grow to become the equal in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with the United States of America. It has indeed been a glorious run of growth and prosperity. Entire industries transformed and grew in both the United States and China feeding on the cost of production savings of global outsourcing. The economic system became addicted to it and it benefitted from China’s infrastructure base grandly even as the US infrastructure base atrophied in strategically important industry sectors. America became a factory poor service economy and China forced its indigenous people off their lands and into factory cities for the greater glory of China. But there’s no such thing as a supernormal return that lasts forever.

The most successful beneficiaries of the global economy, the US and China have become conjoined twin 21st century economic superpowers very much the same way the US and the Soviet Union were conjoined twin military superpowers in the late 20th century. But both countries are now reaching inevitable growth plateaus. Both countries are beginning to adapt to reality.

The US has realized that it outsourced too much. America now needs to shift the locus of production back onshore to create job capacity for a population about to experience a massive technological change due to the arrival of artificial intelligence and robotics changing the nature of how work is done. It’s a simple formula. There will be fewer workers needed per business entity or process. To compensate for this, the US needs to increase the number of business entities and processes within its borders in balance with its domestic workforce size. Count that any way you want to; we need jobs for the bodies.

The Chinese plateau is that it needs to wean itself of an excessive dependency being the world’s largest export economy in a world where all their first and second world customers, not only the United States, will be adapting to the coming AI and robot workforce revolution.

China is, to be blunt, the world’s largest factory reduction in force waiting to happen. They need to reduce their exposure. They need to restructure the design of their economy, probably even their culture and governance, so it is not as dependent on the outside world’s need for goods to be internally rich and glorious.

Desperately seeking balance.

Economic negotiations have been ongoing to rebalance the costs and incentives to improve the trade balance positions between the US and China for years. People have worried about the consequence effects of becoming addicted to outsourcing since it began. The two countries struggle in parallel trying to create a way to evolve from a house of cards to an equilibrium that is sustainable and perpetual.

While American and Chinese leadership negotiate, it turns out, there is a narrower set of self-interests in the domestic socio-economic realities of both nations that retards their ability to find that equilibrium.

In the US, many industry sectors have calibrated their economics such that they are dependent on outsourced manufacturing of both finished goods as well as components and subassemblies. Distributed supply chain manufacturing was one of the great achievements of globalization and it has turned many US industry sectors into industrial outsourcing drug addicts.

Wall Street has a heart attack anytime this river of industrial cocaine hints at slowing down or being cut off. No one in the US wants to make the capital investment to replace what can be ordered over the internet from China. Capitalism is entirely myopic and short sighted.

US markets see only the now of the next earnings report. But that’s not going to stop the day the American labor force takes a cold shower. The machines and bots are still coming.

It’s, to use an old term, an inconvenient truth. No one other than Trump really wants to face it. It’s impossible to even discuss something this difficult in DC because Congress is so busy playing political games about hating the president it’s completely ignoring the national interest. There are even some Congress who want the country to fall into the losing side of a trade war thinking maybe the turmoil is good for their political fortune. Really? Since when is plunging a country into a depression a good thing?

If you think we have problems, a trade war is far worse for the Chinese. They have the same professional class myopic greed and addiction to an outsourcing business model planet economy too. It’s been very, very glorious. The Roman concept of Momento Mori applies here; the legend of the slave Auriga whispering in the ear of the victorious Roman general on his chariot that “glory is fleeting”.

Historically, the Chinese are in a quandary they’ve been in many times over their 10,000-year history. Simply put. What happens when the aspirations of your professional class depart from the existential needs of your peasant base? Chinese dynasties, including the present communist one, have struggled with this repeatedly and the solutions have mostly not been “nice”.

For the Chinese, the Xiaoping glory period of high growth is rapidly reaching a limit line. China’s leadership knows this probably more acutely than anyone else on the planet. They know they stand at a difficult precipice.

They must either seek a peaceful equilibrium with the league of nations as trading partners taking account of the realities of what technology is about to do to everyone, a path leads to working with the community of nations constructively. Or, the Chinese must begin to prepare to become Asia’s next pretender to the throne of hegemonic owner of Greater East Asia to manufacture artificial prosperity by force. It’s a decision point that is coming for the Chinese and it is something the world needs to be dealing with head on and helping the Chinese make the right choice.

My observation? The hegemon option is a really, really bad idea for China. The People’s Liberation Army is good but it’s military might is best used as a projection of power for negotiating leverage vs. in actual imperial conquest. Basically, it’s not going to work. China shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking it’s better than Japan was at such an endeavor. Chinese hyper patriotism is an admirable thing for the pride of the Chinese people in themselves and their achievements. It’s also a slippery stone on the path to the dangers of Bushido. The Japanese lost by the way. To the United States of America. Just saying.

Going operations analyst for a paragraph, the conflict calculus prognosis in any form of protracted economic conflict between the US and China, once fully engaged, is the same. The odds heavily favor the Americans. All conflicts are about one’s financial staying power. While both the US and China have $16 trillion GDP’s, the GDP per capita available for sustaining so-called Grey Zone conflict, meaning at a high state of open animosity on the ragged edge of war and peace, overwhelmingly favors the US at 300 million mouths to feed on a $16T base vs. Chinas 1.4 billion people sustainment load.

An economic war will stress the Chinese cultural-political system 4 ½ times more per day of conflict than it will America.

That is a simple siege warfare cost multiplied by time formula as old as conflict itself. It determines who’s house of cards will crumble first. It’s icky. Everyone will lose. Don’t do it.

Something Better to “Get to Yes” About.

As I step back from the noise of the moment, I’m struck by the realization that there actually is a straightforward and sensible outcome that both Donald Trump and Xi Jinping need to work towards.

The US needs to get to a trade level and mix that brings back onshore enough industry to sustain the quality of life of its population.

The US and China both need to redesign their foreign trade models so that they work together to target a long run 1-to-1 balance of trade such that most favored nation status with as close to friction free tariffless interaction becomes sustainable between the two counterparties.

For the US to achieve its aims, it needs to mobilize domestically to recapitalize what was excessively outsourced while continuing to interact with the global supply chain fairly. The US clearly cannot do this while the political climate of America is fractious. Until then, America has no unified national direction. That means, election year acrimony be damned, President Trump needs to find a way to bring selfish political tribes together, at least on this issue, to the point that the US begins to work on matters of national interest, even if as a very reluctant team. If this doesn’t happen, China will win.

For the Chinese to achieve their aims, they need to similarly reorganize their culture and politics to develop a stable domestic economy that is internally self-sustaining and balances interaction with the global supply chain fairly. I suspect that to do this will be more problematic for China. The Chinese will likely have to explore alternative national designs such as creating interdependent regions within their country much like the US has natural regions of separation that allows it to have internal cycles that smooth things over time. The single nation centrally controlled model they have now is probably too difficult to sustain. If China cannot do this, then America will win.

If the two countries can begin to discuss these things constructively, the world wins.

To be honest, an uncomfortable tariff skirmish might be just the thing to get both countries scared enough to start thinking about the 21st century more productively.

So be it.

Is the U.S. In Danger of Blowing the World’s Chance for Change?

Originally published May 6, 2019 on America Out Loud,

Rocket Man is back. Kim Jung Un’s North Korea has started test firing missiles again. This follows a failed Vietnam summit with U.S. president Donald Trump in Korea where the “Getting to Yes” strategy of that had been drawing the hermit nation’s leader into the open was hit with the cold water of a positional impasse over the de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

A disappointed Un went through a predictable process of being spurned. He went to China and found that the Chinese have their own issues and agendas with the United States; that he’s a side show in a far grander game between two $16 trillion GDP behemoths balancing vastly differing domestic challenges while negotiating bi-lateral economic matters unique to the interests of the only true economic superpowers on the planet. Un went to Russia, the other military superpower and discovered little relief from Vladimir Putin’s tiny $1.2 trillion GDP was forthcoming. Putin knows he’s a guppy in an economic world war and is right to opt out of that fight. Kim Jung Un realized he is once again alone and isolated. When in doubt, you do what you know.

Following the Summit, the U.S. returned to a tougher Neocon stance of sanctions under the new leadership of John Bolton. Donald Trump’s world leadership signature “Art of the Deal” approach that to international policy all but disappeared.

It’s all about sanctions now. The U.S. is playing tough guy all over the planet again with predictable results; a hardening of battle lines and a lessening chance that the change the international landscape of the planet breakthroughs of the Trump rebellion will survive the establishment empire’s striking back.

Under Bolton, it’s all about compromising our enemies using economic sanctions as our spear for asymmetric warfare. At a recent conference on technology held at the FDIC, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin noted that as much as fifty-percent of his days now can be spent on sanctions. That tells me we have weaponized our economy straying far afield of the free market principles that make America great domestically and internationally.

It has rankled our allies and adversaries alike. Germany’s Andrea Merkel welcomed former president Barack Obama who basically told the European Union that he’s not sure America’s opposition party, the Democrats, have anything in the way of a useful alternative to offer.

Obama described his party’s condition akin to a circular firing squad more intent in infighting than cohesion at this junction. I doubt that offered much comfort to the Germans or any of the other socialist leaning governments in the EU.

Sanction-based international policy by the US seems to be increasing the desperation of countries like Iran whose rhetoric is becoming increasingly belligerent, albeit nonsensical. I mean how many times can you look at a side story on TV about an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general threatening to attack everything in the waters off Chah Bahar and Bandar Abbas if the US closes the Gulf, which we aren’t. What we are doing is working with other countries using our economic muscle to increase oil production elsewhere on the planet to crowd our Iranian and Venezuelan oil. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf State Sunni kingdoms, who have little love for Iran’s Shia Crescent ambitions, are more than happy to support the US in a classic the enemy of my enemy is my friend bedfellow arrangement. Meanwhile, Iran’s general’s wonder when they’ll be declared an international terrorist cell this enabling the now fully weaponized Treasury Department of Steve Mnuchin to launch a frontal assault on their bank accounts.

This is a weird world scenario where the dangers of someone going off half-cocked making a mistake are highly amplified. That’s always been the danger of establishment thinking in D.C. and it’s clearly returning to the conduct of U.S. international policy.

For instance, Venezuela’s Juan Guaido is attempting to draw the United States into taking overt action to overthrow Nicolas Maduro. This is like reading a chronicle of the Bay of Pigs all over again. Like then, the United States has little real incentive to involve itself in a shooting war between political factions in a sovereign nation to inherit a devastated economy and take on a minimum two-decade nation building project. Didn’t we just get out of one of those PTSD nightmares?

So what next?

I really think President Trump should trust his broken field innovation instincts again. It’s ok to upset the Establishment Mr. President. I offer the following observations.

First. With regards to North Korea, it’s never too late to launch a new series of incentives to bring Kim Jung Un back to the table. I believe the stick we applied at the Vietnam Summit setting the strong expectation that full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was the predicate for future progress was rightfully necessary. But we knew internal factions inside North Korea dissonant and we were remiss in failing to anticipate it by having a basket full of diplomatic carrot incentives ready to go even as the summit was faltering to work the problem of preventing the North Korean from going hermit. We’ve lost time and momentum that we didn’t have to. The National Security Council should be directed to come up with a comprehensive strategy to recapture that momentum that isn’t based on positional bargaining principles.

The same applies to managing places like Iran and Venezuela. Yes sir, the leadership of these rogue nations is questionable. All self-serving dictatorships are. But sanctions alone that offer no pathway out of the predicament won’t work either. Pride, even misguided pride, is a factor in global stability. These are proud and misguided people. They will apply themselves in misguided ways such as cheating on sanctions and hurting their own people to make a point of their belligerence to us. And they will find cracks in the world enough to survive almost any sanctioning regime we come up with. America is one of the lousiest empires to ever attempt siege warfare. That’s reality. We need to be more innovative.

Your administration was elected because we needed these changes in how things were done. The world needed these changes. Now is not the time to go conventional. If we do, the dream of making America great again will be lost.

And finally, we need to keep working with the Chinese. It’s tedious but the economic war between us is the world’s new Cold War. It’s fought with tariffs, trade agreements, import quotas, intellectual property as force elements instead of missile counts. But like it was with the Soviets, the global stability of the planet depends on two counter-parties working to get it right. We are much more partners in what we can do for the planet than we both realize. But the planet is depending of both of us figuring it out. We should devote ourselves to doing so.

Restoring Reason After the Mueller Anti-Climax

Originally published April 15, 2019 on America Out Loud

What interesting times we live in. The anti-climax of the Mueller investigation continues to play out as we await the arrival of the redacted report. I am amazed at how quickly the house of cards that awaited the smoke to emerge from the political canon pointed at President Trump is evaporating.

The consequences of the betrayal of the left by the establishment left and their media allies are just beginning. The disenfranchised army of orphaned Democrats is just beginning to react. By summer, we shall see where this anger leads. I don’t think it will be pointed at the White House.

To be sure, there are vestiges of the evil Empire that continue to struggle to survive, ever more feebly. In Congress, the Schiff and Nadler committees pretend to carry on even as the evidence grows that there is nothing to carry-on about. The leaks coming from Congress are ever more obvious these days. They are now concentrated coming from the politicians. Comically so if one judges efficacy by looking at the memes on social media. I mean, since when is topping how you put your foot in your mouth yesterday the next day a good thing? Establishment or New Progressive? Racing to the bottom isn’t serving the Nation.

Previously, just as many leaks were coming from agency sources, three letter ones in particular. I get the distinct impression that these are now being reined in.

The consequences to one’s government service career for being an Alinsky radical inside the castle keep are becoming too great. That’s good. Bureaucrats are supposed to serve their mission and stay in their lanes while on the clock.

The news media too behaves more and more. The landscape of the mainstream media is changing before our eyes as audiences abandon the programming that misled them. It’s like being gut punched by someone who pretended to be your best friend.

The profitability Trump headlining the news cycle as a way the beguile the confirmation biases of target audience segments is fading. The raw truth audiences were fed stories not because they were true, but because that’s what kept people watching is coming out loud and clear. I always said that CNN needed President Trump more than he needed CNN. That’s certain proving the be the case as ratings adjust to reality. I have confidence that the economics of being a for-profit business are about take brutal effect; in some cases, they already have.

The country is clearly ready to move on. I think the Democrats risk losing everything if they don’t move along with the country. They may not be able to because they now have too many factions inside their tents to have any hope of cohesion in messaging the American people. As the old saying goes “divided we fall” may have to be the fate of that party until it learns to purge its fringe, find its center again, and be interesting enough to bring the walk away orphaned people they chose to abandon back in, if ever.

A Midterm Pendulum Swinging to Trump?

The country’s “moving on” manifesting as a Trump backlash against the Establishment is clearly emerging.

Attorney General William Barr is beginning to examine the other side of the conspiracy coin. He should! The people who cried wolf that there was collusion in the Trump camp always worried me as the kind of people who were reflecting actions of their own in the mirror as they antagonized their foes. That always struck me as a little bit weird with me. In my experience, when someone accuses others that angrily they are usually describing things that they have done; that they are covering up their own actions.

I think it is right to ask to what degree the establishment of Washington DC including elected officials and bureaucratic officials particularly in the Cabinet agencies were party to, duped by, or derelict in these matters. I believe it is important for the national interest of the United States to ferret these people and the institutional behaviors they perpetrated out into the open so a proper vetting of our government apparatus can take place. We could use a good spring cleaning of our own house.

I am particularly pleased that Julian Assange is finally going to have his day in court. Removing the shroud of mystery so that what he knew becomes something everyone knows will be, despite the price he will have to pay as an individual, a cathartic revelation for the people of America. I’ll be keen to see how much they try to suppress and hide what he has to say under veils of secrecy, redaction and gag orders. Personally, let all the poisons that lie in the mud hatch out sounds good to me.

Reason Begets More Reason

I am pleased to observe that the beltway swamp is not the only place this phenomenon of reason is emerging in the United States. It’s too easy to become obsessed with one aspect of the American story to the detriment of seeing other things that appearing to remind us that we are a great country capable of tackling many things. Here are a couple that attracted my attention thanks more to social media than the mainstream media.

The malarkey of the so-called “Green New Deal” was poignantly challenged by an article by National Public Radio discussing evidence that the banning of plastic grocery bags is actually more harmful for the environment because it causes people to buy thicker plastic garbage bags to you use to pick up their dog poop and take out their cat litter.

Bear in mind that NPR had been one of the biggest proponents of pushing the concept of using reusable grocery bags for many years. Their article confessed the truth that one would have to use such a bag thousands of times beyond its useful life of one of these bags in order to negate the carbon footprint offset of manufacturing one such bag vs. plastic grocery bags. Finally, apparently the damage to forests from using paper bags is far higher than the environmental damage from manufacturing plastic ones.

It’s not unlike the carbon cost of making an electric car vs. nursing your old clunker along a few more years. Kind of makes you wonder about why that “cash for clunkers” thing from several years ago doesn’t it?

Can you imagine such a story in the era of Establishment Entitlement America? Or Global Economic Elitism? I think it is good people are beginning to question blindly following the environmental fad of the moment without considering the potential negative consequences of those initiatives.

I think asking tougher questions of environmental activists is a much better way to protect the environment than trying every half-baked idea that comes along and fixing the mess later. And yes, I would like a straw with that please.

I mean if you ever bothered to read the details of Paris Climate Accord that the United States rejected you would have seen that it was a formula that was doomed to failure. The approach relied on eliminating mobility, limiting food sources, and ultimately, reducing population. The Paris 2050 mid-century plan was either dangerously naïve or diabolically genocidal.

The US Progressive activist plan is a basket case compared to the Paris one. We can do better. We should do better.

Then there’s that pesky Second Amendment

As New Zealand decided that its citizens cannot not be trusted with firearms, in America US District Judge Roger Benitez declared California’s 20-year old ban on firearms magazines holding more than 10 rounds unconstitutional. Downplayed in the mainstream media even as it exploded on social media, for a week between the judge’s decision striking down two California’s laws and a Voter Referendum and the same issuing a stay to a desperate State of California to attempt to mount an appeal, ordinary gun owning Americans in the state of California bought nearly the entire inventory available for sale throughout the United States taking advantage of a one week window to acquire them legally. People called freedom week in California. It’s over and the process is back in the hands of the Courts to grind on slowly; but it was a breath of fresh air for red blooded Americans in a very blue state.

Judge Benitez wrote a scathing defense of the Second Amendment of the US Bill of Rights attacking nearly every gun control argument ever posed on the issue in his decision beginning with three cases of women defending themselves, two of whom ran out of ammunition while under attack. It’s an interesting case that, should California pursue an appeal, could overturn similar laws in nine other states; the other forty-one states in the Union have no such restrictions. It brings a gun control debate that has long relied on skirting around the constitutionality issue out in the open. Tactically, this is not exactly what the people who dream of a USA that looks like New Zealand were daydreaming about the week before Havana born Benitez issued his ruling.

The phenomenon speaks volumes about just how powerful the US Constitution and Bill of Rights continue to be in this country. It appeared literally as a bolt out of the blue, a reminder that the Founder’s vision is still alive.

It is something that every American who believes that this country should be great again should take note of. It remains vital that all of us, we ordinary Americans, support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies foreign and domestic, so help us God. It is a ruler that gives us all fair and equal measure. That is what it takes to make our nation a healthier place where debate is rational, and pluralism is tolerant … for all.