The Bad Loser

Hillary Clinton

The sad reason that the United States has Donald Trump as its president is that American voters were presented with what they viewed as an even worse alternative when they went to the polls in 2016.  The choices were the two worst presented to American voters in living memory.  I have already discussed Trump and some of his issues, many of which we continue to have to deal with.  As we do so, we have to remember what the alternative was.

Personally, I think that most people voted not for Trump, but AGAINST his opponent, Hillary Clinton.  As flawed as Trump is, Hillary was viewed as even worse, and rightly so.  So let’s briefly review what she had done that was so bad.

Since her earliest days on the public stage, Hillary Clinton has been accused of political corruption.  This is the process of taking money from “donors” or “supporters” in order to influence political decisions.  The most flagrant example of this is still going on.  After Bill Clinton’s presidency ended in 2001, he set up the “Clinton Foundation”.  This foundation has to date taken in over $2 Billion in “donations”.  Much of this was taken in while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State under President Obama, or while she was running for President herself (and had a very good chance of winning).

Most of the “donors” wanted particular contracts or other government decisions made in their favor.  As Secretary of State or potentially as President, she had or would have immense power to influence such decisions.  On top of this, the “Foundation” can pay its employees anything it wants to.  Heads of similar “charities” commonly pay their executives a million or so dollars a year.

Hillary purports herself to be a champion of women.  Yet she defended her sexual predator husband against multiple charges of rape and sexual assault.  She denigrated and attacked the accusers at every turn.  You cannot say that you are a “champion of women” and then treat a slew of them with legitimate claims differently.  And you certainly can’t defend and justify a long term, multiple account sexual predator because it benefits your political career.

Then there was the email mess.  Hillary certainly had her communication system set up outside of the government’s security systems.  This enabled foreign entities to uncover secret information that was her duty as the most senior cabinet official to protect.  This is in fact criminal.  The motive behind doing this appears to be that she didn’t want communication uncovered that may have been related to Foundation donor deals.  When this might have happened anyway, all of the communication was mysteriously deleted and permanently erased.

Hillary never has, and probably never will, admit to any failures or poor judgment.  To her party’s great dismay, she continues to stay in the limelight, blaming others for her electoral loss.

What to Do

Recognize that both Parties have put forward candidates of lower and lower quality over the years.  Both are failing to find and promote individuals for high office that we need.  As a result, we have a leadership beholden to cronies, influence peddlers, and outright crooks.

We desperately need to wipe the slate clean.  We need to find honest people with a history of service to others who are willing to make the difficult decisions that are needed and will be needed.

This means that each of us MUST become informed, and we MUST become more involved in our political processes.  Those with self serving motives have been in power for far too long.


Graveyard at Verdun – WW I Battle

Modern war really begins with the American Civil War.  This is the first war in which the both sides drafted the masses into their armies to expand them and then refill the ranks.  They had to “refill the ranks” due to the massive casualties they suffered in every campaign and battle.  Both sides were initially shocked and mortified at how incredibly high the losses were during major battles.

The same thing happened again during the World Wars.  At the start of World War One, the casualty rates were far higher than anyone expected.  And by now it was accepted practice by all countries that when you are in a major war that you draft everyone possible into the Armed Forces.

In both eras, leaders and common people alike were shocked at the numbers of dead and wounded.  Nothing in their prior experience had prepared them for what actually happened.  In both eras this was due to advances in technology that made it much easier and more efficient to kill human beings.

In the American Civil War, this was due to rifled bullets.  Prior to that war, a musket ball had only a remote chance of hitting someone, so armies of old packed together in tight formations so some musket balls would actually hit the enemy.  With rifled bullets, the bullets trajectory was no longer random, and an aimed shot could accurately hit something almost as far away as you could see.  Unfortunately, the armies still continued to use tight formations, as this is what armies then were taught to do.  It wasn’t uncommon in the war for units to take 50% (or more) casualties in a single day long battle.

In the World Wars, machine guns, rapid fire artillery, then tanks and airplanes added new levels of lethality to the battlefield.  Again, no one was really prepared for what the new technology could do.  And again, casualty rates were so high that the wars, in the end, were decided by who ran out of replacement Soldiers first.

In all of these wars, the lion’s share of the casualties are taken by the infantry.  These are the foot soldiers literally on the front line.  They have a rifle or a machine gun.  These days they wear a helmet and maybe some body armor covering their chest and back to protect themselves from some of the dangers they face.  They still have an incredibly short life expectancy once put on the front line in a major war.  In the World Wars, about 80% of the casualties were infantrymen.  Let this sink in.  Eight out of Ten who are injured or die in a major war are the front line foot soldiers.

It has been as long now since the World Wars as it was between the American Civil War and World War Two.  The pace of technological change has only accelerated.  Neither military leaders nor the citizens that could be called to arms have any personal experience with what would happen in a major war when all of the new technology is applied to killing humans on a mass scale.  Losses again will be horrific and the masses will be drafted to expand the armies and replace the fallen.  And there will be countless millions who will fall.

What to Do

The last place you want to be in a major war is in the infantry.  Especially if you have little to no prior military experience.  Your odds of dying or suffering serious injury would be almost 100%.  So you and your loved ones probably want to avoid this experience if possible.

The best way to avoid being drafted into the military as an infantry replacement is to already be in or associated with the military.  Have a military skill OTHER than being a foot soldier.  Join the Reserve Forces and learn how to work radios or repair trucks for example.  It is a decent way to pay for college and learn a backup trade skill.  And it will most probably keep you from being an infantry replacement when they start drafting people off of the streets.

It won’t work if you (or your loved ones) wait until the war starts.  You’ll just be changed to infantry in basic training as the casualty lists grow by the minute.  It’s too late then.



Guns in America, Part Two

American Revolution Militia Reenactors

As I pointed out in an earlier post, guns and gun violence are a part of American culture.  But there is another complex aspect of dealing with gun violence in America.  Americans have a fundamental legal right to own guns.  It is part of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, set up by the original founders of the United States.  The law (the second amendment to the Constitution) states: ”A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The last part of the amendment seems pretty clear.  “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  But Americans do have laws that restrict the ownership of certain types of weapons.  For example, I like Cannons and Mortars.  I am even trained in how to use them.  But it is illegal for me to own one without all kinds of bureaucratic paperwork, checks and investigations.  The same thing goes for machine guns, or automatic weapons.  Poisonous gases, like Phosgene or Mustard gas, are outright illegal, even though they are technically “Arms”.  Due to the lethality of all of these kinds of weapons, I believe most everyone agrees that their ownership and use require extreme oversight and sensible restrictions.

The first part of the amendment is somewhat vague, but it gets at the all important “intent” of the law, the reason for it existing.  It seems to me that the intent of the law allowing Americans to have guns is to protect the country (the “free state”).  And that the protection comes from armed citizens forming militias.  I believe that this was because when the United States was created, it could not defend itself with a standing army.  Militias were necessary then.

Many today say that it is still necessary to be armed to be protected from a “tyrannical government”.  I ask such people if they would really be willing to shoot at American soldiers and police officers.  Because that is what this line of thinking means.  Some actually did that once (individually, AND as organized militias).  It was called the American Civil War, and it was not a good experience.  Today, advances in weaponry, plus the ability of the state to support a large standing Army, make the “Militia” irrelevant.  The best a “militia” could do today is wage a guerilla war against an occupier, but this is a far cry from providing national security.

What to Do

There is a lot of debate, and it is valid.  Americans can reach compromises that will go a long way towards fixing the problem, but it cannot be eliminated in the short term.  There are too many guns already in the hands of bad actors, and no law is going to change that overnight.

Neither extreme is viable.  You cannot outlaw gun ownership and confiscate guns.  First off, Americans won’t allow this to happen politically, and second, even if you tried to do this, only lawbreakers would have guns (leaving decent people relatively defenseless).

On the other hand, we don’t want the “Wild West” either, with everyone allowed to own any kind of weapon.  We already know this, and as I stated earlier, the ownership of certain kinds of weapons is already either illegal or severely restricted.

I personally am OK with restricting semi-automatic weapons to those who can pass strict background and security investigations.  I am ok if this takes a while and involves expense, training, and paperwork.  I think it is also OK to ban things that try to turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones (bump stocks or trigger cranks).  No one defending themselves or their home needs such things.

I think that a requirement for being certified in gun safety before owning one is a good thing too.  The most tragic thing on the news is about kids killing themselves or others with guns, with AMMO IN THEM, that are left lying around.

The Trump Business

A Trump Branded Hotel

Donald Trump professes to be one of the best businessmen in existence.  A large part of his presidential campaign and appeal to voters was that Trump, by becoming financially successful, learned how to successfully operate a large business, and that this would translate to successful political leadership.  So what is Trump’s business?  How did he run it?  And what are the implications for all of us now that he has moved from business to political leadership?

Trump started out in New York City refurbishing old hotels and building new ones.  Before he did so, he got “tax abatements” from the city for what he was to build.  This meant that the properties would not be taxed for forty years.  So, he got $400 Million from the city (over the 40 years no tax was collected) for a hotel it cost him $120 Million to build.

This is how Trump constructed and profited from his initial Manhattan property empire. He was guided and aided by none other than Roy Cohn, the infamous Senator McCArthy attorney, who was later represented most of the heads of New York’s mafia families.

He then became a big player in Atlantic City, building Trump Plaza and then Trump Castle.  He then went too far, borrowing and bonding heavily to build the Taj Mahal.  This last casino was so big, and required so much debt to build, that Trump couldn’t afford the interest payments (let alone payments to construction contractors).  At this point, banks stopped lending him additional funds.  So he went public.  He sold stock in “Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts”.  Around the same time, he moved all of the personal and company debt he could into the already over-leveraged Taj Mahal.

Years ago, I played a computer game called “Railroad Tycoon”.  After some experience, I found that there was a foolproof way to win the game every time.  You started off the game owning one of many different rail lines, let’s call it “MyRR”.  To win, the best strategy was to take control of a faltering competitor, call it “SadRR”.  Once you controlled SadRR, you would have them borrow all the money that banks would lend them.  You then transferred the borrowed funds from SadRR to MyRR.  Then you had SadRR declare bankruptcy.  The banks could only go after SadRR, as that is who borrowed the money.  MyRR pocketed a windfall.

Trump developed a similar business model, using the Taj Mahal as “SadRR”.  Money was transferred from the public company to other Trump owned entities, by paying for goods and services.  A company or a hotel doesn’t have to prove that it has hired the best supplier or the best management firm, and it pays those it chooses what they ask.  This way Trump was able to get out from under mountains of debt, yet leaving his investors and contractors in ruin.

In the end, the banks stopped lending to Trump properties and projects.  They had been burned too many times.  But Trump had been doing something else during the 1980’s and 90’s.  He had been making himself famous.  He became known for wealth and opulence, among other things.

So when he could borrow no more, he changed his business model.  Instead of building a project himself, he leased his NAME to others.  This way he did not have to borrow, or even build the project.  While those doing so branded it a “Trump Property” by paying him for the use of his name.

Evidently, many of the people paying for his name are doing so for nefarious purposes.  In the old days, mobsters would launder their money from illegal operations (gambling, prostitution) through restaurants.  It was impossible to tell how much a restaurant was really bring in, as it used to be a cash business.  Mobsters could then say that their money came from their “restaurant business”.

Real Estate is a much better way to launder money.  A lot more money is involved in the construction, sale, and re-sale of real estate than in the operation of an eatery.  Trump may or may not be involved in such dealings.  If he was, that would have been a crime.  We will all have to see what the Mueller investigation finds out.

I don’t believe that Trump is any kind of super successful businessman.  I think that he figured out how to game the system, nothing more.  He has produced little of anything of lasting value.  He is, however, a master showman.  He showed very early on that he knows how to get his name in the media and keep it there.  He knows how to work a crowd.  And he knows how to tell people things they want to hear.  So he’s a very good politician.


What to Do

It is difficult to get past all of the current bluster concerning Trump.  Many of the accusations against him (like the use of Russian Influence, see the post “Red Russian Herring”) are incorrect.  Many of the attacks against him, like making fun of his hair or his hands, are insulting and mean spirited to the extreme.

On the other hand, he has proven himself to be a quite amoral person, and has said things about women that are extremely demeaning.  However, there are no laws against this, and it was well known before the election.  And he was elected anyway.

However, should evidence be uncovered that he engaged in unlawful activity, such as fraud, money laundering, or illegal campaign practices, Trump should be held legally accountable.

And if no unlawful activity is uncovered, voters should at least hold him accountable for his actions and results as President in the next election.

The Red Russian Herring

Russian President Putin and US President Trump

The 2016 Unites States President Election saw new levels of political vindictiveness.  Along with it came high levels of intrigue, corruption, hatred and distortions.  Personally, I was appalled at the choice presented to voters by the candidates of the two main political parties.  Both of them, in my opinion, are reprehensible individuals who have repeatedly engaged in dishonorable if not completely illegal behavior, and neither should have been seen fit to hold the highest elected office of the land.  More on that at a later time.

What I want to get into here is the way the election of Donald Trump was handled by some of his opponents.  They have attacked the very VALIDITY of the election.  They are saying that Trump somehow colluded with the Russians, and this is how he won the election.  They are in fact saying, “Trump wasn’t validly elected President”.

There is no evidence, none, that a single vote was changed by “outside forces”.  This means that American voted for Trump over Clinton.  Trump’s opponents know this.  So they have to move from accusations of vote tampering to accusing Trump of using Russians to somehow “influence” the American electorate.

The current “evidence” of this happening is that Russian “internet trolls” were directed to post false and misleading information on Facebook and other internet media platforms.  I do not doubt that Russians did this.  Trump’s accusers also say that Trump was somehow getting other assistance, money and influence that allowed him to somehow “trick” people into voting for him.

Americans have ALWAYS been subjected to huge choruses of people telling them this or that or the other thing, and the VAST majority know that they have to wade through the smoke to find the truth.  Even children know the internet is mostly wild and outrageous claims.  But to say that somehow, this time, the Russians were successful in tricking a large number of people is a far, far stretch of the imagination.  I find it to be an unbelievable Red Herring.  Trump did somehow get enough people to vote for him to VALIDLY win the presidential election of 2016.

Trump’s detractors try to assign motive to the purported Russian interference by further stating that Putin somehow controls Trump due to owing his high office to Russian influence.  To date I have only seen evidence of Trump doing things contrary to Russian wishes.  This includes involvement in Syria (which I personally don’t agree with, yet it is the opposite of what Russia wants), restrictions on Putin’s oligarch cronies, installing missile defenses in Poland, selling anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, expelling Russian diplomats and so on.

On the other hand, under Obama (and much if this was while Hillary Clinton was his Secretary of State), the US pulled plans for missile defenses in Poland, had no restrictions on robber baron oligarchs and their dirty money, would not sell even defensive weapons to Ukraine, and even allowed Russia to directly intervene in Syria.  We all even saw Obama tell Medvedev (Putin’s protégé) that he would have more “flexibility” to acquiesce to Russian desires, once he was re-elected.

What to Do

We may not like that Trump is our president.  I certainly don’t.  But I do acknowledge that he won the 2016 election by valid means.  People voted in the Republican Primaries for him to be the Republican candidate, and then people voted for him so that he won the election in November.

People can detract from this somewhat by saying that he didn’t win 50% of the popular vote, but our system is set up this way, and I believe for wise purposes.  Everyone going into a presidential election knows the intricacies of this system, and if Hillary could complain about anything it would be her staff not sending her to Wisconsin or more frequently to Pennsylvania and Michigan.

It is OK to not like the American President or his actions.  But to say the Russians put him there is both ludicrous and dangerous.  Saying this makes Trump more apt to do things contrary to Putin’s wishes in order to prove that Putin doesn’t pull his strings.  And this will just make the world a MUCH more dangerous place.

Crossing the RED Line

Syrian Gas Victims

Since World War Two there seems to have been as good a blur between the lines of diplomacy and warfare as has ever existed.  There have been numerous “low intensity conflicts”, widespread terrorism (much of it state sponsored), and recurring saber rattling.  Sometimes, actual Acts of War have been committed, and the offended party has failed to respond, usually out of fear of the damage and consequences of a real war.  Few want a “Real War”.  By “Real War” I mean the modern version of a World War or the American Civil War.

Most wars, including the big “Real” ones, are started due to diplomatic and military miscalculation and lack of clear and level thinking.  Even the little ones are the result of this.  It is important to have clear and reasonably achievable objectives to both your diplomacy and to your use of military force (which, as Clausewitz correctly stated, is an extension of diplomacy).  America’s interventions in Vietnam and more recently Iraq were doomed because the objectives were either unclear (Vietnam) or not reasonable (turning Iraq into a democracy).

American foreign policy (its diplomatic strategy) has had serious problems since the end of the Cold War.  The objectives remain rather fuzzy and often unachievable even if they are clear.  One such objective seems to be the American desire to protect everyone, everywhere, from bad things.  “Bad Things” have included genocide, famine, terror, and repression.  America has in many ways attempted to be the world’s policeman, although what it polices and how it carries this out changes from administration to administration.  The most recent issue is that of the use of poison gas by the Syrian government.

Any country’s main objective should always be the protection of itself and its citizens, territory, and commerce.  These are clear and reasonable objectives.  A country can quickly get caught up in quagmires when it moves beyond these to unclear or unreasonable objective, and that can easily happen when it decides to intervene due to “Bad Things” happening somewhere.

“Bad Things” happen on a frequent basis in the world.  Pol Pot killed millions (as did other dictators like Stalin and Mao).  Famine is frequent, and often caused by civil wars.  Terrorism and Anarchy also regularly occur.  Some countries even use “bad weapons” in civil wars.

So when should a country intervene, especially militarily?  If it is not to protect its citizens, territory, and/or its commerce, it probably shouldn’t.  Getting involved militarily in somebody else’s civil war is, and always has been, a recipe for international and internal disaster.  I feel sorry for foreign civilians who are subjected to famine, torture, poison gas, and so on, but do I think that we should go to war to try and stop such things?  The answer is no.  Acts of War committed by one country against another are different, that IS the RED LINE, and does call for military action.

A grey area is actively working to prevent others from similarly intervening.  Peoples do have a right to self determination and self defense against repression.  Those oppressing them should not be allowed to bring in outsiders to do so.

The other grey area is supporting uprisings.  When people rise up against oppression and denial of their right to self determination, I believe that we can aid and assist such people.  But we should NOT do so with our own forces.

What to Do

We should not be going to war, or even putting ourselves on track to do so, because some dictator is committing atrocities against his own people.  We should help those people however we can, but NOT through direct military action.

The mess in Syria is far greater than it should be because the United States allowed,under the Obama administration, Foreign Powers, namely Russia and Iran, to directly intervene.  This could have been prevented, but was not.

I cannot believe that getting into a direct confrontation with the Russians over Syrian chemical weapon use is a wise course of action at this point.  Do we really want to risk a “Real War” over this?  I certainly don’t.  I feel bad for the Syrian civilians, but I am not going to risk my life or my family’s lives over them.