Prepare Yourself, The Crisis Is Coming

I lived through one. A constitutional crisis that is. It resulted in the resignation of a president (Nixon). And now it appears we’ll be living through another one, except this one will be worse.

All along, I’ve thought President Trump would fire the special counsel if there was any wrongdoing in Mr. Trump’s past. There is no way I could be sure there was any wrongdoing, although, based on what we know about Mr. Trump’s character, it seemed likely there would be skeletons in the closet. But there’s no way to be certain.

Suspicions have been heightened, of course, by Mr. Trump himself. Over the past year, he certainly has acted like someone who’s guilty of something. I’ve represented some bad actors in my day, but I’ve never had anyone act so guilty as our president has acted these past 14 months.

And then this weekend unfolded. First, Mr. Trump’s lawyer called for the firing of the special counsel. That’s bizarre behavior for any lawyer. The only explanation is that he was instructed to float this trial balloon by his client. And, to no one’s surprise, it’s didn’t take long for that to become obvious.

On Saturday evening, Mr. Trump tweeted this:

The president followed this up the next day (Sunday morning) with three tweets attacking the F.B.I. One of his tweets cited Fox and Friends as supporting authority. (Yes, that’s what we’ve come to.)

It’s obvious the president is feeling the heat. And it’s just as apparent he thinks he or his family are in deep trouble should the special counsel be permitted to complete his investigation. Therefore, it seems equally apparent to me that it’s only a matter of time before the president has the special counsel fired, thereby triggering a constitutional crisis. The alternative is to do nothing and allow the justice system to do its work. But if one fears that means jail or impeachment, the risks associated with firing the special counsel are worth it.

The only thing that might keep him in check would be a Republican leadership that would not countenance such shenanigans. And I suspect that’s what this weekend’s tweets were designed to test. Not surprisingly, the Republican leadership resembled crickets. They’re a pathetic bunch. They care more about power and their own political fortunes than the country.

In short, I have no expectation the Republican House of Representatives will do anything to stop a constitutional crisis, which is more likely today than it was last week at this time. If anything is to be done, it will have to await a change of control of the House next January, assuming the electorate choses to throw out those who are complicit and install the opposition party. If they don’t, then nothing will be done.

But even if nothing is done, the crisis will not be contained. It will trigger a correction in or collapse of the stock market and possibly the bond market, too. It may even trigger a recession, although I’m less certain of that. There will be a myriad of other consequences, both domestically and in foreign affairs. Adversaries will be emboldened by a U.S. government in a state of crisis. For all intents and purpose, the Trump presidency will be over. But we might have to live through several more years of it just the same.

Most of us don’t have any say over what happens with Mr. Trump, the economy, or stock market, but we do have say over how we choose to invest our savings. And whom we vote for. But that process takes time to unfold. Constitutional crises don’t wait. They happen in real time. And on their own schedule.

Don’t be surprised if one is coming our way. Soon.

P.S. 3/19/18 – This morning’s tweet from the child king:

P.S. # 2 – It has only just begun.

The Graying of America

As the above chart shows, America is graying. Fast.

My generation (the Baby Boomers) (I’m one of the purple ones the graph) is the contributing factor. There are a lot of us. And now we’re rounding the final corner of life, which will have major implications for society.

  • The labor force is being restructured as Boomers retire in droves;
  • Demand for certain goods and services will decline precipitously (Amazon isn’t the only one impacting retail!);
  • Demand for certain other services (e.g., healthcare) will rise as a greater number of Boomers approach their mid-70s, when the deterioration in human bodies really begins to accelerate;
  • Demand on our safety nets, such as Social Security and Medicare, will drive government borrowing through the roof, dramatically increasing expenditures (including high interest charges), perhaps resulting in stiff tax increases, and possibly resulting in an erosion of the value of the U.S. dollar with all the unfortunate consequences thereof; and
  • In time, there will be a massive transfer of wealth from the Boomer generation to their children’s generation (but that will take time as most Boomers still have a quite a few years to live).

We saw this coming, of course. Big demographic shifts like this don’t sneak up on anyone. Some people prepared for it; many others did not. As a group (government), we haven’t prepared, which should make things interesting as related government expenditures balloon over the next decade.

This demographic transformation of America will be interesting to watch. It will have political ramifications. Economic ones, too. Social scientists should have a field day with this.

Don’t Blame Your Stupidity on Someone Else

Yesterday, Republican congressional candidate Rick Saccone claimed that his political opponents hate the president, the U.S., and even God. Of course, the implicit message here is, “They think you’re stupid. I respect you. So vote for me.” It’s the kind of shameful political tactic that pulls other people down, yet appears to work.

The assertion is ludicrous on its face, so the obvious question is, why does such political gimmickry work?

I suppose it works because we’re inclined to think stupid things, especially when it appeals to our sense of outrage, victimization, or resentment. Making the other guy out to be evil makes people feel good, despite the banality of the emotional response.

If you’re ever tempted to fall for this kind of manipulation, Vera, stop and think. What the person is really trying to get you to do is be stupid. Being stupid might make you feel good. It might make you feel superior. Or more patriotic. Or whatever. But stupid is stupid. Try to do better. Be better.

Keys to Happiness

“Happy places are highly correlated with healthy food, walkability and lower rates of obesity.” (What Can We Learn from the World’s Happiest People?)

This helps explain why Boulder, Colorado is such a great place to live. Of all the places we’ve lived, Boulder was far and away the leader in healthy eating, fitness (including the nearly complete lack of obesity), and walkability (we walked just about everywhere and could access hiking trails at the edge of town).

Dan Buettner, in his new book, The Blue Zones of Happiness, identified six areas of influence within your control to positively affect happiness and contentment. Interestingly, Buettner found that where you live is a significant factor. In other words, if you’re not happy, move!

Happy locations include Denmark, Singapore, and Costa Rica. Some of the top places in the U.S. are San Luis Obispo, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Portland, Oregon.

Of course, as we know, social networks are key, too. If you want to be happier, bring happy, caring people into your lives.

Did Trump Just Help or Hurt the U.S.? Look to Indiana for the Answer

My (new) home state of Indiana is the top steel producing state in the country. It’s also the most manufacturing intensive state. We manufacture a lot of automobile and truck parts here, parts that rely on cheap steel and aluminum. So when assessing whether the new tariffs imposed by President Trump will be good or bad for the country, Indiana’s may be the bellwether state. We may see the impact first — for better or for worse.

Meanwhile, I’m still grinning from ear to ear at the ways the Republican Party has been transformed under Mr. Trump. Who would have thought that the Republicans would become the party of protectionism? Not me. Or anyone else if they’re being honest with themselves.

I’m also taking delight in Mr. Trump’s recent desire to take guns from people without due process of law. All I heard during his predecessor’s administration was the ludicrous fear mongering from the right claiming that Obama was “coming for their guns.” And now it turns out it’s the Republican president who wants to come for their guns. I have to admit taking some perverse delight in the way the worm has turned.

But back to trade. This could well be a train wreck in the making. Or not. Only time will tell. But it’s hard to imagine a good outcome should other countries retaliate, which one would assume is likely.

Of course, protectionist trade barriers are nothing new. Every state in the Union already has them. They’re called licensing requirements, etc. They inhibit commerce across state lines, ostensibly to protect consumers. But that’s often a ruse. Usually, it’s to protect incumbents from competition, thereby propping up the income and wealth of the incumbents (to the detriment of others, of course).

Countries have protective barriers, too. Including the U.S. Just ask any farmer in Brazil or sugar cane grower in any other country. Or foreign producers of any of the myriad of other products that already carry stiff tariffs.

So, despite the impression the press may be giving people, the world isn’t new to tariffs and protectionist policies. That doesn’t mean they’re good. They’re usually not. And it doesn’t mean we should add more. But it does mean it’s not the black and white issue that many are projecting it to be.

A Tale of Two Cities, A Tale of Two Countries

This past week I learned that our city’s high school spent $140,000 on a coffee bar. And that teachers and students alike can order drinks on a mobile phone app, to be delivered to the classroom. I suppose the Carmel students deserve no less.

The very next day I read about the suicides in Madison, Indiana, just a two-hour drive south. According to the New York Times story, captioned “Suicides, Drug Addiction and High School Football,” Madison has been hit especially hard by the opioid crisis. Jefferson County, where Madison is situated, has the highest suicide rate for any Indiana county — a rate that’s more than twice the state average and 3.2 times higher than the national rate.

On the surface, Carmel High School and Madison High School couldn’t be more different. Parents of Carmel students worry whether their sons and daughters will be accepted by Harvard and Stanford Universities; parents of Madison students worry whether they’ll find their sons and daughters hanging from a tree.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course. Not all Carmel students are headed to the Ivy League or other elite university, and not all Madison students are addicted to drugs or headed off to prison or the mortuary. Yet the contrast is real. Stark, in fact.

The Madison story took me back, to the days growing up in one of the poorest counties in Pennsylvania. It’s not that we thought of ourselves as poor. We didn’t, and we weren’t. But we didn’t have a lot. Most of our parents had working-class jobs or were farmers; very few were professionals or had extra cash to spare.  We never took vacations. We didn’t even dream about Ivy League schools — in fact, I don’t think I even knew what the Ivy League was. We didn’t have a lot, but we had enough. Fortunately, one of the things we didn’t have was drugs.

I suppose there were some around, but, honestly, if I had wanted to use drugs, I would have had no idea where I would have gotten them. I didn’t know of anyone who took drugs, much less anyone who was addicted to them. Hell, I barely knew anyone who drank. I suspect it’s different today, even in that secluded, rural county I knew as home. No, I know it’s different today.

I never returned home to live after heading off to college. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how detached I had allowed myself to become to the reality of so many of the kids who were growing up in places like my small rural high school.

I had become a professional and lived in areas populated by professionals and corporate types. That had become my new normal and, unbeknownst to me, I had become blind and oblivious to the transformation that had been taking place all around me. It wasn’t until I was appointed by Governor Rendell to be Secretary of Community and Economic Development that I become aware of the scales that had formed on my eyes.

It was then I traveled to the far reaches of Pennsylvania. To places I hadn’t been in decades. Or had never been. It was then I saw the depth of rural poverty in my native commonwealth — in America. And encountered the plight of the multitudes who had slipped into a life of chemical dependency. I wondered how I could have been so blind.

And now I’m living in a city that delivers lattes to its high school students. While Madison parents are trying to keep their kids out of prisons and graves. And while parents are being bankrupted by the crushing cost of rehab. (See this Wall Street Journal article titled “After Addiction Comes Families’ Second Blow: The Crushing Cost of Rehab.”)

But it’s not only Madison, of course. People are doing drugs everywhere, even in upper-crust Carmel, Indiana. And kids are dying by their own hands everywhere. Perhaps not at the rate that Madison is experiencing. But at an unacceptable rate just the same.

And so I wonder, what is happening to America? What is leading to such widespread drug addiction and abuse? Why is our country’s death rate increasing?

It’s not happening everywhere. In fact, I’m aware of no other developed country that is experiencing an increase in its death rate. America is an outlier. Something is going on here that isn’t happening elsewhere.

I have my own theories as to the root causes of this decay. And you probably have yours. But they’re just theories. They’re not solutions.

Things like this are hard to fix. Very hard. But I worry that we’re not trying. Or that our efforts are feeble at best.

I fear we’re more concerned with our ideologies than solutions. I worry that we simply don’t care about each other enough to try to fix what ails us.

Meanwhile, the contrast between the two cities — between the two realities — becomes more stark by the day. And the casualties mount.

How will it all play out? I don’t know.

What can I do about it? I don’t know. But I know we should be trying. Harder than we are.

What is our future as a country if these trends aren’t reversed? I don’t know.

But it’s hard to think it will be good.

The NRA Shoots Back

The State of Florida passed a law to prohibit gun sales to anyone under the age of 21. The NRA (National Rifle Association of America) didn’t like it. Yesterday, it filed suit, alleging that the law is unconstitutional under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution as to adults (anyone over the age of 18). The complaint can be found here.

My suspicion is that legislators passed the new law, and didn’t pass other potentially more meaningful restrictions (such as prohibitions on automatic assault weapons), because they knew the age restriction would be the hardest one to pass constitutional muster. Passing the law gave them political cover (they did something) while perhaps doing nothing — that is, nothing that won’t be reversed by a judge.

The prohibition of 18 to 20-year-olds buying guns might be hard to justify. After all, this age group is eligible to enlist in the Armed Forces and handle weapons responsibly. Why should their rights be infringed upon in this manner?

I realize this age group is restricted in other ways, such as prohibitions on purchasing alcoholic beverages. But no one has the right to bear a beer under the Second Amendment.

The real problem, of course, is the U.S. Supreme Court’s politically biased opinion construing the Second Amendment is a way that goes beyond the plain text. Once that happened, America was destined to have its violent impulses constitutionally protected.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the NRA wins this case.