Monday, August 29, 2016

Trump's Plan for Russia

I have discovered Donald Trump's true motivation for seeking the presidency. He wants to take care of his pal, Vladimir Putin.

It's no secret Trump owes millions to Russian companies and oligarchs. His former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, made millions from the Russian government. Trump has spoken admiringly of Putin on more than one occasion. He even invited Russian hackers to infiltrate U.S. computers in an effort to uncover some of Hillary Clinton's supposedly lost emails. Two of his three wives (Ivana and Melania) are of slavic extraction and it's rumored number two, Marla Maples, likes borscht.

But what could Trump do for his bra Vlad as president? It's not exactly like the U.S. and Russia can hold hands underneath the diplomatic negotiating table when they get together.

Perhaps the most straightforward gesture would be to sell Alaska back to Putin and his oligarch chums. Adjusted for inflation, the break even price would be about $110 million but a president who wrote a book on the art of the deal likely would do much better.

Selling Alaska back to the Russians would have benefits beyond just the price. Alaska currently receives about $1.50 in federal money for every dollar it sends to Washington so savings would accrue as soon as contracts are signed. Russian vodka would cost less because importers would be hauling the stuff from distilleries in Juneau rather than Minsk.

Culturally, Americans and Canadians could more easily gain international travel experience. Absent two colleagues. U.S. senators could stretch out a bit more when debating and voting. And, to be blunt, Alaska's 710,000 residents would hardly be missed in a nation of 350 million.

Of course there would be drawbacks. Already outrageous prices for Bering Sea salmon and crab probably would jump. Any number of preppers and dog sled racers would flood into the Lower 48 once it became clear Alaska would be changing hands. Easing that burden is the fact Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have plenty of room.

In all, I see no real reasons for President The Donald not to sit down with President Putin right after the inauguration over a couple of drinks to start hammering out an agreement. After all, they are already buds.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Homeowners Are the Housing Problem

I own a home in Palo Alto, California but please don't hate me.

For various reasons few new homes are built in Palo Alto, which limits the supply. Concurrently, many people would like to live here for access to great schools, a Mediterranean climate, Stanford University, career opportunities offered by Silicon Valley, proximity to San Francisco and so on.

The median home price in my city of about 60,000 people is $2.5 million and the median rent is $6,100.

These prices are often decried as "insane," "ridiculous," and "unconscionable." But they simply reflect the market's judgment, right? Not really.

The market does not exist in and of itself. It is an abstraction aggregating many human decisions. In Palo Alto real estate the most important decisions are made by sellers. And sellers are thinking big.

According to real estate site Zillow, my rickety 90-year-old, 1,050-square-foot bungalow might fetch almost eight times what we paid for it. A nearby home that has remained in the same family for 60 years could easily fetch 80 times what was initially paid. Similar situations exist all over town.

When people look to purchase a home in Palo Alto they are confronted by sellers who demand double digit multiples of what they paid. Doubling or even tripling their investment isn't good enough. They want the 10X or even 80X gain. Greed or simply good business?

The only ameliorating factor is an attitude of entitlement among some people who want to live in Palo Alto. Too many are literally outraged they are unable to afford to purchase a home or rent an apartment here. I have little sympathy for their complaints. There are many wonderful and more affordable places to live with equally good weather, excellent schools and amenities. They just aren't here.

At the bottom line (a necessary cliche) lies a fundamental conflict. The debate is over housing, a basic human need. But it also involves a financial asset, often the largest in a family's portfolio and sometimes the cornerstone of a retirement plan. As a potential beneficiary of this system, I hesitate to land solidly on either side.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Thank the 1 Percent for Donald and Bernie

How did the country get to the point where a fascist could gather millions of less-than-bright, gun-toting retromingents to upend a staid and polished political system? And what's up with those 13 million closeted left-wingers who backed an avowed socialist?

The answers can be found along Park Avenue in New York and hidden behind gates in Atherton, California and other enclaves of the venal and greedy.

It was the 1 percent who created the conditions that nurture the frustrations fueling populist anger. The Wall Street types who crashed the mortgage market and forced so many people from their homes. The corporations who stash literally trillions of dollars overseas to avoid taxes while keeping wages stagnant to shore up profits. The same people who are vacuuming up every dollar generated by the economic recovery.

In the past, the oligarchs (yes, that is the correct word) kept things quiet by sharing enough of the economic pie to satisfy most people and give others the hope they could one day get a taste. Unfortunately for them, they upped their greed quotient to the point where they shut out everyone else. And now everyone else is beginning to fight back.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Violence and Black Lives

Many are mindlessly batting around Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas K. Gandhi as examples to follow in fighting the flood tide of violence against black people and, now, the police. If people cite those pillars of civil and human rights to insist on a strictly non-violent approach to change, they are dead wrong. 

Both King and Gandhi were shot to death. Both believed at times that violence to fight violence was sometimes appropriate. 

King's views evolved over the years and, at the time of his assassination, he refused to knowingly have guns around himself. But in 1956 when the Montgomery bus boycott set a fire under already simmering racial tensions, King kept a number of weapons in his home and even unsuccessfully applied for a concealed carry permit, according to UCLA law professor Adam Winkler author of the book "Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America."  

It was not uncommon for other U.S. civil rights leaders to keep firearms on hand for defense, including Medgar Evers and Andrew Young. Historian and former Student Nonviolent Coordidnating Committee field leader Charles E. Cobb Jr. has said that some around King kept guns available. "They would say, even as they were cleaning their rifles, how glad they were to be part of the movement," Cobb said in a Huffington Post interview. "They knew King wasn't going to be carrying a weapon so people's attitude was, 'We're not going to let the white people kill him.'"

But, Gandhi? Yes, him too. 

Gandhi based his philosophy on nonviolence. He often called it "infinitely superior" to the use of force, even, in some cases, for self-defense. But the saintly advocate for freedom had his limits. 

In a 1920 publication ironically titled "The Doctrine of the Sword," Gandhi made a strong case for nonviolence as the best way to free India of British colonial rule. However, he noted that sometimes violence is necessary to fight dangerous forces. 

Gandhi reminded readers he took up arms to fight against the Boer and Zulu uprisings in South Africa. He said Indians need not be "paralysed before the machine guns, the tanks and the aeroplanes of the English" and urged people who would turn to guns to gain training in their use. "I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor."

Neither King or Gandhi ever urged the use of terror, murder or violent aggression. But both men recognized no one need to embrace oppression or even death simply to stand on a pedestal of superior morality.

(photos from

Monday, May 23, 2016

Why We Should Vote for Donald Trump

That extreme characters Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders can achieve widespread support for the presidency illuminates the depth of the American malaise. People who just a few years ago ran toward to the center to discover their leaders now race to either end of the political spectrum seeking someone to rekindle their hope. I believe a Trump presidency will ensure positive change but not because of his proffered ideas or policies.

As president, Trump will soundly alienate every conceivable political constituency. Taking him at his word, he will appoint one or more anti-abortion Supreme Court justices, thereby ensuring a woman's right to choose will disappear.

The economy? As noted before, it's time to stock up on MREs and AAA batteries.

Internationally, he'll probably kiss up to Putin and tick off Angela Merkel by commenting on her brustë. He'll scold the Chinese and the Japanese. And he just might have the cojones to ask the Mexicans to pay for his border wall.  Naturally, they will respond in kind.

Everything Donald Trump says or does will swell the ranks of disaffected Americans battered by stagnant wages, slow job growth, out-of-control cops, crumbling roads and every other factor feeding their malaise. The anger and loss of faith that fired the engines of the Trump and Sanders campaigns will spread farther and deeper. And after just a few years, a critical mass of citizens will demand real, fundamental change in how the country is governed.

That will be Trump's contribution to positive change. And we should help him build that legacy by ensuring his election in November.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Trump Will Destroy the Economy

Look at a Trump presidency purely in the context of dollars and cents and tremors of fear set in.

Trump wants to slash tax rates, which, he and other believers in fairy tales, will set off an explosion of economic growth. They aver growth will flood federal coffers with money to pay for a war against ISIS as well as the estimated $400 billion to $600 billion to fulfill his pledge to deport all illegal immigrants currently in the U.S.

Unfortunately for Trump and the other myth-makers, cutting taxes achieves nothing more than lower revenue. Ronald Reagan slashed taxes and tripled the national debt.  The Bush II tax cuts racked up a $3.29 trillion deficit and stuck Barack Obama with a budget that added another $1 trillion during his first year in office.

OK. So Trump will just have to trim the bloated federal bureaucracy to even things out. Won't work. According to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, non-defense discretionary spending in 2015 was $585 billion, or just 15 percent of the total. Perhaps we should have a national plebiscite on which parks to close, what roads should go un-repaired, whose crop subsidies should disappear and how many border patrol agents should be laid off.

What about Trump's capitalist cronies? According to a wide range of news reports, he scares the crap out of them. The money guys can thrive in any number of environments but start to get nervous when uncertainty is the order of the day. And no one has ever tried to argue the name Trump is a synonym for stability. "From an economic an market point of view, a Trump presidency could be a disaster," Barry Randall, a tech portfolio manager for Coverstor told U.S. News. Is it any wonder that Wall Street money mavens backed Hillary with  $21.4 million by the end of 2015 to back Hillary?

Trump has already turned off much of the world and not just  because of his crassness and ridiculous hair. He has proposed a 45 percent tariff on manufactured Chinese goods. China is expected to surpass Canada as the U.S.'s largest trading partner this year. It also holds more than 7 percent of the debt incurred by tax-slashing Republicans.

Oh, well.