Society at an Impasse – What’s with the All or Nothing Breakdown?

The president of the United States took the word of the Russian president over U.S. intelligence and law enforcement is saying he believed Putin’s denial of Russian military interference in the U.S. election process, despite indictments against Russians for hacking the Democratic National Committee and waging a propaganda war in American social media. It was an odd choice of nothing over all the evidence.

OK, where does that leave America? According to Trump’s apologists, he had no choice but to defer to Putin. After all, it would have been rude to call him a liar. A Fox News personality scoffed that Trump couldn’t very well shoot Putin. These are very strange propositions in what is an all-or-nothing proposition: Trump could either go on the offensive or agree. Huh?

The president could have simply said, with all due respect, I believe my intelligence agencies’ evidence. Did he fear if he did that somehow he’d end up as Russia’s latest poison victim? Of course, there is endless speculation on compromising information, such as theories about Trump or the Trump Organization having massive debts to Russians and/or some kind of scandalous video. If, hypothetically, there was such a problem with compromising information, the right thing to do would be to step aside to protect national security. Is that all or nothing? Not really, Vice President Pence was duly elected and could step up as president. Besides, if there is nothing to such rumors, the president can still side with the CIA, FBI, etc. and agree Russian interference took place.

Am I a huge supporter of Pence? Not particularly. But, I do not side with Democrats either. Case in point, a small group of Democratic House members I have never heard of have introduced legislation to abolish ICE. Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, rightly jumped on this absurd suggestion. You do not get rid of the immigration agency because you do not like the way it is implementing immigration policy. Instead, try introducing immigration reform to direct ICE to implement the policies you prefer.

False choices

This is another all-or-nothing proposition: ICE shouldn’t separate babies from parents seeking asylum so let’s get rid of ICE.

When did we, as Americans, become so entrenched in these false choices? If you are politically independent or lean in one direction (but are not wholly partisan), you are left in a wide chasm between these extremes.

It’s as if many cannot process distinctions and nuance. Take the ICE example. I think the zero-tolerance policy has created the consequence of imposing cruel and unusual punishment on small children that is not only detrimental to them, but diminishes the United States’ standing on human rights. The Obama administration faced the same quandary and instead deployed the Family Case Management Program, which a 2017 Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General Report found was effective. While a relatively small population of asylum-seekers were in the program, the preponderance complied with ICE check-ins and court appearances (99%), according to the report. The costs were significantly less than family detention centers too.

Now, was that program the best possible solution? Maybe not. Maybe we should explore other possibilities, including immigration reform legislation after a series of thorough hearings.

Speaking of thorough hearings, why not wait for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference to properly run its course? Why wouldn’t we want to know the extent of it? After the Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki on Monday, also known as the #treasonsummit, some inside-the-beltway news accounts with anonymous sources suggested Trump does not make any distinction between Russian interference and the suggestion that his presidential campaign colluded with the Russians.

The latter might be possible, but the evidence thus far does not fully support that proposition. If anyone did, then they should be punished. At this point, I think that is possible and I also think it is possible Trump himself was not involved. I also believe it’s possible Trump might have been elected without the Russian election interference campaign. That doesn’t mean we should not try to stop it from happening again.

The Sage Leopard

Crossing Paths in the Arizona Desert: A Hunter’s View of the Mexican Border

We went to the desert in Arizona to learn something about ourselves while other people were running for their lives across the Mexico-U.S. border. Running from what exactly in their home lands I don’t know, but I suspect it’s something extremely difficult I’ve never experienced.Valley near U.S.-Mexico border in Coronado National Memorial

Nowadays, many border crossers may be presenting themselves for asylum, as discussed in recent news reports, but our impression at the time of our visit five years ago was that the people crossing the mountains and canyons where we spent a week camping were seeking to elude capture. We saw the expected Border Patrol SUVs and vans, but also helicopters and a U.S. Air Force plane, the latter of which buzzed me one late afternoon as I sat reading by a campfire I had just built. I don’t recall what book I was reading, but I guess the personnel on the aircraft were close enough to see the title given I saw their faces in the cockpit.USAF plane near U.S.-Mexico border

We took the trip to celebrate my man’s 50th birthday with a deer hunt. Specifically, coues whitetail deer, also known as gray ghosts. This species and terrain in the Huachuca Mountains were completely new to us and we went with an outfitter who had donated the hunt to a Houston conservation group’s annual fundraiser. B. won the hunt in an exciting live auction. We had no idea what we were getting into.Casino Rural, Arizona

On the way to our hunting camp deep in the Coronado National Memorial (named for the Coronado Expedition of 1540, a Spanish-led northward migration through the area), we dropped south of Tucson on a highway before getting on old roads. The further south we went, the more frequently we saw Border Patrol vehicles. We arrived a tiny outpost with a convenience store and a bar named Casino Rural. From there, we headed into the Coronado national park, which is a desert landscape with zillions of Saguaro and Ocotillo cacti.

Mountains in southern Arizona, on the Mexican borderThe colors of the rocks, plants and sky come into view in stunning combinations, especially when you are ensconced on a mountaintop before dawn and watch the gradations of sunrise light up the landscape. From one such perch, it was a ways down to the valleys below and there was another mountain mirroring us. Atop that, we could see the Mexican border delineated with a barbed wire fence, which appeared meant to keep cattle in at ranches on the Mexico side.

In recalling this last night, B. told his parents how the hunting guides told him they previously had seen a sniper on the Mexico side of that particular mountain. His role was to control who got to go across the border into the U.S. The guides also related how they once found a skull and some clothing of a young girl. The authorities came to the scene and her identification was found in the clothing.Border Patrol in Arizona near the Mexico border

We saw indications of these foot travelers, such as abandoned coats and sleeping rolls, water bottle stations, empty water bottles marked for women and empty food cans. We saw these in box canyons and trails coming right through the border. (We walked up to the border on one hunt.) By contrast, we arrived in the desert via a pickup truck loaded with water, food, weather-wise clothing, snake boots, sunblock, toiletries and sundry gear. You must hydrate continually, so we overpacked water. Even with all this stuff, we considered ourselves to be roughing it. As for the other visitors, whoever dropped their coats must have regretted it as the extreme desert heat of the day quickly turns to very cold nights.

Desert at nightOne night, in a huge tent with a wood-burning stove and chimney, I dreamt I heard men come into our camp. They were opening up the coolers and taking drinks. When we got up to go hunting, I told my guide about the dream and he said it was real life. He had been watching them from his camper. As long as they didn’t present danger, it was best to not confront them and let them go on their way.

We didn’t discuss politics or policy when sitting around the campfire, but agreed the status quo of illegal immigrants endangering their lives with coyotes (the smugglers, not the animals) and rugged, rough conditions is terrible.

As for “the wall,” it makes little sense to build a monolithic physical wall across the entire length of the border. There are environmental considerations, such as the movement of ocelots, deer and other creatures who should not be limited to one side or the other. Then there is the ginormous cost when other security measures can be used. Work eligibility should also be enforced. And, imagine if Congress ever managed to enact immigration reforms? (I thought George W. Bush was right when he was pushing for reforms after September 11.) Perhaps we need more seasonal work visas. We might even have a better idea of what is working, what won’t work and what is needed if Congress even deigned to hold some hearings on the subject.Dawn in the desert

I am not aiming to solve the immigration policy mess with this blog. I just wanted to begin to describe the incredibly brutal landscape some of these people are crossing to get in and, moreover, to recognize that they are people. People with struggles and people with ambitions. Reinforcing the border is a good idea, but a massive wall is overkill. We also need more immigration judges to decide whether to grant asylum and handle the other cases.

The Sage Leopard in ArizonaMost of all, right now, we need to recognize the dignity of people and not treat them inhumanely (if even they broke the law, separating young children from parents is cruel and unusual punishment imposed on little kids). Please remember, we have our dignity to maintain too.

The Sage Leopard

C’mon on Down! Trade Dealing in a New Reality

Our former TV reality show president says that countries are lining up to negotiate new bilateral trade agreements at a time when he is pursuing trade wars with tariffs and reportedly seeking to undermine the World Trade Organization.

“Let’s make a deal!,” is what Trump says he’s hearing from counterparts abroad. On its face, this claim from the president might make it seem he is doing something constructive.

Or is it destructive and counterproductive? Trump promised to be a disruptor and challenger of the status quo. To be good at that tactic, you must fully understand the status quo. This process is known as a reality check.

Trump has repeatedly said he wants to slap a tariff on European cars in the U.S., as if to even the playing field for U.S. automakers. What is odd about that suggestion is that many foreign companies already build vehicles at U.S. plants with American workers:

  • BMW in South Carolina
  • Volkswagon in Tennessee
  • Mercedes in Alabama
  • Hyundai in Alabama
  • Toyota trucks in Texas

Earlier this week, I read Trump said tariffs on European carmakers would encourage them to build vehicles here to avoid an import tax. Of course, I repeat, they already do build vehicles here. I can only guess he wants to take credit for something that has been going in for years as a result of state and local officials crafting economic development incentives to bring in such major employers.

What is the true cost? What is the price of these tariffs? Let’s start with the steel and aluminum import tariffs Trump imposed. Well, that increased costs for U.S. manufacturers, including Mid-continent Nail, which as a result cut 60 jobs in Missouri last month and warns it might go out of business by the end of August. And, of course, Trump got annoyed with Harley-Davidson for announcing that it would need to move some production overseas due to the tariffs. That too means some more U.S. workers will get laid off. In Texas, workers at a steel mill that makes pipe and tube products started a letter-writing campaign to Trump, asking him to lay off the tariffs.

Tariffs and retaliatory tariffs are not just problematic for American manufacturers and their American employees. Those increased costs are passed through in the pricing of products, so the pain becomes more widespread.

There’s another trouble on the horizon: the flattening of the yield curve, a key economic indicator that looks at rates on Treasury bonds. A higher curve indicates economic growth. While some think this is happening because of the strength of the 2-year Treasury yield, which is a positive sign, others worry this flatter curve could signal a possible recession.

Now, I’m not an economist, just a former small-time business news writer, but those extra costs are something to ponder when considering if Trump is doing anything to improve the economy. To me, the price is not right.

The Sage Leopard