Category: politics

Trust Us, Whoever the Hell We Are

When President Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt, then Secretary of State Al Haig notoriously said, “I am in control here at the White House,” pending the return of the vice president. That did not go over well, even though he had noted that the VP is next in line if the president is unable to discharge his duties.

Today, an anonymous author penned a New York Times op-ed, to reassure the nation that, while President Trump is a crazy nincompoop, a group of “steady” hands is guiding presidential decisions for the president. Wait, he or she went further, explaining that Trump is so awful that his Cabinet considered invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office, but they didn’t want to upset anyone. So, instead, a faceless group of unelected people are making the decisions for Trump, according to the op-ed.

The entire piece is stunning, for its candor and for its audacity. These are some key lines:

“It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t…
“So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.”

Ergo, this anonymous Trump administration official is stating, in a newspaper of record, that the President of the United States cannot be trusted to do his job and other people are effectively doing it for him. My jaw has been swinging in the wind for hours now as I contemplate this disclosure. Who exactly is running this railroad?

During the administration of President George W. Bush, some detractors insinuated that Dick Cheney really had the reins of the presidency and made major decisions. I never really bought that. I did believe that Cheney had an enormously important role and voice in the decision-making process, but that Bush himself was in charge.

Presidents are supposed to surround themselves with smart people who will challenge them and conventional wisdom. We want that. What we don’t want are officials deciding among themselves what the president can and cannot handle. But, that is exactly what is happening, according to our anonymous op-ed writer:

“The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”

This depiction of Trump is one of a doddering fool who is not even cognizant of forces working against him in his own presidency. This reminds me of a Saturday Night Live sketch during the Iran-Contra controversy that depicted Reagan as pretending to be dimwitted about the goings on, but in actuality pulling all the levers in the scheme. Sadly, this real White House official is not suggesting Trump is pretending to be ill-suited or unfit. No, the assertion is he is unfit and a cadre of conspirators are covering for him, all in the name of doing the right thing for our country.

The author goes on to claim that these guiding forces are the adults in the room who are safeguarding the country from Trump’s worst inclinations and ideas. Really? Have these adults consulted constitutional lawyers and scholars to vet whether their modus operandi is legally sound?

Yours truly,

The Sage Leopard

 

 

 

 

Oh No, Omarosa – The Apprentice, White House Edition

I never watched The Apprentice, but now, like the rest of America who is paying attention, I’m getting the gist of what the reality show was all about in its heyday.

The White House press secretary blamed the media for all the attention on Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, but honestly, I was content to ignore her book tour. It was first thing this morning that I saw that the President of the United States called her a “dog” and a “lowlife.” Perhaps, if he didn’t tweet about her, we would not be hearing as much about her.

Trump also complained that she was being given legitimacy. OK, now who was it who gave her a job at the White House?

Some of her claims strain credulity, right? She related that Chief of Staff John Kelly fired her in the White House Situation Room. Well, that sounded downright implausible. But, the White House hasn’t denied it. I listened to her recording, and assuming that is his voice, he sounds credible in citing integrity problems with her at the White House.

Next: Omarosa claims that she has been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Sigh. My sensible reaction is what could she possibly know about Russian interference in the U.S. election? Shoot, something outrageous she said before was true! Maybe she does have material information on matters within the scope of the Mueller investigation. But, if you are a witness in a criminal investigation, are you supposed to blabber about that? I’m guessing no.

Now, there is the possibility Omarosa is ginning up drama and mayhem to distract from some other matter. There’s even speculation she is doing all this to help Trump. Well, accusing someone of using the n-word usually would be a bad thing, but who knows. We are all now sucked into a really bad reality show. Incidentally, she previously accused another Apprentice contestant of using the n-word, a claim that was denied.

This noise made me wonder? Was Omarosa a persona created for The Apprentice?  What did she do before that rise to TV fame? Would you believe she worked for Vice President Al Gore? According to a 2004 People magazine story, she burned through four jobs in two years in the Clinton administration.

Her job for Gore was to go through invitations the vice president received. In the People story, she complained that she had been thrown into work without training. Geez, can you imagine? Fair readers, perhaps something like that happened in your work experience in the real world. Anyhoo, she has managed to turn the White House workplace into a reality show. Now, Politico reports, people at the White House are dreading what her next claim might be and what else she might have recorded.

Unless she has incontrovertible evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, let’s cancel this show.

The Sage Leopard is begging it be so.

#WalkAway, the Risk of Telling People What They Want to Hear & Truth

As evidenced by the Nostradamus-like rantings of QAnon, there is a huge appetite within the American People for complete bulldookey, as opposed to something sensible, such as the truth. “Q” hit the mainstream news when some Trump supporters attending a speech by the president waved signs for Q, who (if a person, rather than a Russian propaganda stunt) has put forth a bunch of wacky and seemingly contradictory theories.

For instance, JFK Jr. was knocked off by Hillary’s people so he wouldn’t run against her for Senate, and yet, there he was in the crowd at a Trump rally. Need I say more of this nonsense?

Then, there is the #WalkAway theme, which purports to show lifelong Democrats leaving the party. And, though this campaign has been identified as false, it carries on with a life of its own.

But it raises a question: would it really matter if some registered Democratic voters left the party? As noted in a previous blog, voters who identify as Republican or Democrat comprise up 27% and 29% of voters, respectively, compared to 43% independent, according to Gallup polls.

It would be more compelling, if there was such an opportunity, of an exodus of voters to a third-party, independent or mixed-ticket platform. It’s doubtful, however, that should a ticket for president could manifest itself in a viable way before the 2020 election. Perhaps there is still time.

Of course, such a ticket would get hits from the GOP and DNC. Still both parties arguably have credibility woes (see the DNC favoring Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders & for the GOP, Trump, who changes his positions a lot). Trump continues to feed his base with ideas they want to hear. I’m not sure what the Democrats are saying or doing. Haven’t heard much about that.

What used to be Culture Wars over abortion, homosexuality, etc. have blown out into a broader, scary us vs. them. After all, now we have people threatening to kill reporters. Surprise, surprise, given Trump’s mantra that the press is the enemy of the people. What we’ve witness is a growing war against the truth. After all, a certain conspiracy theorist named his content, “Infowars.”

Here’s my conspiracy: certain people have been filling the internet and the political discourse with crazy and ever crazier conspiracy theories (Obama was born in Kenya, the Sandy Hook shooting never happened, etc.) so that when a damaging truth comes out in the future, it can then be dismissed as a kooky conspiracy theory. Some of the speculation that Trump is a compromised Russian asset is surely dismissed in this manner.

In a world of alternative facts, will the truth matter again? What would it take for the truth to stand on its own, impervious to criticism? Could there be some information pending in the Mueller investigation that opens people’s minds to the possibility that there is something very wrong and very dangerous going on within our democracy?

Let’s review some crazy plots that occurred, but could have been dismissed at the outset as absurd. Iran-Contra. ABSCAM. A president receiving oral sex in the Oval Office. A Speaker of the House who turned out to be a child molester. A president whose campaign breaks into the offices of the opposition party to steal information. Oh wait. All of those things happened.

So, what if there exists proof of a major crime that some Americans engaged in a conspiracy with foreign interests to elect a president? If you’ve seen a photo of two men wearing t-shirts stating, “I’d rather be Russian than Democrat,” you might wonder if any such proof would matter to some Americans.

On the other hand, if the tide turned, the peddler-in-chief of a false narrative might be in trouble. His ascent was fueled by firing up very angry crowds. What if the crowd turned on him and the support evaporated?

Stay tuned.

The Sage Leopard

Decorum and Accountability: In Defense of the Press Corps

What if one day, you woke up, got ready, went to work and then the president of the United States called you and your entire profession “the enemy of the people?” Are you an anarchist working in a terrorist bomb-making backroom? Or, is your job to ferret out facts and write news stories about local government, financial market news, legislation, war, medical breakthroughs, education, technology or human interest, etc?

Why did you want to grow up to become an enemy of the people? Perhaps you were a natural-born skeptic, a curious problem-solver, a precocious storyteller or an aspiring detective inspired by the likes of Encyclopedia Brown or Nancy Drew. Maybe you always knew you wanted to be a reporter. Maybe you loved American history and learning the Bill of Rights. Maybe you went to journalism school (college or graduate level). Perhaps you love writing and all of the above. Maybe you are skeptical about potential abuse of power by government officials. How is any of that unpatriotic?

Well, it is not. Unless you are writing anything but glowing reviews of The Donald. I deploy that moniker because I remember the New York tabloids in the 1980s eating up how President Trump’s first wife, Ivana Trump, called him that. Trump played the tabloids like a piano, creating a larger than life persona that exaggerated his success and portrayed him as a glamorous ladies’ man. I don’t remember the financial press or Wall Street types who lived in my hometown talking about him in any serious manner. He marketed himself very well over the decades to news outlets, including CNN, that enjoyed apparently easy access to the real estate marketer extraordinaire. He seemed to always be available for a phone interview.

Now, he is a public official and not just any public official. Somehow, he did not get the memo that in the United States, the press are actually constitutionally given the right to question the government (see the First Amendment). Why? Because this is not a monarchy. This is not a totalitarian state. This is not a theocracy. The Founding Fathers wanted to ensure the people – and the press by proxy – could seek redress against the government. Simply put, public officials are required to be open books when it comes to the people’s business and held accountable for wrongdoing, mistakes or murky situations.

Case in point: flash back to 2000, when a forest fire threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where nuclear weapons are designed. The fire itself was started as a controlled burn by the National Park Service but raged out of control. In the fire’s wake, a couple of computer drives from the Los Alamos lab went missing, prompting understandable outrage, including on Capitol Hill. Then Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, a Democrat who had served New Mexico in Congress faced the heat, especially after declining to testify at a Senate hearing on the matter while an FBI investigation was ongoing. Republicans were joined in their ire against the energy secretary by the late Sen. Richard Byrd, the long-serving West Virginia Democrat.

Still, Richardson showed up for a previously scheduled speech on energy efficiency at the National Press Club and was besieged by an enormous press scrum in a side room. Realizing I wasn’t going to be able to get in a question about anything I covered (such as energy legislation, power markets and regulation), I moved to the side of the growing mass of reporters and cameras. While everyone else was jockeying for position, I happened to notice the secretary in a tiny space between the ballroom where he had given his speech and the ante room full of fury. He was poring over a notecard, which I presumed held his talking points. For a moment, I felt bad for the man.

He stepped out and the shouting began, including a cameraman screaming for the official to stand on a mark taped on the floor under the lights and booms. He stuck to the answers he had already disclosed and kept his sentences short. The shouting of questions incredibly intensified. A reporter with a French news agency asked a question in halting English and Richardson saw his out, politely encouraging the question “en français.” Suddenly the secretary and the Frenchman were going back and forth in French, leaving the bulk of the Washington reporters in the dark. He then left. By the way, the missing drives were found in the lab.

Did the shouting lack decorum? Hmm, well, the topic was missing nuclear secrets, so I’d say the shouting of questions was legit. And being a professional politician, the energy secretary withstood it.

By contrast, I recall an incident, also at the press club, that was wholly inappropriate.

I was sitting next to a young man in the press balcony when he started screaming obscenities at then Vice President Dick Cheney. Guess what? The vocal menace was not a reporter. Somehow, he had slipped by the Secret Service who had been checking our credentials and bags. A few seconds into the curse storm, a couple of agents whisked the pipsqueak out of his seat and floated him over the real reporters and out the door.

Most of the time, I didn’t have to shout at anyone because I covered a specialized beat, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and related topics. News with a broader audience attracts more press, more cameras, network coverage and shouted questions (see Richardson example above). Even during the Enron debacle, the California/Western energy crisis and endless, widely covered perennial hearings on comprehensive energy legislation (see Energy Policy Act of 2005), it wasn’t hard to get access to officials for questions. But, when you get in a scrum surrounding a public official, you need to be assertive or you have no chance of getting your question out.

One time, a “shooter” (TV news cameraman) pushed his boom over me and demanded I get out of his shot while I was standing in front of Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., as she was about to address the press outside of FERC, an agency that typically drew about a dozen regular reporters. Having done a TV news internship in Washington, I respected his needs, so I stooped down and raised my recorder to capture her remarks. I didn’t need to ask my own question at that moment and was relieved the senator was not male because it would have been really awkward to kneel before a male senator. That would lack decorum, but if I needed to in the moment to hear an official on an important story, I would do it.

It’s a reporter’s job to ask questions, not to make politicians feel comfortable. Another time, I covered a press conference in the House of Representatives gallery with fuming Democrats. They were besides themselves, blaming the Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee for not doing enough (purportedly) to look into the California energy crisis. On my way out of the Capitol, I happened upon Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who happened to be the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He was giving a tour to a small group of constituents. He saw me and, like many, many members of Congress in those days, turned to take a question. I related what the Democrats had been saying about him and he gave me a pithy comment: “Bless their hearts.”

Now, basic decorum is an important part of the job too. When President George W. Bush appointed new members of FERC, one was a gentleman from Texas named Pat Wood III. The first time I addressed him as Commissioner, he said, call me Pat. I stuck with the title. Soon enough, he was elevated and I always called him Mr. Chairman. I wasn’t being obsequious or just observing protocol. It just seemed weird to call an official by their first name if and when I needed to ask tough questions. Given FERC was awash in policy controversies (some with certain regions, namely California, the Pacific Northwest and the South, and others with state regulators, including a case that went to the Supreme Court), there was ample opportunity to ask tough questions. And Chairman Wood answered them.

It would be more productive for politicians and reporters to resume that kind of dialogue. And, it would also be good for the president of the United States to stop calling the press the enemy of the people.

Delusions of Grandeur and Political Disputes

Perhaps you’ve seen the video of a lady from Connecticut calling C-SPAN using the phrase “illusions of grandeur” in reference to Bill Clinton. She also thanked the Russians for interfering in our election to keep Hillary Clinton from being our president.

Then I realized those sentiments collide with the notion held by liberal-leaning voters that Hillary Clinton was “the most-qualified presidential candidate in history.” Are both viewpoints delusions of grandeur? Do we all lie to ourselves sometimes in our political views?

We’ve seen a president lie before. When the Bill Clinton sex-with-an-intern scandal took off, I scoffed. It seemed utterly ridiculous. We all knew he had a weakness for women and had previously cheated on his wife. Logically, surely, if he wanted an affair, he would take it up with a more mature woman and in a private location, right? While I didn’t buy Hillary’s suggestion that there was a “vast right-wing conspiracy” that ginned up the Monica Lewinsky scandal, I just wasn’t initially buying that the president of the United States had sexual relations in the Oval Office with a young woman. That seemed patently absurd. Well, well.

Then, Bill Clinton stood before us all stating he had not had sexual relations with that woman. The wagging index finger did it for me. The Big Lie alarm bell was clanging. He was lying. Obviously. To the American people. Then the special prosecutor’s report came out and it was all there. It was true.

Like many, I was ticked. The angriest person I heard on that topic was my Democrat mom. My Republican father and I listened to her seethe, understandably. I consoled myself with having voted for Bob Dole after having voted for Bill Clinton for his first term. I was done with the Clintons already.

Remember when Bill said having Hillary by his side was a two-for-one? That didn’t sit well, even with people who voted for him. Later, Hillary went on to be a senator from New York, a defeated Democratic primary candidate in 2008 (Obama beat her) and the winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, but the loser where it matters most: the electoral college.

Many, myself included, were not happy with either main party candidate. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were terrible choices. Quick rundown: I’m from the NY area so the depiction of Trump as a brilliant businessman is ridiculous, although he gets credits for brilliant branding thanks to The Apprentice. In college, I did an independent study on how the media treated then First Lady Hillary Clinton. It was a mix, with plenty of negative coverage. I was not a fan of hers.

Let’s examine the problem behind “the most qualified candidate”: Hillary herself. The big handicap for her candidacy was the reviving of old scandals, old conspiracy theories and plain old hatred of this candidate, deserved or not. Harping that Hillary was the most qualified candidate is squeaking by an obvious delusion: she simply was not the best candidate. No, she tied Trump as the worst candidate.

What’s wrong with Trump? After all, “he tells it like it is.” Does he really? Let’s just take the current imbroglio over his Helsinki performance. Standing next to Russian President Putin, Trump said he took Putin’s word that Russia did not interfere in our 2016 election, despite the U.S. intelligence agencies and criminal indictments of Russians stating otherwise.

Back in Washington, he read from a script to the effect that he meant to say he would have no reason to think it wasn’t Russia. Well, people didn’t buy that. And now, he is saying, wait, Russia is indeed interfering and they are doing so to help the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. All this after being briefed in 2016 that the Russians were interfering in the presidential election with an internet influence campaign.

How come someone who supposedly tells it like it is changes his positions like a weathervane in a hurricane? His constant falsehoods and position reversals are well documented.

So, who was the worst candidate? Maybe it’s still a tie. Here’s the thing: it does not matter anymore. If you are a Trump supporter, please refrain from responding to criticisms of the president by talking about Hillary Clinton. Or Bill Clinton. They simply are not relevant to current events.

Also, bear in mind, that not all critics of Trump are liberals. For example, a former Republican governor from my home state of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman recently asserted Trump is unfit to continue serving as president.

If you watch certain TV news, such as CNN, a narrative remains that the country is evenly divided, and the players are red states vs. blue states and conservatives vs. liberals. What if you are an independent, a libertarian, a Republican that is not a fan of Trump? We are not evenly divided by party – not even close. People who identify as either Republican or Democrat currently make up 27% and 29% of voters, compared to 43% independent, according to Gallup polls.

The next time you see a political post on social media that makes you mad, don’t assume the it comes from a place of partisan politics. It could be from someone who might agree with you on other topics. The first question is why does it make you mad? Is it unfair? Untrue? Misleading? If so, what can you do to positively engage? Let’s hope that’s still possible. In the alternative, could be it valid, constructive criticism?

The Sage Leopard

A Fine Line Between Tragedy and Comedy: Our Current Events

Friends of mine of different political stripes share at least one thing: a sense of humor. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are reaching that breaking point in response to current events that is bringing about some laughs.

For #nevertrumpers and liberals, they have related to each other with the stages of shock, anger and grief. For Trump, they’ve enjoyed the thrill of the president meeting their expectations as an extraordinary force of disruption and been irritated by his critics.

Today, news broke that President Trump’s former personal attorney recorded a conversation that purported has them discussing a payoff to a former Playboy model. And, there were reports that Trump himself felt betrayed. This jaw-dropper after a week of jeers (and cheers) for Trump’s performance with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

My first thought was, why would his lawyer secretly record a privileged conversation? Or, was it somehow not privileged? My next thought: how much more bizarre can this drama get?

I joked that next someone will get amnesia, another character will emerge from a coma, and someone else will be outed as the father of an illegitimate child in Port Charles, New York. A friend responded that someone else will find out that he has a long-lost twin. What if Trump’s evil twin was colluding with Russian and he is free and clear?

A moment after my soap opera joke, news broke that Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants to talk to Trump buddy Roger Stone’s friend, the Manhattan Madam, who herself played a role in the Elliot Spitzer affair (sigh, you can look it up; he was the New York Attorney General who relished going after white-collar crime until he was undone by liaisons with a working women in a Washington hotel.) At this point, I have no idea if it’s true that she somehow has anything to do with the Russia 2016 investigation.

What’s no joke is the Deputy Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence warning American’s that there are active efforts by Russians to influence the mid-term elections. At a major intelligence conference in Aspen this week, though, there was uproarious laughter.

I had the TV on in the background when Andrea Mitchell of NBC News told Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, in a live interview that the White House had just announced that Putin was invited to come to the White House this fall. When he asked her to repeat what she said, the audience broke into laughter. I couldn’t believe my ears. So, I went to the videotape.

It is funny, in a tragedy meeting comedy sort of way. Get ready friends, for the next episode of how the world is turning now. It’s high speed.

The Sage Leopard

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

An Uncivil War: How Do We Emerge from This?

A Republican congressman suggests we’re on the verge of another civil war. A Democratic congresswoman urges citizens to harass office holders with whom they disagree.

A presidential press secretary asked to leave a restaurant. A natural-born U.S. citizen berated for allegedly being a Mexican rapist while he was landscaping a yard. White people calling the police on black people who aren’t doing anything threatening. A president whose Twitter account is Exhibit A in a lack of decorum, to put it mildly.

Where are we going with all of this? A cautionary tale is Mexico, where I heard on the radio today that 130 political candidates and campaign workers have been murdered ahead of the upcoming election. That is not a typo. One hundred and thirty people. My fellow Americans, let’s not go there.

What if we could engage in a political discourse that, while earnest and impassioned, was intellectually honest and fair minded? Am I naïve? Perhaps. After all, we’ve all seen enough extreme memes to wish for a mind cleanse. And, I see anti-liberal memes and anti-conservative cartoons.

Where does that leave anyone who is neither archetype? I am pro-First Amendment and pro-Second Amendment (hell, I love the entire Bill of Rights), I am fiscally conservative and socially liberal. In the interest of full disclosure, I find it rather irritating to hear people who have strident political views without having read any real news or attempted to fact-check anything they are repeating. I can’t stand talking points. Oh, and I really loathe clichés, such as the term “thought leader.” I am Christian, but don’t want anyone else to tell me how to interpret the Bible, unless they went to divinity school and I asked them. Or, it is a friend or stranger just relating their understanding, as opposed to a government official citing Scripture to buttress a questionable policy.

I fully admit there are times when I feel fed up, shocked or saddened by news as it unfolds. Mind you, I love news. (I am a former journalist with a double-major degree in history and journalism).

I also confess to earlier today asking Trump supporters to explain their point of view with a Facebook post in which I had side-by-side photos of Trump and Jim Jones of Jonestown infamy. My high school field hockey coach then popped up to politely admonish me for baiting Trump supporters, noting I shouldn’t be surprised they didn’t respond. My coach is one of the toughest, most exacting and most inspiring people I have ever known. When she says something, I need to listen.

Are we truly listening to each other? Many liberals are so furious about serious policy concerns that they are done with being civil, and risk becoming what they despise. Many conservatives have spent a lot of time mocking liberals as effete, etc. This has been going on a very long time and I hope we are reaching the nadir. What have we accomplished with any of this?

Is it possible for us to return to speaking with each other and asking questions, such as what are your fears and aspirations? What do we absolute need as opposed to just want? If we are going to undertake major policy changes, can we have hearings to examine facts (not just hear endless opening statements, please) and weigh cost-benefit analyses (plural).

We have a major challenge before us, collectively, to strengthen the social fabric and to ensure the sanctity of the social compact. Please join me in attempting a civil discourse.