Trump’s Wall Is The Lesser Evil Compared To Danger Of Extended Government Shutdown

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PHOTO BY JOHN HAYDEN

Shutting down the United States government, even a “partial” shutdown, is an irresponsible action with dangerous consequences.

It’s worth repeating:

Shutting down government, closing and disabling government, is hugely irresponsible and downright dangerous. It brings America to the edge of chaos. It puts us within sight of anarchy. As the shutdown continues, uncertainty and disorder spread through American society and economy.

Disorder spreads slowly at first. At some point disorder can quicken and run out of control.

Free government cannot be taken for granted.

It is easy to destroy government, if that is what a tyrant wants to do. It is difficult to restore a broken government.

We all need to understand the implications as the government shutdown extends from days to weeks. Do we understand what it means when a country stops paying its workers?

Do we understand what it means when a president threatens to extend a shutdown indefinitely? When a president threatens to seize power by declaring an emergency? It is not a normal thing. I don’t believe any American president has ever issued such a threat before.

Americans need to recognize that we are risking a transition from democracy to tyranny. We are flirting with chaos, anarchy, autocracy.

What to do?

Both sides are responsible. Either side could choose to end the shutdown. At this point, it doesn’t matter who takes the blame. But it might matter who gets the credit for ending the crisis. We can sort that out later.

Trump’s border wall in and of itself is not important. It’s almost entirely symbolic on both sides.

Suffice it to say that the physical structure of a wall can do little harm. It might even do some good, preventing a handful of unauthorized immigrants and a few drug smugglers from crossing the border. Certainly, there is no crisis at the border. The Border Patrol is capable of doing its job.

Let us stipulate that the wall is not strictly necessary. The main harm is that it will cost a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere. But the cost will not break the bank.

The Wall Is By Far The Lesser Evil.

Clearly, the wall is now a small evil, but the danger to America of prolonging the government shutdown is a great evil.

Responsible and wise is the leader or politician who steps forward, takes this dangerous shutdown by the horns, throws it to the ground and drives a sword through its heart.

Certainly, President Trump could be that responsible and wise leader. Unlikely.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer could be courageous and wise leaders. I think Pelosi and Schumer are more likely to recognize the danger of continuing the shutdown. They are more likely be reasonable, while Trump is more likely to be egoistic. 

Would you rather go into the history books as a courageous and reasonable leader? Or as an egoistic maniac? Trump, Pelosi, Schumer, make your choices.

I beg any politician who has it within their power to do the right thing and end this dangerous crisis. If it means appropriating money to build a wall, so be it. It is a small price to pay.

The courageous and wise leader who ends the deadlock may be seen as losing; they probably will be reviled by their friends. Such is often the lot of great leaders. That’s why “Profiles In Courage” is a short book.

There may be consequences for the 2020 election. We have time to sort that out.

— John Hayden

President Trump Details Alleged Crisis At Southern Border And Announces Meeting Tomorrow With Congressional Leaders

President Donald Trump tonight described in dramatic words what he called a “humanitarian and security crisis” at the southern border between the United States and Mexico.

He reiterated his demand for $5.7 billion to pay for a physical barrier at the border, a barrier that he said would be a “steel barrier rather than a concrete wall.” It was his first televised speech from the oval office as president, and lasted about ten minutes.

Trump noted that a significant part of the Federal government remains “shut down,” and said the “only solution” is passage of a spending bill, which he said is being blocked by Democrats in Congress.

The president announced that he will hold a meeting with Congressional leaders at the White House on Wednesday to discuss his demands.

Importantly, Trump said nothing further about any actions he might take if Congress fails to appropriate the requested money. He made no threats indicating an imminent Constitutional crisis, did not use the word “emergency,” and gave no indication of how long the partial government shutdown might continue.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, both Democrats, disagreed strongly about the existence of a border crisis and need for a border barrier in brief comments after the speech by the president, who is a Republican.

No resolution appears likely at tomorrow’s White House meeting, based on the president’s speech and replies by the Democratic leaders. The possibility or likelihood of  escalation of the deadlock, including unilateral action by the president, is no more clear than before the speech.

During the shutdown, affected government workers are not being paid, although some are required to continue working because they are considered “essential.”   The Defense Department and the military is not included in the shutdown because that funding had already been passed by Congress. However, the Department of Homeland Security and other major agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture, are included in the shutdown.

Trump said the proposed barrier is necessary to prevent entry into the United States of large numbers of criminal gang members, drug smugglers, and other immigrants, people for whom he said  “we have no space.” To emphasize his point, the president detailed at least four heinous crimes by people illegally in the country. He said the decision to build the barrier is a choice between right and wrong.

— John Hayden

 

 

United States At Brink Of Constitutional Crisis

The Constitution of the United States of America assigns and reserves to Congress — and only to Congress — the power to appropriate government funds for spending. Under the Constitution, the President of the U.S. has no power or authority to spend government money without Congressional appropriation. As I understand the Constitution.

George Washington was the first president of the United States under the Constitution. Will Donald Trump be the last president under the Constitution?

Tonight, President Trump will address the country from the White House on the issue of spending government money, collected from tax-paying citizens, to build a “wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border.

If Trump attempts tonight to declare a “state of emergency” and spend money to build a wall in defiance of Congress, what are the consequences?

Would we face the most serious constitutional crisis in United states history?

Exactly how would such a crisis be resolved? The third branch of U.S. government, the Supreme Court, would presumably make that decision.

Could Trump attempt to prevent the Supreme Court from sitting? Would the Supreme Court rule in favor of Congress or the President? What happens if the president attempts to defy an order of  the Supreme Court?

Time to read the Constitution. God Bless America.

— John Hayden

Gas Prices In Florida Continue Down

gray industrial machine during golden hour

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Gasoline selling as low as $1.93 and $1.91 in my part of Florida on Friday. It’s less than a week since gas prices broke the $2 barrier. Welcome to a strange New Year.

Most stations in my area, north of Tampa-St. Pete and near the southern edge of the Nature Coast, are attempting to hold the gas price line at about $1.94. The ground in Florida is sandy, so you can consider that a line in the sand. A line that’s already been crossed. If gas prices break below $1.90 a gallon next week, will it become a price rout? Probably not.

Today I also noticed that one gas station in my neighborhood has closed since Christmas. Closed for renovation or reconstruction? Or closed for good? Or would that be, more accurately, closed for bad?

With both Ford and General Motors going out of the car business, I wonder how many dealerships will close or consolidate this year and next? How many autoworkers will be laid off? For the record, the companies will continue making a few old-fashioned cars, such as the Ford Mustang. And Ford and Chevy will remain very much open for business. But not Buick. Not sure about Cadillac.

American automakers are simply giving up on sedans and focusing on SUVs and trucks, which remain popular and profitable. American automakers are surrendering to Japanese and Korean automakers. Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler can’t compete, or don’t have the will to compete.

Are falling gas prices and rising popularity of large SUVs and trucks mutually reinforcing trends?

With large parts of the U.S. government closed on purpose by U.S. “leaders” and many Federal workers no longer being paid, with automakers and gasoline industries closing facilities and laying off workers, and the stock market . . .

I can’t finish the above sentence. My mind is unable to grasp the implications.

Where is the bottom?

— John Hayden

Gas Prices In Florida Last Day Of 2018

The going rate for regular gasoline in my part of Florida was $1.96 a gallon yesterday, Dec. 30, the penultimate day of 2018. And the temperature today, New Year’s Eve, 80 degrees, bright sunshine, delightful. Cheap gas, sunshine, just another day in paradise. Lest you become too envious, New Year’s Day will be only about 76 degrees, followed by a week or more of moderate or falling temperatures.

Seven-Eleven, WaWa, branded stations, all $1.96. A few holdouts were trying for $1.97 or $1.98; probably didn’t have an employee available to change the price.

(Explanation: The average gas station is fully automated. One human cashier for the impoverished or simply backward customers who don’t have credit or debit cards. The convenience stores have two or three other workers, but they’re making coffee or fast food. They have nothing to do with the gasoline pumps. So what’s the  point? Automation and resulting human unemployment is one reason the price of gas is what it is.)

Then late yesterday evening, I saw a $1.94 !! sign at a Citgo station! And, I spotted a lone Sunoco station still stuck at $2.01. Maybe that station is closed? Maybe it’s been abandoned?

Let the record show that all gas prices have that nine-tenths of one cent tacked on at the end. It’s a strange and antiquated marketing custom of the gasoline business. Bamboozling the customer out of an extra nine-tenths of a penny? People have long internalized the ploy. The extra nine-tenths cent has been on gas station signs since at least my childhood, and that’s more than a half-century ago. So, for the unsuspecting reader from some faraway land, such as Antarctica or Pluto, let it be clear. Yesterday’s $1.96 gas was really a fraction of a penny less than $1.97. And who cares?

Who knows what the price is today, the final day of 2018? Not me. I haven’t been out yet, but I’ll update this post later. It’s probably lower. Since about Christmas, the price of gas has been falling about a penny a day. At this rate, we’ll have $1.50 gas by spring. That is, $1.50 gas, BUT ONLY IF prices go in a straight line. Few trends ever follow a straight line. But you knew that.

Will the stock market follow gas prices? Despite the ceremonial wailing and gnashing of teeth by the wealthy class, who tend to be more emotional about money than, say, poor people, there remains a whole lot of profit available for the taking in the stock market when it reopens on Jan. 2, 2019.

All the profit that was in the stock market on the first day of 2018 is STILL THERE.  Everything that happened in 2018 was fluctuation. Up-up-up, and, down-down-down. Turn around, and repeat. Other words, 2018 was a wash, a big NOTHING. The test is yet to come.

So stock market 2019? Can you say profit-taking? Maybe. Or maybe, more inflation of the bubble? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, who wants to bet that the price of gas will be lower on the first day of 2019 than the final day of 2018? I predict gas will hit $1.90, at least, before it goes back up. But my predictions are worth not even nine-tenths of one penny.

Happy New Year to all, whatever it may bring,

— John

 

Gas Prices In Florida

Gas 1.99

GAS PRICE $1.99 FOR REGULAR IN FLORIDA

Gasoline has broken through the $2 barrier in my part of Florida. The photo was taken late this afternoon, Dec. 27, 2018, a little bit north of Tampa-St. Pete, and not far from the southern edge of the Nature Coast. I doubt that such a low price can be found in any of Florida’s largest cities. And definitely not in the cities of the Northeast or California. Just my guess.

So what does it mean?

Is it a harbinger of general economic meltdown? Could be, but I doubt it.

Will prices remain so low? Probably not, but in this crazy time, who can say?

Will the stock market follow the gas price? Don’t know, don’t care. Don’t own any stocks. Or bonds. Let the buyer beware. I just made that up. You can write it down.

What to do?

Fill up now. Remain calm and enjoy driving while it lasts. Probably not a sign from heaven that you should rush out and buy an SUV with a V8 engine. Just saying.

Gas prices will undoubtedly rebound. Unless they crash.

As you may recall, one of the two reasons I moved to Florida was the lower cost of living. The other was warmer winters. It’s been more often cold than warm this Christmas season. But today, as I was transfixed by that $1.99 gas price, the temperature hit 77. Tomorrow, probably 78. Like the gas prices, I enjoy it while it lasts.

Tomorrow’s gas price?

Only one thing I know for sure. Nobody can predict the future.

— John Hayden

Artificial Intelligence Revolution

board game business challenge chess

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You say you want a revolution? Ready or not, a revolution is coming. It’s coming for you and me. It’s coming soon. You might want to try to hold onto your job. And your dignity. But good luck with that.

“The real battles that lie ahead will lack the apocalyptic drama of Hollywood blockbusters, but they will disrupt the structure of our economic and political systems all the same. Looming before us in the coming decades is an AI-driven crisis of jobs, inequality and meaning. The new technology will wipe out a huge portion of work as we’ve known it, dramatically widening the wealth gap and posing a challenge to the human dignity of us all.”

AI stands for Artificial Intelligence. If you want to be cool and appear in the know, you can begin dropping the AI acronym into your conversation or writing whenever possible.

The above quote is from a long piece written by Kai-Fu Lee in the Sept. 15-16 weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal. (I’m not in the habit of reading the WSJ, because I own no stocks and no bonds. But I sometimes pick it up if Publix is sold out of the NYT. Maybe I should read the WSJ more often? But I digress.) The article is entitled “The Human Promise Of The AI Revolution.” (See, I didn’t make up the “revolution” part.) Here’s another chilling quote from the WSJ article:

“This unprecedented disruption requires no new scientific breakthrough in AI, just the application of existing technology to new problems. It will hit many white-collar professionals just as hard as it hits blue-collar factory workers.”

Gosh, I’ve been focusing my worry on global warming, climate change, and the rising sea level. (And Donald Trump, of course. But I promise not to digress in that direction.) Now I have to worry about artificial intelligence as well? No problem. I have a nearly unlimited capacity for Worry, with a capital “W.”

Global Warming and Artificial Intelligence

After reading the aforementioned article, I can see similarities between Global Warming and Artificial Intelligence. Both sound like science fiction with hints of apocalypse.

Both promise unprecedented change with astonishing but uncertain consequences. Many people hope and believe that humans will be able to exert some degree of control over both global warming and artificial intelligence. (This is the “It might not be too late” school of optimism.)

Most folks have heard about global warming, but hope its most dangerous consequences are way off in the future. Many folks have not heard about artificial intelligence. Yet. But  if they have, they assume it is way off in the future.

Many people are aware that global warming has probably been happening for some time. Many acknowledge that we are already experiencing the first effects of global warming and climate change, manifesting as annoying shifts in weather patterns and apparent increase in the size and frequency of catastrophic storms.

However, it hasn’t dawned on many folks that artificial intelligence, like global warming, is already happening. Both global warming and artificial intelligence are HERE, NOW.

A Glacier And A Locomotive

I think I can get away with one more quote from the Kai-Fu Lee article in the WSJ. After all, I’m going to give him free publicity for his forthcoming book.

“The AI revolution will be of the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution — but probably larger and definitely faster. Where the steam engine only took over physical labor, AI can perform both intellectual and physical labor. And where the Industrial Revolution took centuries to spread beyond Europe and the U.S., AI applications are already being adopted simultaneously all across the world.”

Larger and faster than the Industrial Revolution!!!

Here’s my interpretation: Global warming is moving — not as slowly as a glacier, perhaps — but slowly, in terms of human years.

Global warming can make big changes in the lifetime of one human.

Artificial Intelligence, meanwhile, is moving more like a speeding locomotive — more like dog years than human years.

Artificial intelligence can make big changes in the lifetime of one dog.

And what about that Kai-Fu Lee book? It is “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order.” There’s a title to strike fear into the heart. The book is scheduled to be published next week, Sept. 25, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. So says the WSJ.

And who is this guy Kai-Fu Lee? Never heard of him. He appears to have serious credentials in the brave new world of AI. You could Google him.

— John Hayden

Children In Danger

In the 1950s, when I was a child in elementary school, we were taught to hide under our desks and shield our eyes in the event of an atomic bomb attack. The nuns in my school didn’t seem alarmed. Simply another thing we practiced at school, like fire drills, multiplication tables, and penmanship. It was called “duck and cover.”

Adults talked about the A-bomb.

We lived in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, a likely target of our enemy, the Russians, who lived far away.

My mother mused that we might evacuate to get away from a bomb. My father worked in downtown Washington, and we were in the suburbs, so if we decided to evacuate during the day, we should plan to meet up at some church about an hour’s drive west, near Frederick, MD. My father was more interested in reading the afternoon paper. A day off from school! That was my thought.

This atomic bomb thing, should it ever happen, would be a big explosion in the distance, and a main danger was that the bright light would hurt our eyes. Duck and cover was the thing to do.

No one, adults or children, had ever seen an atomic bomb explosion. We hadn’t heard of such a thing actually happening, certainly not at any school nearby. Or anyplace else in our state. Or anyplace, really. Adults recalled that airplanes had dropped two atomic bombs, but that was far away, long before we children were born.

The 1950s are more than a half-century in the past. The distant and naive past. Today’s schoolchildren and parents live with the fears of 2018. The more things change, the more they remain the same?

No.

In elementary school, today’s dangers are different. 

Children now drill on how to survive an “active shooter.” A shooter inside their school. It’s not a distant, abstract danger. It has really happened in schools. Already happened! 

It’s happened over and over. It’s happened in schools in your own state. Everyone knows about it. No one denies it. The danger is in your neighborhood, possibly next door. Maybe in your very own house!

In my childhood, we saw guns in cowboy movies. For today’s children, guns are everywhere. Sometimes it seems as if nearly everyone is armed, at least here in Florida.

As the new school year begins, the state is belatedly (reluctantly?) spending some money in reaction to public opinion. It is, after all, an election year. Nothing to control guns, mind you. But they’re putting up fences around some schools. Rushing to hire and train more school security personnel. Dress them in more military-like uniforms. Putting on a show to placate fearful parents. In some cases, making schools look like prisons with correctional officers.

Meanwhile, inside the schools principals and teachers conduct active-shooter drills. Children are taught something new: “Run, Hide, Fight.” Sounds like basic training in the army. But it’s not the army. It’s elementary school and high school. It’s worth repeating: “Run, Hide, Fight.”

Wait.

Children are now expected to fight a man shooting a gun in the classroom, the hallway, the cafeteria?

Oh, well. Only as a last resort. First, you should run or hide. Hope and pray (is prayer OK?) that the police arrive. Hope and pray that police arrive, like, RIGHT NOW.

And yes, you might have to fight a gunman with your bare hands, as a last resort. That’s what the schools are teaching. Is it possible that I’ve misunderstood? If that is incorrect, please, somebody correct me.

No, the danger children face at school is not the same.

Yes, the danger at school, and other places too, is WORSE. The danger is not abstract. It’s real. It’s immediate. It’s everywhere.

Are children traumatized by this fear? Or do they ignore it? What about parents? What about teachers? How do teachers cope with fear? Some suggest teachers should carry guns.

Full Stop. Those thoughts — danger in school, children and parents in fear, teachers, guns. More than enough for one day. A good place to stop writing. The only place to go from here is: Can a society live like this, and survive?

— John

Note: This post was prompted by a news story, “Parents block shooter video: Pinellas elementary school kids won’t have to see it as part of active shooting drills,” in The Tampa Bay Times, Aug. 21, 2018, page 1B.

Stand Your Ground And Self-Defense In Florida

Anger over deaths caused by guns is boiling in Florida this summer. And controversy over the “stand your ground” legal principle in the state’s self-defense law is reaching a frenzy.

Please, let’s all take a deep breath, step back, and think about this slowly and carefully. It’s important for us to get the issues and facts straight. Fortunately, the Tampa Bay Times has published on each of the past two days excellent front-page news reports regarding the shooting death at a convenience store in Clearwater and the resulting controversy.

I recommend that everyone read the following two stories from start to finish. Not just the front page but the jump to an inside page. The stories are available on the Times website. Continue reading