The Presidency is not for Amateurs

Until the most recent presidential election, this country has never had a president who had absolutely no experience working within the government. Lincoln is the closest be he did hold a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives and was a captain in the state’s militia. Trump, however has had no such experience what-so-ever and it is beginning to show in spades.

Our country has had several presidents who held no previous elective offices but all were army generals. Two, Polk and Grant, were no good as president and served just a single term. But even they had some understanding of the nuances of governing. Historically, flag officers, generals and admirals, have had to deal with politicians if only to promote a part of the military needing funding or other political favor. As an aside, of the 44 individuals who have served as president, only 13 had no military service. But of those 13, FDR had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and William Howard Taft served as Secretary of War.

In the 19th Century and into the beginning of the 20th Century, our country was isolationist. We were far more worried about what was happening on the home front than on being a force, either economically of militarily, on the world scene. World War 1 brought us part way out of that malaise, and World War 2 ended any lingering effects of isolationism. The United States had become a world leader first militarily and then economically. And since 1945, our responsibilities in both areas have steadily increased to where the rest of the world, even those countries who do not like us, look closely at what we do. This is particularly true of our economic and military partners.

President Trump just showed on the world’s stage how ill-suited he is for the job of president. He took a victory lap for landing a billion-dollar military deal claiming it will mean jobs for Americans. It may mean a few jobs, but the truth is, the contracts will be for equipment American companies are already producing and those companies are not likely to find the need to add many, if any, new employment positions. But Trump missed the more important deal to be had. Saudi Arabia flatly refused to put sanctions on ISIS groups existing within its own borders. Trump’s move was to leave the country with no military deal. For all his bluster about getting tough on ISIS, when the first chance for him to back up his rhetoric, he cowered. He seemed to forget that Saudi Arabia needs us more than we need it.

We live in an extremely dangerous world. There is no shortage of governments who want to take shots at the United States. Iran, North Korea, Russia, China and a number of other countries are not our allies and each has been known to give aid to terrorists. And while we have been able to clamp down on Iran and have decent trade pacts with China, neither of these countries would come to our aid.

The middle east is likely to remain unstable for years, if not decades, to come. Extremist groups in middle eastern and central Asia are not likely to be neutralized any time soon as can been seen in Afghanistan. But a more present danger lies in North Korea. The North Korean leader seems hell-bent on creating a war in his region. The peace that has been experienced on the Korean peninsula has been a tenuous one at best since 1953. One of our staunchest allies is South Korea but even with the tensions that exist there now, President Trump has not seen fit to schedule a visit. Why?

Not far from Korea is a long-time friend we are fast losing, the Philippines. I had the chance to talk to a well-educated Filipino recently and he informed me that even though his country has begged the United States for assistance militarily, none has been given. There is an insurgency in that country that if successful would put the Philippines at odds with U.S interests. My fear is that since the Philippines do not present the military or economic power to gain front page news, something negative will happen there if we do not treat them respectfully, recognize their difficulties and work with them for a resolution.

The Presidency is not place for amateurs and yet that is exactly what we have there now. He has surrounded himself with his billionaire friends who also have no government experience. The American people should consider this to be a most troubling of the Trump regime. Is difficult to navigate a mine field when you know what you are doing and impossible when you do not.


North Korean Threat Real

Anyone who does not take the North Korean dictator’s threat, Kim Jong Un, seriously is foolish.  Some months ago I wrote about my own personal experiences in Korea.  The recent sabra rattling tells me that not much has changed.

The Korean people as a whole find their heritage in China.  Not withstanding that, North Korea’s best ally used to be the Soviet Union, not China.  That is an important distinction because since the fall of the Soviet Union, North Korea has found itself even more isolated than it was before.  Thought they share a common ideology with China, Communism, China has always held its neighbor at arm’s length.  China has not openly warred on any nation in over 100 years, and it is unlikely it has any such interest today.  They are not about to be drawn into anything by North Korea.  And while North Korea undoubtedly still gets technology and arms from Russia, it no longer can count on that country as an ally, as in the old Soviet days.

When I arrived in South Korea in 1968, what I saw was an armed and tense camp.  The armistice with the north was but 13 years old, and memories of that war were still fresh.  Think of it this way:  the US Civil War ends in an armistice where both sides retain sovereignty but refuses access to its soils by the other side.  The good people of Maryland want to visit their relatives in Virginia but are not allowed to.  That is exactly what happened, and is still going on, in the Koreas.  In the late 60s and early 70s, the cold war took on a whole different flavor in the far east.  What you had were two countries who wanted to war with each other but were prevented from doing so by their allies, America and the Soviet Union.  It was seen then that an escalation of hostilities into a nuclear war were not far fetched.  Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Il-sung, vowed that he would reunited the Koreas by force.  The South Koreans fully expected such a war and were prepared for it.  Kim Il-sung shot down an American spy plane, an EC-121, and fired upon the USS Pueblo in an attempt to capture it.  The ship’s captain allowed the ship to be taken.  North Korea held the ship for a year before releasing it.  What this says is, North Korea was not then afraid to carry out its threats, and we have no reason to believe that it will not follow through on threats it makes today.  In North Korea’s mind, at least, a lot is at steak.

The US intelligence community believes that North Korea as most has medium range missiles, with an outside range of about 3000 miles.  That renders the entire U.S. and Guam and Hawaii outside its range.  But well within its range are US allies, South Korea and Japan.  The Japanese have already expressed deep concerns about North Korea’s threats, as well they should.  It is not unreasonable to think the North Koreans still harbor resentments arising from Japan’s World War 2, and before, occupation of the Korean peninsula.

The west’s best hope against North Korea’s carrying through on any of its threats may lie with senior North Korean military leaders.  These men would necessarily know the consequences of declaring a war on any country.  Regardless of who North Korea attacked, it would be viewed as an attack on US interests.  Japan is still allowed only a defense force and would necessarily rely upon the U.S. for its defense, something I am certain we would do.  South Korea, on the other hand, has a very large, well-trained and well-equipped military which could hold its own against an incursion from the north.

It is impossible to predict what the North Korean dictator has in mind, what his plans are, and what he is willing to do.  North Korea’s unpredictability rendered it a pariah in the communist sphere because of this.  And it is exactly this reason that any and all threats made by North Korea must be taken very seriously, and be considered in a “worst possible scenario.”

Free Trade?

About 100 years ago American industrialists were able to get the U.S. Congress to wage heavy tariffs on most imports.  But with the advent of a world economy that sort of thing fell into disfavor.  People wanted to be able to buy things that were not produced in the U.S. at reasonable prices.  Additionally, the U.S. wanted to be able to sell goods in world markets without foreign government interference.   This worked until around 1980 when world markets redefined themselves.  It is also when Japan became a world leader in markets the U.S. had formerly dominated, electronics and automobiles.

For the American consumer, at least until now, that has been a good thing.  American companies who made inferior products to those produced in other countries, either had to step up or be put out of business.  We can see the result of American industrialists not meeting the challenge when Chrysler and General Motors would have gone belly up had it not been for a huge infusion of government funds.  GM shed a number of its cars, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, and Hummer, so that it could better focus its advancement of its other brands, and, at least at this point, they have done well.

The U.S. used to be the world’s largest exporter of steel but now imports much of its steel.  Why?  After World War II, America’s steel companies failed to modernize their plants, and foreign nations, such as Germany, were more efficient in the steel making process which in turn allowed them to produce cheaper steel.

Since the mid-1990s, however, a new economic power has entered many world markets, China.  Unlike other industrial nations, the Chinese government subsidizes their industry.  To wit, the U.S., the technological leader and until recently leading producer of electric generation through wind power, has suddenly fallen on hard times.  The heavily subsidized Chinese products are far less expensive than their U.S. counterparts.  This, I submit, is exactly where a heavy dose of tariff is called for.

But there are any number of very powerful U.S. corporate interests that would challenge such a tariff, complaining, maybe rightfully, that it would hinder their ability to sell their product on the Chinese market.  One such corporation is Ford Motor Company which has recently built its 7th plant in China.  They would almost definitely holler that any tariff would comprise a restriction of trade, and claim such to be illegal.

While I sympathize with Ford, I believe there has to be a compromise found to level the playing field.  Some will make the cry that this is a case of isolationism, proposing new tariffs.  But at some point it is the job of our government to protect U.S. corporate interests against unfair trade practices such as the Chinese are pursuing.  It is not reasonable to expect that the emerging renewable energy companies can even stay alive, let alone compete, when they are asked to go it alone against a government such as China.

Why Does the United States Still Have 5113 Nuclear Warheads?

Here is a little exercise for you.  Find a map of the world and count out 5113 cities and other targets that would be worth dropping a nuclear bomb on.  That mean every country in the world because if you start eliminating “friendly” countries like most of Europe, all of South America and most of Africa, along with a number of Asian and sub-Asian countries your choices decline quickly.  If you consider that dropping a single warhead upon one city is enough to totally destroy it and the same is so for all military targets, what is left?

There was a time the U.S. had in excess of 31,000 nuclear warheads!  Those were the days of “mutually assured destruction.”  The acronym for that would be “MAD” which seems about right. The idea was, if the USSR struck first we could not only return in kind but with enough force to assure their destruction.  Well, Russia has about 1200 warheads these days, China about 300, and a few scattered around the rest of the world.  Why do we have any at all?

The horrors of the atom bomb were well displayed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The after effects were felt for decades.  No further proof was necessary.  The USSR wanted what we had and did such.  Then we wanted our bombs to be larger which we did.  At one point 100-megaton bombs were being exploded.  There was a sick sort of glory associated with each such accomplishment.  But after a while the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks stopped above ground testing and then all testing.  Finally it limited the amount of weapons any country could own.

It has been 67 years since man first unleashed the power of the atom in weaponry.  You would think that by this time we would know quite enough that ownership of over 5000 such weapons should be something of a national embarrassment.  Not only is it excessive, it is also extremely expensive to maintain such force.

There was a time when every warhead was designated for a particular target, even those carried aboard aircraft.  I would hope that such days have passed but with an arsenal of over 5000 I cannot help but wonder if many are still specifically targeted.  To me that says that some planners still believe there is an ocassion where use of nuclear weapons still exists.  I want to know what circumstance that is.  Russia is no longer a threat of any sort.  China is happy within her borders and does no sabre rattling at all, unlike the U.S.  There is North Korea, of course, but its ability to deliver any of its nukes is still quite questionable.  Who does that leave?  Of whom are we afraid?  Or are we still supporting some secret agenda?

I firmly believe that in the future the ownership of more than a dozen or so nuclear arms will be deemed as sheer foolishness, and in some senses provocative.  The ownership of such weapons will be purely deterrent.  Our statement will be that we have a few that we can guarantee delivery to the target of our choice should the occasion arise.  I expect such nukes would be the property of the U.S. Navy upon its submarines, and that all other nuclear weapons would be declared obsolete.

The United States defense industry has produced “smart bombs” and cruise missiles that have a degree of accuracy which should instill fear upon any warring entity.  Addition of nuclear capability adds nothing.  Furthermore, our stealth bombers and fighters, our advanced avionics and battlefield weapons keeps us as the most formidable force upon the Earth.  Our strength lies in our ability to further such technology and not in how many people or building we can annihilate with a single blow.

Wars are inevitable and the continued strength of our military forces is of paramount concern.  But that strength cannot come with a threat to the continuation of all humanity.  No nation, no people, no group, can ever justify its actions when it puts in balance the survival of the human race.

A wise man once told me that I do not have to take on every fight I am invited to.  Oft times the more intelligent thing to do is nothing.  America stands for freedom and liberty but we do better by simply carrying the message to the world than trying to bludgeon it into our belief system.  But when challenged in terms that allow us no other avenue, we are still stronger than any other nation on earth even before any consideration is given to our nuclear arms.  Therefore, how much do we really need them, and how many?

America’s Next Recession Starts March 1

The Dow-Jones today topped the 13,000 mark for the first time since 2008.  That is a fact.   How, then, can I possibly be predicting a recession starting in a little over a week?  The stock market is one of the worst indicators of the future.  On March 9, 1929 the Dow Jones average was 381.70 but by the end of October in 1929 it had fallen to 198.69.  The market lost 48% of its total value, most of that happening in October 1929.  President Hoover looked at the economy he presided over in March 1929 and said that the warnings of upcoming trouble were worthless.

People are going to look at today’s stock closing optimistically.  But they need to look at a single indicator that directly feeds into imminent economic trouble.  Crude oil prices have risen over 30% since September 2011 and show no signs of retreating.  To the contrary, they show every sign of rising to historic levels.  The average person thinks of such a rise only with regard to what they pay for gasoline at the pump.  But all forms of transportation are equally affected.  This means the price of food, durable goods, clothing, and everything else goes up as well if only because they too have to be transported and that cost is reflected in the price of the item being sold.

But have you ever considered how much of everything in your life is petroleum-based?  Consider that everything that is made from plastic is petroleum-based.  That alone should give one pause to consider what rising crude prices mean.  Petroleum is also used in medicines, clothing, and construction.

I believe crude oil prices are going to keep going up because of the continued unrest in the middle east.  Lybia, Egypt, Syria, Iran, and Iraq are all in a more or less unstable condition.  And all are oil-producing countries.  Adding to this unrest are both Afghanistan and Pakistan, neither oil producers, but both home to radical Islamists who have every intention of continuing or raising the level of unrest in all the countries mentioned.

In today’s world economy energy drives those economies.  Whatever is happening to the price and distribution of oil affects all economies to one degree or another.  It is like throwing a rock in the middle of a calm pond.  The waves that rock creates moves outward in all directions, and the bigger the rock, the bigger the waves.  Right now we are feeling the waves of uncertainty in the market.  Consider that most countries in the world produce no oil at all, and two that do, the United States and China, both in the top 20 oil producers, export none of the oil they produce and import even more.  China will benefit from Iran’s decision to stop sending oil to England but of course England will suffer.  And so the rock Iran threw in England’s water will send its waves throughout Europe.

The unrest in the middle east is unlikely to settle down any time soon.  That means the market jitters are likely to continue as well.  That of course means oil prices will remain high with a high likelihood of their going ever higher.  I think it likely that the average price per gallon of gasoline will be at or close to $5 by summer’s end.  People will, of course, cut back on their purchases and with that the economy takes a hit, probably a big on.