Thursday, June 28, 2018

Trump Defeated by North Korea

Notwithstanding President Trump's summit with Kim Jong Un early this month, North Korea has continued to make progress in building its nuclear arsenal (  Trump has abysmally failed.  He agreed to a no-conditions summit with Kim, a gesture that legitimizes Kim's standing in international diplomacy.  Trump also ordered the U.S. military to stop participating in war games with South Korea, which the North Koreans have whined about for years as a major provocation.  These were substantial concessions that Trump made, and he got nothing in return.  It's business as usual in North Korea, with strengthening their nuclear arsenal while the U.S. retreats.

Trump has done far worse with North Korea than Barack Obama did.  After taking office, Trump scared the North Koreans badly, and Kim accelerated work on his weaponry.  Now he has intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the American mainland and perhaps can or soon will be able to carry the hydrogen bomb he developed in response to Trump's belligerence.  While arranging for the no-conditions summit, Trump called Kim "very honorable" (   With war games halted and Kim diplomatically elevated, America is now weaker and North Korea is much stronger.  Trump was snookered by a kid tyrant.  And he thinks he knows something about the art of the deal?

We must be concerned about Trump's forthcoming summit with Vladimir Putin.  Putin is far more formidable than Kim Jong Un.  What could happen at this summit?  Will Trump surrender to Putin?  Will Western Europe become part of the new Soviet Union?  Will America become a province of Russia? 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Trump Nationalizes Harley-Davidson

President Trump has started a trade war in recent days.  He's imposed tariffs on imports that have been rejoined with countertariffs on American goods.  Among the ripostes delivered to Trump's tariffs have been countertariffs from the EU.  The EU measures led Harley-Davidson, the Milwaukee-based maker of iconic motorcycles, to announce that it would shift some production overseas.

President Trump did not take kindly to this news.  He declared in a tweet, "A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country--never!"  Then he stated that if Harley-Davidson shifted production overseas, "they will be taxed like never before."  (See  Trump seems to be saying that he would impose stiff tariffs on Harleys made overseas when they are imported into the U.S.

Trump's message is clear:  don't move production overseas.  He is, in effect, trying to usurp the authority of Harley's management and board of directors to run the company and make decisions that they believe to be in the best interests of the company and its shareholders.  When the government takes control of a company, that's nationalization.  While Trump isn't trying make all the decisions for management; most likely, it's still up to them what brand of coffee to provide in the employee lounge and which employees get reserved parking spots.  But when it comes to crucial matters that could affect the survival of the company, Trump evidently has an office in the executive suite, and it may be the biggest corner office.

The notion of a Republican President dictating to a private corporation how to run its business is bizarre.  There was once a time when the Republican Party stood for the principles of free enterprise and the private ownership of property.  But no more.  America's businesses now seem to have a new purpose:  to make President Trump look good.  And they had better do it well or they evidently will be taxed like never before.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Brief History of Asylum in America

In 1620, a small group of religious refugees from England, called Pilgrims, landed on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  Facing persecution, imprisonment, fines and even execution in their native land, they had fled to the New World to find a better life.  Their early years were hard, but they persisted and eventually prospered.

The Pilgrims were soon joined by other refugees from England--the Puritans--who had also fled persecution in order to improve their lives.  The Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a beacon of liberty from whence the American Revolution sprang.  Many of the colonial men who assembled in the early hours of April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord to await the British Redcoats descended from the Pilgrims and Puritans.  The refusal of these offspring of 17th Century refugees to submit to tyranny remains the foundation of American liberty today.

Other religious refugees from England and elsewhere in Europe found asylum in America.  Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Maryland all provided asylum to the persecuted and endangered.  They, too, prospered.

In the 1840's and 1850's, a flood of refugees from Germany and other parts of Europe arrived in America, fleeing the Revolutions of 1848, a largely failed group of democratic uprisings. These refugees found in America the freedom that they had been denied in Europe.  Many of the German refugees were instrumental in establishing heavy industry in America, particularly a robust machine tool industry that powered America's victory in World War II.   During the war, America produced some 295,000 aircraft, 88,000 tanks and other armored vehicles, and some 6,000 ships.  Refugees helped to make America the Arsenal of Democracy.  Even to this day, America has substantial manufacturing prowess, employing over 12 million people and producing over $2 trillion worth of goods.

During the first half of the 1860's, a large number of refugees of African descent fled bondage in the Confederate States of America and found asylum from the blue-coated Union Army.  Some 200,000  African-Americans enlisted in the Union Army and bolstered the ranks of the Army of the Potomac that Ulysses S. Grant led to victory over Robert E. Lee.  These refugees, too, fought and sometimes died for the liberty we now enjoy.

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, many Jewish inhabitants of Eastern Europe and the Russian Empire fled pogroms--persecutions that featured mass murders, pillaging and destruction of property.  Many and perhaps most were penniless and not well educated when they arrived.   But they and their offspring prospered in the warmth of American freedom and can now be counted among the most successful of Americans.

In 1949, a small group of Chinese college and graduate students studying at American universities, around 3,000, were stranded by the Communist victory in China.  These students were largely from well-educated and well-to-do backgrounds, which made them enemies of the people from the Communist perspective.  Many of their family members remaining in China were treated harshly by the Communists, up to the point of execution in some cases, and suffered the loss of their jobs and property.  These students faced the same if they returned to China.  But they were given asylum in America.  Many found jobs in the high tech industries, and played important roles in developing modern electronics, including the integrated circuits that are at the heart of modern computers. 

When we look at photographs of those seeking asylum today, we should see not just what they are at the moment, but the potential they offer.  Refugees have powerful reasons to work and succeed, more so than those who ensconced in comfortable suburbs or upscale urban neighborhoods.  Providing asylum is an act of compassion and mercy (witness the sanctuary offered by Christian churches since ancient times).  It also brings social and economic benefits that have powered America to its status as the world's sole superpower.  The energy and motivation of asylum seekers and other immigrants can bolster America's safety nets--Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid--with the employment taxes they will pay at a time when native-born Americans have falling birth rates, lower employment force participation, and aging demographics.  Countries in Europe and Asia face the same and more severe demographic problems. But their tightfisted attitudes toward immigration and asylum will force them gradually to cut back on social safety nets, which will likely lead to ugly political maelstroms. America is vibrant and flexible enough to avoid that outcome. 

So, when you hear the cry of an asylum seeking child, think about what asylum has done for America.  Those who know history may sometimes want to repeat it.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Will Trump Help Us Profit From the Jobs Numbers?

Today, President Trump tweeted around 7:24 am that he was "looking forward" to the jobs numbers.  Some traders in the financial markets apparently saw this, sold Treasuries, and bought stocks.  When the jobs numbers came out at 8:30 am, they were better than expected.  Jobs increased by 223,000, about 33,000 more than economists had estimated. The stock market rose more than 250 points in morning trading.  Whoever bought stocks before the jobs report made money--good money.

It turns out the President learned the jobs numbers last night.  The federal government, including the White House, has historically refrained from any comment on the jobs numbers until they are officially released at 8:30 am.  The President broke with tradition.  Whoever among financial markets aficionados were monitoring the President's Twitter address got an advance hint about the jobs numbers.  It's implausible to think the President would have tweeted if the jobs numbers had been tepid or discouraging.  His "looking forward" comment could only mean the numbers would be good.

 Trump shouldn't have tweeted about the jobs numbers before they were officially released.  But it's just in his nature to keep his mouth moving and the Tweeter going.  So maybe this gives us a way to make money from the jobs numbers.  If the President tweets about jobs before the official release, invest in a way that would profit from good numbers.  If the President is silent before the official release, invest in a way that would profit from tepid or bad numbers.  Will this work?  No guarantees, but you never know.  Maybe you could make a nickel or two.