Thursday, December 29, 2016

December Retail Sales

From 1992 through 2015 (the most recent year available), retail sales for December have increased in every year except one - 2008.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

America In The Age of Socrates

Socrates made a fatal mistake. He thought the Greeks wanted to know the truth. What he learned, albeit too late to make a difference, was that truth no longer mattered. The Greeks only wanted to be persuaded - to be moved - to be stirred. Truth, it seems, had been redefined to mean only that of which one could persuade another. And now we enter that age ourselves.

Truth and Lies in the Age of Trump, The New York Times, December 10, 2016

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Quiet Oblivion

I see people on the street who seem to live a life of quiet desperation - but in the pews and shopping malls I see more who seem to live a life of quiet oblivion.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Near The End

Near the end, people will revere the symbols of freedom more than freedom itself.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Twilight Of The Republic

During the recent presidential campaign, candidate Trump turned hyperbole into an art form, creating supposed facts to suit the sort of American mythological claims many think are true. Like the notion that vast numbers of immigrants come here illegally in order to commit crimes (the crime rate among immigrants is roughly equal that of the population in general), vote in our elections (voter fraud requires the collusion of hundreds of local poll workers at every level), and other claims for which neither he nor anyone else has an supporting evidence.

Now that he has won election to the highest office in the land, some had hoped that president-elect Trump would move to more reserved, judicious, comments based on substantiated facts and actual truth. After all, when a president speaks his words have consequences, both at home and abroad. But this weekend Trump returned to his old form, Tweeting on the topic of a three-state recount that the reason Hillary Clinton won the popular vote was due to "millions" who voted illegally for her. Claims for which no one has any supporting evidence.

Campaigning by hyperbole is one thing. Governing by it is quite another.

When one campaigns by hyperbole, their statements are often dismissed as political rhetoric or mere puffery - the kind of statements the stereotypical used car salesman might be expected to make when attempting to sell a car of dubious quality and value.

When one governs by hyperbole - making up supposed facts and using them to justify policies that obviate, obfuscate, and contravene the constitution - mere hyperbole becomes propaganda.

The kind of propaganda Trump attempts to sell - that elections are tainted by voter fraud (though only affecting those who voted for someone else), that illegal immigrants are stealing our jobs, that globalism doesn't work, that we can withdraw from the world economically while imposing our will militarily - not only lays the basis for constitutional crisis, but turn us away from an electoral republic toward a dictatorial empire and the death of everything we claim to value about America.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

If We Abandon The World

If we abandon the world - globalism, international monetary system, and the like - the world will abandon us. Our economy lives on credit, much of it extended to us by other nations, and on the constant supply of goods from abroad. Foreign countries only deal with us because it is profitable for them to do so. If we, as a consequence of our own choices, make dealing with us unprofitable, they will no longer buy our bonds and notes, or trade with us in the manufacture of the products we consume.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

The Past Is Always With US

"Hitler increasingly presented himself in messianic terms, promising to 'lead Germany to a new era of national greatness,' though he was typically vague about his actual plans."

Kakutani, Michiko, From 'Dunderhead' to Demagogue, The New York Times, September 28, 2016

Reviewing Hitler: Ascent 1889-1930 by Volker Ullrich (Knopf)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Past Has A Way of Repeating Itself

"Here, 'Hitler adapted the content of his speeches to suit the tastes of his lower-middle-class, nationalist-conservative, ethnic-chauvinist and anti-Semitic listeners,' Ullrich writes. He peppered his speeches with coarse phrases and put-downs of hecklers. Even as he fomented chaos by playing on crowds' fears and resentments, he offered himself as the visionary leader who could restore law and order."

Kakutani, Michiko, From 'Dunderhead to Demagogue, The New York Times, September 28, 2016

Reviewing Hitler: Ascent 1889-1930 by Volker Ullrich

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Totally amazed that Reagan Republicans - who embraced the conservative view that Russia was a threat to world peace and US security - now readily accept Donald Trump's embrace of Russian president Putin as a leader to be emulated.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

President Trump

Donald Trump sounds convincing - like the guy you see at the party who seems to know everyone, even you, and people who regularly have three or four drinks before dinner find him . . . interesting.

But the speeches he gives are mostly about himself with policy positions painted with the broadest strokes possible. The most oft repeated being, "We're gonna make America great again." He gives little detail about how he would accomplish that, but he makes the claim anyway, leaving plenty of space for listeners to fill in the blanks.

Giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, and reading past his sparse comments on policy, he sounds like a CEO addressing shareholders or employees at an annual gathering. And that might be expected. After all, he's spent a lifetime leading a number of companies. But as attractive as the CEO model might be, the presidency is not a CEO position and the government is not a business corporation. This is a critical point because if he wins the presidency in the general election, the differences between corporate CEO and president of the United States will become a major stumbling block as he confronts one of his most important official duties - proposing the next year's federal budget.

After years of government shutdowns and debt-limit grandstanding, almost none of which had any noticeable effect on the individual lives of private citizens, the federal budget might seem like merely a document. It is, in fact, quite the opposite.

The federal budget lies at the heart of an administration's plan for governing. The budgetary process - the process by which each year's allocation of funding is determined - becomes the battle ground upon which dreams and political rhetoric collide with the enduring enemy of all attempts at government reform - the narrow-minded but often powerful congressional constituencies in both parties who protect and defend billions of dollars in federal pork aimed at projects in their home districts.

The CEO of a private corporation could address company budget problems by simply deleting from that budget those items he thought were unnecessary - a power often referred to in government as the line-item veto. However, the president of the United States does not hold line-item veto power. The president can approve a budget and sign it into law in its entirety, or he can veto the budget in its entirety and send the document back to congress. But he can't strike from the budget those individual items he does not wish to fund. Approval or disapproval of the budget is an all or nothing matter.

In addition, most of the items the president will want to cut from the budget have their own congressional constituency - congressional members, even from within the president's own party, who are determined to retain some measure of federal largess for voters back home. As a result, a first-term Trump will watch as his administration becomes bogged down in relentless congressional arguments over each and every item he wishes to strike.

And then consider this . . .

To alleviate his frustration, a President Trump will do what he has already done when confronted by Republican Party hierarchy and the Republican Establishment - he will look beyond congress and the legislative process and rally the American people to his cause. Using the same empty and vacuous, but oh so entertaining, rhetoric that won him the office, he will make a very public argument for why he should have greater budgetary control. In speech after speech he will chide Congress for its failure to govern and exhort the American people with promises that he can easily fix most of the government's problems, if only he had the power to strike individual appropriations from the budget.

His argument will seem appealing and opinion polls will show voter sentiment strongly in favor of Trump's request. A Republican controlled Congress, facing the prospect of voter anger in their home districts, will give him the line-item power he seeks - by constitutional amendment if necessary.

Using his newly acquired power, Trump will dramatically shrink the federal budget. Deficits will become a thing of the past. Key government programs wiped out with the stroke of a pen. The American economy, almost instantly devoid of excess federal spending, will descend into a depression far more devastating than the Great Depression of 1929. Millions will be out of work. Voter anger once again will rise.

Rather than addressing the truth - that his federal budget policy withdrew trillions of economic activity from the national economy - Trump will turn again to the rhetoric that holds the key to his power and divert public attention to illegal immigrants as the source of the nation's economic trouble. Illegal immigrants, he will say, as he already has, are the ones who stole our jobs and destroyed our economy.

With that rhetoric as his tool, he will convince Americans that the economic crisis is really an immigration crisis, one that requires the deployment of federal troops in a massive roundup of some fifteen million allegedly illegal immigrants. A Republican controlled congress, eager to retain their office and its paycheck, will rubber stamp all of his proposals.

Sporadic resistance will create poorly organized disruptions, but those attempts at resistance will attract national media attention and provide the illusion of widespread unrest. In the midst of that, he will declare martial law and, as his second term approaches its end, he will declare a national emergency, temporarily suspending federal elections, leaving himself in office indefinitely.

And so . . .

If you think this is nothing more than the overactive musings of a fiction writer, you should read the history of Germany from 1920 to 1945. This is precisely how Hitler shredded through centuries of German law, tradition, and practice to become first chancellor, then Fuehrer - an absolute ruler with absolute and unrestrained power.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Cage Free Eggs Revisited

Earlier I wrote about cage free eggs with a rather sarcastic tone. I assumed caged in this context meant the chickens were confined to a chicken house but able to walk around. This morning, the Diane Rehm Show had a guest who talked about cage free and what it meant.

Here's a link to a video showing hens in laying cages. Apparently, they're confined like this most of their laying life.

Commercial Chicken Laying Cages

Monday, April 25, 2016


If you try hard enough,

you can convince yourself

of anything.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


The other day, we were down at Texas Medical Center and while I waited for my wife to bring the car around I noticed all the plaques and pictures on the wall in the lobby remembering those who'd gone ahead of us and reminding us that they helped create that facility. The buildings have names that enshrine their memory, too. Like Brown, Alkek, Fondren, Dunn, Smith, Scurlock, and Mary Gibbs Jones. And that's just the part at Methodist Hospital. Other areas of the Center have their own memorials.

With Tax Day falling in this month, many have no doubt expressed their disdain for paying taxes. That sense of frustration is understandable. It's quite an eye-opener to see how much money the government gets from our hard-earned income. But this week I've also been thinking about another aspect of the tax system. The Estate Tax and all of those plaques on the wall in the hospital lobby.

Under US law, a federal tax of forty percent is imposed on all estates valued above five million dollars. That's a much higher rate than the federal income tax, but there are ways to legally avoid that tax. One of those ways is by giving everything above the five million dollar limit to a qualifying institution or entity - a charitable cause, your alma mater, the church you attend, or by giving it to a foundation of your own.

As I thought about that and the plaques on the wall in the hospital lobby I realized the federal tax code actually pushes us to give away our wealth. The law forces us to think about our estate in terms of others. To address those needs, issues, and causes that are dear to us. To start or join a work that takes more than a single generation to accomplish.

Texas Medical Center was started by Monroe D. Anderson, a cotton broker who created a foundation to avoid federal taxes on his estate. The money that went to that foundation after Mr. Anderson died bought the land for the Center and helped fund construction of its first hospital. His vision was an inspiration to those who carried out the mission he started and that vision still drives the current generation of leaders who manage the Center today.

Yes, the federal government takes a big chunk of our income. And, yes, the federal government is far more intrusive than our Founders ever imagined. But the Estate Tax is one thing the tax code gets right. It encourages us - forces us - reminds us - to think of others. To build toward a future with dreams and visions bigger than we can accomplish in our lifetime. To join with those who've gone before us. To add our efforts to their's and to remind those coming after us that caring for others is their responsibility, too.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Aspire to goals and dreams that are bigger than one could achieve or complete in a single life.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

The Smartest Places On Earth

 If you're interested in our economy - where it's headed and what's really happening - you need to watch this webcast from Brookings Institute.

The Smartest Places On Earth - Brookings Institute

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Cage-Free Eggs

Caught a blurb a moment ago about a grocery store that will move toward selling 100% Cage-Free eggs soon. Cage-Free eggs. Hmm.

Now, Cage-Free Chicken - I see that. A way for some to feel good about eating chicken. At least it wasn't confined to a cramped coop and force-fed steroids to make it grow into a giant chicken breast with a beak before someone killed it, plucked it, gutted it, and wrapped it for display in the store.

But Cage-Free eggs

When I was a boy I had a dozen yard hens and a rooster. They wandered free and wandered everywhere. So did their nests. And when I found their nests, I gathered their eggs and took them in the house to the refrigerator. When we cooked them, they tasted like whatever the hens had eaten - bark from the camphor tree is the flavor/scent I remember most in the scrambled eggs - there was a camphor tree behind the garage and they routinely pecked at its roots.

So, if you like Cage-Free eggs, help yourself. I prefer the consistency in flavor of whatever's in the bright white cartons with the brand logo stamped on each clean, smooth egg. But I do wonder how they get the eggs so uniform in size and shape.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Health Care

I don't know the total number of people living in the United States who do not have medical insurance coverage, but I know this - whatever the size of that group might be, it's large enough and pervasive enough that doctor's offices and related businesses (medical imaging, testing facilities, etc.) have self-pay (cash) fee schedules.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead, if Donald Trump gains the Republican nomination and wins the general election, we could face more than just the bungling missteps of an uniformed politician.

All of Trump's leadership experience comes from the private sector where he has been CEO of private corporations. As a CEO he could say, "Do this," or "Never mind. Let's do that." And he could give those directions at a moments notice.

He could do the same with the corporate budget. "Spend here." Or, "Take the money from that account and use it on this one." The president of a business corporation might have that authority. The president of the United States does not.

So, the question becomes, what happens when President Trump's ideas and plans run headlong into the constitutional process?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Republican Presidential Debates

The Republican Presidential Debates were a success. They convinced me that I really am a Democrat.