President Pelosi

In my excess of free time, I’ve paid a great deal of attention to the world stage as things are unfolding around Trump.  It would seem as though we’re approaching the season finale of Mueller’s investigation and I can’t help but give some thought to what 2019 has in store.

Trump is now known as Individual-1, and in all likelihood is the central target in the redacted “President Donald J. Trump Criminal Investigation”.  He’s now been identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in a case by the SDNY in which Coen has admitted to committing campaign finance violations at the direction of  Trump for the purpose of influencing a federal election.  I doubt they would’ve brought this case against the President if all they had was Coen’s testimony.

Impeachment exists for high crimes and misdemeanors, and it is Congress’s responsibility to provide oversight for the executive branch.  They will be bound by duty and law to draft and pass articles of impeachment.  I think it’ll get past the house, but I think the senate is a wildcard.  If it’s only campaign finance violations, even if it was for paying off porn stars to keep quiet about affairs to boost your chances of winning an election, I’m not confident the republican senate will care.  At least some will argue that it wasn’t to influence the election or that Obama had a campaign finance violation and he wasn’t impeached for it.  Others will realize that the Republican landscape for the 2020 senate rate is a steep uphill battle and that choosing party over country during historic impeachment proceedings might be political suicide.  Knowing Trump, he might just be able to create enough noise and disinformation to keep people within their party lines.

Enter season 2.  I’m not sure what happens first: Mueller releases his report or the Democrats take the house.  Whichever happens first, it’s likely going to kick off a rather dramatic series of events.  If Mueller releases his report, it’s likely to show conclusive evidence that Trump was a criminal prior to his presidential bid, won the election through criminal means, and has been operating a criminal presidency.  If the democrats take the house first, they’ll use their subpoena powers to obtain records like Trump’s tax returns, and probably leak them to the public shortly after.  I would be surprised if it didn’t show direct or indirect ties to Russian money laundering.   However this plays out, the first few months of 2019 will be a reckoning for Trump and Republicans by extension.

A lot of Trump supporters say that if Mueller had anything on Trump, they would’ve released it already.  They suggest that an absence of evidence available to the public, is the same as an absence of evidence within the investigation.  I would disagree.  If Trump is the criminal that he appears to be, Mueller needs to deliver the most conclusive report possible.  There’s a saying, something along the lines of, ‘if you’re going to shoot the king, aim for the head.’  It suggests that if you’re going to deliver evidence against the most powerful person in the world, suggesting that they should be removed from power and placed in jail, you’ll only have the one shot.  The report needs to be so complete, and so conclusive, that it leaves no doubt in any rational person’s mind.  And creates doubt in the minds of those who aren’t rational.

I don’t think the Republican party will survive that report.  It’s going to be a very interesting demonstration of self-preservation.  I suspect that multiple members of the Republican party were compromised via the Russian’s hack on the RNC email server.  Those individuals will support Trump well beyond what most would consider to be reasonable.  Then you’ll have those who are looking to tow the party line but are unsure about whether it’s the party of Trump or the party of Republican values.  Then you’ll have conservatives who realize that their best chance of staying alive is to stand up for traditional American values again.  I think it’s that latter group that can give the Senate enough votes to remove Trump from office.

Should Trump be removed from office for crimes relating to a fraudulent election, it wouldn’t make sense that his administration would be allowed to continue under Mike Pence.  If I’m not mistaken, the chain of command actually falls to Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.  In a very roundabout way, 2016 may have actually given us our first female President.

I know a bit about her but not nearly enough to have an educated opinion.  From what I’ve seen, it suggests that she’s a capable individual who could probably mind an interim-presidency.  Should it pan out this way, I would encourage her to recognize her role, not one as leader of the American people, but rather as a custodian of the Presidency until the next election.  And during that time, I would encourage her to focus on damage control.  There are alliances around the world which need to be repaired, policy decisions which need to be undone, trade agreements that need to be redone.. all of it.  I also think this would be a remarkable opportunity to truly drain the swamp.  Republicans, democrats, lobbyists, dark money, foreign influencers… all of it.

It’s about time we cleaned things up a bit.

Politics/Finance Need New Metrics

I just got a notification from Yahoo finance (a surprisingly good app), “Nobody has a clue what’s happening: Bumper jobs growth after Poloz calls economy disappointing.”

It’s not the first time I’ve heard a stat suggesting that job growth and unemployment are at their best numbers ever.  Not the first time I’ve heard someone refer to the economy as disappointing either.  What I personally find disappointing is the comment that nobody has a clue as to what’s going on.

Let’s start by pointing out a few key facts.  Wealth has systematically shifted from the many to the few.  Cost of living has grown several times faster than wages.  Full-time work no longer guarantees a living wage.  The majority of North America is now living paycheck to paycheck.  Automation has replaced most unskilled labor.  Millennials are the most educated generation yet.  Student loan debt is at an all time high.  Depression is at an all-time high.  Drug use is at an all-time high.  Suicide rates are at all-time highs.

Damn right we need new metrics.

Every time someone says unemployment rates are at all-time lows, I get rather frustrated.  It’s only part of the picture.  The idea of a job for everyone who wants a job is a great idea.  But you know what else has a 100% employment rate? Slavery.  The difference between the two is that with employment, you’re paid for your services and can choose to work elsewhere.  And that you’re responsible for your own cost of living. And if nobody is willing to pay you a livable wage, that’s your problem.

Where I live, someone came up with the stat that it cost a little over $300,000 in annual income to support a middle class lifestyle.  This was defined as owning a modest home, 2 cars, 2 kids, university educations, and annual vacations.  The average household income here is about $75,000.  The unemployment rate takes none of that into consideration.  We could have a 0% unemployment rate and the city would still be filled with people who couldn’t afford to buy a home, raise a family, or any of what we have come to understand as basic entitlements.  Perhaps home ownership isn’t something we should feel entitled towards.. perhaps the same with having a family.  But then I ask why we’ve had to give these up, and it just doesn’t add up. Then I ask what happens if we just accept it.. and it’s not good for anyone.

First things first, we have to agree on what we’re all aiming for.  I think the most universal answer to that is happiness.  Everyone just wants to be happy, and for those who prefer things like power.. well.. they have the current system.  If happiness is the goal, we need to start focusing on the metrics that are most closely correlated.  Two things that we know of that are strongly and negatively correlated with happiness are cost of living and debt.  While breaking unemployment records, North America is also setting new records in debt and cost of living.  That seems to tell a story:  The average American is educated, overworked, underpaid, in debt, and losing hope.

Tell me again about how great our unemployment rates are.

Or maybe recognize that an unemployment rate is only part of the equation and that equal attention much be paid to the rest.  First would be the alignment between the skills of your workforce and the jobs they’re in.  If you have a nation of computer programmers, scientists, and writers but your job market is filled with part-time customer service jobs, you did it wrong.  Second would be whether or not your workforce was being fairly compensated.  If you have a low unemployment rate and most of most of your workforce can’t afford a basic cost of living, you did it wrong.  Third would be how well prepared your workforce is for the future.  Jobs are being lost to automation at an increasing rate and we’re likely approaching an economy where AI and robotics will be able to handle 80% of the existing jobs within the next 20 years.  If you’re bragging about anything that’s happening this year without preparing for that future, you’re doing it wrong.

You see a lot of stats when you read articles or watch the news.  We use them to try and understand what’s important.. but in the process of doing so, we seem to have lost sight of what’s important.  It really is about being happy.  Imagine a national happiness index being reporting on quarterly.  Imagine politicians seeing that number as their most important metric.  If you knew that increasing the cost of living would lead to stress and unhappiness, why would you celebrate a real estate boom?  If you knew that the bottom 80% of Americans only own about 7% of the stock market’s value, would you really be celebrating a booming stock market?

How about this stat, a ratio of healthcare spending against military spending.  Let’s be honest about it and see how much we’re willing to spend on healing people versus harming people. Or let’s push that a step further and compare military spending to humanitarian spending.  How much money are you willing to spend on helping versus hurting.  I can just about guarantee that would be a far better foreign policy than what we’ve seen play out of the last 20 years.

What about a stat that shows up how much tax large multi-national corporations are paying?  Something that takes all sources of government funding into consideration so we know just how much of their operations are subsidized by tax-payers.  Military defense contracts anyone?  What about major tax breaks for fossil fuel companies..

We gotta have something that covers national debt too.  A big deal was made of this years ago but the story got stale.  Now we have a president who was notorious for running up debt and bankrupting businesses.  As a result, in a matter of a few years, the country’s single largest expense will be it’s debt payment.    Maybe we need a catastrophe more than we need a metric on this one.

The whole point of statistics is to reduce a great deal of information down into key points.  When done well, those key points illuminate the important parts of what should be an ongoing conversation.  Unfortunately, we now have stats for the sake of stats.  And it’s no longer a conversation but an argument.  It’s not a pursuit of the truth or a more accurate understanding of the situation, it’s a tribal battle for power in which stats are only used to support your argument or undermine theirs.  I wish we could get back to the same side of the table.

2019: The Second Great Depression

The most beautiful things are always besides the darkest.

Today, I seriously thought about killing you.

Kanye has reached the bat-shit-crazy stage of his creative genius.. but it doesn’t stop him from coming up with gems like that one.  For me, those lines are a reminder to let your mind wander freely and not to be afraid of the darkness within us.  Instead, explore what’s there and look to understand it.  In my experience, the darkness was never what I had assumed it to be.  More often than not, it represented my fear of the unknown.  And through those experiences, I’ve gained a sense of calm while there.

I’m reflecting on this now because I’ve realized how many others are facing that darkness today.  When I was younger, I kept this side of me buried.  I was in this loop that went from challenged, to productive, to happy… and little did I know, that was only half the spectrum.  As I got older, I learned about the other side.. being unproductive and unhappy.  My initial instincts were to run back to what I knew.. but fate was not so kind.  I was encouraged to stay there and rest for a moment… to find myself within the darkness so to speak.  I’m glad I did.

I spent much of my life in a positive state of mind, and without much compassion for those who didn’t.  It was easy for me to say things like ‘you just need to work harder’, ‘don’t be so negative’, or ‘get over it’.  I hadn’t realized how backwards that all sounded to someone who was living the inverse of my situation.  But as I started to venture out into my darkness, I began to understand.

Gratitude for being unproductive and unhappy might sound like a strange thing, but for me, it’s real.  It’s given me a much deeper understanding of who we are as people and it’s made me a far more compassionate individual.  It’s also given me the ability to relate to so many of those who are struggling today.

When we reflect on the great depression that began in 1929, we think primarily about the stock market.  It’s when the market had it’s biggest crash, a ton of investors lost their money, and then everyone was poor for a while.  But something occurred to me the other day… what was the mental and emotional state of those who went through it?  I’d expect to find higher rates of suicide, anxiety, stress, and yes, depression.  But we weren’t so keen on measuring mental health back then so we might be hard pressed to find that information.  We measure those things today.

A couple years ago, I saw that the capital markets were overdue for a correction but couldn’t yet see the catalyst for what would cause it.  With Trump taking office, I was confident that it would happen sooner than later, and probably as a result of Trump’s policies and corruption.  Now with JP Morgan saying that it’ll most likely happen within the next 2 years, it seems to be an impending reality.  I expect this correction to start with the US, but eventually turn into a global correction.  I also think that this correction will be more significant than 2008, suggesting that we’ll reach levels similar to that of the great depression.  It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out as the vast majority of wealth which will be lost, will be lost by the top 1% as the bottom half of the economy are still living paycheck to paycheck.  As interesting as it is for me to try and understand how it’ll all play out, I can’t help but think more on those who are going through it… the depressed.

Currently, suicides are more common than homicides.  Perhaps this is a sign of a civilized nation, but not when amid weekly mass shootings.  And not amid historic suicide rates all over developed world.  Having been at the point where I’ve toyed with the idea, it became important for me to understand what was happening.  I think it’s a result of our failing mental health.  Stress.. anxiety.. depression… these states of mind are becoming the status quo.  I saw a tweet the other day which said something to the effect of, ‘imagine waking up after a good night’s sleep, having an awesome day, and then being able to do it again’.  It made it to the front page of Reddit.  I couldn’t help but find that relatable… I probably average 3-4 good sleeps a year.  Days where I was consecutively happy?  It was before my current venture.. before my career in wealth management.. before my dad died… that’s going on 8 years now.  I was fortunate in that I had the tools to maintain my pursuit of happiness despite it all.. but the longer it takes, the more challenging it’s become.  And how many have been at it longer than me?  How many are going through it without the tools to keep their head above water?

When I see unemployment numbers at their lowest ever but I also see people struggling to afford the most basic cost of living, I can’t help but see something deeply wrong with how we’ve organized ourselves.  So many of us are working excessive hours at low-paying jobs that we know will be automated within the coming years.  Others invested the time and money into a post-secondary education, only to find entry-level work and seemingly inescapable debt.  And those of us who have found well-paying jobs.. we have to recognize our good fortune and appreciate that it isn’t just a matter of hard work.  Everyone’s working hard.. or at least everyone is willing to work hard when they’re doing something that matters.

The problem that I see, is that we’re quickly running out of work that matters.  Many of the jobs which exist in the economy today only exist because of cheap labor.  If people were being paid a rate which would allow them to afford a standard cost of living, businesses would have to accelerate their path to automation.  A $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers?  Have fun ordering from a touchscreen.  Increased wages for warehouse workers?  More robots.  Increased wages for taxi drivers?  How about automated cars.  And for those already in those positions, they know this is coming.  Entire industries will be swallowed up by automation.. and that’s OK.  Automation is here to take over repetitive and programmable tasks… exactly the kinds of activities that we struggle to find meaningful.

Perhaps this is what the death of an old economy looks like.  We used to rely on physical labor to produce physical goods and relied on our ability to consume these goods to push the economy forward.  When we talk about a strong middle class.. that was the equilibrium for that style of economy.  Now that we’ve been able to automate most physical labor, businesses are better able to retain the earnings that would’ve gone to employees.  Without being able to find comparable jobs with other employers, things start to shift.  Business owners become more wealthy while the working class loses ground to stagnant wages and a quickly rising cost of living.  The working class will find ways to make ends meet, like multiple part-time jobs or debt, but this doesn’t improve things for anyone.  If the top 1% hordes all the disposable income, who’s going to buy their stuff?  This is a point Jeff Bezos made years ago, pointing out that he could only buy so many pairs of jeans.

So where do we go from here?  For most, there’s a lack of clarity on what the future looks like and a lack of certainty on if we’ll even make it there.  It’s become easier to assume that things will get worse before they get better.  For many, it’s a state of hopelessness.  They want to be hopeful… I think in many ways, it’s a natural state of the human mind.  But when you slowly and systematically strip away the reasons to be hopeful.. we should find little surprise at where we’ve arrived.

As we prepare ourselves for this next great depression, perhaps we’d do well put place our emphasis on the people and not the markets.  The market was always meant to be a reflection of humanity’s ability to be productive, not the other way around.  If we’re losing ground to hopelessness, and we won’t face it until our economy comes crashing down around us… perhaps that’s exactly what we need.  I don’t expect it to be easy… but I’m reminded of a quote, “in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike us as the most beautiful.”  Through this struggle, we’ll have the ability to right so many wrongs and realign ourselves with a bright future which is fast approaching.  I don’t know exactly how this will play out.. but I am optimistic.

Thinking Beyond The Russia Investigation

Yesterday’s entry was an overview of the Russia investigation and where I thought it was going.  I had a hard time sleeping last night.  I saw that Trump was as well.  I was half-expecting Sessions and Rosenstein to be fired via twitter before the day started but the news never arrived.

Before last night, it was difficult to know how things would proceed without knowing if the democrats would take the house.  When it happened, I felt a great sense of calm.  Trump finally had to contend with a real opposition party and the democrats were keen on protecting the Mueller investigation.  Checks and balances.

So with that piece now in place, I started trying to figure out what came next.  Well, Trump is fully aware of the investigative powers of the house and I suspect he’s not too happy about this.  As expected, one of the first things the democrats said with respect to winning the house is that they were going to subpoena Trump’s tax returns.  As soon as those returns make it to the house, there’s a good chance they’ll be leaked to the public and the inner working’s of Trump’s businesses will be available for all to see.  I don’t know exactly what we’ll see, but I don’t think it’ll be good for Trump.  At the very least, I expect to see ties to Russia.

Trump knows all this is coming, along with another wave of investigations that Republicans have been preparing for since August.  So now he needs to make some moves.  As expected, Jeff Sessions was fired today.  Rosenstein is now on the way to the White House and I’m not confident in him keeping his job either.  I’d like to think that whoever is selected to fill these roles will be able to prioritize country over party but I’ve since lost my confidence in Republicans being able to uphold that value.  Right now, it’s looking like Jeff Sessions’s former chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker will be taking over the role.  Concerning as he’s called the investigation a ‘witch hunt’ and was the previous head of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a research firm which dedicated most of their resources to investigating Hillary Clinton.

So what happens after all of this?  Not quite sure.  It’s going to get messy for a bit, especially since the democrats don’t actually take the house until January.  That’s a lot of time to influence public opinion and undermine an investigation.  But I think it’ll be all for naught.  The democratic house has already said that they’ll bring Mueller in for televised hearings if he’s fired.  Also, if I’m not mistaken, the house can reopen the Russia probe and hire Mueller to lead it.  This is why winning the house was so important.

In trying to see through to the other side last night, I saw a step further than I had before.  It was a bit of an ‘oh shit’ moment.  Reports are starting to surface that Trump Jr. is expecting to be indicted.  Same with Roger Stone.  Even Trump himself is likely named as an unindicted co-conspirator in Coen’s campaign finance violation relating to Stormy Daniels.  And while each of these individuals have postured like they wouldn’t flip, I don’t see it.  Those who are self-serving always flip.  Doing hard time for the sake of protecting someone else is a tremendous sacrifice and these just aren’t those people.  If Manafort and Coen flipped, Stone will flip.  If Stone will flip, the only ones left are Trump and his family.

Most people who have been watching intently look at this story as having begun with Trump’s campaign, and assume it ends when Trump is ultimately found guilty of crimes.  That was largely my perspective until last night.  I was aware of what came next, but hadn’t put too much thought into it.  In all likelihood, Mueller will get to Trump.  And Trump will be found guilty.  And then Trump will flip.

That was my big epiphany last night.  Trump is not the extent of this investigation.  If Trump is found to be guilty of conspiring with the Russian government to undermine America’s democracy, they’re going to run an absolute train on him.  He’ll be reduced to a shadow of who he is now, and in that process, will divulge key information on everyone who assisted him the process.  Think Frank Lucas from American Gangster.  I suspect that will be devastating for the Republican party and would not be surprised to see some democrats get exposed as well.  Perhaps even more consequential though, Trump will give up Putin.

I still don’t see a direct link between Putin and Trump, and doubt there ever was.  I think that Putin had a strong preference for Trump over Hillary and saw a means of assisting Trump win the election.  All Putin had to do was deploy his hackers, snag some passwords, access communication records, and release them through a 3rd party who had a reputation for legitimate leaked documents.  And had Putin played it just like that, Trump would have no one to flip on.  My instincts say otherwise though.  My instincts say that Putin wanted dominance and influence over Trump.  To get that, he made Trump look into the camera and ask for his help.  Trump knows this, and I suspect Trump will eventually share this with the FBI.

So what happens to the geopolitical climate when the world’s largest nuclear super power accuses the world’s second largest nuclear super power of attempting to undermine their democracy?  If calmer heads prevail, I suspect action will largely be taken in the form of severe sanctions against Russia.  As Russia has been caught repeatedly trying to influence other referendums like Brexit, I suspect that the US will not be the only one looking at these options.  I also expect for the leaders of some major nations to call for the resignation of Putin, putting further strain on Putin’s control of Russia.

While facing the possibility of losing power in Russia, Putin will have some important decisions to make.  Severe sanctions are likely to cripple his oligarchs, a key element of how he retains his power.  When the Russia people begin to feel the impact of these sanctions, and global leaders are demanding that he step down.. I think the Russian people will lose confidence.  In anticipation of this, Putin will manifest some kind of last stand and I’m yet sure what that will be.

If calmer heads don’t prevail, The US will determine Russia’s attempts to undermine our democracy an act of war.  With a new 700 billion dollar annual budget allocated to the military and some trigger happy cabinet members.. the US may declare war on Russia.  Part of me thinks this is highly unlikely because of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and the understanding that nuclear war should be avoided at all costs.  I think both Russia and the US understand the significance of this.  But maybe not.  Maybe it starts with troops in Ukraine for the sake of retaking Crimea.  Maybe it escalates on the clandestine front.  Maybe it inches forward bit by bit as each side looks to deal blows to the other without triggering a nuclear holocaust.  And maybe we find ourselves back in another cold war.

Or maybe to help navigate impending sanctions, Russia starts to draw some very real lines in the sand.  Maybe Russia collects some allies in North Korea, Serbia, Syria, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia.  You know.. countries that aren’t the biggest fans of the US.  And maybe.. just maybe.. we’ve found ourselves with the backdrop for WWIII.

At this point, its far too soon to tell how this will play out.  I’m always optimistic that calmer heads will prevail, but I also recognize that calm is not a natural state of mind when one is cornered.  This entry wasn’t about promoting the possibility of another world war or cold war, but rather recognizing that this story doesn’t end when Trump pleads guilty.  Instead, it seems to be part 1 of what is a multi-part series.

Remember Remember the 6th of November

(apologies in advance for grammar and spelling. Normally I proof my material before I post but I wanted to have this posted before the results started rolling in.  And I’ve been beckoned to help a friend get to the hospital.. so off I go.)

In my excess of free time over the last couple years, I had to find things to occupy my mind with.  Perhaps what has consumed the most hours is observing, analyzing, and trying my best to understand what’s happening in the world around me.  What seems to have fascinated me most was Trump.  Not him as an individual, but rather his impact on the world.

In 2015, I started writing a screenplay that was intended to be an action movie with a political backdrop which spoke to so much of what’s happening today.  In the script, I had predicted 8 years of Hillary Clinton, followed by a character who had the working title of Nixon 2.0.  The deeply corrupt candidate was to take advantage of all the resentment building up from those who felt like they were losing power to equality.  I saw it as an natural inevitability.. the pendulum effect.  I had to put the project on hold after Trump was elected.

Personally, I thought it was highly likely that Hillary would win that election.  It wasn’t about polls or her credentials, but more so about Trump’s complete lack of character.  I found it difficult to understand how anyone could think that someone who was so instinctually dishonest and self-serving would be capable of fulfilling the role of leader of the free world.  I underestimated the anger, resentment, and latent isms of middle America.  I also underestimated the audacity of Trump to fuel that fear, anger, and hatred as a means of mobilizing a rather meaningful voter base.   I also underestimated the tribalism that led Republicans to vote for someone who they never would’ve supported had he appeared on a democratic ticket.  I also overestimated the character and integrity of the Republican party, thinking that they would maintain their values in the face of a Trump presidency.  And perhaps most importantly, I underestimated how effective the Russians’ disinformation campaign would be.

Leading up to the election, my boss at the time was a Trump supporter.  It surprised me at first as I knew him as a person of character, and someone who deeply valued things like honesty and integrity in others.  It seemed very strange that he would be supportive of someone like Trump, so I had to ask.  The answers seemed to shift depending on the day.  I heard things like, “His kids are very well put together, he’s clearly a good parent.”  Or, “He’s an outsider with a business mind who’s going to drain the swamp.”  Or, “look at how successful he was in business, he’ll bring that same success to the country.”  I offered a different perspective at the time, but also went and did my homework.

In reading up on Trump’s family life, I saw multiple kids across multiple trophy wives, with Trump continually trading in for a new model.  I watched interviews where Trump said that taking care of the kids wasn’t his job.  I read about the sworn testimony from his first wife that he had raped her in a fit of rage and Trump’s lawyer rebutting that you can’t rape your spouse.  I also watched how their kids behaved when they weren’t ‘on’ and saw the ill-effects of excessive nepotism.  His family life was not a reason to find confidence in Trump.

The idea that Trump was an outsider with a business mind was legit.  Washington has no shortage of issues and some new blood is perhaps chief among them.  I’ve long-since wanted to see a top business mind hold that seat, but I never had confidence that Trump was a top business mind or would serve that role well.  Same with draining the swamp.  It desperately needed to be done, but I never had any confidence that Trump would be the one to do it.  If anything, for me, Trump represented the self-serving, short-sighted, self-preservation nature of the swamp itself.

With respect to his business success, I never paid much attention.  I knew he had hotels, The Apprentice, and some other licensing deals but never really saw him as a successful business mind.  It was like the difference between Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary on Shark Tank.  So I decided to do some research on Trump’s history of businesses and discovered: Trump Beverages, Trump: The Game, Trump Airlines, Trump Casinos, Trump Magazine, Trump Mortgage, Trump Steaks, Trump Travel Site, Trump Comms, Trump Tower Tamp, Trump University, and Trump Vodka.  They all had two things in common.  First was that Trump’s primary strategy was licensing his name as a luxury brand.  Second is was that each of these businesses failed.  Serial entrepreneurship does not come without failures, but this was different.  I also looked into the details of how much money he had inherited and found figures ranging from 200-400 million.  Had that money been invested in an SP500 ETF, he would be wealthier today than he is now.  I don’t think you get to call yourself a great business mind under these conditions.

So I brought these rebuttals to my boss and he managed to dance around them a bit but ultimately conceded that Trump probably wasn’t a very good person, but that he had good policies.  I asked how he knew that when Trump was so inherently dishonest?  It seemed like Trump’s primary approach to policy was telling people what they want to hear, when they want to hear it, regardless of whether you have any intentions of following through on it.  He seemed to think that Trump was being honest when discussing the policies he wanted to see move forward, and being a politician when said otherwise.  It wasn’t hard to see the flaw in that logic… his perspective was indicative of something else that I needed to understand better.

I think the dynamic was, and still is tribalism.  He’s never admitted this to me but I suspect his primary source of news is Fox News.  He’s also got a friend in the office who’s thinks he’s smarter than he is, passing along pro-trump perspectives.  He tried the same thing with me after I had done my homework and it was clear that he was repeating talking points more than he was speaking to something he genuinely understood.  Both of them live in small towns and have spent their lives in communities with limited diversity.  Both are staunch conservatives.  Both are also quite wealthy.  The intersection of wealthy conservatives who learn about their world through places like Fox News… that would be the tribe of Trump.  When dealing in tribalism, it’s no longer about right or wrong, honest or dishonest, real or not real.  It’s not about understanding what’s happening and making the most effective decisions.   It’s about loyalty for the sake of power.

Once Trump was elected, both of us were interested to see how it would go.  He thought it would go quite well, I thought it would go quite poorly.  That said, I was always willing to give him a chance and judge his presidency by how he performed in office, and not something that he had done prior.  My personal prediction which I shared with him, was that Trump would ultimately be good for the country, and the world.  Not because he would be so good at being president, but because he would be so bad.  My hunch was that his deeply corrupted character would lead to deeply corrupted actions and that these actions would expose the worst elements of our government, politics, culture, and etc.  And that from those ashes, we could rebuild something better.  Something that was genuinely focused on the greater good and left us all well-positioned for the future.

I remember sitting at home watching the votes role in back in 2016 and seeing Trump steal that win.  I was surprised, but not that surprised.  Perhaps what surprised me most was how much I didn’t understand about the American political system.  For example, Hillary had accumulated more than 2.8 million votes more than Trump, but Trump was able to win the electoral college by a score of 306 to 232.  The swing states which gave him that electoral college lead were won by less than 80,000 votes.  The idea that someone could win a ‘landslide victory’ in the electoral college while receiving 3 million votes less than their opponent, because they won key battle grounds by the slimmest of margins… didn’t strike me as an intelligent application of democracy.

I smelled something fishy.  I wasn’t sure what it was exactly… could be politics as usual.. or could be something else.  I read about potential hacking of voting machines and shadiness in who owned the voting machines. I learned about Trump’s disinformation campaign the Russian disinformation campaign.  I learned about Comey’s role in reopening the investigation at the last minute.  And as the variables stacked on, I realized that this was far from a normal election.  There was certainly a cultural movement behind those who voted from Trump, but everything I saw suggested that there was more to it than that.  But mentioning this to anyone who was a Trump supporter didn’t generate any meaningful conversation.  They were filled with a great sense of pride for backing the winning horse and anything that I might have to say sounded like sour grapes to them.  So I put my head down and got back to work on trying to understand what really happened.

From my perspective, Trump set the tone of his presidency with Sean Spicer’s report of crowd sizes at Trump’s inauguration.  I can’t imagine any modern day president caring enough about the crowd size at his inauguration to instruct Spicer to do what he did.  He didn’t just lie or try to slip one by the press, he doubled down on that lie while trying to shout down those who were inclined to point out the truth.  I knew then that this was going to be a bumpy ride.

While watching and waiting to see how this presidency was going to play out, I was most keen on the investigation into election interference to see if my spider-sense was accurate.    Much like an iceberg, I could only see what had made it to the surface and knew that what had really happened was mostly beneath the surface.  But as time went by, a considerable amount of information was released to the public.  It didn’t paint a clear picture either way, but it certainly suggested that something extracurricular had happened and it probably had something to do with Russia.

 

The sequence of events I’ll list next are not speculation.  Everything here is on the record:

On January 6th, 2017, the intelligence community concluded with high confidence that Russian had engaged in an influence campaign directed at the election.  Later it was confirmed that this campaign was designed to hurt Hillary and help Trump.

On January 10th, Sessions was under oath at his confirmation and said that he did not have contact with Russian officials during the campaign.  It was later determined that he did.  At a follow up hearing, I watched him say “I do not recall” more times than should ever be acceptable for any Attorney General.

Also on January 10th, the Steele dossier is released.  While the author of the dossier seemed credible, it was difficult to verify much of what was written.  In going through it.. much of it seemed plausible.  Even the pee-tape seemed plausible after seeing Trump’s apparent obsession with that one element of the dossier.  The picture that the dossier seemed to paint was that Trump had been compromised through a variety of means.  Given the bigger picture, this looked like a plausible scenario.

In late January, Flynn lied to the FBI about conversations with Russian officials relating to the sanctions the Obama administration had placed on Russia.  On February 13th, Flynn resigns from his role as National Security Advisor.  On the 14th, Trump asks Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.

On March 1st, it’s reported that Sessions had contacts with Russian officials (Kislyak) during the campaign, effectively demonstrating that he lied under oath during his confirmation hearing.  The next day, Sessions recuses himself from any investigations relating to the 2016 presidential election.

On March 20th, Comey announces that he’s looking into any connections between the Trump campaign and Russia which may have influenced the election.

On May 9th, Trump fires James Comey, the person leading the investigation into Russia’s attempt to influence the election.  On May 11th, in an interview with Lester Holt, Trump says that the Russia investigation was part of the decision to fire Comey.

On May 17th, The Justice Department appoints Robert Swan Mueller III to lead the investigation into the possible coordination or ties between Russian efforts to influence the election and the Trump campaign.  Mueller wasn’t just a war hero, or the prosecutor who took down the Gotti family or Exxon Mobil, or a former director of the FBI with near unanimous bi-partisan support… he was a consummate professional and a class act in every respect.  If anybody was going to get to the bottom of this, it was likely to be him.

On July 8th, it’s reported that on June 9th, 2016, Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort met with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer.  This prompts Trump Jr. to release a statement saying that it was a short, introductory meeting with an unknown person for the sake of discussing an adoption program.  The next day, it’s reported that Trump Jr. requested the meeting after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

On July 27th,

On October 5th, George Popadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign pleads guilty to lying to the FBI about his efforts to put Trump in touch with Moscow.

On October 30th, Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates surrender to the FBI for charges relating to false statements, financial crimes, and lobbying on behalf of foreign entities without proper disclosure.

On November 30th, Flynn pleads guilty to lying to the FBI and agrees to cooperate with the investigation through a plea agreement.

On February 16th, 2018, Mueller’s special counsel charge 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities and 3 Russian entities with conspiring to defraud the United States and interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

On February 22nd, an indictment is filed against Manafort and Gates which contains 32 charges relating to tax and bank fraud.  On the 23rd, Gates pleads guilty and agrees to cooperate with the investigation.  On the 24th, another indictment is filed against Manafort alleging pro-Ukrainian lobbying efforts.

On April 9th, the office of Michael Coen is raided.  Coen was a personal attorney to Donald Trump and by all accounts, filled the role of ‘fixer’.  This case is referred to the AG for the southern district of New York.

On July 13th, 2018, the special counsel indicts 12 Russian intelligence officers for their hacks against the DNC and Clinton Campaign, and leaking of emails and documents.

On July 16th, Trump meets with Putin and they hold a joint press conference in which Trump seems to accept Putin’s denial of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  The next day, Trump says that he misspoke.

On July 27th, Trump denies a CNN report that he knew in advance of the Russian meeting between the Kremlin-linked lawyer and Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner.  Michael Coen, now cooperating with the Mueller probe is reported to be willing to testify otherwise.

On August 1st, Trump write a tweet calling on his Attorney General to end the Mueller probe.

On August 5th, Trump writes a tweet that the Trump Tower meeting in 2016 was to get information on an opponent.

On August 21st, Paul Manafort is convicted on 8 charges relating to tax and bank fraud.

On September 14th, it was reported that Manafort is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.

And since then, it’s seems like Mueller has adhered the the long-standing protocol for not making any major decisions or issuing any indictments leading up to a November election.  By all accounts, that ends tonight.  What happens next will have a profound impact on Americans and the direction of their country.

There’s been wide spread speculation of how Trump will proceed after the mid-term elections.  Some think that Jeff Sessions will be removed from the Attorney General role, allowing for someone with Trump’s best interests in mind to take the position.  Theoretically, this person may be able to end the Mueller investigation, or at least keep the report from reaching the public.  It’s also been speculated that Rod Rosenstein, the man currently overseeing the Mueller probe will be removed.  It’s assumed that he reason why Trump wouldn’t have made these moves prior to the election is because it would be perceived as politically unpopular.

When I look at this sequence of events, and the hundreds if not thousands of other details I’ve observed relating to bigger picture, I can calmly say that something here isn’t right.  There’s a significant amount of information that I’m not privy to which would prevent me from making any conclusions at this point, but that doesn’t prevent me from making an assessment based on what I know.

From what I’ve seen, Trump will likely be found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States relating to Russia’s influencing the 2016 presidential Campaign.  He’s also likely to be found guilty of obstruction of justice for a myriad of efforts relating to undermining the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 campaign.  I would also say it’s highly likely that he’s found guilty of peripheral crimes like campaign finance violations, tax fraud, bank fraud, and the like.

Here are some of the softer details which I’ve considered:

On June 9th, 2016, Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign manager met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer who had promised compromising information on Hillary Clinton.  On July 27th, Trump gave a news conference where he looked directly into the camera and said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”  He brushed it off as a joke or political rhetoric but I think there’s more to it than that.  I used to play a lot of poker and I learned to read people’s body language.  For most of that conference, his body language was standard Trump.  But during that request, things were very different.  Both hands are firmly gripping the podium instead of his classic hand gestures.  He’s addressing the camera instead of the audience of reporters in front of him.  During the request, he maintains eye contact with the camera for all but one moment.  And in that moment where he looks away, he’s projecting the body language of someone who is deeply conflicted about what he’s saying.  I think he knew it was a genuine request which he was going to try and pass off as political bluster.  I also think that there’s a very good chance that this request is a result of the now infamous Trump Tower meeting just a couple weeks prior.

I’m speculating at this point but if I were Putin and interested in supporting Trump over Hillary, I’d be inclined to provide Trump with as much ammunition as possible.  I would also want to do that in a manner which was effectively untraceable.  That means that I, nor any of my close associates would ever have direct contact with Trump.  Preferably, it would those not directly linked to me speaking with his inner circle.  And it would be imperative to avoid any physical or traceable hand-off.  But despite all this distance, I would still want some personal accountability.  Even if it was only a gesture, something from Trump which explicitly said, ‘I want your help’.  If nothing else, this would leave Trump deeply compromised and easily influenced.  What makes this exercise far less speculative is a detail contained in the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence operatives working to undermine the 2016 election.  Immediately after Trump made that request, Russia began to target Hillary’s emails.

If true, Putin wouldn’t need the alleged pee-tape as he would literally have evidence that Russia deliberately interfered in the election at Trump’s request.  And this would explain a lot.  While Trump has derided just about every political person he’s encountered.. except one.  Trump has shown nothing but respect to Putin and if nothing else, it’s out of character.  It was also very interesting to see their body language while at the Helsinki conference this summer.  For me, I saw someone who looked compromised.  I also found it amusing that when Putin was asked if he had any compromising information against Trump, he issued a classic non-denial denial.

The deeper you dive into the connection between Trump and Russia, the more likely this all seems.  After Trump’s Atlanta Casino’s went bankrupt and nobody else would lend to him, Trump looked like he had finally run out of luck.  But as admitted by his sons, they were miraculously able to get all the funding they needed out of Russia.  As Moscow banks have been repeatedly found guilty of large scale money laundering, I suspect there’s a connection here.  And I suspect this to be a primary reason for why Trump would not issue his tax returns.

The last soft detail that I’d like to lean on here is an old Shakespeare quote, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  This quotes illuminates a rather consistent tell from a guilty conscience.  If Trump was innocent of ‘collusion’, he would be much less likely to tweet “NO COLLUSION!” on a daily basis.  He would also be much likely to embrace the narcissists prayer of there was no collusion.  And if there was, it wasn’t that bad.  And if it was, it’s not that big of a deal.  And if it is, it’s not my fault.  And if it was, I didn’t mean it.  And if I did, you deserved it.

But this all still lies beneath the surface of what’s publicly known.  I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to something as much as I’ve looked forward to seeing Mueller’s report.  For me, Trump represents a great imbalance in the world.  The circumstances that allowed for someone as corrupted as Trump to find himself in the highest seat of power within our known universe shouldn’t exist.  And if they persist, the world will burn.

I drew an interesting analogy the other day.  Trump is to Mueller as Connor McGregor is to Khabib Nurmagomedov.  Both Connor and Trump rose to unprecedented levels of power through non-traditional means, and at the expense of the institutions which got them there.  Both strut around supremely confident in themselves while ignoring glaring errors in their approach to their craft.  Both fully subscribed to their own hype.  Last month, I didn’t just think Khabib would win, I wanted him to win for the sake of restoring balance.  The UFC has become more about prize fighting than about martial arts and I saw that as a detriment to the sport.  When Khabib did what he did (before the Eagle kick), I felt much better about the world.  Not only do I hope the same thing for Mueller’s investigation, I am as confident in Mueller as I was in Khabib.

And that leads us to tonight.. Remember Remember the 6th of November.  Tonight is perhaps one of the most consequential mid-term elections in our Country’s history.  Should the democrats take the House of Representatives, they’ll have the ability to subpoena Trump’s tax returns and begin a slew of investigations into his activities which weren’t possible under a Republican house.  If the democrats take the senate, the entire legislative branch of the government will be looking to hold Trump accountable for his actions.  Up until now, I would have a hard time describing the republicans as anything other than complicit in Trump’s behavior.  Under those conditions, I have a hard time seeing how Trump may last the term.

If the democrats are unable to take the house and or senate, Trump remains in control of three branches of government.  Under those conditions, I’m not sure what Trump will do… but I doubt it’ll be good for democracy or the common person.

If I were to estimate how this plays out…

Democrats win the house and republicans retain a 51/49 split in the senate.  Trump will fire Sessions and Rosenstein and replace them with those who are genuinely loyal to Trump.  Mueller releases multiple indictments in the following days or weeks, including Roger Stone, and Trump Jr.  Having hit the inner circle, Trump pulls every lever he has, looking to block the report, ultimately painting himself into a corner.  Once the report makes its way to the house, it will inevitably be leaked to the public.  The public will then have to decide whether or accept or reject the reality they see.  Most will accept it, some will still reject it as a deep state conspiracy.  The house will move to impeach, but with a Republican controlled congress, I’m still not confident in impeachment.  I think this makes its way to the supreme court.  Despite the supreme court being slightly more partisan than intended, I think they’ll appreciate what’s at stake and act in the interests of justice.  I think Trump spends most of 2019 and 2020 defending a laundry list of charges ranging from conspiracy, to money laundering, to tax evasion, to violating the emoluments clause.  During that time, consumer confidence will reverse course and we’ll enter a recession worse than 2008.  It’ll trigger a global recession that will hit countries like the US and China hardest.  Every institution from global finance to democracy will be questioned.  As it should.

And from those ashes, we will rise.

 

 

Our Most Sensible Division

I do a lot of thinking in the car.  It’s almost like a shower for me.. very meditative.  Yesterday, I literally pulled over to make a note of this thought.

The western world is clearly divided right now.  Democrats vs. Republicans.  Liberals vs. Conservatives.  Blue vs. Red.  Left vs. Right.  Sometimes it seems downright silly… like division for the sake of division.  I can confidently say that I don’t identify with either side.  One champions a compassionate approach but fails to act intelligently.  One champions an intelligent approach but fails to act compassionately.  Neither seems very interested in accountability or honest conversation.  And neither seems to realize that for one side to win, both must win.

With tribalism continuing to be one of my biggest personal frustrations, I’m motivated to understand it.  When I think about why people choose to be divided, the reasons usually aren’t that hard to find.  More often than not, it seems to be driven by fear.  And that fear tends to be driven by scarcity in some way.  Perhaps a scarcity of resources, opportunity, or safety.  In a position of abundance and security, we are much more likely to extend a helping hand to a stranger.  In a position of scarcity and fear, we only take care of those close to us.  As scarcity and fear increase, that circle gets smaller.

This would suggest that in times of peace and abundance, things like Left vs. Right don’t exist.  Yet the liberal and conservative mindset have existed since well before modern politics.  While the politicians certainly have a hand in playing up that narrative, today, perhaps there’s something else worth exploring here.

Humanity seems to be defined by some mode of evolutionary progress.  If you look at what separates our species from other intelligent animals, it’s the rate at which we’ve progressed.  Genetically, we’re almost identical to chimpanzees but in a more practical sense, we couldn’t be more different.  Comparing humans to all other known life, we seem to have stumbled onto the secret sauce of forward progress.  Yet we have such a hard time agreeing on which direction is forward and what should be considered progress.  Maybe, whatever this secret sauce is, it exists primarily is the collective subconscious.

If I were to guess at what that secret sauce might be, I would say it’s how we’ve evolved to instinctually understand the status quo.  Quite simply, there are those who would prefer to maintain it and those who would prefer to challenge it.  Generally speaking, you’re more interested in maintaining the status quo when you’re happy with your situation and challenging the status quo when you’re unhappy with your situation.  Sounds rather sensible doesn’t it?

I had a Eureka moment yesterday: You can’t challenge a status quo which doesn’t exist.  I’m big on challenging the status quo and I’m no stranger to the frustrations of those who look to maintain it in the face of progress.  Yet I was never dismissive of their value to the bigger picture and I think I now understand why.  The status quo seems to provide the foundation on which forward progress is most likely.  If everyone looked to challenge the status quo, what would they challenge?  Sounds like chaos.  Ironically, maintaining the status quo seems like an exercise in order.  Perhaps forward progress is a fine balance between chaos and order.

When I step back and think about how this perspective applies to modern society, a lot starts to make sense.  The right tends to be defined by their conservative approach – aka maintaining the status quo.  The left tends to be defined by their liberal approach – aka challenging the status quo.  Many of history’s great cultural and political clashes can be distilled down to those who wanted change and those who wanted to keep things the same.  And yet both were and probably are necessary.

One dynamic which ties in here is the dichotomy of intelligence vs. compassion.  I’ve found that the left behaves significantly more compassionately than the right while the right behaves significantly more intelligent than the left.  It has crossed my mind that those who lean more towards intelligence are more likely to find success in their lives, especially in their careers.  This would lead towards greater financial prosperity and a higher quality of life.  If you’re aware that you’re enjoying a higher quality of life than the average, would you not be motivated to maintain the status quo?  Would you not be more motivated to support those around you who have used intelligence as a path to success?  Would you not begin to assume that a path of intelligence is more rewarding than a path of compassion?  But what if you leaned more towards compassion?  What if you were sensitive to the injustices in the world and were motivated to pursue equality and social justice more than income?  And what if you were willing to accept financial disparity for the sake of helping others?  And what if you’re aware that you’re enjoying a lower quality of life than average because of that sacrifice, would you not be motivated to challenge the status quo?

The political division of our species sucks.  It often leads me to think that the best solution is no division at all and that we’re destined to arrive at some variation of a cybernetic hive mind.  Perhaps that’s still the case, but maybe not.  There seem to be some evolutionary divisions which have proven rather practical.  Males and females might be the most classic example.. having evolved a remarkably well balanced partnership over the course of evolution (albeit a little bumpy at the moment).  When it comes to the progress we’ve made over the last 10,000 years though, I might just attribute that to the balanced partnership between those who look to challenge the status quo and those who look to maintain it.

If we could learn to see one another as partners in forward progress instead of obstacles between us and power.. I can’t help but think everything would run a little more smoothly.

 

Compelled Patriotism

There have been times where I’ve felt more patriotic than others, but generally speaking, I find it a little strange.

The times where I identified as a patriot, were times where I felt good about how my country was impacting others, and felt aligned with the values my country had displayed.  That doesn’t happen so much these days.  These days, it’s difficult to understand what a patriot really is and whether anyone should want to be one.

The NFL looks to have passed a new anthem policy.  From what I understand, if you’re on the field, you have to stand for the national anthem.  The president’s remarks were something to the effect of, ‘if you don’t want to stand, maybe you shouldn’t be play.  Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.  If you’re not proud of the country, you shouldn’t be here.’  I’ve often said that Trump was going to be one of the best things to happen to this country.  Not because he leads or inspires, but because he’s forcing us to ask questions which weren’t being asked.

What if you’re not proud of the country?

Google defines a patriot as a person who vigorously supports their country and is ready to defend it against enemies or detractors.  Seems pretty straight forward.  So where’s the nuance?  I suppose it would be in how you define supporting your country, and who you determine to be the enemies or detractors.

Some people support their country by displaying the country’s branding as often as possible.  Maybe I should’ve said flag or colors instead of branding, but which is more accurate?  Some people support their country and defend it against enemies by joining the military and fighting overseas.  But how did you know who our enemies were?  Some people defend the country against detractors by protecting the commander and chief.  But what do you think the commander and chief should be protected from?  It seems as though patriotism has more to do with manipulation than it does with national pride.

I’ve struggled with the concept of pride recently,  When to have it, why to have it, and when it’s too much.  I grew up around ‘Azn Pride’.. it was kinda like white pride but Asian.  More often than not, it was about screen names and gamer tags but from time to time, it meant more than that.  It reminded people not be ashamed of where they were from or what they looked like, and gave them a sense of confidence and community among their peers.  But there were also times where Azn Pride was about showing dominance over other groups.  But what are you really proud of at that point?

Personally, I don’t think you can have patriotism without nationalism and nationalism never seems to work well out for anyone.  Nationalism really is a game of us versus them on a global scale.  Not only did we not have a say in where these lines on the map were drawn, we have no choice as to which side of the line we’re born to.  Yet these lines are enforced vigorously.  We are told that the people inside those lines are our brothers and sisters, and that the people outside those lines are potential threats.  And yet our country was built upon those who came from outside the lines.  And is under attack from those who were born here.

Perhaps patriotism is inherently flawed.  Right now, it encourages us to protect our enemies and betray our communities.  We’re told that we’re not patriotic when we don’t follow the direction of our president.  When the values of our people, country, and president are no longer aligned, who deserves our loyalty?  If patriotism is defined by a loyalty to a country, is that better understood as the people of that country, or those who are running it?  People in government demanding loyalty  sounds awfully undemocratic.  In a democratic country, where democracy literally means government for the people by the people.. the answer seems rather obvious.

So what does democratic patriotism look like?  Maybe it’s not necessarily an oxymoron.  I think it looks like a celebration of the people.  It’s a celebration of our diversity rather than a celebration of the red, white and blue.  It’s building monuments to the people who are making the world a better place today rather than arguing over old civil war statues.  It’s marching together for no more wars, and it’s marching together for no more police violence.  It’s not just about celebrating our accomplishments, but about acknowledging our darker moments in arriving here.  And you’re damn right that it’s about being able to take a knee during the national anthem to show your support for those the country has failed.

So what does patriotism look like when the lines between us and them disappear?