Monday, February 29, 2016


Donald Trump is everything Europeans deplore and ridicule about visitors from the United States. The British are even debating in Parliament about banning him from their shores.

Rude, crude, brash, loud, uncouth, egotistic, optimistic, loquacious, opinionated, ruthlessly competitive, ostentatiously generous, unapologetically chauvinistic.

And rich. Trump is a businessman and a showman. Born to wealth, he is obsessed with fame and fortune and has proved himself  decisive, conniving,  imaginative and successful.

He is not a politician. He is the very antithesis of a politician. He is the consummate outsider, neither Republican nor Democrat, conservative or liberal, socialist or libertarian. If he has a political philosophy, it would fall somewhere between Ayn Rand and Friedrich Engels.

The only thing Donald Trump really believes in is Donald Trump. That said, why is he running for President of the United States?

I have a theory. Trump created and starred in a television reality show called “The Apprentice” the gist of which was to demonstrate his skill in evaluating job applicants. Later, he introduced another reality show, “The Ultimate Merger” the idea being to bring a group of ambitious people together in a simulated business relationship to test their skill in a kind of cooperative competition.

While Trump was an actual participant in The Apprentice, he was the unseen puppeteer in Ultimate Merger, demonstrating, I suppose, that he is both an effective, ‘hands on’ boss, and a skilled executive who can create an atmosphere in which innate leadership skills are honed and rewarded.

Donald Trump has been intrigued by the political world for a long time. He did an interview with Oprah Winfrey 20 years ago, and told her that he would only run for President if America “gets really bad.”

Why would he want things to be really bad before seeking the White House?

Think about it. Trump is a businessman. Would he ever seek to take over GE or IBM? Only if they “get real bad.” Only if they were poorly managed and losing money. Only if his style of ruthless, dictatorial management can turn them into profitable enterprises.

Trump is an outsider in the business of governance. His campaign for the Presidency has all the earmarks of a hostile take over.  Why would he want to take over a business that is 19 trillion dollars in debt and losing money at the rate of three trillion dollars a year?

Pretty obvious. With Trump, money is king. Life is all about money. Success is all about money. Love, respect, achievement, honor, whether of an individual, a company or a nation, is measured by wealth. The balance sheet is the only shroud that matters.

The Constitution of the United States authorizes the Congress to coin money. It’s a monopoly. The USA is in the business of manufacturing money. It has cornered the market. The American dollar is the reserve currency for the entire world.

Trump sees the United States as a world wide competitor. He brags about his ability to negotiate, says that the U.S. is losing and he will make us winners again. It’s a heady message to the folks who see our political leaders as inept, bungling bureaucrats. Maybe Trump will put the federal government into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, default on the Chinese and all the other foreigners who are sitting on U.S. Treasury bonds, and convince Standard and Poor to give us a  AAA rating again.

Or maybe he will get us into a world wide nuclear war. Adolph Hitler mesmerized the German people promising to make the Reich great again. He succeeded for more than twenty years. That didn’t work out very well.

Trump knows that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. A very bright friend of mine thinks that Trump is merely acting the part of a Hughie Long politician, a hustling con artist, because people like it, and that his actual persona and agenda won’t emerge until he is in the White House. 

By then, it will be too late. Alexis de Tocqueville warned us that democracy bears the seed of dictatorship.  Liberty requires vigilance. Every day.

Sunday, February 28, 2016


My uninformed effort at untangling the dispute over the San Bernardino iPhone problem has spawned a number of comments by readers who know much more than I about technology.

All of which prompts me to hunker down in an area with which I am more familiar.

The dispute between Apple and the government is in court. Courts apply law. Now we are getting into my back yard.

Here’s what the Fourth Amendment says:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.  

The first thing that jumps out from the Fourth Amendment is the word “their.”  We have no constitutional right to be secure in somebody elses’ house.

Suppose I own a home and I have a safe in my home. The government can’t get into my safe without a warrant. If I sell my home to you, the government still needs a warrant, because now it’s your home, and the Fourth Amendment protects you, too.

But suppose that you have no objection to allowing the government to get into the safe in your home. You can get into the safe. It’s yours. There is no constitutional issue.

But wait. You don’t know the password. I am long gone, so you can’t get it from me. How are you going to get into the safe, or how can the government get into it?

Lets suppose there’s a plate on the safe that says the password is a three digit number. Easy enough. There are only 999 of them, so you can enter them one at a time and sooner or later, you’ll hit the right one.

But hold on. There’s another plate the safe that says there is a bomb inside that will explode if ten wrong passwords are entered within 24 hours.

So you call the safe company, and ask them to come out and disable the bomb. They say, “Sorry, we don’t do that.” You tell the government and the government goes to court to get a warrant. The warrant is not to search your safe. You’ve already given them permission to do that.

No, the government gets a warrant to search the safe company and to seize the necessary codes or technology that will let them disable the bomb inside the safe.

They search and search. They ask all the employees. Nobody knows where the code is or even if there is a code. The boss says there isn’t any. We don’t know how to disable the bomb. That was one of the selling points of the safe.

I can visualize myself sitting on the bench while the government lawyers cross examine the owner of the safe company.

“Now, Mr. Safco, isn’t there someone at your place that can figure out how to disable the bomb?”

“No one person, no. But if we put old Charlie, and  Doc Jones and three or four of our young techies on it, we might be able to figure it out in a few months.”

About that time I would be coming to the conclusion that the government was not, in the words of the Fourth Amendment “particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.” Case dismissed.

Monday, February 22, 2016


OK, folks, this will be short and sweet. I’m probably totally uninformed about the technology involved, but I haven’t heard anyone explain it to me.

The FBI wants to get into the iPhone of one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino massacre. Well, it wasn’t exactly HIS iPhone. The thing belonged to his employer, which was apparently San Bernardino County.

Anyway, it was HIS in the sense that he had it and used it, had access to its secrets, etc.

Apple says, No, you can’t have it, indeed WE can’t have it. Our customer’s information is tucked away in a secret place that only the owner (or user) of the phone can get at. The confidential information is buried behind a password. We, (Apple) don’t know the password. Only our customer knows the password.

And, says Apple, we protect out customers by providing that if someone tries ten wrong passwords, the whole device clams up, the hidden information is permanently deleted and lost forever. To everybody. Including Apple.

I have to ask myself why the FBI doesn’t just ask for a new password? They know the guy’s date of birth. They know his social security number. Why don’t they just click the button that says “FORGOT YOUR PASSWORD?”

I’m sure here is some logical explanation, known only to geeks. I can’t be the only person in America who has thought of this.

Having gotten this far into the electronic maze, I decided to bone up on the technology. So I went to a web site called     There, I found an article by one Peter Bright, who is obviously very bright. He’s the Technology Editor at Ars. He writes about Microsoft, programming and software development, Web technology, browsers and security.

I read his whole article, and danged if I can get anything out of it that disabuses me of the idea that all the FBI needs is a new password.

As someone who solicits new passwords every other day, I have to believe it is not rocket science. Oh, I suppose Apple will want to email the deceased a temporary code, but I should think the FBI has control of the man’s email, too.

Anyway, I am not ready to approve of Donald Trump’s off-the-cuff plea to the American people to boycott Apple until they come around. I should think the more responsible approach would be to let the courts do their work and come to a rational conclusion that protects national security without depriving the citizens of their constitutional protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. 

Funny how the Donald makes everything about him.

Friday, February 19, 2016


If Donald Trump laps the field in South Carolina, he will have Pope Francis to thank. On the very eve of the debate in the Palmetto State, the Pontiff opined that it is better to build bridges than walls, and that people who are obsessed with building walls aren’t very Christian.

Bingo! The Donald is in command of another news cycle.

I have no doubt that Phil Pullella, the Reuters reporter who asked Pope Francis the question that started the fuss, was hell bent on hurting the Trump campaign. Here is what he tweeted:


Here is the transcript of the interview:

Phil Pullella, Reuters: Today, you spoke very eloquently about the problems of immigration. On the other side of the border, there is a very tough electoral battle. One of the candidates for the White House, Republican Donald Trump, in an interview recently said that you are a political man and he even said that you are a pawn, an instrument of the Mexican government for migration politics. Trump said that if he’s elected, he wants to build 2,500 kilometers of wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, separating families, etcetera. I would like to ask you, what do you think of these accusations against you and if a North American Catholic can vote for a person like this?

Pope Francis: Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as 'animal politicus.' At least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don't know. I'll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people. And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.

I wrote a blog about Mr. Trump’s wall last September. I said that walls are for prisons and dictators. Obviously, we are talking here about images, not real walls. My house has walls and so does my church. They’re good things. They hold up the roof.

The issue here is the symbolism of walls. A wall suggests separation. A wall divides the ins from the outs. As a symbol, a wall is the exact opposite of the symbolism associated with the Statue of Liberty.

The political impact of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico is to convince the people who are concerned about illegal immigration that the candidate who wants to build a wall really wants to keep illegal immigrants out of the country.

Whether a wall would actually keep many people out is doubtful. Ladders are cheaper than  bulldozers, and tunnels are easier to build than walls. Human ingenuity being what it is, where there is a will, there is a way. The Berlin wall didn’t keep everyone in East Germany, even when bolstered by machine guns.

And there are lots of people on this side of the border who welcome the illegals; help them, house them, hire them. 

From a political standpoint, it doesn’t matter. By the time the wall is built and experience tells us it doesn’t work, the folks who got elected by promising to build it will have retired.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


The great paradox of American politics is this: why does Congress enjoy a mere eight percent approval rating by the American people, and yet almost all members of Congress are repeatedly reelected? Putting it another way, why do people who are adamantly opposed to career politicians regard seniority in Congress as a reason to vote for an incumbent?

In 1992, columnist George Will wrote a book entitled “Restoration.” It was and is a forceful argument for term limits.

His first proposition is generic. He argues that Congress has a bad image and that term limits would make it more popular. That may be true to an extent. Congress doesn’t want term limits and if the public somehow rises up and forces them to accept term limits, there would surely be, for a while at least, a general public sentiment that the tiger has been tamed and the miscreants brought to account.

But what really would be changed?

A principal complaint against career politicians is that they get too cozy with lobbyists. The fact is that political campaigns cost money. Lots of money. Members of Congress are continually in fund raising mode. The people who are most likely to support an incumbent financially are those whose economic interests are affected by what the member does or does not do.

The plain truth is that there is a river of dollars flowing from K Street, where  many lobbyists have their offices, to the nation’s capital. The plain truth is that the longer a Member serves, the more seniority he or she has, the greater their ‘clout’ and the easier it is to raise money.

That river, and the corruption of representative government it carries, is a very real failing of our current system. Its tributaries feed the spirit of partisanship, foster the expansion of bureaucracy, and irrigate a vast field of omnibus legislation replete with subsidies, exemptions, and exclusions that are the price of campaign support.

But I would like to ask George Will this question: What will Congressional term limits do about it? Obviously, a term limited Congressman will not be raising money for reelection during his last term; but he or she may very well be raising money to run for another office, so the K Street River may well continue to flow into his campaign fund.

Certainly the term limited politician will have to be looking for a safe harbor somewhere. Will he or she apply to corporations that have been benefitted by their efforts in Congress? When you are looking for a job, it’s nice to have friends.

And what exactly do you suppose the corporate interests will do about the Congressional seat that is about to be vacated due to term limits? Obviously, they will be looking for a replacement, who, having been recruited and financed by the client, will happily take over just where their predecessor left off.

And then what? The new term limited Member immediately begins paddling down the K Street River. Nothing has changed. The new office holder will immediately begin raising money for his or her re-election.

The fact that term limits force a turn over in Congressional office is undeniable and is generally a good thing. But I have compared it to taking cough drops to treat lung cancer.

The real cause of the K Street River is the size of the Congressional districts. The Constitution provides that Representatives shall be apportioned among the States according to their respective numbers. The Founders expected that the House of Representatives would grow with the country. It hasn’t.

The Congress has frozen the size of the House at 435 people. The result is that every ten years the constituencies get larger. Members of Congress now represent an average of nearly a million people. Which is why campaigns are expensive. Which is why challengers have so much difficulty unseating incumbents.

Nothing is more preposterous or indefensible than the idea that the number of representatives to which the American people are entitled is limited by the size of the chamber or the number of desks we have. Modern technology makes communication simple. There is no reason why representatives have to gather in one room. 

More than term limits, we need a bigger House of Representatives.