We need trade negotiations without the noise

May 31, 2018

I know little about the economic theory or technical details of international trade and yet in my work as a truck driver I am directly involved in it. And a healthy part of my pay comes from it. Not everything I haul of course crosses the international border — well then again maybe some products although picked up and delivered within the borders of the U.S. may have had their origins elsewhere.

But what I do know is that international trade creates a lot of jobs for us all and supplies us all with a plethora of choices for the products we buy.

Messing with international trade is a dicey matter. If you slap on tariffs to protect one domestic industry you hurt others that might depend upon a raw product, such as aluminum.

An article in the Wall Street Journal says that a study shows that imposing higher tariffs on imported cars for instance will result in three domestic jobs lost for every one gained.

President Trump announced last week the slapping of tariffs on car imports and this week it was announced that his administration has decided to slap new restrictions on steel from Canada and Mexico, and the European Union. All are promising retaliatory measures on their part that could have detrimental effects on various U.S. businesses and their employees.

Trump complains that other nations take advantage of the U.S. and that the U.S. suffers from trade imbalances.

It’s a difficult subject. I mean all of us who just read the news and take the word of the quoted experts have had it pounded into our heads that it is bad if we buy more from another nation than we sell to it — China being the biggest example of an imbalance not in our favor.

But more recently some other experts or observers write that, no, no, no, not necessarily so. If we get needed products for the consumer that is not so bad. It makes us richer. Go figure.

I think the answer is that it is good for some and not good for others.

But for my part I think I’d rather trust a free market (to the extent any market can or will be totally free) with a minimum of governmental restrictions — but of course strong health and safety restrictions.

(And I have written things to suggest perhaps a little protectionism might not hurt and might help — a difficult subject.)

I personally have doubts Trump knows what he is doing and that he probably gets conflicting advice from the people he surrounds himself with, and that many of them just tell him what he wants to hear — such as “you are the greatest sir”.

What he is doing is making a lot of noise and bluffing. Yes, it may be a strategy in negotiating. And who knows? in some cases it might produce positive results. But still, there are always winners and losers, and I mean in our own country.

I shake my head when I see how the big farmers in the Central Valley of California went all out to elect Trump  — probably because of the promise of fewer restrictions on water usage and cutting down on those pesky environmental regulations — and now are aghast that he is messing with their export markets.

There is a theory that the Trump administration’s tax cutting on business and generally favorable policies on business have created an atmosphere where companies and investors feel comfortable to invest and expand and that all of this has boosted our economy.

And putting all technical measures of the economy aside I can say on a personal scale that the empirical evidence is that something  good has happened as far as the employment market since Trump came into office — and I am a Trump detractor not a Trump supporter. But over the past year or so I have seen help wanted signs sprouting up all over the place. That to me is a sure sign something positive is happening. It sure wasn’t the case when I was a young man and even during the intervening years. You were more likely to see signs that read: “We are not taking job applications”.

However, our growing economy I think is probably in part a natural progression from our history of boom and bust. Poor President Obama gets little credit for an economy that continued to improve, albeit ever so slowly, throughout his two terms in office. He inherited the mess left over from the Great Recession under the leadership of our first president with a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree, George W. Bush, who was of course a Republican — you know one of those business-friendly Republicans? Maybe a little too friendly.

There are always winners and losers, except some losers are winners too. In the Great Recession the general public lost — so did the big banks, but the big banks got bailed out by the “business friendly” government. The Trump administration is moving to lessen restrictions on the big banks whose unwise business practices led to the Great Recession.

But on international trade I think perhaps things do need to be shaken up a little and the U.S. should for its own good assert its power. Still, I think it could be done in slightly quieter and more measured terms. Every outburst has ripple effects that can destroy jobs and livelihoods among the greater populace that will not have the government to bail it out.

I mean even Obama failed to bail the little people out after at least implying that he would.

p.s.

When Trump makes noise in his ever-vacillating trade declarations — we will slap on tariffs, we will hold off — he does so I think to satisfy his political base who like tough talk for the sake of tough talk. And in turn, the leaders of other nations feel obligated in turn to satisfy their base of support, but in total the public in all the nations stands to suffer over this game of bluff and one-upsmanship.

And I go back in forth in my own mind. I mean at least all this noise has brought the subject and talk on international trade out in the open. It is a consequential matter that the public should be aware of. If only we could understand it all.

 

 

 

 


Only Mexico can solve Mexico’s problems and I wish it would…

May 29, 2018

“Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States,” so the saying goes.

Mexico blames a lot of its problems on the United States but whether rightfully so or not I have a feeling that only Mexico can change that — that is the people of Mexico.

But Mexico is plagued by a culture of corruption that seems impossible to eradicate. Many Latin American nations, well most, suffer or have suffered from that throughout their history. But Mexico is the subject here.

I am of course no expert on the subject. I just pick up pieces of information by what I read and by comments from Mexicans and people who have visited there. I have been in Mexico a few times myself but not very far and the visits were brief.

My first visit may have been in the late 1940s or early 1950s, but since I would have been a baby that really does not count, and my late mother could not recall whether they took me along or left me with her sister. The family visited Ensenada.

My first real peek was when I was in high school and on summer vacation. We crossed into Mexico at El Paso into the neighboring pueblo of Juarez. There was no hint of violence at that time in the mid 1960s. But oh, the poverty. We passed encampments of cardboard shacks. But the streets of the city were bright and colorful and teeming with people and not at all unpleasant as I recall. A little boy offered to take us on a tour, but we declined. An old newspaper friend of my father’s was conducting the tour himself. We went out of to a palatial soccer stadium but I guess it was not game day. No one was there. I doubt those people in the cardboard shacks attended the games. I gathered from what our newsman tour guide said that the stadium was a gift from the then current president and no doubt some kind of boondoggle that did little to nothing for the people as a whole — the contractors sure. I’m not sure it was even ever used.

We ate at a nice little restaurant. We had frog legs, I remember. Just like chicken folks. That was not something entirely new to me. I had eaten them at home. My best friend and I had gone frog giging at a local pond and his mother fried them up.

Over the more recent years, the past two decades, there has been incredible violence in the border towns, including Tijuana (and everywhere in Mexico). But in the early 90s my wife and I actually rode on a local bus right through that town and although we felt a tad uncomfortable (fish out of water) — and I won’t go into why we wound up on that bus — there was no sign of any problems. Just dumb luck of the accidental tourists? But this was before the ongoing drug war started.

That drug war pits the government and the army against and the drug cartels and is also between the cartels themselves, with the people caught in the middle. Since 2000, there have been an estimated 100,000-plus killed and thousands wounded and some 30,000 declared missing.

For decades there was no sign of democracy in Mexico. It was under the control of one political party that rigged the elections by intimidation and bribery. And then finally in 2000 the cycle was broken. But did that change things? No.

I talked to a young man working at a warehouse here in the United States recently. He said his family had run a shoe store in a Mexican town but was forced out by the demands of protection money by local gangsters.

He said there had been hope when the cycle of one-party rule by the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) was broken. But the new office holders were just as corrupt.

And I have to say this delicately and I would not want anyone to misinterpret my feelings — but I have to think that corruption is built into the traditionally patriarchal culture there. Historically Mexico has lacked a large middle class. Those at or near the bottom of society depend upon the good graces of the patrón, the boss, the big landowner.

Public officials historically have been underpaid so they are susceptible to bribery and other forms of corruption.

It has become so bad and so hopeless that in many pueblos the citizens have taken matters into their own hands vigilante style.

(I know when people talk about such things here in the U.S., such as forming militias, I often think — gee I am just as afraid or more so of a militia than corrupt or inadequate authorities.)

Anyway, the hopelessness that pervades much of the Mexican society forces people to attempt illegal border crossings into the U.S. Most come legitimately for work and safety for themselves and their own families but of course as in any society the bad actors come too, like parasites on a host.

Personally I tend to be extremely liberal toward immigration even though I don’t like the idea of unfair competition for our jobs. But I have compassion for people.

However, I think it is the responsibility of Mexico to take care of its own people. What is seen as an immigration crisis at our border could be resolved if the politicians in Mexico did their job. Blaming the United States might be good politics for them but it does not solve the problem and it is really more excuse than truth.

There is an ongoing presidential election campaign in Mexico right now.  The election is on July 1. You will see little to nothing about it in our own news media. Not only do we not see about much of the rest of the world in any detail we hear almost nothing about our neighbors in our news media. The audience is not interested I guess. My own father did a masters’ thesis on that theme back in the late 1930s. Nothing has changed.

I have been trying to follow the Mexican elections but am hampered by the paucity of coverage in English and my limited (but getting better) Spanish. But from what I have read so far the several candidates are rather vague about how they would resolve Mexico’s major problems. The front-runner is such because even though many of the voters have little idea if he could or would do anything, they just want a change. In turn he presents a mixture of liberal and conservative proposals and switches his alliances within the political system.

I didn’t mention any names because my knowledge of the candidates is so limited that I figure if you are interested you would be better off to read for yourself. Good luck with that, though. If you get any good information let me know.

But I wish the Mexican public well and I hope that they can finally elect someone who will make a difference. I also hope they don’t wind up with a Donald Trump-like figure as a result of going for someone just because he promises a change.

Whatever, I think Mexicans are the ones who can save themselves and they ought to do it rather than run away from it — which is not to say that I personally am unwelcoming to those who want to come here for legitimate purposes. In fact I think the immigration process ought to be simplified for them.

And in turn anything we can do on this side of the border to not complicate the lives of Mexican citizens would be good too.

Lumping a whole people together, good with the bad, in a characterization of them is not helpful and is not accurate.

Despite our president’s claims of unfair trade practices, all I know is that a lot of people on both sides of the border depend upon the commerce between our two nations and I don’t think we should do anything to hinder it. The current North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA) can always be fine-tuned of course.

p.s.

I think there are four remaining candidates in the Mexican election at this time. I could only wish that we had more candidates each time rather than be presented with, say, Hillary or the Donald.

 

 


I honor those who died but not in the mood for platitudes…

May 28, 2018

And so another Memorial Day has rolled around and I feel that I should write something but I don’t have the attitude for platitudes today — I mean isn’t that what politicians offer on a day like this? Especially those at the top who never put their lives on the line and in fact did everything to avoid such a fate I know are wont to do such a thing.

But I will give the benefit of the doubt to all of those, well almost, who stand before crowds today and officiate over various services to honor those who gave their lives for our country.

And I will proudly state as I have in this space maybe too many times previous that I and my two brothers all served in the armed forces and my oldest brother made it a career. And my other brother is a Vietnam veteran. But today is for honoring those who did not make it back home alive.

And that we should.

But I have mixed emotions about the military. I have a French ancestor who I believe watched the a French cavalry exercise near his home and termed the military a “necessary evil”.

And war is evil but somehow we find it at times necessary. Not everyone agrees though on just when it is really necessary.

I cannot say for sure. We are attacked outright. It is necessary. We are attacked indirectly. Hmmmm. Not so sure.

But those who did give the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our country, the United States of America, did not get the opportunity to decide that question.

We owe them all our debt of gratitude for standing in for us as it were.

And we owe it to ourselves and our children and future generations to hold our leaders to account in this democracy as to their decisions on war.

Maybe all those who give the orders to fight ought to have had to fight or be put in that position themselves. I’d respect them more for it.

 


Still a chance for Korea negotiations?

May 25, 2018

Seems like there are hints that the scrapped summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un of North Korea could be salvaged.

And it seems like it could be a good thing. I mean the longer they talk maybe the longer we avoid a disastrous turn of events.

I often suggest that we (the U.S.) should remain relatively quiet but let it be known that we will do what is necessary to deal with the threat of a nuclear-armed and belligerent North Korea.

Just what our options are in that regard perhaps only our military knows for sure. All are fraught with peril.

North Korea could wreak havoc with conventional artillery and ground forces alone, even without nuclear weapons. And the Chinese could get involved — I suppose the majority of the population does not remember how that played out for us so long ago in places like the “Frozen Chosin” on the Korean Peninsula where our troops faced the Chicom hords, bugles blowing in eerie twilight human wave assaults — communist Chinese soldiers being expendable in the eyes of their leaders, just so much cannon fodder.

I am of course going on historical knowledge — I was but a small child at the time.

If we were to attack North Korea we could ignite a chain reaction that could bring China and Russia into the conflict.

(While Russia does not have the communist connection anymore with North Korea, and while for a time the new Russia broke off relations with North Korea, currently Russia has close ties with North Korea — probably so they can mutually defy the U.S., and because the dictator Putin of Russia apparently loves his fellow strong man Kim. And Trump might be jealous. I don’t know.)

Ultimately, though, we have to stand up to something. But in the meantime it’s best we talk. We should continue behind-the-scenes talks with all parties, including China.

I don’t think Trump is very intelligent (wealthy, perhaps, and that is in question, but it does not take intellectual intelligence necessarily to be a successful financial bamboozler, just guile). I think he is in over his head on this international relations thing. Even so, he could have fool’s luck if he were to continue to talk (not threat so much). In some crazy way, his unorthodox approach may have at least created new opportunities for negotiations.

Egomaniac that he is, one would think he would see how great it would be to make peace (lasting  peace) with North Korea after decades of a perpetual state of war (albeit one on hold) for, what? six decades? since the truce that ended hostilities in the Korean War. Trump longs for that Nobel Peace Prize.

p.s.

Another thing would be to encourage the ongoing negotiations between North and South Korea. Did not Kim cross the bridge into the south to shake hands? Maybe if we got out of the way the two Koreas could settle their differences and we would be off the hook for defending South Korea. And remind me: why are we on the hook?


Trash talk spoils the summit between U.S. and North Korea…

May 24, 2018

So the much heralded Trump-Kim Jong Un summit (the U.S. and North Korea) has been cancelled by Trump.

It seemed like a good idea if it would do no more than forestall or prevent a nuclear exchange between the two nations.

On the other hand, meeting with the North Korean dictator, who by all reports lets his citizens starve while he gets fat and who kills of military officers who fall asleep while he is talking and who murders his own relatives who he sees as threats, could be seen as Neville Chamberlain negotiating with Hitler. In fact, Trump had already been saying complimentary things about Kim, after saying uncomplimentary things about him, and before returning to saying uncomplimentary things.

The main excuse for the cancellation were negative remarks by North Korean officials in regard to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence making comments to the effect the crisis between the two nations might end like Libya — you will recall that Muammar Gaddafi gave up his nukes but was ultimately killed by his own people. I guess Pence won’t get any awards for his prowess in diplomacy, and there goes Trump’s Nobel Peace prize.

I don’t have much more to say about all of this at this time other than too much trash talk (or any at all) by both sides accomplishes nothing positive.

For the U.S., better to say little to nothing but make sure behind the scenes it do everything to protect itself. All the North Koreans need to know is that we (the U.S.) will do what we have to do to protect ourselves, which would have to include the possibility of a preemptive strike. And when you have someone threatening you with annihilation, certainly a preemptive strike would be warranted, and in fact necessary.

That is not to say there is no room for diplomacy. In fact diplomacy I would think is preferable to tough talk which can lead to unwise actions when one has backed one’s self into a corner. I dare you to cross that line — the line is crossed. Now what?

But again, trash talk, like to professional boxers before a match yelling insults at each other to whip up interest in the match, is not diplomacy.


NFL players should stand for the National Anthem, it’s their job…

May 23, 2018

To me it seems the NFL has every right to fire football players, and in fact should, who refuse to stand for the National Anthem.

And I am not a sports fan, so I really don’t care…I’m just saying.

What brought this to mind is a story I just read that said the NFL is considering imposing 15-yard penalties for taking a knee during the anthem. Really? that’s it?

So here’s the deal: freedom of speech and expression is one thing. But you know in some ways one gives up some of that freedom when in the employ of another. While you are on the job most employers prefer that you don’t run down the company and that you don’t do anything to make the company look bad. Your pay and the company’s profit depends upon the good will of the public.

And then there is the question of patriotism vs freedom of speech. As a fan sitting in the stands — and I, myself, would not likely be in that position — I have every right not to stand. Now I personally would, and do so proudly. But even if I was not enthused about it I might anyway just to go along with the crowd in something that does not hurt me or anyone else, and thereby avoid any unpleasantness and avoid despoiling the occasion for others. Heck if I did not want to be there no one made me.

My father was not religious. But I recall attending a public meeting with him that began with an invocation by a local minister. We all stood, and dad, knowing that I knew his feelings on the matter, whispered to me: “just look at the floor”. Dad was there as a newspaper reporter — I of course just tagged along. I know he did not think much of those invocations but he was there in the capacity of his job. I am sure he thought something like “my employer might not like it if I caused any stir by not going along with the invocation”, but even more so, dad was polite and respected the wishes of others, and he saw no harm in this instance of going along. After all we were not extending our arms and declaring Heil Hitler. Now that would be over the top.

And even though I don’t like our current presidential administration, I am perfectly okay with standing and putting my hand over my heart for the National Anthem, and I would be sincere, not just going through the motions. But in no way would I say “Heil Trump”.

But back to the professional athletes: they have it over the team owners because of their talent and the worth of it. The owners depend upon their talent to draw paying customers. Many of the players are so good that they would be hard to nearly impossible to replace.

I knew this had to be true many years ago now when I read a story about a basketball player choking a coach but not losing his job over it.

It’s too bad that these guys live in a world of adulation where they are often above the law. And worse yet that we go along with it. What does that say about us as a society?

Oh, what about that basketball player (not the same as I just referred to above) — I know his name but why bother? — who was at a motel and allegedly raped a female concierge and faced no penalty for it?

What an example they set for young people trying to figure out right from wrong and how to survive in this world.

But anyway, although I am not often where I am called upon to do so, I will always stand for the National Anthem and the American Flag.

p.s.

I realize most or all of the kneeling players are black and are protesting the shootings of black people (in mostly seemingly clearly unjustified circumstances) by the police — the Black Lives Matter movement — and I am not sure but that they should or do have every right while not involved in the actual game day event to make their feelings known. They or no one else must give up their rights under the First Amendment. And of course it is not up to me to decide any of this. I just do a blog and let my opinions fly.


Put up or shut up on Trump, and remember, he can still be impeached…

May 22, 2018

While a president is not above the law, a president of the United States has a distinct advantage. Accused of a crime or crimes the president can go after the accusers with the power of his office. You or I cannot effectively do that.

Of course even then the president depends upon some backing from loyal followers or at least indifference among enough of the public.

And so President Donald Trump is going after the prosecutors, well not actually prosecutors at this time, but the investigators who could make everything into a prosecution.

It’s being at least implied, or by some alleged, that Trump and his campaign colluded with the Russians to subvert a free and democratic election in this nation, and that furthermore Trump has sought to or actually obstructed justice during an ongoing investigation of the whole thing.

This whole story is simple and complex at the same time. For sure, half of it is nothing more than normal politics, but the other half is about the stability of our democracy and the survival of the rule of law in our nation.

But I think (and possibly, who cares what I think?) it would be better for us all if this whole Russia and Trump obstruction of justice case was wrapped up. If there is something there, let the authorities bring charges, if not, let’s just move on. Trump is president and apparently became so under the requirements of our constitution. Sure the Russians may have contributed to the normal confusion and the spread of misleading and outright false propaganda that flies around in almost all elections, and the Trump campaign may have had some dealings with the Russians, but I have seen no evidence that it really changed the outcome and I would imagine that would be hard to impossible to prove anyway.

The fact is there is no requirement that voters have any level of intelligence or that they take it upon themselves to go through an objective analysis of the issues and arguments in a campaign and to try to determine what they read on the internet or hear on Fox News (to be fair, or anywhere else) is credible.

So this post is light on details of the issue I am writing about, but if you are informed you already know all about it and I think you can get my drift.

So I say as far as the legal threat against Trump — put up or shut up.

I am definitely not a Trump supporter and never could be. But we live in perilous times. For one, Trump is set to meet another crazy man (other than himself), the leader of North Korea, who threatens to blow us up with nuclear weapons (although that meeting might not come off). At the same time our country is being subjected to gun madness, with kids not even safe in school. And we still face the threat of world-wide terrorism. And although it is said we are in boom economic times, with the reality of the global market and ever-increasing technology distinguishing jobs, well we have a lot on our plate.

Again, if there is a crime or crimes — prosecute.

But let’s not come to a standstill over partisan-tinged investigations of crimes real and imagined.

p.s.

I forgot to mention. Our framers did give us an out when the wheels of justice move too slowly or not at all. It’s called impeachment. Impeachment is based on law but it is for sure political, but it is constitutional. The president has great powers in that the justice department is part of the executive branch of government of which he is the leader. But the congress, which would unlikely act if it did not think the will of the people warranted it (they want to stay in office), can bring impeachment proceedings against the president and remove him from office if convicted in the Senate.