Last week Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District went from voting for then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016 by roughly 20 points to, at the moment barring a recount, voting for a Democrat by just under three tenths of a percent.
As with each special election since the beginning of President Trump’s term, the pundits and strategists have been putting their spin on it to try to somehow line it up with the agenda they are seeking to push, no matter the results.
What are clear however are the facts. Democrat Conor Lamb, a Marine officer and Ivy-League educated former prosecutor, ran as essentially a conservative Republican according to the RNC and others. He was pro-life, pro-firearms, and “anti-Nancy Pelosi.”
In contrast, Pennsylvania State Representative Rick Saccone ran under the message that he “was Trump before Trump was Trump.” While seemingly a smart strategy in a district that seemingly was so heavily for Trump in 2016, the fact that it didn’t work out is indeed noteworthy.
Pennsylvania’s 18th District, at least until the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s ordered redistricting takes place in just a few months for this November, is a mix of both “Trump Country” and traditional “Republican” strongholds. Located largely on the Alleghany Plateau, it is a mix of Pittsburgh suburbs and rust belt former industrial centers.
The Cook Political Index rated the district as R+11 in 2017, which, given Trump’s margin of victory in the district, represents well how Trump swung the remaining “Reagan Democrats” to his cause to surprisingly win states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin back in November 2016. Trump outperformed Mitt Romney’s 17-point win in 2012 as well as Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) 11-point win in 2008.
The fact that now, almost a year and a half later, the district went blue may speak less about national trends but more about how some districts still have voters that are up for grabs.
In our current hyperpolarized time, many political strategists and operatives will suggest, often rightly, that the key to winning in the general election is to drive out the base. This is instead of trying to swing what is believed to be an increasingly non-existent middle of swing voters.
However in the case of PA-18, those swing voters actually existed and were swung. While Saccone did not have any major “push” factors himself as a candidate, Lamb’s campaign and his own background undoubtedly was a strong “pull” throwback to a moderate Democrat message that has been lacking in the national discourse in recent years.
It remains to be seen whether Lamb will join Alabama’s new Senator Doug Jones in what seems to be a small rebuilding of the Democrats’ moderate wings that were decimated in the 2010 Tea Party wave, but it wouldn’t be far-fetched whether from evaluating Lamb personally or his likely political calculus.
Nowadays pundits and strategists have become very accustomed to districts and voters behaving like they’ve always done in the past. Indeed that expectation often proves true – until it doesn’t, as in both 2016 and since.
The special elections this past year have seen point swings in some districts that remind us of the reality that voters are not stern partisans that cannot be swayed, whether in choosing to come out to vote or in the candidate they choose to vote for.
Current our country sees candidates often play to the bases of their parties, believing that is an effective way to both nullify primary challenges and win the general election. While that trend is in some ways both a reflection of as well as fuel for the fires of polarization, elections such as PA-18 show that the political calculus doesn’t always reward such a strategy.
Elected officials are creatures of opinion and habit, and as they see they can win by appealing to a broad and unified middle we will undoubtedly see them move in that direction. While this will not necessarily iron out real differences in policy belief that do and always will exist, nonetheless it is a realistic step towards simmering down our currently overheated politics at least a bit.
Last week President Trump officially implemented his long-expected steel and aluminum tariffs this week to a mix of praise and outrage that quickly broke party lines and that retrieved the word “mercantilism” from the history books to the national headlines.
The tariffs will implement a broad-based 25% tax on imported steel and 10% on imported aluminum. There will be an initial exception for Canada and Mexico, but Trump has said that exception may be removed if they don’t renegotiate trade deals like NAFTA to be in his opinion fairer to the United States.
Speaker Paul Ryan and a host of other Republican and Democratic leaders criticized the tariffs for overreaching in how they might hurt the many millions of steel and aluminum-reliant jobs, as well as the broader U.S. economy. In contrast, many Republicans and Democrats in rust-belt states essential to Trump’s 2016 victory applauded the move.
Economically, history has proven beyond a doubt these tariffs will raise prices here in the U.S., damage millions of jobs, and perhaps initiate extremely damaging trade wars with both rivals and allies that could unleash further untold havoc.
Whether when President George W. Bush implemented his own steel tariffs in 2002 to disaster and quick repeal or the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff having possibly deepened the Great Depression, the economic damage from tariffs has nearly always proved far greater than the hoped-for gains.
Due to these tariffs prices for countless goods that utilize steel and aluminum will go up, ranging from cars to construction to even canned consumables, leaving American consumers of all backgrounds with a bigger bill on everything from luxury products to basic necessities.
Yet the administration’s announcements indicate there may be another motive rather just supporting certain domestic industries for economic and jobs purposes. After all, unemployment remains at a 17-year low of 4.1%.
A major U.S. Commerce Department investigation and report last month that was the preliminary premise for the White House’s official tariff policy recommended the tariffs due to national security reasons, believing that a vibrant domestic metals production industry was needed in case future geopolitical events disrupted imports.
When Trump announced his tariff policy a few weeks later, he reinforced this nationalist-mercantile view by saying that metals production was needed or we "almost don’t have much of a country.”
That argument is undoubtedly worth pondering at least, as not only were there to be outright geopolitical conflict would our self-sufficiency be a concern but it may even be a factor in terms of leverage in negotiations and disputes.
The Commerce Department report shows that domestic steel production has declined in 2017 to roughly 72% of U.S. demand, which remains a significant sum, with the rest being from imports.
While the national security concerns remain complex, it seems that U.S. steel production remains still relatively quite strong. Essentially the tariff would act as an extremely expensive insurance policy on the American people for a particular set of geopolitical concerns that may never materialize.
The other possibility is that the tariff is a heavy-handed negotiating tactic. Many Democrats and Republicans over the years have rightly expressed concern that while the United States follows international trade laws other nations do not, instead subsidizing their own industries heavily to distort the world market.
It is undoubtedly true that trade abuses need to be addressed and resolved, as they reduce the otherwise immense benefits of free trade in lower costs and greater innovation through competition.
Past U.S. efforts have been hesitant on throwing down the gauntlet, but Trump may now be trying a new strategy. As he touted on the campaign trail and even in his original announcement speech, he wanted us to replace what he believed to be our current soft tactics with the “best negotiators.” However, long and destructive trade wars may not be the best way to do it.
It remains to be seen how markets and prices move both immediately and in the long-term as these tariffs take effect as well as if this is but a temporary tactic or intended to be on a more permanent basis.
In the meantime, it may be a better time than ever to stock up on some cans.
Every year since 1973 thousands of conservatives from across the country gather about our nation’s capital for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, also known as “CPAC.”
CPAC has long been known a training ground for young conservatives, an exhibition stage for up-and-coming politicians and media personalities, as well as a barometer of the overall conservative movement.
However it also almost every year attracts slews of controversies and criticisms. This year they ranged from the invitation of controversial French nationalist-populist politician Marion Le Pen, daughter of former French President Marine Le Pen, to Dinesh D’Souza’s insensitive statement on the Florida school tragedy prior to the conference that led organizers to clarify he was not a speaker.
During the conference more gaffes popped up as well, as panelist Mona Charen denounced CPAC and conservatives from on-stage for giving Trump and other Republicans a pass on their moral failures, a strange statement regarding Michael Steele’s time as RNC Chair, and the booing of John McCain.
Nonetheless, this year’s CPAC had a wide range of well-known personalities from across the GOP world, ranging from President Donald Trump himself to rising millennial star Ben Shapiro, as well as other figures including Sean Hannity, John Bolton, Kellyanne Conway, and a slew of other executive branch officials and media personalities.
It was worth noting too who wasn’t there. Few overt “Never Trumper” conservatives, past or present, were given a platform. There was also minimal Congressional presence, with Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) being the only Senator along with a small smattering of Congresspersons.
While Congress being on recess at the time undoubtedly contributed to the lack of representation from Congressional Republicans, polls showing massive double-digit leads for Democrats in 2018 on a generic ballot may have contributed to the desire of many Congresspersons to try to avoid hyper-ideological associations.
Also notable was the absence of Steve Bannon, who had been a major headliner presence at the prior year’s CPAC. Bannon has essentially disappeared ever since his denunciation in January by President Trump amid the fallout from the “Fire and Fury” book, which itself has recently been shown to be of increasing unreliability.
The speakers aside, CPAC ended up having a resoundingly pro-Trump audience, with its annual straw poll showing over 93% of attendees approved of Trump’s performance as President as of far compared to 85% among Republicans in general and around 40% with the overall public.
Despite it seeming like a niche event, each year’s CPAC is a strong reflection of the current mood of the most dedicated conservatives. It is here that the key ideas and people that end up taking roles of influence and responsibility in government, think tanks, and media all connect to and from.
Furthermore, the bulk of CPAC’s attendees are young. Consistently over half are usually under 25 years old, meaning that CPAC also sheds light on what the future of conservatism looks like.
It is worth remembering that while CPAC may reflect the conservative movement’s most dedicated activist and policy base very well, it often does not accurately mirror that of the overall Republican Party.
For example, the winner of CPAC’s annual presidential straw poll in 2016 was Ted Cruz with 40% followed by Marco Rubio with 30%, when at the time then-candidate Trump was the clear consensus candidate among the GOP base.
In 2013, 2014, and 2015, Rand Paul was the straw poll winner, following up his father Ron Paul’s wins in 2010 and 2011. Mitt Romney won the straw poll in 2008, 2009, and 2012, but that was only after what appears to have been a coordinated political operation rather than the opinion of organic CPAC attendees.
CPAC in the age of Trump undoubtedly represents well the uncertain footing the conservative movement and Republican Party is on. Even the past few weeks we’ve seen as how contradictory beliefs on trade and firearms has split many populists from traditional conservatives after what’s already been a tense few years.
As CPACs of the future roll about, undoubtedly eyes from both the left and right will continue watching to see the future of the core intellectual, policy, and activist heart and soul of the Republican Party and conservative movement.
What a week it’s been for Americans invested in the stock market. Last week the Dow Jones traveled more than 22,000 points over just the course of a week, resulting in price volatility we haven’t seen in years and suddenly shaking everyone out of the laid-back seemingly ‘growth-without-end’ environment we’ve been accustomed to recently.
The complex and multifaceted economics aside, it is also worth noting how the market’s turmoil naturally soon became a part of the daily tornado in our national political discourse as well.
The rising stock market, which has soared since election day, has been one of President Trump’s most touted talking points amid the other positive macroeconomic trends in employment, consumer optimism, and growth.
It is indeed true that over this past year, pro-growth regulatory and legislative policies coming from D.C. have created a more nimble environment for businesses, whether large or small, to operate in, and contributed to increased business profitability and thus stock gains.
Despite this week’s volatility, the fundamentals point to more positive indicators on the horizon, with economic growth looking optimistic and companies continuing to drive jobs and innovation in this environment, such as with Apple’s recent announcement that it would be investing over $350 billion in the United States over the next five-years.
This seemingly endless parade of positive economic news came to a brief halt last week as the floor suddenly fell out from markets. Many on the left quickly took this opportunity to mock the President and Congressional Republicans for this turn of events, with the President himself even taking to Twitter to denounce the seeming irrationality of the stock market’s sudden decline.
While the debate over the stock market has been a persistent knot throughout the first year of Trump’s Presidency, with many critics saying that much of the market’s current momentum is attributable to President Obama’s work, this week’s sudden turn of events sheds light on the complex relationship between politics and economics.
Year after year, polls repeatedly show that the economy ranks in as either the top or second most important issue Americans are concerned about. As James Carville famously said as a strategist for then-candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid!”
It is therefore natural for politicians to claim credit for positive economic developments and to try to shift the blame when the trends are negative. We see this time and time again, whether in the years of pointing fingers after the financial crisis, the attribution battles over the 1990’s tech boom, or in the ever-present yet difficult-to-prove assertions that growth could have been faster or slower under a different set of policies.
The facts usually are far more complicated than the simple “before and after” comparisons that are the standard boilerplate in political ads and flyers. The economy is driven by a multitude of factors ranging from credit and monetary leverage to legal frameworks to changing consumer tastes and tolerances, and even the most hardened and well-compensated mega-fund quants and their algorithms have a tough time predicting developments.
Zooming in a little bit, we quickly see that behind each numerical movement in economic growth are the countless innovators, investors, workers, analysts, and many more who are the ones actually creating the activity that in aggregate results in a move in GDP, job numbers, or company earnings.
That is not to say that our government, and the leaders inhabiting its offices, do not have an enormous role on our economy’s direction. Policies and regulations essentially create the playing field that all of these actors operate in and can very easily accelerate, create, slow down, block, or reverse growth and innovation.
No one knows for certain how the market or economy will develop, even if current projections remain bright. What does remain certain however is that we can always continue to expect, as we saw this past week with Trump and his opponents, economic developments to be rightly or wrongly used as political fodder.
On Sunday night in a chilly Minneapolis stadium where the temperature was reported at 0 °F with a wind chill of -14 °F, the upstart Eagles, who had never won a Super Bowl until then, and five-time Super Bowl champions faced off in Super Bowl LII. It was a thrilling game that had a jaw-clenching conclusion as the Eagles won against the Patriots 41-33.
All across America, an estimated over 111 million Americans tuned in to the game as billions of dollars were spent on chicken wings, pizza, chips, and drinks. An estimated 1.35 billion chicken wings were consumed, with the average American spending just over $80 on Super Bowl consumables and events.
Yet this year’s Super Bowl took place amid a big star-spangled elephant in the room. A matchup between the underdog Eagles and long-time champion Patriots would normally bring lots of heated passions, but of the fan interest sort rather than political or cultural.
With the controversy over standing for the national anthem at games still marring the sport, this year’s Super Bowl was met in the lead up by political division that has caused incredible and emotional polarization in one of America’s most entrenched and previously unifying national pastimes.
While controversies such as Deflategate and the CTE crisis have emerged sporadically in the NFL over the years, it was really in fall last year that NFL players kneeling in response to the anthem and flag that it began to take off in a more political and cultural direction.
Then-San Francisco 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling, rather than sitting as he previously had, for the national anthem in the fall of 2016, yet it took a year for the protests to really spread among other players and teams.
And when it did finally spread, we saw how a sport that had long been characterized by tribal opposition take a political tone, as each team suddenly found itself having to decide its policy on kneeling. Many fans demanded that their teams kneel, while others threatened boycotts and abandoning even long-beloved teams over kneeling.
Some teams even split, such as when Pittsburgh Steelers player and U.S. Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva came out to stand for the anthem while the other players decided to try to avoid controversy by remaining in the locker room. It is worth noting that in later games the entire team stood for the anthem.
Eventually in early October it seemed as if the kneeling controversy would be put to an end when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to NFL team owners saying that they wanted the players to stand for the anthem. Yet by then Pandora’s Box already had been opened and the kneeling protests have continued sporadically since.
The NFL controversies have been complex, as on one hand undoubtedly almost all Americans wish to address systematic abuses and inequities that face some of us. However on the other hand, to disrespect the national anthem and turn a unifying sport like football into a political battleground adds to our national division at a time when we already are at dangerous levels of polarization.
Perhaps the best way will be for Democrats and Republicans to come together to seriously examine and ensure that our criminal justice system is truly protecting the liberty of all Americans properly. Indeed there is hope on the horizon in this regard.
As one example, In October last year Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) brought together a diverse bipartisan coalition in the Senate to present the “Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017.”
The act, which unfortunately has not moved anywhere in the legislative process this session, would revise perceived inequities in criminal sentencing for for non-violent drug offenders, promote rehabilitation for low-risk convicts, and create a national commission to make a serious comprehensive examination of our nation’s criminal justice system.
The issues surrounding law enforcement and criminal justice are extraordinary complex and can be deeply polarizing, but it is worth remembering that the overwhelming of Americans want an equitable and just system that protects our freedoms while also punishing criminals and securing our communities.
And so while millions of Americans still enjoyed Super Bowl LII despite the controversies of the past year, it is worth hoping that we can someday again enjoy a great sport like football without such heated political controversies as well as ensuring that “liberty and justice” for all is truly the case in our country.
What a year it’s been. President Donald Trump will give his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, and despite the highly divided nature of our country at the moment perhaps one point of unity is that we can all agree that this has been a truly extraordinary in American politics.
By most policy metrics, President Trump’s first year in office has been an enormous success. The economy is roaring forward on all engines, with a booming stock market, two-decade low unemployment, and high consumer optimism.
On the military front, ISIS has been essentially completely wiped out in Iraq and Syria after years of their contagion seemingly difficult to stop.
In terms of other policies, America has seen the appointment of a slew of constitutionalist judges, the passage of a pro-growth tax reform package, regulatory reduction and streamlining, enforcement of our trade laws, and the re-assertion of a strong American foreign policy in the world.
Yet despite the tangible achievements in terms of governance, it seems that our discourse has become as corrupted and polarized as it has ever been. The hyper-partisan bickering that characterized the 2016 campaign and the immediate few months afterwards seems to be continuing just as fiercely.
We will be reminded of that again at Trump’s State of the Union - just as over 70 Democratic members of Congress boycotted Trump’s Inauguration last year, now many are also boycotting his State of the Union.
The Democratic response is expected to be given by Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), one of Trump’s fiercest critics and who has repeatedly called for his impeachment over the past year. It is unlikely the remarks will bring our country together in any way.
It is worth remembering that this is not how our politics usually are. Normally in the immediate aftermath of a Presidential election the public interest fades to a large degree and the new set of policymakers in D.C. can get down to the law’s toilsome sausage-making process.
However this year it seems citizens are as engaged as ever, with Trump having become a ubiquitous node around which much of our culture itself is centered around. Nearly everything nowadays is seen as having some connection to Trump, leading to even the most devout or opposed to begin to feel a sense of fatigue.
Even if our public discourse seems as shattered as ever, it should be comforting at least that on the material fronts our country is at a time of extraordinary prosperity and strength.
Furthermore, it is clear that many of the fears that Trump’s fiercest opponents derided him for during the 2016 election have not come to pass. Trump has not taken authoritarian power, has not shattered our economy, has not caved in to Russia, and has not brought us into a devastating war.
On the contrary, the Trump Administration has done, by any objective measure, incredible good for our prosperity and security. The fact that the Dow is soaring past 26,000 and unemployment at a mere 4.1% say enough on their own.
It is unlikely Trump’s State of the Union on Tuesday will be able to appease his most ruthless opponents who have realized it is either good politics or good business to remain staunchly opposed to him.
Nonetheless, perhaps for some out there it will be a chance to listen to our President and to reflect on the real progress that has been made this past year for Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs.
The Office of the President deserves respect, whether it is Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton, or otherwise. On Tuesday millions of Americans will be listening to our elected leader talk about the path our country has walked this past year and his vision going forward. No matter what, it is at least worth a listen.
Last Friday at midnight, the bank ran dry for the United States government.
It was not because of economic trends or foreign manipulation, but because of the current dysfunction characterizing Washington D.C.
By any objective analysis of the facts, it is clear that Congressional Democrats are the cause of the mess this time around. Congressional Democrats have been demanding a full DACA bill immediately despite the program still lasting until March and giving them extensive time to negotiate and reach a deal with Republicans.
Yet Congressional Democrats rejected Congressional Republicans’ multiple attempts at a deal, including a 30-day temporary stop-gap measure that would have also provided funding for state child insurance programs, also known as “CHIP,” for an additional six years. The CHIP program expires in just weeks and could leave over 1.7 million children without healthcare.
Despite the stop-gap bill passing the House, it requires 60 votes in the Senate due to Senate rules. With Republicans only having a 51-seat majority in the Senate, Senate Democrats blocked the stop-gap measure that resulted in the shutdown we saw Friday.
This is the second time this decade that our government has shutdown. Last time, in October 2013, was when Congressional Republicans attempted to force a defunding of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
The 2013 standoff eventually ended in defeat for Republicans, with a funding being passed after two weeks that gave Republicans very little if anything at all.
During that shutdown House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi decried the GOP as “legislative arsonists” for shutting down the government over seeking a policy objective passed.
Senator Chuck Schumer, now Senate Minority Leader and the one who essentially led this year’s shutdown, said in 2013 “The basic line is: No matter how strongly one feels about an issue, you shouldn’t hold millions of people hostage. That’s what the other side is doing. That’s wrong and we can’t give in to that.”
It is ironic that now Congressional Democrats are doing exactly what they viciously criticized the GOP for doing in 2013, namely forcing a government shutdown for a policy priority they want passed outside of regular legislative proceedings.
The actual economic and social effects of a government shutdown are complex. For most Americans, they see little beyond the closure of some facilities and being unable to reach certain government services.
The core of the federal government, termed “essential,” remains open, including, unlike last time, national parks.
One of the most iconic images of the 2013 government shutdown was when a group of veterans who had traveled from across the nation to D.C. were refused entrance to the World War II memorial due to the shutdown. In contrast, during this saga Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was found to be giving tours of the memorial himself to tourists on the morning after the shutdown.
Nonetheless, many federal workers will be without work or pay for as long as the shutdown lasts. Many federal employees are left to mill about D.C., unable to take substantive vacations because they will be called back the next day when the shutdown ends.
Thankfully, D.C. has many “government shutdown” happy hour specials that keep business booming and the city lively during this time.
On a more serious note, even though Congress has always passed a bill afterwards authorizing back pay for federal employees that have been furloughed, nonetheless for those who live paycheck-to-paycheck the shutdown may cause significant cash flow problems and financial stress.
Furthermore, the back pay is in fact a cost passed onto the American taxpayer as they will be paying employees for essentially not having done work during that time. In 2013 this tab came to about $2 billion for the over 850,000 workers furloughed.
Of special disgrace as well is that our military will not be receiving any pay either.
During the 2013 shutdown Congress passed a special bill right before the shutdown that provided the military with pay during the shutdown. However this year no such bill has been passed.
Government shutdowns are a recent incarnation in our hyperpolarized time. They did not happen during the 2000’s, happened during a particularly concentrated time in the 1990’s, and in the 1980’s only lasted for days if not just hours rather than now in weeks.
This time around it is clearly Congressional Democrats who have forced this shutdown despite there still being months to negotiate DACA, a temporary funding bill on the table that supports children’s health, and the deep cost to our military due to the not being paid.
It remains worth seeing whether the American people will take note of the price they are paying and the damage that those who promote a shutdown are causing.
This past week has seen South Korea and North Korea engage in friendly overtures not seen in recent history, amid discussions over North Korea’s possible participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
While that may seem a small or routine issue, it is nonetheless the first official dialogue the two countries have engaged in for over two years and comes amid what has been an extremely tense past few months with North Korea’s ballistic missile testing.
It even raises for a brief moment the long-pondered yet seemingly impossible prospect of a new status quo on the Korean peninsula, which has seen little movement or progress of any meaningful sort since the close of the Korean War’s open hostilities in 1953.
If history is any guide, it is unlikely anything will change. Every so often over the decades North Korea will engage in dialogue with South Korea or even America, but it is almost always with a material motive fundamentally in mind. These objectives range from gaining legitimacy internationally, seeking a reduction of sanctions, or food aid for its people as during the 1990’s horrific famine that came about as a result of state mismanagement.
The situation on the Korean peninsula has floated in and out of the news cycle these past few months amid the ballistic tests but also Tweets and “rocket man” UN speeches. Nonetheless, it remains a serious dilemma because there are no easy solutions or even meaningfully divergent options.
It’s almost like our Cold War with the Soviet Union, albeit of course on a much smaller scale. With the Soviet Union there was little we could do directly against them, as the principle of mutually assured destruction prevented overt action. Instead, proxy conflicts were waged in third party nations across the world.
Of course North Korea doesn’t have remotely the international tentacles or might the Soviet Union did, but nonetheless it is similar in that there is little direct action that can be done on the peninsula and which is why the situation has remained deadlocked for almost 70 years.
North Korea remains a highly militarized society with its artillery batteries all aimed at Seoul. Military analysts say that has been their biggest deterrent, as the civilian casualties from such an attack would be quick and horrifying.
Now that North Korea has increasingly developed its nuclear capabilities the worry is even greater, especially as their missiles slowly extend in range to even begin to touch the United States.
As President Trump has said, America can “totally destroy” North Korea, Of course, that is without question. North Korea remains an impoverished and small state where all activity is directed to supporting its overly large military. Nonetheless given their focus on military deterrence, the costs could be heavy, either for South Korea, Japan, or even America.
The only hoped-for solutions might be similar to how many other totalitarian regimes in the past half-century have fallen, which is through internal regime change. The nations of the Eastern bloc seemed like impenetrable Orwellian fortresses for decades until they seemingly collapsed from the wind overnight.
North Korea is however different than Warsaw Pact Communist states or the Soviet Union, as it has taken its totalitarian control to even greater extremes that prevent even the slightest air of dissent from gaining a critical mass to threaten to the regime.
Even those in the regime’s power structure are constantly kept on watch, recycled, or terminated by a tyranny that has seemingly stamped out every ounce of humanity in the name of keeping control.
President Trump has indicated he is continuing to try to seek solutions for the situation on the Korean peninsula and the South Korea-North Korea talks continue for the moment.
As always we can hope that some progress may be made in freeing the North Korean people. The past has shown that will be a tough task indeed, yet it is worth praying that the tide of history towards human freedom can even find cracks in the iron shell of North Korea.
On a nearly daily basis we hear about the newest Bitcoin millionaire or how another company has forgone a traditional debt or equity offering to instead raise money through an “ICO,” or initial coin offering.
As the retail public begins to become aware of the previously esoteric cryptocurrency market, I can’t help but think of how this compares to past asset rushes in American history as well as what it reflects on us at the moment.
The cryptocurrrency market is now in the hundreds of billions of dollars, with new coins being created on a near monthly basis. Almost each of these currencies is facing volatility that is simply unheard of for almost any asset.
Furthermore, with each increasingly harsh press release and statement warning about cryptocurrencies, it looks like soon enough the Securities and Exchange Commission itself may be finally edging close to reigning in the market, though to what degree remains unknown.
Cryptocurrency is the ultimate sleek asset for our modern technology boom. It is almost perfectly designed for our times – it combines some of the most modern developments in Internet services, software, and data science. It undoubtedly will have some potential use in the future, even if not the “currency ending” millennialism talk some of its evangelists tout.
However the way the public has begun pouring into it almost seems like a modern version of the gold rushes to the American West in the 1800’s. During that time, hundreds of thousands of Americans packed up their belongings and left their homes in search of fabled riches in the mines and rivers of California and other territories.
Many rushed in with little understanding of how to find gold, how much there might be, and the dangers involved in the blasting and mines. Many ended up with little to show for their efforts, while it was in fact those merchants who set up shop for services, housing, and supplies for the miners who in fact extracted the greatest profits.
The cryptocurrency craze today is indeed our modern gold rush. Too many are now rushing into cryptocurrencies without the slightest idea of the actual mechanics of the system.
We even hear stories of people mortgaging their houses to buy cryptocurrency, essentially risking everything in search of easy riches just like those who followed the gold rush to the frontier back centuries ago.
Just like with the gold rush of the 1800’s, some of those who are in fact profiting the most from the cryptocurrency are the middlemen. Those who are issuing the ICOs are raising untold sums of money with little liability. Cryptocurrency exchanges carve out extensive fees that make broker transaction costs for securities look nominal. Many evangelists tread the edge of legality, with some even outright engaging in pumping and dumping, taking advantage of this wild west environment.
Like with the gold rush, eventually this craze will end. Cryptocurrency won’t “run out” per say, as one aspect of cryptocurrency is that there are essentially an infinite number of potential cryptocurrencies. However undoubtedly regulators will someday soon tighten the market, dramatically crunch the volatility, and dissipate much of the investment demand currently fueling the price swings and consequent market interest in a vicious cycle.
How soon cryptocurrency becomes “boring” is uncertain. In the meantime, by looking at this current show in this online casino we learn a lot about the strange ways history repeats itself and about how human nature’s desire for easy riches and quick profits remains despite the past’s endless warnings.
Cryptocurrency is exciting. It’s flashy. It excites us with dreams of easy wealth, just like the thrill when we buy a Mega Millions or Powerball ticket. However at least the profits from the lottery system go to a beneficial cause, such as education.
Cryptocurrency has had and will continue to have its winners, but in many cases the real flow of money is going to those making a business off of the craze and hype. Caution, as always, is a prudent quality.
Virtue. Character. Integrity. Words that cultures around the world and through history have described as the aspirational qualities to earn and strive for in our lives.
2017 was as tumultuous a year as 2016, as the rocky social discourse we now live in seemingly continues to intensify. Yet to me, the most noticeable new development in that trend this year was how we gradually saw a rapider disintegration of public trust in politics, media, and our public square in general.
We saw General Michael Flynn, a respected General who served and protected our country honorably for decades, plead guilty to lying to the FBI.
We saw the #MeToo campaign, with many previously long-respected and admired figures in media, Hollywood, and politics revealed to be engaged in horrifying practices and abuses of power.
We saw the seriously disturbing allegations unveiled regarding Roy Moore, who had built his career on piety.
We witnessed a torrent of hyperbole come from leaders on both sides of the aisle.
On the left, for example, there was Kathy Griffin’s disgusting skit and fear mongering the GOP policy efforts on healthcare reform, taxes, and net neutrality, as literally causing people to die.
On the right, some conspiracy theories have developed a life of their own and collapsed into an incomprehensible singularity universe within themselves.
We saw even some of our nation’s most trusted institutions, ranging from the Department of Justice to our court system, from the national media to the FBI, all questioned.
The Founding Fathers created our form of government to structurally withstand what they believed to be humanity’s inherent evils, abuses, and ambition. Nonetheless, such a safety grid was not meant to allow us to become accustomed to an excess of moral corruption, thinking that our system would protect us from the societal consequences.
John Adams articulated this sentiment in 1798 to the Massachusetts Militia when he said “[o]ur Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
However character is also very difficult to accurately ascertain and this year we have seen enough “virtue-signaling,” likely a portion of it perhaps hypocritical, to make one shake their head as well.
While there are many cases where a person’s character at that time is relatively determinable, also in many situations the facts are unclear and stories only hearsay without evidence.
Furthermore, none of us is perfect and infallible despite the striving many of us make towards that goal.
Yet after this year it is undeniable that the state of character in the public square is in serious trouble and in need of a reawakening.
For much of American history, character was built through one’s family, community, and institutions.
In recent decades we’ve seen all three begin to unravel. Families are cracking apart. Communities are no longer as tight-knit as they used to be, with a decline in public festivals, rites, and bonding, and local organizations.
Our institutions have also changed dramatically, as previously essential character-refining groups such as churches, youth clubs, schools, and fraternal associations have all seen a remarkable waning.
Many of the institutions that do remain, such as schools and higher education, have also experienced a polarizing transformation in discourse that is an extraordinary complex issue within itself.
All this sounds tragic and terrible. Yet the fact that we also live in perhaps the most prosperous, peaceful, and technologically-advanced time in human history makes one also wonder what’s the point of character anyway?
The point of character is multifold. Beyond giving respect to our Creator, it helps us all live in a better society that is more fulfilling and individually wholesome.
When we can trust our institutions, trust our public figures, and trust one another in our communities, we prevent the inevitable regression from a vacuum of virtue as well as protect our progress.
The road up from our current state of affairs is complex and difficult. It is more than just a return to the way things were, as that may be impossible and even undesirable given how our society has been transformed by developments such as technology.
Policy proposals for reigniting character in the public square in the 21st century will undoubtedly come on the local, state, and federal levels as public clamor and outrage grows. In the meantime, perhaps the best that can be done is to take a moment to reflect on our own lives and the kind of approach we want to put forward in the world.