Instead of a Wall, How About a Plan?

According to Pew Research, there were 10.7 million “illegals” (3.3% of the US population US) in 2016, the year of Trump’s birth as a President. The portion from Mexico has actually declined over the years, but those from Central America have increased: from 1.5 million in 2007 to 1.9 million in 2016. According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are now 12 million illegal immigrants in the US today.

To stop that influx, Trump wants a 1300 mile wall. In 2017, his wall was estimated to cost between $15 billion and $25 billion, but two years later, who really knows? And the real question we’re asking ourselves is: will a wall really stop illegal immigration? 

Now, hold that thought.

World War II was, initially, just another war between European countries that had been warring with each other for centuries. It was also a continuation of WWI, which was won by the allies.  Following the old adage ”to the victors; belong the spoils”, the allies from WWI spoiled life for Germans in the form of reparations and rules that crippled the country from 1918 to 1938. 

Which really angered the Germans.

That resulted in a populist strongman who used that anger to go after its WWI enemies and start WWII. WWII was bigger, spread farther around the world, and caused far more horror than WWI, including The Holocaust and the two atom bombs dropped on Japan.  

But what’s unique about WWII is not the horror; it’s that no European country has gone to war against another since. Not so for the rest of the world, though. The US, for example, has been trying to duplicate it’s macho in WWII by engaging in wars repeadedly since 1945, some like Korea for good reasons, other, not so much. (Viet Nam, Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria…). 

And we don’t seem to change. Just in the last few days, our government has “refused to rule out” military intervention in Venezuela. 

Hold that thought, too.

The primary reason for Europe’s unique peace since WWII is The Marshall Plan, named for WWII general, later Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, George Marshall. 

He, like all veterans, hated war. So he and Truman and Congress decided that, rather than punishing Germany and Italy for WWII, the US would help eliminate the reasons for that and future wars – for all of Europe including our allies, like England. They figured that if European countries were to prosper, were to bond through trade, were to talk through problems instead of cutting each other off in anger and seeking vengeance, they would have less incentive to go to war. That simple philosophy led to the UN, NATO and the European Union.

And 73 years of European prosperity and peace. 

The cost of the Marshall plan? Around $125 billion in today’s dollars. By comparison, the Viet Nam War cost over $1 trillion in today’s dollars; Afghanistan has cost us $841 billion – so far. 

OK, now back to illegals and Central America. 

Central Americans have to contend with corrupt governments, drug cartels, life-taking poverty, and being gunned down in the streets. Inflation in Venezuela is 25,000%. Venezuelan women are selling their hair just to put food on the table. Their children and others in Central America have to join gangs or be shot.

These people are not coming here for comfier movie theaters or more McDonalds burgers. They like their own cultures. They’re coming here for economic and personal safety. And they’ll do just about anything to get here, including crossing hundreds of miles of desert, giving “coyotes” their life’s savings, and, now, even risking having their children yanked away by armed guards. 

How are we responding? By arguing over the need for a wall propped up by bigger and badder security measures. By readying our military to go into Venezuela, even as Russia is threatening us if we do. 

We blew up the Middle East. Hey! How about Central America, too?

What if, instead, we helped Central Americans stay in Central America? What if we invested in their infrastructure, helped re-establish honest government in their countries, and improved their economic and personal safety? 

What if we replaced the billions spent on border control with profits from new trade? What if we reduced the amount of drugs coming into our country and the cost in lives and productivity of drug abuse and drug related crime and spent that money on our own problems? What if medieval walls were, once again, just the stuff of history books?

OK. Now let’s put it all together.

What if we tried a Marshall Plan for Central America? 

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My Solution to Divided Government

We all know how divided the country is. We all know how divided the Congress is. We all know how divided the Supreme Court is.  

None of us know how to unite any of it again.

Imagine our government solving facing anything bigger than traffic gridlock in DC or collapsing subways in NYC or crumbling education in LA.  Imagine even that. 

Disheartening, isn’t it, especially for a country that prides itself on saving the world from Hitler, being first on the moon- all in the last century. 

In this century all we have achieved is a government that actually shuts itself down.

Big problem. No solution. At least from our leaders.

Like all solutions, the answer to this lies in understanding the problem. 

Years ago, Congress men and (the very few) women of different persuasions would actually talk to each other, go to the same cocktail parties, hang their coats in the same cloakroom. Now their only common activity is using the same cloakroom. And, if they do chummy up to someone from the other side, they have to keep it secret or get tossed out in the next election.

The problem is tribalism: groups of people who stick with their own tribe to the point of idiocy: Republicans vs Democrats, Tea Partiers vs Moderate Republicans, Progressives vs Centrist Democrats.   

It wasn’t always this way. Way back in the last century, Reagan and Tip O’Neill had drinks together of an evening, even though they were opposites in politics. It allowed them to develop trust in each other and pass some good laws. It allowed them to govern.

So, if the problem is tribalism, the solution is breaking down tribalism, right? But how? 

There’s not a lot of out-of-the-box thinking in DC these days; they’re still arguing over climate change. We have a president who envies the Great Wall of China and Senators like Grassley and Hatch, who think a millennial is some kind of Roman column. At a recent hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Facebook’s Zuckerberg if Twitter did the same thing as Facebook. Really. No joke.

Time for a new approach.  

To start, let’s take note of something new in politics for 2019: women. Half the country has always been women, but we just recently decided they might have enough brains and talent to help govern. We now have 126 women in Congress. That’s new.

And then, lets go just about as far from sclerotic DC thinking as we can. I’m thinking Silicon Valley types, high tech thinking. They’re full of novel ideas, like internet dating. 

My solution to divided government combines Internet dating and women in government into a new website just for members of Congress.

I call it “535 Date”.  

Its purpose is different from most dating websites. It is not about sex and lust, though. Nope, this website is about respect and teamwork. (Ok, maybe a little of the other two; after all, we are talking about powerful people). 

Here’s how it works:

Senators and Representatives go to the “535 Dates” website, where they choose ID’s and passwords. Each fills out some forms with their core beliefs, knowledge of government and politics, age, education, gender and, most important, ideas for new bills, aspirations for the country, ways to get along with other members.

They then peruse profiles of each other. If they see a profile they like, they email anonymously through a secure email system. They communicate tentatively at first. Then, when trust is established, they exchange email addresses and communicate more freely. Finally, they meet in person (surreptitiously at first, so fellow Democratic and Republican tribal members don’t know), possibly in the Cloakroom, or, more likely, in the corner of some dark bar in DC. They get to know each other.  They respect each other. They form friendships. 

It’s a bit of a subterfuge, of course, using a dating format to encourage respect and openness, but whatever works, right?

And voila! Friends across the aisle, the breakdown of tribalism.   

Out of deference to their high office, membership will also be granted to Trump and Pence. No worries though. Pence will refuse, because he doesn’t ever use the Internet without his wife next to him.  

It will be also an incentive for Trump to learn how to actually use a computer. 

We’re hoping he will eventually stumble onto Nancy Pelosi and a long friendship will ensue to the great relief of the entire country – not to mention Melania.

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Shutting Down The Shutdown

I hope all you non-Trumpites will forgive me for this, but I think it’s a pretty good idea to shut things down every once in awhile, including the government.

Half-time is a shutdown in most sporting events that gives the players time to re-energize (maybe a mistake for the Eagles last week, but they had gotten a freebie the week before, so all’s fair in football – except Belichik). 

Coffee breaks are good shutdowns. You know why we have coffee breaks? Because of England. Really. English bosses encouraged laborers to drink tea because something in it gave them a boost of energy, which translated into more profits. It turned out to be caffeine. They sold tea in coffee houses (yes, coffee houses) in the 1600’s. Then it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to the Colonies who Americanized tea with Starbucks coffee and voila! the coffee break.

Or something like that.

For Trump to shut down part of the government is, I think, a nice thing for the IRS, TSA, HUD, the Coast Guard, NASA and others. They get a little vacation… sort of. Of course, they have to use that vacation to drive Uber and Lyft cars so they can eat, but hey, they get to see their neighborhoods from a new and different perspective.  

Over 800,000 people are getting those vacations, right? Not to mention the secondary and tertiary effects from all them spending less money. So Republicans are happier because it slows down government spending. And that’s a good thing, right?

And! It’s also good for food banks and charities that were feeling a slow down after the Christmas rush. Most of us only give to food banks at Christmas because the poor aren’t as hungry in the winter, right? Now we can give in January, too.

Sometimes shutdowns have nothing to do with politicians. Sears and K-Mart are in bankrupcty. Unfortunately it’s not temporary. I guess that’s what they get for not keeping up with the Amazon. A lot of their workers will get long vacations, which can be nice. Maybe they can have long coffee breaks with government workers. 

Or maybe they can work in Amazon warehouses. I hear that’s a lot of fun.

Politicians are always trying to shut down each other nowadays. The 2016 election was a real shutdown of Democrats; Republicans took over the entire government. In 2018, Democrats took over the House. Recently national voting has been like a pendulum with a pooper scooper at the end: it scoops out one party and scoops in another.  

Which led to the Trump shutdown. Democrats want to shut down Trump’s wall and Trump wants to build it. 

The problem with democracy is all those votes. Whether they happen in the Senate, House, or voting booths, someone’s always voting the wrong way. This frustrates Trump, because as a businessman, people had to do what he said or be fired. He was a dictator. Now Congress does what he says only if they want to. A very pesky difference between business and politics.

Sometimes people get shutdown in business or personal lives. Getting fired is hard. Kind bosses can do it gently and often steer the employee to a different opportunity, particularly if the shut down is not the employee’s fault. I once was rehired by a boss who had fired me years before. I worked for him for five more years and got raises. Breaking up a relationship is similar. When the breakor doesn’t burn the breakee, bridges stay intact. When the breakor is mean and callous, not so likely.

When nature shuts down life, it can be hard. Our French poodle, Philo, died a couple of years ago. The whole family still misses him. But the good thing about nature is it takes and then it gives. Two years later, we just got a new poodle, a rescue. He doesn’t speak French, but he gives me that haughty look when I tell him to sit.

Life is more powerful and longer ranged than you or me or Trump or the Democrats. The shutdown will be shutdown soon, the crazy incompetents in Congress and the White House will be replaced, and life will get back to normal.

I give it about two years.

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It’s All ABout Trust

Trump has been painted into a corner with the government shutdown, because Democrats and Independents don’t trust him.

And that is not only because he’s been caught in nearly 7000 lies since he took office. It’s also because almost every time he agrees to something he later changes the terms. So those are lies, too.

We’re talking about a whole lot of lying.

Whenever someone like Trump says, “Believe me”, it’s probably a good time to check your wallet.

I know a lot about lying. I was once professional liar. I got paid to lie on national TV. On “To Tell The Truth” I pretended to be an Olympic speed walker. There was one other liar and the real guy. He had to tell the truth. The panel had to guess which of us was real. Because lying was relatively new to me (I mean this wasn’t about the dog eating my homework), I was really nervous. I lied as well as I could, but only one person voted for me, Betty White. I think she did it out of sympathy. 

I’ve been a Betty White fan ever since. 

My kids are all pretty trusting, which can be a problem in today’s world. When my son graduated from art school and was struggling to find work, a family friend hired him to build a website. Ben gave him a small down payment and, over ten months, my son built a very complex site, including some original animation. At first Ben raved about the work. Then he moved to another state. When it came time to pay my son, Ben pulled a Trump, figuring no recent art student would file a civil suit in Alabama.

Unfortunately for Ben the art school had taught my son some copyright law so he filed a suit, not in Alabama, but in Federal Court. Including legal fees, Ben ended up paying almost 7 times what he owed. My son still trusts most people, but he follows Reagan’s advice now and verifies too.

Once broken, trust is very hard to rebuild. Car dealers know that; the whole industry is distrusted now. So does Wells Fargo, most of Wall Street, Comcast, health insurers, advertisers, almost all politicians…  

Breaking trust is tough on all relationships. That’s why Trump and Pelosi are at such a stalemate over the “Wall”.  It’s really a case of “who do you trust…less?”

Sometime marriage counselors can help in rebuilding trust in a relationship. In fact, I heard Pelosi and Trump tried that recently.

Marriage Counsel: “So, what seems to be the problem?”

Pelosi: “He wants to build a concrete wall” —

Trump: —“Excuse me! Excuse me! “

Pelosi:  “- across our southern border—“

Trump: “-Excuse me!  Excuse me! It’s a steel wall!”

Pelosi: “Steel, schlemiel! It’s a wall. And you’re not getting it.  And you’re a schlemiel! ”.

Pelosi (whispering to the marriage counselor while looking directly at Trump): “schmeil means ‘dolt’”.

Marriage Counselor: “Now, now. Let’s try to keep this constructive, shall we?”

Trump: “I was in construction. I know a lot about constructive.”.

Pelosi: “I’ll tell you what he’s constructed – a wall of lies to the American people.”

Trump: “Fake news!  Fake news!”

Marriage Counselor: “Now. Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Trump, I think I sense some deep distrust here.”

Pelosi: “Well aren’t you Doctor Insight!”

Marriage Counselor: “Is there some middle ground, some compromise we could agree on?”

Trump: “I already changed from cement to steel. That’s ‘UGE! And she hasn’t compromised on anything.”

Pelosi: “Well, has that changed the cost? No! Has it helped those people fleeing murder and poverty! No. Has it helped me become Speaker… OK. I’ll give you that.”

Marriage counselor: “Now, lets just take some long, deep breaths and see if we could find something to agree on.”

Trump: “Oh! How about this? I’ll call it a barrier. I compromised on cement and now I’ll compromise on calling it a wall – two BIG concessions! That’s a great deal. Believe me.”

Pelosi: “We’re not going to give you money for a wall, fence, barrier –whatever you choose to call it!”

Trump, (folding arms and looking away from both of them): “No wall, no government.”

Marriage Counselor: “Well, how about that, Ms. Pelosi?

Pelosi shrugs: “It’s a manhood thing.” (She leaves the room).

Trump (yelling after her): “Fake news! Fake News!” 

I’ve heard Mark Burnett is thinking of starring them in a new reality TV show: “Who Do You Distrust”.  

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The United States of Amazon

Downtowns weren’t just places for business; they were also centers of community. 

Before Sears, people shopped in town centers. They bought whatever they needed, chatted with distant neighbors, packed the new supplies into buckboards and went home. 

Sears Roebuck customers perused catalogues, chose products, and mailed Sears some money, whereupon Sears mailed them the product. 

Cool, huh.

In the early 1880’s Richard Sears bought a shipment of watches and sold them via mail order. That went well, so he expanded into jewelry, then, in 1887, partnered with Alva Roebuck and opened up Sears Roebuck as a mail order firm. Recognizing that local stores had limited supplies of product, Sears had the novel idea of bypassing bricks and mortar and using catalogues as a marketing device and the Post Office for distribution.

The catalogue became known as the “Consumer’s bible”. By 1895 it had 532 pages. In 1906, they took the company public. 

In 1925, Sears Roebuck started selling kits through its catalogue for making houses. (Four are still standing in Atlantic City, NJ). Around the same time, Henry Ford started selling kits for making stripped down model A’s into small trucks. He shipped pre-cut wood for truck beds and sides to local train stations, where customers “picked them up” and assembled them – thus was born the “pickup truck”.

And you also thought Ikea was an original idea.

Sears Roebuck expanded into stores. They and other stores outgrew town centers, so they built “shopping centers” outside of towns.

Sears Roebuck grew into 400 stores. It launched Allstate Insurance, Dean Witter, and national brands, including Kenmore. By mid century, Sears was the largest retailer in the country.  

That’s when an architect named Victor Gruen decided that shopping centers had destroyed the sense of community once found in town centers. So he designed something called a “mall” – a place for, not just stores, but restaurants and community gathering places, too.  Many of these malls included Sears and other “anchor” stores (big retailers that would attract other stores).

Just as shopping centers destroyed town centers, malls destroyed shopping centers. 

Economists call it “creative destruction”.

Then, as the 20th century wound down, Sears started losing momentum. Walmart and Target overtook it. The retailers who owned Sears sold it to a financial investment company, which merged it with another falling retailer, K-mart.  And, because these finance guys knew little about retailing, the Sears/K-mart combination continued sputtering. 

Today the stock that sold for $195.18 in 2007 now sells for under $4 dollars. Sears/Kmart is on the edge of bankruptcy.

About the time Sears Roebuck started its downward slide, an entrepreneur named Jeff Bezos took Richard Sears’ original idea and modernized it. He, too, cut costs bypassing bricks and mortar. He substituted the Internet for the catalogue, kept the Post Office as a delivery system, and offered a list of products that grew to thousands of pages.

He named his new Sears incarnation Amazon, after the “largest river by discharge volume of water in the world”.

From 1994, when he began selling books below retail out of his garage, until recently, Amazon lost money. Nevertheless, investors poured money into the “new” way of retailing. 

Patience has its virtue:  today, Amazon “discharges” over 3 billion products worldwide, including 564 million in the US alone. It has 100 million Prime customers. In 2017, its revenue grew 31%. Its profit topped $3 billion. Its market capitalization is about $1 trillion. That’s just below the GDP of The United Kingdom, the sixth biggest economy in the world. 

Oh, and, at $123 billion, Bezos is now the richest man in history.  

“Good for him”, you might say. Maybe. Maybe not. 

Amazon is a prime example of the “creative destruction” of the industrial era by the digital era. As such it represents both hope and fear for the future.

It is a cloud computing giant, a retail giant, a smart home device manufacturer, a healthcare startup, a pharmacy, a delivery service, and a data gatherer and analyzer – and the list is growing. It now offers more products and delivers them more painlessly to more consumers than any retailer in history. It has re-invented retail.

But Amazon is also methodically destroying, not just town centers, shopping centers, and malls, but all competition. It is not just the Sears-Roebuck of today; it is becoming the sole market place to the world. And there is really nothing out there to challenge it.

Ready or not, until another “creative destructor” or a “trust buster” like Teddy Roosevelt comes along, welcome to “The United States of Amazon”.

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