Sunday, August 12, 2018

C.F.P.B. Not Up to Challenging Americas' Rigged System

Donald Trump called the American system "rigged."

GOP establishment scratched their heads. Rigged? How so?

When untangling the massive spider web that is indicative of the American financial system, it all but paralyzes the brain!

The plethora of Wall Street woes is another topic for a different post. It's comforting that discrepancies have been noted.Namely that Glass-Steagall was mistakenly repealed in bi-partisan fashion. The jury is still out on which chosen methodology will prove to be the ultimate remedy.

The mortgage industry is another thing. Attempts have been made, by well meaning, but essentially unqualified people. Dodd-Frank was intended to address the most flagrant of grievances. Even laws done under the best of intentions are only as good as those carrying out their implementation.

A Financial Consultant, formally with Washington D.C. based, Wiener, Brodsky, Sidman and Kider explained. "Ideally, you would have people who were on the cutting edge of the industry working at a regulatory agency such as the "Consumer Finance Protection Bureau." What you have are basically a bunch of political hacks who supported the Obama campaign. Most are non-industry people who see Elizabeth Warren as a "enlightened reformer" and the ultimate authority on how things work. Never mind that most agents have seen only the classroom."

As in academicians?

A friend from Boston once proclaimed about his fellow statesmen. "In Massachusetts, the Democrat party is tight. So tight, that many Massachusetts Democrats would vote for Adolph Hitler and his Jewish policies if he were running as a Democrat."

So explains how Massachusetts voters turned their nose up at a true centrist, Scott Brown, in favor of academician, Elizabeth Warren. Warren's orientation comes solely from the classroom. Yet her stamp is clearly evident at the C.F.P.B.

Perhaps the most glaring example is how C.F.P.B. prioritizes. Here is a prime example.

Dodd-Frank includes what are distinguished as the U.D.A.P guidelines. In essence, "Unfair, Deceptive and Abusive Practices" exercised by banks. In theory, the agency is suppose to oversee banking activities ranging from loans to servicing that are considered "unfair, deceptive and abusive." Good idea,at least on paper! Implementation is another thing.

I recall a mortgage client who had been raked over the coals by his lender. Offered repeated modification opportunities, there was always something not quite right. His mortgage payments were returned. In frustration, he filed a complaint with C.F.P.B.

The response was unexpected. After filling out numerous on line forms, the C.F.P.B. agent responded. "You need to hire a lawyer."

My client countered. "What exactly do you do?"

The C.F.P.B. agent explained. "We build a case file. We document the complaint. Other than that, it's up to you to seek legal council."

Sorta like the "dental monitor who does not practice actual dentistry!" Big help!

The Commonwealth of Kentucky is one of the least consumer friendly states in the union. Exempted from the state's consumer protection statutes are mortgages. How could this happen?

"Because the people who write the checks want to keep it that way." A Lexington attorney explained.

Wait a minute! The state leadership has chosen to preclude itself from the U.D.A.P. laws? Isn't this nullification?

"It's the way that it's always been." The attorney continued. "Nothing will ever change."

My first thought was, "what about the state's two "progressive" newspapers, Louisville Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald- Leader? One would think that their editors would be on the warpath with such as standard!"

The attorney smirked. "Now Jeff, you gotta understand! Those guys don't think like Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy Democrats! They are more concerned with "transgender bathrooms and tearing down Confederate statues" than pointing out that the people living in Kentucky are subjected predatory lending and loan servicing practices. Not to mention scandalous debt recovery practices!"

A sobering thought!

In theory, the C.F.P.B. would be swooping down on Frankfort and forcing mortgage inclusion on the state consumer protection laws. Or else!

Evidently, it's not a priority for the agency...

As one Senate Finance committee aid phrased,"Everyone of the committee is "scared shitless" of Elizabeth Warren. She is a "bully and a blowhard." But when a real grievance surfaces, such as Kentucky practicing nullification, she is totally inept. I think she is over her head, in that she doesn't know where to start on something as obvious as a state catering to a few well heeled, insiders at the expense of it's residents."

In other words, Elizabeth Warren is the consummate "combination of impudence and impotence."

The U.D.A.P. guidelines are one of the few actual positives of Dodd-Frank. If the proponents of the act were truly competent, they would be addressing how our current system is compromising Americans daily.

Perhaps the most glaring example is how banks confuse and frustrate borrowers with automation, then bury them in bureaucracy. Here's an example:

Under the U.D.A.P. guidelines, borrowers are supposed to be assigned one loan councilor. But this never happens. A common complaint is "I am never able to talk to the same person twice."

There is also the standard practice of transferring a borrower to representatives literally all over the planet! As one frustrated borrower remembered, "My loan got sold. I sent in my payment, but it was returned. I called the new bank. I started out in Dallas, then I was transferred to the Philippines, who transferred me to San Diego, who transferred me to India.

"It was tough enough understanding the faulty English and dealing with the redundancy and seemingly endless hold times! What made things worse was that I was on the phone for more than one hour and never got my question answered!"

The compromising of Americans' privacy by Fortune 500 countries who employ cheap, unvetted, offshore labor is still another subject for a different post. This cheap help has contributed to "79%" of Americans holding mistakes in the credit repositories which subsequently resulted in lower credit scores.

Maybe this is what the President meant when he described our system as "rigged." Lower credit scores can mean the difference in securing a mortgage insurance free, conventional loan versus an FHA loan, which requires expensive Mortgage Insurance Premiums. Or, paying 18% for an auto loan, versus 6%. Or, 24% for a revolving account versus 12%.

A potent C.F.P.B. could put a stop to this practice!

For starters, they could force states like Kentucky to cease their nullification practices. They could likewise enact a statute that would "preclude jobs requiring all or part of an Americans social security number from off shore outsourcing."

I was never a supporter of Dodd-Frank. It placed too many restrictions on borrowing money for home loans, while making them more cumbersome and expensive.

The legislation also concluded that some banks were "too big to fail." Resulting were multi-tiered banks with international locations that are usually a nightmare to deal with. Unintended foreclosures have resulted; often because the "left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing."

The current housing shortage is a fruit of Dodd-Frank. Sanctimonoius, non-industry people will airily say, "but they kept consumers out of those crazy, predatory loans!" Never mind that those "crazy predatory loans" disappeared in 2008!

Sadly, the C.F.P.B, is as incompetent as their "enlightened reformer," Elizabeth Warren. Most of their players are as inept as the Massachusetts Senator. They could make a positive difference in American lives. The are in position to right many wrongs in the industry.

It's proof that "political partisanship" places a distant second to "experience and competence."








Sunday, August 5, 2018

Russia vs. China: Which is the Lessor of Two Evils?

June 4th, 1989. Tiananmen Square, Beijing. A protest largely orchestrated by students. Suppressed. Per the government, 200-300 died.
Years later, we learned that the actual death toll topped 10,000.

August 21, 1991. Red Square, Moscow. A coup d'etat was attempted by members of the Soviet government against Mikhail Gorbachev. Apparently inspired by the leader of the resistance movement, Boris Yeltsin, the army refused to fire on it's citizens. The coup attempted failed. By the end of 1991, the Soviet Union was history.

Why one coup attempt succeeded and one failed is a conversation that continues to surface. The Chinese militia that gunned down their countrymen, later bayoneting wounded women, was allegedly 60% illiterate. Unlike Russia, there was no single leader opposing the Coup.

Unlike the luckless Chinese, 99.9% of the Russian military was literate. When facing their countrymen, the human side prevailed. They refused to fire on their own citizens, disobeying orders from above.

I recall watching the Moscow development live on CNN. Young male soldiers were confronted by middle aged women, bluntly telling them to "shoot me if you must, but I am not moving." In spite of threats from above, the soldiers refused to accommodate their party bosses.

In actuality, these young soldiers had taken a giant step.

At first glance, today's China looks less threatening than Russia. But is it? There are more than one billion Chinese. Russia has but 139 million, down from 149 million twenty years ago.

Russia claims to be Democratic. Few believe it. In the eyes of most Americans, President Vladimir Putin is a "KGB thug and dictator." But make no mistake! Two thirds of the Russian people are solidly behind him.

On February 25th of this year, China's CCP(Communist party) announced that they were dropping term limits, allowing President, Xi Jinping to stay on indefinitely. China offered no explanations or apologies. Few, if any protests evolved.

For those who would like to see the electoral college abolished in the U.S., a quick look at Russia might motivate them to rethink their position. The country has a popular vote. But, the large cities(Moscow has more than 20 million people) control the outcome.

As a result, the standard of living is much higher in the cites. There are more millionaires in Moscow than in New York. Meanwhile, the national household income in Russia is slightly north of $2200 per year.

China does have a "protected place for the privileged few." There was an elite class in the former Soviet Union, as in China today. The idea that Communism levels the playing field for all is a misnomer. Most of the people are "equally poor! But there was always an extremely affluent upper crust of party "Apparatchiks" who had scaled the mountain.

China did slightly modify itself with injections of capitalism, but did it on a controlled basis. Much can be attributed to the expiration of Great Britain's lease on Hong Kong in 1997.

Russia's former party bosses took advantage of their positions and actually lead the transition to a market economy. As would be expected, there was high handed corruption.

Unlike China, there continues to be resistance in Russia. To hear the average Russian retort, these resisters are "mainly Gennady Zyuganov inspired Communists" who "aspire to reimpose the old order on the country."

Did I hear this right?

Isn't Putin a Communist? Didn't he say that the "breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest tragedy of the 20th century?"

No and Yes.

No. Putin may have been a member of the Communist party in 1989. Everyone in the KGB was in 1989. Today, he is thoroughly inoculated from that ideology. He has seen the numbers in his personal bank account explode and now appreciates the virtues of capitalism.

Putin has always regretted the breakup of the Soviet Union. Texas sized, Ukraine has 45 million people and is the traditional "break basket." The former Warsaw Pact countries are now NATO members. When combined with Ukraine's population, Russia is outnumbered; by people to the south and west who hate and fear them. Thanks to the United States, they are now heavily armed.

Here is another detail that the media has quietly ignored. The official religion of China's Marxist government is "Atheism." However, many Chinese continue to practice Buddism, Confucianism or both.

Russia has completely returned to the Russian Orthodox religion that was predominant prior to the Bolshevik revolution. For those unfamiliar with Russian and Eastern Orthodox, it is very similar to Catholicism. The main difference is the Metropolitan of Moscow and not the Pope is the spiritual leader of the church.

In the mid-1990's CNN produced a series called "Cold War." It included interviews with everyone who was involved, from George H.W. Bush to Gorbachev. One question that was answered by the latter, was revealing.

The former Soviet General Secretary admitted that "our youth were becoming robotic." He had come to agree with Yeltsin that the idealized Communist man was a myth; that people were not meant to function in that manner. Gorbachev thought that he could save the system by putting a "human face" on it.

What he did do was to arrest the trend toward young people becoming "robotic." Perestroika resulted in more "individualistic" and less "robotic" Russians. The Chinese were never granted that option.

As history proved, "robotic" people will gun down fellow countrymen, no questions asked. Individualistic people won't; if they believe that those giving the orders are mistaken.

Unfortunately for the countrymen of China, there have been no reformers like Gorbachev or Yeltsin.

True, Russian citizens remain uncomfortably(by American standards) deferential to their government. 70 years of Communism left behind it's residue. But, things are changing. Slowly. What is difficult for non-Russians to ascertain, "is the deference to Putin based on fear of Putin or fear of Communism?" If Putin is seen as their best defense against those advocating a return to the old system, things become crystal clear...

Telltale hints may come from two key Obama holdovers. Valerie Jarrett, an Iranian and a member of Obama's inner circle, admitted that the two historical figures that she admired the most were "Mao Zedong and Mother Teresa.." Former C.I.A. chief, John Brennan is an avowed Communist. Both loathe Russia.

Why does any of this matter to the United States? One side meddles with our elections. The other steals our intellectual property.

It may come down to a choice between choosing between a Communist Country and a country that was previously Communist and now will do anything to keep from returning to Communism.

The contrast between China and Russia is actually quite stark.

In China, you have secular, global socialism/communism. There are certain attributes of Capitalism found. But the country remains a solidly totalitarian state.

In Russia, you have largely "faith based, nationalism" that is and has been moving away from the old Soviet welfare state, in favor of Capitalism. In many ways, the country resembles a gangster state. Yet the country retains many pre-Soviet traditions, such as Christianity.

On the down side, religious minorities such as Jehovah Witnesses are being singled out for prosecution. Russia is arguably the "most homophobic" non-Arab country in the world. When it comes to anti-semitism, Russian hands aren't exactly clean. They have shared the recent anguish of radical Islamic acts of terror.

In many ways, the Russia-China contrast is reflective of our own differences in America. We have "Faith based, National Populism" on one side and "Secular, Global Socialism" om the other.

As dangerous as Russia may be, many conservatives conclude they are the lessor of two evils.

A secular, robotic nation with more than twice the numbers of the United States and Russia, combined, should be cause for concern! The problem rests with our own countrymen. They are quick to point out Russia's ugly tendencies. Yet, they've been slow to take exception to China's. Until now.

Donald Trump has made fair trade an issue, much to the chagrin of globalists. Starting a trade war with China is being positioned by the main stream media as a dastardly act, ultimately hurting the American middle class.

While Russia has "mountains" of weapons of mass destruction, their economy is no larger than Italy's. U.S. sanctions are taking their toll. Inside the country, there is hope that things will change, with Trump at the helm. But the President faces pressure from both sides.

Democrats naturally resent his undoing previous Obama initiatives, ranging from the Iran Nuclear deal to the Paris Climate accord. The "Occupation" of Crimea was unacceptable, never mind the circumstances.

Republican Neo-Cons concur. Can you ever remember any preemptive war that a Neo-Con didn't like?

In short, America is at a crossroads diplomatically. It comes down to "which" seemingly bad actor represents the biggest threat to the U.S.? This apparently depends on which side of the American fence you reside.

I only know that I am more comfortable with the President doing my bidding that John McCain or Lindsey Graham.



































Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Enemy Within

Grassroots America fully understands the need to take on the status quot. Yet, most Americans considered it a lost cause.

I recall a son of a former CIA operative who described the American political system as "red team versus blue team, playing for the same university." As he coined, "You just live with it, try to enjoy life, make some money and accept the fact that nobody, NOBODY will ever change it. It is part of us."

This seemingly resigned point of view was disheartening. Yet my friend seemed to know more about the inner workings of our DC establishment than I. My question to him was, "what if, some how, some way, somebody came in and said, "no, I am not going to accept this; there is an alternative!"

"Alternative?" My friend appeared puzzled. "What alternative? The only alternative that I can possibly imagine would be an outright revolution, at best a civil war! But, that won't happen. The United States is so intertwined with the rest of the world, you would be talking about a world wide readjustment! Believe me, Jeff! It won't happen!"

This was 2009. America had just elected Barack Obama. Obama was a fresh face, with an equally empty resume. He did have a strong, clear voice and appeared to be right on target with half of the electorate.

It helped that the Republicans had nominated a weak challenger. When John McCain took federal funds for his fizzling campaign in spring 2008, it signaled "end game." There was brief hope that a unified party might tip the sales against his inexperienced opponent. Then the meltdown came.

One Chicago friend had an interesting retrospect observation. "Had McCain handed the nomination to Mitt Romney at the convention, and Romney subsequently named McCain V.P., it might have changed the election. At least Republicans would have had a candidate who was a "financial specialist," without campaign spending restrictions! We now know that McCain's demeanor, would never have allowed this to happen.

Barack Obama ran as a centrist. To the average voter, he appeared nothing short of "Bill Clinton." Universal Health care was not new. The Democrats had sought it since the days of Jimmy Carter. Obama proved great at selling it; even though many of his promises turned out to be outright lies!

The promises Donald Trump made were mostly ridiculed and chastised by the political establishment, Republican and Democrat. His economic projections were scoffed. In 2016 Obama went as far as to say, they would happen only "if pigs could fly." Now that they are coming true, "experts" are suggesting that they are a "blip."

What's painfully evident is that so many members of the Washington establishment seemingly want Trump to fail.

Maybe it's because they are experiencing a giant "ripple" in the normally placid D.C. political pond. Yes, there have always been two sides, always more than one position. But it was all within limits. Suddenly their cozy nest was being threatened, by a bawdy, politically incorrect outsider, who seemed to have captured the favor of "Joe Six Pack."

A border wall? A merit based immigration system? New and revised trade deals, that would actually be "fair" for America?

No Trans Pacific Partnership? No North American Free Trade Act.? No Paris Climate Accord? Big Tax cuts for Individuals and Corporations?

A national defense that suggested that America was ready to take on anybody, anywhere? China? Russia? Kim and the Mullahs?

None of these initiatives should come as a surprise! Trump promised all when campaigning in 2016.

Donald Trump may be a lot of things. But, he is not a Communist. This is something that even Lanny Davis would acknowledge!

You can't say the same about some others, including Obama insiders John Brennen and Valerie Jarrett. We can safely conclude that the 44th president holds comparable views.

For dissenters, the Helsinki summit went over like a bowl of hot soup in the middle of the Sahara in July! Members of both parties were horrified at the apparent congeniality witnessed by Trump and Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Did our president actually suggest that he trusted Putin more than his own security team?

Contrary to popular opinion, Putin is not a Communist. He is a Fascist. He and Trump connect in two areas. Both are Nationalists. Both are Pragmatists. Both see advantages in attempting to accentuate commonalities.

Isn't this good?

Yes, unless your obsession is that Trump fail!

Sadly, there are a lot of Americans who hold this point of view. Didn't Bill Maher say that he would be "okay with a recession, if it meant getting Trump out of office?"

I was amazed that Putin immediately pointed out the division in America, actually sounding almost sympathetic with Trump's plight! Of course, Russia has been predicting that America would split into two or more countries for decades.

MSNBC contends that Russia aspires to destroy the American system. Which may translate to the American status quot. If this is true, they may not be alone!

Most illogical is how a stronger N.A.T.O., a revitalized American defense investment and total energy independence benefits Russia? No Democrat can answer this!

What Dems are quick to point out is that the Russian Foreign Minister proclaimed Helsinki "better than excellent" and that Russia welcomes continued dialog. In other words, "we have a starting point." In you hate Donald Trump, this is bad.

Perhaps most alarming to the D.C. establishment is Trump's premeditated plan to shake up the world order! He didn't mince words with China or the E.U.. We know how Mexico and Canada are taking it.

It seems that everything the President has done is either out-of-bounds, unthinkable or politically incorrect! We have heard his positions on immigration. Not surprisingly, the majority of America is with him! On everything from the Wall, to merit based acceptance, to no VISA lottery!

The key for Republicans holding the House this November is keeping suburban woman from straying. With a mostly partisan media hell bent on destroying the President, it won't be easy. "Democratic Socialists" want open borders. So do "Paul Ryan Republicans." Yet, most Americans do not. Border security is a winning issue.

Remember Willie Horton and the 1988 Presidential election? Creating apocalyptic images of open borders, violent illegals wrecking havoc in "pink house suburbia" might do it!

In short, Trump's foremost adversary is not Kim Jong Un, Iran's Mullahs or even Putin. It's closer to home! It is an entrenched Washington Establishment that we now label "the swamp."

These insiders are truly the "enemy within." Suddenly, we have a participant who is neither "red team" or "blue team." Maybe he is green, orange even lavender. What matters most is America has finally been presented with an alternative.

How we handle the coming 30 months will tell the story.



Sunday, July 22, 2018

"Draining the Swamp" Will Require New Attorney General

A question that constantly emerges: "Why has the Justice Department turned a blind eye to Hillary Clinton's activities."

Melissa Hodgman. AKA Melissa Hodgman-Strzok. As in, the "wife"of Peter Strzok? You got it!

So, Melissa Hodgman-Strzok is the wife of the FBI's Deputy Head of Counter Intelligence? The shoe does fit!

Hedgman-Strzok is the Associate Director of the Security and Exchange Commission's enforcement division. She is very close to the Clintons. Her position allowed her to block attempts to investigate the Clinton Foundation's involvement with Uranium One,among other things. FBI sources contend that Melissa was the "insurance policy" referred to by Strzok in his email correspondence to Lisa Page.

Wait a minute!

Doesn't this sound like a "combination of cronyism and conflict of interests?"

It damn sure does!

What about Jill McCabe, the wife of recently fired FBI Deputy Director, Andrew McCabe. She received $675,288 from two entities associated with Virginia Governor and close Clinton crony, Terry McAuliffe.

It is the "deep state" manifested. Donald Trump calls it the fruits of a "rigged system."

We observed the reactions this past week by John Brennon and James Clapper, post President Trump's meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

Interestingly enough, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions has been relatively timid, regarding Eric Holder and his "Fast and Furious" fiasco and Susan Rice's "Benghazi" boondoggle! And we still haven't gotten to President Obama's "cash gift" to Iran...

Explanations range from Session's "fear of the Clinton's" to a "longtime close relationship with the Bushes." Neither clan are Trump fans!

Why Sessions was appointed to this critical position to begin with, is another topic for a different post. Perhaps it was due to his being one of the first to "jump on the Trump train." Maybe the Trump camp thought that the former Alabama Senator would solidify support in the South. 18 months later, his tenure as Attorney General can be described as "wooden" at best, "misguided" at worst. Overall, he gets a "D." Which, ironically is the first letter of the word "dud."

In all, Donald Trump has opened some eyes. First and foremost, there is the Russian collusion question and subsequent Christopher Steele dossier; which turned out to be a creation of the Clinton campaign.

To say that Russia meddled in the election is a no-brainer! But America has done it's share of election meddling. People living in glass houses should not be throwing rocks!

At the root of the argument: "If Republicans hold on to the House this fall, the investigation will continue. There will be indictments, followed by convictions. There will be firings and likely prison terms handed out. God only knows who might be recipients of the latter.

If the Democrats win the house, all of this will quietly go away...

The question becomes, "Are we satisfied with the knowledge that we have a "shadow government behind the government," made up of largely non-elected persons? If the answer is "no," Republicans will hold on to the House, increase their Senate majority and begin the painstaking process of truly "draining the swamp."

Actually, it's more serious than just a few justified firings! Attempting to undermine a fairly elected government is considered "high treason" by many, if not most Americans.

Should Republicans hold onto the House, as I expect them to do, and if Newt Gingrich's prediction of "six to eight" Senate seat pickups proves to be accurate, look for Trump to replace Jeff Sessions as first order of business. His replacement? Rudy Giuliani? Trey Gowdy? It won't be a "wuss."

Why wait?

Two reasons. Almost assuredly, Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer will "slow walk" the confirmation. It could literally take months! Meanwhile, Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein would assume responsibility. This is an equally unattractive prospect! The House Freedom Caucus has urged Sessions to fire Rosenstein, or at least, remove him from the Mueller probe...

2019 could be a pivotal year for America. The Mueller investigation will come to a conclusion. That it has dragged on this long is puzzling. Considering Melissa Hodgman-Strzok's S.E.C. position, common sense insists that had there been any wrong doings by Trump, they would have come out long ago.

At the very least, Strzok and his wife should be "canned." And Hillary Clinton should at last, be indicted! Eric Holder and Susan Rice should also be placed under the microscope! Not to mention, Brennon and Clapper! Can we see where this is going?


What about Obama? Many in question are his appointees!

Put it like this: Had a corporate C.E.O. advanced cash to a hostile nation in the way that was done with Iran, he would be serving time this day. Need I say more?

A strong Attorney General can go a long way toward "draining the swamp." Once indictments are passed out and it becomes apparent that there will be prison time involved, resignations from the F.B.I., C.I.A., Justice Department and N.S.A will be coming in waves. It will be reminiscent of "rats leaping from a burning ship."

A strong A.G. will likewise pressure sanctuary cities; forcing them to relinquish criminal illegal aliens. Mayors who refuse, should be cited for "aiding and abetting criminals" and arrested.

In short, the 2018 midterms are as crucial as any in history. If Republicans turn out, they will win. After all, the economy is what drives most elections.

"Draining the Swamp" is something that must be done, in post haste! We simply cannot tolerate a shadow government, attempting to undermine the legally elected government. These participants should not be handled with "kid gloves!"

Thomas Jefferson put it best:

"When people fear government, you have tyranny. When government fears the people, you have liberty."

It is time to put the "fear of God" into these DC elites...








Sunday, July 15, 2018

Putin-Trump Negotiation Fraught with Possibilities

It was November 1998. I was breakfasting alone in the dining room of Hotel Obryskya in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

Unexpectedly, I encountered two American couples. One was from St. Louis, the other from Denver. Both couples looked to be in their early forties. There were there for adoptions.

Krasnoyarsk is a large city, five time zones east of Moscow. It's appearance is reminiscent of Pittsburgh. Up until 1996, it had been closed to the west.

Twenty years ago, American adoptions of Russia's orphaned children was quite common. Both couples admitted that they were excited, yet apprehensive.

"You have to understand what they're saying." The Denver woman explained. "That Americans are here for adoptions, so that they can sell the babies' organs in America."

I was taken aback!

"Who, would say that?" I asked, shocked by this revelation.

"Oh, they are old Soviet social workers you find at these orphanages." The man from St. Louis quipped.

"They must think that we're monsters." The St. Louis woman added.

"We would never do such a thing." I responded angrily, remembering the angry looks that I had witnessed from Aeroflot attendants still sporting the outdated "hammer and sickle" insignia of the former Soviet Union. "Why would they even suggest such barbarism?"

"It's apparently ingrained in them." The Denver man concluded.

Six months later, my then fiance shared, "they were always collecting our unwanted toys, to give to the poor children in the United States."

We now know that both claims were fictitious. Americans don't adopt Russian babies for the purpose of selling their organs. And, American children are not the recipients of worn out toys from Russian children.

Pravda said otherwise. It represented the pinnacle of Cold War propaganda. In Donald Trump's words, this was "fake news."

Vladimir Putin concurs. He may be the most learned leader in the world on this subject. He has been quick to recognize the same forces at work in America.

To hear Putin's critics, you would assume and probably conclude that Putin is a strong advocate of media censorship. His apologists counter in insisting that he "only takes issue with fake news."

Both Russian and American media have some answering to do! There must be some semblance of factual representation by all media outlets concerned. It's critical, not to mention responsible! There is an opportunity at our wake. We cannot cloud it with petty partisan slants and certainly not with "made up" news!

This quickly arranged summit in Helsinki, has the look of the impromptu. Nobody knows what to expect. The Trump Administration thinks they know, at least part of what Putin expects to get out of it. What does America want? Well...

Media Establishment types and political hacks proclaim that if the new "Start" treaty is extended by five years, the summit will be considered a "success." Our President has more lofty aspirations.

Democrats insist that Russian election meddling should be the forefront of any discussion. It looks doubtful that President Trump will allow this issue to impede his agenda. He knows what Russia wants. He knows that Putin expects to give something in return. Election meddling is a concern. But, the topic potentially could change the tone of the negotiation.

So, what does Russia want?

Crimea. The Eastern Ukraine coal fields. Lifting of sanctions. Normalized trade relations, to be welcomed back to what would again be the "G-8." Not to mention extension of the "Start" treaty. Plus, some cooperation on the war against I.S.I.S..And, hopefully, no missiles in former "Warsaw Pact," Baltic, and Balkan countries.

Do they expect to get these concessions?

No.

How flexible is Donald Trump?

The U.S.President is neither conservative or liberal, but pragmatist, as many conclude. Donald Trump knows that the Russians cannot and will not relinquish their hold on the Crimean peninsula. If it means going to war, they'll do it. At this stage, it's more practical to blame Barack Obama for the current predicament while asking for something in return.

Putin expects this. He would be shocked if Trump didn't drive a hard bargain. He knows that nuclear proliferation isn't a bargaining chip. Both nations equally view it's importance. Neither is Syria. True, it would be a minor concession if Russia asked Iran to exit the country. But will they?

Trump knows that, "Recognition of Crimean annexation, lifting of sanctions and return to the G-8" would be an expensive "home run," albeit an expensive one for Putin. How expensive?

There are several movable parts to the equation. Beginning with Eastern Ukraine. Putin expects the Americans to demand immediate cessation of hostilities there. Not to mention withdrawing all Russian military advisers from the region.

Where Crimea is 95% Russian, Eastern Ukraine is 30% Russian. Which translates to a sizable minority, but a minority nevertheless!
This is a major coal producing region. Leaving it to the Ukrainians would be huge! It would make them less dependent on Russia for their energy needs.

Then there is Georgia!

Today Abkhazia and South Ossetia are found in the Russian orbit. In the case of the latter, ethnic Georgians were expunged from the region. Russia later established military bases in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia has contended that they made the move to "protect their oil pipeline."

Georgia sees their admittance to N.A.T.O. as their long term salvation.

Is Georgia a bargaining chip for Putin? Possibly. Georgia sources on the ground say that the traditional ties between Russia and Georgia go back to Georgian fear of the Turks. While Georgians like Americans and embrace the American culture, there will always be the question of proximity.

Nowhere to be found in the Russian-American discussion is the role that Christianity may play. Georgia is one of the oldest Christian counties in the world. It is one of the "cradles" of Christianity. Unlike the Soviet Union, which was officially Atheist, Russia is experiencing a Christian revival like no place in the world.

The Russian population in Georgia was 25% in 1959. Today, it is slightly less than 5% of approximately 5.3 million people. Putin knows that as long as there is an Islamic Turkey next door to Georgia, there will always be a need for some sort of relationship between the two countries.

Returning Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgian control would be viewed as a concession, but a doable concession; considering what the Russians would be getting. The same would hold true with Eastern Ukraine.

Could Trump get more? Probably, if not definitely!

A non-aggression treaty with the former Warsaw Pact, Baltic and Balkan countries would be on the table. Not that these countries would see it as a end all solution! There is zero trust and much justified fear within the psyches of these Europeans.

From Russians point of view, the populations of these Eastern European countries, coupled with Ukraine's population exceeds their own! Stalin's atrocities remain in their collective. The thought of hostile countries, to their West and South, armed to the teeth, brings chills to spines of Russian military leadership.

Russia could provide some help with North Korea.The Americans and Russians could easily come together in support of a nuclear free Korean Peninsula. Both relish he idea of a nuclear free Korean pennisula.

Anything else?

How about "free elections in Cuba;" under the auspices and scrutiny of America and Russia jointly. Putin would see this as nothing short of "exchanging Cuba for Crimea," yet not a total loss. We must remember that the Castro regime and it's aftermath was naught but a tattered remnant of the Old Soviet empire. Putin is interested in restoring Russia to it's original glory! But, not necessarily it's original Soviet glory...

Trump might kill "two birds with one stone," by instigating a "low cost Pork, Corn and Soy Bean deal," similar to the 1980 "wheat deal," or the 1989 "Bush's legs" overture. A bargain price on these commodities would be felt by the Russian people. And, it would partially make up for the losses incurred by Midwestern farmers in the trade dispute with China.

Last, but not least, Trump could demand that Russia allow American automakers to sell their cars, "duty free" in Russia. I recall my wife's cousin's husband paying almost $10,000 for a used Nissan in 2004. The same SUV could have been purchased for half of that amount in the U.S..

While it might not help Russian domestic production, duty free Chevrolet, Chrysler and Ford products would be immensely popular with the Russian people.

In truth, the Russian people are struggling. Low cost cars and commodities would ease the pain!

Let's not forget the space race!

A planned Russian-American voyage to Mars would capture the hearts of both nations. Considering the collective scientific knowledge, it's practical.

Is so much possible? Probably not! But what if it were?

Russia has it's eye on the Arctic and justifiably so. These top of the world lands contain oil, natural gas and precious metals including gold, in breathtaking abundance. Russians know that they control at least half of the Arctic. Normalized relations with the West would free up resources to take advantage of this remarkably potent treasure house.

Donald Trump's challenge will come from Democrats and members of his own party, including Neo-Con Senators, Lindsey Graham and John McCain who will be unable to see past Crimea. In their eyes, a war would be preferable!

It reminds me of a somewhat wry proclamation made by a Russian friend: "We simply need to buy another 20 years; so that certain people on both sides will have time to die."


Sunday, July 8, 2018

Understanding Russia/ Putin.

"A riddle wrapped inside of an enigma?"

So was Winston Churchill's assessment of the vast land known as Russia.

Americans tend to base their overall Russia positions on tradition, opinions from narrow political leaders and media bias. Delving deeper, they are greeted with surprises.

Russians look like Americans, for the most part. More so than most Europeans. The reason? Like the U.S., there has been much intermarriage between Europeans. There are scores of European peoples indigenous to European Russia.

The Mongol occupation lasted from 1200 to 1450 A.D. Naturally there was intermarriage. Centuries later, there was intermarriage with Tatars, who were akin to Middle Eastern peoples.

When Europeans were settling the North American continent, common practice saw European men marry Native American women. Later, European men married Mestizos. Texas was originally explored by men from Tennessee and Kentucky. They would invariably take Mexican wives. Most Mexicans living in Texas then and now were a mix of Spanish and Native American.

It's human nature to assume that foreigners so strongly resembling Americans, think like Americans. Here the resemblance ends.

Russians did not grow up with Aesop's Fables or Canterbury Tales. Nor, did they experiment with Democracy as the West did. Their Bible was never translated into Latin. Whereas Western Bibles were translated from Greek to Latin, the Orthodox Bible went from Greek to Old Slavic.

In short, Russia is not Western Civilization.

Russia's history has been a long, continuing saga of being invaded. Mongols from the East. Vikings from the West. Later, British and Turks from the South, Poles and Swedes from the West. Still later, the Napoleon lead French and finally Hitler and the NAZIS.

Most Americans are at least vaguely familiar with the Bolshevik Revolution. Few know about the first revolution, the one of velvet variety that immediately followed the Czar's abdication. Almost nobody is aware of the fact that the Bolshevik Revolution that replaced it, was largely financed by Western interests, including New York banking interests.

It's understandable why Russians aren't trusting! Theirs is a legacy of being invaded by countries who had previously sought alliances and signed treaties. One point of view that still holds is that America meddled in their revolution. Which is also understandable! In reality, America didn't; but Americans definitely did!

Vladimir Putin is easier to fathom. He comes from a "security" background. In fact, his ancestor was a member of Ivan the Terrible's "Oprichniki," the original secret police. This was 1569. Czar Ivan organized this small, but lethal private army to deal specifically with the Boyars and rebellious city, Novgorad.

In 1989, Perestroika(restructuring) found Putin in Dresden, East Germany . I later witnessed his appointment to Prime Minister by then President Boris Yeltsin, August 1999 while in Moscow. I recall my wife's surprise, questioning "why" President Yeltsin had chosen a "KGB guy."

There were discussions with several Russian friends about the appointment. Yevgeny Primakov's firing the previous May had taken many, both inside and outside of Russia, by surprise. Insight into Yeltsin's action came in reading the third chronicle of his autobiography, "Midnight Diaries." As he phrased, "Primakov's palate was simply too red."

Putin was a member of the Communist Party up until the Soviet Union dissolved. So was everyone else. Today, it's a consensus that Putin is not a Communist. In fact, his Presidential election opponent in 2000 was Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party representative.

To Americans, Putin's actions have often been questionable, if not despicable. From jailing and murdering Journalists to invading Crimea. It's a foregone conclusion, at least by Democrats, that Russia meddled in the 2016 American presidential election.

Putin insists that the Russians didn't meddle in the 2016 election. But what if they did! It's not that America has been "squeaky clean" regarding attempts to influence foreign elections!

Putin holds most Journalists in contempt. Not that he promotes sedition! Read the Moscow Times, the English language newspaper published in Moscow. It's spares no punches!

It should also be noted that Russia is arguably the "most homo-phobic non-Arab country in the world." There, homosexual men are referred to as "blue boys." It's understandable that gay media members see closer ties with Russia as potentially synonymous with a "return to the closet." Russians are well aware of strong American sentiment for a "sanctity of marriage amendment" to the U.S. constitution.

President Putin recently acknowledged his understanding of Donald Trump's battles with the "fake news" that has mushroomed since inauguration. In Putin's eyes, many of these Journalists represent Communists or, to use the label most recently applied by surprise, New York Congressional primary winner, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,"Democratic Socialists."

Putin's security background has ingrained within him, the danger signs. He knows that the dreaded enemy; those who want to return to the old way, is always lurking.

Putin is painfully aware that the Bolshevik revolution subsequently left more than 100 million dead, in it's wake! Better to deal with it in it's infancy! The rest of the world might take exception. But, the real danger lies within.

In many ways, this isn't a great departure from a Czar's mentality. And that might best explain Vladimir Putin and his overall methodology. He's well aware what happened in 1917. He has seen fringe elements rise and take control when receiving help from outside.

The Bolsheviks were only 60,000 strong. Yet, they gained control of a nation of 150 million. Trusting anyone, especially a divided America, is difficult. Perhaps more than any political leader on the planet, Putin knows what Donald Trump is facing.

Probably "two thirds," maybe even "three fourths" of the Russian population approves of President Putin. This shouldn't be surprising for people who have studied Russian history. There is a traditional affinity for strong, patriarchal figures; whether it be Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Joseph Stalin or Putin.

Crimea? Forget it! Here are the brief facts: 95% of Crimean residents are Russians, not Ukrainians. As history reflects, the original inhabitants were called "Crimean Tatars." Resembling Turks and predominantly Islamic, they greeted the NAZIS with open arms when they invaded in 1941.

When the allies reclaimed the peninsula in 1944, the Crimean Tatars caught the "wrath of Stalin." They were expunged from their homeland and exiled to Siberia. Most died in route.

The mild weathered peninsula became "Russia's Florida." Residents today, are mostly grandchildren of post WWII Russian transplants. 95% of Crimean residents speak Russian, not Ukrainian. Frustrated with alleged Ukrainian corruption, they asked Russia to occupy.

Russians point out that Boris Yeltsin was not authorized to trade the peninsula for nuclear weapons then housed in Ukraine. Military minds note that the Russia's Black Sea Fleet is anchored as Sevastopol. The existing lease expires in 2036.

Trump's suggestion that Russia return to what would again be the "G-8," drew immediate applause from Putin. Relief from U.S. sanctions also tops the wish list. The question becomes, "what concessions would Putin be expected to make?" One thing that the Russian President understands is "a deal."

Credit Donald Trump for acknowledging the truth about Crimea. He knows that this is one thing that Russia will not give up. Putin recognizes from a political standpoint, how great a concession Russia's annexation of the peninsula would be.

He's prepared to pay for it!


























Sunday, July 1, 2018

Immigration Riddle Solved with 14th Amendment Clarification.

"How much and how long?"

"Forty thousand dollars and twelve years; plus transportation costs."

It was November, 2007. My wife and I had were concluding an interview with a Miami Beach Immigration lawyer.

The subject was Pavel Zidiyarov, my brother-in-law. He had expressed interest in immigration to the United States. We were attempting to familiarize ourselves with the process.

On paper, Pavel looked to be the ideal candidate. Twenty-seven-years old, he was my wife's "kid brother." He was married, had two small sons and was the holder of college degrees in Accounting and Mathematics.

Pavel has recently completed his second visit to the United States. In winter of 2005, he had come with his father, Viktor Zidiyarov and seen Kentucky, Florida and parts in between. I smiled, remembering their visit to the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlanta and the four days that we spent with my aged Aunt in Clearwater.

Pavel had returned to America, February 2007. This time, he flew into Miami, departing from Cincinnati four months later. It was noted that in both cases, arrival dates and departure dates were exactly as they had been registered by his extremely punctual sister.

Pavel's interview with Homeland Security was a rigorous, two-hour interrogation, laced with accusations and insinuations. I was amazed with how much English that he had retained from his previous visit. In the end, he was cleared.

My wife wanted to sponsor her brother and his family for immigration. We were certain that it would be a "good fit." Pavel had an ingenuity like I had never seen. He was a natural problem solver. His gardening skills suggested "a green thumb." Coupled with his business training, all signs pointed to a future as a "nursery, landscaping entrepreneur."

The attorney was telling us that it would take "twelve years and $40,000."

"Why?" my wife questioned. "My friend got her parents over in less than a year."

"Parents and children are easier." The lawyer patiently explained. "Siblings fall under a different classification."

"But my parents don't want to immigrate." My wife insisted. "They are too old, too settled, have family there, including my sister and her children. Learning a new language would be difficult."

"I know. I know." The attorney acknowledged compassionately. "And if they did want to come, how many years would they be able to participate in the work force? Ten? You need "forty quarters" to qualify for social security. Yet your brother would likely work forty years. He has a handle on the language, is well educated and eager to assimilate. I know what you're thinking! Now, you understand what they mean when they say, "our immigration system is broken!" Believe me! It is!

"Thing is, your parents would need to come first, naturalize and then one or both could sponsor your brother.We are talking minimum five years."

"Wouldn't we be required to provide them insurance?" My question was practical.

"You certainly would."

"That would be expensive, considering their ages." My wife echoed ruefully.

"Yes, it would be. Unfortunately, those working and making good money always get it socked to them. You know, it only requires an income of $13,500 per year to be a sponsor. How did you come in, by the way?" The attorney looked over his half glasses.

"On a K-1, in 1999. I have been delaying naturalization but plan to do it in the next few weeks." My wife admitted.
"I knew that it would be required if I sponsored my brother."

"Twelve years?" I still found the time sequence difficult to believe. "Pavel would be 39 years old. There is no other way?"

"Well, off the record, there might be." The lawyer's eyes hinted contempt. Looking squarely at my wife, he asked. "Does your brother look like you?"

"I guess a little bit, not much." My wife answered honestly.

"What I mean," the lawyer clarified, "does he have blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin, like you?"

"Yes."

"You didn't hear this from me." He warned. "But it sounds like your brother and his family would be prime candidates for the "Southern Express." I trust you've heard of the Southern Express?"

Neither me or my wife had heard of the Southern Express. "No."

"Is it against the law?" My wife's blunt question came with a hard look.

"Slightly." The lawyer admitted.

"Not interested." My wife's answer was dismissive.

"Well, I wish I could help you." The lawyer arose from his chair, signalling the end of the meeting. "Until some weak kneed politicians get off their ass and deal with it, our immigration system will remain as it is: Broken."

The next day at work, we learned from another immigration lawyer, what the Southern Express was!

"Your brother-in-law needs to apply for Mexican VISAS for himself, wife and children." The attorney smiled cynically. "It's easy for a Russian to get a Mexican Tourist VISA. Then, they need to take the bus to Reynosa. From there, they simply walk across the river at the bridge. Everyone, including border guards will look at them and assume they're American Tourists. You might send them some T-shirts with some kind of insignia such as Florida Gators, Miami Dolphins,etc.

"From there, they catch the first bus to Houston. From Houston they can go any damn place they want, although I would suggest that you meet them somewhere in between, such as Nashville." He added.

"Wouldn't that be aiding and abetting?" I asked candidly.

"Yes, it would be. Technically!" The lawyer's eyes hinted slight amusement. "You know, what the United State's unofficial immigration policy is, don't you?"

"No."

"It's easier to get forgiven than get permission."

"Forgiven?" My wife's blank look indicated that she was unable to comprehend the seemingly twisted logic on display.

"Let's put it this way, Mrs. Willis." The lawyer's eyes sharpened. "Your sister-in-law comes in, punches out a baby. Suddenly she, your brother, and your nephews are able to stay."

"Why is that?" My wife remained unconvinced.

"Because the baby has "birthright citizenship," under the 14th amendment." The lawyer shook his head. "The government's policy has been to "unite families." Therefore, in the interest of keeping the family together, your sister-in-law, the mother, your brother, the father, and your nephews are now legally able to stay. Furthermore, they will soon have access to Medicaid and other entitlements."

"That doesn't make sense." My wife's face showed a puzzled look. "We try to be honest with the government. We offer to pay. And, we are told 12 years!"

"Yet," I picked up,"if you sneak them in, my sister-in-law has a baby, they not only can stay, they can get on he government's entitlement rolls?"

"Yeah, that's about it." The attorney grinned. "Try to do it within the framework of the law and the government gives you the cold shoulder. Break the law and you're in! Or, should I say, they are in; all of them! With the ability to get everything from free health care, to free college tuition, to food stamps, to AFDC to W.I.C., to low income housing subsidies."

"I cannot understand why the politicians won't do something." My wife's eyes flashed.

"It's about getting elected and reelected."

"I am not going to break the law." My wife's voice hardened.

"And, you shouldn't." The lawyer agreed. "You have a successful business. You have come here and made a stake for yourself. You have too much to lose! But so many don't! And until the government gets it act together, our immigration system will reward crime, while discouraging actually obeying the law!"

Sadly, on that day, my brother-in-laws immigration dream died.

In watching that dream die, "how" to fix the broken immigration system became vividly clear: We must revisit the 14th amendment! In doing so, we will learn that Congress was addressing citizenship for former slaves and people of color who had no status at that time. It was 1868. These two groups were the only groups who gained protection. It might be noted that the Native American did not officially gain U.S. citizenship until 1924.

Prior to 1868,there was no such thing as "an American citizen." You were a citizen of Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania or whichever state that you resided. This "oversight," has proven costly. The remedy is to simply clarify the intent of the birthright citizenship specified in 1868.

Is it doable?

It had better be! It amounts to having the will to do it.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Constitution is what it is. It is not a "living, breathing" instrument! To protect it, you amend it. This adjustment could eliminate countless problems. Especially with family separations.

We must not reward those who cheat. We cannot turn a blind eye to those who break the law through manipulating the system! Accurately defining birthright citizenship, based on Congressional intent in 1868, can and will end this absurd and destructive practice!