Trump Loves Farmers…

…wealthy ones, that is.

If there’s one thing Republicans learned from the Great Recession, it’s that wealthy people can reap the rewards from others’ misfortunes. The smart money moved out of the stock market early and that money was available to buy low when the market tanked. With some of that money, people got fantastic bargains on houses that had gone through the foreclosure process. Buy low, sell high – or just jack up rent on those who could no longer afford the American Dream.

That’s the new American Dream, isn’t it? The dream to be so rich, you stress over what to do with all that wealth.

But what’s a poor rich person to do now? The stock market has risen so much and with the wild swings of late, just imagine the stress of gaining or losing tens of millions in a few hours. And the housing market? Real estate prices have risen steadily since the trough in 2012 and are up 60%. There are signs of an upcoming recession. Perhaps now is not the time to invest fresh money in residential real estate.

So, what’s the next big investment? What’s ripe for the picking with all those billions of dollars?

Sadly, the answer may be the family farm.

No matter what side you’re on with respect to Trump’s trade war, all can agree that farmers have been feeling most of the pain so far. Many farmers have lost the majority of their business because so much of their soybeans and pork are purchased by Chinese customers. Farmers have built up those Chinese relationships over years of careful diplomacy and they’re worried that some of those customers will not be returning when Trump’s trade war ends.

That’s the thing about wars of any type; you dehumanize the enemy. In his war against illegal immigration, Trump paints the enemy as an invading hoard of rapists, thieves and murderers who are taking Americans’ jobs.

For the Chinese, Trump uses a different tact. The Chinese government is taking all the good jobs away from the U.S. by cheating. “China is killing us with unfair trade deals.” And from Fox News, “How does China cheat on trade? Let us count the ways.”

Notice the difference? For the war on immigrants, the enemy are people. For the trade war with China, the enemy is the country. But what about the other way around? What do Chinese people and Chinese company administrators think of Americans? They’re probably starting to feel unfairly attacked, that their trading partners are unreliable, and if they suffer under this trade war, it’s likely to be perceived as America’s fault rather than that of the Chinese leadership. The key is whether they blame America or Americans.

It may be very hard to rebuild those relationships between U.S. farmers and their Chinese customers when the trade war ends.

Trump’s solution was to give billions of dollars to farmers to offset their trade losses, but again, it’s the smaller family farms that are being harmed by this program. Larger farms, and those with wealthy investors have the resources to weather this trade storm, but many smaller farmers do not.

With a limit of $125,000 per “actively engaged” person or legal entity in the first round of relief payments, the average payment for the top 1 percent is $183,331, and one Missouri farm has received $2.8 million. With the vague actively engaged criterion, an investor who calls into a board meeting once a year qualifies for the payout.

The bottom 80% of the payments – those largely to family farms – are less than $5,000 each out of the first $8.4 billion paid. That is not going to save them. The loss of customers and drop in crop, dairy and livestock prices from Trump’s trade war are a more significant financial burden than that.

And so, we can expect to see a substantial change in ownership in the coming years. Some of those distressed family farms will be snapped up by developers for building new houses, but many will be purchased by large farming interests and combined into huge factory farming operations.

Once that happens – once a much higher amount of the agricultural output of the U.S. is from big businesses owned by wealthy investors – expect to see the end of Trump’s trade war. The president has always valued the opinions of the rich and powerful much more than that of the weak and replaceable, even if they’re those farmers he claims to love.

Posted in Economics, Make America Great Series, Trump Democrats Update, U.S. Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


President Trump would not have won in 2016 had he not persuaded people who were hurting that he could improve their lives. He convinced enough voters in key states that they would have better jobs, healthcare, and housing if he were elected.

Because the economy has continued to grow during his tenure in the Oval Office – and unemployment drop – you may think that those voters got what they needed. The truth isn’t that cut and dry, though, and there are ominous winds blowing.

The president likes to point to a buoyant stock market as a sign of his success, but it has been behaving oddly. In 2019, a year of escalating trade wars, possible military conflict with Iran, and warning signs of a global economic slowdown, the S&P 500 is up 17% to date. With stocks worth about 3.5 times more now than ten years ago, some of that wealth comes out of the market to be invested in other ways. Those investments are fundamentally changing how the system works, and while not all change is bad, these are beginning to hurt some of those Trump voters who got him elected. Others are feeling the pain, too, but rural residents have less of a social safety net should things go south.

Investment #1: Houses

A lot of wealth is being redirected into the housing and rental markets. Those “We Buy Houses” signs you may see at intersections used to be for a local company looking to buy and flip a few fixer-uppers. That’s changed. Now, billion-dollar tech companies are using hundreds of millions of dollars – including a great deal of Saudi and Kuwaiti money – to make 3-8% by quickly buying and selling perfectly good houses that their algorithms identify as exploitable. As a result, housing prices are going up which keeps first-time homebuyers who can’t pay cash at bay and raises rents faster than wages.

Investment #2: Business Loans

There is so much wealth to be invested that the nature of business loans has changed. Borrowers now dictate the loan terms since there are so many lenders searching for a high-income stream of revenue. Consequently, a great number of businesses – both big and small – hold loans that can’t be paid off without borrowing new money. The lenders recognize the risk and have taken action to protect themselves. They have bundled these risky loans into collateralized debt obligations (CDO’s) and sold them to investors — just as they had done 15-20 years ago with mortgage-backed securities which, of course, led to the Great Recession.

Investment #3: Elected Officials

For the truly wealthy – at least those who do not wish to pay taxes – there is probably no better investment than large political donations. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, for example, offered a fantastic return on investment. For someone earning $100 million, that Trump tax cut reduced his or her tax bill by $2.6 million per year. That’s a 160% annual return on a $1 million donation to a republican SuperPAC.

There are other ways that fiscally conservative elected officials help the wealthy whose money got them into office. With little support for Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), and other safety net programs, they keep the potential workforce desperate, and consequently, exploitable by the “job creators.” Desperation translates into fewer unionized workers, lower wages, and less spending on worker welfare programs. Not every employer treats their employees this way, but the policies allow for such abuse.

And speaking of desperation, nearly 5 million adults in republican-led states that did not expand Medicaid – many of them Trump voters – are losing access to healthcare because there is not enough money to support rural doctors and hospitals. That also affects people with insurance, of course. It doesn’t matter whether you can pay for the service if you have to travel hours to find medical care. No wonder healthcare looks to be one of the top issues in the 2020 election.

So, how are things going for that Trump voter who was hurting in 2016? With lower unemployment and higher local minimum wage laws, their jobs may be better, but not better than what they had a couple decades ago. Housing and healthcare, however, are getting worse, and with the Trump administration’s legislative and legal attacks on the Affordable Care Act, healthcare could really take a beating. Since hospitals are major employers in every community they reside, expect both jobs and housing to suffer every time a medical provider fails.

And what will happen during the next recession? Those business loans are troubling and almost guarantee that the next recession will be a bank-based one, just as in 2008 and the one that led to the Great Depression. Regardless of the reason, when banks stop lending, bad things happen to businesses and their soon-to-be ex-employees. Republicans also use these occasions to reduce spending on food stamps, unemployment insurance and government-paid healthcare. The only ones who tend to do well during such times are those with plenty of diversified investments and the ability to snap up foreclosed houses and other discounted assets.

That’s right. The rich will get richer and the poor and middle class will suffer from the next recession.

At least this helps explain why republicans no longer seem concerned about a trillion-dollar budget deficit during a strongly performing economy. Most of that deficit is a result of tax cuts for their wealthy donors and those same donors will get richer when the deficit crests $2 trillion during the next recession. It’s a win-win for the top 0.01% and the politicians to whom they donate.

Posted in Economics, Healthcare, Make America Great Series, Musings, Trump Democrats Update, U.S. Politics, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Slippery Slope of Trump Taint

When I found out this morning that Iran had shot down a U.S. drone, I read the story with interest. Not surprisingly, the U.S. and Iran differed on whether the drone was over Iranian airspace when it was intercepted. Surprisingly, however, I was skeptical about the United States military’s assertion that it was not.

It was a pretty short interval of disbelief, but it happened. Since President Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the multi-party Iran nuclear deal and labeled the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, Iran has been engaging in provocative behavior. They planted mines on oil tankers last week to disrupt the oil markets and shipping lanes, and they likely attacked other oil tankers weeks earlier with drones. They announced that they will begin enriching and stockpiling uranium again which increases the risk of nuclear conflict in the volatile Middle East. And they have threatened the United States with a military and foreign policy disaster should the latter choose to attack Iran.

In so many ways, the obvious party to believe in this dispute about the facts is the U.S. military. The drone was most likely outside of Iranian airspace when it was shot down.

So why the moment of skepticism? For me, and I suspect many others, it is the contagion of disbelief in everything that President Trump touches.

I believe I have good reason to doubt what comes out of the EPA and Department of Education. Likewise, the Commerce Department has been caught in many lies and the person at the State Department in charge arms control negotiations with Russia failed to disclose that unregistered Russian agent Maria Butina attended her wedding.

But the U.S. military? Why would I pause for even a second before trusting the military’s version over Iran’s?

Well, of course, if a mistake was made and the drone actually was over Iranian airspace without authorization, the military may not wish to disclose that. And then, maybe there was approval at a mid- to high-level in the chain of command, and those officers wish to keep their jobs. There’s that possibility. Just look at the Pentagon Papers from the Vietnam War. There’s a strong incentive to keep bad news quiet.

But still, believe Iran?

No, it’s the Trump effect. I have gotten so used to blatant lies coming out of the administration that it is tainting everything that falls under the president’s control, and unfortunately, that now includes the military.

The Trump taint is found in the president’s tweet that Acting Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan would withdrawal from consideration for the permanent position “so that he can spend more time with his family,” following an allegation of domestic abuse. The Trump taint is also found anytime he breaks from the narrative that military leaders put out over one international situation or another. How long before those military leaders try to guess what the president wants to hear and shape their stories to fit.

Let’s face it. Trump would not want to hear that the downing of the drone was justifiable under international law because it was over Iranian airspace. It may just seem best to put out the story the president wants to hear rather than risk finding out that you have been fired via Trump tweet.

Posted in Make America Great Series, U.S. Politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Should College Be Delayed?

This may be a radical idea in a world in which education is highly prized, but for some people, putting off college for 6-7 years may be a good idea. As with many concepts to address a broken system, this does not apply to students in countries with free or low-cost educational options. The broken system in question is in the United States and the target demographic is mostly made up of middle-class families.

Higher education costs have risen much more than the rate of inflation for decades and the stated cost of a four-year undergraduate degree is terrifyingly high. With grants and scholarships, most middle-class families don’t pay close to that sticker price, but they inevitably are still saddled with large, perhaps debilitating levels of student loan debt that will likely haunt them for decades. Post-graduate education can easily bring that debt into the six-figures.

Delaying college may help people in three ways.

First, there would be a drop in demand, and with constant or increasing supply, the cost of higher education should come down.

Second, the extra half-dozen years of growth in educational savings accounts means that the student will have more money to contribute up front and fewer loans to pay back later.

Third, the student-to-be could be saving for retirement early. A person who invests $7,600 into a retirement account at $100 per month from age 20 to 26 and four months will have more for retirement than a person who invests $46,500 at the same rate beginning at 26 and five months and ending at age 65. That early growth in retirement savings provides a huge benefit later in life.

The negative to delayed college education – we all lose skills if we don’t use them. That is likely especially true with math and science knowledge. For those who opt to delay their college education, continued study would be a vital component to future success. With the free or low-cost offerings on Coursera, there is a vehicle to keeping those skills sharpened, but it will take a dedicated student.

Another negative could be that these delayed graduates are at a disadvantage for career advancement since their wealthier coworkers who went straight on to college and graduate school will have beat them to the workplace by 6-7 years. In today’s gig and start-up economy, however, that is less of an advantage than it would have been in the past.

This delayed college idea only works if there are jobs available for high school graduates that pay enough for the excess to be invested in retirement and possibly educational accounts. An economy such as the one we are experiencing now – low unemployment and decent pay for people with the intelligence to master higher-level skills.

There are signs the economy is beginning to slow – much of that can be tied to President Trump’s use of tariffs and pursuit of policies that threaten global stability – but it’s still going along strong enough for this idea to be a real option for many recent middle-class high school graduates.

Posted in Economics, Education, U.S. Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Wealth of Carbon Dioxide

A person who invests $100 per month in a retirement account beginning at age 20 and stops at age 26 and 4 months will have a bigger nest egg than someone who invests $100 per month beginning at age 26 and 5 months and ending at age 65.

The vast majority of the gains occur in the years closer to retirement. Using the average rate of return since the end of World War II for the S&P 500 with reinvested dividends, the younger investor’s $7,600 grows to $84,000 at age 45, $248,000 at age 55 and $734,000 – a 9,500% return on investment – at age 65.

While the numbers seem stark, the concept is easy. This is the power of compounding investment returns – it’s the earnings generated by the previous earnings. The earnings for a single month, the month that the investor turns 65, are more than $6,600 – not far off the original invested amount.

And that is how wealth accumulates.

As this example shows, it’s important to consider the long game. If you’re only looking out 20 years, it’s a much less impressive nest egg of less than $100,000. It’s over the next 20 years that the holdings more than sextuple.

Which brings us to climate science.

In a similar fashion, we are building up a wealth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but the accelerating nature of wealth accumulation means that the effects of that buildup are much more severe the further we travel in time. For those suffering through record flooding and tornado clusters this year, and wildfires and hurricanes last year, that should be a scary thought.

Accurate information will be one of our most important tools as we move forward, and historically, the United States produces some of the best research in all areas of science. The nation’s researchers and institutions are highly professional, well-funded and almost always in the upper echelon in any field.

The Trump administration is trying to change this with regards to climate science. The director of the United States Geological Society, James Reilly – a White House appointee – has mandated that scientific assessments going forward will not contain computer-generated climate models that make predictions beyond 2040, well short of the end of the century predictions from prior assessments.

For the next National Climate Assessment, which should be released in about three years, there will quite possibly be no “worst case” scenarios presented. These political decisions are driven by the administration’s frustration with media focus on worst case and long-range predictions, but climate scientists around the world are concerned about the loss of a traditional high-quality source of data – the U.S. government. The Trump administration has decided to hide information that runs counter to their deregulatory agenda.

But does the buildup of carbon dioxide behave in the same way as wealth accumulation? The answer appears to be yes.

With higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, the planet retains more of the sun’s energy and gets warmer. Most of that retained heat can be found in the oceans and, not only does that impact coral reefs and fisheries, the warmer oceans pump more energy into weather patterns over sea and land. Storms get bigger and unusual weather events become more common.

Artic regions are warming the fastest. That heat melts permafrost, which releases vast quantities of stored greenhouse gases, and allows dark algae to gain a foothold on Greenland’s ice sheets so less of the sun’s energy is reflected back into space. All of this speed up the melting of glaciers, which compounds the warming effects across the world by holding onto more of the sun’s energy.

And 40% of carbon dioxide is released each year simply to meet the world’s demand for refrigeration and air conditioning. That demand is certain to grow with a warming planet.

It seems safe to conclude that money and atmospheric carbon dioxide both experience compounding effects.

In our quest for a solution to man-made climate change, we are no longer a twenty-year-old ready to sacrifice for a few years to reap big rewards later. We’re middle-aged with nothing in our retirement accounts and starting to get really concerned about how comfortable we’ll be at the end of our lives.

Or we’re in denial.

Posted in Economics, Environment, Make America Great Series, U.S. Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kings, Cathedrals, Destroyers & Trump

My wife & I have just spent two weeks in the U.K., and I can’t help but notice the similarities between the authoritarian leaders of ole and the current president of the United States. You can see exhibits and read all about death in visits to English castles, manor houses and prisons. The kings’ and queens’ opponents – both human and institutional – were perpetually at risk.

Similarly, Mr. Trump and his supporters use death.

  • Death to a free press.
    • or at least to those outlets which express liberal or main-stream views.
  • Death to truth in government reports.
    • Especially anything which contradicts the administration’s views on climate change and its potential dangers.
  • Death to any rights not envisioned by the founding fathers, such as the right of a woman to control her own reproductive decisions.
    • That is the goal of President Trump’s chief legal advisors, members of the Federalist Society.
      • Specifically, “… that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.”
      • By “what the law is,” the Federalist Society means the laws as set out in the constitution, not subject to consideration of societal changes that have occurred since it and the amendments had been adopted.
    • Death to the social welfare state.
      • as envisioned by those who wish to cut their tax obligations to as low as possible, and believe that the state should not be in the business of retirement or disability income (Social Security), healthcare (Medicare and Medicaid), and other federally supported programs (too many to name).

How do authoritarian leaders behave? They are demanding. They don’t take advice well. They feel rules and social norms don’t apply to them. And if they happen to be the leaders of certain countries, they have their opponents killed.

And how do those who serve authoritarian leaders behave? They are overly complementary. They make happen what they think the leader wants. They sign nondisclosure agreements and say how wonderful it is to be fired by the president. Sorry, that’s the modern version. I meant to say that they act in a way to avoid losing their heads – literally and/or figuratively.

Examples abound.

  • Kim Hyok Chol, the chief North Korean delegate in the nuclear talks with the U.S., may have been executed recently since the talks have not produced the results desired by the country’s leader.
  • Lady Jane Grey, a niece of King Henry VIII and a pawn in the struggles for the throne in England, beheaded on February 12th, 1554, at the age of 16. She had been queen for 9 days the previous year.
  • Alexander Litvinenko, Alexander Perepilichnyy, and perhaps Boris Berezovsky – outspoken critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin or a material witness in a money laundering investigation involving powerful Russians – killed in their adopted homeland of the United Kingdom.

And sometimes there are “mistakes.” People who serve the authoritarian leader read commands into the utterances of the supreme leader. For example, because of Trump’s repeated attacks on former Senator John McCain, a member of the White House staff asked the Navy to obscure the USS John S. McCain, a destroyer named after the late senator’s father and grandfather, during Trump’s visit to Yokosuka Naval base in Japan. The Navy appears to have taken some steps to comply with the request.

It reminds one of King Henry II’s utterance in 1170, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest!” King Henry II and Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket had a difference of opinion on the separation of church and state and religious sanctuary for accused wrongdoers. Four knights read Henry’s exasperated utterance as a command, sailed from Normandy to England and hacked Becket to death on the steps of the altar at Canterbury Cathedral during a religious service.

God save us all from the utterances and tweets of authoritarian leaders and those who try to appease them.

Posted in Make America Great Series, Musings, Religion, U.S. Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Border Wall: $25 million per mile!


The bipartisan border security deal intended to prevent another partial federal government shutdown in a couple days includes $1.375 billion for 55 miles of physical border barriers.

That’s $25 million per mile.

Doesn’t it seem that much more can be done with $25 million to protect a mile of the U.S. – Mexico border? How many dogs? How many border patrol agents? How many lights & drones can you get for $25 million and would they all fit in a mile-long line?

How many shelters can you sponsor? How many economic development programs can you support in areas from which the migrants are fleeing? How many drug treatment programs can you bolster in the U.S. so as to cut down on the demand for drugs which drives much of the gang activity in Central America?

In how many ways can the U.S. use those funds so as to make the Western Hemisphere a safer, more economically and socially stable region?

Perhaps we should try some of those.

Posted in Economics, Immigration, U.S. Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to Change the Truth about Immigration

I needed a break from some complicated volunteer treasurer work so I checked out the online news sites. Perhaps I need a better definition for the word “break.”

Eventually I found myself at Fox News and clicked on a video about the cost of a single undocumented immigrant over the course of his or her lifetime: $82,181. The number came from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which advocates for reduced immigration into the United States, and consequently has an incentive to highlight the negatives.

So, let’s see how they arrived at that number.

The CIS reports – “Can a Wall Pay for Itself?: An Update” from January 8, 2019, and “The Cost of a Border Wall vs. the Cost of Illegal Immigration” from February 15, 2017 – use data from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) as published in The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration (2017).

That NAS consensus study report is full of information on immigration, both authorized and “unauthorized” – their term for what is commonly referred to as illegal immigration. One interesting fact: the unauthorized immigrant population had remained relatively constant each year between 2009 and 2015 as about the same number have moved to the United States as had left the country.

Also, most enter the country legally and overstay their visas rather than come across unprotected areas on the southern border. According to CNBC, less than 1/3 of newly identified unauthorized immigrants in fiscal year 2017 came across from Mexico without documentation.

CIS’s $82,181 per undocumented immigrant number uses the NAS data, but selectively, to come up with a financial reason for building a southern border wall. As best as I can tell, they used assumptions that exaggerated the costs and ignored beneficial data to arrive at their desired result. During the interview on Fox News, for example, CIS’s Steve Camarota provided an impossible fact.

In response to a question from the program’s host about whether there is a crisis at the southern border, he responded, “Well, maybe it’s up to your listeners. Look, half-a-million people try to sneak into the United States right now between the ports of entry. We think several hundred thousand make it every year between the ports of entry.”

Let’s evaluate that. “Several hundred thousand” of the 500,000 who attempt to cross each year make it through. Really? There were 396,579 apprehensions at the Southwest border by the U.S. Border Patrol in Fiscal 2018 and CIS’s own reports put the number of successful border crossings at 160,000 – 200,000.

Those 500,000 attempts are remarkably successful and woefully unsuccessful at the same time.

Need more proof of funny math? The lifetime cost to the U.S. of a single unauthorized immigrant per CIS is now $82,181, up a very round 10.0% from their estimate a little less than two years ago, $74,722. The problem with that: the 2017 to 2019 inflation rate is 2.82%, not 10%, so CIS overly inflated the number to help convince Fox’s viewers of the crisis. After all, in response to the question about whether there is a crisis, Mr. Camarota did say, “Well, maybe it’s up to your listeners.”

Let’s see what is stated in the NAS report.

The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration finds that the long-term impact of immigration on the wages and employment of native-born workers overall is very small, and that any negative impacts are most likely to be found for prior immigrants or native-born high school dropouts. First-generation immigrants are more costly to governments than are the native-born, but the second generation are among the strongest fiscal and economic contributors in the U.S. This report concludes that immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the U.S.” (

So CIS took a well researched, scientific report and used fuzzy math to completely change the conclusions and put disinformation on Fox News to help President Trump manufacture a crisis.

It seems that Fox News no longer feels that it has to make any attempt to verify the information they present, as long as it supports the president’s agenda. This would have been a simple one – just look at the inflation number; that tells you it’s bogus.

Posted in Economics, Immigration, Trump Democrats Update, U.S. Politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Louise Penny, Radio, Painting & Writing

I was privileged to ask Louise Penny a question at her book signing in Ann Arbor, Michigan, last night.

First of all, I recommend going to see her if you have the chance. She tells a great story – both in her novels and in person – and she makes you feel at home; at home in front of a fire in Three Pines, but without the murder. And stories are her business, and the business of her long ago employer, CBC/Radio-Canada.

Twenty-five years ago or so, I was recently unemployed – a victim of some very bad hedging by my employer’s parent company, Metallgesellschaft AG. That bad bet led to a 20% across-the-board staff reduction, and I had been working there only a few months by that time. So what did I do with my greatly increased free time? I decided to paint the exterior of our house in Rochester, New York.

No, I had no experience with such an undertaking, especially not on a three story, stucco-over-brick, turn of the twentieth century house with no insulation and original counterweight pulley windows. I may not have been the fastest at this task, and certainly not the most skilled. There was that day, for example, when I pressure-washed the stucco off the brick rather than the paint off the stucco. Live and learn, right? And since I didn’t actually fall off the 40-foot ladder, that’s what I did.

What I also did that summer of 1994 was listen to radio. I tuned into NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, but in between I listened to CBC out of Toronto, and I fell in love with storytelling.

There were riveting interviews on The Vicki Gabereau Show and short fiction from Stuart McLean whose endearing characters first appeared on Morningside, and beginning that summer, The Vinyl Cafe. Vicki Gabereau took off summers and her show became an emotional combination of letters and song requests hosted by Bill Richardson. That summer of ’94, the fiftieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion, was a truly memorable experience as many of the letters were also fifty years old and some were the last letters written by those soldiers. (CBC executives: It would be nice to listen to those again.)

It took me a couple decades to realize that I was called to be a writer, but CBC and the thousands of audiobooks I’ve listened to have helped cement that calling. When I write, I hear the voices of my favorite audiobook readers – George Guidall, Blair Brown, Ralph Cosham. It’s the lyrical quality of those voices which spills out of my head and onto the (figurative) paper as I type.

So, onto my question for Louise Penny. So far, I am a “less than first draft” writer. I have great ideas (I think) and I can write well (i.e., quickly) when I’m on vacation or otherwise away from everyday obligations. But things tend to come to a screeching halt once I get back home. I don’t go right to the writing when I wake up; I check email or read the news or do church treasurer work. There’s always something in the way, often manufactured by me.

In answer to an earlier question, Louise Penny talked about her discipline and daily word goal as a key to her success. Stephen King and Jeffery Archer also speak of their writing discipline, and King makes the very good point that you loose your connection with the characters if you take off more than one day a week from writing. So, check, I need to be more disciplined.

My question had to do with what happens after the first draft. Louise Penny’s characters are so well developed, and their interconnections so vital to the storytelling that I wanted to know if that was there in her first draft. Her answer was enlightening.

While she never mentioned paint, her subsequent drafts offer her the opportunity to layer the humor and flaws and commitments and idiosyncrasies that make each character into the complex being the story requires. Layering also figures into the interactions between those complex characters and helps further drive that character development.

Okay, back to work. First thing: my writing discipline. Of course, I’m not at home for the next few days so it will be easier.

Recommendations & References

Louise Penny: Start with Still Life and go in order (

Stuart McLean: Sadly passed away last year, but if you’re new to his character, Dave, try Dave Cooks the Turkey to find out more (

Stephen King: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (

Jeffery Archer: The interview at the end of the Audible version of Prisoner of Birth (for which he did 17 drafts – yikes!).

Posted in Education, Musings, Uncategorized, Writing | 2 Comments

Framing the Message – Mining for Votes

Republicans have always been good at framing an issue in a way that generates anger, disgust, shock – and votes. Tax cuts that go primarily to the wealthy are successfully dubbed “tax relief” and the medical term “intact dilation and extraction” becomes “partial birth abortion.” The Democratic Party does not appear to have a similar skill set.

Democrats generally try to appeal to voters’ common sense. The republicans come up with some claim and the democrats spend most of their time on defense saying, “That’s not the full story” or “They’re lying.” For many voters, the democrats may seem a little bit like the Wizard of Oz. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Democrats who offer detailed explanations in response to short republican phrases or statements of questionable accuracy come across as not believable to many voters.

A good example comes from Michigan’s 6th House district. Ads approved by Rep. Fred Upton (the 32-year incumbent) during the mid-term election’s climax: Matt Longjohn is not a real doctor, he only plays one on TV.

Longjohn’s response: I received my M.D. and Masters of Public Health from Tulane and was the first National Health Officer for the YMCA. I have published seventeen medical articles and have taught medical students at Northwestern and the University of Wisconsin. I initiated a program that cut new cases of diabetes by 71% and led anti-childhood obesity programs in several states.

Upton was reelected earlier this month.

The midterm elections, however, did suggest that democrats may have finally found that short phrase that appeals to enough voters: “We are not Trump.”

This became more evident with the counting of absentee ballots. While the president and republican candidates complained and filed lawsuits as republican vote leads shrunk or reversed with absentee ballots, it appeared to be a nationwide phenomenon – in red, blue and purple districts – that early and absentee voters favored democrats.

One theory is that early voters are more likely to be single-issue voters so they don’t have to spend a lot of time researching each candidate. The historic early voters are anti-abortion ones; that is the only issue that matters and their votes go only to that cause.

In 2018, however, another single-issue voter class appears to have emerged. They are the voters who so disapprove of President Trump that they voted for democrats across the board or close to it. As the absentee ballots were counted, the democrats pulled within range of their republican opponents, or took the lead.

Yes, democrats talked about healthcare and knew that was a pressing concern for the electorate, but healthcare became a confusing issue. Many republican candidates claimed to be defenders of health insurance coverage even after voting to repeal Obamacare (Fred Upton included). If people were really voting on healthcare issues with all the confusing and contradictory claims flying about, they probably would not have been able to vote early.

Should the democrats conclude that their 2018 success was due to the anti-Trump vote, the 2020 presidential election will be an all-Trump, all-the-time campaign. I fully expect to hear “Reckless pro-Trumper” ads from democratic candidates and “President Trump is a true American hero” ads from the republicans.

Remember how the Trump Organization was looking into a business venture dubbed Trump TV? It’s looks as if it may be coming whether we want it or not.

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