The Biden-Burisma Okie-Doke: What It Means to be Hoodwinked, Bamboozled, Led Astray, Run Amok, and Flat-out Deceived

It’s time to Break It Down!

This week Charlotte is hosting its final CIAA Basketball Tournament. The extravaganza is re-locating to Baltimore in 2021. I was there last night (Tuesday) taking in the first full evening of games. I anticipate feeding my hoops addiction though Saturday, when the 2020 Women’s and Men’s Champions will be crowned. Though I have written about the famed Tourney before, now is not before, and this post is not about basketball.

As the title suggests, I’m coming at you today with a political slant; not one of sports. The CIAA reference was contextual. In other words, it’s late, already after 1:00 a.m., and I’m just starting. The good news is, this will be relatively brief. Having said that, without further ado, let’s do this.

Right out of the gate, what I’m not going to try to do is persuade anyone to vote for Candidate X, Y, or Z. Rather, I’m attempting to make a very simple, and totally logical point.

Mr. Trump allegedly worked furiously to get newly elected Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. He repeatedly urged Zelensky to work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, as well as with the U.S. Attorney General, Bill Barr. At one point, when asked about it, Trump doubled down, and added that China should also investigate the Bidens.

Now there are a plethora of details about this matter, most of which, you probably already know. Therefore, I’m gonna save you and me some time, by not restating them here. The long and short of it is, a Whistle Blower was disturbed by a number of aspects of one of the calls Trump made regarding the matter, and ultimately the House of Representatives, on a strictly Party Line vote, impeached him.

If you allowed yourself to be distracted, and subsequently get lost in the sauce, you may have come away thinking that the House’s impeachment, and the Senate opting not to oust Trump were the highlights of the matter. I’m positing that it wasn’t.

Oh, it was important; historic even. Trump became just the 3rd U.S. President to be impeached, following in the footsteps of Andrew Johnson, and Bill Clinton. Although, it’s always necessary to add the footnote that is Richard Nixon, whom, had he not slinked away in eternal shame, would also have been impeached. But I digress.

My thesis is, Trump and his advisers had one sinister goal in mind, when he set out to engage the agency of another nation(s) in investigating his political rival and prospective opponent. His ultimate objective was so substantial, that even impeachment, which given the composition of the Senate, he was confident of surviving, was worth risking.

As the 2020 Election Year began to unspool, a vast array of Democratic candidates (nearly 25) emerged. As they did, one, seemed to stand out as the most formidable of the lot; Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. Mr. Biden had served as Vice President to Barack Obama, the 44th President. He presented himself as the presumptive heir to Obama’s political legacy, and despite a number of early stumbles, seemed to poll as the Strongest among a number of viable candidates.

Going all the way back to when President Obama was in office, Trump repeatedly expressed a disdain for him. He made Birtherism a key element of his personal brand. The prospect of being challenged by Obama’s number 1 cheerleader, undoubtedly agitated Trump, who consistently demonstrates he is nothing if not prone to distraction by all things Obama, and to put it lightly, thin skinned.

To wit, it’s fairly apparent the Biden-Burisma narrative was designed to smear Biden and render him ineffective as a serious challenger. In retrospect, I am comfortable saying it’s hard to imagine a strategy with that intent being more ferociously on point. So, while it may be too late for Biden, I simply caution all those folks who have repeated the mantra, “anyone but Trump,” or “anyone who can beat Trump,” or any approximation thereof, take a deep breath, and back up a step or two. Trump is using the power vested in him to manipulate the levers of control, incite in-fighting among his opponents, and, in the final analysis, seduce you to take your eyes off the prize.

As someone who watched, with a knowing despondence, as this scenario played itself out in 2016, I’m warning you now, do not go down the road of déjà vu all over again. “The Biden-Burisma Okie-Doke: What it Means to be Hoodwinked, Bamboozled, Led Astray, Run Amok, and Flat-out Deceived!”

I’m done; holla back!

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Trump’s Economy: Thanks Obama!

It’s time to Break It Down!

Monday marked the 11th anniversary of the signing of a nearly $800 billion stimulus package intended to reverse the effects of the Great Recession. President Obama acknowledged his signing the Recovery Act in the common communications currency of the day, with a tweet. He wrote:

“Eleven years ago today, near the bottom of the worst recession in generations, I signed the Recovery Act, paving the way for more than a decade of economic growth and the longest streak of job creation in American history.”

Anyone who knows Donald Trump is familiar with his anxiety laden fixation with all things Obama. As I have come to learn over the last three years, this is especially true when it comes to anything having to do with the economy. Trump, and many of his supporters argue, and some apparently even believe, the current economic conditions begin and end with Donald Trump. They point to his dismantling regulations, and tax bill as the sole catalysts for today’s economy.

I suppose that sounds good to those who are willing to accept everything Mr. trump says, facts, logic, and reasoning, notwithstanding. There is actually a pretty simple way to examine the TrumpWorld view on this matter. Look at the facts.

For example, Trump frequently claims that the US, under his watch, is enjoying the strongest economic run ever. If, however, one looks at jobs created over the first three years of the Trump Presidency, compared to those created during the last three years of the Obama Presidency, Mr. Trump’s narrative does not add up.

The US economy gained 6.6 million jobs during Trump’s first 36 months in office. However, during the final 36 months of the Obama tenure, employers added 8.1 million jobs.

During Obama’s last 36 months in office, the average monthly gain was 224,000 jobs. Under Trump so far, employers have been adding an average of 182,000 jobs a month.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures haven’t hit over 4% economic growth on a quarterly basis during Trump’s time in office. Trump’s 2018 yearly growth of 2.9 matched Obama’s 2015 figures, but on both a quarterly and annual basis, the Trump economy has not yet exceeded the best quarters in the Obama years. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis there were four quarters during Obama’s tenure when GDP exceeded 4%:

  • Q4 2009 – 4.4%
  • Q4 2011 – 4.7%
  • Q2 2014 – 5.5%
  • Q3 2014 – 5.0%

The US economy grew at 2.3% in 2019, its slowest pace in three years, according to the Commerce Department. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen by 47% under Trump, through 3:00 p.m. yesterday. During Obama’s second term, the Dow rose 44%. That’s a comparison Trump wins…but not by much. There are other metrics, of course. The unemployment rate has reached record lows under Trump, though for some notable segments (blacks and Hispanics; ones the administration likes to tout), the rate has begun to rise.

On balance, President Obama’s tweet was a simple and unremarkable statement of fact. He did not in any way undermine Trump, nor the level of success of the current economy. He merely stated his actions were a catalyst, a device to stop the hemorrhaging job losses, to the tune of nearly 800,000 per month, and reverse the losses into gains, which his actions help accomplish. In all, Obama’s tenure ended with 75 consecutive months of job growth, or six years, plus a quarter.

For such a tepid comment, on its face, to lead to a contretemps with the current President of the United States would seem unfathomable. But, given Trump’s propensity to be driven to distraction, even by the fact that Obama is an American, one should probably recognize that this is the orbit we are locked in with Mr. Trump.

Like it or not, today’s economic conditions, good as they are (for some), were presaged by policies formulated and put in place by the 44th President. Without the benefit of those policies, the slow recovery Mr. Trump and his supporters like to point reference, would likely have lagged even more, and required a steeper climb for the current President.  “Trump’s Economy: Thanks Obama!”

I’m done; holla back!

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Bryan Stevenson: A Real American Hero

It’s time to Break It Down!

A couple of weekends ago, my wife and I went to see a movie. Nothing unusual about that. It’s a treat we give ourselves on a fairly regular basis. So much so that we’ve actually seen another one since then.

But two weeks ago, we saw “Just Mercy,” based on the book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson’s memoir. The book and the movie regale us with the hardscrabble, heart wrenching, real live story of Walter McMillian. In the movie, McMillian’s character was played by Jamie Foxx, while the role of Bryan Stevenson was played by Michael B. Jordan. In my humble opinion (admittedly, I’m no movie critic…but like in art, I know what I like), both actors did their characters justice. No pun intended. But I digress. This is a short post, and critiquing the movie is not my objective. So, while I will say the movie is about a man, wrongfully imprisoned, and the lawyer who fought against, and beat the odds (and they were many and substantial) to secure his freedom.

Perhaps you know Mr. Stevenson’s story. If you do not, you would be well served to read the book (I have not) and to see the movie (as previously noted, I did).

Seeing the movie was just the onset of the genesis of the post. Three days after seeing the movie, I had the opportunity and privilege to see Mr. Stevenson in person when he came to Davidson College, as the school’s 2020 Reynolds Lecturer, sponsored by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Gwen and I were the guests of our friend and occasional benefactor, Davis Liles, a proud Davidson College alum, and his wife Kay. Thanks again; it was a great way to spend an evening.

Mr. Stevenson, ever humble, spoke about his rural Delaware roots, his compelling and interesting career, a number of his person experiences, several of which dovetailed/intersected with some of the book/movie highlights, but most important, I believe, he delved into the experiences that helped shape his passion and lifelong commitment to social justice activism.

He earned both a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School, and Master’s Degree in Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, while at Harvard. He founded and serves as the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), and also serves as a clinical professor at New York University School of Law.

Stevenson is based in Montgomery, Alabama, home of the EJI, where he has challenged bias against the poor and minorities in the criminal justice system, especially children. He has worked cases that have saved dozens of prisoners from the death penalty, advocated for the poor, and developed community-based reform litigation aimed at improving the administration of justice.

He initiated the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, which honors the names of more than 4,000 African Americans lynched in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 1950. According to Stevenson’s argument, the history of slavery and lynchings has influenced the subsequent high rate of death sentences in the South, where the practice has been disproportionately applied to minorities.

In 2018, Stevenson received the Benjamin Franklin Award from the American Philosophical Society as a Drum Major for justice and mercy. This is the most prestigious award the society gives for distinguished public service.

In summary, Stevenson had devoted his life, and frankly, more times than I’m sure he’d like to admit, put his life on the line, to be a warrior for justice for men, women, and children to whom the justice system frequently, if not routinely, has given short shrift. It’s fair to say, he is the reason why dozens of people are alive today, or at least the reason why they were not killed at a result of the death penalty. He cared so deeply and fought so passionately to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were in every case, deserving of redemption, and frankly, and cases such as that of Mr. McMillian, plainly and simply NOT GUILTY!

Ladies and gentlemen, “Bryan Stevenson: A Real American Hero!”

I’m done; holla back!

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SOTU 2020: Check the Facts

It’s time to Break It Down!

Last night, over the course of seventy-eight minutes, Donald Trump gave his third State of the Union (SOTU) Address. As is his wont, he mangled numerous facts. Thanks to him, fact checking has evolved into an entire industry unto itself. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, “President Donald Trump’s portrayal of American renewal Tuesday drew on falsehoods about American energy supremacy and the economy as well as distortions about his predecessor’s record.”

Here are a few instances, culled from CNN and the Chicago Tribune, buttressed by my own thoughts, highlighting seven instances during which he blatantly deviated from selected data-driven provable facts, while he clumsily skewed others.

Oil and gas production

The claim: According to Trump, “Thanks to our bold regulatory reduction campaign, the United States has become the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world, by far.”

Not exactly. The facts: “The US did not become the world’s top energy producer under Trump: It took the top spot under the Obama administration in 2012, according to the US government’s Energy Information Administration. 

The US became the top producer of crude oil in particular during Trump’s tenure. “The United States has been the world’s top producer of natural gas since 2009, when US natural gas production surpassed that of Russia, and it has been the world’s top producer of petroleum hydrocarbons since 2013, when its production exceeded Saudi Arabia’s,” the Energy Information Administration says.

Unemployment for disabled Americans

The claim: Trump asserted “the unemployment rate for disabled Americans has reached an all-time low” under his presidency.

That’s debatable. The facts: The unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities is lower than at any point in the Obama administration (probably all that really matter to Trump), but it did go up from 6.1 percent in September of last year to 7 percent in December. In addition, describing this as an “all-time low” obscures the fact that the government has only tracked this data since 2008.

Unemployment for African Americans, Hispanics and Asians

The claim: Trump said the unemployment rates for African Americans, Hispanics and Asians are at the lowest levels ever. “The unemployment rate for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans has reached the lowest levels in history,” Trump said in his speech.

Sorta, maybe, not exactly. The facts: Trump is correct in a manner of speaking. The unemployment rate for each of these three groups is at a record low, at least since the government has been issuing data on them. (The data for African Americans and Hispanics goes back to the early 1970s, while data for Asians only goes back to 2000.) 

Trump inherited a positive trend that has continued during his tenure. The unemployment rate for all three groups had fallen substantially under President Barack Obama from the recession-era levels of 2009.

The African American unemployment rate was 5.9% in December 2019. That is an uptick from the 5.4% all-time low in August 2019, but it is still lower than the rate at any point under any other president for whom we have data.

The Hispanic unemployment rate was 4.2% in December 2019 — an uptick from the 3.9% all-time low in September 2019 but, again, lower than any point under any other president for whom we have data.

The Asian unemployment rate was 2.4% in December, an uptick from the 2.0% low of May 2018 but still a smidgen lower than the pre-Trump record — 2.6% in December 2016, Obama’s last full month in office.

The distinction between on record and in history is subtle, but not indecipherable. African Americans and Hispanics, for example have history in this country that started long before the 1970’s. Both groups were primary sources of labor, albeit free, in the case of most African Americans, and underemployed wage-wise, dating back to their earliest time in this country. Similarly, many of the earliest Asians, unlike contemporary trends, were laborers. The likelihood is that all three groups were fully employed for significant stretches of their time here in this country. Of course, it is often convenient, and always easy to overlook those by-gone eras.

Pre-existing conditions

The claim. Trump has repeatedly promised to protect those with pre-existing conditions, even as he has sought to kill the Affordable Care Act, which greatly expanded those safeguards.

“I’ve also made an ironclad pledge to American families. We will also protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” he said during Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

Nope. The facts: Trump’s claim about protecting those with pre-existing conditions is false. Though Trump says he would do this, his administration has consistently taken steps to undermine the Affordable Care Act — including joining a lawsuit aimed at striking down the law — without presenting alternative plans that would offer similar benefits. 

The Affordable Care Act barred insurers in the individual market from denying people coverage or charging them higher premiums because of their health histories. Also, carriers had to provide comprehensive coverage — offering 10 essential health benefits, including maternity, mental health and prescription drugs.

Trump has worked to undermine the Affordable Care Act from his first day in office, when he issued an executive order directing agencies to interpret its regulations as loosely as possible. He championed congressional Republicans’ bills in 2017 that would have weakened the law’s protections.

And his Justice Department is siding with a coalition of Republican states that are fighting in federal court to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. An appellate panel in December upheld a lower court ruling that found Obamacare’s individual mandate unconstitutional but sent the case back to the lower court to decide whether the entire law must fall.

The President has said repeatedly that he would roll out a new health care plan that would protect those with pre-existing conditions, but he has yet to do so. Last April, he backed away from pushing for a vote on a replacement plan until after the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, he issued another executive order in late 2017 that would make it easier for Americans to buy alternatives to the Affordable Care Act that are cheaper, but offer fewer protections, such as short-term health plans. The law’s defenders, however, fear that such plans could siphon off younger and healthier people, which could cause premiums to rise for those left buying policies in the Obamacare exchanges.

Trump’s administration is also allowing states to make major changes to their Obamacare markets, which could also leave low-income, older or sicker residents with few choices and higher costs. Few states have taken the federal government up on this offer so far.


The Claim: TRUMP: “Before I came into office, if you showed up illegally on our southern border and were arrested, you were simply released and allowed into our country, never to be seen again. My administration has ended catch-and-release. If you come illegally, you will now be promptly removed.”

No mas. THE FACTS: Not true. Under previous administrations, Mexicans were quickly returned back over the U.S.-Mexico border, while others were held in detention until they were deported. Some migrants from other countries were released into the interior of the United States to wait out their immigration cases.

And despite Trump’s claims that all migrants are now “promptly” removed, there is a 1 million immigration court case backlog, which means many migrants wait up to three years before a court hearing before a judge who will determine whether someone is deported. And after a judge rules a migrant deported, travel papers must be obtained, which often leads to further delays.

As for ending “catch and release,” Trump actually expanded that policy last year during a surge in migrants, releasing thousands of migrants who flooded shelters along the border. The surge has since passed, so fewer people are being held and fewer would need to be released. But an effort by immigration officials to detain children indefinitely was blocked by a judge, so children are still released into the country.

Jobs and economy

The claim: TRUMP: “The USMCA will create nearly 100,000 new high-paying American auto jobs, and massively boost exports for our farmers, ranchers and factory workers.”

THE FACTS: The president is exaggerating.

The U.S. International Trade Commission examined the deal with Canada and Mexico in an April report. The report estimated that the deal would add only 28,000 auto industry jobs six years after the deal is implemented. Separately, government officials are quoted in the report saying they believe the sector would add 76,000 jobs based on their methodology.

It’s still not the 100,000 jobs claimed by Trump.

The claim: TRUMP: “In eight years under the last administration, over 300,000 working-age people dropped out of the workforce. In just three years of my Administration, 3.5 million working-age people have joined the workforce.”

THE FACTS: Trump is being misleading with numbers to tarnish his predecessor’s record. It’s not clear what he means by “working-age.” But the total size of the U.S. labor force shows that the president is just wrong.

During the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, the labor force rose by 5.06 million, according to the Labor Department. The improvement reflected a rebounding economy from the Great Recession and population growth.

As the unemployment rate has fallen, more people are finding it attractive to work and joining the labor force. This has enabled the labor force to climb by an impressive 4.86 million in just three years under Trump.

The claim: TRUMP: “From the instant I took office, I moved rapidly to revive the U.S. economy — slashing a record number of job killing-regulations, enacting historic and record-setting tax cuts, and fighting for fair and reciprocal trade agreements.

THE FACTS: The U.S. economy indeed is healthy, but it’s had plenty of hiccups during the Trump administration.

Trump never quite managed to achieve the liftoff he promised during the 2016 election. Instead, gains have largely followed along the same lines of an expansion that started more than a decade ago under Obama.

Total economic growth last year was 2.3%. That is roughly in line with the average gains achieved after the Great Recession — and a far cry from growth of as much 3%, 4% or more that Trump told voters he could deliver.

The tax cuts did temporarily boost growth in 2018 as deficit spending increased. But the administration claimed its tax plan would increase business investment in way that could fuel lasting growth. For the past three quarters, business investment has instead declined.

It’s too soon to judge the impact of the updated trade agreement with Mexico and Canada as well as the pact with China. But Trump premised his economic policy on wiping out the trade gap. Instead, the trade deficit has worsened under Trump.


The Claim: TRUMP: “We are restoring our nation’s manufacturing might, even though predictions were that this could never be done. After losing 60,000 factories under the previous two administrations, America has now gained 12,000 new factories under my administration.”

THE FACTS: Not quite.

Manufacturing has slumped in the past year, after having advanced in the prior two years. The president’s tariffs regime and slower growth worldwide hurt the sector in ways that suggest that Trump’s policies robbed it of some of its previous strength.

Factory output fell 1.3% over the past 12 months, according to the Federal Reserve. Manufacturing job gains went from more than 260,000 at the end of 2018 to a paltry 46,000 for the 12 months ended in December, according to the Labor Department. Manufacturers lost jobs last year in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — the older industrial states where Trump had promised a renaissance.

That’s a few of the key issues about which Mr. Trump used his apparent silver tongue, at least to the ears of his followers, to spin a narrative that frequently looked the fact path straight in the eye…and then scurried to take an alternative route. SOTU 2020: Check the Facts!”

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the linkhttp://thesphinxofcharlotte.comFind a new post each Wednesday.

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