Hong Kong and the Tariff war.

There they are, week after week, the residents of Hong Kong protesting the mainland’s suppression of their liberties, in violation of the agreement China signed in 1997 with England which would guarantee the territory keeping their rights for another 50 years. Week after week the protesters continue to fight, and week after week the police and armed thugs push them back.

Is the rest of the world taking a firm stand against the mainland’s repression of the protesters?

No.

The US could be summoning international support to tell China not to mistreat the protesters but it is not. And it is not because Mr Trump has not valued our alliances.

Our president may think he has achieved a great victory in getting China – through his imposition of tariffs – to drop from being our number one trading partner to becoming our third largest, behind Canada and Mexico, but that is no victory at all. Instead, what the tariffs have done is increase animosities and hurt the global economy.

As Trump has carried on with applying tariffs on China and threatening them on our allies, our stature in the world has diminished.

As Trump has carried on against immigrants, our moral standing has suffered too.

Meanwhile, with each protest, the people in Hong Kong keep sending out a call to the nations of the world to take a stand with them in the fight for freedom. We used to be able to hear those calls but gone is our moral leadership.

Can we ask China not to repress the protesters in Hong Kong when we are bashing them with tariffs? They would laugh at us.

Can we ask the rest of the world to take a stand with us? The likely answer, ‘aren’t you all about making America great again? That doesn’t include us, does it?’

The courageous people of Hong Kong will fight on because that is their precious land. They are fighting for their freedom. They are also fighting for the freedom of all Chinese, even those in the mainland whose voices are harshly suppressed.

One day China will be free, and they will do so fueled by the memories of the sacrifices of their brothers and sisters in Hong Kong.

What Mr Trump doesn’t get, is that China’s drive for becoming a great nation cannot be stopped.

Yes, they have traded unfairly and stolen technology, but they have it in them to learn from it and create their own. Didn’t they already travel to the other side of the moon without our help?

A different approach to the trade problem was available, and still is, one that includes cooperation with our allies who are also affected. But our myopic president dismissed such option. The complexities of the world dwarf him.

Had he not started a tariff war, we, and the rest of the world, could well have been in a better position to stand together in defense of Hong Kong.

And yet, still we hope, that Hong Kong doesn’t turn into another Tiananmen.

The Financier Jeffrey Epstein. A Brief Note.

He made a lot of money and used it to abuse underage women. He could hire the best attorneys to minimize culpability, he had mansions and private islands and knew lots of famous people,

and yet

ended up dying in a prison cell, by his own hand.

All that money can buy did not help.

All that money can buy did not get him the serenity to face his sexual urges and say, ‘I must control this. I am harming other human beings and myself. I am taking advantage of underage women.’

All that money can buy did not get him the inner strength to say, ‘I am a capable man but my sexual urges overwhelm me, I cannot control them.’

All that money can buy, all those ‘high powered’ people he surrounded himself with, none of it, was enough to get him a moment of quiet were he could say, ‘I need help. I am desperately in need of it. I cannot manage my impulses on my own. I do not have the power. Money does not give me that power. How can I find it? Where?’

Maybe he even had moments when he looked up the number of a psychiatrist or psychologist and almost dialed it, maybe even passed by the office, thought of going in, even knocked on the door only to change his mind at the last minute.

Maybe.

Did anyone around the wealthy financier, did anyone close to Jeffrey ever say to him, ‘dear man… you are ill… very ill… and you need help. With help you can heal. There is help. Help to turn your life around. Please get help, for your sake and that of others.”

All that money can buy.   

Tariffs and The Entertainer in Chief

It is the beginning of the end.

By now it should be clear to our president, like it is to most of us, that the tariff war with China cannot be won. Trade with China needs fixes, of course, but the way our president has gone about it has been self-defeating. His style is aimed more at playing to the world and propping up his fragile ego than to secure a favorable deal.

In the excitement of his impulsive tweets and the frenzy of his contradictions, he has revealed his style to China and they have taken notice.

Sure, he can say one thing now and stocks go up, another thing later the same day and stocks go down, but the market is not the economy.

Gradually, through his erratic ways, he has proven himself unsteady, eroding business confidence and doing real damage to the economy.

The economy can still recover – after a period to make the adjustment – but it would take for Mr Trump to see it as a priority and to focus on stability.

There is nothing to suggest that precious quality lives in him.

Curiously, he knows that a sound economy is essential to keeping alive his hopes of being reelected, but his need to see himself as Entertainer in Chief overpowers his better judgment.

And that’s who we’re stuck with.

A man who one moment wants to buy Greenland (which could be a sound idea if approached sensibly instead of in a capricious tweet), another moment wants Netanyahu in Israel to bar two US congresswomen from visiting the West Bank, then wants to invite Putin to the next G7 meeting – never mind his power grab of Crimea in the Ukraine, and the shooting down of a commercial airliner killing everyone on board, including distinguished scientists – and why not have the meeting at Mar-a-Lago and play a round of golf? Putin, who interfered in the 2016 election and will surely interfere again. Or as Robert Mueller said recently before congress, it is already happening.

Meanwhile, China watches.

China knows to wait out our president. They have taken the measure of the man.

They are willing to endure whatever hardship the trade war will bring for they will not bow to Trump and his swashbuckling style.

Trump doesn’t get that. And we and the world will pay the price.

Maybe that is what it will take for us not to make the same mistake again.

Min and Ting. Two Hong Kong Protesters. (the day after a protest turned violent at the airport)

Min is a young man, Ting a young lady, both 24 and fellow students at the university. Min is lying in bed with his broken arm resting on his chest. It is a small windowless room in his parents’ small apartment. His arm was broken 3 days before in a confrontation with police at a train station. Ting has just arrived and sits in a chair at his bedside. 

Ting – How is your arm?

Min – Better. Were you at the airport yesterday?

Ting – I was.

Min – What happened?

Ting – It got out of hand.

Min – I’d been worried about that. When things get too heated people lose control.

Ting – It shouldn’t have happened.

Min – It shouldn’t have. (he gives her a long look). You’re going back?

Ting – Yes.

Min – You’re strong.

Ting – We have to stand up to them.

Min – I know. But I worry that we’ve gone too far.

Ting – I worry about it, too.

Min – But you’re still going back?

Ting (smiling) – Yes.

Min repositions his arm.

Ting – When will the cast come off?

Min – Six weeks.

Ting – Better a fractured arm than a fractured head.

Ming – I know. I raised my arm just in time. Otherwise it would’ve been my head.

Ting – And you said it wasn’t a policeman?

Min – No. He was a thug. Hitting us while the policemen looked the other way. It was like 15 of them. Just came straight at us.

Ting – You’re brave.

He smiles.

Min – I’m glad you think so. First he hit me in the ribs, took my breath away, then he aimed for my head. He was so quick. I barely had time to cover.

Ting – I’m glad it wasn’t worse.

Min – Me too.

Ting – If we don’t fight who will? Our parents are too old.

Min – They’re paying the bills.

Ting – Yes, that too.

Min smiles up at Ting.

Min – I’m glad you came to see me.

Ting – Of course. You would’ve done the same for me.

Min – I would.

She raises her open palm and they slap in high five style.

Ting – You think Xi will send in the troops?

Min – If he does it will be brutal. Tiananmen all over again. What are the people in the mainland thinking?

Ting (shrugging, pensively) – Who knows what twist Beijing is putting on the story. Their lives are so controlled. Everything so censored.

Min – Have you been?

Ting – Yes. Three times. Last time was a year ago. Went to visit a cousin in Shanghai.

Min – You could tell the difference?

Ting – Right away. Cameras everywhere. Everyone under surveillance. Suffocating. That’s how it felt to me.

Min – We’re fighting for all the Chinese, aren’t we?

Ting – Yes. Even if they don’t appreciate it.

Min looks away for a moment.

Min – They just don’t know what they’re giving up.

Ting (shakes her head) – I think they know… but they figure there’s a price to pay for their physical comforts and they pay it.

Min – What do they say about Xi changing the constitution so he can keep getting reelected until he dies?
Ting – Oh well.

Min – Will they care if Xi sends in the troops?

Ting lowers her eyes for a moment.

Ting – Maybe some.

Min – I was thinking of Prague before you came… August 1968… when the Russians invaded.

Ting – We’re doing it for us. And China did sign a treaty with the British guaranteeing our rights until 2047.

Min – Xi laughs at it. You think the world will stand by us?

Ting – Some will. The many won’t. We’re on our own. if you lose an eye, you won’t get it back, no matter who stands by you.

Min – I’m so sorry for that girl.

Ting nods slowly.

Min – Did you know her?

Ting – No. All I know is she was giving first aid to a protester on the ground.

Min runs his hand slowly over the cast in his arm.

Ting – Maybe if you’ve never known freedom it’s easier to put up with people controlling you. But if you’ve known freedom… you fight to keep it.

Min – Even if you’ve never known it, you yearn for it. It’s essential to being human.

Ting – The spirit of George Orwell is with us.

Min – Yes it is.

Ting – One day I will write too.

Min – I would love to see that.

Ting – Thank you. I have to go now.

Min – Back to the airport?

Ting – Yes.

Min – Do you have to?

She looks at him and smiles.

Ting – They’re expecting me.

Min – I wish you wouldn’t go.

Ting reaches over and caresses Min’s face.

Ting – You are sweet.

Min – The struggle is bringing us close.

Ting – It is.

Min – Will you be safe and not do anything crazy?

Ting – I will be safe… and not do anything crazy.

Min – Promise?

Ting – Promise.

She takes his hand in hers and kisses it. Then she rises and crosses to the door. She looks back at him and waves a slow goodbye.

Min – Will you call me when it’s done?

Ting – I will.

She exits.

Dear Xi Jinping

I would like to ask that you not repress the protesters in Hong Kong. They are not threatening your reign in China.

The protesters do stand, however, as examples of what China should and could become, a first class society where freedom of speech and assembly are essential to the wellbeing and creativity of the population.

It took fundamental economic reforms for China to rocket into prominence in the last 40 years. And more is to come. But it won’t happen without freedom.

It is tempting for some to say that the enormous progress China has made, is primarily the result of the rule of the Communist Party.

You know that that is not true.

You have certainly provided guidance and structure, but without the fundamental economic reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping, and the enormous talent and determination of the Chinese people, the country would not be where it is today.

Autocracy, tight governmental control, the system you represent, will eventually become an obstacle to the continued growth of the nation.

The world, Mr Jinping, needs China’s valuable contributions. Your nation should not be held back.

To your north and to your east, by contrast, Russia and North Korea stand as examples of all that goes wrong with autocratic systems. The productivity of their people has been long stymied.

While China has benefitted in part from the regimentation it has lived under and the openness to America and the West, it now needs to move to another phase of development, a new phase that requires freedom of speech and assembly as its essential ingredient.

So let Hong Kong and Taiwan stand as showcases of what is possible.

Have the wisdom and courage to allow different systems to evolve alongside your autocracy.

And learning from their experience and yours, allow for the gradual transformation that is essential for China to continue its rise to affluence and prominence.

Learn from tolerating difference right next to the mainland and use what you learn to prepare the mainland for the challenges that lie ahead.

History will not be kind to men like Putin and Kim Jong Un. They will be remembered as mere tyrants. You, on the other hand, have the option of another outcome.

And it could start right now, with you not repressing and persecuting the courageous and idealistic Hong Kong protesters.

It could start with you showing tolerance, kindness and wisdom, and by doing so signaling to the world that your nation has the power of compassion that other nations should strive to emulate.

History will forever remind us of Tiananmen. We should never repeat it.

It’s up to you, Mr Jinping.

Your choice.

Thanks

The Hong Kong Protests: A View From Afar

It has been impressive, the courage of the protesters, the tenacity and creativity which with they have organized. The spark that set things off, the law that would have allowed for the extradition to the mainland of criminal suspects from Hong Kong, has been pulled back, and yet the protests have continued, making more demands from the Beijing appointed authorities governing Hong Kong.

Today, the protesters occupied the airport forcing the cancellation of flights.

How will it end? is the question in everyone’s mind.

What seems clear is that Xi Jinping will not make any concessions that jeopardize his control over the territory. He would prefer for the protests to die out and for the violence to cease but the dissidents are not giving any signs that that is their intention.

No one, Xi or anyone else, wants to see the repeat of Tiananmen Square 30 years ago this last June 4th.

Does the leadership of the movement have the capacity to redirect the energies of the protesters? If it does this is the time to use it so that the violence is turned down. Could they, for instance, change strategy and aim for concessions allowing political bodies run by the mainland to grant greater representation to the people of Hong Kong?

The protest organizers’ surely realize that continued violence will not advance their cause and instead invite brutal repression.

Should that happen the world may stand in solidarity with the protesters but the victims will remain victims.

Trade with China may pause briefly but eventually will continue, and the dead will not be brought back.

Hong Kong today retains economic value to the mainland – it has the 4th richest stock market, right behind Japan – but eventually that value will be transferred to the mainland. It’s a matter of time.

But there’s something unique about the struggle of the protesters. And it’s their yearning for a voice, their thirst for their freedom.

The rest of China, under the thumb of Xi Jinping and the party, must be looking at Hong Kong and, in the recesses of their minds and hearts, realize that one day they would like to have the freedom to express themselves. In the recesses of their heart and minds, they must be envying the courage of the protesters from Hong Kong, even if they may deride them in public, because deep down, every Chinese person, like every man or woman on this earth, wants to have the choice to be free.

Trump and Xi will continue with the trade war but Hong Kong should not be part of it.

Hong Kong’s protests are about the aspirations of every human being.

Dear Joe Biden:You and the Year of the American Woman

You are, today, in a very special position to alter the course of American political life. Your talents have been in evidence during your long career, reaching a high point when they caught the eye of Barack Obama, a good judge of character, who made the excellent choice of picking you as vice president. At a time of historical transition, Obama chose well, you delivered superbly, and the nation felt it could trust democrats to open a new chapter in its history.

Thank you for that.

Surely there were many moments during your tenure as vice president, when Obama sought your advice in complex matters and your wisdom made a difference.

Thank you for being there for all of us.

Personally, I remember one very special instance when you boosted the flagging spirits of all democrats. During the heated campaign for reelection in 2012, after Obama had put in a lackluster performance in the first debate against hard challenging Mitt Romney, you came back with a sterling demonstration of political savvy, debating vigorously and dominating his running mate. It was unforgettable.

Today, as the nation is roiled by the hatred and mismanagement stirred by a short sighted republican president, history has once again put you in a position to have an outsize influence in our national life. Not by you vying for the presidency, but by you helping to shift the attention of America’s electorate to a worthy woman candidate.

I am sure you have thought about this.

Never before, have so many American women been driven by the desire to put themselves in the thick of the nation’s political struggles, to endure whatever comes to those bold enough to make public their political ideas, to those strong enough to bare themselves to public scrutiny.

Never before, have women moved forward so confidently, and say to the nation, ‘we are over half of this land, we have given birth and helped nurture all Americans. We have something to say and we will be heard, for we have the capacity and vision to lead”.  

What we are witnessing is unprecedented. It signals that we are ready to move to another stage in our political development, a stage where American women, long neglected and ignored, must play a central role.

It cannot be otherwise. Like Obama was the personification of a powerful force in our midst, so now is the time for an American woman to lead.

History has set the stage.

How? By our having elected, in 2016, a man who is the antithesis of good sense. A man whose instincts are against the environment, against nurturing alliances with steadfast friends, a man who has failed miserably to invest generously in Americans, so we can move confidently into the future.

With that contrast, it should be clear that 2020 ought to be the year of the American Woman.

There are, in the present field of candidates, highly capable women running for president and you, Joe, are in the enviable position of being the force that influences events decisively.

Imagine you saying to the nation that it is time for Americans to elect a woman. The force that your words carry would have a profound effect on the electorate. You would help narrow down the choices so that our energies can be better spent. The allocation of campaign funds would become more efficient, which we need because wealthy Republicans, aiming for preferential tax treatment from our president, will give lavishly to reelect him.

So now is the time, Joe, for you to bow out of the race. Now that you are on top, now that you are leading in the polls. Paradoxically, this is the best of times.

On close scrutiny, you have lost some of your former sharpness. The temptation, of course, is to deny it, to go on and on, to pretend that it is not happening.

The grueling contest for the nomination and later the race to election day will, however, be unforgiving, further exposing some of the apparent deficits. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You have made a place for yourself in our political history. Those of us who appreciate your years of service would prefer not to see you stumble. Those of us who know of your invaluable contributions would prefer not to see you leave the race because your performance has lost its luster and you no longer lead the field.

So this is the time, Joe. Right now.

I do not think that this suggestion of mine will ever come from any of the talented women candidates now vying for the nomination. Their pride wouldn’t allow it. They would rather battle it out with you. And it could be that one of them will defeat you in the contest. But even if you should be the one to capture the nomination and go on to beat Trump, I do not think that you will have the profound impact on our nation that a woman president will.

This is their time, Joe, right now. Their golden moment, and you can help make it happen.

I urge you to consider moving from leading presidential candidate to leading force in helping usher in a new era in American politics and you will shine with lasting light.

You, Joe Biden, gallant knight of a thousand political battles, can make 2020 the Year of the American Woman and help open the next chapter in our political history.

Best

Oscar Valdes

Guns and Mental Health

Is mental health a determining factor in shootings? Of course. But how are we going to go about addressing it?

We can’t force anyone to seek the benefits from mental health treatment. No, you have to persuade, you have to entice, you have to educate about the great healing possibilities that it offers.

Let us imagine an advertisement attempting to reach a possible shooter. “Dear sir, if you have a lot of guns and are piling up on ammunition and knives, you may be very angry about something that went wrong in your life. There is no point in giving your pain to others that have nothing to do with your own. Why hurt them? Why hurt the innocent? They have their pain to deal with, like every human being has. So please come to your neighborhood mental health center and ask to speak to a therapist. We will do what we can to help you find peace in your heart and not ruin your life. Please come see us.”

Will the person seeing or hearing such advertisement pick up the phone right away and make an appointment or go straight to the address listed?

No.

The person will take their time thinking about it, if he does at all, or will likely say, “It’s probably a ruse, a trick to take away my guns. Anyway, I can’t imagine anyone being able to help me with all this misery that I’ve been going through all of my life.”

But mental health treatment can help the person heal if they show up. If he shows up and stays in his seat, stays in the room and interacts with the person sitting across. And it will take time. Time. Which is what we don’t have.

To get us the precious time we need to reach these troubled souls we must put limits on gun purchases.

To get us the time we need to treat our fellow Americans seething with murderous rage we need restrictions on access to guns.

We need limits and restrictions on gun purchases until we find ways to educate our citizenry, ways to instill in them that no one should give their pain to others, that each person has to learn to process their own distress, and until we do so, having free access to guns is a prescription for endless suffering.

Yes, mental health is an issue. But are you willing to consent to every prospective gun owner getting a mental health screening?

I don’t think so.

So we need time. 

To all gun lovers in the land, please give us that precious time, and you will be acting responsibly to prevent the cowardly slaughter of our fellow citizens.

The White House is Empty.

After a short truce declared at the end of June, Trump decided to further raise tariffs in his ill-conceived plan to beat China regardless of the softening of the world economy. Last week the Federal Reserve Bank cut the interest rate in an effort to limit the damage the tariffs have been inflicting on our own economy. Then this last weekend we were struck by two back to back mass shootings, first in El Paso, Texas and then in Dayton, Ohio.

A deep malaise has seized the nation and yet, at this critical moment, we are, in effect, leaderless. There is no one in charge at the White House, no one with vision or moral courage.

The trade war with China was a bad idea from the start. There are plenty of other ways to address our differences but not at the expense of imperiling our economies. Furthermore, we will not beat China in a trade war, and we will not because they will endure more suffering than us.

But listen to one of the president’s advisers talk on the radio and one sees a common denominator: the effort to demonize. The adviser, Peter Navarro, spoke the other day as if the one objective driving China’s existence was to subjugate Americans, to get us down on our knees and beg for mercy. There was rage in the man’s voice as he spoke of Chinese soldiers devoted to hacking our systems, and of China’s massive shipments of the drug fentanyl to poison our hearts and minds. China, the devil incarnate. As if we were known for being helpless.

Not willing to back off, over the weekend China fought back against Trump’s raise in tariffs by devaluing their currency which will make their exports cheaper.

The financial markets, in turn, sensing the deep malaise, the uncertainty, the lack of perspective in the White House, the void of leadership, have responded with a sharp drop in the Dow.  

We will not win a trade war with China but a short sighted president with profound personal flaws keeps beating that drum in a vain attempt to deflect personal scrutiny. And as he does so he continues to undermine what had been an economy with steady growth.

This is the same man who rose to his position by way of inciting hate, demonizing immigrants and Muslims, and who has thus empowered those blinded by their hate.

Our president, himself filled with hate and unable or unwilling to defuse it, has by his example, given license to others who have weaker defenses against their unexamined impulses.

And so, no matter how many proclamations and tweets and executive orders come from the White House, if one takes a moment to sift through it all, it is clear that the Oval Office has been empty. There is no one there. Sure, someone goes in and out, sits at the desk and walks around, meets with foreign leaders and makes lots of noises, but there’s no one there with the brain needed to lead us. And because of it we are drifting dangerously, without a moral and intellectual compass to lead us into the future.

Where is the Rage?

In our darkest hour

Where is the rage?

In our darkest hour

Where is the rage in those

With the power to restrict access to guns,

Where is the rage?

Are they waiting for a brother to be struck,

For a daughter to be killed

For a son to be hit?

Where is the rage?

Are they waiting for the NRA to give them permission

To raise their voices?

Where is the rage?

Are they waiting for the gun lobby to scream

Because it was their dearest kin

That was cowardly shot?

Are they waiting for the donors to their campaigns

To be the victims?

Where is the rage?

If in the darkest of hours

You have not found it,

Then you’re not fit to lead,

If you have the power to help restrict access

To the guns killing our daughters and sons,

Our sisters and brothers,

Our mothers and fathers,

If you have that power and you shield it

From the rage that fills the hearts of the nation,

Then you’re not worthy of calling yourself a leader

And you should resign,

You should step aside

To make room for those whose hearts beat

With the rest of the nation’s hearts.

If you are not burning with rage

At the senseless murdering and wounding

Of our fellow Americans,

Then please step aside,

Please let others who have not lost their courage

Step front and do what must be done

To stop the bleeding in our land.

In our darkest hour,

If your heart is not filled with rage,

Then it is not in you to lead,

If your heart is not filled with rage

Then move out of the way

So that others who have the courage

Can do what must be done.