Also available on the Policy Think Site –


Commentary by Jay B Gaskill

Mosul has fallen to invading bloody-minded jihadists. The new Iraqi government is under-protected. Its military, having been prematurely abandoned by US forces, is in disarray. (See the Washington Post, piece, Iraq could get worse…)

Bagdad, itself, is at risk of being overrun by the extremists.  

Our president and his inner circle were never known for resolution and toughness when it came to our nation’s real enemies abroad, just hard for edged partisan games against the domestic political opposition.

But be reassured, the administration is “considering all options.”

Maybe POTUS will issue another “red line” warning to the forces seeking to take over Iraq.

I miss the Democratic Party, but for the moment it has been replaced by something else.  I have often self-identified as a “Truman democrat”, particularly on foreign policy. Here is a litmus test for any tough national security question (think of protecting Israel from Jihadist nukes, or protecting our diplomats from bloody jihadists): One only need ask, “What would Harry do?”  It is useful to notice just how far we have fallen.

Naïve foreign policy idealism periodically rises up like spring daisies, only to die in the harsh weather “on the ground.”

The conflicts between foreign powers have more in common with the struggles among criminal gangs than disputes within the genteel sanctuaries of the diplomats. Mr. Obama does not understand real thug behavior and is ill equipped to deal with it in the international arena.

During the 20th and 21st centuries, international conflicts have become more deadly by any measure than in all the prior centuries from the founding of the American colonies to the present moment combined.

In the tumultuous period that began with the First World War, one president rates at or near the top of all presidents for the quality of his American foreign policy and national security decisions and actions: Harry Truman. Sadly, our current president has so far earned rock bottom status. He is the anti-Truman incarnate.  While this is just one lawyer’s perspective, it is secretly shared by hosts of “old fashioned” democrats.

An unflinching analysis of this president’s disastrous track record was just released by the respected the Hoover scholar, classicist and military historian, Victor Davis Hanson – see Scandals — or fundamental transformations?

at .

We are not living through a lame duck presidency, but we enduring something more dangerous. We are experiencing a hollow duck presidency, conducted in the style of a bad employee with tenure.  A hollow duck president subsists on a mixture of gesture and thinly disguised contempt for the values of his employers.

Our POTUS is a man who habitually governs as a public relations exercise. He presents as a leader who seems obsessed with surface images over substance. He seems to inhabit the alternate universe wherein “considering all options” means only considering the alternative media images that would follow any difficult policy decision.  “How to look good” (or in this disaster, “how not to look bad”) trumps making the concrete tough decisions needed to secure the country’s security and welfare.

There is a term for a personality that is entranced with its self-image; it is the classic narcissistic personality. Committed narcissists are notoriously hard to teach, because every teaching moment, every failure, is filtered through a delusional screen – “It can’t have been my fault, therefore….”

Israel – take note.  This president could well determine your future.  Iran, your mortal enemy, is being gradually allowed to acquire an atomic bomb arsenal, while the administration is still “considering all options.”

POTUS has until Friday, January 20th, 2017 to burnish his growing legacy. Brace your selves for all the teaching moments ahead.


Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

First published on the Policy Think Site and the Out*Lawyer’s Blog. Forwards and pull quotes are welcome and encouraged, provided they are with full attribution including this link –



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment




A Modest Proposal by

Jay B Gaskill

 Also published at –

Sgt. Bowie Bergdahl is freed from the bloody hands of the Afghanistan jihad, after suffering through a brutal and debilitating five years in Taliban hell.

I rejoice.  I empathize with the parents and family. I am a Dad.  I get it.[1]

But my joy is tempered by some practical concerns. The release of five high value enemy leaders was and is dangerous.  Their names: Mullah Mohammad FazlMullah Norullah NooriKhairullah Khairkhwa, Mohammed Nabi Omari, and Abdul Haq Wasiq.

They been described as -

“…undoubtedly among the most dangerous Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo…” – Thomas Joscelyn, a senior editor at the Long War Journal.

Fazl…was the Taliban’s former deputy defense minister… wanted by the United Nations for his role in massacres targeting Afghan’s Shi’ite Muslim population.

Noori … a senior Taliban military figure … was asked personally in 1995 by Osama bin Laden to participate in an offensive against northern alliance warlord Rashid Dostum.

Khairkhwa, a former Taliban governor of Herat, was …a likely heroin trafficker”, believed to have “participated in meetings with Iranian officials after 9-11 to help plot attacks on U.S. forces following the invasion.

Nabi … helped organize the al Qaeda/Taliban militias that fought against U.S. and coalition troops in the first year of the war…

Only Wasiq seems a comparative lightweight.

Wasig was a deputy minister of intelligence who turned. Pentagon sources say that he was holding out information he had on other top al Qaeda and Taliban leaders during interrogations.”

These Pentagon-sourced accounts were first published by The Daily Beast. LINK –

These five men are to be afoot; and very ugly things will come of their release.  Moreover, the bargain itself creates a perverse and deadly incentive to take more American soldiers prisoner.

…A paradox is presented.…But the paradox has one appropriate solution: 

Track and kill the worst four of the released terror leaders. Do it soon, and do it very visibly.

I look for a tougher America, the “Jack Bauer America” that I can only imagine, the one where the administration recognizes that we are still at war against a deadly set of enemies, the one where we routinely treat thuggish acts against our people with the craft and ruthlessness appropriate to grave threats in time of war, the one where we act with the cold realism appropriate to a war to the death that must win.

This is what that USA would have done:

Before the release of Fazl, Noori, Wasiq, Khairkhwa, and Nabi, each man would have been anesthetized, surgically implanted with a tracking device, given an amnesia-inducing psychotropic; then bathed, shaved and dressed up, awakening in a hotel room.  Only then are they handed over in a trade for the imprisoned American Army Sergeant.

The moment that our man is released, the worst four of the released Taliban leaders (excluding only Wasig) are assassinated at the earliest practicable moment. 


Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, attorney at law


Website –

Author site –

Circulate this piece freely, but only with full attribution.


[1] I am aware that there are pending concerns about the circumstances of Sgt. Bergdahl’s capture – as it was away from his unit – but I am not prepared to join the carping voices about “desertion” for two reasons: (1) the matter has not been investigated; (2) this young man was one of us – there is absolutely no intimation that Sgt. Bergdahl changed sides, an allegation that is absurd on its face.  We can trust the military to make this assessment.  My question is this: If he wandered off base, should we and his fellow soldiers have abandoned him? The answer is never. The Christian parable of the prodigal son is apt.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



On The Policy Think Site –


A Reflection by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

[The former Public Defender for Alameda County, CA]


[  ]

In the USA, we woke up one morning and learned -

“ISLA VISTA, Calif. — A college student who posted videos that documented his rage against women for rejecting him killed six people and wounded 13 others during a spasm of terror on Friday night, the police said. He stabbed three men to death in his apartment and shot the others as he methodically opened fire on bystanders on the crowded streets of this small town.

“The gunman, identified by the police as Elliot O. Rodger, 22, was found dead with a bullet wound to his head after his black BMW crashed into a parked car following two shootouts with sheriff’s deputies near the University of California, Santa Barbara.”

New York Times. 5-24-14

As the Santa Barbara, CA rampage was reported in the UK

“The aunt of Elliot Rodger has spoken of the family’s devastation following his killing spree in Isla Vista, California, on Friday.

“Rodger’s father, an assistant director on The Hunger Games, is said to be “absolutely broken” after his son carried out the massacre near UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), which left six dead and many more injured.

“The sister of Peter Rodger told Sky News the family was “in total shock” – and she condemned US gun laws.”

“Rodger, who had Asperger syndrome … accused several people of assaulting him – but investigators conceded he was actually the aggressor and suspended the case.”

[  ]

BUT WHAT HAVE WE REALLY LEARNED?  CANDLES WILL BE LIT, THE GRIEVING and anger will gradually give way to numbness – after all, the killer is dead – and people will try to forget.  No one can claim that the killer was poor or deprived of resources.  Yes, he had access to firearms.  Yes, some of the people around him might have been a little more wary, a bit more diligent.  But, at present there is no robust system that is designed to focus surveillance resources and intelligent attention on youngish men (and yes, almost all of these killings are by males) who display anger, choose to live alone and brood revenge fantasies.

Assume that the report that young Elliot Roger did have some form of Asperger’s syndrome, a mild impairment that resembles autism, proves true.  What of it? Almost no Asperger’s diagnosed men ever, ever go on shooting rampages. Nor do socially maladroit males who can’t attract beautiful young women.  

I predict that an all too familiar personality profile will emerge in this case: An entitled kid, denied what he thinks is his birthright (apparently the BMW wasn’t a sufficient chick magnet), a boy-man capable of repeated obnoxious behavior that results in rejection, who resents it because he is so “special.”

No number of purely clinical insights can supply the missing element. There was an evident character defect operating here, a moral deficiency. It is an all too common syndrome: A boy-man is raised in a hedonistic, shallow culture, suffused with a therapeutic ethos, camouflaged as a moral system. Therefore he lacks the necessary defenses to the malevolent elements in this damaged culture.

Such personalities have compromised moral immune systems. They are susceptible to the lures of evil (this not a medical, but a moral category).  Foremost among these malign influences are the power lures that are particularly attractive to entitled males who are denied glory and satisfaction.  The ensuing suicide is a tell, because a grand self-immolation is the last refuge of malignant narcissism – the warped personality for whom the happiness or success of others is an affront, leading to a dangerous emotional logic: Leveling down those unfairly successful ones builds up the narcissist’s ego fantasy.  When faced with the ultimate futility of that strategy, only one grand gesture remains.  Recall Hitler’s Führerbunker suicide.

The Mr. Roger’s massacre highlights that we have a boy-man formation problem to work on. There is a reason that the prisons are disproportionately populated with male as opposed to female violent offenders. 

Young men-in-formation need mentors and role models, among them manly religious figures of great integrity, and coaches who are steeped in ethics, model integrity in their lives, and teach virtues.  Sadly, this is not a large group; and not all young boys have access to such leaders.  We need  inspired, charismatic moral leaders, men and women, especially those with a solid religious foundation. But for them, the postmodern culture is a hostile work environment.

We are living in a damaged culture. As functioning adults with no criminal history, many of us are immune to this culture’s most corrosive elements.  We are the inoculated ones because we have acquired moral character. Everything you read about this case going forward will consist of heartfelt but ineffectual gestures and palliative measures – yes, some proposed measures are appropriate and will have some good effects at the margins.

But in this culture, Mr. Roger’s massacre is just one of many, many to come. Deep-tissue cultural repair is needed and – because I am an essential optimist – it will eventually take place. Why?  Because it must.

Heavy lifting will be needed. What follows is an excerpt from the draft of a non-fiction work in progress, working tile, “The Wise Child”.

Moral character is inspired, not installed like a computer program. Character is nurtured by trial, not played like a video game. And character is sustained by faith.  Yes, faith. All friendships and marriages are acts of faith.  Every trust relationship is founded in faith. No institution owns the patent on faith.  It is open source software issued along with the gift of the human capacity for moral intelligence.

It occurred to me that we could be the last link in that great intergenerational transmission belt; that we might really be the last, best vital connection to the moral law. Our task may be easier for us than for some others who are less sure of their moral ground.  Children can sense an adult’s moral ambivalence like a dog can smell fear. We are in a war for the survival of civilization and we’ve all been enlisted, willing or not, ready or not.  Our only weapons are our beliefs, our integrity, the quality of our lives, and the quality of the relationships of the people we deal with.  But that is enough. With the children at our side, we will prevail.


As published on the POLICY THINK SITE and linked blogs.

Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law

Links, attributed pull-quotes, and forwards are welcome and encouraged. For everything else, you are invited to contact the author by email < >.

The author’s latest novel, a modern thriller in the tradition of Orwell, called Gabriel’s Stand is now available through several popular vendors in traditional print and as an e-book. For more information and purchase links, navigate to this link:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s About the Bravery

Remember the Bravery

A Reflection

By Jay B Gaskill


On this Memorial Day 2014, I want to take a moment to reflect on a great tradition.  In my newly released novel, that tradition is an important subtext, as is the covert nature of evil, understood as an actual, palpable affliction of the human condition.

For the post, go to this link -

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book Release

9781771680127covGABRIEL’S STAND

The new novel by Jay B Gaskill

Ecological chaos and political instability open the way to a government takeover by environmental extremists. A political movement, having begun in Europe, seeks the assistance of radical American environmental lawyers. A stealth path to power is hatched, exploiting a backdoor in the US Constitution, the treaty clause of Article Six.  A ratified treaty can legally grant an international agency the authority to issue edicts that will govern American life as the “supreme law of the land.”  The “Earth Restoration Treaty” will empower a super-agency to license “dangerous” technologies – where licensing necessarily includes selective prohibition. The “dangerous” technologies are to include essential antibiotics. As the opportunity for a stealth coup d’état is at hand, the movement’s darkest agenda (radical human depopulation) is kept hidden from the useful fools in the “Earth Restoration” movement. The popular Native American Senator, Gabriel Standing Bear Lindstrom, will make a final stand, and then….





Apple on iTunes Books – Search “Jay B Gaskill”


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment




The Case for Tough Vetting

A Brief for the Next Perilous 30 Years

By Jay B Gaskill

Facing Reality about Political Leaders


In the 2008 campaign for president, candidate Hillary Clinton, Senator from New York, complained that candidate Barack Obama, Senator from Illinois, had not been vetted. In the famous campaign television ad for Senator Clinton, the audience was asked in effect – When an emergency phone call for the President comes in at 3 AM, do you really want Barack Obama at the receiving end?

After a full first term and partway into the president’s second term, most democratic politicians facing reelection contests fervently wish that their POTUS nominee had been vetted. For that matter, a majority of Americans now wish that Governor Romney had been elected in 2012.  Hillary’s question is timely.

In this article, I address three related questions:

[1]   Where did all the vetting go? 

[2]   If a vetting procedure were put in place now, would candidate Hillary still want to be vetted?

[3]   What can we do about it now?

Several decades ago, the two major parties conducted vetting in private, picking their nominees in the smoke filled room.  The smoke is gone, and the primary system seems to have eliminated any real vetting, smoke or no smoke.

This now appears to be a serious mistake.

The next thirty years will be rough going for our nation and the world at large. As an optimist, I would much prefer three decades of peace and prosperity, starting with 2014.  But we cannot resign from the world and be forever immune from its troubles and disruptions lest that fate puts us in Hamlet’s place, facing that ultimate question: to be or not to be. This 21st century of the question asks us whether we will be true to our legacy as the world’s best hope, or not. …In the Danish prince’s words, are we, as a nation, to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or [are we] to take arms against a sea of troubles. In either scenario, troubles will find us, whether we are prepared or unprepared.

Even optimists like me must admit that this country will face harrowing perils and challenges in the next three decades. We will need extraordinary leadership. Whether we thrive or submerge will be up to us and to the leaders we select.

We have been living for decades with retail politics, the arrangement where favors from the governing class are bartered for support.

This now appears to be a serious mistake.

Retail politics generates a new gaggle of unexceptional, underwhelming leader-wannabes in every election cycle. Whether another Churchill or FDR lurks among them is impossible for an ordinary voter to discern. In this article I name names, describe three neglected or discounted vital policy issues that inadequate or misguided leadership will fail to address in time. And without proactive, forward-looking leadership in all three of these problem areas, reality will bite us…hard.

I then describe some of the important characteristics of the kinds of leaders we should be looking for; and make the case for a leader vetting process.

After several decades, retail politics has left us with a legacy of squandered resources, bestowed on insatiable interest groups while starving the essential functions we depend on government to perform. You don’t have to be a conservative to realize that government is overextended and that, among the pernicious consequences, government is not performing its core functions very well at all.

Why? Retail politics is mostly about two things, both of which are designed to perpetuate a political catering class:

  1. Identification with trends, ideas, ideologies or interest groups that will draw support in the coming election cycle;
  2. The avoidance of accountability for failures in the last election cycle.

Retail politics is almost never about proactively implementing the common sense, practical solutions for our really fundamental problems (like preventing drought) because these problems require heavy lifting over several election cycles. To a typical retail politician, the task of really addressing the mundane, but essential tasks on which our actual day-to-day life as a country depends is perpetually postponable. Boutique issues will crowd out the really important ones; coalitions of hot micro-concerns will trump complacent majorities. A tendency to scandalous waste on the small issues at the expense of the large, long term ones is baked into the interest group-political class relationship that retail politics has evolved to perpetuate. We will need leaders who are willing and able to balance this tendency.

The tendency to squander immense resources on really big causes did not begin with the single-term presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson, but it reached a certain dizzy level of excess when LBJ squandered a vast fortune, several former administrations worth, on two wars – one, on poverty and one, against the Vietnamese communists; and lost them both.

Flash forward to the current administration.  When our new president threw another fortune at green energy projects, leaving a trail of bankrupt energy companies in its wake, and the US energy supply was not measurably better than before. This was LBJ Lite on the energy side. But when the same administration’s total cause-driven spending (saving Detroit, the crippled auto industry, re-inflating the housing bubble, bailing out favored banks and financial institutions) are taken into account, the dollar cost of WWII (which saved Western Civilization) almost looks like a bargain.

Typical retail politics nurtures pretend leadership- sharply focused on posturing, positioning and patronage. Real leadership can be dangerous to one’s career path.

But without long-term focus on core issues, and the timely breakthrough of authentic leadership willing to take on real problems with practical solutions, our fragile lifeline to survival is unnecessarily placed at risk. Neglected long term problems have a way of becoming fatal crises, taking front stage only when it is too late to head them off.

Why doesn’t retail politics produce better leaders?

The answer should be evident from a thought experiment:  List the well-known leaders who are capable of generating and sustaining support for the common sense, practical solutions that can solve the really fundamental problems on which our actual day-to-day life as a country depends. Having trouble with that list? Thinking of drafting someone?

Real leaders are never drafted. They draft themselves. 

Among the serious challenges that the USA will face a number over the next three decades, I have identified three core problem areas that cannot be neglected without severe penalties.  And if history is any guide, there will be other major additional challenges to catch us unprepared.

A second thought experiment: Assume that X, a leader-in-waiting, discovers that a large meteor will strike the Midwest US in 2021 with sufficient destructive force to kill a million people and destroy agricultural production in five key states for a decade. That disaster would trump all the other pending issues in the USA between now and then. Many of the solutions, like an orderly evacuation and major reinvestments in agricultural production outside the destruction zone, are common sense. But would we really prepare? How often do we heed our prophets?  An all too likely outcome: X is discredited for apocalyptic panic-mongering. In a follow-up account, “Rogue meteor destroys Midwest,” X is never mentioned.

After decades of apocalyptic rhetoric about global warming (now amended to climate change), and similar rhetoric about public indebtedness, (now amended to looming public debt default), why has little or no effective action has taken place? The “cry wolf” syndrome and the accumulation of false prophets has made reasonable people wary of being prematurely herded into unpleasant actions. If the immediate cost of avoiding a predicted disaster is relatively minor, then reasonable people can agree to a prevention program – not necessarily because they are convinced of the dark prophetic warnings, but because they are hedging their bets.

Consider two examples:

[1. ] Churchill’s pre-World War II warnings about the menace of Hitler’s Germany (before he became Prime Minister) were ignored. His leadership was accepted only when the threat became radically real.

[ 2.]  FDR’s second campaign in 1936 was as a peace-loving leader: “I hate war, and I know that the Nation hates war” and Today there is war and rumor of war. We want none of it. But while we guard our shores against threats of war, we will continue to remove the causes of unrest and antagonism at home which might make our people easier victims to those for whom foreign war is profitable. You know well that those who stand to profit by war are not on our side in this campaign.” This pre-election election speech in Madison Square Garden was made during the very year when Hitler’s intent to ravage Europe was blatantly apparent.  FDR’s national security leadership emerged only when the threat to the USA became radically real.

Roosevelt proved that he had the chops as a wartime leader; he was adaptable. We easily could have had a political hack.


It is unreasonable to expect our elected leaders to be prophets. But we can expect them to demonstrate a future-oriented perspective, and to have a track record of character, adaptability and effective leadership before we trust them with key positions of power.

In the long term, reality has a vote, too, and there always comes a day when some things are suddenly more important than charm, glibness and rock-star charisma:  Things like morally-anchored realism, like distaste for ideologues, and the capacity to rise to a new challenge and adapt.

Firm, morally-grounded principles (rooted in the ethos of the American founding) always trump ideology. Character always trumps moralistic pronouncements.  Nothing less than the sum of moral and personal virtues we call character will do for those we are to trust with our really critical leadership positions, like POTUS. But a character assessment has not been a distinct part of the POTUS selection/election process in the memory of anyone now alive.

Character is not the sum of one’s declared positions. Character’s presence or absence is revealed in the quality of one’s actions and decisions under pressure. We can know someone as a friend for years, but it’s only when we are in crisis that friendship is tested.  Character is the same. It can be initially “installed” during our upbringing, but whether character has truly been instilled remains to be tested by life.

The parent’s lament, “we brought him/her up to be better than that,” reminds us that the lessons on which character is founded can be only taught, as by parents, mentors & teachers.  But character, itself, is forged by life’s challenges.  This is why a leader’s character should have been tested before he or she assumes power.  Cleverness and charisma tend to show up before character is formed and tested.

Voters who just assume a candidate is a person of character place the country at great risk.




Starting now, we need to form a coalition of reasonable, practical women and men that will stand together, demanding that credible private institutions be tasked to vet our key potential leaders before they get a grip on power. This is the NEVER AGAIN! VETTING PROJECT.

The vetting process is not just for negatives like potential scandal. Vetting is for the essential positives: character, reasonableness, principled realism, attention to the essential, long term issues on which survival depends, and the capacity for adaptability.

Vetting is the means to impartially and truthfully inform the rest of us before some charismatic fool (lacking in character, reasonableness, principled realism, attention to the essential, long term issues on which survival depends, and without the capacity for adaptability), gets a firm hold on power.

In the vetting process, fervent ideologues of the left and right may need to be placated, but must never be allowed to govern the selection process of our most critically important leaders. Ideologues tend to be blind about character, reasonableness, the capacity for adaptability, principled realism, as long as the candidate is “one of us”. Even if a candidate say he or she will pay attention to the long term issues on which our very survival depends, good intentions will not matter if a leader lacks the character to do the hard thing.

The vetting process should be tough, objective but confidential at the front end, so that potential leaders can participate without the risk of unnecessary embarrassment.  The much criticized smoke filled room process quietly weeded out problem candidates without publically destroying them. But the vetting process must be fully transparent at the release end, exposing the flaws, lapses or inadequacies of wannabe leaders who choose to charge forward without regard to the vetting process.

Ideally, the vetting would be done within each major political party in a more principled version of the “smoke filled room”.  But history teaches that in the overheated primary process our much-weakened party hierarchies are not capable of aggressive vetting (except possibly for the absence of scandals that would endanger electability).

In an important Op Ed in the New York Times, David Brooks praises the latest campaign contribution limitation case by the Supreme Court (eliminating limits for wealthy donors who want to contribute to political parties).   In my opinion, this may strengthen the candidate vetting power of the two parties (a point not addressed the Brooks’ piece). Here are some pull quotes:

“Over the last several decades, the United States has adopted a series of campaign finance reform laws. If these laws were designed to reduce the power of money in politics, they have failed. Spending on political campaigns has exploded. Washington booms with masses of lobbyists and consultants.

“But campaign finance laws weren’t merely designed to take money out of politics; they were designed to protect incumbents from political defeat. In this regard, the laws have been fantastically successful.”

“The McCutcheon decision is a rare win for the parties. It enables party establishments to claw back some of the power that has flowed to donors and “super PACs.” It effectively raises the limits on what party establishments can solicit. It gives party leaders the chance to form joint fund-raising committees they can use to marshal large pools of cash and influence. McCutcheon is a small step back toward a party-centric system.

“In their book ‘Better Parties, Better Government,’ Peter J. Wallison and Joel M. Gora propose the best way to reform campaign finance: eliminate the restrictions on political parties to finance the campaigns of their candidates; loosen the limitations on giving to parties; keep the limits on giving to PACs.

“Parties are not perfect, Lord knows. But they have broad national outlooks. They foster coalition thinking. They are relatively transparent. They are accountable to voters. They ally with special interests, but they transcend the influence of any one.”

{LINK: }

However the vetting evaluation processes of potential leaders are structured, the ultimate election process requires a critical mass of informed voters. And this means that the vetting results need to be credible and widely circulated.

This is why we must develop bipartisan vetting entities whose principal power lies in their investigative credibility, access to the media and the ultimate trustworthiness of their recommendations and cautions.   Our very survival may well depend on public education and electoral accountability.  I recognize that this is a culture change. It will not spontaneously appear like the spring flowers. It will start with coalitions of reasonable minds who are willing to set aside partisan differences and tune down the ideological rhetoric. 

It will start with us.

I have referred to turbulent decades ahead. Most of the conflicts and solutions will revolve around three problem categories (see the discussion Re Energy, National Security and Water below). It is critical that the vetting discussions go beyond the immediate politics of the moment. All leaders assume elected office in the context of the short term issues de jure but also in the looming shadow of the vital, long-term public policy issues. Both categories need to be given equal weight in assessing a leader’s readiness and suitability.  The following section identifies the three principal long-term problem areas that, in my personal opinion, will require strong, realistic political and policy leadership over the next three challenging decades.


The Big Three Problem Categories for 2014 – 2044:



Why is not global warming on this short list? …Because the decisive issue will not be climate change as such, but our capacity to quickly adapt to climate change together with a host of related problems, all of which take us back to one critical inflection point: Whatever happens with world climate, the USA will need a robust, secure, dependable and abundant energy supply to cope with it.

I am a climate realist. To describe oneself as a “climate change believer” is social code for someone who has gone all-in on the conventional wisdom that the planet is warming up at a dangerous rate, and that modern human activity, almost certainly our production of CO2, is the driving cause. Every contrary view is dismissed as “climate change denial”, a mindset that is seen as equivalent to the flat earth fringe.  There is an underlying – and unexamined – premise lurking here: that climate control is a proper subject of public policy. A caution flag: If/when we humans really do attain the ability to control climate on a large scale, the resulting political disputes are very likely to ignite world war.

Many of us in both political parties find ourselves in the climate realism camp. This implies robust skepticism about climate control measures. Large scale climate change is – thankfully – well outside the power of ordinary human political institutions to alter or control…for now.

Were it otherwise, we will be living in the shadow of world war, because there can be no worldwide consensus about which region gets to take the short end of the climate stick.

Climate realists also acknowledge both: the 70 year trend of warming; and the recent multi- year warming pause. Realists tend to place the last century’s overall record of warming (the fine grained accuracy of aggregate world temperatures decreases with time) in the reasonably suggestive, but not in the conclusive, discussion is over category.




[1]   The Ruddiman Hypothesis: Most readers will not have heard of it. Dr. William F. Ruddiman is a respected paleoclimatologist with unquestioned credentials and experience. He has posed the “early anthropocene” hypothesis, the theory that greenhouse gasses from human activity that started about 8,000 years ago from land use changes like deforestation and farming activities of our early ancestors that have changed the natural pattern of periodic climate change. Absent human activity, in Ruddiman’s analysis, we would have otherwise been in an incipient ice age.  Ruddiman and many other scientists believe that global cooling periods and ice ages are mostly caused by sunlight heating reductions due to natural variations in the Earth’s orbit known as Milankovitch cycles. Ruddiman’s overdue-glaciation hypothesis holds that that an incipient ice age would normally have started thousands of years ago, but  was forestalled by the activities of early farmers, and only more recently by industrial activity. Professor Ruddiman’s theory  may prove correct, in full or part, or not at all. But there is about as much evidence to support Ruddiman’s view (that global warming is saving us from an ice age) as the conventional climate wisdom (i.e., that human industrial development, especially the CO2 emissions, have caused the warming observed from1900 through 1990).


[2]   The new warming pause: Many readers have not heard about the still-unexplained current warming “pause.”  But the data are real and difficult to explain because CO2 emissions have continued to increase substantially during the same period. See the March 8th 2014 Economist article, “Who pressed the pause button? The slowdown in rising temperatures over the past 15 years goes from being unexplained to overexplained”, at . Also see the January 14th 2014 NATURE article, Climate change: The case of the missing heatSixteen years into the mysterious ‘global-warming hiatus’, scientists are piecing together an explanation, at .


There are other recent reports. Explanations proliferate. The conventional wisdom continues to command front stage. And the pause may be continuing…or possibly not.  NASA has reported that 2013 may be a warming blip (See  ). Is the resumption of warming after a decade and a half? The same report cautions to not put too much stock in year-on-year changes, suggesting that decade-on-decade changes are more significant.




Prudent policy emphasizes adaptation, for the simple reason that: (a) if the conventional wisdom holds, the Chinese greenhouse gas output alone guarantees that the effects of warming will need to be addressed for the foreseeable future; or (b) if we really are in for a major cooling period, the even more dangerous effects, especially on agriculture (as in mass starvation) will need to be quickly addressed.

In other words, we obviously will need to put more time, thought and resources into adaptation to changing conditions on earth, whatever the cause

It seems obvious that prudent policy would have us invest in a primary energy source that works well whether we are headed into a super-tropical period or an ice age, or a mix of the two.  But that primary energy source is not easily found among the current “green” energy sources, particularly solar and wind. The two most popular “green” energy sources, wind and solar, cannot reliably fulfill our cooling, heating and transportation needs for 365 days, 24 hours even if they were quantitatively sufficient, because they are seasonal and sporadic. Until or unless battery/energy storage achieves a so-far elusive breakthrough, both sources run out at moments of critical need.  And in any case they are not even close to filling more than a fraction of the total energy demand.

Few respectable green energy advocate care to argue that the “green” energy sources in their current stages of development can be much more than supplementary during the next thirty years. So, purists insist that the energy gap is to be filled by reduced consumption. The prospect that we must stop relying on the traditional combustion sources like oil, bio diesel and natural gas, invites the American public to elect to endure chronic energy insufficiency for the “greater good”. But accepting energy starvation as the “new normal” will be unacceptable now and for the future for the vast majority of Americans.

Dinner invitation from a leper

America’s energy needs demand that we rapidly exploit our cleanest carbon-based fuels in the near-term (natural gas sources, extracted with as little environmental damage as practicable), while using that revenue and time to develop the nuclear-electric option in the mid-term.  Miracles are for the long term. Meantime we already had working atomic power technologies. But nuclear power is the rich leper of our time whose invitation to dinner will be rejected until the prospective quests are among the starving. The irony here is that the leprosy has been cured, at least among the developed countries using the latest technologies.  The second irony is that atomic power is an American invention that is now aggressively being pursued by the Chinese.

Few Americans are aware that generation three nuclear reactors are designed for passive safe shutdowns. Few have been made aware that the negative health and accident impacts of up-to-date nuclear technology are far less than the effects of coal, oil and natural gas based energy sources. Few have considered that the US nuclear arsenal could be converted to an energy supply system that would provide for all our foreseeable energy needs for the next thousand years.

We talk about swords into plowshares.  This conversion is real.

Very few Americans know that the nuclear waste disposal problem can be – and has been – solved by using a combination of three technological developments, coupled with military level security:

  1. Vitrification technology ( ) is the process in which encasing mid and low level waste is in a form of glass, effectively removes the leakage issues and allows for lower cost, low impact storage, much as we already safely manage medical radiological waste now.
  2. The active recycling of spent fissile fuels through reprocessing of fuel rods is a form of active storage-in-use. (See )
  3. Technologies that employ low level atomic waste to generate useful heat, without initiating a full-on nuclear reaction are being actively explored, tested and promoted by public minded entrepreneurs like Bill Gates.

No energy source is risk free, but so far few of us are willing to weigh comparative risks. For example, the peacetime use of nuclear energy to generate power has killed fewer people than oil production related mishaps, and “traditional’ air pollution has reportedly killed seven million people in one year. {See }

In spite of the prevalent anti-nuclear propaganda, an increasing number of Americans have been made aware that nuclear energy can be green.  Among the original founders of Greenpeace, environmentalist Patrick Moore, a Canadian ecologist, supports nuclear energy as our primary, rational green option. The peaceful uses of nuclear power are immensely promising and do not require any new technological breakthroughs, just the application of traditional economic strategies, like standardization and mass production with the kind of tight safety and security measures that are used for medical radiation and for U. S. Naval reactors at sea.

In addition to the overhyped “leprosy” issue, there are very legitimate security issues: The use of fissile materials for routine energy use raises security concerns over theft or misappropriation for weapons’ use.  While lower enrichment grades of uranium are useful for power generation, higher grades are also useful for making bombs. Routine civilian security measures will probably not be enough to reassure an nervous electorate. And this frames the political paralysis problem that any constructive energy leader will have to face in the next 30 years.

The US Navy (with its nuclear powered fleet of vessels) has solved the security issue, by using proven technology combined with old-fashioned discipline.

{See – and  and  }

The security of nuclear fuel under the control of the US military suggests an obvious solution: Adopt a system in which all fissile material reasonably capable of weaponization as nuclear explosives can only be utilized by the US civilian sector conditionally; that such materials will be owned, leased, secured and controlled by the military while licensed for civilian use under direct military security.[1]

The nuclear energy problem illustrates the nature of a leadership challenge: This is the kind political conflict typical of the type that eventually yields to enlightened and skilled leadership.

But timing is everything.  The safe, standardized nuclear technology is tested and ready, but not manufactured.  One model, being pursued by Toshiba is a modular design – a small, mass-produced reactor, the kind that can be buried, then power a mid-sized city, needing little attention for a decade at a time.

While developing a safe and reliable nuclear-electric power infrastructure, the country’s energy needs (and major revenue source) will be met by domestic natural gas, using state of the art extraction and conversion technologies.  This is a bridge solution, pending the time when 90% of the US energy consumption starts and ends with reliable, secure, clean nuclear power centers.  As the transition to nuclear proceeds, more and more of the US natural gas production is exported.


When the desirability and necessity of “green nuclear” programs becomes more apparent, and the non-nuclear solutions, like windmills, appear insufficient, it will come down to a stark choice between even more combustion-based sources, as in fracking, drilling and digging; energy deprivation, vs. energy abundance through a robust nuclear power economy which will allow the combustion-based sources tp be phased out.

How will astute leaders find the zone of compromise? A super-majority of contemporary liberals can be expected to object to the proposed level of military involvement, while a smaller majority will remain too nervous about the “nuclear thing”. Conservatives, who typically support the military, can be expected to object to the socialist nature of a government owned and controlled energy source, no matter how cheap and safe it might turn out to be.

But the long term merits of nuclear energy, clean, safe and reliable, will prevail. While the threshold monetary investment may be higher than fracking for additional natural gas, the ultimate energy costs will drop with mass production and standardization of the reactors, utilization of existing fuels, creative power generating centers, the productive lifetime of which will be measured in decades, allowing the costs to be amortized.

The task of real leadership is to move at the appropriate time, with the necessary courage to bring about reasonable, practical solutions by bridging the kinds of political impasses just described. It will be done because it must be done.



This country will not survive the next thirty years as a beacon of constitutional liberty if it continues to attempt to operate with a gutted military capability that, on a time-adjusted scale, is reminiscent of the antiquated and anemic forces of pre-WW II USA. Given the accelerated pace of modern conflicts, a belated buildup in the manner of post-Pearl Harbor America will eventually be too little, too late, a case of fatal tardiness.  A more stable defense baseline, aggressively modernized, will require a secure funding mechanism and a highly professional military.


The recent aggressive moves by Russia in the former Soviet-ruled Eastern European countries; China’s intimidation excursions in the Pacific region; and Iran’s duplicitous boldness as it gets closer to nuclear bomb capability, are just the early warning signs: This is a preview of  how much more dangerous the world will be like if America’s military remains in a weakened state.

It was no coincidence that the last major wars were preceded by the perceived military weakness of key players.

It is – or should be – axiomatic that power vacuums are opportunistically filled by bullies.

The European reliance on “soft power” belongs to the “use a gun, go to your room” school of child rearing. For at least the next thirty years, America will need an adult foreign policy backed by armed forces sufficient to deter and intimidate the world’s bullies.

Again the solution is readily explained, but its implementation will require leadership.  During the recent budget deficit disputes in the Beltway, Social Security was essentially off the table.  While Social Security reform is inevitable, its dramatic hollowing out, of the kind that the sequester limitations have visited on the US military, is not going to take place for the SSI program.  Why not? Because there is a well-established funding mechanism in the form of a stable payroll tax that generated a stable revenue stream for Social Security.  …But not for defense.

The Defense underfunding problem can be solved in a similar fashion, by utilizing a stable taxing mechanism resulting in a stable, sufficient revenue stream.  For example (the numbers are used for illustration purposes only), the US military budget baseline could be met with a single flat tax on all adjusted gross income, say, of 3.5%. By contrast, the Social Security tax is visibly levied at 6.2% on an individual payroll, and invisibly levied at the same rate, 6.2% on employers (12.4% for self-employed).  But because the Social Security program promises a defined benefit at a defined age, the 12.4% tax is more readily accepted than a “peacetime, war-prevention” tax would be. Even though most taxpayers are already paying for military protection via different – and less stable taxing mechanisms, a military-related tax presents political obstacles.

Any leader who tackles this must address the mistrust of government institutions problem, and the popular tendency to ignore or deny threats until they are painfully close at hand. Again, the task of real leadership is to move at the appropriate time, with the necessary courage to bring about reasonable, practical solutions by bridging the political impasses of the moment.



FOOD might have been chosen as the critical issue, but the main discussion would still have been about the supply of water, both potable water and water suitable for crop irrigation. Water is and will remain one of the vitally important public policy issues of the century.


Regional drought is in the news again.  Yes, there are subtext issues – about the great Southwest population migrations, the Arizona and Nevada golf courses and swimming pools, the diversion of the water supplies from sources further west and so on.  But the core issues remain the same: water for agricultural production and pure water immediate personal uses, like drinking and bathing. Any rational water policy puts these two uses first; and any rational public policy puts affordable water access as a top priority.


[1]   There will always be droughts…somewhere.

[2]   All water shortages are local in the sense that there always is surplus water, often in the form of flooding, somewhere else.

[3]   Most water issues – other than those concerned with purity and potability – are about the water capture and storage infrastructure.

[4]   With planning and appropriate allocation of resources, water shortages can and should be prevented – because the alternative may be mass migration.

Snow capture is a very important piece for large regions of the USA because there is no robust runoff capture infrastructure for ordinary rain that is currently in place in most of the USA.  California is a a case in point. That state still has ample rainfall, overall, to serve its agricultural needs, but the reservoir and flow capture system is mostly keyed to the localized snow runoff. The dry coastal region, now overpopulated with water users, is another matter, and the water insufficiency problem is beginning to resemble come Middle East coastal desert regions where oil money pays for expensive desalinization.

This essay is not the place for a detailed discussion of all the complex water infrastructure issues. But the takeaway point is clear:

Few if any of the current drought problems in the USA are insoluble, given the application of energy-intensive technology. In a hypothetical, high-tech future where safe nuclear (or source X) energy is widely available, abundant and reasonably inexpensive, massive desalinization and interstate projects suddenly will become feasible.

Again, the task of real leadership is to move at the appropriate time, with the necessary courage to bring about reasonable, practical solutions by bridging the political impasses of the moment. At the retail politics level, water policy is about regional and functional allocation priorities. But at the long term leadership policy level it is about the technologies and infrastructure investments that will dramatically reduce the political conflicts by producing overall abundance.

This is why the question of core policy leadership comes full circle to the question of energy, which in turn may depend on the intelligent use of security resources. But the problem of identifying the right leader for the time depends on intangibles that include the character of the times in question, and the characters of the prospective leaders.



Promising leaders get elected on the basis of promises, but authentic leaders are selected from those who first self-identify as leaders-in-fact, having credible track records of accomplishments.

Character, the sine qua non of a trustworthy leader, is not established by mere pronouncements, no matter how eloquent.  Character is demonstrated by real world decisions and actions under duress.

Retail politicians tend to issue promising platitudes, as in “We need a better energy policy”; “I favor national security”; and “We should not neglect the water issue”.  But credible policies from credible leaders begin with detailed, practical measures, competent staff work and realistic plans for implementation.

The political leaders that the USA will need over the next three decades will come with a declared vision, developed policies, competent staff and track records from government and the private sector that clearly demonstrate that they are serious players. They will be real world, and real time adaptive leaders. They may be strong conservatives or strong liberals, but they will not be ideologues.

The leaders we will need over the next three decades may vary in their approaches on a number of issues and policies, but they will have one perspective in common: They will be champions of:

  • abundance over privation;
  • security over surrender;
  • human lives over non-human lives or faux-living machines;
  • personal dignity over bureaucracies;
  • Human judgment over algorithms.

The single most revealing arena for a prospective American president to have demonstrated the relevant leadership skills is the governorship of a large state that includes at least one major urban center and contains enough ex-urban and rural territory to expose its leaders to the agricultural and other problems and emergencies that demand hands-on attention.[2]

The most significant lapse in otherwise qualified leaders who seek the highest executive office is the absence of loyal, competent staff support.

The higher the position, the larger the staff required. Dwight Eisenhower, having accumulated competent, staff and staff contacts from coordinating the vast Allied military forces of WW II, and Ronald Reagan, coming from a two term governorship of a major state, each arrived with presidential caliber staff support by swearing-in day.  Bill Clinton, a politically talented governor from a small state, had a difficult time in his first term in part because too many key staff positions went unfilled for too long.

The staff demands – and by extension the executive leadership demands on each succeeding presidency are increasing. The current president, a first term junior senator from a mid-sized state, arrived with a small clique of community activists with ideological connections to other activists.

There are several reasons to reject leaders with too ideological an approach to governance, among them the inability to engage in fruitful dialogue with the opposition, and that ideology unnecessarily limits the universe of competent, patriotic staffers to a smaller clique of true believers.

Moreover, the really big issues, like food, water, security, energy can only be addressed by leaders who are comfortable and capable of working past ideological blinders to get agreements and cooperation on the available practical solutions.

At present – March 25, 2014, there are at a number of potentially viable candidates for President of the United States. Of these there are six governors with name recognition outside their respective states and two of them who haven’t yet advanced past the hesitant debutant stage.



We are living through a period in which much better vetting of POTUS candidates (assuming any vetting took place at all) could well have saved the country from some very bad leadership decisions and damaging policy lapses.  The fact that internal vetting is not taking place (or is overcome by ideological blindness) is a grave problem, one that needs to be quickly addressed, whether publically or privately.

What would a POTUS vetting process look like?

The notion of MQ analysis (minimum job qualifications) is relatively straightforward. For example, a hypothetical vetting group might rule out all the senators (who did not otherwise serve in an executive role anywhere) on grounds of “insufficient executive experience” (leaving them open for the second position on the ticket).

Established public figures present a special vetting problem because of an assumption that he or she has already been vetted.  But this is often not the case. For example, most vetting groups would likely give a pass to Mrs. Clinton, unless her results were to be deeply confidential and directed only to party leaders.  For an established public figure like Hillary Clinton, only something really problematic, like participating in a cover up of the Benghazi matter, or some highly embarrassing personal scandal, would likely see the light of day.

Yet this is exactly the situation in which such a vetting process is crucial because something as proven executive ability is a crucial MQ for the top executive position in US government. 

I use Hillary Clinton’s situation to call attention to the problems inherent in any private vetting body that depends for its credibility on a reputation for integrity. Cases like hers – figures that most voters know fairly well, among them a core group of passionate supporters – can distort the vetting process.  In our hypothetical Hillary Clinton example, a vetting entity that discovers real problems might elect to avoid any endorsement, while also declining to make any outright disqualification.

For this and other reasons, we will probably need a two-tiered vetting process, one private, directed at the movers and shakers in each party that pulls no punches, and another one, a more a measured report for the public, something on the order of a consumer rating score.[3] Especially where sensitive character issues are involved, a preliminary report, hard hitting and candid, must go confidentially to the respective party leaders (and to the candidate for rebuttal) before any nomination.

When significant scandal and/or serious character flaws are uncovered and the party leaders insist on ignoring them, the vetting entity might choose to release a public version with the relevant reports summarized, assigned a provisional credibility rating, and leave the rest to the press.

Many political leaders I know, some of whom have spoken candidly off the record in recent years, are well acquainted with the vetting problem; and are equally aware of the needed solution, much as it is outlined here.  This is not a problem in rocket science, but one in political courage. The mice are in danger and no one wants to bell the cat.




Not everyone is in the field yet, but here is the list of the credible declared and undeclared candidates, as it appears in April 2014:

Jerry Brown**, governor of California (1075-1983 and 2011-present)

Jeb Bush*, former governor of Florida (1999-2007)

Andrew Cuomo, current governor of New York State (2011-present)

Chris Christie, New Jersey governor (2009-present)

Bobby Jindal*, Louisiana governor (2008-present)

Rick Perry*, former governor of Texas (2000-2013)

Mitt Romney#, former governor of Massachusetts (2002-2006)

Scott Walker*, governor of Wisconsin (2011- present)

…………………………….and the non-governors………………………………………………………

Former New York Senator and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton*

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky*

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida*

Vice President Joe Biden#

[* not yet in // ** really not in // # in, but a second tier nominee]

Are there any current candidates who might not survive a tough vetting process? Yes. On the democratic side, I have omitted fringe candidates for whom vetting in this cycle is probably unnecessary.

But we must not ignore that Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy has thrown up some red flags. Note the stories about her temperament and certain potential “character” issues, especially those in the cover-up and denial category.

Granted, a new, untried vetting entity striving to maintain a reputation for impartiality would be understandably reluctant to “DQ” Mrs. Clinton. On the republican side, Senator Rand Paul would rate low in any vetting, at least in my opinion, because the Senator has little significant executive experience, and presents a too-narrow ideological stance.

Both parties now seem to be relying exclusively on the primary system and the campaign process to sort out the unqualified and inappropriate potential leaders. Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives, for example, fed negative information about Mr. Obama to GOP operatives and friends at Fox who then refused to use the information. It seems that one cannot safely leave the vetting process even to one’s campaign opponents. Any vetting process will be criticized by the fans of those it disfavors.  This is why the character of those investigating and analyzing sensitive candidate vetting information must be above approach.

The investigative phase of the vetting process might be arranged to resemble the “devil’s advocate” role in pre-beatification investigations conducted by the Vatican.



A Tale of Two Governors:

Chris Christie (NJ) and Bobby Jindal (LA): One is an Indian American with degrees in biology, public policy and a masters’ degree in political science, a social conservative, popular republican in a traditionally democratic state; one is a lawyer who served as a US attorney, a social liberal republican in a traditionally democratic state. On the merits, both are well qualified executives, but only one has been taken seriously.  What is strange about this picture?

Christie is an improbable rock star and Jindal is not.  Any USDA who is a local New Jersey boy with the physique of a Sumo wrestler (or a Howard Taft), and has the chutzpa to take on organized crime in his own state, has the makings of a leader.  Flash forward: Christie is elected governor, takes on the vested interests and moves the state into a more responsible fiscal position; then he attracts significant GOP backing for a presidential run.  Then some of his staff members are caught out misusing state authority to impede rush hour traffic on a bridge in order to punish an uncooperative elected official from the other party.  Shades of tricky Dick Nixon…or high school level pranks? Neither scenario sounds very “presidential.” The staff members were summarily sacked. Governor Christie denies being part of the scheme, and so far no evidence has surfaced to the contrary.

Meantime, Jindal is considered a marginal candidate for POTUS. His state is considered less important, his national standing is thin. Governor Christie is naturally aggressive and charming and New Jersey is in the Eastern seaboard media market.  Jindal is a very plausible policy-directed candidate, but for the “money people” it’s all about perceived electability.

In my opinion, both governors would benefit from a forma vetting process: Jindal’s visibility would increase; Christie’s “scandal” would be downgraded; and any lingering health concerns about Governor Christie’s obesity problem would be allayed…or not.

Story pending…

Jerry Brown is former Governor of California, and the current comeback Governor of California, the two terms of service separated by a generation. In the 1970’s Brown governed as a parsimonious liberal who, in his second term advocated spending the very large state surplus to launch an earth satellite, thus earning the New Age sobriquet, “Governor Moonbeam.” I met with former governor Brown when he was the mayor of the City of Oakland to discuss the crime problem. I then found him to be a recovering leftist who had seen the light where law and order issues were concerned. His service as mayor was budget conscious, business development centered and pro-law enforcement. When he ran for governor – his current position – it was as a fiscal conservative with liberal street cred.  He defeated Meg Whitman; and then did a more effective job convincing his fellow democrats to take many of the fiscal measures that Whitman advocated and former governor Schwarzenegger failed to accomplish. Much of Brown’s transformation is simply due to maturity, but the sea change began with connection to Anne Gust (they married in 2005 after many years together). Gust is a tough minded, level headed corporate lawyer and business woman.

[Personal note: I would love to see Jerry Brown enter the democratic race for POTUS and deny Hillary Clinton the nomination. Of course, I have no inside knowledge about this whatsoever.]

Andrew Cuomo has a solid record as Governor of New York. As a democrat who inherited a large deficit, he has demonstrated the ability to work with republicans; and has managed to get and keep the state’s fiscal status in the black, irritating public employee unions in the process.  Then Cuomo seemed to gratuitously rile up gun owners with some Second Amendment overreaching in New York’s recent “assault weapons” legislation. In general, Cuomo’s liberalism has manifested in relatively low cost measures aimed at specific constituencies and needs. Cuomo is the democratic alternative to Hillary.

Rick Perry, the longest serving Texas governor, has promoted a business friendly climate, reaping rewards in employment and growth, while impressing liberal analysts with his approach to higher education reform.  At his relaxed best, Perry projects a Reaganesque charm, but – as in the 2012 campaign – he can stumble and misspeak when tired.  In his 2013 incarnation, appearing on the Letterman show in Austin, he charmed everyone and looked plausibly presidential.  Like Cuomo and Perry’s predecessor, Governor George W Bush, this Texas governor has the knack of getting things done by working with the opposite party. Perry is the man to watch if and when Governor Christie’s presidential bid loses steam.

Mitt Romney may be most decent man to mount a serious campaign for president in the last 65 years; and has the advantage of visibility and the growing public realization that he was more right than wrong last time. His management skills, business acumen, solid staff support and bipartisan style are particularly important assets for a leader-in-office, but less valuable as a primary candidate. Governor Romney’s very competence, caution and decency were liabilities when facing the democratic attack machine.  If he has it in him to summon fighting spirit during the campaign, that revelation will go a long way towards demonstrating the ability to govern the country well through the coming rough patches.

Hillary Clinton, the best known of the candidates, is a canny, tough-minded, strongly partisan liberal, who endured most of her political life in her husband’s shadow, emerging only to be denied the presidential nomination that she may have felt was hers by right of inheritance in 2008.  Hillary
Clinton’s reputation for payback, bordering on ruthlessness, was such that the rumors that Mr. Obama refused to put her on the ticket as Vice President because he couldn’t find a trusted food taster…were only partly in jest. She accepted the Secretary of State position as a consolation prize then practically ruined her health with incessant – and mostly ineffectual – global travel for the next four years. She contemplates running one more race at age 70, with rumors of having suffered some neurological “issue” when she fell sick toward the end of her tenure. Lingering health concerns and worries about damaging scandal might cause her to reconsider a run, but this is a woman consumed with ambition. …Which is why these are also proper subjects for a vetting process. Did she peak as a candidate in 2008? With Governor Cuomo as her leading opponent, most observers believe that the democratic nomination is hers for the taking.  Are there legitimate doubts about her performance as a leader? Even the friendly observers do not see Hillary Clinton as a promising bipartisan healer or a coalition builder. As the politician who dismissed the GOP as part of the “Great Right Wing Conspiracy”, Hillary Clinton has earned her reputation as an ardent “my road or the highway” player.  But our next president will probably face a legislative chamber controlled by the GOP, and a population expecting someone untainted by association with Mr. Obama’s errors and lapses.

Jeb Bush, the 41st president’s son and the 43rd president’s brother, is a very well-liked former Florida governor who tends to elicit comments from those close to his career path like, “He will make a fine president” with the implication that Jeb Bush has every prospect of making a better president than his brother (at least a more articulate one). His serious attention to policy issues, the theme of republican inclusion and his track record of responsible, across-the-aisle governance, are positive attributes that one would expect of an able leader.


All my observations are based on a small list of the personalities who may well enter and possibly win the race for POTUS 2016.  One or more great potential leaders may yet show up as strong candidates with a surge of support. That could change everything.

[Personally, I would love to see Secretary Condoleezza Rice, Governor Jerry Brown and General David Petraeus jump in, and run strong, policy-focused campaigns.]

But all my comments about personalities are both personal and fallible. The need for effective, early vetting rests on an assessment of human nature generally, not any individual named here. We the people need searching, investigation-based evaluation of all the candidates.  And the vetting processes must necessarily address the criteria and associated problems I have mentioned here.  The process has to begin sometime.

I say that now would be the right time

Richard Nixon: A Thought Experiment.

President Eisenhower did not have access to a character assessment of Nixon when the California senator was put on the ticket as Vice President “for balance”. Yet the stories about the darker sides to Nixon’s personality, the insecurities, lying and paranoid thinking were quietly discussed.

Eisenhower, a strong personality who could tolerate and sometimes employ an “attack dog”, was not thinking about Nixon as a candidate for future president. That would be a problem for others, later.

What would a thorough vetting of Senator Nixon’s suitability to assume the presidency have accomplished?

We’ll never know.


 Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law Links, forwards and pull quotes with attribution are welcome and encouraged. For all comments and other permissions, contact the author at:

Jay B Gaskill is the California attorney who served as the 7th Chief Public Defender for the County of Alameda, headquartered in Oakland.

Having left his “life of crime” for writing and policy analysis, Mr. Gaskill’s non-fiction articles are archived on The Policy Think Site { }.

His fiction is published by Central Avenue Publishing in British Columbia.

Gaskill’s forthcoming novel, Gabriel’s Stand, is a thriller about fanatical environmentalists (think extreme negative population growth here) whose clueless supporters precipitate a constitutional crisis so that life-saving medical technologies can be outlawed to “save the earth.” Publication pending:  Gabriel’s Stand will be available in hard copy and as an e-book from all major outlets. The thriller is scheduled for release in late May 2014.

[1] Background: Plutonium is an ideal fuel source, much better than uranium. President Jimmy Carter banned the use of plutonium by civilian reactors to avoid possible theft for weapons use, particularly from civilian utilities.  Navy reactors use a much higher concentration of highly reactive uranium than civilian ones – a percentage of refinement that we might object to in, say, an Iranian reactor because it could be more easily upgraded further for use in a bomb. Ironically, the highly enriched US Navy reactors produce less plutonium than do the civilian reactors. The highly enriched uranium used in reactors that power US Navy Carriers will provide power for the life of the vessels themselves. [I note that the latest lunar rover is running on a plutonium-based battery (really a mini-reactor) that potentially will provide power as long as the equipment that it powers does.]  Recycled uranium fuel rods (a process done in what is called a “breeder reactor”) end up with levels of plutonium that can be used or extracted. Reactor safety issues overlap with the security ones. This is why a robust, recycling, swords-into-plowshares nuclear electric economy (promising abundant energy for 1,000 years) needs to keep the fissile (energy producing metals like uranium and plutonium) under military control. As a bonus, the safety and security track record of the military reactors should help public concerns about safety and security.

[2] We might add the experience of mayor a huge city like New York – the scale of which exceeds that of many states.

[3] …As in executive experience: sound / more than sufficient / barely sufficient/ requires substantial assistance

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Long-Term Risks to Freedom: A Survey, an Assessment


The Long-Term Risks to Freedom:

A Survey, an Assessment, a Request for Your Comments



Jay B Gaskill

Jay B Gaskill

By Jay B Gaskill





It was a nation-state uniquely founded as an oasis for individual freedom. It was a brave experiment in nation-making, a rebellious sovereign born from a radically universal principle – that all individual humans are endowed with certain inalienable rights, among them the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights were not created by or allowed or permitted by government fiat. Rights such as these can never legitimately be abrogated by any government without the due processes of law.


One thing was unmistakably clear from the founding context of the American republic: The inalienable rights enjoyed by citizens are individual in character, rather than collective. The founders lived in the context of the post-tribal Enlightenment philosophy of 18th century Europe, particularly the English branch thereof. In this philosophical universe, individual people have rights, not collectives. Governments have no rights at all, just powers, the legitimate exercise of which is contingent on how these powers are to be used.  Rights are as unlimited as individuals are unique; and they as legitimate as individuals choose to exercise them with due deference to the rights of others. But the powers of government are only provisionally legitimate – to be exercised only as they are necessary to serve and protect the workings of a free society.


In the immediate aftermath of the Allied victory in WW II (an epochal event that could not have ended as well as it did without the intervention by massive US forces), the American experiment was working well enough to fuel a decades-long surge of optimism. But flash forward to the early 21st century USA: You detect the stench of pessimism, defeatism and anxiety; it is floating over the American intelligentsia like the dense smog hovering over Bejing.


Most of us spend far too much time being overstimulated by the massively invasive info-blizzard – carried like some medieval plague by a host of vectors – phones, tablets, pads, posts, screens. Bit-fragments of our attention are intensely sought-after as commodities. We have become fragmented as a result. As we are dragged from tweet to text, from micro-moment to moment, we are being distracted from a set of looming threats to our freedoms – even to our very survival as a semi-free people. This is why we need to pause for this assessment.  At the end of this exercise, you are invited to add your comments, insights and new risks to the Threat List. I will be posting the results over the course of 2014



1.      Politicization of the US judicial system -ongoing


The US constitution is a magnificent statement of principles captured in somewhat malleable words.  The essential protections of the constitution crucially depend on an independent judiciary that is trained in, fully understands, and is actually committed to its core principles. For reasons that will be evident, only a judiciary that remains dedicated to the intelligent and courageous preservation of constitutional principles can preserve our remaining freedoms. Retail politics always generates pressures favoring result-oriented jurisprudence.  Paraphrasing Ben Franklin, it’s a constitution “if we can keep it”.  Eternal vigilance will always be needed. There is no trivial or throwaway federal judicial appointment.

2.      Critical mass of new politically-controlled government- dependent classes – in play


You already know this, but know, also, the postmodern rationale of the enemy.  The term, “postmodern”, is code for “post-Enlightenment”. The entire political/social system of “victim” classes, based loosely on race, gender, disability or other presumptively disadvantaged categories, is a retreat from the ideal of individuated justice. Without paying sufficient attention, we have entered the brave new world of “collective justice” or “social justice”. These terms are code for neo-tribalism.  Politically dependent “classes” can be nurtured and exploited through government appropriations or by regulatory favors.  In either instance, a favor-granted, political payback loop is established that becomes very difficult to break. There is much work to do to stem this tide, starting with tough, intelligent discourse.

3.      Power consolidation by entrenched, ungovernable regulatory agencies – well in play


We are dangerously close to a tipping point here. Scores of federal agencies have now been created and empowered by the Congress and the Presidency to act with virtual autonomy within the loose scope of their respective charters. These agencies are very, very powerful, having in the bargain acquired the authority to proclaim new regulations with the force of law (without getting the consent of Congress or the President), to enforce these new regulations with penalties and sanctions often as severe as criminal punishments, and even to adjudicate violations outside the regular judicial system, denying, for example, the right to confront one’s accusers and a trial by jury[i]. We face a major, dangerous power shift, one that started decades ago when an overburdened Congress and a complicit executive offloaded a body of “technical” regulatory work to “experts” embedded in the new bureaucracies. At present, the Congress lacks the time, energy, expertise and political will to restrain the new “regulatory branch” of government, even when – to pick an interesting recent example – one agency declared that the very gas we exhale and our plants inhale is now an official pollutant. We stop this soon or we lose the capacity to change course.

4.      Fatal erosion of US sovereignty via the international system – just beginning in earnest


The USA is under increasing pressure to conform its practices to “international standards” which means in effect to subject its citizens to rules and adjudication procedures that violate protective provisions of the constitution. The recent international gun control treaty was just one of a dozen or more challenges that were more dangerous to the constitution’s delicate bulwark against erosion of freedom than most members of the political class realized.  In former times, national sovereignty was lost only by defeat in war.  Now, it is to be voluntarily surrendered piecemeal, for “the greater good.” This can happen to us, because the treaty clause of our constitution provides a potential legal loophole that can override the bill of rights. Here is the language: “[All] Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding”. (U. S. Constitution Article Six).


There are internationalists who want to bypass the US Bill of Rights “obstacle” in service of “the greater good”. They will rely on a clever textual (mis)interpretation. Here is their argument: If the original text of the Treaty Clause had said “the Constitution(s) or Laws of any State”, a reviewing court would likely conclude that a treaty and enabling legislation could only override the various state constitutions. But the Article Six refers to “the Constitution” (in the singular), meaning (under the internationalist interpretation) that a ratified treaty really is the supreme law of the land.


Article Six contains a dangerous ambiguity, and the US Supreme court has yet not touched the issue. Have no doubt that some future Supreme Court (one in which one or two of the current conservatives are replaced with more internationalist ones) could easily resolve the ambiguity in favor of an expansive reading of the treaty power. As constitutional scholars remind us, the US Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is.  Such a “progressive” court could hold that conflicting provisions in the U. S. Constitution must give way to effectuate a given ratified treaty’s implementation. So… just how Many Votes would it take to override part of the Bill of Rights? The answer: “Only 73, consisting in the “vote” of the president, that of 67 senators and 5 Supreme Court members. This is because a treaty is ratified by the US Senate by a two third’s majority.  So the number is 72 (67 plus 5) and one for POTUS. Is eternal vigilance warranted?  Nothing less than fierce eternal vigilance will do where the US Supreme Court is concerned. This is why te politicization of the US judicial system poses an extreme risk to the future of all our freedoms.

5.      Aftermath of losing a war, or partially surrendering to avoid one – a growing possibility


History warns the heedless, weak and naively isolationists who live in the illusion of a cost-free, under-defended state of peace and freedom that reality bites. A truly robust and credible military and national defense policy is an absolutely necessary bulwark against the loss of all domestic freedoms. Either the USA remains a proactive force for freedom in the world, by example at home, and by prudent, intelligent and firm action abroad, or the reverse happens: the world’s pathetic freedom record gradually resets ours.  This is a recipe for tyranny administered in small doses.

6.      Aftermath of a large scale US economic collapse – a pending possibility


This is hardly a novel idea. Consider: The German Weimar Republic; the South American banana republics of the last century; post WWI Russia; the damage done in the great depression of the 1930’s.


Authoritarian ideologies and their human hosts are like opportunistic pathogens waiting for the breakdown of the social immune system.  Because of the prevalent postmodern moral confusion in the culture, we are more vulnerable than ever to a wholesale surrender to one of the virulent ideologies should the US economy get into a truly scary tailspin.

7.      Rise of dangerous ideologies with a strong domestic following – metastasizing


Militant Islam will probably never get sufficient traction in the current USA culture to constitute a domestic threat. Political liberalism (as distinguished from old fashioned liberalism) has acquired the style of religion, mostly benign, but all too often resistant to reasonable dialogue with conservatives. Yet it is not a true ideology.


But within the precincts and closed doors of political liberalism a darker variant has gestated.  It is a form of hard-progressivism, a blend of Marxism Lite with a vaguely anti-human environmentalist model (the kind that equates “speciesism” with racism).  The radical progressive agenda includes (and is defined by) a persistent attempt to improve (read remake) human nature itself. In combination with emerging drugs, neuro-technologies and the classic techniques of social manipulation, the temptation to make a more compliant human being presents a genuine threat to freedom. Creativity and compliance are arch enemies.  The friends of freedom need to be on the side of creativity in this struggle.


The hard-progressive acolytes know each other, but remain loosely organized. They blend in well with the regular liberals.  But this version of progressivism has acquired an entrenched position within the American intelligentsia and represents an authentic threat.


Doubtless there are other unnamed and unidentified ideologies waiting in the wings.  The problem for any formal ideological movement in the USA is that mere penetration of the intellectual elites is never quite enough.  A populist link is needed.


When an economic crisis is deep enough and scary enough, a small cadre of leaders will cobble together a coalition of the moment in order to achieve power.  If unchecked, they will consolidate power and the game is virtually over.


Make no mistake: No refuge for liberty will remain safe if the USA ever fails to be the historic exemplar and beacon of freedom in the world. If the friends and allies of liberty must ever actually go the barricades, even their victory cannot guarantee the return of the constitution as we know it.

8.      Loss of constitutional checks and balances though the neglect of core values – pending


Values matter.  Ideas matter.  Principles matter. The constitution matters. Yes, this is a cultural struggle, already partly lost, one in which friends and adversaries both need to be apprised of the strakes, and patiently – but urgently educated.


When Ben Franklin famously said that “It is a republic if you can keep it” he meant that a wide spectrum of opinion, differing in many policies and particulars, needs to come together, over and over again, to sustain this unique constitutional republic against an ever new set of threats and challenges. Franklin had the advantage of living in a culture in which the core values themselves were secure.  We do not.



Any list of the serious long-term risks to our freedoms is necessarily incomplete.  If any part of this essay has struck home or sparked a thought, please take the time to amplify, comment, add and expand on the topic.  Send an email to the author at . Your comments will be acknowledged, credited and most of them will be added – with attribution, unless you wish otherwise.


Why worry now


As that First Century sage, Hillel the Elder, counseled, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”


If it is not your freedom at risk or the freedom of someone you care about, then whose is it?


It is our freedom, if we can keep it.


Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law


Forwards, links and pull quotes with attribution are welcome and encouraged.  For everything else, please contact the author at the email provided above.




Jay B Gaskill, a California lawyer, served as the 7th Public Defender for the county of Alameda, CA. Many of his articles are available on the Policy Think Site ( . His latest book, the political thriller, Gabriel’s Stand,[ii] is to be released by Central Avenue Publishing of British Columbia in May, 2014.




[i] There is a creeping administrative control network that extends over American commerce and daily life. It represents the collective handiwork of several mega-agencies of the federal government, overlapping control regimes, like the EPA, the EEOC, the FDA, the FCC, the ICC, the OSHA, the HHS and others too numerous to list.  The pattern, well documented by the attorney/commentator Mark Levin, in his book, Liberty and Tyranny (Simon & Schuster 2009), is the same for each of these regulation-generating behemoths. Congress has given away the store and ignored (for the most part) the consequences.  Each of these and many other agencies have been granted the power to make laws (called regulations), to enforce them by imposing sanctions (law enforcement is supposed to be an executive function), and to adjudicate cases outside the court system (a judicial function).  The congress, the sole entity body that is empowered to make new laws, did not make CO2, the naturally gas released by animals and absorbed by plants, into a pollutant; the EPA did that.  Under the radar, the web of regulations, some well-intended, others misguided, many never actually authorized, cumulatively are suffocating new business startups, weighing down struggling businesses and impairing economic growth. But that is merely the preamble to the trouble ahead.  There are international bureaucracies seeking regulatory authority wherever on the globe an individual sovereign is willing to cede it to them. This closely related risk is addressed in the next session, immediately below and is dramatized in a soon-to-be release book by Jay Gaskill – see the next endnote for details.


[ii] Jay B Gaskill’s latest, book, GABRIEL’S STAND is a novel in the tradition of Orwell and Huxley, in which the dark prospect of a tyranny is balanced by an American sense of heroic optimism. It is also a father-daughter story, a saga of family, friendship, loyalty and betrayal. It will be available in both paper and electronic editions throughout the USA via Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other vendors. The story unfolds in a plausible, near-future USA where the old polity has been fractured by a series of ecological calamities. Anxiety has stoked popular panic. Technology is alternately embraced and feared, loved and hated. In this turbulent setting, an opportunistic, malevolent ideology has gained traction. Its followers present themselves as well-meaning “greens,” but beneath their public veneer a toxic mindset has metastasized.  These are true eco-fanatics, cultists to the core, who harbor the chilling vision that the earth (Gaia) is a living organism, on which humanity is a plague, an ecophage. Their agenda (ruthlessly concealed), is that the Gaia’s final cure will require human extermination. The political path to the agenda’s implementation is a loophole in the US Constitution through which a ratified treaty can create a super-agency with power to control “dangerous” technologies. Gaia must be cured of the ecophage. “Disarm the humanity’s medical defenses and the plagues will do Gaia’s work.” It is to be the final holocaust.




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Emerging Coalition of the Creative, Not-Left

Jay B Gaskill

Jay B Gaskill


Jay B. Gaskill, on…

 The Emerging Coalition of the Creative, Not-Left

After his summer recess, David Brooks wrote that–


…if you hang around the conservative policy wonks, and read certain conservative magazines, [you will find] the dominant style of conservatism of the coming years. This is the conservatism of skeptical reform. This conservatism is oriented, first, around social problems, not government …by looking at concrete problems: how to help the unemployed move to where they can find jobs; how to help gifted students from poor families reach their potential. If you start by looking at these specific matters, then even conservatives conclude that, in properly limited ways, government can be a useful tool. Government is not the only solution, but it is also not the only problem.

Second, this conservatism is populist about ends but not means. Over the past decade, many Republican politicians have spread the message that the country’s problems would be easily solved if only the nefarious elites would get out of the way and allow the common people to take over. Members of this conservatism are more likely to conclude that, in fact, problems are complex and there are no easy answers, but there is room for policy expertisebut these experts should focus on specific needs and desires of working-class Americans, not gripes and obsessions of the Republican donor community.

Third, this conservatism supports effective government, not technocratic government. Like all proper conservatism, it begins … a sense that the world is too complicated to be centrally planned. Therefore, it opposes the style of government embodied in Obamacare, where officials in the center define insurance products and then compel people to buy them.

This conservatism knows that central decision-makers, even conservative ones, are no match for complex reality. Therefore, they favor market mechanisms, which take advantage of dispersed knowledge. They prefer simple programs to complex ones. …

Fourth, this conservatism is skeptical in temper, especially about itself. … [T]he founders constructed a constitutional order that left room for different policy approaches; that was humble before the evolving needs of the future; and that required compromise and coalition building. The founders did not believe in concentrating power in the hands of any group of highly fallible individuals.

David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, January 9, 2014



About Principles …AND… Results


The Great Opportunity of the Century or a Cautious Tweak?


David Brooks is talking about a thread among conservative intellectual discourse, while trying to make the case for a humble conservative reentry into the liberal conversation.  This was based on his assessment that liberalism has finally strayed so far from the practical center that the-liberals-in-charge will allow conservatives to engineer a gentle course correction.


But the progressives have seriously overplayed their hand; they have done real damage this time, and the liberal brand itself has been tainted.


The world is now witnessing the collapse of the progressive experiment in cost-free, Marxism Lite. Progressive political liberals, with the complicity of comatose conservatives and rootless moderates, have brought the modern Western economic system to the edge of total credit and monetary collapse.  This represents a failure cascade so huge that it is forcing policy changes that would have been unthinkable ten years ago.  Yes, some correction was inevitable, but these failures are unusual in scale, duration and depth.


Traditionally, liberals have been about challenging boundaries; and conservatives were about defending them.  But both liberalism and conservatism occasionally crash through the overreach barrier. The progressive liberals have driven over that line and the cliff is now visible.


This leaves the task of restoring balance to the conservatives. But are conservatives ready?


In the post-conservative era, the main premise of progressivism was completely dominant: the unquestioned premise that government exists (to be legitimate, must exist) to make our lives better by eliminating all the inequalities of the human condition through top-down governance, exploiting the bottom-up support of the government-benefitted classes. The GOP (in the USA) and the Conservative Party (in the UK) were locked into a cyclical pattern of populist rejection, followed by a temporary ascendance in which conservatives returned from exile as an occasional corrective. The progressive juggernaut that captured the Democratic Party and the Fabian socialists who captured the British Labour Party was never repudiated. It began to seem that government aimed to supplement, even replace our parents, our religious guides, and though curriculum reform, aimed to remake us through its control of education. The conservatives were allowed to stick around just long enough to stop the occasional excesses – and to repair some, but not all of the damage.


This is fire truck conservatism: People are grateful for their rescue but they don’t invite their rescuers to stay for dinner.


Conservative leadership seems to take hold for the long haul only when a particular leader (Think Eisenhower or Reagan in the USA; Churchill and Thatcher in the UK) has traction in the culture and on Pennsylvania Avenue or Downing Street. The key ingredients of such major leadership shifts are the breakdown of trust between the to-be-evicted governing political class, and the emergence of a new, potent trust-chemistry between the new conservative leadership cohort and the people at large, coupled with a new policy course that actually makes things better in the real world.


The core conservative ethos (a commitment to individual freedom, dignity and accountability, to government restraint, and a robust approach to security, law and order) endures for the ages, too often as an archaic ideal. But the conservative ideal will have sudden new life in the 21st century only to the extent that its most visible advocates are seen as dedicated to a great political, cultural and economic creative-renaissance agenda, and that they are offering a new course of action with the real prospect of recovering America’s reduced, damaged and beleaguered middle class.


A glance at the current crop of politicians suggests that heavy lifting will be required. The new crop of conservative leaders must be very well prepared to promote and explain a practical agenda for America’s restoration, and to anchor each part of the project in conservative principles that are clear and consistent with common sense. That agenda can be nothing short of restoring America by restoring freedom and widely shared prosperity.  It must be founded on forward-leaning conservation principles that must be sincerely, articulately and persuasively connected to policy proposals, and to the real world aspirations of all Americans.


But actual principles rarely intrude in politics.  This is probably because few people are able to think in principles.  Note that core principles differ from ideology or lists of “values” because they require actual thinking instead of a rote catechisms.   The process of discerning and applying core principles allows for creative adaptation, while enabling conservatives to protect that which is truly essential.


Intellectually lazy conservatives fall into using shorthand expressions, like “no big government” that fail on both counts by obscuring what is conserved and why, and they suggest a reliance on rote catechism instead of actual thinking.  Recovering liberals, like former liberal democrat, Ronald Reagan, understood this perfectly.  Bill Clinton’s second term claim, “the era of big government is over” was not only false, it was a temporarily successful ‘trademark misappropriation’ that succeeded because almost no one asked “What are you conserving and why?”


President Reagan was gifted in reframing conservative ideas in a charming, folksy discourse, partly because he had years of experience among liberal democrats, partly because he was a skilled actor who believed his material. Our communication task is the essentially the same, but the problems of the 21st century are new and the communication modalities have fragmented to the point where a thoughtful essay, say, like this one will be read and absorbed by a small number of people.


But a small number of gifted leaders, animated by core beliefs and a keen sense of the practical, will change the course of history.  And certain principles, when explained and connected, have the power to inaugurate a sea change in the political dialogue.


Once they are absorbed into the DNA of the new generation of conservatives they can ignite a movement that will alter the course of history. These principles (framed as “musts”) include -


  1. We must conserve individual human dignity against all the bureaucratic minds and structures, both government and private. New conservatives are willing to take on the corporate bureaucracies, often in bed with the new, amoral political class, fired by the same passionate intelligence and trenchant criticism that we address the government versions.
  2. We must conserve the conditions in which productive human creativity can flourish by providing a bulwark against the arbitrary controls, constraints, repression, excessive taxation and perversion-of-purpose that creative communities are typically subject to.
  3. We must conserve the core moral infrastructure from which individual human dignity and productive human creativity derive their legitimacy.
  4. We must conserve the value of work, of earning and of a middle class supported by these values.
  5. We must conserve all the aspiration pathways, the upward mobility of every productive or creative person, without political interference or bureaucratic blindness.

Libertarians advance freedom as a primary good, without further elaboration or explanation.  But conservatives hold that freedom cannot be understood as more than indulgence without a larger moral framework that contains it. The justification for freedom as a necessary value is that creation and human creativity are primary human values when they are linked to a life affirming moral order. Creativity requires freedom in the context of the larger moral framework. Without creativity, the human species dies.  Without robust creativity linked to the moral order, the human species becomes innovatively suicidal. The moral foundations of a free society are deeply tied to the spiritual traditions that connect creative communities with life-affirmation and the enhancement of the human condition as seen through the lens of awakened moral intelligence.


Note that creativity, by its very nature engenders transient, but important inequalities.


Note that without creativity the human project will fail,


Modern American conservatism seems to be experiencing a crisis of incoherence.  Consider the following examples:


Social conservatives are located in both parties where they represent a durable constituency for law and order, family values, patriotism, and – for the most part – a spirited defense of traditional family arrangements against their redefinition by “social progressives”, and opposition to abortion-on-demand (with significant variations on side issues, like birth control and adherence to Roe vs. Wade).


Libertarians enjoy the virtue and the vulnerability of thematic consistency – an authentically free-market, laissez faire capitalism, linked with drug legalization and an isolationist foreign policy bordering on pacifism.


Community conservatism is founded in the early American vision of nested communities, family, neighborhood, town and state, with a policy of the upward delegation of limited powers, leaving the federal level with only those things that absolutely must be handled by government at the national level.


Neo-conservatives are the former leftists who rebelled against the authoritarian excesses of communism and the naïve apologetics of the domestic left, especially for the murderous excesses of Stalin and Mao, among others.   This branch of conservatism represents a fierce rejection of leftist politics and of the new authoritarian challenges that have sprung up after the collapse of Marxism.  Their focus on national security leaves room for a great deal of variation on social issues.


Business-centered conservatism represents the substitution of one question – “What is good for existing businesses?” for an overall governing philosophy, and has opened up the GOP for the paybacks of “crony capitalism.”  Again, social issues are less critical to this subset.


Fiscal-conservatism is making a comeback among centrists, conservatives and even realistic liberals.  It upholds “quaint” and “old fashioned” notions about repaying loans, not borrowing more than one can pay back, and opposing financial gimmicks that promote such unwise policies to creep into ongoing political arrangements.  Social issues and even taxation issues (within the context of “fiscal” responsibility) are secondary concerns.


National-greatness conservatism is perhaps the least philosophically consistent on the list, but the most easily explained and understood.  A great nation is prosperous, is faithful to great values, and accomplishes great things.  The Hoover Dam, the railroads, the Moon Program and victory in WWII are hallmarks of national-greatness conservatism.


Beneath these mostly situational differences there is a shared ethos and common underlying principles.





Something else is afoot in the culture, something deeper still. Moving underneath the superficial crust of the popular culture, underlying all the arguments between and among the liberals and conservatives, two emotional currents are running in opposite directions.


Running downhill is an unspoken attitude, a mindset, a pessimistic sense of life that can be capsulized in the following statement:


Joy, usually undeserved, is to be compartmentalized, hidden, even denied; but pain is to be shared, put on display for everyone to see and feel guilty about.


At the risk of oversimplification, the downhill current powers the envy / guilt syndrome. It lurks in the heart of every politically correct nag.




Coursing uphill is a more uplifting mindset, attitude, an optimistic sense of life that is captured in the following:


Pain is a natural feature of the human condition, a byproduct of the creative process, something to be compartmentalized, not advertised, never allowed to define or cripple  life, but joy is to be shared and promoted.


I am reminded of the blessing from the Vulcan character in the iconic Star Trek series: “Live long and prosper”. The progressives, driven by the first view, say “Don’t live too long or prosper too much.”


We can see these views competing in their day-to-day versions. Writ large, the down-current, the undertow, drives the guilt-propelled left. The up-current, the rising tide, animates the creative center, and is shared by most conservatives and many morally anchored liberals.

This split defines the real divide among us; and it will frame our next struggle. In this context, the arch political right is the tiniest part of potential opposition to the repressive, puritanical left.

Sympathetic liberals take note: America’s recovery will begin with the conservative recovery but it will liberate old fashioned liberalism from the repressive progressives who have taken over. A successful conservative recovery in the current left-leaning environment is necessarily organized around the real life concerns that transcend popular ideological stereotypes.


America’s recovery begins with a clear-eyed look at reality: The grand social experiments of the last century are failures. The later 19th and early 20th socialist experiments in centralized planning have failed or are failing. This was the Grand Project to remake the human condition by using the power of government. The inevitable results were, are and always will be toxic to non-compliant businesses and sustained economic growth. The fully centralized economies of the old-line communist countries have cratered.


The “mixed-economy” utopian compromise model is next in line to fail because the egalitarian expectations of the left that a mixed economy can be tweaked deliver all the socialist benefits to everyone are unattainable in the real world. But the attempt to do the undoable inevitably drives the compliant political class to make expensive compromises.  This in turn generates pressure for punitive tax rates and irresponsible public borrowing; and, in the bargain, it elevates an elite regulatory class to power (in the illusion the mere regulations are cost free). The members of the new regulatory class are self-tasked to impose puritanical political correctness on the rest of us.


Rarely has the left been so out of touch with the “common people”.


My strong sense is that here in the USA and elsewhere, there is a growing populist backlash, one propelled by members of the threatened and former middle class. In my opinion, the members of the hard left actually fear a responsible aroused population. Only by scaring people sufficiently with a real catastrophe, can the resulting chaos be exploited by the utopian authoritarians – or others even worse.


America’s recovery will start with a conservative recovery if for no other reason than most and moderate liberals have been cowed into silence. But any conservative surge in the current left-leaning environment must necessarily be organized around the real life concerns that transcend popular ideological stereotypes. 


Conservatives cannot save the day alone.  They/we all need the support of the old fashioned, constitutionally grounded liberals, the sane, freedom-living moderates, and the struggling working people who are or aspire to be part of the American middle class.


Only a grand coalition of the “not-left” can prevent the collapse of the Grand Progressive Project from being the pretext for the arrival of something far more authoritarian.


The Fabian socialists of England took the better part of 40 years to tip that country into a sclerotic, failing, quasi-socialist basket case. It took Dame Margaret Thatcher, daughter of a grocer, the better part of two decades just to begin the turnaround.


Ultimate political success depends on policy success.  This prospect in turn rests on the ability of conservatives at every level to find, sell and implement the solutions the very efficacy of which will serve to expose the dysfunctional approaches of the current crop of illiberal-liberals…and, in the bargain, to make thing better.


At their best, conservatives exist to conserve the core values on which civilization depends. When conservatives stray from these core values, they cease to exist.


There really is a tide in human affairs and the tide is changing. Civilization depends on ordered freedom, the preservation of the institutions that support ordered freedom, and the ongoing creativity that fuels innovation and adaptivity. Neither conservatives nor liberals have – nor can they have – a perfect grasp of this eternal dynamic under shifting real world conditions.


A healthy civilization needs liberals to challenge arbitrary boundaries and conservatives to protect essential boundaries. A civilization without boundaries is a contradiction, like a multicellular organism in which the cells begin to lose their membranes, and the organism sickens and dies.  The cooperation of liberalism and conservatism requires dialogue, which in turn requires shared principles, and an attitude of humility that the ideologues will never share.


Long term human survival will depend on our ability to nurture and protect major centers of constructive creative activity everywhere feasible.  This will require the conservation of the life-affirming moral order, because creative innovation, when it is un-tethered from all morality, can and will be misappropriated by the next generation of tyrants.  This project will also require the conservation of the institutions that protect and foster general conditions of freedom.  All creative enterprises require this, whether they are artistic or technological. Creativity is an equal-opportunity disrupter of things as they are.  Yes, it produces inequalities; but without these inequalities, human progress stalls.


Many current partisans of left and right each have a blind spot where creative activities are concerned: The paleo-left, in its infatuation with artistic creativity, tends to marginalize or ignore the technological innovation side, while the paleo-right is almost a mirror image.  But life-affirming creativity resists compartmentalization, and the liberties that sustain it are indivisible.


The American experiment was and is the single most important exemplar and model of a creative civilization that has emerged to date. The temporary bankruptcy of modern progressive American liberalism provides an opening to a renewed, forward-aimed conservatism, one animated and informed by the vision of a creative civilization and the USA as the world’s single, viable exemplar.


There is a potential genius awakening among conservatives and thoughtful, morally grounded liberals who are willing to recognize and embrace this view.


To incorporate this insight into the conservative canon is to teach that creation, unmoored from the life-affirming moral order, will turn against itself, and that all those authoritarian civilizations that throttle creative endeavors will self-destruct. It is to teach that conservatism is the most reliable ally of American creativity. I believe that this creative form of conservatism will be to reactive, fire truck conservatism as a 3d color movie is to a 19th century daguerreotype.


When it arises, this will not to be the conservatism of your grandparents.  It will be the conservatism of the generations who will colonize other worlds. It will be the form of conservatism that saves liberalism from its own excesses and inaugurates a healthy two party system, in a healthy country buoyed and strengthened by a strong middle class supported and sustained by conservative values.


How will we know when the new conservatives have succeeded?  …When core conservative values are no longer seen as just conservative talking points, but as the essential values of any healthy, freedom-respecting, creative civilization.





First published on The Policy Think Site and linked Blogs.


Copyright © 2014 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law


Links, forwards and fully attributed pull-quotes are authorized and encouraged.  For everything else, contact the author via email at .



Jay B Gaskill is an attorney, author & consultant, the former Public Defender for Alameda County, CA.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trust the Dollar?


– Forget not that Trust Thing–


What the Virtual Money trend can tell us about our “Real Money”




Jay B Gaskill

In the beginning, there was barter.  Before Europeans arrived in American, the aboriginal peoples used an informal trading system the scope of which was later detected when anthropologists discovered that crafts and other valuable goods had migrated through exchange trades for hundreds, even thousands of miles across the continent.  When a small tribe of Indians sold Manhattan Island to settlers for beads and trinkets, it was one of the earliest recorded currency frauds, just one in a series of “trust abuses” that would plague Western finance to the present day.

All civilizations depend ultimately on transactional trust.  Without that trust, our basic trading and other exchange relationships quickly fragment; and the general social order devolves into a turbulent stew of thievery, chaos and decline.

Early banking evolved from trusted trade brokers who kept careful books and maintained a reputation for honesty.  Governments followed in their wake, creating currencies anchored (at first) in concrete items of well-established value.


Fiat – an authoritative or arbitrary order.

Fiat Money – Money that a government has declared that must be accepted as legal payment for any debt, the value of which is not backed up by any actual commodity. Fiat is Latin “it shall be”. Fiat money is faith money as in “full faith and credit”


U. S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8:The Congress shall have power to lay and collect Taxes…To coin money, regulate the Value thereof





When the USA was very new on the world stage, our international borrowing was a delicate matter with potentially dire consequences.  The money actually had to be paid back, principally from our export trade-earnings.  For debtor nations like the early post-colonial US, the books had to be kept in rough balance. A deadbeat former colony could quickly find itself crushed by repayment taxes, frozen out of international transactions or both.

Flash forward to the 21st century.  International transactions are so commonplace that they affect every American purchase from beer to hybrid cars.

Decades of irresponsible public borrowing have flourished because there is no large-scale, truly-local economy left in the international system.  Every major nation-state is both producer and customer and is dependent of other producer and consumer nations. Neither the production nor the consumption sectors can long exist without the other.  As a result, improvident borrowing –as subsidized by the device of making more fiat money, is more tolerated and accountability for sovereign debt seems ambiguous.  The specter of governments suffering immediate consequences for large unpaid loans is less common; the repayment issues are handled via adjustments in interest rates, changes over time in the trade balance, debt load and so on.

But the piper must be paid. Eventually there are painful consequences, as the Greek debacle has reminded us.

Many experts still tell us that the USA’s position in the world economy is “safe” because the dollar is still the world’s “reserve currency”.  But they are saying only that US currency has so far remained the most desirable currency in a mix where almost every player is overextended.

This is a weak reassurance, much like saying that, yes the American emperor actually has no clothes, but he is preening in a bath house where all the attendees are stark naked as well.


What is missing from this naïve, “no-worries” narrative?  The understanding that the US system is safe only because everyone who now loves the dollar is ignoring the fact that the entire economic system crucially depends on transactional trust.  Whenever that trust collapses, entire economies can go south.  So far, a few bubbles (dot com and real estate mortgages) have collapsed. Among our elites, that damage was considered manageable”.  If that reassurance was true, why are we being told that the current pattern of chronic, low wage underemployment may be the “new normal”?



“ALL currencies involve some measure of consensual hallucination, but Bitcoin, a virtual monetary system, involves more than most. It is a peer-to-peer currency with no central bank, based on digital tokens with no intrinsic value. Rather than relying on confidence in a central authority, it depends instead on a distributed system of trust, based on a transaction ledger which is cryptographically verified and jointly maintained by the currency’s users.”

From The Economist

In other words, virtual money is a form of barter secured by an electronic bookkeeping system that is inter-convertible into various traditional currencies, as needed, or none of the above if the users end up bartering, say, oil for eggs. Thus, at least potentially, virtual money could become the gold standard of international commerce, provided its system retains sufficient credibility to warrant general trust.  The surge of virtual currencies early in the 21st century is less a measure of how much this “cool”, computer money can be trusted, as much as it is a sign of the declining trust in the various traditional sovereign currencies. 

Other virtual currencies based on the Bitcoin model are proliferating – among them are Litecoin, Namecoin and Peercoin.

Bitcoin is the major crypto currency. The term refers to a peer to peer, decentralized exchange model where cryptology validates the transactions and protects against counterfeiting.

Bitcoin is an economic pebble compared to the currencies of major governments. But it is a fast growing player.  Recently, a man accidently disposed of his laptop, forgetting that the hard drive contained a Bitcoin “wallet” worth $9 million.

All governments get in debt, and all government debt affects the value of the government’s currency vis a vis other currencies.  One all-too-easy solution to excessive government debt is chronic deficit spending, eventually leading to rampant inflation, currency devaluation and worse.  Examples include the failed 20th century “Banana” Republics of Latin America, and the pre-Hitler Weimar Republic in Germany.  In spite of these cautionary tales, major governments, notably ours, continue to press the limits of prudence.

At his writing, the US sovereign debt was 17.2 trillion dollars, about $150,000 per person. The overall public debt is running close to 72% of the annual gross domestic product. The annual interest expense for that debt, the service charge, is the one annually appropriated item in every federal budget that must be paid. Currently, the cost of our debt service is about $240 billion dollars, roughly equal to the entire cost of the U. S, Army. After the overall military budget (DOD appropriations, including Army, Air Force, Navy), the federal debt service is the second largest appropriation in the budget. …And just under half of US federal government debt is owed to foreign entities, principally the government of mainland China.




Realism is dependable. It always arrives to pierce our fantasy bubbles, whether it rides on the back of a disaster or as a storm-warning that drives a sudden course-correction.  Whether realism will arrive in time to head off a pending monetary/fiscal collapse remains an open question.

The international economic system is based on currency transactions among countries that, for the most part, are pressing the limits of acceptable borrowing and fiat money expansion policies. 

There are consequences: Entrepreneurs must live with the ongoing risk that circumstances in the world economic system can trigger disastrous currency devaluation at any moment.  This fact colors every international transaction.  That risk causes major business players to hesitate to enter into long term projects without securing political guarantees from local governments.

But political guarantees, like hostage negotiations, inevitably lead to the irrational allocation of precious resources. Two features of the entanglement of politics with long term private investments have conspired to hinder the emergence of a truly healthy American economy:   (1) Private investors are discouraged from investing in long term projects at all; (2) … those who do “play ball” with the politicians  more often than not end up seriously compromising otherwise sound business models.

Worries about currency instability result in an overemphasis on short term, quick revenue projects. The few long-term ones inevitably seek political cover, which leads to ill-conceived, and poorly executed business models.  In this way, the potential instability of the world economic system caused by over-reliance on fiat money is primary among the root causes of the “new normal” – chronically underpaid, underemployment.

A case in point: Silicon Valley is a rapid-result oriented economic test bed that produces more one-off millionaires than long term, well-paying jobs. The great majority of Google employees, for example, do not earn enough to own homes in Silicon Valley.

Granted, businesses around the world still prefer to be paid in dollars, but that enthusiasm is dwindling. The trend away from the dollar-as-favored- reserve is bound to accelerate if the US continues to play the “trust us” game to the very edge of incredibility.  At the current rate of dwindling confidence, the dollar’s role as the world’s “reserve currency” has a sell-by date.

This, then, is the main attraction of Bitcoin and the other virtual currencies[1]. Virtual currencies are a rapidly growing finance-model because the world economy’s Emperors are naked – and almost everybody knows it.  The virtual currency pitch is compellingly simple: Why not deal with a smaller, more manageable, “naked” (but well secured by encryption) currency regime, one that is inherently free from excessive political meddling, one where values are tied to the traded commodities themselves.

I have just described something that either looks like a very attractive alternative to the increasingly unreliable world currency system, OR as the single greatest threat to its continuation.

If present trends continue, virtual currencies will inevitably be recognized as a threat to the entire international system. Why?  Because these currencies are the first leaks in a large unstable dam, the edifice of international trade relationships.  At the moment, the aggregate size of virtual currencies is not enough to crack the dam.  But, as anyone who has studied the economic bubble phenomenon knows, that can change on a proverbial dime.

This possible threat leaves the USA and the other world currency players with essentially two choices: [1] Return to more conservative borrowing and monetary policy before one’s national transactional credibility is irrevocably damaged; [2] suppress the virtual currency alternatives.

Fictional Armageddon scenarios portray the survivors turning to barter. Don’t assume that major businesses have not thought this through. Here is the question that some savvy business analysts are already secretly asking themselves: If there is a currency collapse affecting our enterprise, how can a Bitcoin Wallet (or other virtual currency) allow is to continue to function?

To the extent that the question just posed is taken seriously by more and more businesses; and to the extent that the USA and other players fail to reverse the practices that are undermining trust in their own currencies, the political response is easy to predict:  We may see serious government attempts to “regulate” and ultimately suppress the emerging virtual currencies before the USA or the EU (assuming it even survives as an economic player) can recover a sufficient measure of fiscal and monetary sanity to put out the fire.

I do not profess to know the future, but the wise investor keeps one principle in mind: When complacency and reality collide, reality wins.





Readers are invited to forward this article and/or to use pull quotes with full attribution.

For all other permissions and your comments, contact the author via email .

[1] I know that the crypto currencies are also useful for money laundering. This is an obvious rationale for government regulation (read political management) of virtual money, if not its outright illegalization.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment




Commentary by Jay B Gaskill

“I’m mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore!”


If you are among angry at this point (& who isn’t?), you are probably in sharp disagreement with millions of other Americans who are equally angry at the same events.  This is a clue:

Read the entire post at this link –

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment