A Day To Reflect

Posted April 20, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Barack Obama, Democratic Party, Politics, Republican Party

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Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Islam, and Judaism all have roots that date thousand of years ago. In certain tenets or beliefs, each tradition claims a divine origin. All have been at one time or another conveniently aligned with secular leaders. Consequently, generational leadership changes have occurred as one secular leader was disposed by another and each tradition evolved.

All traditions offer customs and practices which promise to help one lead ones life in a way harmonious with others while keeping the person on a path to what ever lies ahead after death.

Members of all these traditions, at one time or another, have also engaged in bloody, cruel, and merciless attacks on others.

Today, within Christian religions, followers celebrate Easter. Christianity which emerged as a tradition more recently (just before Islam), engaged wholeheartedly in manifestations of hatred against fellow man while professing absolute certainty that divine intercession was guiding their way.

On Easter, Christian believers recognize a “man” who was conceived and born to a virgin, who preached a peaceful life philosophy. This “man”, however, was crucified and died. Easter represents the return from the dead, this “man” is said to have experienced. Hmmm.

All of these traditions have similar unbelievable tenets and attempt to connect the supernatural with life on earth today. Each traditions have believers who see their own tradition as real and those of others somewhat unbelievable. So what is one to believe?

Easter also has a unrelated secular theme.  A magical rabbit hides brightly color eggs, some filled with chocolates, for children to find and enjoy. There are plenty of hidden eggs so there are no winners or no losers. What an example for life.

In America, we speak of a Constitutional guaranteed “right of religious freedom”.  Christians celebrating Easter is a Constitutional right.

The Constitution assures everyone that they are free to follow any of these traditions, or none of them. The Government is prevented from limiting anyone’s practice of the religion of choice… providing the practice of ones religious tradition choice does not inhibit the right of others to practice their choice. In other words,

Catholics can no longer run inquisitions against Jews or Muslims, Hindus cannot slaughter Sheiks, or Sunnis cannot exterminate Shiites. Instead each religious tradition is invited to believe in what they want, regardless of what modern science says is possible.

In return, each tradition is expected respect the rights of those who practice other traditions. Hopefully on this Easter day, following the non-violent Easter Egg Hunt, many religious Americans will take the time to reflect upon this.

Cream Floats

Posted April 19, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Politics, Barack Obama, Republican Party, Democratic Party

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President Obama has been criticized for his so-called “leading from behind” foreign policy. While lacking bravado, and with certainty we know one strategy cannot fit all situations, “leading from behind” still has much to offer.

And, it is quite possible that President Obama may be wise again applying this approach to the Ukraine and Crimea.

Much has been written about Russian President Putin and his alleged land grab of Crimea. The news media portrays Putin and Russia as the black hats, strong and acting as a bully. Traditionally, the white hat role is supposed to be played by the US. It is the US who is supposed to oppose Russian aggression (as the US did in the past against the Soviet Union).

The typical picture puts the US military face to face with Russia’s. Not this time, at least not at this point with the Ukrainian situation. And, why is this a wise approach?

  • The Ukraine was previously a member of the Soviet Union and has had a long history of close Russian relations.
  • The Ukraine is Russia’s neighbor and if Russia chose to invade, the speed Russia could show would make it strategically impossible for the US or NATO to mount an armed resistance.
  • Crimea has closer ties to Russia than to the Ukraine.
  • There is no imminent threat to American interests.
  • And, both Russia and the people of the Ukraine and Crimea will soon learn that Russian rule is not the way to a better life.

By “leading from behind”, the US is allowing facts on the ground to become clearer to all parties. When the Soviet Union cut the Eastern European countries free in the 80’s, it did so because the Soviets could no longer afford what little support it provided these lands.

Communism, while possibly a very fair economic system in theory, in practice was both inefficient and unproductive for the average citizen. In short, most everyone endured a poorer existence and learned from experience to do as little as possible.

Separate from economic communism, but essential to how the Soviets administered their authority, was intense measures to control what people thought and said. Those living in the Soviet Union were told their form of government and economy was the best in the world. Hmmm.

Fast forward. The internet has changed the world. People can easily see that others live differently. Trying now to tell Ukrainians and Crimean residents that they must be content with even less than they had before will not be an easy sell.

Russia will also be faced with issues of food, water, and fuel availability. Does Russia intend to supply (or at least subsidize) their availability? And how much will the Russian Government be willing to take away from its domestic budget and prop up the Ukraine and Crimea?

One can find “hot heads” or mercenary soldiers for hire anyplace. At a reasonably low cost, these militias can project popular opposition. But when it comes to long term control the bills go up.

Russia is faced with this corundum.

“Leading from behind” should help the US stay out of another expensive conflict and allow natural forces to convince both the Russians and the Ukrainians that there is nothing to be gained by the Ukraine aligning with Russia.

This is not an open and shut conclusion.  Life will not be that rosy aligning with Europe, it just won’t be worse.  For the US, it should be a win-win.  Russia gets the extra costs and probably a very disgruntled people should Ukraine realign with Russia.  Or, if the Ukraine aligns with Europe, there will be one more chance for an open economy to grow.

 

It Would Be A Hoot If It Wasn’t So Serious

Posted April 14, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Barack Obama, Democratic Party, Politics, Republican Party

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Over the weekend, GOP conservative Presidential hopefuls gathered in New Hampshire. Notably, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie were not invited. (That’s a snub when you consider Donald Trump was in attendance.) But who was invited was not the news, rather it was what Rand Paul and Ted Cruz said.

These Tea Party favorites made speeches that included appeals that the GOP needed to broaden its base. What?

Certainly if the GOP wishes to win the White House it is a no brainer that current demographics are not very favorable to their crusade.

Paul tossed out civil rights using the example of disproportionate criminal convictions for drug possession. He urged fellow GOP members to recognize this injustice. Was he trying to stretch the traditional GOP “law and order” theme?

Cruz chose to demagogue the wealthy. “Republicans can no longer be seen as the party of Wall Street and the super rich”, Cruz said. He went on to say that income inequality has become the widest since 1928… under President Obama’s economic policies. If truth were words, and Cruz was forced to eat his words, he would have choke to death on the spot.

The GOP is well established as the party of no new taxes. Their voting record since 2008 is quite clear on the subject of taxes, especially increasing taxes on the wealthy. Now I suppose it is possible that Cruz and Paul’s words are the beginning of a total rethinking of what makes sense to the GOP. I wonder whether this rethink includes the Affordable Care Act?

To be sure there is plenty of landing ground for the GOP to change its tune. For starters, the GOP could simply say they favor a narrowing of income distribution inequality, or that all Americans are entitled to basic healthcare in a dignified way. What would follow next would confirm whether these were words or in fact a commitment.

It seems impossible to be for narrowing income inequality and at the same time be against raising the minimum wage and increasing taxes on the very wealthy. Repealing the Affordable Care Act seems equally inconsistent without a plan that also assures coverage.

There are many steps the GOP could propose to narrow income inequality. These would involve training and education, infrastructure development and maintenance, and disincentives for those who are gathering disproportionate shares of wealth (like hedge fund executives, large corporation CEOs, and those who take advantage of off shore tax holidays).

The core nature of healthcare involves availability and payment of service provided. Here too there are numerous areas where the GOP could propose how to make basic (emphasis on preventive) care available and a comprehensive method to pay for it. Almost certainly these proposals would include methods to cap fees the medical industry charges as well as broad based tax revenue to back up fees individuals paid (in a system where no one is ever denied service due to ability to pay).

Wouldn’t it be nice if Paul and Cruz were just writing the first chapter in this new GOP playbook?

Different Horses

Posted April 12, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Barack Obama, Democratic Party, Politics, Republican Party

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The saying “different horses for different courses” came to mind yesterday when I saw President Obama introducing his new Secretary of Health, Sylvia Matthews Burwell, while thanking her predecessor, Kathleen Sebelius. Ms Sebelius had run the good race in the thankless task of implementation, that is establishing the Affordable Care Act following its passage into law.

She lead her organization through uncertainties ranging from the Supreme Court, State Governments’ confusion, and open hostility from the House of Representatives. She did this while the major cheer leader in chief, President Obama, remained too often in the background. This was dirty, tough, work requiring great patience and poise, (work that frankly bored the President).

Someone had to slog it out, and Ms Sebelius did with great dignity.

Her resignation, of course, was not a surprise. Following the near disastrous roll out of “heathcare.gov” and the initial damage that the roll out did to ACA’s reputation, many had called for her resignation. The President stuck with her not allowing anyone the space to claim he had picked an incompetent Cabinet member.

In the end, Ms Sebelius has been exonerated. The ACA has added over 7 million people to the rolls of insurance holders despite the rocky start. Without a doubt, this was a mark of success.

Looking ahead, however, the challenges are different. The ACA must be managed in a way that it becomes user friendly and ultimately depended upon by enough Americans that repealing it will be a sure way to lose an election. The President’s choice of Mathews-Burwell signals clearly this recognition, less political, more management.

In an unexpected way, President Obama has steered this difficult situation so that there can be two cabinet winners. Oh, and don’t forget, the biggest winner will be all those who now have access to healthcare coverage.

Settling Into Reality

Posted April 11, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Barack Obama, Democratic Party, Politics, Republican Party

Tags: , ,

There has been much said about the Affordable Care Act and how the Obama Administration has brought ruin to America. There has also been much said about foreign policy and how Obama’s “leading from behind” style has proven ineffective. And there continues to be much said about the deficit and debt and proposals of draconian measures to balance the budget.

All of this brought to us by the GOP.  Reality, however, has not supported the GOP claims.  Hmmm.

In 2010 the story was the Administrations focus should be on job creation. The impression was left that with only minor changes, like abandoning regulations and lowering taxes, the US could be awash in jobs. Even more dire was the prediction that the country was headed for chronic low growth shattering the American dream for the next generation. Hmmm.

The prospects for a return to the American dream experienced by those returning from WWII and their children is very problematic. Simply stated the world has changed as much as night to day. In 1950, the US possessed 60% of the world’s manufacturing capacity. This was a basis to “print money” and, of course, create millions of jobs and prosperity for other Americans.

Today the manufacturing capability is spread around the world. What determines what is made where is economics. Globalization has lead to large numbers of US manufacturing jobs to migrate to foreign locations. It is simply less expensive to make things in Mexico or China than in Ohio or Michigan. These are facts which know no political party. Never the less, we have heard a constant beat that the GOP knows how to create jobs and the Obama Administration does not.

What progress has been made in reducing the unemployment rate is labeled “too little, too late”. And if you are someone seeking a job these are words that ring true. Unfortunately, these words are neither true or helpful. The GOP’s rant does not deal with actual reality.

Globalization coupled with the 2008/9 recession (almost depression) has exposed the unpreparedness of our work force to move to better paying jobs which require more skills than those that have gone overseas. BMW has had to start its own apprentice program in South Caroline in order to find enough qualified workers for its new auto manufacturing plant.

The GOP “job creators” may know how to create low paying jobs but the American dream has always been tied to “good” jobs.

Looking at other GOP claims we find the deficit, while still too large, is shrinking. We also find that other countries who have tried to deal with deficits by drastically cutting spending (the austerity path) have seen stagnant economic results. And yes, amongst the Western economies, the US is out performing all of them.

Foreign affairs is more difficult to assess. What President Obama has done in his two terms may not be clear in its world impact for years. The same can be said for President Bush’s terms where the invasion and occupation of Iraq marked his view of foreign policy. Do you wonder whether the Arab Spring or the Russian return to Soviet era antics might be related?

But the largest GOP non-reality statements have been aimed at the Affordable Care Act. Already there are very positive signs that ACA will insure more Americans, will prevent more personal healthcare bankruptcies, and will slow the growth (and could possibly reduce) the annual per capita US healthcare spend. How could anyone get a policy so wrong?

Elections, however, are like horse races because no ever one agrees on every subject. There would be no horse races if everyone picked the same horses to win. So, it is possible the GOP could gain control of Congress or win the White House the next time despite their apparent lack of a grasp of reality.

It is my guess that policies like the Ryan federal budget or the Jindal ACA alternative will be seen for what they are in 2014 and 2016.  These are policies that do not address the needs of most Americans. As a consequence,  the election results will be much less than what the GOP hopes.

Voter feedback would inform the GOP that they must focus on American’s real problems and opportunities. Of course, the GOP should be expected to select its own policies to achieve these goals.  They must remember, however, that a changing demographic will produce a new electorate.   The “in your face” GOP pandering to big money just won’t cut it. (Democrats like big money too, they are just far more discrete about how they reward big money.)  In short, the GOP must begin to focus upon the average American.

Will the GOP get this message?

Missed Opportunity?

Posted April 10, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Politics, Barack Obama, Dick Cheney, Republican Party, Democratic Party

Tags: , , ,

Israel’s negotiating strategies employ the “reuse” tactic when ever it is convenient. Under this ploy, Israel makes an agreement to do X in return for Y.   X, however, may require multiple steps to complete as in a prisoner release. After the X and Y agreement, Israel will huff and puff about some other Palestinian behavior and tie the completion of X ( that is the release of the remainder of prisoners) to some additional change in Palestinian behavior.

The US has found itself in a similar position with recent bad Russian behavior.  The US could have reverted to this Israeli negotiating style but seems to have chosen not to. What?

Push back the video a few years to when Russia and the US agreed to the “New START Treaty” where each side agreed to reduce its arsenals of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Now fast forward to today and the Russian bad behavior in Crimea. If the US were Israel, the US would have postponed any further implementation of denuclearization until Russian behavior improved.

So what did the US do?

After conferring, not with the Russians, but with legislators from States which are home to most of the missile silos, the US announced plans to move forward with taking an additional bite out of the total nuclear arsenal. Hmmm.

Actually this should be no surprise. President Obama has kept the reduction of nuclear arms a top element of his foreign policy. The President seems to believe that US actions are the strongest form of leadership. Oh, if the world were only that simple.

In reality, it makes no difference in terms of having sufficient nuclear deterrents whether the US reduces its arsenal by 50 silos, 2 nuclear subs, or 33 B-52s or does nothing. The US (as well as the Russians) will still have more than enough weapons to kill everyone on the planet.

The more I think about this, the more I like the American position providing there is no illusion that this American action will prompt a similar Russian response at this time. Keeping ones word is a useful long term strategy. While keeping promises does not win the day every time, it does in the fullness of time.

On the other hand, can you imagine what former Vice President Cheney would have done with this issue?

Equal Pay

Posted April 9, 2014 by zukunftsaugen
Categories: Politics, Barack Obama, Republican Party, Democratic Party

Tags: , ,

The latest Washington kerfluffle is the argument over the relationship between mens and woman’s pay. The progressive side is arguing that a large difference still exists while conservatives are employing a “global warming” approach (the data is still in dispute).

Fortunately the question is not before the Supreme Court. Their judgement was completely discredited when the ruled that Lilly Leadbetter did not have an otherwise slam dunk case on the grounds her suit was not filed within the six months allowed. It just depended upon which six months one considered, from her first paycheck or from her last. Her former employer had been under paying her the entire time.

Pay discrimination is an issue we must be careful with. Clearly there should be equal pay for equal work. It is less clear whether everyone does the same amount of work in the same job description.

Consider two food service employees (like a waiter and waitress). One of them is super efficient and meets every need of their customer’s. In a setting where the wait staff are paid the same amount, the waiter and the waitress would earn the same pay from the employer. In total, however, one (for argument sake, the waiter) earned more from tips and so in total earned more. This is how the real world works.

So now consider an employer who decides to pool all tips and share them equally amongst both the kitchen and the wait staff. The employer recognizes the better performance of the waiter (it could be just as easily the other way around) and provides a “bonus” to the waiter who would have earned more in tips. The “bonus” would in fact be aimed at retaining this high performing waiter.

Paying for performance is as American as apple pie.

The hidden problem is how do we judge superior performance? A second hidden problem is how do we separate our judgement from our prejudices?

To the extent that it is difficult to judge performance, it should be no surprise that historically men have in general been paid more than women. So what should we do about this? Litigation is probably not the answer. But sunlight is another option.

Companies could post once a year their pay rolls for everyone to see. Alternatively, companies could be neutral on whether their employees discussed their pay with other employees. In either case one should expect that employees will have a lot of questions if their pay was less than a peers.

Disclosure has other advantages. It could motivate. An employee might say, “wow, if I worked in Department B and work overtime, I could earn a lot more than I make now.”

Disclosure might also lead to a company’s HR department having to answer tough questions when the facts do indicate a disparity between sex. HR should be ready for the question why do the men in engineering make so much more than the women in shipping. Assuming the company has no overt policy about hiring only men in engineering, HR could show national averages for engineering positions and regional averages for shipping positions. There should be nothing to be ashamed about unless there were gender differences in engineering or in shipping.

It is somewhat laughable that Congress has inherited this hot potato. While equal pay for equal work would seem a subject Congress would seek to enforce, today’s Congress seems far more interested in themselves and not the slightest bit interested in drafting sound social policy.

Maybe the GOP is correct that this issue is coming out now because there are mid-term elections ahead. The electorate, however, will judge whether the GOP is interested in equal pay or favors only what business owners think proper. Hmmm.

We shall see.


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