Archive for September 2012

Is It Over?

September 29, 2012

Most of the major political commentators are declaring President Obama the winner in his reelection bid.  They point to polls which now favor Obama at numbers well beyond the margin of error.  These margins are still growing.  So is the race over?

Of course not.  Reality demands the election continue until November 6 and only when the polls have closed and the absentee ballots counted, there will remain a chance for Mitt Romney.  But how would Romney turn things around?

There are the debates in which Romney could appear wiser and more “presidential”.  On the other hand, Romney’s dry and emotionless delivery makes it less likely that Romney would be convincing.  Probably not the debates.

There are world events.  These are indeed the wild cards.  Romney, however, has no foreign policy and is left only with the line “well I would not have done it that way”.  World events also can cut both ways.  They could just as easily put President Obama in a favorable light as they could be critical of him.  Possible, but still very unlikely.

And there is a real wild card.  Romney could decisively change his stated positions.  He could provide details and wave the white flag over taxes on the rich.  He could say that for the next three years he will not be reducing the deficit.  His policies which will emphasize growth will actually increase the deficit.  Only after the economy is perking along, will Romney tackle the deficit.  Romney could say he will tackle entitlements but will do so only as part of a comprehensive set of policies that reform health care.  He would say that entitlements like Medicare are not free and must be paid for.  He would, however, lay out a broad based tax revenue and individual contribution schedule which was progressive and fair.

Romney could also call a truce on all the social issue.  Under his watch, there would be no retrenchments on Roe v Wade or Federal policies against gay and lesbian rights.  He could promise a comprehensive solution for the immigration problem and assure a fast path to citizenship.

Romney could do all this and really have a chance at tipping the scales.

Oh, there is another possibility.  President Obama could say essentially the same.  The President could say there is no way to fix the deficit unless we solved the health care cost dilemma.  More than half the deficit is caused by Medicare/Medicaid.  And there cost increases are driven by both demographics and the out of control annual increases in health care costs.  Telling Americans that their health care delivery system is the most expensive in the world and on top, not the best would be both brave and courageous but politically dangerous.  Strangely that revelation is public knowledge and available to anyone who wants to look.  But you won’t hear the President say that.

So there are 4 possibilities.  Do you think any of them will take place?

When pigs fly, maybe.

Throwing the Gauntlet?

September 28, 2012

There is a new video produced by “Catholics Called to Witness” (CC2W.org) which throws stones directly at Democrats and President Obama.  The video is slick, well produced and very dramatic.  You can almost hear the Crusaders riding by.

Like the rhetoric already heard from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, this video speaks glowingly of important Catholic values and ties them all to religious freedom.  The video, however, overlooks the fact that the Catholic Church’s view of their values means that others must forego their freedoms.

The broad themes which CC2W paints are marriage (traditional only), life (no contraception or abortion), and freedom (a thinly disguised implication that freedom of religion is being denied Catholics).

The Church’s objection to gay marriage is bizarre given today’s knowledge.  Gays are just other human beings.  Unfortunately, homosexual relationships runs amok for outdated Church dogma.  The Church acts as if homosexuality is an acquired behavior.  For the church, it is about nurture, not nature.  Rome worries that if it were nature, God would have had to have created homosexuality and that would blow centuries of church dogma.

The life theme goes just as far afield.  In the Catholic view, all conceptions (regardless of rape or incest or simply the mother’s choice) must go full term, again regardless of the mother’s health or what life may lie ahead.  At life’s other end, death with dignity, seems an unknown term.  Prolonging life at all costs, forgetting individual dignity or choice, seems to be the Catholic position.

Freedom (a placeholder term for religious freedom), however, is the show stopper.  One is prompted to think that Catholics are under attack for their beliefs.  The attack is being lead by the Federal Government with the inclusion of birth control options in the Affordable Care Act.

In fact, there are no laws or any regulations that require anyone, Catholics included, to use any contraceptive method, and certainly there are no requirement to undergo an abortion.  There is complete freedom (religious or otherwise) for any Catholic to avoid all contraceptives.

But, under the Affordable Care Act, all employers must provide health care coverage which includes complete health care for women.  And yes, that includes a range of contraceptive options.  The Church says this requirement violates their religious freedom.

The Church does not want any of its affiliated businesses (like universities, hospitals, and charities) to be covered by ACA’s women’s health provision.  Straight forward in the Church’s mind.

Imagine, however, the Notre Dame football program which earns close to $70 million a year.  This program is a Catholic Church affiliate.  So the health care coverage of the football team coaching staff, whether any members are Catholic or not, should be denied contraceptive coverage, the Church says.  Does not the Church see the inequity of treatment when Notre Dame’s football business plays the University of Michigan’s football coaching staff who receives this coverage?

It will be interesting to see what any official Catholic Church response might be.  Like a turtle, this video is sticking the Church’s head out from its shell.  Will it get the bashing it deserves?

Or will Catholic voters, who overwhelmingly use all types of birth control, and are loving parents of homosexuals, rise up in defense of their Church?

Take a look.

http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=D9vQt6IXXaM&hd

A Pictures Tells A Thousand Words

September 26, 2012

In today’s newspaper, there is a picture of Japanese and Taiwanese Coast Guard vessels circling and spraying water on each other.  These were grown men dispatched by grown men’s governments playing like children.  It must have been pretty important to assemble all those ships.

The good news, of course, is they were shooting water at each other, not bullets.  This is actually a giant step up compared to the Syrian Government or the Libyan dissidents.  But why shoot water anyways?

How about control of uninhabited rocks lying in the Sea that separates China and Japan?  Sovereignty is pretty important each country says.  What they don’t say is that the minerals lying under the sea are pretty important too.  Which do you think is the greater motivating influence?

The hoot of this picture is that the Chinese vessel is from Taiwan, not mainland China who has previously claimed sovereignty over the entire sea area down to and including Vietnam and the Philippines.  I wonder what the Taiwanese are going to do if the real Chinese shows up?

So here’s a question.  Which area of the world seems more important to US interests, the Arab world or the Southeast Pacific?

In the olden days, the US would dispatch a warship or two to the regions.  Local countries that were acting out would suddenly get the message and simmer down.  Those days are gone.

But living today does not mean that international incidents up to and including hot shooting are impossible.  What needs to be different, however, is the role the US chooses to take.  In the Middle East, we are looking at third world mentality countries, desperately poor and largely uneducated.  And worst of all, dominated by a middle ages religion.

In Southeast Asia the conditions are quite different.  Southeast Pacific countries are engaged in international trade and have economies that are strong, populations that are educated, and no dominating theology.  So where should the US place its chips?

It would seem that geographically, the waters and their minerals, should be split among those neighboring countries.

Inviting representatives from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan to a US water park for negotiations might be an out of the box process starter.

 

 

Bump In The Road

September 25, 2012

The new buzz phrase being tossed around these days are President Obama’s words describing the recent disturbances, largely in the Muslim world and especially in the Middle East, as “a bump in the road”.  “The US should be shaping events, not responding to them”, is the conservative line.  So do they have some success examples?

I remember how the US shaped events with its invasion of Iraq.  To the chorus of rabid neocon supporters, the US watched as its pre-emptive invasion disintegrated into a civil insurrection.  And Iraqi civil unrest was not the only consequence.  The already existing Afghanistan war went into “sleep mode”.  The Taliban did not possess the capability to beat US forces but they certainly made it clear that there would be no military solution. So is this what shaping the future looks like?

Not too long after the Iraq invasion, the US spoke directly to Egypt’s Murarak Regime.  “You need to open your elections to more democratic processes”, the US said.  In a very short time, it became clear that democratic elections would lead to regime change, and with this change, the elimination of a government friendly to the US and at peace with Israel.  The white flag flew over the Bush Middle East foreign policy.

The “bump in the road” is probably an understatement.  Rather, recent events are more typical of a road full of potholes.  The job, however, of fixing pot holes is a local responsibility.  Some countries will fix these holes one way, others a different way, and some will just leave the holes where they are.

The path a third world country takes to reach the status of a modern, free and open one is never direct.  When one considers the enormous challenges poverty, lack of education, and  religion plays, it is naïve for anyone to think they can shape events.

What can be done, however, is to chart a path which reflects America’s best interests, and one that can stand the test of time.  Modernity is undeniable and these third world countries will be forced to join the modern world.  Forced, not by others, but by their own citizens.

It is time to keep our powder dry.

Are Voters Listening?

September 24, 2012

Yesterday “60 Minutes” interviewed both President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney.  It was as friendly an interview as either candidate could hope, and did not contain any tough questions like Telemundo asked days before.  So with softball questions, could voters learn anything?

Remember about taking the horse to water…

Never the less, voters did see a confident and articulate Mitt Romney.  He assured everyone that he was going to win and that his campaign was not in trouble.  Democrats should take notice.  Romney doesn’t look like a poker player and so he is basing his confidence on something.  It can’t be his programs or his personal “likeability”, so what is it?

My guess is Romney has targeted poll data that assures him of a certain turn out.  With a pile of negative ads in the last days of the campaign, he will insite his base to vote.  And that could work, especially if the rest of voters were not paying attention to two subjects Romney did discuss.

The first was Medicare.  Mitt assured us he was going to save Medicare.  He was going to do this by (1) not stripping Medicare of the $711 billion the Affordable Care Act takes.  Romney said he will plough that back into Medicare.  Hmmm.   (2) Romney would also offer future Medicare recipients a choice of current Medicare or vouchers.  Let’s think about that.  Why would anyone choose vouchers if they could keep current Medicare?

What are we missing in this Medicare discussion?  It sounds to me that Medicare will continue with flawed financing and run out about the same time as President Obama’s plan.  Wait.  He did say he would use block grants to States for the Medicaid portion.  So it might be possible to cut Medicaid (funds that would have gone to the poor) and put them into Medicare (for use by the rest of us).   Hmmm.  Does that feel a little slimmy? 

The second issue was taxes.  Mitt is sold on the idea of lowering tax rates for all Americans.  With a straight face, Romney told voters that he would balance these cuts with reductions in tax loopholes, deductions, and exemptions.  He said that the middle class would see a slight net advantage.  And the purpose of these changes was to stimulate job creation.  Hmmm.

So let’s play this again.  Romney is going to lower tax rates for everyone and than balance these losses in revenue with the elimination of offsetting tax breaks like mortgages, State and local taxes, and dependent deductions.  So where is there any stimulus effect?  Why would anyone think they were better off if at the end of the day, they have the same amount of money in their pocket?

I think the viewer was left with conflicting images.  Romney was Presidential, confident, and sounded competent.  Romney was also talking in circles. Which was the true Mitt Romney?

There are two paths for the future.  One is to do nothing and see what happens.  The other is to increase taxes AND fundamentally reduce spending.  Reduced spending would have to involve health care reform, entitlement modifications, and across the board reductions in discretionary spending including Defense.

Our political gridlock has us stuck on path one, and I have not seen in either party the political backbone to tackle path two.

Rolling Calamity

September 23, 2012

Columnist Peggy Noonan updated her assessment of Mitt Romney’s campaign.  It’s a “rolling calamity”.  Noonan, like many other Republican supporters, are critical of the way Romney is driving his campaign train, not what the train is carrying.  Hmmm.

Voters as well as most political observers recognize the toss up nature of this year’s election.  President Obama has little to show for his first four years.  (There are plenty of reasons to explain but in the end, there is little to show.)

His signature Affordable Care Act, while moving the US into the midst of modern industrial countries by increasing access to health care, has done little if anything to fix the outrageous cost of US health care.  Congress has been hopelessly deadlocked during the President’s term.  Voters’ frustrations might turn on this thought, if the Republicans say publicly and often their first priority is to deny President Obama’s reelection, why doesn’t the President call the GOP out just as vehemently?  No guts?

Not to be overlooked, the economy is moving at a snails pace, economic growth is tepid, and the jobs scene is not meeting most people’s expectations.  Rolling up all this, it should be a cinch for Romney to win.  So what’s the problem?

Noonan says it is poor campaign management.  Look no further and fix that, she says.

The now famous “47%” speech represents poor management?  Arguably it is one of the most honest statements Romney has made.  It is also one of the clearest looks into the minds of the big money supporting the GOP.  This election, in their minds, is not about the 47%, it is about how the top 1% can keep more of their earnings while the rest of the country rots from the inside out.

And what about the sound bite, “President Obama is gutting Medicare by taking out $771 billion, and I will save Medicare and make it stronger” used by both Romney and Ryan?  These words scream, “you the public are so dumb, I can tell you a bold faced lie and you can’t tell the difference”.  (The Ryan plan includes the same $771 billion and changes Medicare to voucher program.)  This is open disdain for the average person and a prediction of what life would be like in a Republican Administration.

Let’s not forget the details of Romney’s plan to fix the economy and create jobs.  Oh, you haven’t heard the details?  Noonan seems to also think they are unimportant.

But we have heard a lot about the social issues that have nothing to do with the economy and jobs.  Women, gays, and immigrants have no trouble recognizing which political party will support their journey towards equal rights and inclusion.  One might wonder why a party would speak out so strongly against any issue when simply remaining silent would help keep the focus on jobs and the economy.  The only reason is that these issues are important to the Republican brand and Romney’s statements are a truthful expression of his beliefs.

So in reality, Peggy Noonan and the others who are critical of Romney, are making their judgements on style and not content.  Without major efforts to limit the voter turnout, the GOP looks doomed this year.  (What did you say?  What is this about photo IDs?)

Hmmm.

 

 

Its Hard To Be An Optimist

September 21, 2012

Last night I attended a neighborhood civic association meeting.  The speaker was the Philadelphia City Comptroller, Alan Butkovicz.  The subject was the “ins and outs” of the proposed change in city real estate taxes.

The City has proposed changing the basis of assessing real estate taxes to 100% of market value.  In this change, some residents will pay more, others less, and most about the same, we are being told.  Butkowicz pointed out that this political process is fraught with opportunities for certain groups to escape taxes while others will experience huge hardships.  In the worst of cases, communities within the Philadelphia boundaries may go into decline because long time residents can no longer afford to live there.

The Comptroller’s message was that this revamp was not in anyones best interest.  Our civic association should become active and attempt to convince City Counsel to reject the real estate tax change.

Let’s catch out breaths.  Why is there a need to change anyway?

The City needs more revenue to cover looming School District budget shortfalls.  Property taxes are the main source (but not the only) of revenue for schools.  The City could increase again millage on the current assessed real estate values, or it could change the basis upon which the tax is figured.

Under the 100% valuation model, the “millage” (percent of real estate value) would decrease even if someone was paying more totally in taxes.  A politician could proclaim, “under my watch real estate taxes decreased” while still bringing in the extra money needed for the schools.

When the Comptroller was asked whether he favored simply raising the millage on the current real estate values, he launched into another “political speak”, saying in effect, that there were inequities in that approach too.  So what is the path forward?

We need to cut spending, was his reply.  Heard this before?

Doesn’t this dialogue sound a lot like the National argument going on in Washington?

We are routinely spending more than we collect in taxes.  There is almost universal agreement that spending must be reduced.  (There is almost no agreement on what needs to be reduced.)  Many support higher taxes but who would pay more taxes has no consensus.

Today the government spends lavishly on various segments of Americans.  The poor get support from a variety of government safety net programs.  The middle class get Medicare and Social Security.  And the wealthy get a load of juicy tax cuts.

Our Congress is totally deadlocked on how to eliminate the deficit with certain Congressional members defending the interests of each of these groups.  No compromise, just status quo.

Commonsense tells us that a compromise where some entitlement and safety net programs are eliminated, others reduced with means testing, and still others are redesigned to operate at lower costs.  In a similar manner, Medicare and Social Security look ripe for means testing and some modifications (like the age onset of benefits).  Tax policy is just as clear once the argument on whether taxes should be regressive or progressive is settled.

While some will get hurt with these changes, the number of hardships can be minimized if the deficit is reduced by the combination of tax increases AND spending reductions.  In Philadelphia, the real estate issue must balance the needs of long time residents whose homes now reside in more gentrified areas with the promises made to wealthy residents who have purchased expensive condominiums with 10 year tax abatements.

In Washington as well as Philadelphia, it should be clear that what can’t be done is to do nothing.  But it is hard to be an optimist.