Archive for January 2013

Under Oath

January 31, 2013

I always thought that testimony under oath was supposed to be true.  I always thought that if one did not tell the truth, that constituted a criminal offense.  Perjury is what they call it.  Hmmm.

Yesterday before a Senate subcommittee, testimony was taken over the subject of gun controls.  Assault rifles, large capacity clips, and universal background checks were front and center.

One women testified that a six bullet clip would not make a mother feel comfortable, for herself and her three children, if 4 armed men were invading her house.  Give me a break.  Who would feel comfortable?  And just how many mothers would engage in gun fire with children easy targets for stray bullets?

Senator Lindsay Graham (apparently campaigning for reelection) claimed that 6 rounds would not be enough (in some cases) to deter an intruder.  Apparently the 7th or 8th shot would do the trick.

NRA CEO, Wayne LaPierre, replied to the question on universal background checks, flat out, he said, would not work.  Criminals don’t pay attention to laws, La Pierre said.  Duh, then why do we have laws?  And what’s the purpose of police forces?  LaPierre’s assertion was that since the law already existed where gun dealers must conduct a background check before selling a fire arm, that’s ok.  But he saw no need for anyone else being required to conduct background checks.

Technically, each of these witnesses did not commit perjury if they actually believed what they were saying, no matter how far fetched or demonstrably irrelevant.  They were answering a specific question and not the greater issue of how does the country reduce the amount of gun violence while protecting 2nd Amendment rights.

It is part of our democracy that elected officials demagogue an issue, and citizens who testify can represent narrow points of view.  On the surface, background checks should apply to all, or they are not needed at all.

Suppose someone planted “Claymore mines” around the perimeter of their home, and when an intruder tried to gain entry, the mines exploded injuring or killing neighbors who lived next door?  It seems reasonable that each of us has a right to protect ourselves with deadly force, but if that force injures someone else, that is not a right we enjoy.

We cannot take too seriously the charade going on in Congress.  For Graham it is about getting reelected.  For LaPierre, it is about keeping a well paying job.  And for the rest in Congress, it is just going through the motions.

Too Many Getting Onboard?

January 30, 2013

What a difference an election can make.  This week an ad-hock Senate bi-partisan group offered recommendations on comprehensive immigration reform.  Sweeping away the double speak, these Senators were proposing a method for some 11 million undocumented aliens (mostly Mexicans) to obtain “papers” and become US citizens.  There was still a lot of huffing and puffing rhetoric but the heart of the bi-partisan proposals was truly a step forward.

President Obama made a campaign stop in Las Vegas yesterday.  Unlike the Las Vegas advertisements, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, the President’s speech was meant for national consumption.  He too had a plan for immigration.

This immigration problem (aka Mexican problem) is a problem that underscores the worst of governing.  Politicians have lined up to express how tough they are on these undocumented “law breakers” although these same pols are no where to be seen when it comes to enforcing gun laws.  Many politicians demand deportation even in the face of the complexity and cost of deportation.  (Think about it.  If you could locate and round up all these Mexicans, it would require over 200,000 buses to transport these undocumented individuals to the boarder.  This would take years.  And what about the flow of undocumented workers flowing back?)

But even more amazing is that undocumented workers are just that.  They are unknown to government agencies.  Taxes are not being collected.  The US born children of the undocumented are US citizens.  So what happens if one or both of the parents is deported?

Stranger still is the Mexican culture.  They are hard working, family and church oriented people.  They possess the cultural markings of what we profess to be American values.  Mexicans, one would think, would be sought after.

Sure there are gangs (like in LA) where Mexican youth lead purposeless lives.  These gangs, however, do not represent the vast plurality of undocumented Mexicans any more than gangs composed of caucasians or african-americans represent their races.

Immigration throughout the years has always caused friction.  Immigrants compete for jobs, usually entry level ones.  Those job holders resist, and there is friction.  Clever politicians, of course, see demagoguery as an opportunity and join the chorus shouting down immigrants.

Popular opinion in the US seems to have shifted in favor of a comprehensive solution.  It is now more likely the Senate will pass immigration reform in the coming months.  The House’s response is still unclear.  A majority of the majority is very unlikely but a majority of the House may be possible.  So what can go wrong?

Too many (with different motives) getting onboard.

The GOP change of heart in the Senate is about recognizing reality.  The last election demographics punished Republicans and is project to punish them even harder next time if they don’t modify some of their positions.  Politicians, however, always strive to have it both ways.

Senate GOP members will try to pass the least generous form of comprehensive reform possible, while Democrats will try to liberalize the path to citizenship in hopes of more votes.  Each party will try and portray the resulting bill as their work (rather than our work).  Tit will lead to tat and gridlock could return.

I wonder whether “real” Senate leaders will see this a test case for bi-partisanship while improving a broken system.  Inherently there is nothing Democrat or Republican about undocumented workers.  They are more similar to “potholes”.  Fixing potholes does not know whether the fixer is a Democrat or a Republican.

Over the next weeks we will see if too many politicians try “to get onboard” for whatever their personal ambitions might be and not for reasons of fixing the pothole.

Too Many Getting Onboard?

January 30, 2013

What a difference an election can make.  This week an ad-hock Senate bi-partisan group offered recommendations on comprehensive immigration reform.  Sweeping away the double speak, these Senators were proposing a method for some 11 million undocumented aliens (mostly Mexicans) to obtain “papers” and become US citizens.  There was still a lot of huffing and puffing rhetoric but the heart of the bi-partisan proposals was truly a step forward.

President Obama made a campaign stop in Las Vegas yesterday.  Unlike the Las Vegas advertisements, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, the President’s speech was meant for national consumption.  He too had a plan for immigration.

This immigration problem (aka Mexican problem) is a problem that underscores the worst of governing.  Politicians have lined up to express how tough they are on these undocumented “law breakers” although these same pols are no where to be seen when it comes to enforcing gun laws.  Many politicians demand deportation even in the face of the complexity and cost of deportation.  (Think about it.  If you could locate and round up all these Mexicans, it would require over 200,000 buses to transport these undocumented individuals to the boarder.  This would take years.  And what about the flow of undocumented workers flowing back?)

But even more amazing is that undocumented workers are just that.  They are unknown to government agencies.  Taxes are not being collected.  The US born children of the undocumented are US citizens.  So what happens if one or both of the parents is deported?

Stranger still is the Mexican culture.  They are hard working, family and church oriented people.  They possess the cultural markings of what we profess to be American values.  Mexicans, one would think, would be sought after.   

Sure there are gangs (like in LA) where Mexican youth lead purposeless lives.  These gangs, however, do not represent the vast plurality of undocumented Mexicans any more than gangs composed of caucasians or african-americans represent their races.

Immigration throughout the years has always caused friction.  Immigrants compete for jobs, usually entry level ones.  Those job holders resist, and there is friction.  Clever politicians, of course, see demagoguery as an opportunity and join the chorus shouting down immigrants.

Popular opinion in the US seems to have shifted in favor of a comprehensive solution.  It is now more likely the Senate will pass immigration reform in the coming months.  The House’s response is still unclear.  A majority of the majority is very unlikely but a majority of the House may be possible.  So what can go wrong?

Too many (with different motives) getting onboard.

The GOP change of heart in the Senate is about recognizing reality.  The last election demographics punished Republicans and is project to punish them even harder next time if they don’t modify some of their positions.  Politicians, however, always strive to have it both ways.

Senate GOP members will try to pass the least generous form of comprehensive reform possible, while Democrats will try to liberalize the path to citizenship in hopes of more votes.  Each party will try and portray the resulting bill as their work (rather than our work).  Tit will lead to tat and gridlock could return.

I wonder whether “real” Senate leaders will see this a test case for bi-partisanship while improving a broken system.  Inherently there is nothing Democrat or Republican about undocumented workers.  They are more similar to “potholes”.  Fixing potholes does not know whether the fixer is a Democrat or a Republican.

Over the next weeks we will see if too many politicians try “to get onboard” for whatever their personal ambitions might be and not for reasons of fixing the pothole. 

 

Heart Of Darkness

January 29, 2013

The Wall Street Journal reported today that the US military will sign an agreement with Niger.  The agreement could be the first steps into another decade of overseas military involvement.  How deep an involvement and at what costs (human and monetary) is unknown.

This is the type of announcement that often goes unnoticed.  It’s only a small country and for the most part there is no shooting there.  Further we are reading about the French intervention in Mali and their early success in turning the tide of war against the radical Muslim insurgents.  The tendency is to let this announcement pass.  Let’s wait and see.

One cannot know the future, and it is often extremely difficult to make sense of the past.  Entering into military agreements in the heart of Africa, however, is no small deal.  The lessons of Afghanistan (protracted war and no possible victory in sight) and the even more unimaginable invasion and occupation of Iraq (regional destabilization and the freeing of insane religious hatred) should make us cautious on where our military treads.

Three questions.  (1) How does military intervention in Africa serve our national interests?  (2) What are our goals and how will we know they have been achieved?  (3)  What costs will we accept and how will they be paid for?   And, how will the US exit Africa if the costs become too high or our national interests are no longer served by presence in Africa?

If these questions seem frivolous, substitute Iraq or Afghanistan in place of Africa.

Making Sense In A Dysfunctional Region

January 28, 2013

Civil War continues in Syria.  Egypt is under marshall law.  Libya is unsafe at any speed.  And, Iran quietly continues to prepare for building and deploying nuclear weapons.  But that’s not enough.

Syrian refugees are chocking Jordan’s ability to meet its own residents’ needs.  Israel, who is busily building settlements on the West Bank, has had to stop its rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear ambitions because of a greater fear.  Syria may lose control of its gas warfare weapons and these weapons may end up in the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas.  Hmmm, what a mess.

What should US Middle East foreign policy look like?  Should we invade, arm the insurgents, or just sit on the side lines?

There are many “would have, should have, could have” statements that come to mind.  Like “tell me again why we invaded and occupied Iran” or “why we have allowed the Israelis to stonewall negotiations with the Palestinians” or “why did we allow Egyptian election when it was clear the Muslim brotherhood, if elected, would end the fledgling democracy?  

As time passes, it is becoming clearer that while Russia, China, and the US have different self interests, none of these countries can obtain their goals at the expense of the others.  In other words, peace and stability in the Middle East can not be achieved where Russia gains some advantage over the US or China.  The same is true for China and the US.  

What is also becoming clearer is that the Middle East unrest is about wealth, who has it and who doesn’t.  The banner of Islam is a sham.  Religion and the hatred of Israel are simply tools various regional leaders use to maneuver the masses in the direction they see as most advantageous to accumulating wealth and power.

Israel represents a special situation (even though Israeli lives are no more valuable than Arab lives).  For Israel the US could define clear boundaries, for example any attack on Israel within the borders defined by the “green line” (or where territorial swaps have been agreed to), will be considered an attack on US interests and dealt with accordingly.  For all other Middle East areas, internal disruptions (like Syria, Egypt, or Libya) are matters for the residents to resolve.  In other pun-like words, the US will no longer throw gasoline on the fire.

Such policy as I have just proposed will never become US policy.  There are too many special interests who still see advantageous to be gained.  Others, like those who pray to god for a Notre Dame victory over Boston College, naively think there are magic bullets (divine intercessions) which will turn the Middle East into a picnic area.

President Obama’s Middle East policy, although nuanced, has come the closest to what makes sense to me.  Maybe that’s the best we can expect now.

Maybe that’s why unidentified big money is mounting attack ads against Department of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel.   

 

The Gang That Think Straight

January 27, 2013

If the nation is really worried about how to prevent another Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, the best advice is stop worrying.  The spectacle playing out in Washington as well as many State capitals and even some local communities is a sad testimony to understanding problems and identifying remedies.  We must remember, guns don’t kill, people do.

Think about Gabby Giffords, the Aurora Theater, and Sandy Hook.  The accused had no legitimate beef with either the target or the innocent collateral victims.  These killers were mentally unable to see right from wrong.  

Consider also what the killing sites had something in common.  There were lots of unsuspecting people gathered.  Who would charge, guns blazing, into a crowded mall?  Who would dress up, sneak in a back entrance, and surprise a darkened movie house full of attendees?  And, why would anyone shoot up an elementary school, killing dozens of innocent and defenseless children?  

Banning assault weapons is, in and of itself, not the answer.  All of these tragedies could have taken place with hand guns or sawed off shot guns, plus lots of ammunition.  All of these tragedies could have taken place in other venues, so putting armed guards in schools is a bozo answer.  What about churches, sports stadiums, concert halls, Times Square, or hospital waiting areas?

Sandy Hook was an example of a mental health safety net failure.  The perpetrator was a mentally sick person and was not receiving treatment.  

But, what if there had been armed guards and the killer was instead a deranged teacher? 

There is a problem with labeling Sandy Hook only as a mental health issue.   (1) No one knows what to do that does not cost a small fortune, and (2) it is just too tempting to jump to gun control changes which most people have held as necessary for a long time.

State, City, and communities have been cutting mental health services.  Without expressly knowing it, they have made a bargain around how much taxes we wish to pay and unintended consequences flowing from reduced mental health services funding.  (So why would we put money back in the form of trained, armed school guards?)

Gun controls such as national registrations, gun purchase limits, high capacity ammunition clips, and guns bans (like assault weapons) make sense for totally different reasons.  The facts are, however, that many Americans still think the 2nd Amendment is absolute and should be seen without restrictions. 

Drawing a line around what the 2nd Amendment might cover, while worthwhile and forward thinking, is not in the political cards at this time.  

Congress should be able to analyze Sandy Hook well enough to separate the real issues.  They should also be able to realize that there are no absolute solutions.  The best we can expect is a reduction in occurrences.

I also wonder what our Congressional leaders will say when some political or religious group, armed with the best military style weapons we can freely buy, descends upon the Cotton Bowl and massacres hundreds in the name of some cause?     

 

Slow Learners Or Is This What Stupid Parties Do?

January 26, 2013

The latest words from what Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal called “the stupid party” seems to bare out Jindal’s words.  Republicans in several States are toying with the idea of how Electoral College voters are selected.  If all 50 states had followed their proposals last November, it would be President Romney today.

At present, 48 States allocate all their electoral college votes to the candidate who wins the plurality of voters on election day.  Nebraska and Maine award electoral college votes proportionate to the percent each candidate earned on election day.  The “stupid party’s” idea would be to award electoral votes based upon the plurality in each congressional district.  

Hmmm.  So, what’s wrong with this?

First, politically it is tinkering with the rules while the game is being played.  Americans do not like people who change the rules in an obvious attempt to tilt the outcome.

Second, if these rules had applied in the last election, we would have elected a President who lost the national popular vote by 5 million votes.  Not much of a mandate there.

Third, the Democratic notion which America has evolved is one person, one vote.  Any attempts to alter this usually elicit strong negative reaction from the public.  In essence this Republican proposal would disenfranchise many Americans.

One might ask why there is an electoral college when Americans think they are voting for their choice of President when they vote?  The founding fathers had a cautious eye towards the electorate as a whole but even more so towards State legislatures in particular.  Voting for electors pledged to Candidate A seemed a sound way around the meddling State assemblies were known for.

It would seem that awarding electoral votes either “winner take all” (as 48 States do now), or “proportionate” (as Nebraska and Maine do) seems fair and true to “one person, one vote”.

Changing Presidential election rules in the first year of a term is the correct time.  It allows for all parties to adjust and prepare for the election 4 years hence.  It also allows for adequate time to litigate the changes should the modification appear to destroy the “one person, one vote” principle.

I just wonder why people do not remember the maxim, “if it isn’t broken, why try to fix it”?  

 

Liberal? No Progressive !

January 24, 2013

The GOP reaction to President Obama’s inauguration speech was certainly predictable.  Most spent time misidentifying the context and relying upon tried and true rhetoric like a “liberal agenda awaits us”.  Hmmm.

It is often useful to read the actual text before deciding whether your favorite politician has drawn the correct conclusion or just the “right” one.  The President’s speech is certainly in the “progressive” mode but since it does not contain prescriptive language on how to achieve aspirational goals, it should not be labeled liberal.

Here are a few examples

The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few, or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people. Entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed. And for more than 200 years we have. Through blood drawn by lash, and blood drawn by sword, we noted that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half slave, and half free.

Are there political leaders who propose rewriting history and affirming the justness of half slave, half free?

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.

Are there those who think the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is a good prescription for economic growth?  Where will the money come to provide government services?  Oops.  Did I just break into jail?

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. So we must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work hard or learn more, reach higher.

These words sound pretty aspirational to me.  I see no path nor means to achieve.  Rather I see an appeal to common sense and call to action.

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit.

The call is clear, the methods are not.  Do some politicians think these choices will be easy?

We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative.

Once again, does anyone prescribe that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security should be abolished simply because the country can’t afford these safety net programs?  In no way, however, do these words rule out any modifications to how these programs are funded, how one qualifies, or what one gets in benefits.  Rather it is the aspiration that all Americans should be willing to help since no one knows when they might be in a situation needing help.

We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.

This is common sense.  It also smacks right into those who present the case that our taxes can pay for war but not for health care or old age subsidies.

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.

There can be nothing more aspirational albeit progressive.  One need only look back on history and the evolution of personal freedom and recognition for all.  Society changes slowly but once change is in motion, the landing point is assured.  Of course, future societies will likely want further change that reflects the times they live in.

Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.

Common sense again rings true.  This is a progressive idea with basis in both American history and principles of economic growth.

For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.

A call to action.  Conservative history was not built upon absolutism or spectacles or name calling.  Conservative history rest soundly upon principle, political dialog, and the use of reason.

Republicans can justly point out other aspirations they feel were omitted.  They can also see certain issues as more urgent than others.   But the GOP’s greatest opportunity lies in how these aspiration might take shape and come into being.  Continuing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without proper funding is to doom them.  Failing to recognize all citizens, gays, immigrants, and women is to head towards a country of division, a country less strong than it could be.  Investing in education and the infrastructure are worthy objectives but where will the money come from?  Simply borrowing and increasing the debt would seem not the proper path.

Where does the GOP stand?

The President skillfully set the stage where the GOP can step forward and propose fiscally sound steps.  The GOP can push for less robust steps but ones the country is willing to afford.  The President’s speech is really a tremendous opportunity for conservatives to help shape a progressive, inclusive agenda.

Will the call be heard?

Act II and A Better Strategy

January 20, 2013

On Monday President Obama will be inaugurated again, this time for a second term.  One might reasonably question the President’s sanity if the second term is to parallel the first.  History can only speculate what might have been, had President Obama not inherited an economy in free fall and a Republican Party which proudly marched under its “NO” flag.

Conditions are different this time.  The question on the table is will President Obama’s second term be different?

Arguably Barack Obama was not ready to be President in January of 2008.  He was smart and vigorous enough but he lacked experience at the Presidential level to deal with political abstractions and the pace of events. 

Closing Guantanamo detention center was (and still is) the right action to take.  Not having a hammer to beat back Congressional neocons who would do what was necessary to block closure revealed a blind spot.  Championing health care reform, even using programs originally designed by Republican think tanks, was well intentioned but naive.  There was no Republican who wanted to partner with the President on anything.  

But the President learned.  Unfortunately, the survival methods President Obama adopted were the exact opposite of those methods he vowed to use during his campaign.  The picture developed that President Obama was just like all the other politicians who came before him.  Say one thing, do another.

There was another factor at play.  His “loyal” opposition had disintegrated into splintered factions.  These factions, particularly the Tea Party types, despite their absolute focus, were equally naive.  The GOP emerged as against so many other groups (women, gays, immigrants, science) that their base eroded right before their eyes.  In what can only be describe as a circus, the GOP self destructed before American eyes with its Presidential Primary process.  

When the dust settled in November of 2012, voters had spoken.  There message was clear.  The GOP party of President Obama’s first term was not the party Americans wanted.  

So Act II for President Obama as chief executive is about to begin.  He is wiser but the task before him while different is still enormous.  Policies are not just going to happen just because the President says he favors this or that.  And making real change will be painful and will not come freely.  

By the same token, the GOP is showing signs that the voter’s message has been heard.  Republican proposals to extend the debt limit with no strings is a sharp departure from their previous positions.  Even more telling are comments by Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Paul Ryan who have proposed gun reforms which are not that dissimilar from what the President has proposed.

The significance of these two signs is that there is obvious room for win-win legislation.  This is the “crawl before you run” phase since no one can project a lasting cure to the deficit/debt issue or the elimination of senseless mass killings.  If President Obama can work with Congress and knock off the budget/deficit issue, and then agree upon some gun reforms, it will set the table for additional successes.  

Act II has very important issues which need to be dealt with.  The GOP needs a better strategy.  What a way to serve both needs and at the same time work on problems that can make a real difference for all Americans.

 

LANCESTRONG

January 19, 2013

There is wide spread support and respect for the organization “LIVESTRONG”.  Cancer survivors praise the organization’s principles and ability to rally a group to support one.  Yellow wrist bands and the words “LIVESTRONG” on T-shirts announce the organizations presence.  It’s all about a cancer survivor learning to live strong.

All this was shocked when the USADA announced sanctions including a complete ban on cycling for LIVESTRONG’s founder, Lance Armstrong.  As we were used to, Armstrong questioned the basis of the ban pointing out that he had never failed any doping tests.  When the USADA released its full report which included eyewitness accounts, Armstrong directed attention to the fact that each accuser had received a “slap on the wrist” sanction for their doping violations.  Was that fair, Armstrong asked?

To a disinterested party, the USADA and the UCI (International Cycling Union) were enormously hypercritical.  They were ready to ban a 7 Tour de France winner on testimony of others who did the same but were receiving relatively light punishment.  Hmmm.  

And let us not forget that Armstrong drove the popularity of cycling and the Tour de France itself higher and higher each year.  Lots of money was made.  And so did each of Armstrong’s sponsors.  Together they enjoyed quite a symbiotic relationship.

This week, Armstrong appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s program.  He admitted to doping for the first time.  His past denials were all untrue.  He did deny some allegation but with his doping admission, your guess is as good as anyones whether he can speak honestly about anything or will be just trying to cover up as before.  In short, Armstrong’s words are now worth zero.

But what about LIVESTRONG?

I think it is a little like Dumbo.  LIVESTRONG must come to realize that Lance was the feather.  LIVESTRONG can fly without Armstrong just as Dumbo could without its feather.  Let’s hope the foundation realizes this.

Armstrong has become lighter than a feather, he is a zero.