Archive for April 2013


April 30, 2013

The GOP seems to be incapable at times of getting out of its own way.  Every day some Republican Congress member will speak out and create another embarrassment for the GOP.  At this frequency, one would expect Democrats to be solidly in line for regaining both the Senate and the House leadership.  Yet, that is not the case.  Why?

The Washington response is “gerrymandering”.  It is certainly true that a lot of Republicans enjoy safety representing what are called “safe districts”.  These districts are a testimony to voter indifference and apathy.  Most gerrymandered districts make no sense and one end of the district has almost nothing in common with the opposite end other than being likely to vote Republican.  (States where Democrats control the State House follow the same practices if necessary.)

“Gerrymandering” is not why Democrats are not cleaning the floor with the GOP.

Voters hear the GOP chorus singing less government, more individual freedom, and lower taxes.

Hmmm, doesn’t that sound good?

When Democrats point out that “less government” means less Medicare for the elderly, less Medicaid for the poor, and less Social Security for the disabled and retired, for a moment voters get it.  The GOP is about more freedom for the wealthy and less service for the rest.  So, this should be a slam dunk, out with the GOP, in with Democrats.

Not so quick.

Voters also read about the VA, about relief for Hurricane Sandy, and about delays in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) roll out.  How can any sane person think well of government (especially one with a Democrat chief executive) when it takes over one year for a veterin to find out if their disability claim will be considered?  Why is it a full six months after the devastating storm has promised relief not arrived?  And, why is the Affordable Care Act tittering on the edge of financial collapse (or gigantic rate increases)?  Why can’t government deliver promised services?

I would suggest that our elected officials, Republican or Democrat, have little if any interest in seeing that existing government services operate as advertised.  Congress members ironically prefer to intervene for one of their constituents rather than try to fix the service for the benefit of everyone.  Being a hero and rescuing someone is more beneficial than working to prevent problems and helping others who do not live in ones voting district.

The bottom line is that voters have little faith that Democrats will do any better if given the keys to Congress again.  For voters, it is Tweedledee, or Tweedledum.

Voters must send a different message to their representatives.  The message is “focus on making current government services “world class” in cost, quality, and service.  We send soldiers off to war, it is intolerable that their claim for Veterans benefits should be ignored.  Aid to victims of national disasters is not a one time event.  There is no excuse for not having agencies perform due diligence (like insurance companies) and release relief funding in a 60 day period.  And, the biggest and most obvious, is why should the US settle for per capital health care costs which are twice that of most all other modern industrial countries, not insure everyone, and deliver mediocre outcomes for the rest?

Until voters send this message, our country will continue to drift into mediocrity.


The Syrian Slide

April 29, 2013

What to do about Syria?  Around Washington, that is the seemingly most urgent question.  Should the US stand back and provide only humanitarian aid, or should we take a more active role?  And, although this is not being asked openly, which side should the US support?

A “red line” has been drawn around the Syrian Government’s potential use of chemical WMD.  The President has said if Syria used them against their own people that would change the calculus.  Hmmm.

So now there are reports of chemical weapons being used.  What is the proper response for the US?

Fortunately, the Obama Administration is not being stampeded.  The evidence of chemical weapon use has been provided by the insurgents and not verified by independent sources.  But even if the reports are true, it is not known whether this was a Government approved action or the work of a “few bad apples”. (Heard that before?)  The US response would depend upon knowing this.

There must be a humanitarian aspect intermixed in the US decision.  Syrians are dying and there seems no pending end to the conflict.  Some argue that the West should intervene and at a minimum establish a “free zone” where insurgents could reside in some form of safety.  Hmmm.

Here are the two most likely bad options.

  1. The US could support the insurgents and tip the balance of power.  An insurgent government would come into power, draw up a constitution, and most likely fall into the Muslim Sharia Law orbit.  Most likely too would be the dominance of Sunnis and a real bad time for Alawites and all non-Sunnis. (Look at Iraq today where Shiites hold the power.)   We should expect nothing that much different from what has transpired in Egypt or Libya.
  2. The US could support the Syrian Government (read Bashar al Assad) and make the bet that predictability and stability are the best both the Syrians and the rest of the world could hope for at this time.  Killings would continue but soon would be replaced by a Syria-wide police State.  Doesn’t sound like democracy but the killings would fall dramatically.

Americans’ gut reaction is to help the insurgents against a despotic regime.  It just feels like the right thing to do.  Unfortunately that option, to be successful, presupposes an insurgent government that thinks like the US founding fathers.  Not going to happen.

So let’s take a deep breath.

“We the People…” when applied to the broad area from Tunisia to Afghanistan is composed of relatively poor people saddled with a religion whose tenets make little or no sense in the modern world as we know it.  The utter absurdity of Sunni killing Shiite or vice versa says it all.  Pile on the preference for religious law above secular law, the clownish treatment of women in public in contrast to their “sex slave” status in the home indicates also that these people are not ready for anything that we recognize as democratic.

And the most important point, it is neither our duty, or our right to tell anyone what their religion should be or should advocate.  That is their choice as it is our choice to live as we do.


This suggests that a cold war foreign policy of “containment” might be the best policy for the West.  Let’s let these Muslim countries work things out their way.  Contain their life styles to the greater Middle East and their foreign policies and behavior, especially countries like Iran to other Muslim countries.

Maybe in another 500 years, these countries could rejoin the rest of the world.


Being Strong… In The Shadows

April 28, 2013

This past week, while stepping from the shadows, America heard the peep of a lion.  Or, at least I thought they tried to speak like lions, albeit not an in depth thinking lion.  Strong and sure of themselves, but still trying to remain in the shadows.  God was on their side.

In Columbus, Ohio, at a Catholic High School, a gym teacher was fired after 19 years of service, not for cause, but for an end of life choice.  The teacher revealed in her mother’s obituary that she was living in a committed relationship with another women.

The Church lions roared that this life style was in conflict with church tenets.  In other words, someone can be a lesbian (since god loves everyone), but they can not live with another women. Hmmm.

At a time when Americans are accepting that homosexuality is a matter of nature and not an acquired condition, the Church is still racing towards the Middle Ages.  Reaction to the firing has been quick and strong.  Students began an on-line petition drive and already registered over 20,000 signatures.  The Catholic Church is flirting with being the drum major with no one marching behind.

There is just something “un-American” about any institution that claims they can play by their own rules even when these rules fly in the face of public opinion.  Oh, but you say, what about Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters?  Augusta denied membership to women until just last year.

Frankly, I think “all men” organizations often make decisions that are hard to reconcile.  Diversity works better.   But, Augusta does not receive any tax relief while the Catholic Church accepts (often seeks) tax free status and hides behind religious beliefs while it operates non-religious affiliated businesses.  Having it both ways.

The consequences of this mean spirited, anti-homosexual orientation will continue to shrink the Catholic Church’s market share and brand value.


Jeb’s The Most Qualified Of All Of Them…

April 26, 2013

Barbara Bush, wife and mother of former Presidents George H W Bush and George W Bush, when asked about the potential Presidential run by her son, Jeb Bush, intoned that Jeb was the most qualified of the Bush family.  The timing was ironic since it coincided with the opening of former President George W Bush’s library.  Her words have a ring of truth.

“W” has walked a very discreet path since leaving office.  He has wisely stayed out of the political discourse.  His absence has allowed the dust of history to settle a bit.  But the library opening makes it unavoidable to revisit the 2000-2008 period.

Hubris is too small a word to describe the Bush first term crowd.  Abject failure marks the rest.

Lead by Dick Cheney (not Bush), and backed by the wide neoconservative and military-industrial factions, the Bush Administration made one bad decision after another.  Walking away from the Kyoto protocol, canceling the ABM treating, deemphasizing government by selecting ineffectual agency heads, and then losing interest in Afghanistan (forgetting about finding Osama ben Laden), and invading and occupying Iraq, got the Bush team off to a dubious start.

The chickens came home to roost when Iraq disintegrated into civil war, Afghanistan lapsed into an un-winnable mess, Hurrican Katrina demonstrated the need for government services (and the problems when they do not work), enhanced interrogation showed America to have abandoned their principles in favor of torture, and the low interest in regulatory oversight blossomed into the Financial Sector melt down and the closest reunion with depression since the 1920’s.

The Bush library lays out some of these events in hopes future generations may see them differently.  Philosophically, I am not sure what else “W” could have done.  There is, however, much to be learned from the George W Bush Presidency.

  • We need people who want to be President and are willing to work at it.
  • We need people who will lead and not be lead by a small element of his/her staff.
  • We need government services (including regulatory agencies) to work as designed.
  • We need policies that reflect our national priorities, not those of special interest groups.

Even though each of the last several Presidents has received sharp criticism from the loyal opposition, the “on the ground” results of Bush policies when compared to that of those of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama (to date), point out what the Country does not want.

Admittedly, this is not necessarily an endorsement for Clinton or Obama’s policies but in comparison they look giant.

A New GOP?

April 24, 2013

I read in the Wall Street Journal that Senator Rand Paul wants to create a movement that will make the Republican party bigger and better.  Hmmm. I wonder what he is thinking?

Paul is the Libertarian’s poster child.  I just wonder what he is thinking.  For example, Libertarianism could help the GOP, at least if Republicans stopped telling women or gays how to run their reproductive health or lead their lives.  The GOP might get more votes.

And a more circumspect view of foreign entanglements might not be so bad if the country transitioned sensibly.  This would get my attention.

But there is more that comes with Libertarians.  And that’s what makes me wonder.

Libertarians love guns, “boot straps”, and their country.  While there is a place for guns, the woods and the city present two quite different conditions.  Personal protection, sports shooting, and hunting do not require military style weapons.

Boot straps refers to the general attitude that everyone should simply “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” if they wish to get ahead (or in many case just to survive).  When said quickly, this attitude sounds plausible.  When boot straps are put in context of modern America, it comes up short for too many people.

And the Libertarian franchise of loving ones country does not bode well for immigration reform.

So on balance it is not clear whether more libertarian views would help or hurt the GOP.  In the last election, the GOP managed to shoot themselves in the foot with little or no help from Libertarians.  But the rise of Rand Paul makes me wonder whether Paul and myself are seeing the same problems.

The current US path is patently unsustainable.  Medicare, Medicaid, and the Defense Department are leading the country to bankruptcy.  Social Security is not far behind. Republicans won’t increase taxes and advocate large cuts in government spending.  I would predict civil unrest if they somehow could pursue this path.

Democrats, on the other hand, are willing to raise taxes (albeit mainly on the rich) and faint at the notion of cutting government spending.  Deficits will keep increasing and the debt will swell with Democrat leadership.  Not a pretty picture this way either.

Congress is hopelessly deadlocked.  Public opinion is all over the map.   With so many gerrymandered districts, it makes little difference what the public thinks anyways.  The same crowd is going to be reelected regardless of their performance.


Americans must wake up.  The American dream is now about the very rich getting richer and the rest staying the same or losing ground.  While the rules of the game are stacked in the rich’s favor, too many Americans are not trying hard enough.

Rand Paul needs to put forth a program where those who do work or study harder will have a reasonable chance to obtain a good paying job.  The Middle Class simply does not earn enough to have any chance at the American dream.

Paul needs policies to wean those now reliant upon the social safety net into good jobs.  And for those who are old, disabled, or no longer capable of work, Paul needs to ensure the safety net will be there.

For my money, a social democracy, like Germany should be in our future.  The problem with this vision is that services of a social democracies must be paid for too.  If we are incapable of paying for what we use now, there is no hope that a social democracy will work better.  And a libertarian government which ignores the poor, the sick, and the elderly will be an even greater disaster.

It is time for all of us think about the next generation and put things right in this one.

Boston Second Guessers

April 22, 2013

It is one week since the Boston Marathon tragedy and only a few days since Suspect #2 was captured.  Investigations are underway.  The answer to “why”, however, is not yet known and it may take some time to piece together an explanation.  That doesn’t stop the usual suspects from pontificating their favorite themes.

The NRA swooned that each of Watertown’s 32,000 citizens would have wished to possess a hand gun Thursday evening and Friday (or better yet, an assault rifle) in order to protect themselves.  I guess the NRA did not get the memo saying Suspect #1 and #2 were confronted with single police officer squad cars with fairly positive results (one dead, one wounded).

Senator Chuck Grassley intoned that the Boston tragedy was a good reason to not proceed on immigration reform.  Hmmm.  The US immigration problem is by numbers a Mexican problem and Suspects #1 and #2 were not Mexican (or Hispanic).

Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain along with Representative Peter King all called for treating the suspects as unlawful combatants.  Have the military take control and get the information about those who may have supported the suspects.  Hmmm.  These suspects have committed crimes under both Massachusetts and Federal laws.  The evidence is a plenty.  One suspect is dead (read not much information will be coming from him), and the other is seriously wounded (read not much information will be coming from him either until he recovers).

As far as I know, nails, ball bearings, BB’s, and pressure cookers are readily available for anyone to buy.  In addition, thanks to the NRA, black power can be bought, no questions asked, at your friendly gun dealer.  Hmmm.

The Boston tragedy needs to be handled with the combination of Federal, State, and local officials who have handled it so professionally and so well up to know.  Those preaching from a national stage intent on forwarding their own agendas would be advised to keep quiet.

Boston is not about to become paralyze with the “terrorist fever”.  Boston is a melting pot and is not going to switch to rejecting others coming into their community.  And above all, Boston is an American city whose roots trace back to the writing of the Constitution.  Boston is both capable and ready to serve justice with a thorough investigation and trial.

The second guessers need to find another venue.


What A Difference A Day Makes

April 20, 2013

Sometime today the clouds will break and the sun will shine on Boston.  With the sky blue, spring will once again be the order of the day.  Yesterday, however, was quite different.

In a surreal television experience, the nation watched a manhunt take place in Watertown.  Officials “asked” over 1 million Boston area residents to stay home and in doors.   And most amazingly, voluntarily they did.

The television projected a seamless law enforcement effort.  If what was viewed had been a practice session, law enforcement leaders could not have been prouder or more pleased with their units performance.

The media also distinguished themselves.  Reporters rushed to Boston and became their network’s live voice from the scene.  Surprisingly well, the producers mixed analysis, emerging background information, and live reports to effectively keep the viewer front row in Watertown.

And as by the script as the sun set, officials announced the end of shelter in place without having captured the second suspect.  Then almost on cue, shots rang out and the networks which were about to sign off, were live again.  And then, mercifully, the second suspect was captured, wounded hiding in a winterized boat in a backyard.

It must have been painful for the suspect.  For everyone else there was a release of joy and certainly satisfaction.  Residents cheered the police officers.  The law enforcement officials praised the residents.  It was like the climax to a great symphony.

Boston was ready to forget that the Red Sox and Bruins could not play due to the “shelter in place” request.  Bostonians who could not travel by the T (subway) were ready to get out and meet life again.  You could feel the city exhale.

Now the process of finding out why will begin.  The information available until now offers no credible reason for either the Marathon bombings or the flight from arrest.  Their motive will most likely turn out to be pathetic displaying the suspects’ minds as putty in the hands of other sick people.

It will make no difference.  The only difference that will be important is that Boston is ready to move on.

Failure To Learn, or Worse?

April 18, 2013

Work with me on this.  The GOP lost the last Presidential election decisively.  With no change, the demographics predict an even wider loss margin next time.  So why would 42 GOP Senators vote to filibuster back ground checks when over 90% of Americans polled think back ground checks are a good idea?    What are they thinking?

The two justifications provided by the “no-sayers” are: (1) Sandy Hook would not have been prevented by back ground checks, nor would outlawing Bushmasters and high capacity ammunition clips have helped (unless there was confiscation of existing assault weapons and clips).   And,  (2) they piously invoked the sanctity of the second Amendment.  These Senators resisted anything they considered an assault on the second amendment.

The rhetoric sounds good, and said by pros, sounds even plausible.  It masks, however, a calculus on when there might be momentum in their States to throw them out of office.  These Senators apparently see Second Amendment supporters as organized, well funded, and determined to reject any candidate that messes with guns.  They see the “90%” as softies.  These Senators have made their call.


It certainly looks like these GOP Congress members think saying no will get them reelected, and getting reelected appears to be more important than passing common sense legislation.  This legislation might not stop another Sandy Hook, but it’s hard to argue that it would not lessen the severity.

Further with additional hard nose legislation could be built upon these initial ones.   For example, establishing liability for those whose weapons are stolen and later become used in criminal activity, along with similar laws could provide meaningful controls.

Guns for sport, hunting, and in some cases personal protection should be protected.  The right to bear any arms should not be limitless.  How can it be right that bearing arms should create an environment where other Americans are more likely to be injured or killed by the misuse of guns?

I cannot help but think that there is more to this.  Is it that the gun issue is a meal ticket for those who preach second Amendment rights.  Could it be that if they can get reelected at least once more, the result would be six years to increase their personal net worth.

Hmmm.  What a sorry state of affairs.


Boston’s Turn

April 16, 2013

Yesterday was Boston’s turn to feel the hurt of cowardly actions.  For reasons we do not know, and by persons unknown, there are three dead, victims of a “do it yourself” bomber.  We must be patient until law enforcement officials crack the case.  Only then will we learn the who, the how, and the why.

The perpetrator(s) might of had some reason, some statement, some revenge they wished to achieve.  Those responsible could have been supporters of a well know cause, or they may have been just someone who felt they had been wronged.  Or, like the Aurora, Colorado mass killing, the Boston tragedy may have just come from the hands of someone who had lost their mind.  In time we may know this.

Revenge and getting even will have to wait.  While there is comfort in believing this crime will not go unpunished, who to punish and how to punish cannot be selected now. That process will have to wait.

Pictures and news reports showed a grand side of Boston.  While smoke still billowed, dozens of first responders ran into the bomb zone to aid and rescue those injured.  Where someone was willing to take other’s lives, others were willing to risk theirs freely in order to mitigate the extent of the tragedy.

So, maybe the killer was someone who strongly believed something.  Maybe this person was overcome with the strength and righteousness of their belief.  Maybe their view was so strong they could not help but kill others.  Maybe.

In situations like this, I cannot help but think about Hindus and Buddhists who wished to protest the most egregious oppression.  Self immolation is a sad and dreadful way to end ones life.  Never-the-less, self immolation is about a single person’s statement.  It does not take life of another.

Yesterday wasn’t just Boston’s day.  In Iraq, over 50 car bombs exploded taking countless lives.  I am sure that when the facts behind the Boston tragedy are known, just as in Iraq, innocent victims will have died for no purpose.  Self immolation looks better all the time.

The Unintended Cost Of Being Us

April 15, 2013

Another 10 people were killed in Iraq today when a suicide bomber detonated his vest.  This is nothing new.  These deaths are not the first, nor will they be the last.  In a poor country, hopelessly divided by education (far too little), religion (far too much), and history (none they can remember), Iraq like most others in the Middle East (along with Afghanistan) are sentenced to an endless cycle of violence.

The Iraqi citizen’s crime?  Just wanting to gain some economic security.  Hmmm.

So, how does this work?

Most living in the Middle East and Afghanistan carry the disadvantageous of being dirt poor, unskilled, and uneducated.  The question each person asks is how will they live today and maybe tomorrow, and get ahead?    The answer they choose is to follow religiously aligned political parties who promise a bright future.    There are virtually no other options.

The cycle promises a better life (bread, housing, security) in return for loyalty.  Those leaders offering the better life, of course, are intent on living even higher up the food chain themselves.  But if they could deliver the “better life”, one might argue this was fair, at least for a while.

The problem is that there are other religious/political groups making the same promises and citing other religious/political groups as the opposition.  While these groups feud, the Middle East burns and people die.

Far higher on the global food chain, we can see similar examples right here in the US.  There are about 30,000 deaths each year (over 80 per day) due to citizen use fire arms.   In some major cities, the average is one per day for murder by handgun.  Why does this phenomena persist?

Many answers are given but my best guess is the “shooters” are looking for a better life.  Compared to the Middle East, Americans are better educated, wealthier, and have far less direct religious motivation to kill others.  So why don’t we band together and do better with gun controls and violence reduction?

It is quite possible that killing is just the nature of the beast.  While we have religious traditions that condemn killing (when not aligned with a church objective), and while we have many laws banning the use of force, Americans seem content to flood the country with the “means” to kill others.  The rest is history.

The unintended cost of being us can be measured around the world.  Iraqis who choose to follow their religious leaders can look forward to years of violence, poverty, and ignorance.  They could (in theory) reject their religious or political leaders demands and seek compromise policies where every boat rises.  They don’t seem to recognize the difference.

Americans have a very similar opportunity (admittedly from a better starting point).  The nation’s focus could be on policies that enable each person to seek a better life while not doing so at the expense of someone else’s chances.

Congress is debating gun control laws (background checks, banning assault weapons, and eliminating high capacity ammunition clips).

What is it about any of these proposals that hinders anyone from a better life?