Archive for August 2014

Labor Day – What Does It Mean?

August 31, 2014

In 1887 the first Monday in September was designated a “Labor Day”, federal holiday. The day was intended to celebrate the labor movement’s successes.  It has grown in more recent times to be more a signal of summer’s end. What happened to Labor in Labor Day?

Most of us know nothing, other than what we read in history books, of sweat shops, 80 hour work weeks, or the slave like grip “Capital” exercised over labor. Celebrating “Labor Day” is today more about hamburgers and hot dogs or hot new car sales than about the abuses of “Capital”. Times do change.

Organized labor has lost much of its shine. Through the years, organized labor won many concessions and delivered high productivity with more than enough “free time” for workers. But in the end, organized labor has been conflicted on whether it was a business or political organization and lost its role as a champion for labor. Those who attained top “union” leadership positions earned more money and had access to more collateral benefits.

Keeping the top union positions required the use of both the carrot and stick.  Workers must pay dues in order to hold their jobs.

Work rules became the bedrock upon which organized labor circled its wagons. Maintaining the status quo could keep the union leaders in power while telling workers they were being well served.

Consider

  • the wide spread use of seniority as the standard of work force reduction
  • the requirements for union membership which tend to exclude certain groups
  • the call for union workers only on large construction jobs
  • the strenuous objection to “right to work” laws the narrow definition of duties anyone worker can perform

Most of us came bring to mind ridiculous situations where one or more of these characteristics have been manifest. How could sane leaders insisted upon such requirements?

Once more history can be your friend. Capital sees all labor as just another tool and lives fervently by the desire to maximize profits through full control of labor and its cost. In other words, Capital given a chance will fire workers without cause, remunerate at the lowest level possible, and export jobs or import cheaper labor in order to increase profits. Hmmm.

The “profit incentive” seems still the best method for creating economic growth and general well being for both labor and capital. The growing inequality of income distribution, however, is raising red flags. In the last 30 years, US productivity has increased dramatically while the average worker’s wage as remained (inflation adjusted) flat. Hmmm.

There will be plenty of hamburgers and hot dogs available for American families this Labor Day. Yet all is not good.

Signs abound warning that the cost of living is rising faster than wages. What is more disconcerting is the language Capital and Labor are using.

It seems that neither force recognizes that each’s well being is inseparably tied to the other. “Labor” is both a means of production and a means of consumption.

So, this Labor Day, union leaders, captains of industry, owners of capital, and both political and public service workers need to reflect upon how more productivity can be achieved at higher wages thereby putting the brakes on the increasing income distribution inequality.

En Garde

August 29, 2014

The immigration reform situation just won’t go away. The Senate tried to pass legislation and failed on procedural grounds. The House flatly refused to even consider the measure. President Obama is now poised to issue “executive orders” which are intended to provide some measure of reform. Hmmm.

At the coarsest level, immigration reform, which should be labeled “Mexican Undocumented Resident” reform, is all about a pathway to citizenship and ultimately, for whom these Mexicans would likely vote. Hmmm

For the Sunday morning talk shows, we hear all sorts of other reasons to ignore immigration reform. From inadequate border security to overall fairness to terrorist sneaking into the country from Mexico to disgust over “cutting in line”, each politician has his/her own bent on why reform is unnecessary or untimely. Hmmm.

Opposition to immigration reform is owned by the GOP. National demographics or the 2012 Presidential election results have not seemed to jolt the GOP into the 21st century. And, 2014 does not seem to be the lucky year either.

Hispanic poster Senator Marco Rubio said this week that if the President acts without waiting for Congress, Republicans will join forces to defund the President’s initiatives. Sounds like another government shutdown. Hmmm.

Tape recordings secretly made of Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, reveal McConnell’s intentions to undue all of President Obama’s legislation if the GOP gains control of Congress this fall. What is he thinking? Hmmm.

In my opinion, there are far more prudent positions for GOP leaders to be taking. For sure there are parts of the Affordable Care Act that could be made better. Repealing ACA, however, does not play into that intention.

With respect to Immigration Reform, reality cannot hide the 12 million or so undocumented Mexicans already living in the US. Even more to the point, Mexicans are family oriented, hard working, and church going people. Just what the GOP likes to claim their supporters are. Common sense would suggest that over time, Mexican immigrants are prime candidates to become future Republicans.

The GOP appears, however, suicidal (at least with respect to national votes where gerrymandering is neutralized). They are prepared (they say) to charge the President and politically due him in.

President Obama, en garde.

Truce – Maybe

August 28, 2014

Israel and Hamas have agreed to indefinite cessation of Gaza hostilities. Reports said the terms were exactly the same as was offered to Hamas initially by Egypt. Another way of looking at the first truce offer was about 200 innocent civilians ago.

There is no rational way to assign “good guy – bad guy” to this conflict. The bizarre Hamas behavior firing hundreds of rockets aimlessly into Israel and then sitting back and watching the vastly superior military equipped Israelis smash Gazan buildings killing so many innocent civilians defies explanation.

Probably all wars are pointless but this conflict must rate up near the top for insincerity. The explanation lies, most likely, in the layers of anti-Arab and anti-Semitic hatred, and seemingly endless devious negotiations which have taken place in the past between Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel.

After all these years, there should be no one who thinks Israel will not exist in some form within (at least) the 1967 borders. There should just as certainly be no one who believes Israel can annex with impunity large blocks of the West Bank. The path to a just settlement is, unfortunately, only straight forward to someone not living there.

A lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israel cannot be brokered in Gaza. Until both parties seriously negotiate a two State solution and find acceptable borders and water rights, Gaza will be a killing zone waiting to happen.

Gaza will remain a useful surrogate for third parties (like Iran or other Arab States) to strike safely at Israel for their own self interests. Should Iran develop nuclear capability and should this spread to other Middle East countries, Israel (as well as all other Middle East countries) would be at risk.

In most complex problems, breaking them into smaller pieces is the first step. The next step is to eliminate each smaller problem until the complex situation is neutralized. A Palestinian peace is such an example.  

It is in Israel’s best interest to get on with a larger peace solution with its Palestinian neighbors. It is even more important to the militarily weak Palestinians to find a peace path or the 1200 dead gazans will appear insignificant compared to the hundreds of thousands that would die in any nuclear outbreak.

Great leaders would see this.

Rule of Law

August 27, 2014

There are two cases grabbing news headlines that make one wonder. How could a sitting Governor accept extravagant gifts from a private citizen and how could a another sitting Governor threaten another elected official resign or he would veto funding?

The answer in both cases is “because they could”.

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is on trial for having accepted sizable financial gifts from a businessman who stood to gain with appropriate State support. McDonnell claims he never helped the businessman. Hmmm. What about accepting the gifts?

In Texas, Governor Rick Perry has been charged by a grand jury with what amounts to an abuse of power. Perry vetoed funding for the Travis County’s DA’s corruption task force after claiming that DA Rosemary Lehmberg was unfit to serve following a DIA conviction. Hmmm. Seems strange the Governor of the State would interfere in a county matter.

In the Virginia case there is no doubt that the Governor and his wife received substantial gifts from the businessman. The only defense, former Governor McDonnell has raised, is that he did not do any favors for the businessman and most of the gifts were to his wife, not the Governor. Well that certainly makes a difference.

“Abuse of power” seems a very subjective claim. While there is no question that Governor Perry threatened the elected DA, and that the DA was of the opposite party, and that the DA corruption task forces was established to investigate wrong doing within State Government (where Perry lives and is now Republican controlled), whether this is an abuse of power is at question. Hmmm.

From either an ethical or common sense perspective, a sitting Governor who accepts substantial gifts is out of bounds. For a sitting Governor to get trapped in a political war with the opposing party over a job elected by Country residents and whose charter is to investigate corruption in State Government, is dumb if not unethical.

Both McDonnell and Perry stand fair to good chances of being acquitted. Despite what appear to be improper actions, both men may have been operating within the “rules of law”.  Hmmm.

Pandora’s Dilemma

August 26, 2014

In August 1990, some say, the US lead coalition opened Pandora’s box a bit. The first gulf war, operation Desert Storm, was ostensibly to stop Saddam Hussein’s aggression against neighboring Kuwait. The fact that Kuwait was oil rich and that Hussein’s Iraq was already suspect to American neo-conservatives, were thought to have had greater influence on American policy than Iraq’s violation of International law.

Pandora’s box was jolted ajar a second time following 9/11. American lead troops ousted the Afghanistan “Taliban al Qaeda friendly” government and then allowed their mission of hot pursuit to morph into nation building.

But the box became fully open when the US invaded and occupied Iraq for the second time in 2003. “Mission Accomplish” which boasted of Saddam Hussein’s capture (and subsequent execution) was clearly the beginning of the Middle East unraveling.

US involvement in the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gadaffi, and most recently attempted unseating of Bashar al Assad all displayed clearly that the US had not learned from Iraq or Afghanistan.

This week, senior Administration officials are breathlessly describing potential military operations aimed in one way or another trying to close Pandora’s box. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said yesterday that the US military were preparing contingency plans should a Afghan political deadlock prevent a “status of forces” agreement being signed before the US troop departure date.

It should be fully expected that Taliban forces will attempt to retake the Afghan government (by force, if necessary) once US forces leave. It should be fully expected that the Taliban, like the extremists in Iraq, will commit horrific slaughters under the name of Allah in order to retake the government. Hmmm.

So, when American political leaders speak of taking the war to ISIS, or keeping a sufficient residual force in Afghanistan to counter the Taliban, their motivation is probably to prevent wholesale slaughter. A humanitarian motivation one might say. Hmmm.

As the Middle East proverb goes, “if you steal one of my chickens, I will steal two of yours”. Consequently, intervening within Middle East (Afghanistan and Pakistan too) affairs can only lead to an escalation in violence.

The wisest course of action, although not pretty, will be to withdraw and allow the locals to work out a governance solution.

Oh, I bet the more insightful policy makers wish the US had not opened Pandora’s box in the first place and wonder what the Middle East might be like today?

Old Dogs…

August 25, 2014

The saying goes you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. To listen to many of our senior political leaders, you must consider that saying prescient.

This past Sunday’s talk show soap operas featured the “would be” national security experts, Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, and House Intelligence Committee chairman, Representative Mike Rogers. (The House “Intelligence Committee” is certainly an oxymoron.)

McCain and Graham once again created a “doom and gloom” picture. ISIS will be in US streets any day now seemed to be their message… unless… The “unless”, of course, was further military involvement in Iraq and Syria.

The unstated “unless” was the coded message that President Obama (and the Democrat Party) were indecisive and soft on terrorists.

Chairman Rogers went a step further with a beautifully crafted sound bite, “They (the terrorists) are one plane ticket away”. Watch out JFK.  (Governor Rick Perry has already warned of terrorists coming across the Mexican border.)

It is always natural to try and assign motives or intentions to national political leaders’ words. Graham is running for reelection and is trying to erase his “relevance” deficit. McCain, on the other hand, might have been President had President Obama not prevailed. For McCain, his words are just a repeat of the same songs he has sung since he supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq in the first place.

Mike Rogers heads the “Intelligence Committee” that thrives on ISIS-like groups. It should be recognized that there is no political money in labeling any terrorist group “the JV team” which President Obama did. By the same token, the history of modern islamic terrorism should be sufficient enough to establish that the elimination of any one group is like trying to stamp out garden weeds by pulling one out of the ground.

There were no terrorists in Iraq before the US invasion and botched occupation. There also were no terrorists in Syria before the US encouraged regime change. Both Saddam Hussein and Bashar al Assad are/were despotic leaders but their countries were free of insurgents or terrorists. Without question, it would be wonderful if these countries would adopt democratic, free market economies where all citizens enjoyed free speech and movement… but that is not the case anywhere in the Middle East.

Over the weeks and months ahead, It may become appropriate to conduct military strikes in Syria as are now being conducted on a limited basis in Iraq. The decision to undertake such action is not a casual decision and totally not appropriate for talk television hype.

McCain and Graham are old dogs and should be recognized as such. Rogers is relatively new on the scene and may not have learned that “intelligence” leaders are respected until the do something dumb. Crying wolf is dumb.

Keeping ones mouth shut is a trick worth learning, even for a new dog.

Short Term Memories?

August 23, 2014

Do you have the feeling you are reliving the George W Bush years? At least the part that deals with the “war on terror”?

This past week has witnessed some of the dumbest and patently out of touch with reality statements by senior Administration officials (as well as leading politicians) since the Bush hubris years.

In this swirl of bogus statements, the likes of John McCain and Lindsay Graham can relax and smile in the “I told you so” glow of misrepresented facts.

First we saw the “rebuilt” and “retrained” Iraqi Army collapse, drop their weapons, and run from advancing ISIS troops. The sky was falling. A new force had suddenly emerged and the Middle East was about to be conquered. Hmmm.

Then, ISIS released a video in which they cold bloodedly decapitate an American journalist. This was proof positive, we were told, that this new fighting force is a threat to the US mainland. Hmmm.

Does anyone remember al Qaeda? How about the Taliban and the equally ruthless murder of Daniel Pearl? Hmmm.

News reporters are asking questions like, “is the US prepared to invade Syria and attack ISIS at its roots”? And, “How are we going to protect our homeland when these trained, American passport carrying extremists come home”? What are people thinking?

There is no problem right now using air assets to attack any insurgent group in Syria. As evidence, the Administration let slip an attempt to free James Foley which involved overflight as well as a ground landing well within Syrian boarders.

With respect to recruited Americans, this is just a fact of life now. Americans who choose to become extremists can go to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and much of Africa as well as Syria if they wish to improve their terrorism skills.

Hot pursuit (chasing ISIS assets from Iraq into Syria) and targeted rescue missions seem both justified and within our current capabilities. Thinking about ramping up our deployed resources seems foolish as well as unnecessary.

With regards to extremists returning to the US, what is all these measures American travelers, like grandma and grandpa, must endure traveling in our airports about?  And with a gun in every home and on the hip of many Americans, I wonder what is the greater risk.

Americans must be vigilant during times like this. Vigilant, not just about crazies doing harm in America but the danger of over zealous public officials. Well meaning public officials are prone to brandish our swords without thinking where or when they are necessary.

The news media must stand tall and resist the urge to manufacture “the story”. Ask the hard questions of government officials like who are these ISIS people, where do they get their funding, and where are the leaders located?

If these American officials do not know, ask Mossad.

Sensitive Eyes

August 22, 2014

Deborah E Lipstadt wrote an opinion column this week in the New York Times, titled “Why Jews Are Worried”. Lipstadt cites demonstrations in several major European cities in which anti-Jewish rhetoric was publicly used. The implications is that anti-Semitism is not dead in Europe and in fact is on the rise. Hmmm.

I cannot speak to whether Jews are worried, or whether anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe. I can however, speak to what Ms Lipstadt references and what I saw in some of these same European cities in August.

First we must recognize that many major European cities have sizable Muslim populations. These groups have either emigrated for economic reasons from former colonies or have been invited in as “guest workers”.

Regardless, theses Muslim groups see the conduct of the Israeli-Gazan conflict as grossly unfair to their Muslim brethren. Speaking out against a perceived injustice is a freedom most Western democratic nations strongly support. Hmmm.

For these Muslims, Israel is using its power unfairly.

There should be little doubt that these demonstrations are aimed at impressing the host governments to put diplomatic (or any other form of) pressure upon the Israeli government to come to some peace with Hamas. This is hardly a return of anti-Semitism (even though the demonstrators maybe highly anti-Sematic).

I visited Amsterdam, Paris, Cologne, and Bonn and witnessed demonstrations in each city. All were lead by “guests”, and all were directed against the Israeli actions in Gaza. Not anti-Semitism.

The Israeli Gazan action is not straight forward and difficult to either condemn or to support. Like most Middle East conflicts, tracing the cause back to square one leads one to totally lose the connection with what is happening today.

Both Israel and Hamas possess the means to end this bloody conflict today. Neither seems ready to carry on their disputes without involving innocent civilians. This is not anti-Semitism.

World opinion is a nuanced entity. The world tends to support the oppressed and resist the aggressor. Israel has some how overlooked this part in its choice of means to combat the reckless Hamas behavior. Most Europeans have seen the same news as we have in America and many have privately concluded that Israel has used disproportionate force. So have many Americans.  This is not anti-Semitism.

This is not, also, an endorsement for Hamas. I believe it is a sign of sympathy for the Palestinian people.

Lipstadt’s referenced demonstrations in European cities so far have been lead by Muslim guests or immigrants and have been used to make headlines. (These demonstrations have not been by European college students, for example.)

Hopefully Ms Lipstadt’s column reflects her interpretation of these events and not an attempt by friends of Israel to influence American support. Hmmm.

Do You Hear Dick Cheney Calling?

August 21, 2014

The media is abuzz with what to do about ISIS. ISIS, ISIL, or just IS (Islamic State In Syria) has captured the media’s attention with a fresh, but not original marketing plan aimed at making the 5th and 6th century look attractive.

With ISIS, women know their place, and unless someone is a follower of ISIS strict Koran interpretation, that person is a subject for elimination. Does not sound like an attractive proposition to me. Hmmm.

Even more astounding, pundits are contrasting ISIS with al Qaeda and claiming ISIS is much worse. Hmmm.

The most recent ISIS stunt was the video beheading of an American journalist. Previously, ISIS had distinguished itself with wholesale religious or ethnic cleansing, slaughtering those who did not convert or did not leave quickly enough. Nice guys.

Now the President’s staff is hinting about using “feet on the ground” to stamp out this extreme brand of Islam. Apparently, a fair number of Muslims living in western countries (including the US) have been recruited by ISIS. Once trained, these jihadists, carrying western passports, could slip back into their home country. Once home, the “sky in falling” crowd worry that all hell will break out.

So the answer is to reoccupy parts of the Middle East? No way.

This is the time to think. Isn’t it the choice of Middle East residents to choose their own leaders? And what makes anyone think that an ISIS state could meet basic needs of its governed? Isn’t it more likely that if ISIS could gain control of a place like Syria, ISIS would need to morph into a less radical state.

The neoconservative crowd with their icon, Dick Cheney, are poised to shout encouragement for a US military return to the Middle East. The American public needs to remain calm and not give support, via their elected representatives, to a reoccupation.

The issue is not that ISIS represents the worst of mankind. Instead, the real issue is that the Middle East must sort out whether they wish to live in the 5th century or move into the 21st. At the heart of this is that Muslim men must forego the Koran interpreted “sexually privileged position” they are desperately trying to retain. This need to control women has rendered men easy prey for money seeking Mullahs who in turn will either lead militias, or cast their lot with others who look like they will be successful with the sword. This direction is a straight line to the 5th century.

The US has a right to slap about ISIS for action they do outside their home base.  We must also recognize that there will be some equally abhorrent group who will follow ISIS unless the basic Middle East muslim changes.

Islamic nations were once great leaders in math, science, and literature, and could be again. They simply cannot live as in the 5th century no matter how hard they try.

We also do not need to listen to the Dick Cheney’s who have never fought a war themselves but have been comfortable letting other people’s children do it

The Ferguson NRA Lessons

August 20, 2014

The news media and many civil rights activists are addressing the tragic death of an African American teenage as a case of pervasive prejudice. For Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, their disgust over the shooting presents also a chance for front page and prime time TV coverage. Hmmm.

In a strange way for them, Ferguson is a gift that keeps on giving.

Without diminishing the tragic nature of Michael Brown’s death, there is another message which hopefully will not be lost. The message is about what we should expect of those we allow to carry weapons. As a nation, we think little about placing a hand gun on every law enforcement officer (not to mention the group we know as “security guards”).

If these public and private servants receive any training, it almost always on how to use the gun in its most deadly application. Where is the training on when to use a gun and when to use other means to keep the law?

We know from our everyday world that many brilliant (or at least highly gifted) people fail in life, either outrightly or fail to achieve their potential. These shortcomings often arise from the person’s inability to manage themselves or their ability to interact with others (hot temper, bullheadedness, weakness for drink, etc).

Why should we not expect the same possibility to occur with law enforcement? Why was it necessary to shoot at all, and why six shoots if any were justified?

Once the demonstrations and looting began, we witnessed another good idea gone bad. The local police turned out with military assault weapons and mechanized equipment. And what soon became apparent, these Iraqi soldier lookalikes were untrained and seemed not to have a clue on when or how to use their equipment.

There certainly have been situations where drug and street gangs confronted local authorities and this type of equipment was necessary. Even in those situation, however, training and an experienced command structure was necessary in order to confront the gangs and protect innocent bystanders.

Nationwide we are living under (in my opinion) a misguided Supreme Court 2nd Amendment interpretation. Everyone (with precious few restrictions) can own and carry a weapon. There is no training required on how to use the weapon. There are no required lessons on when and where using a weapon is safe. And with many States proudly boasting “stand your ground” laws, gun owners are almost encouraged to shoot first and ask questions later.

Against an armed public, the rush by police departments to pick up second hand military gear is understandable. Training their officers to shoot to kill if the police officer feels threatened, most likely arises from the desire to protect the officer’s life. Police work goes hand in hand with law and order. All this seems to make sense… until there is a Ferguson.

The NRA has a small window of opportunity to bring commonsense to its lobbying. There must be reasonable hurdles enacted for the use of weapons (no open carry, strict qualification for concealed carry). Emphasis for weapons should shift to sport and hunting protection with self defense within ones home permissible.

With the legal use of weapons better regulated, police forces could focus upon differentiating their tactics around gun carriers and the unarmed. These military equipped police forces, in turn, need to develop strict rules for when these methods can be used and then only with “stable” commanders who have passed high levels of command and control training.

Hmmm.

I am not under any allusion that these thoughts will carry the day.