Archive for March 2015

Indiana Opens A Moral Cesspool

March 29, 2015

Governor Mike Pense signed an unnecessary piece of legislation and in the process opened a moral cesspool. Indiana adopted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a law found in various similar forms in 19 other States and patterned after the Federal Law enacted in 1993. With these existing precedents, what can be so wrong with Indian’s law?

So consider this. A restaurant owner decides that he will not serve patrons who are left handed. If a guest enters and is believed to be left handed, the guest is told to leave because the restaurant won’t serve him or her. Public accommodation laws have established that this type of discrimination is illegal if the establishment is open to the public (in private settings, it is perfectly legal to refuse service to left handed people).

The anti-left handers association might have thought about this predicament and sought to find a more fundamental reason to deny service. Voila. What if ones religion justified discrimination against left handedness? Perfect.

A corner stone of America founding was “religious freedom”. Compared to Europe in the 16 and 17 hundreds, the right of an individual to practice their religion without fear of prosecution was a highly valued freedom. The American Constitution specifically says the government shall establish no State religion.

Every American has a right to choose and practice any religion he or she prefers providing the free exercise does not interfere with another person including those who follow no religion. RFRA nibbles away at that clear and sensible boundaries of religious freedom and in essence says if I claim my religion justifies some behavior, you can suit me and I’ll see you in court.

RFRA supporters claim the objection to Indiana’s RFRA is over blown. No court, supporters claim, would support a return to Jim Crow type of discrimination. Therefore there is no need to be concerned. Hmmm.

The opposition to Indian’s law has been the belief this is a thinly veiled “get out of jail” card for businesses that do not wished to serve homosexuals. What anyone thinks about homosexuality is a personal issue. What ought not be up for debate is whether or not a public business can define service for some customers differently from others.   Religion should play no part in public accommodation choice. By definition, a public business is just that, it is open to the public.

If one wants to see the absurdity of this type of law, think about the many ways one might construe their religious beliefs. What could believers do with just the seven deadly sins?

  • Lust – Two customers holding hands or acting romantically
  • Gluttony – Someone overweight or ordering extra portions
  • Greed – Someone wearing excessive jewelry or simply know to be wealthy
  • Sloth – Someone who is known as a non-believer
  • Wrath – A Jewish customer in a Muslim store or vice versa
  • Envy – Anyone deemed more beautiful, richer, funnier, etc
  • Pride – Anyone deemed not “good enough” in any quality or characteristic compared to the owner

RFRA legislation falls in a class of absolutely unnecessary pandering laws whose sole purpose are to mollify (reward) religious voters who are offended that their moral views are being trespassed by someone else. In a Country where there is separation of Church and State, there is no place for this back door approach to eliminating “freedom from religion”.

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Mapping The Political Beast

March 28, 2015

In today’s US political world, we find most animals with descriptive labels such as “right wing” or “conservative”, and “liberal” or “progressive”. The first group are found on the “Republican” side while the other on the “Democrat” side. This description envisions a line where at one end is the ultra conservative and the other end hosts the ultra liberal.

Why then is it so difficult for Democrats to understand Republicans?

Some say differing views on religion get in the way.  Others cite a fear any organized government and therefore seek explicit limits on the government’s reach. Still others question the role of fact and science and prefer to rely on some “expert” who sees life as they do.

There are also those who do not trust the common person with governmental responsibilities. Rather, this group feels that only those insulated from the everyday need to scratch out a living or possess sufficient education can make the unbiased decisions involved in government. And of course there is the opposite group that fears government by the few and firmly believe the long term is in the safest hands if those hands are the common man’s.

It is with this in mind that I recall writings which transpose the typical political map, conservatism running through a supposed neutral position called “moderate” to the opposite directions labeled 
liberal or progressive into an x/y system. On the x axis would be conservatism and liberalism at the extremes. On the y-axis would be authoritarianism and libertarianism. Hmmm.

Authoritarian politicians can be either conservative or liberal. What would be similar would be their belief that Government could and should impose authority.  For example, authoritarians tend to be dogmatic and would tend to be favorable to policies expressed by religions.

The libertarian pole is quite interesting. Libertarians have a strongly developed view that certain matters are outside the purvey of government. These issues stem from a personal view of personal freedom and reject someone else imposing their views on others.   Libertarians typically believe that an individual can do anything unless expressly ruled out by law (while authoritarians believe just the opposite).

Conservatives see the world as inherently difficult to govern. As a consequence, governance should remain fixed and not bounce around due to changes in the external environment. For example, economic boom or bust, scientific brake throughs or failures, and bountiful harvests or famines should not cause changes in basic governance. Any changes to basic governance must be made in small steps and under strict control. Why? Because the people can’t be trusted to perform change properly and will use the opportunity to shift the governance processes to favor them. Hmmm.

Liberals see things quite the opposite.  Liberals feel government must change (evolve) with the times. Libertarian liberals see Constitutions as living documents which can be interpreted differently given the needs of the times. Libertarian liberals believe in the good intentions of the common person. Authoritarian liberals believe in their own good intentions but believe the common person needs the authoritarian liberal to set the direction and strategy because the common person is not capable.  Conservative libertarians feel more comfortable staying close to the Constitution as originally intended.   Hmmm.

When thinking about the political map, we must expect to find politicians at all points of the x/y map and at varying distances from the x and y axes. Our political discourse, however, tends to plot everyone along the x-axis. Senator so and so is a staunch conservative (far out on the x-axis, while Senator blah blah is an arch liberal  (far to the left of the mid-point).

Why is the concept of x/y plot useful?

Think about 4 leading GOP Presidential hopefuls, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, and Scott Walker.  How would you classify (plot) each of them and despite what they say, what policies would expect them to support?  This should be a useful exercise since their speeches will be crafted by skilled speech writers determined to mask any non-productive tendencies.

Should The Progressives Speak Now?

March 25, 2015

Republicans in both the Senate and the House have issued budget proposal outlines. While slightly different, the GOP proposals share the belief that Government expenditures should shrink, the Affordable Care Act should be repealed, and in the House version, Medicare spending should be capped with the introduction of vouchers. Both proposals predict that magically the economy will boom and life will become better for everyone. Hmmm.

Regrettably, it is no clearer than with these budget proposal that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts. There are serious problems in the American economy and the GOP ideas do not deal with them.

Income inequality data shows that average wage earners’ income has been stagnated (for 30 years or so) while the income of the top 2% has grown handsomely. Without more even income distribution, the average earner will not be able to purchase as many goods and services from business as they do now. In time following the GOP script, our economy will shrink, not grow.

Bridges and roads, the backbone of business, are woefully in need of repair and maintenance. Without substantial investment, getting goods to market or for consumers to easily travel to services will become much more difficult. Undertaking the massive investment to prevent this will require substantial expenditures, something the GOP is reluctant to fund due to their “no new tax” pledge.

Standardized tests continue to show American K-12 education lagging over 15 other modern industrial countries. While the path to improving our students’ performance is not agreed upon, abandoning the “Common Core” curriculum and instead following the paths of Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina sounds more like a race to the bottom.

And whether we want to recognize it or not, the cost of healthcare services is beyond the reach of all Americans but the top1/2 of 1%. Without the aid of health insurance, normally provided by employers, few Americans could afford any healthcare at all. So the notion of repealing the Affordable Care Act, without an equally affordable alternative appears wrong headed at best and cruel at the worst.

So the question is, should Progressives speak now?

I guess the answer is “it depends”.

It will serve of little value for Progressives to only point out the obvious, the GOP plans are grossly unfair and will almost certainly not deliver their promises. Progressives, if they choose to speak, must address the facts.  Progressives must offer remediation ideas that provide a pathway to a fairer and more stable future state. Here’s why.

The business world has changed.  American no longer lives in the world of the wild frontier, the gilded age, or post World War II. Globalization and wide spread use of qualify principles insures that goods (and many services) can be produced anyplace in the world where the economics dictate. In and of itself, this will continue to drive down wages. Simply paying workers more (without commensurate productivity gains) will only lead to inflation. Sharing productivity gains liberally with workers, however, will have a very positive impact upon real average wages.

The “average” wage earner must acquire new skills and training in order to fill better paying jobs of the 21st century. Without the new skills and training, workers will be relegated to “minimum” wages, part time hours, and a world of few benefits.

Conservatives may choose to think it helpful to remove entitlements like Medicaid, Medicare, or social network expenditures thinking these reductions would motivate Americans to “pull themselves up by the boot straps” (the way it was done in the past). The GOP, however, will see their hopes fail. The world has changed.

Progressives, on the other hand, who call for these programs to be left alone and even new programs added for training and skill development are just as off base… unless funding is addressed. Tax code reform (a GOP recommendation) offers a route to increasing the tax revenue flow even while lowering certain tax rates.

Probably the biggest opportunity to reduce Government spending and eliminating the deficit lies in reducing the reasons Medicare and Medicaid cost so much. The GOP method appears to be based upon capping the Government’s portion and forcing those without generous business supplied health insurance to pay more. Over time, much more.

The GOP’s budget proposals call for no action to control and reduce the actual healthcare cost. With over two dozen other modern industrial countries experiencing health care delivery at half the cost per capita and equal or better outcomes as the US, there is clearly food for thought in a fairer approach to dealing with our deficit.

Maybe that will come up in a future Ted Cruz speech?

Cruzing Along

March 23, 2015

Senator Ted Cruz, true to his word, announced his campaign for the GOP Presidential nomination. Few pundits give Cruz much chance at securing the nomination but that doesn’t seem to worry Senator Cruz. He sees his prospects differently and points to enthusiastic crowds that have already turned out for him in Iowa.

Interestingly, these Iowan Bible thumping supporters will be unavailable for Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee unless the Iowa caucuses allow someone to vote for more than one candidate. Hmmm.

Cruz told his announcement audience that he would “return America to greatness”, what ever that means.

Statements like that make one wonder what school Cruz’s speech writers graduated from? What exactly would “greatness” in America look like?

I wonder whether repealing Obamacare and dumping 16 million more Americans onto the “no health insurance” roles would make his list? Or, would Cruz prefer to pile more costs on future Medicare recipients shrinking their fixed incomes? Maybe Cruz’s picture of American greatness involves taking away women’s access to reproductive health methods or saving money by only granting marriage licenses to heterosexual couples?

His campaign announcement was brief and these clarifications did not come up. Fortunately there is still over a year to the nominations and about a year and an half to the election. I think we will have time to learn the answers to these questions as well as find out what goodies would lie in a Cruz bag of tricks.

Waiting For Godot

March 22, 2015

POTUS must be a great job. So many seem willing to shed any semblance of a private life for what appears to be a thankless (unless you value highly meeting the NCAA football champions) 4 or 8 year job. The upcoming 2016 race seems to be following recent precedents (about how many Republicans seek this $400,000 job) and the GOP field is getting more crowded (unofficially).

Reports today indicate the Texas Senator Ted Cruz will announce tomorrow that he will seek the Republican top prize. Interestingly if he does announce he will the first GOP member to announce. Does that look like a crowded field?

In the modern day Presidential race gamesmanship, candidates choose run without announcing they are running. Former Governor Jeb Bush has had to rent an additional warehouse in order to store all the money he has secured even though Bush says he is still assessing. Waiting to announce saves “face” should the money not flow in.  Hmmm.

Governors Scott Walker, Rick Scott and Chris Christie are scurrying to assemble the teams, strategists, speech writers, pollsters, point people, and the all valuable fund raisers who collectively make or break the prospective candidates chances. One report said the pool of experienced campaign staff members was running near empty.  Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul also finds themselves in the same predicament.

So much to say, so few people to write what you should be saying.

Ohio Governor John Kasick has been speaking out saying “don’t forget me” while perennial showman Donald Trump assures the world that he is seriously thinking about running. Mike Huckabee, bible in hand, is searching for those early primary voters who know more about the Bible than how to run a government. Kasick , however, is the real thing and could be a strong, sensible GOP candidate while Trump and Huckabee are just previewing their next television productions.

I wonder where Jon Huntsman is when we need him?

The problem all these GOP wannabes are experiencing is what do they really stand for and what will be their campaign themes.

Fiction, of course, works well here. The difficulty is that not just any fiction. GOP candidates need also to win enough primary votes to keep the campaign donations flowing and that often means turning to the dark side of very conservative issues. All these problems could dissipate if there was an announced Democrat candidate.  With a Democrat opponent, there could be something to say they were not.

Hmmm.

Each GOP hopes to save the Country from “Godot”.

When Words Mean Something Different?

March 20, 2015

In the final hours of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign to retain his leadership position, Netanyahu spoke to his conservative supporters, “there will not be a Palestinian State on my watch”. Singing to the choir, Netanyahu, a master politician, reached out to get the last vote possible in what was predicted to be a close race. The world’s reactions to his words were instantaneous.

In particular, President Obama said bluntly through his press secretary, that the State Department will review our overall relationship with Israel and in particular its negotiations with the Palestinians. The unbreakable bonds which all US Presidents invoke when referencing the Israeli relationship suddenly did not appear so firm.

As the election dust settle, Netanyahu realized he had a comfortable basis to form another government. And just as suddenly he had “clarifications” to make to his “no two states” pathway, and he wanted to make it to as many US press members as he could.

Netanyahu explained that his no two State solution referred only to the current Palestinian Authority which includes Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization, Netanyahu stressed. Hmmm.

Netanyahu’s point is that an independent Palestinian State would be a breeding ground for terrorists just as Gaza is today. Occupied territories (the current condition) minimizes that risk. So, with a completely straight face, Netanyahu announced he really did want a two State solution. Hmmm.

Hamas’s Gaza strategies, for example firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel, makes no sense when viewed from abroad. Instead of undertaking public works and education projects in Gaza, Hamas prefers building tunnels and smuggling rockets and munitions into Gaza later to be used against Israel. This dysfunctional behavior understandably severely clouds negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas gratuitously provides Israelis committed to a one State solution all the arguments they need to make their point.

Netanyahu’s “no-I mean yes to two States” statements put in question also his objections to the Iranian nuclear weapons discussions. Netanyahu has said Iran can’t be trusted (hmmm, that must mean no agreement can be trusted). He has also offered no alternative path forward except an undefined “better deal”. So, what does Netanyahu mean? Is there a better deal possible with Iran or is it simply fruitless to negotiate at all? And where does that lead us?

We know in the world of “political speak” words do not always mean what they say. Prime Minister Netanyahu has plenty of fellow travelers in the US Congress and that should make for more fireworks in the months ahead.

Closing In On Apartheid

March 19, 2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced this week that if Israeli voters returned him to office, there would be no Palestinian State on his watch. If past actions were any measure, most observers had already concluded what Netanyahu finally put into words. Did Netanyahu just draw a free card or will there be consequences?

To repeat the obvious, the Middle East and specifically the Israeli-Palestinian situation iremains complex and carries a huge history of contradictions.  Recognizing specific consequences tied to his statement might be difficult.   Netanyahu’s announcement (contradicting his statements in the past) will, however, remove any remaining world opinion about “poor Israel” being the victim of unreasonable neighbors. The possibility of many other nations or the UN recognizing the Palestinian Authority as the legitimate government in the occupied lands is real.

Gone, also, will be the notion that the only obstacle standing in the way of Middle East peace was a stubborn and intractable Palestinian Authority. Israel now owns the cause for continued Arab terrorism against Israel.

Does this mean that Hamas and Hezbollah would have chosen non-aggression had Israel confirmed its commitment to a 2 State solution?

Very unlikely. Hamas and Hezbollah are surrogate organizations financed by Iran and would have been expected to continue their extremism even if Israel had sincerely attempted to find a 2 State solution.

The two State solution, however, is driven by other considerations, namely the alternative one State solution will lead to apartheid and still present the same level of external risks towards the existence of Israel.

Apartheid?

The one State solutions in democratic Israel will inevitably lead to restrictions being placed upon non-jewish residents. If not, Palestinian demographics will soon put the Palestinians in the voting majority.

Netanyahu undoubtably recognizes this outcome.  He also recognizes that world opinion will isolate Israel economically (as it did South Africa). He never the less made his announcement in a desperate attempt to win the election.  Live today, die tomorrow.

While Netanyahu might want to walk back his statement, he is stuck with it (and all the consequences) for the near future.