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”.

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.

Overlooking The Obvious

March 18, 2015

House Republicans unveiled their 10 year Federal Budget plan yesterday amid choruses of complaints from both parties. GOP hawks lamented the size of the Defense budget (not large enough) and Democrats complained about proposed changes to Medicare and the lack of investment in education. The GOP claimed the proposed budget would eliminate deficits within 10 years and return the Country to robust growth (what ever that is). Also, all of this would happen without any tax increases. Oh yes, the Affordable Care Act would be fully repealed. Hmmm.

Over the next weeks, this subject will be dissected and pundits with views from all angles will weigh in. The GOP’s goal of eliminating deficits, repealing Obamacare (ACA), and no new taxes has presented them with some fiscal obstacles. Entitlements are growing and inflation, even at a low level, is inflating the budget size if nothing is done. Whose ox will be gored is the GOP’s quandary.

It is unlikely that the GOP will be able to repeal ACA or privatize part of Medicare and remain in control of Congress. Both of these programs will have strong political support and Republicans might pay mightily in the voting booths.

Even more to the point, “Medicare reform” while technically not a tax increase will be never the less a transfer of costs from the government to the elderly. Hmmm.

Probably more shameful would be a repeal of ACA where current estimates indicate that 16 million more Americans now have health insurance compared to before ACA. Hmmm.

The argument over Defense spending is curious. Some Republicans see no problem in cutting entitlements while simultaneously increasing Defense spending. Others prefer “across the board” cuts including Defense. At this point no one is describing the foreign policy or international environment against which a defense strategy should meet. So how can Congress decide how large the Defense budget should be?  Hmmm.

A purposeful Congress might see an elegant path forward which could cut Medicare costs and eliminate the Affordable Care Act at the same time.

The road map can be seen in some two dozen modern industrial countries like Germany, France, and Japan. The US could adopt a single payer, universal health care delivery system. Modeling the new US healthcare on, for example Germany, would provide Americans with healthcare outcomes equal to or better than what exist now at about one half the current US cost per capita.

This would be “real reform”, and better yet, Defense cuts would be necessary only if the US foreign policy so dictated.

What is the GOP thinking taking on Grammar and Grandpa, and 16 million formerly uninsured?

The Hillary Problem

March 17, 2015

Did former Secretary of State Clinton sign a “separation form” when she left government service? A Fox News reporter opened this can of worms and now pundits are opining about another example of rules for some and different rules for others. Clinton avoided answering the question with a smile.  (After all it was a Fox News question.)

Sunday, New York Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd wrote an entire column critical of Hillary and pronouncing the “private email server” as an example of what we would get if she was elected President. While Dowd is most likely correct, she doesn’t take the time to explain why Clinton’s behavior might be continually in the public debate while others seem not to gain the same attention.  Just as important was the consequences of Hillary Clinton not running for President.

Make no mistake there are big stakes in play. If the next President is from the GOP, and in such circumstances he would most like inherit a GOP controlled Congress, the social pendulum would be poised to move far to the right. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act would be open for repeal or significant modification according to GOP press releases. This potential change, of course, is the right of the American people to choose. That choice, however, ought to be made with a full understanding of the consequences.

The Hillary Problem, IMO, results from Hillary being a tough, smart, and cleverly combative woman. Men and particularly GOP men find it difficult to get out maneuvered. Bottom line, the GOP does not want there to be another President Clinton.

The first foray was the Benghazi hearings. Clinton (and the White House) saw correctly the side show aspects of the hearings and that their main purpose was a “fishing expedition”. House Speaker John Boehner has weighed in saying he wants the Benghazi incident fully investigated and key to that investigation will be getting hold Clinton’s private email server. Hmmm.

Here’s the Hillary problem.

Is she or isn’t she?

Is she going to run for President or not. If the choice is “not”, this problem will melt away.If she is going to run, the GOP will sanctimoniously call for more and more hearings.

The problem is Hillary must make a decision to run soon, like in weeks, in order to free other Democrats to throw their hats in the ring if Hillary is not there. A late decision to not run will be ruinous for Democrats.

Lastly, it is wise to note that Benghazi was as much a problem of Congress not authorizing sufficient funding (for security forces) for the State Department. The email issue has not been linked to anything illegal but rather to the potential of some unnamed acts. Fishing.

Congress members have received outrageous amounts of money from dark sources and spend inordinate amounts of time while in office begging for more money from special interests. If someone wanted to go fishing, there would surely be more fish in that pond.

Leading By Example

March 14, 2015

This past week witnessed one of the most bizarre political feats in recent memory. Forty seven Republican US Senators signed and sent a letter to the Iranian Government asserting that President Obama’s current negotiations with Iran were subject to Senate approval and any agreement could be null if the Senate or the next President felt differently.

For the Senate to hold a different view on foreign affairs is not unusual, especially if the Senate is controlled by the opposition party. For the Senate (and especially one party) to meddle in foreign affairs negotiations, however, is quite a different matter.

There are all sorts of reasons for this unusual letter, probably as many explanations as there are pundits. Explanations range from Senator Tom Cotton’s (the letter’s author) ambitions to become a future Presidential candidate to doubling down on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Congressional speech to utter disgust with President Obama and anything the President tries to achieve (without regard to the consequences). Take your pick, each fits the deed.

Americans, as a rule, don’t pay great attention to politics but over time voters do form opinions. Most Americans realize, despite GOP words to the contrary, that the economy has steadily improved over President Obama watch. Most Americans cannot identify any disadvantage with the Affordable Care Act. despite over 45 House votes to repeal ACA, and many know someone who has been significantly benefited by being able to obtain coverage. And slowly many Americans are recognizing that their sons and daughters are not being sent into wars far from our shores for reasons we simply do not understand. These slow awakening thoughts are all in direct disagreement with what the GOP has and continues to tell voters. Hmmm.

In 2016 there will be another Presidential election. Democrats stand an excellent chance to retain the White House and possible win back control of the Senate. A large measure of this future success will come from voters rejecting the steady succession of negative (and incorrect) GOP propaganda.
All’s well that ends well. Hmmm.

I don’t think it is that simple.

The GOP’s negative and vicious attacks on President Obama have done considerable collateral damage. If US Senators and Representatives can speak so vehemently against the President and ignore his requests for appointment confirmations, what broader message does this send to Americans? If these men and women elected to such high positions show little or no respect to the President, why should the average citizen respect any government institution?

I recall President George W Bush’s terms and the criticism he received from Democrats. During “W’s” years, the press was far more questioning and critical of his policies. The press pointed out the purposeless basis for the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the reckless nature of the Administrations approach to regulations. Everyone was horrified when the global financial system nearly imploded in 2008 and the world’s economy slipped into a deep recession following it. None of these events resulted from bickering between Democrats and Republicans, or from a deadlock between the President and Congress.

The Bush short comings and outright failures can be traced directly to the Administration’s policies and implementations, not to a dysfunctional Congress.

Since 2010, however, President Obama’s “loyal opposition” has acted differently. Their criticism of policies has morphed into unrestrained disdain for the President himself. This example cannot be good for America or for the institution of government itself.

The GOP personalization of opposition to Democrat policies probably began during President Bill Clinton’s term. Clinton, however, was politically more astute than President Obama, and found ways to beat the GOP in the court of public opinion. So far President Obama has not found his voice in speaking to enough Americans so that they understand the negative impact GOP practices are having on the Country.

With the apparent unlimited funding flowing into politics, it is not likely Americans will be able to separate fact from fiction with respect to President Obama. The next President which I predict will be a Democrat will result from Americans overall satisfaction with life in general, not from high confidence in President Obama. To this extent the GOP will have succeeded.
The unintended consequence, however, of the current GOP behavior will be a marked deterioration in Americans’ confidence in government, and even more important, their duty to help the country operate successfully.

Whether the GOP’s behavior results from the influence of special interests or from the quality of the recently elected (with special interest money) Congressional members is unclear. It is clear that the recently elected GOP Congress members are largely lacking in moderation and balance. While these men and women may be highly intelligent, they are very raw around the edges.

We can only hope that experience (they will soon see that their actions will not attain their goals) will mature their legislative abilities.

Hmmm.