Archive for April 2015

Baltimore Update

April 30, 2015

In a NPR interview aired this morning, a reporter shared outcomes of local businesses which were damaged by “protesters”. The reporter said that if “protesters” broke a store’s window and the store was black owned, a group of black citizens would suddenly come and stand in front of the store denying entry to any “protesters” who might be inclined to become a “looter” too. Hmmm.

My first reaction was positive. Local residents were willing to stand up and protect local businesses. Then, the reporter went on.
If the store was not black owned, no one came forward and protected the store. In this Baltimore area, the reporter said the stores were predominantly Asian American owned. “Protesters” seemed to have no problem becoming “looters” with these stores.

In other reports, Baltimore’s progress in recovering from the 1968 riots was reviewed.  A lot of money has been invested around the waterfront and surrounding areas.  Today the center of Baltimore is a tourist attraction.  Not so for the areas further out, particularly on the West Side.  Hmmm.

With respect to Freddie Grey, there is plenty of documentation that the Baltimore Police Department has for many years treated local African American residents with apparent disregard. News reports have revealed a large number of civil complaints settled with six figure payments to African American residents. Offending officers were both black and white. This suggests a legal system and police administration which has tilted against African Americans.

Those who are looking for a “silver bullet” solution (like fix the police or dump money into the poorer sections of Baltimore) are likely to once again misdiagnose the causes of Baltimore and other similar city’s recent incidents. Freddie Grey and the resulting looting are not simply a problem of police insensitivity or misapplication. Improving the situation must involve other factors including significant changes in the attitudes and behavior of African Americans too.

Why are the deepest pockets of poverty predominently African American? Why are these poor city sections filled with young people who lack drive, education, or motivation? Why would poor African Americans turn on poor Asian store owners? Or even more to the point, why would African American protesters loot and destroy stores and shops in their own communities?

Clearly there needs to be changes in police tactics. Investment which would provide jobs in these poorer sections undoubtable would also be valuable, if the local African Americans possessed the skills necessary for these potential jobs.  But will that be enough?

I wonder whether the Asian American communities offer an example. Asian Americans do not look or speak like white Americans, yet they seem very successful in whatever they pursue.  These groups possess a strong family ethic where the father is present. Hard work, education, and patience (sacrificing now so that the children are better off) are valued personal characteristics. Mexicans display these characteristics and are already making significant progress assimilating into American society.  Hmmm.

Summing this up, there are for sure major changes needed in policing, the overall legal system, and community investment, but the African American community has enormous opportunities to improve its own lot.  The larger community (which includes whites and middle class and well to do African Americans) must see that policing and investing changes take place.  The question is will these changes return trust and motivate poor African Americans to seize the opportunity to improve themselves?

Millennia – When?

April 29, 2015

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether the prohibition of same sex marriage by some States was Constitutional. Millennia was used to describe how long the world has considered marriage a union between one man and one woman. So what’s different now was the question?
That question is either rhetorical or irrelevant.

It is not so hard to see that the US man-woman marriage is not even close to what marriage was in past centuries. Think about hunter-gatherers or mid-evil peasants or knights.  Think about even the US in the days of our founding fathers.  Marriage was marriage and carried no other benefits.

Today there are so many of States and Federal authorizations such property rights, survivor benefits, and tax filing requirements associated with marriage living that to deny same sex couples access to these rights over the definition of what marriage is suggests a less than honest approach.

And for sure the Supreme Court Justices are well aware of the political tightrope they are walking. The Constitution is totally silent on marriage but the fourteenth Amendment does speak to equal protection under the law. The implication that “State’s Rights” allows each State to decide which people qualify for the recognition of being “married” is disingenuous.

As with so many other faith based objections, no harm will be inflicted upon man-woman marriage should the Court allow same sex marriages. As has been so frequently the case, tolerance of others seems lacking in America’s religious traditions.

States certainly have a right to decide who may adopt, or what tax benefits are available to couples. By the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, States are, however, prohibited from granting some couples a benefit and denying the same benefit to other couples for no compelling reason.

One would think this case should be so easy to decide but pundits do not consider the affirmation of same sex marriage a slam dunk following yesterday’s arguments.

This case is not about forming a union. It is about the benefits which have gone to man-woman teams and in some States have been denied to same sex teams.

”B” As In Baltimore

April 27, 2015

Over the weekend, the nation saw again the unfortunate deadly play out of an interaction between law enforcement and an African American. On this occasion, neither guns nor Tasers were not involved. A detail explanation has not been released but video has shown the victim, Freddie Grey, being hauled to a police van, apparently unable to walk, and placed inside. Police report that Grey was later transferred to an Ambulance when it was recognized he could not breath. Grey died in the hospital two days later of complication from a broken spinal column.

On Saturday, protest marchers turned violent and the Grey incident became national news.

In Baltimore, the mayor and police chief are African Americans.  Both are well aware of the history of race inspired conflict with law enforcement.

Baltimore, as with many other large cities, has “haves” and “have nots”. And you might correctly guess that the have nots are mostly African Americans. (It should not be assumed that most African Americans are have nots.  In Baltimore many African Americans have successfully entered the middle class or have become successful in the arts and professions.) I make this distinction because the world police see when they drive through their district depends on demographic who lives there. In Baltimore, the troubled areas are ones high with poverty and unfortunately, populated by African Americans.

Work with me for a moment.

I am not implying that being poor or being African American justifies Grey’s treatment any more than police shooting six or more times and killing unarmed African Americans in Ferguson or in Florida, Georgia, or South Carolina is to be acceptable. It seems in all these cases police use of force was excessive.

The question most are asking is why?

The African American community answers unhesitatingly police action stems from racist beliefs. End of story. Hmmm.

I suspect that treating these incidents purely as a result of racism misses the larger view. Diagnosing only racism will also inhibit  finding shorter term fixes. Prejudices are deeply held views and are established in our minds on an emotional not logical basis. While not ruling out racism, there are other reasons this string of “police on black man” altercations have taken place.  More importantly, these other reasons could lead to reducing violent out comes.

First we must begin with just who are police anyways? Normally they are not social workers nor psychologists. Most lack college education. Police are everyday people who have an aptitude to see things as black or white. The law says this, you did that, and I’m arresting you for this violation.

Second, police have been issued lethal weapons and receive training on how to use weapons. The nature of the training, however, leans heavily to how the weapon can be used to kill someone else (and save the police officer’s life). If you draw your gun, shoot to kill, otherwise the other person may kill you. Hmmm.

Third, the routine day for many police officers brings them in contact with the less glamorous elements of society. Mental illness, drug dealers, and homeless/illiterate people are common experiences in many officers’ daily rounds. Most police are people whose first instinct is not to feel empathy.   When they suspect there has been a violation of some law, the urge to do “police work” quickly outweighs the value of “understanding before acting”.

Fourth, the fatal combination normally arises after the officer’s verbal commands are ineffective. The officer most likely feels he must escalate his use of force in order to get the alleged law breakers attention. If the gun is used, six, seven, eight bullets can stream out of the muzzle before the suspect drops. These results are usually fatal. If the officer uses physical force, including Tasers, he/she is usually assisted with the help of other officers.

In these situations, frustration and disgust fill the police officers. Maybe the idea that the suspects both deserve and would benefit from a good knock-around should be the expected outcome. Hmmm.

Of course each occasion or situation is different. And of course each police officer approaches each suspect with different amounts of empathy and understanding. Extreme police treatment of suspects is not the rule, largely because most people obey the officer’s instructions. When it happens, however, the outcomes are to frequently not good.

Baltimore will soon release its findings of what happened to Freddie Grey. Most likely Mr Grey was or was mistaken as a legitimate suspect, and will have refused to cooperate with the police. From all that we know at this point, the arresting officers used excessive force and severely injured Mr. Grey. (We don’t know why.) The spinal injury probably began in the arrest process and was exacerbated during the “unseat belt buckled” police van transportation.

No one likely meant fatal harm to Mr Grey. It just happened.

Imagining how this incident could be avoided in the future certainly involves heavy doses of police training. Avoidance could also include new police hirings where officers with more empathetic skills were added to the force. And the public needs training too.

With respect to Baltimore citizens, all demographics, should be made aware of what a day in an officer’s life feels and looks like. Police body cameras, professional sound and video recordings, and well developed documentaries could make all citizens more aware of what behavior are likely to illicit professional police response and which ones are likely to lead to conflict.

In other words, we must remember that police are necessary to protect us all from “really bad people”. If ordinary people act like “bad” people, how can we expect the police to know the difference? With more video and sound reproductions of what actually happened, we can learn whose behavior, citizens or police, is at fault when things go astray.

At the same time, efforts are needed to broaden police training (like anger management) and how to shoot “not to kill”.

Will Hillary Get A Pass?

April 24, 2015

Early release of a new, but soon to be one of many, book denigrates Hillary Clinton.  Reports based upon the book are making a splash on the 7/24 news media. The book alleges that once Hillary became Secretary of State that the money flood gates opened for the Clinton Foundation. More specifically, money from foreign sources flowed in and in return those foreign sources received favorable State Department action. Hmmm.

The sun rises each day and sets each evening. This we can be sure. We can be equally sure that “attack ads” featuring these allegations will hit the airwaves soon and run through out the election campaign regardless of who becomes the GOP Presidential nominee.

Another thing you can be sure about is that neither the Republican Party nor its standard bearer will say “I approve this ad”.

The reasons are two fold. (1) A GOP candidate doesn’t need to produce such an ad because one of the “uncoordinated” PACs will gleefully undertake this work. And, (2) these Clinton innuendos strike too close to home for all the candidates.

The day we see a dirt poor Congress member, former President, or senior cabinet official, we can begin to suspect that person did not trade favors for value in return. Favors could have been decisions or outright lobbying, or just introductions (with a nod).

All politicians use their office in ways they feel best and growing their personal wealth is part of that territory. Consequently, GOP candidates are not likely to personally attack Hillary.

Of course these charges are serious and do deserve a full investigation. But there wouldn’t be K-Street nor political fund raising breakfasts unless “favors” were for sale.

The Clintons are not your ordinary “influence for sale” politicians. They can afford staffs that advise on how to keep their actions clear of any direct connection. Most of the other candidates including Jeb Bush will experience similar charges and will inevitably be found clear of a direct connection to what ever the charges are.

When this type of charge begins to be leveled at Jeb Bush, the Press will see it as a left wing smear campaign. For Hillary, these charges are just the continuation of the “right wing conspiracy”.

Is It Time For Free College Education?

April 22, 2015

The Democrat Party’s progressive wing is beginning to lay out what causes they want to see pursued if a Democrat nominee wants their support in the 2016 Presidential election. In a broad sense, this is understandable since the two dozen or more GOP hopefuls will be airing a boat load of conservative proposals. Without any counter currents one would expect the Democrat nominee (most likely Hillary Clinton) to gravitate towards a slightly right of center position.

One of the early Progressive wants is free college education for all. Hmmm.

Advocates claim college education is the key to better paying jobs and the narrowing of income distribution inequality. It would also be especially valuable in breaking the cycle of poverty supporters claim. Progressives additionally call attention to the amount of debt the current average college graduate is accumulating and how long it will take to pay the loans off. But is this enough justification for free college education?

Maybe, maybe not.

For the maybe case, there are currently no good proposals on how to break either the poverty cycle or to narrow the income distribution inequality. So absent any other ideas, what’s wrong with at least considering free college education. (I must assume “free” means the same as “free” in K-12 public education.)

Hmmm.

There are two reasons I can think of which say resoundingly “no” to free college education. They are:

  • “Free college education” will simply lead to more kids hanging out in colleges studying courses which do not lead to employment opportunities or jobs above the minimum pay level. Current experience already shows that too many students are graduating with huge debts and still unable to find jobs.
  • “Free college education” is not free. It will cost the nations billions and will represent lost opportunity cost for many other critical needs like infrastructure and healthcare.

Another way of considering “free”higher education to make the means (that is loans) available to anyone seeking study in approved institutions which themselves possess endowments below some amount per student capita (high endowment schools should be actively aiding prospective students). In return for these loans, students could upon graduation (1) repay in cash, (2) repay in public service (including a national peace corp-like program), or (3) repay by entering a line of professions and locating in areas designated in need of these services.

College Education for as many Americans who are willing to work for it is a cause to be proud and one that will return value to the country. “Free” is just not the best approach to liberate this value.

To Pander Or Demagogue?

April 21, 2015

In the crowded field of declared or potential Republican candidates for the 2016 Presidential nomination, next to raising money, the hardest task is how to stand out. One technique everyone in the field has selected is to use Hillary Clinton as the root of all evil. Ted Cruz, however, has chosen a new way. He has taken on the military.

Cruz has spoken out about the Pentagon rule that military members cannot “carry” while on government property unless, of course, they are officially on guard duty or training. Cruz believes the second Amendment protects the rights of soldiers to arm themselves with concealed weapons while on or off duty. Hmmm.

It’s head scratching time trying to figure out why Cruz would consider this a Presidential campaign issue. The cause does offers him a chance to “pander” to the NRA and like minded people. The question is whether Cruz is also bringing up this issue because demagoguery is more his style? Hmmm.

Either explanation should disqualify Cruz from the primaries (although it won’t).

If Cruz is pandering, his statements display an impressive lack of knowledge about military life. (Did you ever wonder why Navy sailors are always chipping paint? The Navy knows that you must keep sailors busy or else they will get into trouble. Guns don’t help!)

If it is “demagoguery” which Cruz is practicing, all other Cruz positions must be put into question. Does he really mean what he says or is he just saying it because he thinks the other person believes it?

In either case, Cruz comes across as not ready for prime time.

Waiting On The Side Lines

April 18, 2015

I noticed an article in the local newspaper today which said “Millennials Sit Out This Election”. It was a curious article since the same newspaper carried many other stories about both national and State-wide candidates raising so much money for elected positions ranging from State Supreme Court to President of the United States. Money, of course, is free speech and with so much fee speech its hard to understand one demographic group being overlooked.

The “millennials” are different we are told. They were raised on the internet and all the wiz-bang applications. Millennials are the ones who go around with their cell phones six inches in front of their nose while they miraculously navigate around other pedestrians. Millennials were raised in the “good times” and seek to work in friendly settings, play friendly sports after work, and then relax in friendly bars to review the days hardships.

Somehow and in ways unfamiliar to older generations, millennials seem to gain a perspective on the political free speech that the news media spews out 7/24 without ever listening to it. I suspect millennials have developed a sense which detects acrimonious, hollow, or empty words, and just as I might discard milk which didn’t smell right, millennials reject the inflow of “free speech” and search instead for friendlier discourse.

I worry about this cohorts civic-mindedness. How can they have a sound opinion on which candidate or which political party has the better position on government? Life can’t be just about Facebook, Twitter, or the many other self revealing internet applications.

On the other hand I wonder whether millennials are just starting from a different position. They see things as they really are, and do not dwell on how they might be. With this burden out of the way, it is relatively easy to conclude what a supreme waste of time it is to listen and get caught up in political speak.

As with most of my generation, I cannot help but see how things could be better. I listen to the many versions of free speech that bombard us 7/24. To my regret, with this input the best I can do is select the lesser of two evils knowing that neither candidate will see “how things could be better” as I would. Hmmm.

Maybe, or at least I wonder, whether I should begin to keep my cell phone six inches from my nose all day?

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

April 17, 2015

Yesterday, so early in the 2016 Presidential nomination process, Jeb Bush’s claim to be his own man was put in question. Thanks to Jeb Bush’s truthful and candid answers to reporters questions, voters now know that a Jeb Bush Presidency will follow a foreign policy similar if not identical to that of George W Bush.

Gaining this confirmation, so early in the nomination process, will provide voters with a clear warning about what to expect if Jeb Bush becomes the nominee and eventually wins the election.

The issue at hand is described as “America taking a lead in world affairs”. What does he mean? According to the Washington Post, Jeb Bush would not be on speaking terms with Cuba, tighten sanctions on Iran, and partner more closely with Israel. Bush would deploy more NATO assets in Eastern Europe and would use the military to root out “barbarians” and “evil doers” around the globe. Sound like the “axis of evil” speech by “W”?

This foreign policy view has a very rational sound. When the US acts preemptively and with force, adversaries are put on the defense, and potential adversaries think twice before acting provocatively. So, if ones view is that the US is a basically “good” nation which should serve as a model for other nations to follow, then what better way to conduct foreign affairs than to lead?

Bush’s views are not new or unique to him. The “neoconservative” movement which propelled the George W Bush Administration into the Iraq invasion and occupation documented their foreign policy views before “W” was elected in a document (PNAC – Project for the New American Century). PNAC was signed by among others Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Elliott Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby, and yes, Jeb Bush).

In considering this “preemptive” foreign policy, voters would do well to remember the disastrous outcome of the Iraq invasion and occupation. Even if one ascribes only the noblest of intentions, the Iraq regime change has unlocked the Middle East pandora’s box of unintended consequences. Also, the expansion of NATO has spooked Russian conservatives and facilitated Russia President Putin to foreign interventions under the guise of protecting the motherland. And, with this view of preemptive action, what does one think a “no deal” with Iran on nuclear weapons will mean?

On a separate basis, the Jeb Bush’s foreign policy does not come cheap. What does one think will happen when a Jeb Bush Administration has to pay for the military size necessary to carry off such a foreign policy (assuming it would be possible in the first place)? Will it be more debt like “W” chose, reductions in all other non-defense government spending, or higher taxes?

Bush and the GOP will target President Obama’s foreign policy, sometimes referred to as “leading from behind”. The President’s policies will be labeled “weak”, “naive”, and “misdirected” whereas a preemptive policy will be billed as “bold”, assertive, and above all, based upon what is right (Americans want to be right).

These are just a war of words which conceal the reality that Bush’s policies are no longer affordable nor do they make sense with global nature of world economics. The US simply can’t confront every threat every place in the world and could not afford to pay the bill if it were possible.

Jeb Bush may continue to say he is his own man but his words suggest something quite similar to his brother.  Jeb can run but he can’t hide from “W’s” recent history and foreign policy failures.

Bush’s words, of course, may seem strong and may harken back to America’s pride emanating from our WWII and Cold War strength, but that simply is not 21st century reality.

For Democrats, however, how will they describe their foreign policy?

Delivering The Mail

April 16, 2015

In an amazing feat of audacity, a Florida postal worker flew his ultralight from Harrisburg, PA to the steps of the Capital in Washington, DC. The pilot landed his craft without incident and was immediately arrested. The pilot explained that he was protesting the obscene amounts of money currently transforming the US political process. I guess this 60 year old individual feels strongly about the corrosive effect of unlimited money.

Listening to the evening news, the postman’s campaign financing protest was lost in their exploration of how anyone could have flown so close to the White House and the Capital. And if that was not enough, the Press reported that the postman had describe his intention about a year ago and had been contacted by local newspapers and Federal investigators. Money in politics, I guess, is both not newsworthy or attention getting for the Feds. Hmmm.

For Russia and China, this was probably a non-event. Would either country be pushed to the point of taking military action against the US, they could employ submarines, long range aircraft, and intercontinental missiles.

But for any of the dysfunction Middle East regimes, this incident may have been a wake up call. Al Qaeda wrote the first chapter in unconventional warfare with the attacks on the World Trade Center. Now their successors have been given a demonstration on how a small, unobtrusive aircraft could deliver a knock out punch to both the White House and the Capital.

Hmmm.

Mutual deterrents kept the cold war powers at bay even though there were conservative war mongers in the capitals of the major powers. With the emergence of Muslim radical groups who apparently possess nothing they wish to protect, the major powers have no mutual deterrent tools to combat them.

One would hope that the light bulb would go on in Washington, Moscow, and Beijing that it is high time to move beyond the cold war, and work together to contain, defang, and ultimately domesticate these radical Muslim threats before they possess weapons of greater mass destruction.

Get It?

April 15, 2015

Yesterday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie opened his unofficial run for the GOP Presidential nomination with speeches in New Hampshire. It is well accepted that Governor Christie needed to do something especially noteworthy to gain the public’s attention. And he did.

Most everyone recognizes that Medicare, Medicaid, and the overall Federal Budget are spending more than they are receiving in tax revenues. Social Security while technically solvent is projected to produce a huge deficit in the years ahead. Christie chose to speak about these entitlement programs and proposed some steps to reign in their future costs. Was that bold? Was that wise?

The ideas of means testing Social Security or increasing the age when one qualifies for entitlement benefits is not new but for a politician seriously running for a major office, it is extremely noteworthy.

It will take a few weeks to know whether Christie’s proposals have any measurable impact upon his candidacy. In the meantime, however, it is worthwhile to recognize how unfair and unbalanced Christie’s proposals are.

To be clear, I do not mean that “means” testing is unfair or that increasing the age of the onset of benefits is out of hand a bad idea.

What I mean is that these measure done by themselves transfer the burden of balancing the US budget to many of those who can least afford the costs, and in effect shield the very wealthy from paying for the services that enable them to accumulate so much wealth.

Further, similar changes to Medicare simply display ignorance of the fundamental underlying healthcare problem, US healthcare costs are the highest in the world (two times) and deliver no better outcomes.

If Governor Christie wants to be America’s President and if he interprets that to be all Americans’ President, he will need to broaden his domestic economic views. Tax reform where loop holes and exemptions are eliminated, increased marginal rates will apply to the highest income levels, Federal expenditure reductions will include both Defense and Entitlements and are proportionally, and a determination that Government services exist for the benefits they provide citizens and not as an employment vehicle are worthy additions.

With Governor Christie’s words, the GOP candidates all sighed in relief that someone else had said what they wanted to say.

I wonder whether the other candidate “get it” and will add to these proposals cuts in Defense, tax reform and an overall attack on healthcare costs?