Archive for May 2015

The Blame Game

May 27, 2015

It is very early in the GOP Presidential nominating process but the blame game has already begun. This should be no surprise since the current 7 announced candidates are expected to double if not triple before a nominee is selected. Hmmm.

Bobby Jindal has said that Rand Paul is “unsuited to be commander-in-chief”. (Does it take someone also unfit to recognize another?)

Rand Paul says, gratuitously, that GOP hawks are responsible for ISIS. (If Paul is referring to Bush supporters. he is spot on.)

Carlie Fiorina has selected Hillary Clinton as her target and in the process has separated herself from the pack. (This will last until the rest decide she is doing too well and blame will come Carlie’s way.

Rick Santorum announced today he was in the race. The 2016 Rick Santorum version is for the middle class so it is unclear at this point who Rick will blame.

Rick Perry is rumored to be announcing this weekend. Who cares who Rick blames, it will be a hoot to hear him try and put two sentences together.

Lindsay Graham will announce this week also his supporters say. Lindsay is a long time “blame gamer” who may not realize that Rand Paul includes Lindsay in the GOP hawk cohort.

George Pataki (who?) will really need to become creative in the blame game since his days as New York Governor are well behind him and so what else has he got to say?

Ted Cruz has been relatively silent of late. This is probably a wise strategy until he can better assess his GOP rivals.

Jeb Bush would very much like to remain silent and somehow get anointed (as Hillary would too). Both Jeb and Hillary will not shy away from blame at some point but don’t want to go negative so soon. Both would prefer to let others throw the mud and for them to remain the Presidential looking candidate.

Marco Rubio wants the image of a clean cut, fresh voice but when the Florida primary rolls around the much anticipate show down with Jeb Bush the race will require some “blame” assignment.

Scott Walker likes his chances in Iowa and maybe New Hampshire but has hinted he may avoid the Florida primary. This could change but his reasoning is that both Rubio and Bush are much better known in Florida. Hmmm.

The irony of the GOP plight is that with so many candidates how can voters differentiate? (Hint, blame the opponent for something).  Even worse, the traditional “speaking to the base” approach the GOP used in 2012 reminded the entire voting population of some “out of touch” GOP platform positions. Immigration, women’s rights, and senior’s security (code words for Social Security and Medicare) can come home to bite the GOP candidate in the general election.

So, what’s left to campaign on?

Blame the other GOP candidate for something. Hmmm. Should be interesting.

Memorial Day Thoughts

May 25, 2015

When soldiers returned home from Vietnam, many were greeted with boos and castigations. At its height, Vietnam was a very unpopular war and many Americans let the returning GIs know it.

In hind sight, Vietnam was a war that never needed to be fought. So what does one say to the many veterans who did serve and saw their buddies hurt or killed? Somehow “thank you for your service” just doesn’t seem appropriate.

Veterans of the last 10 years in Afghanistan plus all veterans of Iraq share a common fate. They served also in wars that never needed to be fought but without the draft most Americans never got that upset with these wars. “Thank you for your service” might seem a little more appropriate but still carries a hollow meaning. What should we say?

I suggest one should say “I’m sorry I let you down”.

I think it is about time Americans faced up to the disservice we collectively have done to military men and women. The disservice is not about the hardship of foreign duty or the mortal risks each military member was exposed to. That goes with the uniform.

The disservice, rather, relates to the dysfunctional elected leaders who sent the troops into war and the even greater avoidance of accountability on the part of American voters in not recalling or voting out of office each of these officials.

Had Americans stood up and said America fights only for its national interests, does so with all its resources, and fights only to win, then we could look veterans in the eye and truly thank them for their service.

For Iraq and Afghanistan (post 2004), Americans need to begin apologizing to veterans and opening the truth about the depth of America’s inadequate senior leadership which sent young men and women into war. Only by telling the truth, can Americans help these veterans come to grips with (what is becoming clearer every day) the waste of time and unfair huge personal risk they were asked to endure. Only the truth will help them understand why the Middle East is and will continue to be such a mess despite their sacrifices.

When I was younger, Memorial Day Parades were about veterans mainly from World War II. That was a time of horror.  Even though many mistakes were made, WWII, however, was a war where America was all in and it wasn’t necessary to thank service men and women because everyone was expected to do their part.

Today’s “thank you for your service” is short for “tough break buddy, you went and I didn’t have too”.

The more I say it the more I become convinced “I’m sorry I let you down” is far more honest and pays a much greater tribute to the vet.

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

May 24, 2015

Voters in Ireland passed a referendum authorizing same sex marriage.   With that vote, Ireland became the first country to legalize same sex marriages through a popular vote. The usual suspects lined up on each side of the issue and despite the opposition, the sun did rise the next day. Hmmm.

In the US where we tend to think all trends of any substance begin, Ireland’s stunningly simple approach to the question and the seemingly emotionless verdict could be instructive. The question has no losers so why shouldn’t the vote be affirmative? Giving the right to marry to homosexuals takes nothing from any other couple who wish to marry.

This amazingly simple thought (live and let live) hides behind so many US social conflicts, especially those with deep roots in religious taboos. “I don’t want to marry someone of the same sex, so I think you shouldn’t too”. Hmmm.

The Irish gay community, of course, celebrated yesterday. The rest of Ireland simply went upon their business, their eyes a-smiling.

GOP Claims About Middle East – Bring It On

May 21, 2015

GOP Presidential hopefuls are now singing to a not so unfamiliar song, “President Obama has lost Iraq and Syria”. The chorus of this song assures listeners “the GOP is strong on security and will destroy the enemies overseas”. Hmmm.

For the GOP, there are many ways to lose the 2016 election and only a few ways to win it.  Keeping away from extremes and demonstrably incorrect proposals provides the highway to victory.   The GOP hopefuls, however, see only their current competitors (all GOP members) and have constructed their sound bites with an eye to one upping their colleagues. Come November 2016, these claims will almost certainly come how to haunt them.

For foreign policy. the Middle East and ISIS seems to GOP candidates the most attractive target. President Obama “should have” done this or that, and the President “shouldn’t have done this or that”.  No doubt the Middle East is a mess but here is why the GOP had better tip toe quietly on this subject if they want to win in 2016.

  • There was no reason to have invaded Iraq in the first place. GOP President George W Bush under pressure from his GOP Vice President Dick Cheney rammed the invasion through on what have been shown to be trumped up and erroneous grounds.
  • The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was bungled and unleashed a host of predictable sectarian problems which are playing out today.
  • The surge, which seemed to stabilize Iraq, in fact was not based upon US troop strength as many GOP members allege. Rather, the “surge” was about “buying the loyalty of Sunni militias and taking them off the battle field. Once the Shiite led government took charge, the payments were cut off and hell returned.
  • The Iraq War was fought with a volunteer military and borrowed money. Why in the world is it just to go to war with only those who need a job and to fund this activity with money our children and grandchildren must pay back? If the GOP wants to advocate a new draft based military and a special war tax to pay for it, they will have at least gain some credibility. (not likely to happen)
  • Syria and Iraq are not the worst or most dangerous place in the world today. Arguably they are also not the most strategic. What about North Korea or China’s South China Sea aspirations? What about Russia and its desire to regain the Soviet Union greatness?
  • And just what could the US do to put the genie back in the bottle? Help the Shiites and de facto help the Iranians? Or help the Sunnis and make the Saudis happy and the Iranians upset. How long do you think peace would last?

The Middle East future is still immersed in a cloud. While Sunni versus Shiite is real, even more real is Saudi oil against Iranian oil, or said differently, it is a groups possessing oil and power against all those who might want to take it from them, especially those without oil.   In short, the Middle East does not appear today as a great place to move the family.

On one level, simple partisan politics could explain the GOP argument that President Obama lacks a Middle East strategy.   On another level, and a far more important insight, the GOP’s view is dangerously naive. As a Presidential campaign plank, the GOP argument would rival “into the valley of death rode the 600”.

Do Churches Fail The Poor?

May 19, 2015

Ross Douthat in his New York Times opinion column on Sunday asked this questions, “Do Churches fail the poor”? But why the euphemism? Why the “poor” and not “African Americans deep in the poverty cycle”?

If Douthat did mean the heart and soul of the “poor”, his observation presents no contest, of course they do.

Without debating the question whether his assertions that churches have been more concerned with women’s health and gay rights, or that churches real interest in poverty bent to keep their pews filled, the question is has the churches’ malfeasance worsened the poor’s lot? Or even more important, had churches focused differently, could they have been a key force to end poverty?

One can spend hours listing the real interests of organized religions. These institutions are creations of man (or woman) and in the end take on characteristics of any other social or bureaucratic collection of people. Churches may claim a “higher purpose” but when the cows are counted, churches are interested in whether they have collected more dollars than what they owe. Churches will create any beliefs or visions to fit the narrative that most likely will fulfill their quest for financial survival regardless of its impact (or lack there of) on the poor.

So where do the poor fit in?

The world is awash in pockets of poverty. No continent is without its poor. Some maintain poverty is a necessary bi-product of a free market. In this zero sum world view, everyone has a chance, the smarter do better and the less smart, not as well. At some point, some begin a life long process of losing.
These losers reproduce and the cycle becomes a little more set. The question is can this poverty cycle be broken, and if so, how?

The US poor, it is said, have such dysfunctional lives, they produce a following generation less able to complete than itself.   Hmmm. This is a pretty dismal outlook.

Hmmm. I wonder how churches can break this cycle?

(Let’s be clear, the poor or poverty cohort is mainly African American. But all African Americans are not poor or stuck in a poverty cycle.)

The apparent perception is that churches, somehow, should be able to inspire the poor so they become winners. Alcoholics Anonymous, a quasi-faith based organization requires attendees to swear to a “higher authority” as the prerequisite to becoming sober. Do you think this would work with just substituting “poverty” for alcoholic?

Regrettably AA has a relatively low success rate ( despite what even those who get the “cure” think). But what is evident with those “cured” is (1) they want to be cured, and (2) they recognize they are responsible for their own cure.

America is based upon notions that upward economic mobility is available for all. Americans believe that the destitute can become better off if they try hard enough. Americans also generally believe that if they do better, their children will have a chance to do even better if they work hard. Both of these notions is hard to detect in the US poverty zones.

So, to the question, “do churches fail the poor”, the best answer is “we don’t know”. All we know is that churches have not enhanced the lot of those stuck in the poverty cycle.

“Fail the poor” implies that churches have either done nothing (when they knew what to do) or have done somethings (which turned out to be incorrect) and in either case, have not reduced poverty.

While the answer to the breaking poverty cycle is still unclear, it is hard to imagine any solution that does not run through education and skill development, a family unit with limited family size, and community support within the poverty cohort.

I wonder whether churches know how to teach math, english. plumbing, carpentry, nursing, etc?  I also wonder  whether churches would step up to real family planning and birth control?  And lastly, just how far are churches (especially those with large African American presence) willing to push parishioners to help their brothers and sisters do what they should know better to do?

Death Penalty – Why?

May 16, 2015

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev received the death penalty yesterday for his role in the Boston Marathon bombings. Dzhokhar was tied to two of the deaths and that was enough for the “death qualified” jury to hand down its verdict.

While this ended the second of a two part trial process, it most likely began at least a 10 year process of appeals before the sentence is actually carried out. Why was this expensive trial undertaken when there was no argument that Mr Tsarnaev actual did commit the crime?

The first reason, of course, is that in a civilized country guilt should be proven before punishment is handed out. Video evidence combined with defense admissions made this a relatively quick trip to the verdict “guilty”.

The second reason is much more difficult to answer. Why was it necessary to conduct a second trial and even have to consider a sentence of “death by lethal injection”? The answer most often provided is Tsarnaev committed a capital crime punishable by death if so deemed by a “death qualified” jury.

And this again begs the question, why would a jury consider “death” at all? The death penalty has been eliminated in most advanced societies and remains popular mainly in third world and authoritarian regimes. Hmmm.

The sad answer that emerges connects “eye for an eye” retribution with the notion of “death as a deterrent”. Despite the fact that study after study has shown that murder or other serious crimes are not deterred because the death penalty exists, advocates continue to claim such heinous crimes deserve the maximum punishment.

Most peculiar about this case is that the State of Massachusetts has no death penalty. Had Tsarnaev been tried in Massachusetts State Courts, he would have been found guilty and sentence to life imprisonment. Boom, done and over. Instead the Federal Government stepped in and exerted jurisdiction. Now there is a death sentence but an uncertain future over when and how the sentence will be carried out.

In many other States, the death penalty is live and well. Since the advances of DNA analysis, however, a number of death row prisoners are being freed because the previous ironclad
evidence that convicted them (and lead to their death sentence) is now shown in error.

Once dead,new evidence is of little use. In the case of Tsarnaev, there will be no new evidence, there can only be a new understanding of why a civilized society would revert to killing when it has laws that say its own citizens should not kill each other.

IMO, if Tsarnaev’s appeal process does last 10 years, there is a very good chance that the death penalty will again be considered “cruel and unusual” punishment. Consequently there is a better than average chance he will not be put to death in any case.

Wouldn’t it be better for our society to look around at other civilized modern societies, decide the death penalty was no longer consistent with our values, and eliminate its use without relying upon the Constitution?

Israel’s Democracy On Way Out?

May 15, 2015

Democracy has been characterized as a poor form of government, but better than any other form tried so far. Hmmm.

Democracies claim that government is based on one man, one vote. In modern countries this is one person, one vote. The principle in either case is that members of one group (for example, the landed, the wealthy, the military, the clergy, etc) do not have more votes than any other person. But once a vote is held and government ministers are selected, the job of creating rules and regulations fall to a subset of the population. This is representative government and is considered a necessary compromise on one person, one vote.

Authoritarian governments often arise following a “democratic vote” when the “representatives” gradual cede power to a smaller group. Many think that “checks and balances” like the three branches of government the US has, has help guard against any group accumulating too much power. Three branches and a history of free speech have kept the US form of democracy reasonably safe for over two hundred years, a long time in terms of continuous government.

When Israel was founded, it was founded as both a democratic and a Zionist State. The democracy assured all residents the same rights under the law and Zionism assured that Jewish beliefs were protected.

Much has happened since Israel’s founding and Israel has been forced to defend its very existence against Arab invasions. Israel now occupies the West Bank and appears on a path to make this land part of Israel. Forgetting for a moment whether there is a legal basis for Israel to annex this land, the addition of the West Bank presents a serious challenge to Israel’s founding principle of “democracy” and “zionism”.

Simply stated the birth rate of the Palestinians will soon put them in the majority and in a true democracy, Palestinians could be expected to control the Israeli government in time.

With this backdrop, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appointment of Ayelet Shaked as Justice Minister has opened many eyes about the dangers of mixing democracy and religion. At some point citizens will be asked to choose between the two. Ms Shaked is an avowed proponent zionism and a Jewish State. Her party, the Zionist Jewish Home party is active in supporting expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Hmmm.

As Interior Minister, or Defense Minister, or even maybe Education Minister, Ms Shaked’s party and views might be not unexpected. As Justice Minister, this seems totally out of place… if Israel is committed to democratic principles.

A democratic and zionist Israel, with its expansion of West Bank settlements, will have to eventually decide whether it want to be an apartheid State or one where “ethnic cleansing” is practiced.

Elevating zionism (theocracy) over democracy is a box one should be careful about opening. What say Muslim Brotherhood?

Christie, Does He Believe What He’s Saying?

May 14, 2015

Governor Chris Christie is in a tough spot. In a potential field of two dozen GOP Presidential hopefuls, how does a New Jersey Governor make his candidacy relevant? Christie whose personality is a mixture of charismatic and bombastic qualities, thinks he needs to emphasize his conservative economic views to gain attention. Hmmm.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed column, Christie outlined his plans to get America going again. Briefly his thoughts were:

  • Tax Code Reform involving lower across the board rates
  • Reduce Government regulations
  • Implement a National Energy strategy
  • Eliminate “counter productive laws and regulations like (you guessed it) Obamacare
  • Invest in R&D (increase the rate compared to entitlement growth)

Christie claimed that these steps will unleash pent up demand and help the middle class break out of the stagnation is has experienced for the last 20 years or so. Hmmm.

Christie’s dramatic speech make one wonder whether he realizes that these proposals were made 4 years ago and can be found in part in just about every other GOP hopefuls’ canned speeches. Even worse than a lack of originality, this prescription also hides some important misconceptions. For example:

  • Tax Code Reform – any proposal which calls for across the board tax rate reductions is in fact a plan to provide the wealthy with lower tax liability even when loop holes and exemptions are also eliminated. Tax Code Reform is certainly an important and worthwhile goal but it will be a herculean task to remove favorites like mortgage and health insurance deductions and not look the other way on all the big loop holes and exemptions that the wealthy and special interests have lobbied to get in the tax code.
  • Reduce Government Regulations – This is an inadequate proposal. Does Governor Christie want to reproduce the conditions that lead to the subprime/mortgage backed securities near melt down of the world’s banking system? Voters should be weary of this type of claim unless the candidate gives specifics.
  • Implement a National Energy strategy – This is an amazing statement which makes one wonder where Governor Christie has been for the last 4 years? “Energy Independence” has been a campaign pledge in past elections and to the extent Christie means to push a 25-50 year strategy which moves the US to renewable and environmentally friendly energy sources, this could be game changing proposal. But Christie in more in step with the “drill Baby drill crowd” and is speaking to big money and big oil interests.
  • Eliminate counterproductive regulations (like Obamacare) – This is probably the most shameful proposal of the lot. Modifying, improving, and replacing the Affordable Care Act should be a welcome proposal if it leads to good or better healthcare outcomes and lower total medical costs. Christie’s swipe at Obamacare is a crass politically hollow statement.
  • Invest in R&D – In principle this a worthwhile proposal. In practice this usually means another exemption or deduction to be added to the tax code. And where is the investing in our aging national infrastructure upon which the economy depends?

I have taken exception to Governor Christie’s proposals not because he is likely to become the nominee. I have taken exception because Christie’s proposals are a not so clever regurgitation of previous GOP proposals.  Added together. the GOP advocates that money be transferred from entitlement programs and spent upon defense and tax breaks for the wealthy. Voters must look beyond these carefully turned phrases and uncover the intended outcomes.

No Moral Compass

May 12, 2015

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots just got whacked by the NFL as a result of what pundits have dubbed “deflate-gate”. The NFL appears to have waited until it had assessed the public response to a variety of sanctions and then announced its punishment. Brady was suspended for 4 games and the team was fined one million dollars and the loss of two draft picks. End of story?

The story began in January in a playoff game between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. The game was played on a cold day at the Patriots home filed in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Following an arcane NFL rule, the Patriots and the Colts presented game officials 8 footballs each team proposed to use during the game. That’s right, the Pats use their balls and the Colts use their own. The balls are checked for air pressure and then given back to each team for safe keeping until game time. Hmmm.

Again why aren’t the balls checked at kick off time?  And more basically, why don’t the players use the same balls?

Deflat-gate went as follows. At half time with the Pats slightly ahead, someone alerted the referees to check the Patriot’s footballs. And low and behold, the balls were found to be under inflated. The referees then supervised the adjustment of each ball to regulation pressure and the second half began.

And the Patriots now playing with a “legal” ball, kicked the crap out of the Colts winning easily.

Nobody associated with the Patriots could explain the under inflation. Visibly the owner, head coach, and Tom Brady seemed to think it was a big deal. But others did.

The NFL initiated an independent investigation and after four months issued a finding. “More probable than not” Tom Brady knew about the deflation. Hmmm.

Where has proof based upon evidence gone?

The NFL has recently sent mixed messages concerning domestic violence. The League seemed to be balancing attendance economics with public perception. At first the league appeared to look the other way and then when there was an outcry (which could have adversely impacted sponsors), the League got on its high horse and metered out draconian punishments.

Now along comes deflate-gate and the League has no idea what to do.  The under inflation clearly had not affected the games outcome.

So, the League goes ahead and hands out a severe punishment with no proof that Brady initiated the air pressure reductions. The NFL said it was about the integrity of the game. Hmmm.

If one assumes the finding of “more probable than not” should read Brady instigated the deflation, than a suspension of some sort seems reasonable. One can argue how many games should be involved but at least one would withstand the smell test.

The fact that it took almost four months to investigate the “integrity” of the games tells me the NFL simply does not have a moral compass. The only compass the NFL possesses is a money compass which cause to the League to look one way if the compass says more money, and the other way if the compass reads less money.

TPP Or Whatever

May 10, 2015

President Obama is campaigning for public support of the “Trans Pacific Partnership”, a new set of rules and agreements affecting trade between the US and Japan plus 11 other Pacific Ocean facing Countries. The Partnership’s intent is to “level the playing field” and to remove trade barriers.

The President has warned that if the US doesn’t help write the rules, China will. The implication being that China will obtain favorable trade conditions with these Countries and the US will be stuck with the current restrictive trade obstacles. Hmmm.

Supporters promise that with TPP intellectual property will be respected, labor conditions will be the same amongst members, environmental safeguards will be ensured, and protectionist import measures will be eliminated. Trade amongst these Countries today must contend with numerous rules and restrictions, each of which was created to guard against some “offense” while providing advantage to one of these countries.

For example, countries with a different view of intellectual property might choose to reverse engineer an American product and sell it at lower prices back to US businesses. Other Countries might choose not to require environmental protection investments and in so doing allow their companies to produce goods at a lower cost (which would presumably make these products more attractive due to lower price). Use of child labor, prisoners, or unsafe work places also lead to competitive disadvantages.

In Congress, TPP has boiled down to the President and the GOP favoring, and most Democrats against. It seems business interest versus labor and environmentalists. In many regards, The debate rhetoric has the sound of the Iran nuclear negotiations all over. “This deal is a bad deal, keep negotiating for a better deal”. Hmmm.

The status quo protects certain interests and to change the ground rules makes them understandably worry. The proposed new agreements are likely to advantage some interests too and their roaring support is also understandable. So, what’s next?

President Obama will move to put the PTT into effect if he can get “fast track” authority from Congress. With the GOP control of Congress, PTT seems likely.

Democrat opposition, however, runs deep with unions and environmentalists. Hillary Clinton who so far has dodged any commitment or opposition to PTT must consider whether she wants a disgruntled working class voter sitting on the sidelines in 2016. IMO, she could remain neutral and still not fear too much backlash because the GOP represent far more concern to unions and environmentalists.

As I understand the arguments for and against, they all have an element of possible truth. It just seems reasonable that the 21st century ought to warrant trade agreements reflective of a new century.

As always, however, the devil lies in the details.