Archive for June 2015

Joe’s Thinking

June 29, 2015

Vice President Joe Biden has been “biding” his time, so to speak. He would dearly love to jump at the chance to run for President.  Sadly from Joe’s perspective, he looks to be odd man out. Hillary instead appears on course to become the first woman President and will follow the first African American President. Hmmm.

President Joe Biden would undoubtably be a “trip”. His habit of speaking folksy about whatever is on his mind both endears and irritates voters. Some of his utterances are down right politically incorrect while others seem insightful or genuinely sincere. A Biden candidacy, however, would be snatching defeat from the jaws of a November 2016 Democrat victory. The GOP should be jumping for joy over the prospects of Joe running.

The issue is not that Biden is a trivial candidate. Compared to the current and likely GOP field, Biden offers more experience and the added advantage of having been a heart beat away for the past 6 and 1/2 years. Biden is also politically astute and can sense the vulnerability of any GOP opponent. So why not Joe?

The most direct answer is there cannot be “co-Presidents” and this time Hillary will get the nomination. Having to duke it out in a primary with Biden will be a pretty ugly ordeal. Hillary would need to be at her best in a Democrat primary which included both she and Biden and would also need to keep the lookout for political rhetoric being lobbed at her from the GOP side. This could turn into a field day for the media and a nightmare for Hillary.

Both Hillary and Joe represent a generation in its last hurrah. It’s 2016 or goodnight. Only one of them can become President and at this point Hillary has the greater chance to beat the GOP.

For Biden, it must be demoralizing to know he could defeat Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders without breaking a sweat. But beating Hillary, if possible, would leave the party in shambles and probably mortally wounded for the 2016 Presidential election.

The wild card, of course, is health. Should either Biden or Clinton experience a health problem and put in question their fitness to serve 4 years, the door would open wide for the other. At this point, health seems not an issue but time could change this assessment.

It takes thick skin and enormous egos to run for President. Hillary and Biden have both. The question of the day is whether Joe Biden has the patience to wait and the good judgement to not challenge unless new information arises?

The Morning After

June 28, 2015

There has been a lot of celebrating these past couple of days. Everywhere one looks there are rainbow color decorations. The White House, so many celebrities FB pictures, and large groups of LBGT members all celebrating the Supreme Court 5-4 decision. While the hooting and hollering might go on for a few more days, what’s next is a fair question.

Marriage Equality has been a brilliant campaign waged by the “Human Rights Campaign” and now that the Supreme Court decision has opened up marriage and the accompanying rights and benefits to the gay community, the questions is where will HRC turn its attention?

Will they seek to advance immigration reform? Or, will they turn their attention to the many aspects of racial division? Or, would it be the general disgrace of poverty and how to end it?  The basic question is will HRC reach out to help those who have helped HRC?  Who knows?

Of course, HRC may announce that there still remains discrimination against the LBGT community and so there is still much work to be done. Hmmm. Does this sound like charities you have heard about which keep raising money long after their goals have been met? Hmmm.

It is too soon to expect an answer from HRC. For sure there will be challenges to the Supreme Court decision against which HRC is well positioned to mount a response. But looking down the road, does HRC see itself as a permanent entity perpetually guarding (or advancing) the rights of LGBT members?

I would hope the HRC top leadership possesses a vision where LGBT members think of themselves first as Americans and treat their sexual orientation as a natural gift (like being left handed). The vision would foresee no need to flaunt sexuality and no LGBT member would need to be defensive about it either.

Certainly one challenging goal the HRC might think about is to promote LGBT marriages which build better families and last as long or longer than heterosexual marriages. While it might be argued that multiple marriages, if consensual, makes no real difference, never the less “traditional marriage” is generally thought of as a long term, if not life time, arrangement.  Strong family units require more than just longevity.  Longevity and strength ought to be the goal.

What a better way to respond to Bible Thumpers who praised “traditional” marriage (they meant one man, one woman)?  LGBT marriages which lasts longer on average than heterosexual ones?  Hmmm, that seems like a peaceful “gotcha”.

Dignity, Hmmm

June 27, 2015

The Supreme Court announced yesterday a 5-4 decision allowing same sex marriages in all 50 States. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the decision was about “dignity”. Hmmm.

The Court’s hard core opposition, Allito, Thomas, and Scallia, joined by Chief Justice Roberts tried to hide their religiously grounded views by claiming that no where in the Constitution is their guidance on what constitutes marriage. Alliot wondered whether the Country had now entered a slippery slope where religious views would be exiled to the privacy of ones home. Hmmm (where else should they be?).

To the extent that marriage is never mentioned in the Constitution, the minority is correct that the Federal Government has no Constitutional right to define “marriage”. The Constitution does have a 14th Amendment, however, which provides due process and equal protection under the law to all citizens. Herein lies the clue of why the minority got it wrong.

In the past the Court has heard arguments that marriage between a black and a white were, based upon Biblical interpretations, improper and should be banned “if States so chose”. This supposed religious insight is also not mentioned in the Constitution but is inferred, according to supporters of these views, in the first Amendment’s “freedom of religion” words. These religious crusaders are sure the Constitution supports their scientifically unsupported views. In Loving v Virginia, the Court decided interracial marriage was Constitutional.

Religious groups, particular well organized ones, have traditionally used various techniques to assure followers that “god was on their side”. This reassurance made followers a little more committed (especially in donating money to the cause). And, throughout history, no better technique to bind a group together has been than define an enemy or groups who were “not like them”.

Race is the easiest because you can see it. Other religious groups sometimes are easy too especially if they chose dress that differentiates. But right in there has also be sexual orientation. “Those people are different”.

With the Supreme Court decision a large number of Conservative religious groups are openly worried. These groups have long held that they could deny employment or withhold services from certain groups their religion did not accept. They claimed this was a matter of conscience. Now they fear will be required to treat LGBTs as if they were “regular people”. These groups are speaking out that the 14th Amendment is now trumping the 1st. Hmmm.

Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion honed in on “dignity” as the theme. Dignity stemming from the Constitution’s preamble and flowing though to both partners and any children they might have. In essence, Kennedy’a argument was marriage “was the right thing to do”.

The Court’s decision may also become to be seen as the right balancing of the 1st and 14th amendments.

Secularists read the first Amendment literally. There should be no State religion and all religious traditions should be welcome… providing that none interfere with anyone else’s pursuit of happiness (under the law).

So, if any church wishes to bless the marriage of only heterosexual couples, then that is their right. The church is a private organization and it has the prerogative to establish its own rules… providing these rules do not prevent same sex couples from also getting married (someplace else) and enjoying the same State/Government provided legal benefits.

An Oklahoma religious university has spoken out quite elegantly about its fear of losing tax exemption because of its long standing policy of not employing gays. In a radio interview, the University President said they had nothing against gays but their policies had long denied employment. Now the University was worried it would be forced to close because it would not change.

This quandary raises further legal questions. Should this tax exempt University be required to admit and treat as equal members of the LGBT community despite past practices? Should this University be prevented from firing an employee if that employee chooses to take on a same sex partner?

Both of these questions would be easy to decide if the only issue was “dignity”. But they seem to fall in that gray area of religious expression that does not create great harm for those denied admission or employment. On the other hand, tell me again why they should receive an tax advantages?

The Supreme Court’s dignity argument is certain well based. Church-State matters will eventually lead Americans to realize that due process is not opposed to the first Amendment, rather it helps define the limits of irrational beliefs. Religious groups can certainly continue to believe what they want about LBGT members, and as private organizations can serve whomever they please. In the greater secular United States, however, the negative reach of certain religions and religious beliefs has limits.

It is a shame that Anthony Kennedy did not have this revelation during the Hobby Lobby deliberations.

Obama Wins Over ACA?

June 26, 2015

Today’s headlines tout the victory President Obama received when the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to strike cdown a challenge to the Affordable Care Act. Chief Justice John Roberts was singled out as guiding the conservative Court’s direction thereby aiding the President. Hmmm.

The Affordable Care Act is fast becoming an enormously misunderstood piece of legislation. ACA is not the best healthcare delivery system in the world.  Rather it is simply a fairer version of the US system.

The most generous praise that can be given is that ACA increased the number of Americans covered without completely altering the underlying healthcare delivery system.

This praise, however, must be measured by what Obamacare is not.  ACA does not insure all Americans. Just as disheartening, ACA costs far more than other world class healthcare systems, costing twice as much and delivering no better (and often inferior) health outcomes.

So has the GOP been right all along?

Nope.   ACA is none of the things the GOP has predicted or wined about since ACA became law. There have been no wholesale job losses (jobs killer?) due to ACA and employers still find it a plus to offer healthcare. And the annual increase in healthcare costs seems immune to whether healthcare is provided under ACA or any other plan. Hmmm.

The most recent attack on ACA is particularly shameful. Had the Supreme Court decided along the lines of Justices Thomas, Allito and Scalia thinking, the ACA would have lost as many as 8 million Americans who could not afford insurance without a subsidy.  the remaining ACA provisions would have most likely begun unraveling from the consequences of an insured pool without sufficient numbers of healthy people.

Why won’t opponents of ACA spend their time working how the US can adopt healthcare delivery like so many other countries?

Ironically, it may be the fear of ACA eventually evolving to a system like those found in Germany, France, or another two dozen countries that keeps Congress from really reforming healthcare.  It’s about money.  The medical community and its “fox-like friends” in the insurance business have a lot to lose were the US to move towards a European model.  And, you guessed it, if the US healthcare industry were to generate less profits, there would be less to pay lobbyists and in turn Congress members.

In a small way, one can truthfully say President Obama “won” with the Supreme Court decision. Six to eight million Americans, however, won too. It is only when one sees how big the glass of opportunity really is that one gets disillusioned about the nature of this win.

America can do better.

Stars And Bars, And Bobby Jindal

June 25, 2015

South Carolina has seen fit for many years to display the Confederate Flag either atop the State Capital Building or directly adjacent to it. The flag seemed to reflect a majority South Carolinian view regardless of what the rest of America might have thought. Honoring those who had fought for the South was considered an acceptable justification. Those opposed to the flag’s display cited slavery and the horrific impact upon African Americans as reason enough not to fly the Stars and Bars. The actions of Dylann Roof, however, have started South Carolina officials to rethink the flag’s use.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced his candidacy for the GOP Presidential nomination today. He becomes the 13th announced candidate and most likely not the last. As Governor of a “deep south” State, Jindal’s entry represents both the celebration of a journey (son of immigrants to Presidential candidate) and “scratch your head wondering”, why is he running?

Jindal is a Catholic born from parents who emigrated from India. I guess you would call him “Indian American”. Hmmm.

Jindal is also said to be a born again Catholic, very evangelical and extremely conservative in most ways. His record as Governor has been spotty and although he was hailed in 2008 as a future GOP heavy weight, Jindal has little to show from his years as Governor.

One of the reasons pundits are offering for South Carolina’s reconsideration of the Confederate Flag’s display has to do with the enormous demographic change underway. Automobile manufacturers have brought many new residents to South Carolina as has retirees from all over the country who find the climate in the Palmetto State so attractive. Suddenly the State which was the first to secede, is looking a lot more like the rest of America.

Bobby Jindal is in his own way a similar success story. Jindal has been accepted by Louisianians even though he is/was not one of the good old boys. One would think therefore that Jindal should also be ready for the national stage. Maybe but I wonder. With growing good jobs and convincing Americans that national security is in good hands as probably the two most important national issues, Jindal seems wanting in both departments.  Louisiana has huge budget deficits and a stagnating economy.

The final disposition of the Stars and Bars issue will probably follow what’s best for South Carolina’s economy, and most likely the flag will move to museums. Jindal’s campaign seems dead on arrival and many wonder why he would even waste time to announce.

Would Jindal be a better pick than say Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, George Pataki, or Lindsay Graham? Where would he stack up against Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, Carli Florina or Mike Huckabee? Even if one argues that Jindal is competitive with this mix, that is damning with faint praise.

I cannot image Jindal giving Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or Scott Walker any competition. So why is he entering?

Balancing a ticket is a very long short. Hmmm. If you think about it, the only ticket he might balance would be if were the VP for Hillary.

The Stars and Bars and Bobby Jindal are both things that have had their day and now need to move out of the public spot light. Jindal has been scoring less than 1% preference in national polls which puts him below the Stars and Bars.

But why should I question Jindal’s candidacy, Donald Trump is an even larger pretender. Good luck Bobby.

Longing For The Cold War Days

June 22, 2015

The Cold War was certainly high stakes times. With nukes pointed at each other, Russia and the West (read USA) were poised at any minute to destroy each other. Never the less, somehow the world survived.

For Americans the Soviet Union was the home of all bad guys while the white hats resided in the West. Capitalism was good, Communism was bad. Even though the stakes were high, it didn’t take geniuses to figure a foreign policy and get the Country’s support.  It was the best of times for politicians too, for in foreign affairs they could never be wrong.

The US like most Countries operate day to day upon the backs of its bureaucracies. The State Department, Defense, Treasury, Interior, and all the others are largely staffed by long term civil servants. The advantages are supposed to be political neutrality and long term competence. Things change, however.  The world today challenges our bureaucracies with multi-polar alliances and the fact that no one wears a totally white hat and even the bad guys don’t wear black hats all the time.

This nuanced reality will test the current Administration as well as those that follow. While recent history asked that the US lead and others follow, today’s economic as well as political realities do not present as easy a set of facts upon which the US can set a foreign policy.

One reason it is difficult for the US to assert a moral leadership is that our recent track record has not been lily white. And other Countries know that. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the death penalty, and drone collateral deaths all make others question American leadership.

An even more serious question is upon which national interests should American leadership be based. Should we be for championing free markets, Democracies, or human rights? Or, should we be more focused upon trade and especially for methods to boost exports and provide access to oil and rare earths? Or, are we comfortable enough in our own skin that we can retreat to isolationist thoughts and only worry about true threats to our American soil?

It is very difficult once one has been the leader to step back and play a secondary role. What CEOs or orchestra conductors do you know who stepped back from the number one position and then continued to work as a member of the supporting team?

So listen for our Presidential hopefuls to speak out on foreign and domestic policy and careful try to understand what they are proposing. Do they already have a set of national interests they will construct their policies to meet? The claims of regaining America’s leadership role is hooey. Leading in an outdated method against goals which are unrealistic is a prescription for getting lost.

Most likely no politician is going to say, “if elected I will perform a top to bottom review of the State Department and realign where necessary the current talent in order to better match up with the world’s realities”.  Government does not need to be cut, it needs to be rejuvenated.

Imagine telling other Countries to follow the US while the country’s education system is falling in world ranking, or when the US infrastructure is crumbling before our eyes, or into the reality that upward mobility is falling behind much of Europe. And,  strangely we do.

There are many ways the US can foster soft ideas we claim to hold dear.  The US can economically reinforce Counties which adopt progressive human rights agendas, or ones that open their electoral process to more democratic methods. Foreign policy needs a clear set of national priorities and interests we wish to protect.

Leadership as most Americans imagine, requires up to date thinking and much more “do as I do, not as I say” than we are used to seeing.

Let’s see what the 2016 hopefuls say.

Supreme Decisions?

June 21, 2015

June is almost over and the Supreme Court has yet to issue opinions on two significant decisions. It is difficult to believe that the Court has waited this long to render its opinions because it needed more time to decide. The Court may have a flair for dramatics but I suspect the summer recess may have something to do with the timing too.

The two cases are about same sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act. Both should be cut and dry but a close 5-4 vote is predicted in both. The only remaining question is which way the 5-4 will fall.  Will the Court affirm the right of same sex couples to get married in all 50 States and will the Court affirm the intent gleaned from reading the entire ACA over a narrow reading of 4 words?

Same sex marriage is clearly absent from any reference in the Constitution. For that matter, marriage itself is absent. The concept of civil unions, however, can be inferred and the 14th Amendment would seem to offer the same protection to same sex couples as with heterosexual couples. Allowing States to decide which couples can marry and what benefits each can receive seems inherently un-American in addition to being un-Constitutional.

The Affordable Care Act has become a highly politically charged piece of legislation even though only the shallowest arguments can be made to overturn the law. (To be sure, a European style single payer system would be far superior.  The argument to simply repeal ACA, however, reveals an uncaring and insensitive political ideology.)

The Supreme Court was very close in its original opinion supporting ACA.  What one might think as a straight forward affirmative decision is not such a sure bet. A negative Court decision would fly in the face of Congressional intent (at the time the law was passed) and would appear to indicate the Court does not believe 6 million people will be hurt by the loss of health coverage. Hmmm.

With the symbolism surrounding these two cases, it is not hard to understand why the Chief Justice would hold back the Court’s decision until the Court’s last day in session. Justice Roberts certainly knows that either way the decision goes, there will be lots of people questioning the Court’s mind.

I guess that’s why we call it the Supreme Court.