Archive for September 2015

What Should GOP Hopefuls Talk About Next?

September 28, 2015

With the GOP Presidential nomination marathon heading into October, still over a year away from the general election, the quandary of what candidates are to talk about is becoming evident. Donald Trump has gotten the pole position by slamming his opponents. Who could be next? Ben Carson has risen to number 2 by speaking sanely (until his remarks on a Muslim President). Sanity, however, seems it can only get one so far.   Carli Florina has jumped into the top group by saying the obvious about Trump.  More of that is old news.   And, Marco Rubio has kept his head above water by appealing to like minded voters with his fresh face and charm.  At some point, Rubio needs to appeal to a broader group.

Jeb Bush appears a bit like a “birthday balloon” slowly loosing its air. He seems to lack spirit (energy) and totally has not found any reason to put forward why he should be nominated. Huckabee is purely an opportunist and after his Kim Davis gambit, he is eyeing a block of Southern States which would make him a contender at the convention. The rest of the crowd at this point are going nowhere even though John Kasick continues to speak like a real Presidential candidate.

So what’s next for these candidates?

Over the weekend, the contenders weighed in on Syria and the recent Russian activity. Each of their speeches took a similar form. “President Obama failed to do this or that, and what he tried to do failed”. As political speech, why not?

John Boehner has the answer. Boehner was speaking about the GOP Tea Party-ers who thwarted almost everything Boehner tried to get done, said “beware of false prophets, they promise more than they can deliver”.

President Obama’s Syrian policies have been handicapped by a nation tired of war and a Congress unwilling to increase tax to pay for a war. The President’s Middle East strategies have been prescient in view of the changing global political realities but ran will into the demagoguery over Isreal. Committing military resources to the Middle East will do nothing to deal with China, Russia, or rogues like North Korea.

The prospects of arming “good” Syrian insurgents and guiding them to eliminate ISIS and ultimate overthrow Basher al Assad is simply delusional and mostly a fools errand. But it does make good political talk.

The country as a whole needs a reminder about false prophets more than once. Some people actual believe that Social Security and Medicare will be changed with a GOP President or accept lock, line, and sinker that Obamacare will be repealed (and replaced). False prophets will promise these actions but will never be able to deliver.

On the other hand, there is a need for a Middle East policy which combats ISIS (or whatever group comes after it). There is a need for ensuring Social Security becomes financially secure. And healthcare (Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare) are woefully deficient compared to other global healthcare models.

In other words there is plenty of room to propose specific measures on the Middle East, entitlements, and healthcare but these policies must be set within a greater context of Domestic and Foreign affairs and most importantly, how the country will fund them.

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John Boehner’s “Courageous” Decision?

September 26, 2015

Speaker of the House, John Boehner, announced his resignation as Speaker and also from the House effective the end of October. The announcement surprised Washington and confused the world outside the Beltway. Why did he resign when the fight was still in progress?

Several reasons have already been given and almost certainly more theories will be put forth. From many of the new Tea Party members, the words are “good riddance”. Others say no compromise within the GOP is possible, so a new leader is ok. Still others lament the loss of a realist. But why did he resign?

Opponents had vowed to unseat him as Speaker and after a distinguished career this would have been a sad way to end ones time in office. Others were sure Boehner could survive any challenge and this is what Boehner himself professed. So why did he resign?

In Belgium, whenever the Parliament approves a spending project for the Flemish speaking region (the northern part), there is a equal appropriation which calls for spending in the south (the French part). In many regards this is what Federal Governments are about. How to distribute general taxes (or debt obligations) in a manner which keeps the peace. Most of Boehner’s opponents are fundamentally against government spending and so an incentive of money to their district has much less attraction.

Someday on “60 Minutes” John Boehner may say why he resigned. He may say he was sick and tired dealing with a faction within his own party which preferred legislative action hurtful to the GOP and to the Country (despite their protestations to the opposite). Most likely Boehner resigned in frustration. Everything he had learned about Government did not hold with this crop of Representatives. Boehner simply could not get anything accomplished which he could support. At some point he said I am not waiting until these Tea Party Representatives grow up.

Boehner’s future is nothing we should worry about. If he chooses to work, he can make a fortune as a lobbyist. He could just as easily earn an handsome income as a University President or a senior officer of a Financial institution. With Boehner’s connections and experience, he will not starve.

The question of whether Boehner’s resignation signals a courageous decision is quite another matter. While the GOP, as a whole, has stood for privilege and not the common person for many years, our system requires two healthy and constructive parties. One party’s policies should stand ready to offset the poor consequences of the other. Once in power, however, a party should be allowed to implement its policies and after a period of time, voters should decide to continue or switch to the opposition. This no longer happens in Washington.

Lack of action might seem acceptable except that essential services are being treated the same as controversial ones like abortion. If Boehner resigned because he could not figure out how to bring the House back into responsible functioning, I would say this was a great act of courage. If Boehner just found a way to satisfy his frustration (and maybe disgust), then regardless of how understandable, resignation is not very courageous.

Pope’s Congressional Speech

September 25, 2015

Pope Francis gave a wonderfully crafted speech to assembled Congressional members and guests yesterday. The Pope spoke broadly yet delivered targeted messages on individual freedoms and collective responsibility, especially those towards leaving the next generation with a livable planet.

Speaking passionately about the dignity of all men and the importance of family (clearly including women), the Pope was silent on the GLBT community. For sure, his measure of human respect seemed applicable  to all including GLBT.  He just didn’t call them by name. What was missing was recognition that GLBT humans were fully worthy of an unencumbered and respectful place within the Catholic Church. In other words, the Pope neither stated openly nor inferred any change in Catholic dogma which considers the GLBT community as engaging in aberrant behavior.

The Pope also spoke to the sanctity of life. He made a passionate reference urging Congress to those seeking a new home (immigrants) and called for law makers to respect life at all stages of development.

Pro-lifers cheered interpreting the Pope’s comments as an anti-abortion position. The Pope most likely did mean this but also said all countries should end the death penalty which most hard right legislators do not accept.

At the most optimistic perspective, the Pope’s speech was a signal that church dogma would relook at the extremes of “respecting all humans” and the “sanctity of life”.

Homosexuality has been long a taboo within the Catholic Church dogma. “Unnatural” is often used to describe homosexuality and “traditional” family is the code for man-woman family units. With scientific studies showing homosexuality as well as gender assignments being matters of nature and not the result of nurture, it becomes more difficult every day for Catholics to accept Church teaching on homosexuality and for clergy to maintain intellectual honesty claiming something which is quite normal to not be. How can the church preach the need for mankind to respect each other (and not make war or abandon the poor) while at the same time singling out that some are different that the rest?

The Pope also has his work cut out to examine the extremes of “sanctity of life”. At the older end of life, “death with dignity” is a growing preference for many. Church teachings absolutely ban such actions in which someone voluntarily ends ones life.

Someone choosing suicide at age 25 simply because they were despondent seems unwarranted and should not be accepted by society. But what about someone who has lived a full life and is suffering from some terminal disease? Is keeping someone alive when they are heavily medicated and incapable of making any life decisions humane?

The Pope singled out the “death penalty” as a practice society should end. This seems a reasonable wish since the death penalty has never been shown to be a deterrent to crime. But let’s not stop there.  What about war? What about the protection of the civilian, noncombatant population?

The opposite extreme of life is pregnancy, birth, and early life. The church has made clear its positions that sexual intercourse has purpose only in creating life. Accordingly, sex for the pleasure of sex is not recognized by the Church. And should an unwanted pregnancy occur, this pregnancy must be seen through to birth no matter what. Hmmm.

The modern church regrettably has knowledge of contraception and how it can be successfully used in family planning. In the case of an unwanted pregnancy, there also exists safe methods to end the pregnancy and still hold open the option for children later in life.

The “pro-choice” and “pro-life” groups differ mostly around when life begins. Pro-choice advocates emphasize “viability”, that is the fetus can survive if taken from the womb. Pro-life advocates cite “conception” as the beginning of life regardless that there are estimates that more than half of all conceptions are naturally aborted.  This is when an abortion is not an abortion.

More troubling abortions occur when fetuses are genetically damaged or physically deformed. Is it ethical or morally correct to abort these fetuses. The Catholic Church is clear, no way, no how. Hmmm.  Who should care for these poor souls, if they survive birth and the mother is unable?

So the Pope’s homework with respect to sanctity of life and dignity of man demands a relook at contraception and homosexuality. Contraception brings the means of preventing unwanted pregnancies. Homosexuality and gender identity appear now to be based upon nature and no acquired preference. With the modern world more aware of what’s going on around them, these church dogmas which diverts markedly from reality (take what they say on faith), may lead the masses to not hear the Pope’s other important messages.

Pope Francis’s Congressional speech was a message Congress badly needed to hear. While the speech may have fallen upon deaf ears, the message was also appropriate for his clergy and the population at large.

The speech will live on as a great speech should the Pope find a way to address the gapping gaps in logic surrounding contraception and homosexuality.

Unforced Errors

September 22, 2015

This morning, following a weekend of political gaffs by several GOP hopefuls, Republican pundits and apologist are lamenting the withdrawal of Governor Scott Walker. Walker withdrew after his poll numbers dropped below 1% reaching almost the same level as his funding accounts. Walker had been conducting a national campaign while he frittered away a substantial Iowa lead. There in lies an important message for other candidates. If your campaign is suppose to go through Iowa, make sure it does a respectable job even if you are not destine to win.

Instead Walker focused on building a national staff and breezed around acting as if he was above the fray of every day retail politics. He also built his campaign around the narrow plank of Union busting as opposed to something positive. Frankly the world has not lost much in his campaign suspension. Remember Scott Walker would not confirm that the thought the earth was more than 5,000 years old.

Ben Carson broke into jail on Meet The Press. He volunteered that he could not recommend a Muslim to be President but depending upon the individual Muslim, he might vote for that person for a lesser job, like for Congress. On one hand this speaks to Carson’s sincerity and on the other his naivety. The only acceptable answer is religion does not count as long as the candidate is qualified and their policies are acceptable. Religion, or the lack of any religion is expressly prohibited as a test for public office in the Constitution.

Donald Trump lost an opportunity earn a “statesmanship” badge when a questioner claimed President Obama was a muslim. Instead Trump ignored these allegations and later said it was not his job to defend the President. Hmmm. If you are a Democrat, you can’t hide your glee that Trump is still leading the GOP pack.

Carli Fiorina made a dramatic pronouncement on Planned Parenthood during the debate and got her facts all wrong. For the pro-life choir, it made no difference. She was speaking to them.

The lesser names, like Huckabee, Santorum, and Bush each picked contradictory targets. Huckabee jumped on the Kim Davis bandwagon and hitched his “religious freedom” kite to it. Religious freedom is a nebulous right that if one claims their religious view prevents them from adhering to some law, it’s ok. I wonder whether a Muslim’s beliefs count too? And this guy wants to be President?

Rick Santorum and Jeb Bush want to go a le carte with Pope. Since the Pope’s views on global warming don’t fit the GOP take on this subject, the Pope’s still a great person but they don’t listen to him on climate or monetary matters. Hmmm.

Oh, and Ted Cruz is still full speed ahead for a government shutdown.

The immensity of the hole the GOP is digging one candidate at a time is impressive. GOP leaning pundits are now waking up to their plait. There are few candidates in the current field who have currency to turn this around. Marco Rubio has been far more careful with his public statements. John Kasick is clearly the most experience executive with conservative credentials. And the seven dwarfs (Graham, Pataki, Gilmore, Paul, Christie, and Jindal, ok just six) can’t mount a credible campaign separately or together.

Following the 2016 elections GOP bigwigs gathered and concluded they needed to modulate their rhetoric so as to not alienate so many voters. No one proposed they reexamine their policies and confirm their policies were right for the times. The problem with the current GOP field is not their answers to specific questions, it is their fundamental policies on subjects like women’s rights, sexual orientation, taxation and economic wealth distribution, foreign policy, and healthcare for beginners.

The GOP seems more in love with the idea of being President than what policies are appropriate for the country as a whole.

Is Joe Ready?

September 19, 2015

Carefully placed news leaks reported that Vice President Joe Biden is about ready to announce a run for the 2016 Democrat  Presidential nomination. Timing was somewhat vague but the middle to end of October were cited. With this move, at this time, the Democrats are handing the GOP a reprieve from the side show Republicans are offering as a process to pick their standard bearer.

So far the GOP has combined un-presidential name calling and general election un-winnable policies for a sure 2016 loss with any of the current candidates. Joe’s potential move could do something similar for the Democrats.

I would imagine from Biden’s perspective it is now or never. Also it is not unreasonable for Biden to think that Hillary Clinton is damaged from the email controversy and may be beatable by someone more “genuine”. And lastly, Biden may think the Democrat deep pocket donors will switch their allegiance to him. So what’s wrong with this analysis?

First, we have to remember this is Joe Biden. He has a long record of speaking first and thinking later. Just like the problem with selecting the GOP standard bearer, Biden will be fighting for media recognition. The incentive to say memorable things could easily push Joe’s rhetoric over the line.

Second, the main Democrat field consist of Bernie Sanders (left leaning), Hillary Clinton (center sitting), and if Biden runs, someone who might fit in between the two. This will make it difficult to differentiate the candidates based upon policy without disowning the policies of the other candidates. So, what basis would Biden offer for Democrats to choose him?

Third, the Democrat with the best chance of winning the Presidential election will depend upon who the GOP nominates and what form the GOP platform takes. Sporting policies which intrude upon women’s rights, antagonize Hispanics, ignore the growing inequality of wealth, and marginalize the LBGT community, a plain vanilla Democrat should be able to win. If Biden decides he needs to trash Hillary or try to “out-Sanders” Bernie Sanders, he could easily shatter the Democrat vote and end up losing a perfectly winnable election.

If one could use sports analogies, Joe Biden is a dependable relief pitcher or backup quarterback. While it might be possible for Bernie Sanders to get the nomination, he would have no chance in a general election. His views are too left of center. Biden, on the other hand, could campaign close enough to the center to make a serious challenge to any GOP candidate. Were there to be additional and more serious revelations about Hillary, backup Biden could save the day for Democrats.

The question of the day is should Biden wait to be called, enter the race but just register present, or should Biden make an all out run and let the chips fall where they might?

GOP Debate – 1 Out Of 7?

September 18, 2015

The second GOP Presidential nomination debate was a huge hit with Americans. An estimated 1 out of 7 households were tuned to CNN. There must have been some important information covered that evening for so many Americans to tune in. The press has had a field day picking the various candidates who “won” the debate. Hmmm.

If you watched the three hours or if you have seen on any number of talk shows’ clips of what the candidates said, you know one thing – last night was not a debate and offered little or no insight into each candidate’s perspective on domestic or foreign issues. The debate was entertainment.

Imagine, Jeb Bush said that brother George kept America calm following 9/11 and helped the nation heal. Brother George looked petrified on 9/11 if you recall and when he spoke to firefighters with a bull horn, he told them America would find the perpetrators and bring them to justice without apparently knowing that Dick Cheney and friends were already planning their Iraq takeover.

America did identify Osama ben Laden and al Qaeda, tracked them to Afghanistan, and neutralized their operations (and their Taliban hosts) in a relatively short time. Jeb did not add that 12 year later the US is still mired in Afghanistan.

The debate message (later emphasized by Jeb Bush people) was that Jeb showed emotion and flashed a more dynamic style. The content of Jeb’s remarks were a side issue to them.  Hmmm.

The second debate had already been billed as a “get Trump” night. Each of the other candidates had prepared lines aimed at dirtying Trump. Many of their attempts were successful and at evening’s end, Trump had taken a lot of incoming. The country was not any wiser about what the great problems the next President would face nor even a hint on how these problems would be addressed.

Scott Walker’s enemy number 1 were the unions. A wide number of candidates felt defunding Planned Parenthood, even at the expense of a government shutdown, was a worthy, if not necessary step. Immigration was mainly about how high the wall should be. And anything involving foreign policy was the result of President Obama’s “failed policies”.

The TV viewership was never the less impressive.  I wonder whether the real take away is that a “reality show” look alike just might be the best game in town?

When One Cannot Preach To Others

September 17, 2015

The horrific immigrant mess that is unfolding currently in Europe seems to defy explanation and resolution. Boat loads of desperate people are trying in anyway possible to gain entry to any European country. North Africa is only about 100 miles from location in Italy and Syrian refugees can be as little as 10 miles from Greece when they reach the Turkish west coast. With a boat and strong will, Europe is just a short distance away from the destitution they are leaving behind.

Economic migrants have always been a touchy problem with which to deal. How can wealthy countries turn away fellow human beings who have little more than the clothes on their backs? But in general, economic migration does meet fairly strict limits, if only to persuade millions of others not to attempt entry and to cash in on generous social services. Destination countries almost always have generous welfare programs which the immigrants seek. The current flood of refuges is difficult to categorize because so many, while traveling with limited or no funding, are also fleeing war zones and/or political oppression.

In war times, “displaced persons” are not unusual. Neighboring countries often set up camps where these displaced persons wait out the war and quickly return to their original homes as soon as hostilities cease. (Palestinian refugees are one exception and many still live in squalid camps in Lebanon.)

Europe is the preferred destination for the current crop of Syrian refugees. There simply are too many for the limited camps in Turkey and Lebanon. Traveling south through Syria to the Jordanian border is too dangerous and east to Iraq is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. So, the Syrian people who have given up on any reasonable government (Assad or any of the rebels) have decided in mass to flee. Hmmm.

Europe is not one country, however. Italians speak their own language and value customs, food, and everyday way of life that has been handed down for centuries. In their own way, the same can be said for Spain, France, Germany, the UK, and all the other countries that make up Europe. Immigrants from Africa don’t look the same as most Europeans and those from Syria don’t have the same religions (and often food preferences). In essence, these immigrants are not the same as Europeans, separately or collectively.  But given this tough choice, Europeans seems to favor hard working Syrians.

Consequently, as each European country deals with Syrian refugees who land on their doorstep, the reception these refugees receive varies based upon the wealth of the country. Overall, however, it seems Europe would prefer there were not so many immigrants. Europe, however, appears paralyzed and unable to act except as individual countries.

We are now learning from the GOP Presidential hopefuls that the entire Syrian refugee mess is attributable to President Obama, and dare I say, “his failed policies”. How these candidates can muster the audacity to say such things is amazing. If they would say such things now, just imagine what they might say if elected? (How about Iraq has WMD and we must remove them?)

Following these candidates logic, I assume they would have preferred the US to either (1) invaded Syria with US troops and toppled the Assad regime, or (2) heavily armed and financially supported rebel forces (loyal to the west) against Syrian government troops. Hmmm.

The first case involving US intervention would have created its own set of refugees and almost certainly would have generated new opposition groups even if the US were successful in over throwing Assad. Another Vietnam? How about another Iraq?

The second case of using a surrogate presumes the US had the ability to pick correctly the least evil or least corrupt insurgent group. Hmmm. In addition, the second case would lead to a protracted civil war where the flow of refugees would rival what we are seeing now.

Hmmm. What are these candidates smoking?

The US is no position to advise Europe on how to deal with large scale immigration given its handling of Mexican undocumented residents. The GOP is in an even worse position to advise upon what should have been done in Syria’s Arab Spring, especially given the Iraq invasion and occupation debacle.

Maybe the candidates are too busy talking and have too little time to think about what they are saying.