Archive for October 2015

Speaker Paul Ryan

October 31, 2015

Change always offers an opportunity for selecting a different path. Sometimes that path involves different goals or sometimes it is just a different approach to reaching the same goals. The election of Representative Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House begs the questions, which option will mark his time as Speaker?

Wouldn’t any meaningful reform of the tax code entail either raising taxes (a Republican no-no) or beg reducing government spending (read cutting entitlements) if marginal rates were lowered? An elimination of exemptions, deductions, and loop holes, without lowering tax rates, would necessarily increase tax revenues. Any revenue neutral tax code reform would, in addition to favoring some groups, still come with a deficit and in a spirit of change, would put pressure on Congress to lower spending, hence a reduction in entitlements.

If this were to play out under Speaker Ryan’s watch, it would represent the same goals (help the wealthy and decrease efforts on poverty or the needy). The Republican rhetoric, however, will sound nothing like that. This approach will be hailed as an attempt to eliminate tax code favoritism and improve the campaign over poverty reduction.

The GOP claim that current Government regulations undercut individuals’ efforts to climb out of poverty. According to conservatives, Government rules makes it too easy for an individual to accept government money and not join the work force. Hmmm.

As the GOP see it, Government subsidies and direct payments should instead flow to State Governments who are much closer to the situations in their States. The Federal Government should, Republicans say, provide “block grants” to States replacing direct payments to individuals. States could then decide eligibility rules “appropriate” for their specific situation (and could use any excess portion of the block grant as the State saw fit. Hmmm.

Republicans make no mention that this could have significant unintended consequences if their assumption “that people are just lazy and do not look for work if there is a government handout available”. For instance, why won’t these “lazy people” just migrate from State to State in search of more generous benefits? Why wouldn’t some States preferentially make it more difficult for groups or classes of residents thereby encouraging them to “self-migrate” to another State. And what would all the States do when the economy enters a recession or near depression?

To the GOP’s credit, this could be a plan.   There are no Democrat plans other than to spend more. The historic track record of spending more is not brilliant. Unemployment, single parent families continue to rise, and the US workforce seems to be becoming less able to take on higher tech, better paying jobs.

What a mess. America has Scrooge on one side and a foolish (good hearted) spender on the other. Hmmm.

There must be a middle ground. During Bill Clinton’s time, he supported an entitlement reform aimed at harnessing the “welfare queens”. Cutting back did increase the effort of many to find employment. Would it work again?

Maybe but maybe not.

Like so many social problems, the causes are complicated and demand more complex solutions. America’s unemployed include the unlucky (laid off for example), street people, mentally challenged, single family moms (who can’t afford child care), physically disabled, unskilled, along with those who just are lazy and willing to accept less in life. Globalization has outsourced a lot of low skill jobs and low entry wages make little incentive for many to join the work force. Hmmm.

The success of Paul Ryan will be tied to whether he really tries for change and if he connects these goals to comprehensive plans with step by step results testing. For example, select four States and test the approach. Does it work? Than if so, expand.
Hmmm.

Should I hold my breath.

ISIS and World War II

October 27, 2015

News reports today said President Obama would soon announce his approval of a military plan to move US military assets closer to the front lines in Syria and Iraq. What does that really mean?

On one level moving troops who are already there and not changing their mission seems like “no news news”. This announcement, however, could mean much more. And much more is probably not wise.

As World War II drew to a close, Allied Forces raced towards Berlin intent on getting there before Soviet troops. The race was all about territory and seizing most of Germany and its capital thereby keeping the Soviet Union contained in Eastern Europe. The Soviets had the opposite goal and wish to extend its influence as far as it could.

One possibility for the US Syrian repositioning might be similar to WWII. If one believes Assad is about to fall, then the US might want to have a presence in Syria.  Subsequently, a partitioned Syria might geographically provide the West with territorial advantages helpful in concluding a larger peace plan. In return for Russian withdrawal, the US could agree (without losing face) to withdraw too.

The US Iraq repositioning could follow similar logic but this time towards Iran. Iran will have continuing interests with Iraq and will want a route to resupply its client, Hezbollah, in southern Syria.

There is, unfortunately, another explanation.

“Head to tail” thinking (the opposite of comprehensive) has marked US Middle East involvement since George W Bush’s ill-fated Iraq invasion and occupation.   US military may be just saying they need their special operations personnel closer to the front than where they are currently placed without necessarily thinking about unintended consequences. Just a military tactical adjustment. Hmmm.

Until last week, it had been over two years since a US military member was killed in Iraq. With the death of a special ops master sergeant, the US may be stepping again onto a slippery slope.

The level and quality of Congressional “war talk” is extremely worrisome. There is no shortage of politicians willing to criticize President Obama, calling him weak and lacking any type of Middle East plan. If you listen, however, not a one of these chicken hawks has a comprehensive Middle East plan. The politicians are acutely aware that there is no stomach in the voting American public for another ground war in the Middle East but with elections ahead, these politicians want swagger points.

President Obama needs to demand comprehensive plans from the military which entail only the amount of troops currently there. The illusion that if ISIS were suddenly eliminated there would sunshine and peace in the Middle East must not take root in military or political thinking. ISIS is just the current group of thugs.

The Middle East is fundamentally a mess and will remain so until radical Islam is rejected and a real move to modernity is made. This is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

One of the great foreign affairs successes of the Cold War went by the name “containment”. US policy was aimed at containing, not eliminating the spread of Soviet Union influence. The US Middle East enemy is not Russia, it is rather the failed States/lawless radical Muslim extremist groups who are set on making a better life for themselves without adopting modernity.

Containment could be the answer once again.

What Should Jeb Do?

October 25, 2015

If there have been any questions about Jeb Bush’s view of his right to become President, these doubts should be vanishing. Bush entered the race as the presumptive nominee, someone who just had to act Presidential, raise a lot of money, and wait until crowned at the convention. At the time this did not seem that unusual given the declared and rumored potential candidates. Oh, how differently it has turned out.

Bush like Scott Walker hired expensive staffs and set up elaborate fund raising apparatus (which also cost a lot of money) and went to work creating policy positions. Bush chose to distinguish himself by telling anyone who would listen, “I’m the only true conservative in the field”. Hmmm, what does that mean?

The “most conservative label” appeals only to a precious few and has a lasting value of just the Republican primary. In the general election, it is more about specific policies on specific issues. A “real conservative” position on women’s rights, gay issues, immigration reform, taxes, healthcare, Social Security, and the wide list of entitlements will drive the election outcome.

As Bush has rolled out his policy positions, it should be clear that Jeb has set up a losing hand.

Beyond the policy substance, Jeb has been confounded by the apparent appeal of Donald Trump and Ben Carson, both of whom have not bothered to speak definitively about policy. Both candidates have caught the eye of early GOP voters and have left Jeb in their dust. Bush seems genuinely disgusted with the popular response and acts as if he thinks the electorate is too dumb to recognize that he is the better candidate (if not the only legitimate one).

So what should Jeb do now that he is running out of money and must reduce his staff?

Of all the “missing the moment” things Jeb could do, he has picked probably the most tone deaf one, he is meeting this weekend with his Mom and Dad and brother George W to discuss next moves. Would Donald Trump do that? Would Ben Carson do that? What would a President Jeb Bush do in a national crisis? Hmmm.

The most cost efficient step would be for Jeb to abandon his run and give back any residual funds to his supporters. Jeb Bush has a losing policy platform and a persona completely out of line with the electorate. Why waste time and money?

If Mom and Dad, and “W” were to provide advice, other than retiring, it might be to keep his head down and his mouth shut. Trump and Carson have no credentials to become President and sooner or later will be shown to be paper thin on policies. That’s 50% of the vote. As these candidates fade, others will rise. The only long shot position for Jeb is to appear, among the others, the best option in a wounded field.

This means Jeb needs to dial back his “I know it all” policy making positions and if cornered, boast about his experience (Governor), his maturity (his age), and stability (family centered values). And then Jeb should cross his fingers and hope that Carly Fiorina fades faster, that Marco Rubio stumbles under the pressure of almost winning, and John Kasich just doesn’t connect.

In my opinion, Marco Rubio and John Kasich are the two most likely nominees. Rubio will sell his energy and relative younger age while Kasich will lean on his wider experience than Bush and his much more forceful presence.

This weekend, Jeb will probably mumble, “you were right Mom, I shouldn’t have run.”

Growing States, Shrinking the Federal Government

October 23, 2015

A repetitious GOP theme lands someplace around the words, “the Federal Government is too large”, and that theme is often mixed in with the amorphous phrase, “it’s time to bring Government back to the people”. The subject might be taxes or entitlements or economic growth. The consistent GOP conclusion is that a smaller Federal Government translates directly into a more dynamic, growing country. Hmmm.

Regrettably most of these pronouncements are linked to clear GOP goals of reducing entitlements, altering the tax code to favor the wealthy, and allowing various States to pursue policies at State level which discriminate on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation. These pronouncements are usually so shallow that rich debate never takes place.

Now, one GOP Presidential hopeful, John Kasich, has proposed a variation of that theme which might stimulate serious discussion.

Kasich has proposed that more authority for current Federal government programs be transferred back to States. He points out that he as Ohio Governor could (would) do a far better job compared to Washington in designing and operating a jobs training program. He points out that he (the State of Ohio) must know more about their unemployed than faceless bureaucrats in DC.

Oh, yes, and Kasich feels that it would be less expensive to farm out the work to States. Hmmm.

I think there is a lot to think about in Katich’s statement. A program designed nationally would almost certainly be either too general or too specific when applied at State level. So should voters jump on this proposal?

Maybe… if… The “if” is that who does the work is less important that “what” work is done and “who” qualities to receive the work.

Remember, all Americans are free to move from State to State whenever they please. Many Americans live in one State but work in another.  All Americans are free to travel across the entire country and visit each State as often as they wish. Federal income taxes are collected from everyone and subsequently distributed across all 50 States without concern for which citizens had paid what.

Hmmm. Sounds like the country is relatively borderless.

Kasich’s proposal speaks to efficiency.  To be a fair proposal too, delegated programs should treat every American similarly regardless in which State they reside. For example, Federal funding returned to States in Medicaid, Education, or Training should treat all “like” people in a manner that produces the similar outcomes among all States. Block grant proposals today are thinly veiled proposals to deny coverage to some and lower the overall expense.  Hmmm.

The Federal Government’s task would be to set national standards and collect enough money to fund resulting programs. States would then be tasked to design and run programs to implement. Lastly, the Federal Government would audit State run programs to ensure they (1) met goals, and (2) included a similar cohort as other States and as the Federal Government intended.

Although Kasich did not speak to this, I would assume States could top up Federal grants but could not spend less unless the national goals were achieved.

This is an important concept with the current popularity of “State’s Rights” and “block grants”. Both of these concepts must be prevented from creating conditions where some Americans get help and others do not.

Friends Who Are Not Friends

October 21, 2015

Recently the New York Times reported that the news media were disappointed and losing interest in Vice President Joe Biden over his apparent inability to make a decision to enter the Democrat primary. Now once again the press is on edge, “will Joe run?”

News Media interest is transparently self serving. Most recognize that Bernie Sanders cannot defeat Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Democrat field is even less threatening. With Biden, the media can look forward to animated debates and plenty of printable sound bites. With Joe in, TV time and newspaper sales go up.

And Biden’s entry could not come at a better time, the media thinks. Clinton has begun to open up her lead and has almost regained her insurmountable lead she had several months ago. For Democrats (without Biden), it’s game over, Hillary wins.

Unfortunately for Biden, the nomination will still go to Hillary should he enter the race. (His “friends” unfortunately will not tell Joe that.) With his entry, however, Biden runs the risk of ending his long political career as a “loser”, someone who ran a unnecessary race and lost. If there is any difference between a Clinton or Biden Presidency, it is tissue paper thick. Hillary and Bernie Sanders present more of a choice than a Biden-Clinton match.

So why not Joe?

The agonizing aspect for Joe Biden is he most likely believes he could beat a Donald Trump or any GOP candidate. The current cast of Republican primary candidates, save one, will speak for party positions which demographically cannot win. Donald Trump is the one candidate who can side step (look at the camera and say something else) the suicidal GOP positions on immigration, healthcare, women’s rights, and taxes.

In a Trump head to head with “just being Joe” Biden, Trump just might win, whereas against Hillary, the professional politician combined with the “first woman” label, Hillary ought to win in a walk.

Real friends should be counseling Biden that his path to the Presidency lies only against a damaged Clinton (like with an FBI indictment) or a wounded Clinton (like with a medical illness). Democrats would rush to Joe Biden.

Where are those friends?

Getting Down To Business

October 20, 2015

The role of Congress is to govern legislatively.  The role of the majority Congressional party is to lead this process, or at least give it an all out try when an opposition party is set to block all reasonable paths forward. The 247 Republicans who make up the majority in Congress seem to have other ideas, or possibly are just plain incapable of leading. Republicans seem set on reversing existing laws, conducting foreign relations, or investigating issues for political purposes instead of doing the unique tasks that only they can do. What unique work?  How about developing a Federal budget, ensuring there is adequate funding to ensure government operation, and under no circumstances, creating conditions where the US might default on its debt.

Hmmm.

For sure Congress can (and some may say should) put forth new laws or consider repeal of existing ones. Commonsense, however, mandates the unique roles of Congress must come first.

Presidential hopefuls act as if they are not part of the essential “roles of government”.  Candidates seem more at home stretching outer limits of “hyperbole”. Candidates seem at ease stretching the truth and in many cases just making up statements they pass off as truth. This is a disease of politicians be they Republican or Democrat. Never the less, there are important clues illuminating how interested a Presidential candidate might be about assisting in performing the critical roles of government by sifting through the piles of rhetoric.

The question which Americans ought to be asking is “which candidate is fit to lead the country and will that candidate lead the executive branch so that the unique and essential roles of government are performed?”

Republicans are set on taking over the White House. Nothing new with that statement. One must, however, wonder whether the GOP candidates are cognizant of how their primary rhetoric translate into voter disbelief over their fitness to govern?

Over the weekend, a number of GOP hopefuls (Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee) gathered at Prestonwood Baptist Church near Dallas, Texas.  The evangelical audience wanted the candidates to discuss their religious views in the context of running for President. The candidates who wanted the attendees vote seemed comfortable applying their “love of god and the Bible” to anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and anti-women’s rights issues.

Ben Carson claimed it was time to “bring god back to our country”. (I wonder what he means by that? I am pretty sure the god he is talking about is not the Jewish god or the Muslim god.   The audience seemed to know in any case and welcomed his words.)

Apparently the candidates did not feel a need to discuss taxes, entitlements, or fixing the infrastructure. And no candidate seemed concerned about the government shutting down or the country defaulting on its debt.  I am guessing that these issues are not priority items on the faith based agenda. Foreign affairs did not make the cut either, probably because Carson’s goal of bringing god back to our country did not need the messiness of foreign affairs. Hmmm.

The Senate will attempt today to vote, not on a spending authorization or increasing the debt level, but on eliminating Federal funds from any “sanctuary city”. The country is only a few weeks away from a government shut down and the Republican lead Senate wants to vote on a measure which will never become law, and in the greater picture of immigration reform and inclusiveness, should never be a political issue.

It would seem open and shut that the current crop of GOP legislators and Presidential candidates are not fit for prime time. They are not fit to lead. Correction, they might be fit to lead strongly held minority views but certainly this avocation disqualifies them from leading a pluralistic, free and open America.

If this “pray-in” qualifies as getting down to business, these six GOP candidates do not know what the unique and essential roles of government are.

Playing With Dynamite – The Religious Exemption

October 17, 2015

The Sisters of the Poor and number of public servants like Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis claim their religious beliefs are protected by the Constitution and consequently they should be able to ignore any laws they feel violate their religious beliefs.  Hmmm.

The “good” Sisters don’t want to provide birth control measures, as required by the Affordable Care Act, to employees regardless of the employees’ religious affiliation or desires. Kim Davis refuses to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples despite knowing when she ran for office that it would be her duty to do so if elected.

The Sisters and Davis feel their strongly held religious beliefs trump a secular government’s laws. Hmmm.

The death of a young man in New Hartford, New York again brings this claim forward. A deeply religious family took part in an “intervention” at their local church. The intervention’s object were two sons of a church member and physical action seemed necessary. Unfortunately, things went terribly wrong.

Church members pummeled both boys and one suffered fatal injuries. The “spiritual counseling” apparently had gone wrong.

No one can question that these were highly religious people but should there be any question that religious beliefs allow beatings at all and certainly not those which result in death.

You would think it should be clear that religious freedom means one is free to hold a set of beliefs, but the beliefs are clearly limited to each individual and do not apply to others. If ones beliefs do not include birth control practices, then these believers do not need to use birth control, nor similarly should they be forced to marry others of the same sex if that is their belief.

And for sure in the age of modernity, a person’s love of their god and her perceived commandments, should not feel authorized to take another’s life in the name of these beliefs.