Archive for February 2016

Pope Francis, Are You Listening?

February 28, 2016

This week Archbishop Robert J, Carlson came down hard on the Girl Scouts. Mostly 10 and under girls apparently represent a threat to Catholic dogma. According to archdiocese press releases, the girl scouts are following a policy of “inclusion”. Hmmm.

Why would the Catholic Church at this point in world knowledge and public opinion try to swim up stream? The veiled enemy Archbishop Carlson is worried about is the full acceptance of gay and transgender people. The Church apparently does not see gays and transgender people as a normal segment of the population, fully deserving of recognition and in no way the proper target of ridicule.

The Saint Louis Archdiocese like leaders of many other conservative US Catholic dioceses thinks the road to a red hat is still by being more Rome than Rome. Pope Francis, however, given his performance to date, would never pick a fight with young girls, nor most likely pick a fight with adults over an issue of supporting Girl Scouts. The Saint Louis diocese seems tone deaf.

Being a private organization, the Catholic Church is, of course, free to support Girl Scouts or not. But in a world where wholesome activities are hard to find for our young people, choosing to denounce Girl Scouting because their national leadership embraces all young girls regardless of their sexual orientation or that of their parents is very troubling.  Are these church officials still stuck in grove of “nurture or nature”?

I wonder whether Pope Francis is listening?

Kasich Unforced Error

February 25, 2016

There was so much hopeful about John Kasich’s candidacy, like he might be the only adult in the GOP room. His background included business, Congress, and a successful run as Ohio’s Governor. He has kept his campaign positive while his opponents frolicked in slams and dirty tricks against each other. On many issues, Kasich seems a moderate, only slightly right of center. His candidacy is still a long shot given the success of Donald Trump and the apparent “establishment GOP” support for Marco Rubio. Never the less, Kasich can’t be ruled out.

This week John Kasich took a step which will ensure he won’t become President. Kasich followed through on a promise to defund Planned Parenthood in Ohio.

Actually Governor Kasich signed a bill which does not name Planned Parenthood. Rather it restricts Ohio State funding from institutions which also perform abortions. Hmmm. Is that a difference without a distinction?

Kasich’s unforced error lies in why get involved with an issue where women’s right to choose is involved and the hardship resulting from trying to close down Planned Parenthood will fall on poor, often single women? Why conduct a war when none is needed?

Certainly, abortion can be a matter of conscience. For some, abortion is wrong, period. Marco Rubio has said he favors a total abortion ban even in cases of incest and rape. While Rubio’s views are extreme, he is most likely someone who believes abortion is a moral crime… even if the Supreme Court has ruled otherwise, namely that abortion is the right of every woman.

Kasich’s unforced error arises from the fact, much like the GOP case for repealing Obamacare, what State facilities will replace Planned Parenthood, especially to assist poor women in search of family planning advice?

Being against abortion is Katich’s right as a free thinking citizen but he has no right to impose that on other Americans.

GOP – No Way, No How

February 24, 2016

Yesterday, the Congressional GOP leaders got to say “no” twice. “No” to closing Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility and “no” to even courtesy meetings with any Obama Supreme Court nominee.

“Why meet with the nominee if we already know the outcome”, Senator John Cornyn said. He could have said welcome to the end of bi-partisanship, it’s all or nothing.

The Supreme Court opening, more than any other, could likely lead to the end of what America has known as a two party system. The refusal to consider a lawful Presidential nomination (forget about considering and then rejecting) will expose the GOP as a collection of splinter factions many of which are out of step with both history and the future.

American history has seen Democrat and Republican majorities and with these changes in majority party, Supreme Courts which have swung conservative and then back to liberal. For the GOP to put their foot down now exposes members with a short memory and little or no respect for precedent.  Looking more closely, it reveals a party which stands for nothing but its members’ well being.

The Guantanamo situation exposes  other GOP hypocrisy in a different way. Guantanamo Detention Facility is a stain on America’s reputation with a dark and dishonorable past. Today with a dwindling number of inmates, Guantanamo is becoming obscenely more expensive every day. Where is the fiscally minded GOP looking for opportunities to cut wasteful Government spending?

Locked within this Guantanamo controversy is the unseemly fact that all the detainees are uncharged with a crime, some imprisoned for over 14 years. To be sure, some detainees represent the hardest of hard core terrorist but that secure US super max prisons would not be adequate to hold them is simply untrue.

While some GOP members admit that prisoners could be safely held in US facilities, they point out that (liberal) US courts might in fact enforce Constitutional Law and require charging and trials. Hmmm.

It appears everyday that the GOP has morphed into a collection of conservative camps infiltrated by your everyday greedy politicians willing to sell his/her souls for a vote. The GOP has no lofty goals other than dismantling what progressives have built. While working to improve or make more efficient public institutions is a worthwhile pursuit, simply repealing or obstructing is a coward’s approach and leaves no one better off.

The upcoming general election will put in play a lot of GOP Senate seats.  Control of the Senate could return to Democrats.  With the Supreme Court likely balanced between Conservative and Liberal on many issues, the GOP will not win anything long term by delaying acting upon an Obama nomination.  Instead the GOP could lose the White House, the Senate, and ultimately the Supreme Court “activist” majority.

Such an outcome will drive the far right to even further damage the governing process, and I would predict, still unsatisfied, damage it to the point where the GOP breaks apart with a right of center and a far right factions emerging.  This will translate into the end of the modern day Republican Party.  Hmmm.

And Now There Are 5

February 22, 2016

On Saturday, South Carolina spoke GOP. When the vote count was complete, Donald Trump had won and Rubio/Cruz had finished 2/3. While the spin masters labored trying to make each finish a win, one candidates stepped back. John Ellis (Jeb) Bush suspended his candidacy and for a moment sounded like a President.

Jeb never really had a chance. Bush’s candidacy was about a fictional great Governor, a relative of two former Presidents and someone who could talk like a president or world diplomat. Jeb was about an idealized person just waiting to be recognized and nominated. Hmmm.

Bush’s campaign spent over $100 million and never got an enthusiastic following. In hind sight, Bush and his advisors never saw opponents coming who would run crude, “tell it like it is (even if it is only half true)”, “ I’m not connected to Washington” type, no holds barred campaign. Bush had no message other than “I’m Jeb” and simply got blown away.  Jeb had no Karl Rove to do his thinking.

Jeb’s campaign suspension does not just reflect that Bush was the sixth best candidate but in a game of resources, more to the point, Bush ran out of money and reasons to convince backers they should reach deeper into their pockets to bank roll him further. Without money there is no campaign. Hmmm.

The GOP is still staring at almost certain defeat unless they radically change their platform and drop the wedge issues they have used during the primary season. It will not be enough to say “Washington is broken” (which of course it is) and expect to win in November. The GOP nominee will need to explain how he will fix Washington, what it will cost, and how will he pay for it.

The GOP candidate will also be unlikely to escape grillings on immigration (Hispanic vote), family planning (women’s vote), gender equality (gay and women’s vote), and the traditional third rails, Social Security and Medicare (the senior vote). Of those remaining, Trump, Rubio, Cruz, Kasich, and Carson, which one could handle these issues best?

There is a remote possibility that the GOP convention will arrive with no clear winner. All bets are open whether is such a case, a second look at Jeb Bush might not seem the least of poor options. And then, of course, there is a rerun of Mitt Romney. Hmmm.

Marketing Strategy

February 20, 2016

Apple has declared that it does not know how to unlock a “locked” Apple smart phone and further considers helping unlock one a disservice to its customers.  Hmmm.

Apple’s remarks were in response to a Justice Department requests for assistance in unlocking the cell phone of the San Bernardino terrorists. Justice Department spokespersons describe Apple’s actions as a “marketing strategy”.

The Government’s position is simple, there may be information on the cell phone which could shed light on how the husband and wife terrorists planned and prepared for the December 2, 2015 mass shootings. Officials say the phone could contain very valuable leads to who else supported the terrorists. Sound like a matter of national security?

Apple is indeed facing a difficult marketing strategy. Following the NSA’s wholesale collection of cell phone communications aided by the existence of cell phone software “backdoors”, companies such as Apple faced a distrustful foreign country’s reception. Consumers as well as governments suspected collusion between Apple (and other tech companies) and the NSA. Apple could expect onerous restrictions including “backdoor” requests from foreign governments too. Apple feared this would significantly reduce the iPhone’s demand and value. Hmmm.

As a consequence Apple adopted encryption on all iPhones and installed software code which permanently disabled any phone which failed to open within 10 attempts of unlock. Government investigators have the terrorist cell phone but are reluctant to try guessing its password.

So, the big question revolves around personal privacy and government’s needs in investigating crimes (or suspected wrong doing).

The San Bernardino terrorists are both dead and there have been no indications that they were part of a larger group with further attacks imminent. As a consequence, the Justice Department’s request of Apple may seem nice but unnecessary.

But what about the proverbial terrorist who plants a powerful bomb in some unknown place and all the authorities have is his locked cell phone. Or, reimagine 9/11 and authorities find a locked cell phone and by being unable to unlock it, fail to detect the greater 9/11 plot?

Privacy versus national security is not trivial. Regrettably, governments are notorious in getting an inch and turning it into a mile. A government known “backdoor” could be exploited for non-terrorist actions as well. Maybe the IRS or the EPA or the SEC might like to have a look into private cell phones for information pertinent to their work.

And still more insidious, maybe politicians might like to uncover some “dirt” on opponents by using the back door of opponents doctors, lawyers, or accountants’ phones.

Smart phones are much more than telephones. They are more akin to personal computers which contain bank records, personal files, daily agendas, and contact lists. A court subpoena to enter a smart phone’s backdoor in search of terrorist information could lead to data useful in a tax evasion or securities fraud investigation. Hmmm.

This quandary is not a new one. The government expressed strong disagreement with Apple’s decision several years ago. It appears the Justice Department has waited until it had just the right opportunity to make its case. If Apple should prevail in this case, no big deal because the stakes seem pedestrian. If the Justice Department should win, law enforcement will be next in line wanting access to the backdoor.

And in addition to other law enforcement agencies wanting to use the backdoor, cyber criminals will be just as eager to crack a smart phone’s defense. Hmmm.

The Quadrennial Republican Lemming March?

February 19, 2016

The 2016 GOP Presidential primary appears strangely similar to mythical death march of the lemmings. In 2012, the GOP staged a lengthy circular shooting contest until Mitt Romney emerged, seriously wounded, yet still with a general election ahead of him. Each of the GOP candidates had picked one more extreme position than the other to prove that they were the unquestionable conservative.

Romney, despite his flawed strategy (bearing hard to the right for primary voters before attempting to slip to the middle for the general election), was at his core a serious and competent candidate. In the 2016, it is hard to pick the Mitt Romney from the field likely to be left standing.

One would probably pick Jeb Bush and John Kasich as Romneyesque. Both were/are governors and speak in measured ways. Both are broadly experienced and in comparison to the rest of the GOP field, are moderate Republicans (despite their protestation other wise). And, both are at best long shot candidates, currently garnering less than 20% of the vote combined. Hmmm.
One must wonder whether this apparent GOP dysfunction comes from the candidates who choose to run, or from the nature of the voters who make up the deciding faction of the GOP primaries. In short, are the candidates crazies or are the GOP voters the crazies who attract crazy candidates?

The handle “crazy” is probably not apt. The GOP candidates are quite sane and calculating politicians. They are dead set on gaining the nomination and going on to become President. The unknown is whether each of the candidates really subscribes to the “crazy” (extreme) policies they propose, or are their statements simply bait to appease and attract certain voters who claim to be Republican, Tea Party, or Libertarian? Each candidate’s goal is the GOP nomination, and it appears each is each willing to say whatever it takes to obtain it?

For example, the candidates have each echoed the following ideas:

  • No new taxes and a reduction in marginal rates (gift to the already wealthy)
  • Balance the budget and begin reducing the national debt (no plan, lots of assumptions)
  • Repeal of the Affordable Care Act (with no plan to replace and no commitment to basic healthcare for everyone)
  • Larger military through an increased Defense budget (no new taxes so where does funding come from)
  • Foreign policy where when America speaks, others listen and do what the US says (This anachronistic notion may have never existed but in any case is totally detached from reality in today’s world)
  • Stronger economy with more job creation (with no supporting comprehensive plan or funding proposal)
  • Defense of traditional religious values (providing those values are christian, ignoring the Constitution is acceptable)
  • Sealing the Mexican boarder (while ignoring the 11 million undocumented aliens already in the US)
  • Denying the resettlement of refugees if the State Governor decides to not accept them (even though the issues of immigrants and refugees are a clearly defined Federal responsibility)

If one of the leading candidates (Trump, Cruz, or Rubio) proposes to take drastic steps versus one of these issues, the others in quick succession promise to do the same or even much more. The lemmings are nearing the cliff edge.

Many congressional GOP members are speaking out on these same issues and demanding that Americans’ voices be heard. The Antonin Scalia replacement controversy is a telling example where GOP congressional members say the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice should wait until the “American people” have spoken at the next election. What American people are they talking about? Did Americans not speak in 2012 and elect a President for a four year term?

The GOP primary behavior (not to mention many in Congress) is very worrisome. They are preaching a brand of politics much like a quack medicine man. Their proposals promise a better life but fail the tests of logic and history. Whether its “take back America” or “make America great again”, these salesmen have a bag with nothing inside. Watch out, don’t get to close to the cliff’s edge when these lemmings (or better yet, charlatans) go over the edge.

Civil Service Blues

February 16, 2016

In 1871, the US adopted a “Civil Service” method of organizing government appointed workers. Prior to that time, government employees could be hired and fired by the preference of the appointing authority, Federal, State, or local. These jobs were viewed as the “spoils” of political victory. If someone supported (and usually worked for the election there of) the winning party, there was an excellent chance government employment could come your way. Hmmm.

The short comings were plentiful. Lack of training and professionalism combined with partiality (favoritism) meant government work was crudely performed and if there were any benefits such as awarding contracts or spending government funds, these actions favored the party in power.

The Federal Civil Service Act was established in an attempt to improve professionalism and competency by insulating government employees from the whims of politicians. States followed with their own civil service laws. Now life is about to change.

Wisconsin has just signed into law a “rewrite” of their civil service regulations. The revision introduces “performance based” standards and extends probationary periods for new hires. Sound like an improvement?

Why shouldn’t someone who is performing poorly be discharged or in the case of lay-offs, why shouldn’t the younger and/or better performing individuals be retained in preference to the more senior?

The quandary, of course, is how does supervision determine who is doing a better job than another employee? And more to the point, if an employee is not a fervent supporter of the party in power. what keeps the supervisor from using job performance as a cover for redistributing political spoils?

Wisconsin will in essence be running an experiment. A new approach to civil service might result in better delivery of State services. If so, State residents will be winners. If not, State residents will reap that benefit too… and presumably turn to the opposite political party in subsequent elections. The law of natural consequences.

The unpleasant potential associate with weakening civil service lies in blatant mis-use of government funds. Already a problem even with strong civil service rules, State politicians set up all sorts of “authorities” which in turn award contracts and hire expensive law firms, both of which just happen to contribute to the political party in power. With a weakened civil service it will be just that much easier to “scratch someones back if they scratch yours”.

The Catholic Disease

February 15, 2016

Pope Francis is visiting Mexico and has taken the opportunity to speak out about the scourges of the Mexican drug cartels and the poverty brought on by Mexico’s income inequality. The Pope has clearly identified two great curses with which Mexico finds itself.  As usual, Pope Francis smiles and then speaks from his heart what everyone could see but acts if it were not there.

The Pope, however, did not speak out on the dangers of the Zika virus.

Speaking out on the latest world health threat, however, was Bishop Leonardo Ulrich Steiner speaking in Brazil. The good Bishop reaffirmed the Catholic Church position on birth control, “no way, no how”. The Bishop recommended abstinence or the infamous “rhythm method” as the most appropriate methods to guard against transmitting Zika virus through sexual contact. Hmmm.

This advice is reminiscent of Pope Benedict’s advice to the faithful in AIDS infested central Africa, “condoms are against church teachings”. And the science (or even Biblical teachings) are what?

Unlike most religious teachings which impact only the faithful, the lack of safe sex and family planning advice endangers the lives of many more, especially those who can barely take care of themselves. The Catholic Church’s position on safe sex and family planning in the 21st century is nothing short of shameful.

Given Pope Francis’ public speeches one is left with the impression he clearly recognizes the hypocrisy and inherent danger surrounding the church’s condemnation of family planning and safe sex. One must assume Pope Francis has just been to busy to take on the Bishop Steiners of this world.


Democracy At Work

February 14, 2016

A classic lesson on whether a nations or group of people are ready for a democratic form of government can be found in Egypt’s recent past. Former President Hosni Mubarak was turned out of office following Egypt’s Arab Spring. The US Government had just issued calls for Egypt to embrace democratic reforms. An election followed.

A “free and open” election led to the Muslim Brotherhood narrowly gaining a majority in parliament and Mohamed Morsi elected President. The dust had hardly settled before Morsi announced there would be a new Constitution written. As you might easily guess, the new Constitution would enshrine most of the Muslim Brotherhood’s beliefs and greatly restrict the rights of others. Hmmm.

Over two hundred years ago, Americas founding fathers struggled with similar problems. How could a nation have democracy and still provide a home for people of differing views. In a strict democracy, majority rules. With one more vote than the opposition, a new law applies to everyone. Hmmm.

Our founding fathers mulled this quandary and decided that our Government should contain checks and balances on each branch of government (executive, legislature, and judiciary), and extra protections for minority views.  While one vote majority must be observed if there is to be a democracy, a process where minority views are heard and respected (Bill of Rights) was necessary.

The Federal Judiciary was a critical part of this protection. Justices in the Federal Court system were to be appointed by the executive and confirmed by Congress. Confirmation has traditionally been based upon competency, experience, and independence of views. Republican Presidents appointed Republican jurists while Democrat Presidents appointed Democrats.

For most matters which come before Federal Courts, the matter of law can be seen from a conservative or a progressive viewpoint. More interestingly, most matters are decided by a plurality of the court with no indication of Democrat or Republican affiliation.

For the Supreme Court, the appointment process begins with a Presidential nomination. Law associations including major universities and the ABA issue opinions on the qualifications and readiness of the appointee to serve. The Senate Judiciary Committee reviews the available information and holds hearings to further vet the appointee. Finally the committee issues and opinion and the whole Senate votes.

Over the years there have been controversial nominees and some nominees have withdrawn their names during the confirmation process. A few have been rejected by the Senate for specific reasons. Most, however, have been confirmed regardless of whether the Congress is of the same party as the President.

Justice Antonin Scalia died over the weekend. Before his body was even cold, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and most all the GOP Presidential Primary Candidates all issued statements rejecting President Obama’s (Constitutional) right to nominate a replacement Justice. Hmmm.

These are all individuals who incessantly call for this or that to be rejected because the law or regulation was not “constitutional”. These individuals regularly complain that President Obama has overreached his “Constitutional Authority”. But at this time, with almost one full year remaining in President Obama’s term, most of the GOP want to ignore his right to nominate and Congress’ duty to confirm.

America has long practiced a special form of democracy. Inherent in America’s take was an unwritten principle of “fairness” and “playing by the rules ( based upon past practices)”. No one should argue that past practices cannot change, times change and so must our government practices evolve.  Change, however, should not have the smell of “unfairness”.

The Muslim Brotherhood sought to use a narrow majority to completely change the rules denying all sorts of rights to the minority. In a way, the GOP is doing the same if it follows through with its threats on appointing a Scalia replacement.

New Hampshire’s Messages

February 11, 2016

The New Hampshire primary is in the books. Here are the messages the candidates left.

  • Bernie Sanders – Bernie’s huuuugh message was about a set of government services, now routine in most other modern countries and what many Americans feel appropriate when they see the American dream as a thing of the past. Universal healthcare, public education through college, and affordable housing. In Bernie’s democratic socialism world, income inequality will be reduced and abuses of Wall Street firms lassoed. Sander’s message, I believe in fairness so voters can trust me in all other Presidential dealings.
  • Hillary Clinton – Hillary has an experience and gender based message. Hillary reminds voters she would be the first woman President and as a former Senator and Secretary of State, she knows government as well as foreign leaders. Hillary says trust me, vote for me.
  • Donald Trump – Donald continues to tell whom ever will listen that he is the smartest person in the room. He has fixed every obstacle he has encountered already and can fix anything in the future. And although his speeches have at times been crude, once he is President he is smart enough to speak properly. Trump offers himself as voters’ security blanket against all the world’s ills while he makes American great again.
  • John Kasich – John offers a far more nuanced world view. He offers his private and public sector experience coupled with his “big hearted” scrappy demeanor as the right combination for the next President. Kasich tell voters that his experience as a Governor makes him uniquely qualified to “straighten out Washington”.
  • Ted Cruz – Looking down his nose at the camera, Cruz speaks knowingly, without evidence, that he is the one candidate who can “take American back” for the people. Ted conducted a “below the radar screen” campaign in New Hampshire and captured 12% of the vote. Cruz is one of the “I’m against anything President Obama is for” people and oh, by the way, I’m also a god’s friend candidates.
  • Jeb Bush – Jeb wants voters to know he is the “adult” in the room, not to mention the most civilized. His 11% of the vote was an indicator Jeb says of his viability. Hmmm.
  • Marco Rubio – Marco stumbled in New Hampshire he would admit. An unfortunate five minutes of the debate Rubio says. Hmmm. Marco says his time on the Senate foreign relations committee makes him the most experienced GOP candidate. Rubio’s good looks, youthful appearance, and confident manner are voters take aways even though Marco received only 11% of the vote.
  • Ben Carson – Snooze (at 2%).

The Democrat primary results underscores the difference between the heart and the mind. Bernie is way ahead in attracting voters’s hearts based upon what they hope would be the case. Hillary’s “you should recognize I am the most qualified” approach is feeling flat compared to the excitement of Sanders’ message.

The GOP primary outcomes are totally inconclusive. There is no obvious winner even when the list is hypothetically narrowed. If Rubio, Bush, or Kasich withdrew, it is unlikely their supporters would naturally gravitate easily to Trump or Cruz, and vice versa. The GOP race remains a mystery.