Archive for March 2016

Costly Free Media Attention

March 31, 2016

MSNBC broadcasted a “town hall” meeting yesterday with the Republican candidates, timed to occur just before the Wisconsin primary. The public service billed event was nothing more than a public cry by MSNBC “just watch this station and buy our sponsors’ products”. And what an event they suddenly had.

MSNBC’s Chris Mathews asked Donald Trump about his position of Pro-Life and then pulled the trigger after Trump confirmed abortion should be against the law. Mathews asked, should the woman be punished? After a few hems and haws, Trump said yes, there should be some form of punishment for the woman.

Compared to most things Trump has said, this situation was totally logical. If there is a law against abortion and abortion is likened to murder, shouldn’t someone who initiates an abortion face punishment?

The pro-life, pro-choice worlds seemed to stop and then both exploded in denouncing Trump.

Pro-lifers were the most indignant. Appearing to beat their chests, the pro-life supporters affirmed that they never intended that the woman would be punished (punishing the person performing the abortion was enough). Hmmm.

Where’s the logic. Abortion is either wrong or it is not. At the present time, the right to an abortion is the law of the land so this is an hypothetical discussion of what might happen if Roe v Wade was overturned. But women and men of good conscious ought to take notice.

Pro-lifers do not see a continuum (conception to viability to birth) and once conception has taken place, pro-lifers believe it becomes the woman’s responsibility to see the pregnancy through to birth.

There is no morning after pill, or medical procedures to end unwanted pregnancies. Once pregnant, its full term or bust. (Some anti-abortion supporters do allow exceptions for rape, incest, and risk to the woman’s health.)

Unwanted pregnancies are regrettably part of life. Further complicating pregnancies are changes to the mother’s health, her economic ability to raise a child, and medical changes to the condition of the fetus itself.

The pro-life group simply has the wrong objective. Rather than outlawing abortion (where punishing the woman is the logical outcome), a better goal is eliminating unwanted pregnancies. In such a world, the decision to abort or not could be based upon medical reasons.

Chris Mathews grilling of Donald Trump accomplished two outcomes.

  • First, it displayed how shallow Trumps understanding is when presented complex social issues.
  • Second, it gratuitously put into focus how hypocritical the pro-life movement is.

The unbelievable aspect of this kerfuffle is Trump supporters do not care about whether Trump is pro-life or pro-choice. They support Trump for economic reasons and a belief (maybe mistakenly) that Trump can make life better.

Trump did not see the curve ball coming from Mathews and missed it completely.  Thanks Donald.

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What American Voters Owe To Donald Trump

March 29, 2016

With due respect to Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton (and all the other progressives before them), not until Donald Trump tapped into the anger of average American workers has the income stagnation and accompanying income inequality been put forth in inescapable terms.

Progressives have always spoken about wages and salaries of the masses, but their solutions were considered impractical and did not reflect the real world. Raising wages in a world where the same quality or better can be made in foreign lands, shipped to the US, and sold for far less than a similarly US manufactured good, offered the worst of both worlds, lost jobs and lower pay.

Donald Trump, of course, has not offered any solution at all. Trump, however, has lifted the curtain of what will happen if income inequality is not addressed soon. Xenophobia, tariffs and duties (the end of free trade), and racial/ethnic hatred are on the table if the next President and Congress does not deal with income inequality.

So what do American voters owe to Donald Trump?

Trump has exposed a sizable raw nerve among a significant percent of American voters. The voters live in the riches country in the world, observe daily Wall Street investors making millions, and business executives making decisions which increase their personal pay and bonuses while sacrificing pay and jobs of their employees. This voting group “isn’t going to take it anymore”.

Americans owe Trump for making it crystal clear what lies ahead unless Congress deals with rising income inequality. The Country can look forward to more articulate “Donald Trumps”.  In turn, these hate based leaders will likely preside over further increases in income inequality while the overall economic America viability declines.

The income inequality issue is not that top executives and investors are not going to receive higher pay and dividends than the average employee. They will and they must. The issue is how much more.

The most straight forward approach is through the tax code. Using a baseline based upon the 1970s and 1980s the ratio of top executive’s pay to average hourly pay, senior executives and corporations should be asked to meet this ratio with their businesses.

Any company which persists in exceeding this ratio, would incur additional corporate tax and its executives would also… until the ratio meet goal. For those not producing products, like Wall Street traders, dividends and capital gains would be treated as ordinary income if these gains were attributed to companies not meeting the goal ratio.

The objective is income equality using a standard of when US life was good.  If it tuns out that globalization or simply business maturity will not support higher average wages, then it becomes an issue of fairness.  Why should the top 1/2 of 1% continue to get wealthier while the bulk of employees remain stagnant or decline in wealth?

Sound progressive? Maybe, but remember during the 70s and 80s when life was good and the American dream still seemed possible, these were the conditions and tax rates.

Actually, this solution, reaching backwards, sounds more conservative than progressive.

ISIS – Are They Behind Every Tree?

March 27, 2016

Hyperbolism is a friend of most politicians. And during a Presidential campaign season, the use of hyperbole is a must tool for most candidates. Hyperbole is particularly useful in misdirecting voters from one party’s failures to the mistaken belief that these failures are the result of the other party. For example, the GOP standard line touches on some aspect “of President Obama’s failed foreign policy”. Their litany goes… President Obama withdrew our troops too quickly and enabled the conditions leading to ISIS formation. Hmmm.

This revisionist history overlooks much.

For starters, Osama bin Laden’s “al Qaeda” movement began its brand of terrorism from safe bases in Afghanistan in the 1990’s. Al Qaeda became a household word following 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center (twin towers). With this spectacular terrorist act, Al Qaeda became enemy number one, a threat to America “because they do not like our way of life” our politicians and news media told us.

In a few months, the US went to war against the Taliban Afghan government and in the process drove al Qaeda underground and unable to further operate in the open. Future al Qaeda terrorist operations would have to be conducted by affiliates located in other countries.

These affiliates, however, were not to be found in Syria or Iraq since both countries were under the authoritarian control. Then for reasons which historians will debate for years to come, the US decided to invade and occupy Iraq. Saddam Hussein was toppled quickly and again for uncertain reasons, the US settled in for a period of regime change and “democratization”.

Soon the roots of “al Qaeda in Iraq” arose. Sunni based militias including Al Qaeda in Iraq raised havoc with Shiites and presented opposition to the newly formed Iraqi Government. Then came the “surge” where the US committed more troops and without much fanfare, began giving money to various local Sunni militias. The results were stunning and al Qaeda activities ceased.

When the US handed daily government control over to the “democratically” elected and Shiite lead government, surprise, surprise, the payments stop flowing to the Sunnis. In a short period, AQII had reappeared and during the Arab Spring morphed into ISIS.

It is problematic whether the US troop removal had anything to do with ISIS’ growth. Neoconservatives favor the story line that US military presence would have confronted ISIS and rendered them un-functional. Does this imply that the US would remain indefinitely in Iraq?

Al Qaeda and ISIS have been the faces of radical Islam. Behind these faces, however, are the raw unabashed thirst for power and a greater share of oil profits. Acts of terrorism are simply tools used in an attempt to shape world behavior and screams “leave us alone”.

The ISIS fear hyperbole can be easily seen if one wants to look. More people die each year from gun related mass shootings than terrorism world wide. More people die in traffic accidents each year than from acts of terrorism worldwide. More people die in home accidents than from terrorism worldwide. Hmmm.

President Obama’s decision to withdraw US military from Iraq, of course, was consistent with signed agreements executed during the Bush years. President Obama’s decision not to over turn these agreements, however, was thoughtful and not a result of weakness or fear. The nonsense of Sunni versus Shiite, Iran versus Saudi Arabia, and the general ambivalence of the Muslim world towards moving into modernity are social problems the US or any other country cannot solve. Only the Middle East populations can bring sense to their lives.

The troubling aspect of this non-involvement position is the region has only known leadership by power, the strongest kid on the block gets the oil and the money. What will make things different in the future?

The answer is unknowable but so what?

Suppose ISIS were to establish itself in Iraq and much of Syria. What would Egypt, Iran, or Saudi Arabia do? Take the worst case, ISIS somehow found a way to overthrow these regimes and gained greater territory. Would ISIS withhold oil from world commerce?

Unlikely, ISIS would need oil revenues (as it does today) to finance its government administration.

Would ISIS send an army of terrorists overseas (say to Brooklyn or Orlando or Salt Lake City) to create mayhem and bring foreign governments to their knees? Even more unlikely.

Hyperbole might be forgivable if one sees it as an essential part of politics. Hyperbole, however, must be constantly challenged by the responsible media so that average Americans do not drink the Kool-aid and believe these clearly unsubstantiated claims.

There will not be terrorists behind every tree but there could be an hyperbole spewing politicians.

Will Progressives and Independents Get “Bern-ed”?

March 25, 2016

Bernie Sanders is making a remarkable run for the Democrat Presidential nomination. He speaks in unambiguous language and repeats a message that electrifies many. He is almost, but not quite, a Barack Obama reincarnate. Are you feeling the Bern?

His opponent, Hillary Clinton, appears almost boringly calm.  Clinton seems headed towards the Democrat nomination, but at what cost. Hillary supporters do not appear as enthusiastic and this leaves the obvious question, will they show up on election day?

Stakes could not be higher for Independents and Democrats, a plurality of voters. The Tea Party and Freedom Coalition (a minority of Republicans) take-over of the Republican Party represents an all or nothing approach. By this I mean, these conservatives want total control and will do what ever is necessary to deny influence to Democrats even if the election favors Democrats. Do you think Republicans will vote for Judge Garland even if a Democrat is elected the next President?

Currently the 7/24 media is consumed with “how will Republicans stop Donald Trump”. It is great entertainment but masks a serious Party defect. Instead of dealing with major non-partisan issues, like infrastructure, job creation, and education, the hijacked Republican Party seems more interested in anti-abortion (Indiana) and anti-gay (North Carolina) issues and passing laws which are unlikely to stand Constitutional muster. If stopping Donald Trump means nominating someone like Ted Cruz, the general elections should be tilted in favor of Hillary Clinton.

Except…

Hillary carries a lot of baggage. The Clinton years and the Clinton Foundation have left plenty of skeletons for mudslinging opposition to throw her way. In addition, Hillary is considered in her responses, nuances some might say. Against negative advertisements and direct personal assaults (from say a Ted Cruz), Hillary could have a messaging problem.

Never the less, Hillary should prevail given the negative and petty GOP agenda.

Prevail that is unless too many Democrats and Independents left their hearts with Bernie Sanders and simple take a pass on the November General Election. OMG.

I trust that Bernie Sanders will be man enough to bow out gracefully if the Democrat Primary trends continue and Hillary gains a majority before the convention. Rebuilding party unity and convincing Progressives and Independents why a Democrat victory is important… for reasons other than steering more money towards Democrat supporters, will be a big and important task.

A November Republican victory will assuredly cement an ultra conservative Supreme Court and GOP control of Congress will swing the laws of the land in a direction rooted in our past.

Equal Protection Under The Law

March 24, 2016

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Zubik v Burwell, or better said the Catholic Church against women’s right to reproductive health.

The legal argument briefly stated is that Catholic (or any religious) affiliates should not be forced to violate their deeply held religious beliefs if so required by some Federal law. In this case the issue is Obamacare and its requirement to provide cost free birth control methods as part of an employee’s healthcare plan.

The Sisters of the Poor said “we can’t” and Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell said there is a “work around”, use it. Legal counsel, of course, used more complicated arguments but the plaintiffs argue that their religious rights were “hijacked”. Hmmm.

There is no question that the Catholic Church (other religious organizations) have a perfect right to hold whatever beliefs it deems important. And there should be no question that the Catholic dogma has consistently opposed birth control, even though most Catholic women today welcome and use birth control.

The question before the court is whether the Sisters in observing the Church’s ban on contraception can overlook the ACA’s birth control requirements. Please note the law does not require anyone to use birth control.

This conflict need not have been necessary. When the Affordable Care Act was being constructed, a strategic decision was made to retain the array of private health care insurance companies and to attempt to use employers as the major means to underwrite the cost of health care. A single payer, universal healthcare could have taken the Catholic Church out of the equation (although the Church probably would have lobbied against such a universal health plan simply because birth control was available.)

In news reports it is striking how little attention is being given to the rights of employees being denied birth control coverage, many of whom are not even catholic.

The Catholic Church’s position does not reflect the behavior of its parishioners and is socially and medically out of date. Clinging to the Constitution’s provisions on religious freedoms while the Court closing its eyes to equal protection under the law is difficult to explain.

Pundits predict the Court will vote 4-4 and ironically the lower Court ruling (affirming Burwell) will hold. Regrettably other lower Court rulings against Burwell will also be allowed.

What a national mess a 4-4 Supreme Court decision would present.  The law of the land is not the law of the land.

Brussels’ Message

March 23, 2016

Terrorists have performed once more the unthinkable. Suicide bombings were carried out at the Brussels International Airport and at one stop in the Brussels Subway system. Reports list as many as 35 fatalities. Innocent people with no known argument with the attackers. Why do people do this, and what can be done to stop this happening again?

I know Brussels. I never lived in Brussels (unless Sofitel rooms count). I did live nearby in Germany and traveled many times through out Belgium and in particular Brussels for business and for pleasure. By American standards, Brussels and most of Belgium are easy places to visit. Almost everyone speaks english as a second language. The pace of life is very pleasant. Brussels and the Grand Place district are full of tourists, shops, and wonderful places to eat.

The airport is smallish (compared to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, or Charle DeGaulle. It was formerly the home of Sebena Airlines (Belgium National Carrier). Sebena offered some of the poorest customer service in Europe and Belgians never seemed to mind. Maybe that was due to a quirk in the population’s personality. Belgians don’t make trouble for others.

Belgium’s official language is not one but two. Roughly, the north speaks Flemish (Dutch) and the south (Walloons) speak french. Belgium has a split political make up too. National budget expenditures are split roughly 50-50 so if new road is built in the south, then one is also built in the north whether they are needed or not.

The Belgians are outwardly hospitable people. With its central location, Brussels has been selected as the seat of the European Parliament and home for many of the European Commission agencies. Symbolically, Brussels could be seen as the capital of Europe.

Again, why do people do this?

The perpetrators of the recent Paris attacks and the prime suspects in these bombings are Muslims of North African ancestry. One might see this incident as unintended by-product of European colonial days. The civil wars in North Africa generated a lot of refugees, some who held dual citizenship resulted in a lot of North African muslims relocating to Europe. Now their children, a second generation, call Belgium home but have not assimilated very much at all. They stand on the outside while living inside.

What goes on inside their heads is a bit of a mystery. Rationally committing mass murder makes no sense and makes even less sense if it requires someone to lose their own life in the process.  And making this sacrifice based upon the fairy tale that life will be much better in “paradise” is total lunacy. So we must conclude that these acts are not rational ones.

If history is good for anything, it must remind us that these Muslim terrorists do not have an exclusive hold on irrational acts. You can read that just about all other religions, races, and ethnic groups have committed one atrocity after another, on yes, some outside group. Outrageous acts against others is not the exclusive domain of Islam.

My guess is that these Brussels terrorists decided to explode their bombs so that “others” were killed or maimed. “Others” were people whom they did not know. “Others” were everyone not part of their close circle of friends and associates. “Others” were people who did not count.

There remains plenty of future terrorist living in European countries, who live there but are not part of the national social fabric. For them, everyone else looks like “others”. These latent terrorists just sit there waiting for something or someone to turn them loose in order to kill the “others”

Brussels’ message reminds us of the power of assimilation and the dangers that lurk in the hands of those “outsiders”.

What Makes Republicans Conservative?

March 20, 2016

The unprecedented move by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to withhold “advise and consent” Senate actions on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee raises a rather simple question. What has possessed Republicans to simply deny past practices and declare “no way, no how”?  Is this action the mark of a conservative?

Clearly Merritt Garland’s nomination is not in and of itself confrontational. By all accounts, Judge Garland is considered a centrist and a student of law, not an ideolog. Never the less, McConnell dismissed out of hand any consideration of the nomination during President Obama’s term. Why?

The surface reasons are obvious. Even a centrist Justice will break the conservative hold on the current Supreme Court. If one holds conservative views, then nothing but another conservative will do. Even though these same Republican leaders cry about the need to follow the Constitution in Court decisions, apparently following the Constitution and past practice does not apply in this case.

Why?

Former Justice Antonin Scalia weighed the hands of justice so far to the right that replacing him with a centrist, will by default shift the Court’s direction to the left. It is all about ideology, the Wall Street Journal says.

The Journal allows that Garland is not as progressive as the Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Breyer, and has had a distinguished career on the Court… but, in essence the Republicans could do better. Of course, “better” is in the eyes of the speaker.

Why is this so difficult to comprehend?

It may be that seeing politics as the left (progressive) versus the right (conservative) is no longer sufficient. Left versus right was convenient just as in the old wild west movies the good guys wore white hats and the bad ones wore black hats. As others have suggested, one might better see political disputes by imagining two axes, one with left at one end, right at the other end. Perpendicular to that axis would be one with libertarian at one end and authoritarian at the other end. Hmmm.

Republicans who seek to block consideration of Judge Garland have a large dose of authoritarianism. This group “knows” they are correct in their thinking and just as strongly sees Democrats, or progressive thinking, as an imminent danger to good order.

Being conservative (right) is not necessarily a bad virtue. In difficult times, moving cautiously (like in a mind field) can be quite beneficial. Balancing progressive ideas with touches of common sense can turn a well meaning but inadequately conceived idea into policy which can work and last.

The dysfunctional Washington GOP behavior is not that type of conservative thinking. Rather denying Judge Garland a fair hearing is about “we know best”, and by the way, we can pervert the Constitution to get our way.

At the extremes of the libertarian-authoritarian axis lies anarchy and dictatorship, both of which are important to recognize as end games if common opinion drifts to far in “free thinking” direction or follows obediently what “father proclaims”. Universities tend to lie along the libertarian axis while religious institutions lie at various points on the authoritarian axis.

Now, imagine a third axis which runs at a 45 degree angle from the libertarian-progressive quadrant down through the center to the conservative-authoritarian quadrant. The end points this axis would likely be today’s Republican and Democrat Parties, I would suggest.

So back to the original question, what are Republicans conservative?

I would submit conservatives are simply cautious by nature. Relative to progressives, most conservatives are skeptical that government policy can remedy what ails the country. Republicans share this caution.  Republicans, however, are also composed of some libertarians (small government, less taxes) and some authoritarians (Republican managed policy and agencies are ok, but not Democrat ones).

What we are seeing in the Garland situation is the ugly, short sighted authoritarian (we know best) face of the GOP. Their misuse of Constitutional prerogatives can, however, be perceived by a more centrist public as a party not playing fair and probably unfit to govern.

The GOP is composed of many who are less authoritarian and grasp fairness (less authoritarian) as an important element of governance. This internal GOP conflict may lead to a fracturing of party unity and potentially a loss of control of Congress.  GOP leaders are playing with fire.

Hmmm.