Archive for April 2016

McWho Is Back, Must Be Reelection Time

April 30, 2016

John McCain is running for reelection. This every six year chore manifests itself somewhat like the locust phenomena. McCain conducts himself independently during his term, speaking passionately about Defense Spending and what he sees as wasteful spending. But when election time rolls around, McCain is all about what he thinks his constituents will buy. Hmmm.

This week McCain spoke out again on Syria. By script, the Obama Administration “has it all wrong”. In fact, McCain says President Obama “has no strategy at all”. Red meat for Arizonians?

Like most Republicans, McCain does not want to put troops on the ground. So what does he see as a better strategy?

One misses the point by asking what McCain’s strategy might be. His comments are really meant to remind his constituents how fortunate they are to have someone so in tune with national defense as one of their Senators. Hmmm.

The Middle East (Iraq and Syria right now) represent a slippery slope where a little US military involvement will almost surely lead to more (look how easy it has been to get out of Afghanistan). President Obama has said he would back US support of those Middle East countries that are prepared to help themselves but so far those have been few and far between. Instead, ethnic and sectarian splits combined with an overall intention of fundamentalist Muslim leaders to hold women in second class status have combined to shield Middle East countries from modernity.

I wonder what McCain’s plan to change that might be?

The Republican Titanic?

April 29, 2016

In the wake of the Acela Primaries, news reports are coalescing around the inevitability of Donald Trump’s nomination. This outcome has been reinforced by the apparent rejection of Ted Cruz’ VP selection of Carli Fiorina, and the seemingly unexplainable coalition with John Kasich. With Trump’s opponents self destructing in real time, who is there to oppose Trump?

Politicians are many things but normally brave, predictable, and principled are heard less and less these days. Republican leaders are in a tough spot. They do not like Trump (and predict bad things in the general election with the Donald at the top of the ticket) but Kasich has not caught American’s interest and Cruz is held in lower esteem than even Trump. So, GOP big whigs don’t want to get caught without a chair when the music finally does stop. QED, hold our noses and get behind Trump.

There are certainly elements of the GOP leadership, including big money, who hold hope that Trump can be defeated in a contested convention. It simply unclear who the GOP could put forward to unite the Party and have a chance to do better in November.

A thoughtful Republican must conclude, one would think, that the Grand Old Party is about to disintegrate. This is probably an exaggeration. But disintegration into two or three large pieces is not only possible but long over due.

The Freedom Coalition (Cruz and Tea Partiers) present an evangelical/fundamentalist, no compromise approach to social values and an austere fiscal policy. Since the rise of the Tea Party, this group has been trying to hijack the Republican Party by claiming to be more Republican than any other Republicans. The views they hold and policies they endorse are backward looking and are not where US demographics are heading. The GOP would be wise to let them go.

Donald Trump followers are people who feel let down by Democrats and assign their economic worries to the “handouts” Democrats call entitlements. This group is largely uninterested in social issues and believes in “live and let live”. For this group the future is all about sensible policy which puts the American dream back in play. The GOP would be wise to build upon this base.

Third largest segment might be the old fashion “establishment” characterized by Jeb Bush, Haley Barbour, and the Koch Brothers. This group knows best what is in Americans best interest. They also know what’s best for themselves and see any path forward as featuring a tax cut for the wealthy (no matter how a tax cut is packaged). Benign neglect and civility are the hallmarks of this segment.

How might this all play out?

If the world was perfect, the GOP would realize two things. (1) The Cruz followers have no place to go. Their world view is held by an ever decreasing number of people and their no compromise stand will prevent others from joining. (2) The GOP needs to take a drubbing again in the general election in order for it get real on its core beliefs and policies. (For example, person center healthcare (Paul Ryan’s proposal) in place of Obamacare is the same as “the best healthcare money can buy” and that will not fly.)

In this perfect world, the GOP would return bravely to the center (slightly right of center is ok). Repairing and improving the infrastructure which is necessary for jobs and commerce doesn’t know what a Democrat or Republican is. Income inequality is real but the idea that cutting taxes on the wealthy is somehow going to bring about high paying jobs is a cruel pipe dream. And, saber rattling (how the US is going to get tough with other countries) has no place in the real world of globalization, the US is either militarily strong or it isn’t, and oh by the way, that country the US just shook its saber at is a key trading partner).

If the GOP doesn’t think the middle is for them, then the GOP may need to receive a thrashing more than once.

America needs the GOP to regain its senses. There are important issues facing the country which needs a more diverse set of eyes and minds thinking about them. The budget is unbalanced and without more tax revenues, the only path to a balanced budget is by decreasing government spending… which moves quickly to reductions in entitlements as well as defense spending. Cutting entitlements and not defense spending at a time of income inequality is a prescription for social unrest.

There is a chance that the GOP can escape the Titanic’s fate but only if they move away from the destructive policies of the Freedom Coalition/Cruz faction. If the GOP doesn’t move, the majority of current GOP members will.

Acela Has Spoken

April 27, 2016

Tuesday’s primaries along the Acela train route have confirmed, at least for the Northeast, the two Presidential candidates which Democrats and Republicans prefer. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won by impressive margins and with the wins, piled up delegate vote leads which make their ultimate selections as presumptive. And both candidates seem genuinely pleased to run against the other.

If there remain pockets among the GOP elite who cannot accept Trump, time is getting short. Trump’s oppositions finds itself in a pickle. Ted Cruz is absolutely unelectable nationally and John Kasich seems unable to gain any traction despite not being disdained.

So to hijack Trump’s nomination in a contested convention will spell disaster for the GOP slate come November. Trump may not appeal to a majority of all voters but he does have enough stalwart support among Republicans (and some cross over Democrats) that the perception of the nomination haven been stolen will significantly reduce Republican turn out on election day.

Hillary has morphed her campaign from a coronation to a grind it out, traditional battle. She has cleverly evolved and in some cases revamped her campaign policies to narrow the differences between her and Bernie Sanders without sacrificing a more centrist position for the general election.

Sanders has his same campaign lines, once seen as original and motivational, and now appear somewhat flat.  He seems to be running out of gas. The stage is almost set.

To be sure, the Northeast, does not speak for America. Our Country is broader and more varied. Never the less certain demographics came forward in 2008 and 2012 and should be expected to hold again in 2016. Women’s rights, immigration, religious tolerance (acceptance of the LBGT community) will once again tilt the vote in favor of Democrats… simply because the GOP will choose a Platform emphasizing the opposite.

GOP positions on tax cuts, ending Obamacare, and reducing entitlements will be equivalent to shooting themselves in the foot. Further, comparing Hillary Clinton to President Obama will backfire too. There simply is no evidence that any of the “just say no” GOP rhetoric of the past 8 years has been based upon sound thinking. In fact, the GOP statements have been 100% wrong.

What should not be lost by either party is that the next 4 or 8 years may not be anything like the past, and may require new policies and resource deployment. There is no reason to believe at this point that Hillary Clinton would be better at operating under new conditions than Donald Trump.  Will the GOP make the case that the next four years will be significantly different from the past?

Voters will be left with the issues and policies which both parties present. In this sense, Donald Trump represents a genuine risk to Clinton. Trump, who has voiced some shallow thinking policies could flamboyantly walk away from anything he has already said in the primaries as if they didn’t count.  And there is little doubt Trump will relish trash talking about Hillary (and Bill). Maybe something will stick.

Voters will undoubtably see Hillary as the only adult in the room but if there wasn’t a chance for Trump, there would be no horse races.

The Tourniquet Syndrome

April 25, 2016

What policy positions do you associate with Republicans and with Democrats. The Republicans might be “tax cuts” and Democrats might be “entitlements”. For sure there are other policies each party pursues but taxes and entitlements separate the parties, one is for, and the other against.

The tax issue is socially complex. Most everyone, members of both parties, would prefer to pay no taxes at all if that were possible. Yet most people know that government services require a source of revenue to cover the expenditures. Hence, taxes are necessary. So when Republicans call for tax cuts, they are in fact seeking to shift the tax burden to be carried more and more by lower income individuals. Conversely, when Democrats seek tax increases, they are happiest when the “progressive” tax formula shifts the burden upstream to the very rich. Both parties agree the “other guy” should pay more, whether it is an increase or a cut.

Entitlements, however, represent a real conundrum.  The government is obligated to make entitlement payments even if it has to borrow money to over the costs.

Here is a list

  • 529 or Coverdell
  • Home Mortgage Interest Deduction
  • Hope or Lifetime Learning Tax Credit
  • Student Loans
  • Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Social Security–Retirement & Survivors
  • Pell Grants
  • Unemployment Insurance
  • Veterans Benefits
  • G.I. Bill
  • Medicare
  • Head Start
  • Social Security Disability
  • SSI–Supplemental Security Income
  • Medicaid
  • Welfare/Public Assistance
  • Government Subsidized Housing
  • Food Stamps

(Source – http://www.answers.com/Q/List_of_government_entitlement_programs)

Each of the entitlements was once justified as an emergency fix to a social problem, sort of like applying a tourniquet. Hmmm.

Looking at this list, one must first remove Social Security – Retirement and Survivors. The entitlement is designed to provide supplemental retirement income and is funded from wage taxes workers pay during their working lives. There is no reason that this form of Social Security should represent an on-going drain on the Federal Budget since revenues received can easily be adjusted to match future liabilities.

Medicare also should be removed. Medicare is healthcare insurance also supported by wage taxes and the rate of these taxes could be set to match payouts.

For the remainder, some social situation was deemed an emergency and a government payment (including tax credits, exemptions, or deferments) were thought necessary.

So, Republicans seek to cut entitlements are in effect seeking to remove the “tourniquet” and do nothing. In real life this almost always results in a serious deterioration in health and often death. Democrats seem just as content to leave the “tourniquet” in place and continue the status quo. Removing a “tourniquet” in real life must be accompanied with some other medical action of health deteriorates. Doing nothing, that is leaving the “tourniquet” in place does nothing to alleviate the underlying conditions which made the entitlement necessary in the first place, and maintains the long term “at risk” status of those receiving the benefit. Hmmm.

Candidates or political parties which advocate for tax cuts must be called out quickly and asked (1) who specifically would receive the cuts, and (2) how would the cuts be offset (especially now that there are already deficit budgets) The answer will reveal a naked attempt at lowering income taxes for the wealthy (even if it also lowers middle or low income tax rates), or the tax cut is advertised as a result of reducing entitlements (without any review of the underlying problems which lead to the entitlement in the first place).

Candidates who are content with the “entitlement status quo” or rise to fight the first hint of “entitlement reform” or “entitlement reduction” are guilty of a different but almost as cynical sin. Emergencies by definition cannot be allowed to go on forever, otherwise they wouldn’t be an emergency. Even more significant, the conditions which lead to an entitlement in the first place will almost certainly evolve over time. Sometimes the social situation can get even worse (like with Medicaid for those who cannot afford health insurance). Other times the need for an entitlement might be better served by an entirely different method of government assistance. One might suspect the “don’t touch entitlement” politician is someone more interested in a constituent’s vote than their wellbeing.

At first it probably seems discouraging that the all too familiar political rhetoric “I’m for cutting taxes” and “I’m against cutting entitlements” are words from someone only interested in attracting a voter’s preference. Political speeches are highly crafted, purposed to attract money and votes, that it often never occurs that there is more to taxes and entitlements than cutting or raising.

The candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have attracted a significant number of voters who for various reasons are rejecting the mainstream political message. These candidacies will have been successful if voters who once having rejected the “establishment” rhetoric, begin to ask questions of the “anti-establishment” about how and why their policies are wise and appropriate.

Will Americans find a way end the Tourniquet Syndrome?

When Will The Morning After Headache Arrive?

April 22, 2016

The 2016 Republican Presidential Primary and to a lesser extent the Democrat Primary have held lessons Barnum and Bailey would have been proud to have produced. Packed with outlandish and totally unsupported claims and proposals, the GOP primary has been a sad commentary on American’s gullibility, and the News media’s crass, mercenary culpability ( or should I say entertainment media). One of these days the music will stop, the candidates will return to everyday life, the Country will have a new President, and then the regrets will begin.

How could the Presidential contest have gotten so far without even the simplest assessments of each candidates’ proposed policies?

In Barnum and Bailey terms, Donald Trump’s campaign has been a classic. “Behind this door sits the strangest creature ever to walk the earth. For just 5 cents you can see this unbelievable sight”.

Day after day, news (entertainment) programs have worked hand in hand with Trump to lasso the public’s attention. Shamefully, the news media has not balanced this entertainment with objective reviews.   Media criticism has dwelled instead upon crowd reaction, opposition group outrage, and rival candidates equally unsupported counter claims. Virtually no time has been spent asking how exactly Trump’s claims are supported by facts and how his proposals would improve the conditions Trump is railing against.

One is left with the sick feeling that news(entertainment) executives have seen the golden goose associated with a populous view of Trump. While the music is playing, let’s dance seems to be the media’s motto.

There is little question that Donald Trump has been a virtuoso in harnessing the media’s corporate greed and willingness to overlook news reporting ethics in order to capture large audiences and harvest the reward of bountiful ad revenues.

One might think that the day of reckoning is coming. Following the GOP convention which the media magnets hope will be a sh*t show, there will be time to reflect upon the platforms and proposed policies of the two standard bearers. Of course should Donald Trump become the nominee, he would be unlikely to want to suddenly go substantial and really discuss issues, causes, and solutions. Against Hillary Clinton, he will undoubtably use innuendos and extravagant claims while avoiding direct policy discussions. If the public responds, Trump’s unchecked statements are likely to continue to the delight of the media’s financial returns.

But there will be a day, at worst after the general election, when the champaign bubbles have died out that the news media will wake up and ask what has happened. Maybe they might ask what have we done?

The morphing of news from reliable information to entertainment has been a steady slow process. In part it is understandable. How else could adults be induced to waste time getting saturated with inane advertisements?

As a simple example, Bernie Sanders overarching theme is improving the lives of the middle class. He points to income inequality and proposes a minimum wage coupled with affordable healthcare (for all) and free (?) college education as the primary tools. Do economist agree and why?

Another example is Trumps claim that he will create a flood of jobs. He will accomplish this by building a wall between the US and Mexico while walking away from existing trade deals with other countries (read China). What do economist think will happen by restricting undocumented workers and what might happen to the overall economy if goods currently manufactured in low wage countries were now made in the USA? And breaking agreements, any repercussions?

Hmmm.  I feel a headache coming on.

New York Has Spoken, Who Is Listening

April 21, 2016

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton won big in New York’s Presidential primary on Tuesday. Both overwhelmed their opponents with vote pluralities. So what are the messages voters sent?

Trump’s victory seems a reflection of those who have seen the American dream disappear right before their eyes. Teachers, police and firemen, shop keepers, laborers, and those once employed making things have become disenchanted with intransigence of Congress, the seeming ineffectiveness of Government, and the message veracity of the standard politician.

Trump cuts through the verbal manure promising a fix. (Interestingly there are never any details on how.)  For New Yorkers, who as a group don’t care much about social issues (or at least place them way down the list compared to economic ones), there is a feeling “this might be the Messiah.

New Yorker GOP members simply are not like those in much of the rest of the country. Outside the greater North East area, the GOP is a cobbled up group of narrow interests which share the similarity of not being Democrats.

There are evangelicals and fundamentalists who relish the opportunity to discriminate against gays, deny women a right to reproductive health, and see xenophobia as an asset. The GOP also is also home to 2nd Amendment enthusiasts and wish to see guns in every home and on every person, the more the merrier.

The “gold standard” crowd also finds the GOP as their home.  They seek not just a balanced budget but a budget leading to zero debt without regard to the consequences. Then there is the “end entitlements” group operating from the GOP reservation.

And one can not forget the GOP’s dangerous affair with neoconservatives (remember the Iraq War) who haven’t seen a foreign involvement they did not like.

An important point about these desperate factions is that each has little or nothing in common with the other group.

Donald Trump has recognized the Republican Party for what it is and that its leadership is incapable of offering an exciting candidate, and will proposed a “sure loose” platform (their usually litany of anti-women, anti-gay, and anti-immigrant pledges.  The GOP leadership will trade the White House for reelection of “down ticket” candidates (control of Congress).

Trump, however, sees himself as someone who doesn’t need to pander to the religious right, can walk back from his anti-immigrant positions, and bore in on his ideas about rejuvenating the economy with one hand while throwing slime at Hillary with the other.

New York also spoke about Democrats too. While the Democrats are less complicated, Bernie Sanders does represent much more liberal elements with a honed attack line aimed at campaign financing, big banks, and income inequality.

If Bernie were to upset the Clinton campaign on the basis of issues, New York was the place. It did not happen. While there could be events in the next few months which could change the outcome, Clinton looks like the Democrat winner. Oh, and by the way, there are no similar subdivisions of Democrats like one can see in the GOP.

So what has New York said?

My guess is that it is as follows. If any candidate understands the frustration of so many Americans who do not see a chance at the American dream, then there is a ready audience who could care less about social issues or foreign policy. This audience wants someone who will tell them they have a plan to make life better.

Should there ever be a President Trump, he will be judged carefully on whether he actually tries to help and whether he is successful. A President Trump will not be given a free pass for just talking, he will need to succeed. Why?

The easy answer is that regardless of a President Trumps intentions, those in his administration will be stuffing their pockets with perks and free-byes which come with the job. In short, after four years a President Trump could look like those before him (save President Obama), just another establishment guy.

For voters, however, a likely Hillary Presidency could be a disappointment too. Her campaign will be expensive and she will owe much to supporters. Escaping this appearance of in-proprietary will be nearly impossible… unless… under President Clinton there is a substantial improvement in voters perception of achieving the American dream.

Hmmm.

And Now There Are 80

April 18, 2016

The Department of Defense has announced the return to two Yemeni “detainees” to Saudi Arabia from the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. With their release, Guantanamo headcount drops 80. This number includes another 23 who have been cleared for release pending completion of the nitty gritty such as which country will actually receive them. Hmmm, 57 in a prison with a capacity for upwards of 700.

Anyone who worries about the foibles of big government need look no further than the fiasco of Guantanamo. Originally establish to house and process al Qaeda members and sympathizers, the Guantanamo detention facility vacuumed up a motley collection of nasty terrorists, questionable persons guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a healthy dose of totally innocent souls turned in for the promised ransom payment.

Once housed in Guantanamo, the unfortunate detainees and the US authorities began to realize there was no recognized legal procedure to process the detainees.

So if anyone is wondering how so many Americans can be Donald Trump supporters, Guantanamo is one reason. Congress, read the GOP leadership, has made keeping Guantanamo operating when any security or business analysis leads one to closing it and transferring the remaining inmates to super max prisons State side. Why?

The reason given (said with a straight face) is “to protect” Americans. Guantanamo is full of “crazy bastards” who are bent on killing us, Lindsay Graham says. You are immediately struck with the question “does he really believe that” or is this just another political smoke screen?

Bringing the Guantanamo detainees to US prisons would probably open the possibility of civil rights court actions since these prisoners have not been charged (a Constitutional guarantee for a speedy trial). And for most there is a reasonable chance they would be released.

But there is a bigger recognition that is being overlooked. There is no shortage of terrorists or persons willing to attack Americans and American interests around the world. No one should ever allege that the Guantanamo detainees are the worst of the worst. What about all those ISIS thugs who decapitated their prisoners? Are they somehow a grade less on the scale of worst of the worst.

Closing Guantanamo makes sense from a financial position, from a consistency with our laws and traditions, and demonstrating that Republicans and Democrats can make worthwhile decisions together.

The Republican intransigence is just one more proof to Trump supporters (and many others) that the GOP can’t govern.