Archive for May 2016


May 30, 2016

President Obama has become the first sitting US President to visit “ground zero” Japan. Hiroshima, where the first nuclear bomb was dropped, now stands symbolically as living reminder of the cruel power of nuclear weapons. The President used the occasion to remind the world what nuclear weapon use can do to mankind.

The President did not, however, apologize for America’s decision to use the bomb in 1945. Some think he should have while others think he should not have gone there in the first place.

The need to use the atomic bomb, historians claim, resulted from Japan’s refusal to surrender “unconditionally”. The US military estimated a dreadful number of casualties would occur if American forces needed to invade the Japanese mainland. No one disputes the horror of the bomb but when placed in comparison to an invasion, for many the bomb’s use is justified.

But there is more.

Many supporters of the bomb’s use remind others that Japanese soldiers committed atrocities through out the war and treated prisoners in brutal ways. In essence, these people think the Japanese “earned” the opportunity to be atomic bombed.

Still others wondered simply whether the atomic bomb would work in actual combat and how much damage would result. These scientific and military leaders were also thinking of how to deal with the communist threat emerging from the Soviet Union.

The Japanese reluctance to accept unconditional surrender was tied largely to a lack of understanding what would follow such a surrender. In the past, surrenders were negotiated and the subsequent conditions, like the Emperor’s future, or the top military and civil official’s fates, were decided before the surrender was official.

Through out history collateral civilian casualties have happened. By the time World War II was in full swing, targeting civilian populations, while prohibited but the Geneva Convention, was practiced under a thin vail, proximity to military industrial targets. The fire bombing of Dresden or Tokyo killed proportionally as many or more than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Dead civilians are dead civilians.

Of course there is the little problem of radioactivity. Atomic weapons, in addition to killing civilians outright, also leaves radioactivity which can lead to health hazards years into the future. So, is radioactivity the Hiroshima message?

American planners are said to have contemplated dropping the first atomic bomb on Mount Fuji instead of Hiroshima. Mount Fuji holds an extremely special place in Japanese minds and the thought that the bomb might visibly destroy or alter Fuji both appealed to and concerned American officials. The Mt Fuji alternative would have resulted in negligible loss of life but the visible damage probably would not have been as persuasive as the massive destruction and loss of life that bombing Hiroshima offered. Targeting civilians won the day.

Back to President Obama’s Hiroshima visit.

IMO the visit was awkward not just because of the massive power of atomic weapons, but the choice of targeting civilians over military fortifications. Today’s warfare features asymmetrical tactics such as suicide bombing, terrorizing civilian populations, and shootings/beheadings of non-combatants. Traditional war must be fought on a much more confused battlefield where combatants and non-combatants live together. Killing civilians happens.

In telling the story of why nuclear weapons are dangerous, President Obama was also calling attention to all use of force and what the consequences might be.

Looking For The Silver Lining

May 26, 2016

The 2016 Presidential race has developed a dark picture of American life for the next several decades. Donald Trump’s, Hillary Clinton’s, and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns each have shined a dim light on the size and shape of this elephant but have neither defined the real dimensions of the problem nor proposed comprehensive remedies. Many voters are reacting in ways which aggravate rather than contribute to a positive path forward.

Donald Trump is the most disingenuous of these candidates, but in many regards is the most appealing. His campaign dialog is carefully constructed to raise fear and anger without specifics or genuine solutions. Everyone but “us” (presumably the crowd he is speaking to) is either the “problem” or sympathetic to the forces causing the “problem”. And foreign countries and foreigners in general are the central forces creating the “problem”.

Bernie Sanders has described the “problem” broadly as income inequality and targeted banks, Wall Street, and large corporations as the villains. One might reasonably question whether income inequality is the problems or the symptom. Campaign rhetoric, however, is not the best place to explore this difference. Sanders speeches are as divisive as Trump’s but split the “us” between the wealthy and the middle class.

Hillary Clinton has campaigned in a more classical partisan way. Her message is that the GOP is the wrong direction especially if you are middle class, gay, Hispanic, or a woman. She expands her message to a broader range of domestic issues and a more rational set of foreign policies. Clinton is the personification of a traditional Presidential candidate which Americans have seen for years.

So why the dark clouds?

There is income inequality and no candidate has proposed any rational steps which would lead to wages distributions similar to the good old days of the 60-80’s.

The Republican party, which is paralyzed from its coalition nature, lumps together deeply held but demographically losing ideas, has added xenophobic, hate baiting standard bearer in Donald Trump. Tax cuts for the wealthy represent a mighty leap of faith for one to connect them with a boom in “good paying” jobs creation. Globalization combined with the current American skill base does not suggest tax cuts will suddenly change the jobs picture.

Sanders’ vision of breaking up banks, restricting corporate campaign donations, and taxing the wealthy even more, while seeming fair if one is middle class or lower in income, does not suggest any reason that “good paying” jobs will suddenly reappear.

Cooler heads must step back and consider whether corporate America’s decision to outsource jobs and pay their senior executives many more multiples than the average worker is leading to a better place. It is hard to see how globalization can suddenly be made to look like it doesn’t exist, the world is a global market.

The globalization consequence reveal there are a lot of Americans who are now unskilled to take on higher paying jobs. Corporate America needs to wake up that at the current pace of average wage stagnation, there will be a shortage of consumers soon who can afford to buy what corporate America makes (or sells).

Which candidate do you think can engage in such a conversation with corporate America?

The dark clouds are not the repeal of Roe v Wade or Obamacare even though both would be serious social disruptors. The American people are not going to return to a no abortion world nor are the health insured going to give up coverage willingly.

The dark clouds are not tilting the Supreme Court back to a conservative outlook nor turning loose the neoconservatives to conjure up another WMD country to invade. America’s social momentum is not going to turned back by some religion pandering decisions, and even if there would be another foreign invasion, the all volunteer Army, where few Americans have skin in the game (like enlistment or tax money), will fare no better than “W’s” venture.

The dark clouds are only dark in comparison to other country’s dark clouds. If American leaders keep in mind that a country can’t grow its economy if all it depends upon are citizens who have no (or too little discretionary) money themselves.

Embargoes and tariffs will not cure the problem because for each dollar received with tariffs, the trading partners will reduce their US purchases equally or greater. Job training and government spending can work temporarily but to have a lasting impact, far more workers have to acquire new skills which in and of themselves demand “good pay”. Which candidate carries that message?

Americans who now support Donald Trump are not bad people and they are not that unusual. Globalization is complicated and there is little reason why these Americans should believe the greedy heads of corporations understand or care.

Trump-type supporters can be found around the world, particularly when a country’s key industries and their associated jobs have become redundant. Trump-type leaders, however, have been time after time seen as ineffective.

It is only May and the general election does not take place until November. The silver lining, if there is one, is that there is still time for even the most emotional American to realize of the three candidates, only Clinton has a chance at improving their lot in like.

This race may end up picking the lesser tarnished of the two evils but so doing may be the smartest choice.

Ends and Means

May 24, 2016

There are many reasons to be worried about a Donald Trump and GOP victory this November. Let me count the ways. Emotional attitude, standards of personal conduct, breadth of knowledge on foreign affairs, plausible policies and plans for governing, and fitness to be President of all Americans are just a few.

What more could one worry about?

As questionably fit as Donald Trump may be, he will ultimately also run on the GOP platform (necessary to get conservative donor money). As in 2008 and 2012, tax cuts for the wealthy, no comprehensive immigration reform, roll back of equal rights protection, active rejection of Roe v Wade, and the repeal of Obamacare (with loss of coverage for tens of millions) will underpin his candidacy.

But that is not all there is to worry about.

The “ends justify the means” modus operandi became crystal clear during former President George W Bush’s terms. Enhanced interrogation, invading sovereign countries, abrogation of lawful treaties, and warrantless search and seizures were all justified in the name of national security. And in each case, US courts in due course forced the Administration to end these practices.

When Donald Trump speaks about Bill Clinton’s past indiscretions, he is either saying the ends (getting elected) is far more important than the means (speech far beneath the dignity of a President) or he is trying desperately to avoid answering substantive questions.

Imagine what he will do when China, India, Russia, or any other country does not obey a President Trump’s wishes?

Bathrooms Please !

May 22, 2016

The recent North Carolina controversy about who can use which gender designated bathroom reminds me of children’s arguments about which toy they can play with next. It totally baffles me why a modern State like North Carolina would rush HB-2 through and even more baffling why a former mayor of the vibrant commercial city of Charlotte would sign the bill into law.

Politics, in the sense of there is no place too low to go if one wants to win, is the most likely explanation. But why show everyone how pedestrian State politicians might be?

The advocacy groups who support transgender people being able to use which ever bathroom the individual feels most comfortable with has been somewhat as inane as the politicians supporting HB 2. Imagine (this may be an extreme) someone with facial hair (mustache, beard) who truly feels they are on the journey to identifying as a woman walking into a ladies room. Most anyone would react with surprise followed by some degree of uneasiness.

HB-2 also gratuitously opens the door for discrimination against gays by negating any local ordinances which specifically include sexual orientation as a basis for discrimination.

So, why was this necessary?

HB-2 was code named the “bathroom” law. Supporters cited the risk of allowing trans persons from using a bathroom of their choice that sexual predators would use this as cover and also enter women’s bathrooms and molest young children. Hmmm.

First, there is nothing in the law that prevents this from happening and most tellingly, there is no epidemic of predators invading women’s bathrooms now.

Through the fog of nonsense, however, HB-2 answers the concerns and hurt feelings of religious groups who still claim the Bible tells them being gay (and OMG, same sex marriage) is flat out wrong. Politicians who generally wear religion on their sleeve more vividly than in their heart have seen HB-2 as a sure fire vote getter.

The bill doesn’t outrightly call out gays, lesbians, and bi-sexuals for new “anti” measures. HB-2 is much more sophisticated. Since current North Carolina State law provides no specific protections around sexual orientation, HB-2 cleverly says no North Carolina city could enacts its own sexual discrimination laws.

Transgenders are the least understood LGBT group but the idea that a male born, female oriented person could use a lady’s bathroom just could not be imagined by many North Carolinians.

Not so long ago, when the gays rights movement was springing to life, a majority of Americans considered being gay a learned or nurtured condition.  “Love thy neighbor as thy self” didn’t cut it among many religious groups nationally. Being gay was an undesirable condition.

But then something began to happen across American. Americans began to get to know someone who was gay and the condition became real. Suddenly, being gay was viewed as a result of nature, or in other words, being gay was a form of being normal.

While there are still religious groups which denounce homosexuality, most now make fools of themselves by claiming they respect a homosexual as a person but not the life style practices of homosexuals. Hmmm. Never the less,today, more than 50% of Americans support gay rights including same sex marriage.

North Carolina is not going to get this genie back in the bottle. Supreme Court rulings clearly prohibit sexual orientation as a valid basis for discrimination and have also approved same sex marriage as a right of gay couples. So there.

But what about these sexual predators?

Most people do not carry around their birth certificate so it is unreasonable to expect anyone to be able to prove what their sex at birth might have been. Male to female trans persons (assuming no beards) will use a stall in a lady’s room and no one will be the wiser anyways. Female to male trans would be expected to also select a stall when using a men’s room. So where will the provocation be?

Several times in my life time I have been in a restroom and someone from the opposite sex has come in. Usually it is with a young boy who doesn’t know (or want) to enter the room by himself. Other times it is a personal emergency such as a super long line to get in a lady’s room or some mechanical problem making the room unavailable. When nature calls, laws do not mean much.

The LGBT community is arguing HB-2 is about denying respect for transgender people. Maybe, but HB-2 more clearly reflects ignorance and foolishness on the part of State law makers. Transgender use of public bathrooms will in 99.9% of the cases not be recognized by anyone else (person with beard using a lady’s room excepted).

So why is this big deal?

Will Toomey Be One?

May 21, 2016

Senator Pat Toomey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, is running for reelection. His reelection has been labeled “at risk” and one of the senate losses which could lead to Democrats regaining Senate control. Democrats need net four wins and Toomey could be one. Hmmm.

Toomey has not been a terrible Senator (damning with faint praise) although he has lined up with the Republican majority on all major votes. As a past president of the “Club For Growth”, Toomey is an unabashed friend of big business and tax cuts for the wealthy. Hmmm.

So, one might expect Toomey would run on his record, especially against his Democrat opponent, Katie McGinty, who has no elective office experience. Instead, Toomey has opened his campaign with a “police and security” theme. Vote for Pat is a vote for protection and security. And what exactly is the risk?

One might think that a law and order advocate would also be in favor of a strong court system too. Yet Toomey has said he would not vote for Supreme Court nominee, Merritt Garland, even though Garland is well qualified. Toovey’s decision is clearly ideological and demonstrates his concerns that a less conservative Supreme Court would not be good for conservative causes.

Could global terrorism also be on Toomey’s mind? Voters seem spooked when there is a terrorist act someplace in the world. If Toomey could establish this worry in voters’ minds, how could voters then choose a woman?

This thinly veiled sexist campaign strategy flies in the face of logic. If Toomey was really worried about taking care of his constituents, one might expect him to also be an advocate for sensible gun control which account for over 50,000 deaths each year, or increased funding for heart disease research which takes over 20,000 lives each year, or increased motor vehicle safety which adds another 30,000+ to the death list.

But these tangible risk factors do not provide as effective a campaign platform as terrorism. Hmmm.

Pat Toomey is in a tough spot. His party has decided to just say “no” to what ever President Obama has proposed including the appointment of a Supreme Court justice. The consequence is there is no platform upon which Toomey could run on.

So beware. With clever advisors and strategists, Toomey will run on a bait and switch platform which does its best to avoid owning up to his actual Senate record.

Will Toomey be one of the GOP losses?

Bernie Nader?

May 18, 2016

Bernie Sanders stubbornness and refusal to call it a day in the 2016 Democrat Presidential primary calls to mind Ralph Nader’s decision to run for President in 2000 when it was clear he could not win and would most likely be a spoiler for Democrat Al Gore. Nader got enough votes to enable George W Bush to win with less than 50% of the popular vote. Will history repeat?

Bernie apparently feels the delegate selection rules are rigged against him (or at least in Hillary Clinton’s favor if not against him personally). The Democrat selections rules are the same ones which lead to Barack Obama’s upset win over Clinton in 2008. Hmmm.

Sanders’ hangup falls to the “super delegates” who are not elected with a pledge to any candidate. Rather they are often political regulars who “get rewarded” by being a “super delegate” and tend to vote with the Party’s preferred candidate. Hillary has many more pledged super delegates than Sanders.

Bernie, like Nader, is passionate about his socialist beliefs. He has made a strong impression on many voters, especially the younger ones. The math, however, seems to be fixed in Clinton’s favor and she will get the Party’s nomination and Sanders will not. Why not graciously bow out and wish her well?

Bernie may be thinking his strong showing will help mold the Democrat Platform (if he cannot gain the nomination) to more robustly reflect Sanders’ views on breaking up “too big to fail” banks, reigning in big money (like Wall Street and the Koch Brothers), and making a real change in income inequality. Almost certainly, Sanders will insist upon something like that for him to endorse Clinton.

History is a good teacher but unfortunately voters are not always good students. Nader was equally passionate about the evils of big business and environmental destruction. The point is not what Sanders’ beliefs may be, rather it is about the prospects of a GOP President and what that might mean to so many other values Sanders, Clinton and Democrats may hold in common. In other words, Sanders must correctly assess when he has mad his point and when it is time to withdraw and bring his supporters together with Clinton’s so that his party can win the general election.

In 2000, there was not a ground swell of popular enthusiasm for either George W Bush or Al Gore. Getting out the vote was a real task. When the election came down to Florida, the Supreme Court weighed in and enabled a narrow GOP victory. Enhanced interrogations, the Patriot Act, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Katrina, and the near repeat of the great depression followed.  Hmmm.

Once again?

None of us know what “tit for tat” is going on between operatives for the Sanders and Clinton campaign staffs. Presidential elections are highly charged and not an environment for the weak of heart. At some point, however, the adults in the room must take charge and insist the juvenile behavior end. Democrats stand for something more than breaking up Wall Street regardless of whether this is a worthwhile goal. Think about the GOP quest to reverse human rights (for gays and lesbians), expel immigrants, grant tax cuts to the wealthy when we already have a deficit budget, roll back Obamacare while putting millions in the position of no healthcare insurance, and get out the sword and rattle it towards other countries (needlessly endangering other people’s children).

Bernie needs to get a grip on himself quickly. If Clinton’s people are stiffing him, he needs to make that known. (Shame on them if that were the case.)

Sanders may, of course, have made a great President. That is not the question. Instead, the subject is who can get elected and which party will that person be from. Clinton may (or may not) be the best choice for the Democrats. What really counts is making the best case to the American voters and accepting their choice. Before American voters can choose, the parties need to nominate a candidate. Driving a wedge between members of a party will make the final election problematic.

Come on Bernie, don’t be Bernie Nader.

Should We Be Worried?

May 16, 2016

With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton now considered the presumptive nominees (sorry Bernie), the early descriptions of what might come to pass is worrisome to be sure. The media, particularly the television variety which has feasted off Trump’s outrageous conduct during the primaries has a huge responsibility ahead. Will entertainment drown out serious news reporting?

If primaries are the standard, the Presidential race will become another round of “what did the Donald just say?” “He said what about Bill Clinton’s philandering?” “What happened in Benghazi that Hillary won’t talk about?” “Why did Hillary allow US secrets to be put at risk on her private email account?” “What did Hillary discuss with aides about payback they would receive for their financial support?” And so on.

If the news media allows this type of reporting to continue, in the absence of in-depth questioning of both candidates on specific platform promises and exactly how these promises would take effect, the prospects of a President Trump look both very well and very worrisome.

Hillary may have high negatives and may not be trusted by many Americans, but few can question her experience, intelligence, and qualifications to become President. Consider Donald Trump’s business experience, which he offers as proof he can lead the US government, with Hillary’s Senate, first Lady, and Secretary of State experience.

One might see one candidate as cautious, inclusive, and a deep thinker, while the other as narcissistic (look what I did), high risk taker (bully and bluffer and who looks for someone else cleans up the mess), and a blank sheet versus domestic and foreign policy (no relationships with world leaders or in-depth knowledge of cultures and nationalistic conflicts).

It would seem this Presidential race should be open and shut in favor of Clinton. Hmmm.

Maybe it should be open and shut, but it is not in the minds of voters. Too many do not trust the Clintons and most think less of how well government is functioning now. What better candidate could there be than a successful business man and entertainer?

The Clinton “trust issue” is a thin reflection that voters do not think she will even try to “fix Washington” but instead will go along and get along.

Voters are not wondering about what policies might be necessary to ease China into the world order without provoking conflict? Just what type of US foreign policy will facilitate India, Southeast Asia, Japan, and Korea to maintain their growth and not develop destructive conflicts with China? How will European countries develop healthy economies and not threaten Russia? And, how can the US remain helpful to the Middle East but not involved in the armed conflicts?

Trump would suggest these are not important questions (because the US is the greatest country in the world and he is only going to make the US greater). The Trump message is “as a businessman, he encounters problems all the time and he solves them when they arise.  As President, he would do the same.

Clinton is quite the opposite. Policies and strategies are essential in Hillary World. A fair question is “what is going to happen when some of the world’s bad actors do not respond to a Clinton Administration set of policies and strategies?

Debates around these two perspectives could be illuminating without presuming how voters might react. For my money, the choice of President made upon these propositions regardless of its outcome, would be acceptable.

On the other hand, “Crooked Hillary” or “Trump’s disrespect for women” campaign claims are emotional and probably irrelevant. Can the press put “big boy pants” on and steer their questions and observations to a higher level?