Archive for June 2016

America’s Best And Brightest Without a Moral Compass

June 29, 2016

The old adage “Those who can do, do. Those who can’t do, teach” traceable back to George Bernard Shaw and more recently, Woody Allen, of course is full of exception. The adage mostly justifies why the salary of teachers is so low relative to the importance of their work. These words might be better applied to the current crop of elected officials who populate Congress.

For the past 30 or 40 years, there has been a self congratulatory chorus by American Universities. American MBAs have long been considered the best prepared business people in the world. Lawyers and engineers have been likewise considered exceptional.  Doctors and Accountants also clammer to be recognized at the top of the list.

But every so often, however, events unfold and we are left with the shocking question, how could that person (or persons) done such and such? One is struck with the idea that this generation has risen without a hint of ethics or a moral compass. How is that possible?

David Brooks, NYT columnist, points to a lack of reliance on historical bastions for ethics and morality, namely churches and reinforced by family. Others emphasize the higher education process has become too narrow in its mission and has forgotten about the well educated person. Who knows?

Another place to check out these hypotheses is elected officials in Congress.  Here are men and women who speak elegantly of religion, moral values, and America’s exceptionalism.  What type of example do they set?

Elected members of Congress lay somewheres between teachers and lawyers/engineers/business degreed people in terms of what type of renumeration they can demand. Receiving almost $200,000 a year is a lot more money than a teacher but a lot less than what successful professionals can receive. But Congress members can never be considered dumb.  They have found ways to do better.

Congress member enrichment schemes are clever and numerous. These schemes involve the Congress doing something for someone and then the someone sending money somehow and some way back to the Congress member.

One famous example involves defense spending where the newest, most sophisticate, and not surprisingly most expensive planes or ships are constructed of parts made in all 50 States. There is no reasonable chance of this occurring naturally but it s sure way for all Congress members and their supporters to gain lucrative business and in turn buy services from third parties who can innocently reward the Congress person’s campaign, Congress person’s law firm (or business) or as a reward, even hire Congress member’s family members.

In an unbelievable Supreme Court case announced yesterday, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s jail sentence for fraud was reverse. No one questioned the facts that the Governor has received over $150,000 in “gifts” from a business man who was seeking the Governors help in arranging certain meetings and events. The Supreme Court ruled existing law did not preclude this type of behavior! Where is their sense of ethics (why should a Governor get this access to “gifts” and no one else, or why should this business man get help his competitors did not receive) or morality (where is the boundary between friendship and buying favors?  Where has ethics and moral compass gone?

Congress members and State Governors have realized that as Government spends trillions, there is a wonderful chance for each member or elected official to divert a little into their own pockets if they forget about ethics and morality.

It appears that in this regard, these elected officials are truly exceptional and wonderful products of their institutes of higher learning.


Brexit, Shmexit, Who Cares?

June 27, 2016

The British vote to withdraw from the European Union came as a shock to many. How could something so sensible (large common market, larger than the US) appear to so many Brits as a curse to be ended. To be sure the EU brought some unpleasant aspect to Britain but the benefits to a country, now a shadow of what it once was, would seem easy for politicians to communicate. Hmmm.

The EU can motor on as if nothing has happened while the unintended consequences descend upon Britain… that is unless other member States loose control to nationalistic elements. It is not a wild and crazy idea that the EU could unravel and return the continent to a group of competing States prone to local skirmishes. One would hope not but 500 years of history do not lie.

Briton’s unwise decision can be traced not to immigrants or Brussel’s eager legislators, but to the mainstream British politicians who have chosen short term expedient solutions to systemic national problems like the loss of mining or manufacturing jobs.  Where has been honest assessments and workable plans to over come?  Instead Britons politicians have tried to distract voters with hollow promises, past soccer victories, and glorification of the King and Queen.

Globalization, like in America, has made so many manufacturing jobs redundant. Any attempt to repatriate these jobs, as opposed to replacing them with higher skill or technology based ones, must fail because of simple economics.

Soon the Brexit supporters will learn the hard way that immigrants were not the problem as well as globalization cannot be turned on or off.

The big question is whether US mainstream politicians can learn this lesson or whether they too will fall victim to convincing voters to vote a certain way, like to Make America Great Again, only to find they have selected an even poorer alternative?

It’s The Economy Stupid

June 24, 2016

Former President Bill Clinton voiced the words “It’s the Economy Stupid” in his 1992 election bid against George H W Bush. Bill Clinton was able to characterize Bush as out of touch with the woes of the average American. Hillary Clinton now may face a second bite of that apple, this time defending against Donald Trump”s “Make America Great Again”. Will she do better than Papa Bush?

In most comparative measures the US economy is doing well and could still boast of being overall the best in the world. Americans, however, are not feeling that love the way they think it should feel. Why?

Trump has tapped into the average Americans dissatisfaction with government in general and frustrated by stagnated wages and the scarcity of higher paying ones Trump is selling the message that he will fix everything when he is President. Can he save the economy?

Hmmm, unlikely.

Globalization has changed everything. The price of labor for unskilled or low skilled work is what ever is the going rate in Southeast Asian countries. Either a company pays that wage or it will simply be uncompetitive in the market place. Exception to this rule are jobs which are immune to outsourcing, like building roads and houses, or providing nursing or landscaping services. But immigrants (legal or otherwise) who are willing to work for less drive the pay for these “safe” jobs down too. Understand better now about building a wall?

So, if the economy were growing at a faster rate, who would be the winners. Business owners, restauranteurs, office supply dealers, real estate agents etc would do even better than they are today. But guess what? All the low skill or unskilled jobs will pay no more than before regardless of how fast the economy is growing.

Now it should be clear that a growing economy is better than one that is shrinking. And to a degree, an economy growing at 2% is preferred to one growing at 1%. So would an economy growing at 10% each year be Trump’s target if it were possible?

It might be but it shouldn’t.

China has been growing for over 10 years at 10% or greater. Economically this is unsustainable because the country will outgrow its ability to expand and most likely increasing customer demand will dry up. The sweet spot is growth where both trading parties grow.

How can Hillary Clinton deliver a message which says “the US is on a desirable growth path and I will continue to maintain it”?

Clinton will undoubtably promise “jobs”, “education and training”, and policies which promote growth. Clinton will also (with much more difficulty) underscore the pitfalls of trade barriers like tariffs and duties. Clinton could point to numerous economists and their projections of what a trade war with China would look like or what a repeal of NAFTA would bring on, but with Bernie Sanders having made a strong case of protectionism, Clinton may be cautious.

All economies cycle through growth and contraction. When government stimulates an economy when the economy is growing, growth explodes. The problem is that sooner, rather than later, the economy contracts. The difference between the heights of growth and the lows of contraction impact the average person far more than low steady growth with an occasional contraction.

So with Donald Trump hammering at his business experience and implying that is all that is necessary to improve the lot of the average American wage earner, what should Hillary be thinking and saying?

The long term winning economic position will be around taking advantage of globalization and building an educated, skilled work force which could demand higher wages compared to ordinary manufacturing jobs. This will involve policies favoring worker training, education, and government policies favoring export industries.

Clinton may also need to push for an increase in the minimum wage and recommend tax reforms which encourage owners to share increased productivity with workers rather than just holding their wages down and pocketing the profits (little chance for reform with the current GOP).

Unfit To Govern

June 21, 2016

There are two political races to be decided this November. One, the Presidential selection which offers an experienced, intelligent women versus an opportunistic political neophyte. The other race contests the legislative branch hopefuls, “just say no Republicans” versus “just say yes Democrats”. Polls currently favor Hillary Clinton but are inconclusive on whether Republicans will lose control of the Senate or both the Senate and House. Why should we care?

Yesterday offered one example. Four proposals spurred on by the Orlando mass shootings were defeated. At least two of the proposals made common sense on their own merits without any added emphasis from Orlando. Yet the GOP majority was able to narrowly defeat the measures.

More and more political pundits are now writing about the “Republican Party is theparty with no clothes on”. The past 8 years and the recent GOP Presidential primaries have exposed the Republican Party as nothing more than a collection of single issue, the earth is flat, factions. Protecting the 2nd Amendment is one thing, but interpreting the 2nd Amendment to include rapid fire assault type weapons equipped with high capacity ammo clips defies common sense in all civilized countries outside the US.

Senator John Cornyn speaking after the Republican majority voted down these proposals said that the country needed to get back to eliminating the real cause of these mass shootings, ISIS, rather than pursing measures which attacked the 2nd Amendment. Hmmm.

Ones first reaction is “what did he just say”? Newtown, Columbine, and Virginia Tech involved no political motive at all, and the Orlando mass shooting did not involve foreign assistance at all. The Orlando shooter just went to a friendly gun store and bought his weapons of mass destruction.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is also speaking out. He is touting “A Better Way”, a saga in six parts. His message, to his credit, begins saying yes to some policies.

For example, Ryan says the GOP wants to end poverty, and that is Plank 1 in the 6 steps to A Better Way. Without a doubt this is a worthy target. Ryan’s plan, would make recipients be actively searching for work. Hmmm. Not much more details available unfortunately.

Plank 2, National Security while important is another non-starter for a party which seems not to recognize the US spends more on defense that all other countries combined. Ryan’s proposals would spend even more while still being against increasing taxes and in favor of cutting entitlements.

Plank 3, Tackling Excessive Regulations simply begs the questions which ones and in what manner. George W Bush tackled regulations and brought us a weak FEMA (Hurricane Katrina response) and ultimately the near 2009 depression. Today the GOP decries oil and gas regulations even while there are rising concerns about drilling operations and associated earth quakes. Hmmm.

Plank 4, Congress Reclaiming Its Constitutional Rights is a duh moment. For a party which voted near 50 times to repeal Obamacare without ever proposing what would replace it, one would not be out of place to think Congress (at least a GOP lead one) already has too much power.

Plank 5 and 6, Healthcare and Taxes are still to come. It is hard to believe these planks would be more than same old, same old.

Credit to Ryan for at least raising issues which would do well with serious review. Poverty is by far the number one issue weighing down America’s productivity, not to mention its conscience too. Healthcare and taxes have plenty of room for reform if done with all Americans (not the top 1/2 of 1%) in mind.

Pundits are recommending that Donald Trump toss out his great Mexican wall and open profiling of Muslims positions and get behind Ryan’s “A Better Way”. So far Trump has not seen this wisdom.

Sadly, I do not expect to see much better thinking from Hillary Clinton or the Democrat Party. The best they can offer is status quo and fewer promises that cannot possibly be kept.

Looking at the rest of the developed world and thinking that America can go back to some time in the past, “Making America Great Again”, or giving more latitude to flat earth religious groups, is simply emblematic of a political party caught on the wrong side of history.

The current version of Republican thinking inescapably paints the GOP as unfit to govern (at this time).

Islamist Terrorist On Obama’s Watch

June 18, 2016

I saw this summary on Facebook.  The summary lists 10 incidents where someone of Muslim faith murdered someone who was not a Muslim.  Sadly there was a total of 91 who lost their lives.  The Facebook implications was that President Obama, in some way, has been complicit in enabling needless American deaths.  Hmmm.

During this same period, hand guns have taken the lives of over 180,000, traffic accidents another 180,000, and deaths from slips and falls accounted for another 180,000 or so.

President Obama has not done much on these preventable deaths either.  I wonder what he has been doing with his time?

It is mind boggling that so many people connect these terrorist inspired random acts with a specific Obama Administration policy (or lack there of) and seem to say, “if only the President had done this or that, these acts would not have taken place”.  I wonder what those anti-terror policies would look like?

One might jump to the conclusion that the policies must be aimed at Muslims.  On the other hand, each of these incidents involved the use of guns.  Hmmm.  I wonder whether these anti-Obama fans who circulate these posts are thinking about a sharp curtailment on the availability of guns?

I think not.

For common sense purposes, one must keep in mind the low number of deaths, the lack of any connectivity between them, and  the lack of prior indicators which might have predicted the incident each provoked.  In comparison to other gun related deaths, traffic deaths and home related accidental deaths, these 91 don’t even make the radar screen.

Oh, and one more point.  If these sad, senseless deaths of 91 Americans justify a political statement, then I wonder what type of statement the 3000 or so Americans who lost their lives on George W Bush’s watch on 9/11?

McWho’s Last Ride?

June 17, 2016

Arizona Senator John McCain lashed out yesterday in what only can be characterized as an attempt to convince Arizona voters that the GOP and McCain are still relevant. In a mind boggling mental exercise, McCain connect President Obama to the senseless killings in Orlando’s Pulse night club. McCain blamed ISIS and in turn President Obama for allowing ISIS to form. Hmmm.

McCain and other neoconservatives have previously claimed ISIS is a direct result of the US’ early withdrawal from Iraq. The reasoning goes that when the US ceased combat operations in 2009 a power vacuum was created, and voila, ISIS came to life. Hmmm.

This analysis, while creative, is devoid of any serious consideration. Forget for a moment that there would have been no ISIS on Sadaam Hussein’s watch. Which President invaded and occupied Iraq?  Shame on  GOP former President George W Bush.

Also forget that the Bush Administration negotiated withdrawal terms and declined to agree to US remaining because Iraqi President Malaki wanted “status of forces” terms unacceptable to the US. In other words, withdrawing from Iraq was a deed of the Bush Administration before Obama became President.

And while one is at it, let’s forget about al Qaeda, the Taliban, and all the off-shoots in central and northern Africa. And if extremism is the name of the game, then let’s not overlook Hezbollah and Hamas, who although Shiites still evoke radicalism. In short, extremism in the name of Islam has had no shortage of sources.

McCain’s comments are even more bizarre considering the questionable direct connection of terrorists inspiration and the crime.  McCain’s comments are not helpful in any way.

There is already just as much speculation that the killer was mentally unstable, a woman beater, and possibly unsure of his own sexual orientation which in turn conflicted with his religious training.

If McCain wanted to comment in relevant manner, he might have commented on why military style, high ammunition capacity, weapons are so easily available to anyone.

McCain is caught in a tight reelection race. The sun could be setting on what might be otherwise describe as a distinguished career. With statements like this recent one, McCain is treading on the potential of becoming McWho.

They Still Don’t Get It

June 15, 2016

The GOP leadership along with a dozen or so “at risk” Republican Senators had a very bad week, especially since the shootings in Orlando. While many GOP “big wigs” have squirmed on how to distance themselves from their support of Donald Trump, the majority of Republican leaders have not hinted that the Republican Party has a basic disconnect with the majority of Americans.

So many Republicans are on record supporting, with no exceptions, the NRA “on controls on guns” that avoiding some blame for the 49 Orlando dead takes a linguistic virtuoso. Expressing sympathy much less empathy for the dead gays who were at the Pulse bar last Saturday is even harder. And finding ways to side step Donald Trump’s patently un-American proposal to ban all Muslims from America has exposed many GOP candidates to the hint that they may not be so tough on terrorist, an apparent “no-no” in the Republican ranks.  Voters are seeing this too.

Mitch McConnell’s admonition, “stay on message” apparently wasn’t received by Trump, or at least understood for what it really means. McConnell was attempting to tell Trump, “believe what you will but say only what is written on paper”.

When Trump went off reservation this weekend attacking Hillary Clinton and President Obama for not saying the words “radical Islam”, Trump drew the spotlight away from the economy (read jobs) or any of the pet GOP policies like tax cuts (for the wealthy), religious freedom (legal discrimination against gays and women), and the Supreme Court (appointing conservative nominees).

As time is progressing, voters are beginning to understand the consequences a GOP Presidency will bring, even well beyond the fitness a Donald Trump might be as President.

With over 4 months until the November elections, there is plenty of time for a anti-GOP landslide to form. Not only will Trump be defeated but it is becoming more likely there will be huge GOP Congressional losses too.

Orlando Magic

June 12, 2016

Just like that, early this morning, 50 people were killed and at least another 53 were wounded, some with life threatening gun shot wounds. Was it magic or was it an event with preventable causes?

The gun crowd have already begun the familiar refrains that guns do not kill, people do. And of course that is true, it is just that people can kill a lot more other people with certain guns. What is so difficult about that concept?

Chris Rock’s solution has been to increase the price of bullets, say to several thousand dollars a round. Humorous for sure, but like most price controls, smuggling might circumvent this containment measure.

Over the next few days there will be calls for out right gun restrictions and other calls for arming everyone. With the current Supreme Court ruling confirming the Constitutional right of Americans to own and carry guns, the Country is left only with the option to implement reasonable gun control measures. What could they be?

Donald Trump may say no guns for Muslims or Mexicans, although it is doubtful the NRA would stand for any retrenchment in gun ownership.

Democrats will call for more “background checks” and longer waiting periods to conduct these checks. While this should be commonsense, these are relatively meaningless in view of the number of guns already available for private sale. Waiting periods and background checks require a willing public to be effective. People who want guns are not model citizens.

Here is a proposal.

What if it became law that private citizen could own military assault style weapons and large ammunition clips BUT could only possess them if stored and used in a secure and regulated gun club or shooting range? Gun lovers, come out and shoot to your heart’s content but when one is done shooting the guns stays at the club.

With sufficient fines and random searches, the public could be encouraged to store these weapons in secure locations or risk having them confiscated.

Would that stop mass shootings? Probably not but it should lower the death toll.

Galvanizing the public to come to their sense and recognize what is responsible and sensible gun ownership would be the best outcome that could come from this tragedy.

It would be Orlando magic.


Ex Post Facto And Statutes Of Limitations

June 11, 2016

The Pennsylvania Legislature has taken up consideration of a change to its Statutes of Limitations laws as they relates to sexual abuse crimes. Under the proposed change, individuals could sue other individuals or organizations for alleged child sexual abuse crimes without limitations of time. Is this a wise change to the law?

The Catholic Church does not think it either wise or fair. According to news reports, Catholic Church representatives have been quietly lobbying legislators seeking to stop the law making process. I wonder whether that’s also “religious freedom”?

Sex abuse and in particular child sex abuse are abhorrent crimes. At one extreme sex abuse is about assault and at the other, sex abuse often involves the misuse of power or societal position where someone imposes their will on another. Either physically assaulting or inducing someone to do something against their will are despicable crimes. So shouldn’t the adoption of no statutes of limitations for these crimes be a “no brainer”?

Maybe, but I think one must consider the concept of “Ex Post Facto” before deciding.

Under this long tradition of US law, acts committed when no law prohibits them, cannot later be charged should a new law be enacted. This is an important protection of civil liberty and should not lightly be discarded.

The Catholic Church has been shown to have “institutionally” protected priest child molesters. There has not been any evidence that church authorities ever encouraged child abuse but when it occurred church officials did try to cover it up. Shame, shame, shame on the Catholic Church.

Removing the statutes of limitations was proposed as a remedy for this past individual and organization behavior.  On top of shame would be most likely costly trials and settlements.

As seemingly “the right thing to do” as allowing priests and the Catholic Church to be sued for any past child abuse incidents may be, this change runs right into the principle of ex post facto. IMO, legislators should confine their new laws to those which spell out requirements  church officials must follow when new allegation of sex abuse arise that involve church employees.

Allowing government enact laws and then go back in time to charge individuals is a bag of worms that won’t be pretty.

You Must Be Kidding

June 10, 2016

It seems certain now that the Presidential race will be between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, a world famous entrepreneur versus a world famous States person. Hmmm.

Since Trump announced his candidacy and began competing against 16 other GOP hopefuls, his modus operandi has been marked by xenophobia and personal and derogatory statements. Muslims and Mexicans became the everyday persons’ enemy, and Trump would take care of them. With regards to other candidates, Trump simply bullied them with taunts rarely receiving equally effective replies. Jeb Bush was low energy, Marco Rubio was Little Marco, Ted Cruz was Lie’n Ted, and so on. Even more rare was any discussion of policies or whether these policies were connected to the problems the US faces.

Last week Trump was true to form and announced on national television that a judge hearing a fraud suit against Trump University should recuse himself because the judge was Mexican and was biased. These words totally unglued GOP leaders who had held their noses and elected to support Trump. Yesterday, Trump began to walk back his comments, or at least water them down.

Today Trump announced a major speech as early as next Monday in which he would “tell it like it is” about the Clintons, Hillary his opponent and Bill as well. There are no shortage of “Clinton conspiracy” stories and Bill Clinton’s philandering is well known too. Will Trump do it again?

Trump’s style has been to bully his opponent and in the process keep the name Donald Trump on the 7/24 media spotlight. The “Trump Brand” will fix all that is wrong, he tells his supporters. Trump’s supporters, in turn, accept that whatever issue they want improved or eliminated they are sure Trump will deliver on his promise.

In short, Trump has tried to use personal attacks and playing to some voters fears as a means to distract an opponent while avoiding any real, fact filled discussion of policy. Will that be enough to defeat Hillary Clinton?

If you look into the eyes of Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell, one can tell they despise Trump and probably do not think he will win. Ryan and McConnell do care about retaining control of the House and Senate, however. So, they will be putting on the game face each and every day. This is the best they can do with the cards the way they are.

The GOP is praying for an FBI indictment over Hillary’s private email server but that is a long shot. Short term, Ryan and McConnell must tidy up after the Donald makes a mess with some outlandish statement.

Justice would suggest a Clinton win in November along with a serious loss of House seats and a loss of control of the Senate. Following 8 years of just saying no and the piece de resistance, stone walling Merritt Garland’s Supreme Court appointment, the majority of Americans should deliver a message, the last eight years is not how to execute governance.

Of course, Donald Trump could put forward a fiscally conservative, social progressive (libertarian like) set of policies and surprise everyone on his grasp of the key issues. I wonder whether his message will be substance based or one more rehash of anti-Clinton rhetoric which the ultra conservatives have handed out for the past 24 years?