Archive for August 2016

Simple As 1-2-3?

August 29, 2016

Reading in today’s newspaper, a worrisome picture was painted contrasting Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as Presidential candidates. What was shocking was the huge difference each candidate was taking in preparation for the up coming Presidential debates.

Clinton, a traditionalist, was employing briefing books, study time, and mocked debates. Trump, on the other hand, preferred weekly meetings at his golf club over cheeseburgers and media savvy friends in order to practice “one liners”. Hmmm.

Most observers do not characterize Donald Trump as a mentally challenged individual, although most suspect him as blessed with attention deficit disorder. So does the difference in debate preparation reveal someone who is unrealistic about winning the Presidency or does it paint an opposite picture?

Without a doubt most people would view debate preparation as an indicator of how a President might deal with complex domestic or foreign policies. Preparation would translate into “good” and little or no preparation, into “bad”. Trump must know that, so what’s his intentions?

There are very few pathways to a Donald Trump Presidency according to experienced pollsters. The national electoral vote map favors Hillary Clinton and her lead continues to grow. So what is Trump likely thinking?

How about –

  • Keep voter turnout as low as possible.
  • Maximize Trump supporters turnout.
  • Vilify Hillary Clinton so much that even her supporters question her fitness

These three steps could produce the unthinkable, a Donald Trump victory. Here’s how.

  1. The growing opinion that this is a race to pick the lesser of two evils takes voters eyes off real differences and at the same time, sours voters’ view that their vote is important. Why go through the effort of voting when both candidates are damaged goods? Tried and true Trump supporters, however, will not think that way and will turnout to vote. Suppressing the vote follows from a steady diet of Hillary Clinton character attacks.
  2. Maximizing the Trump turnout flows from a campaign which unashamedly appeals to xenophobic, prejudicial, and ethnic nationalistic fears. This plays to Trumps demonstrated style and the believability that Trump will keep following this path (no pivot). You can trust Trump, one can not trust Clinton.
  3. Vilifying Hillary Clinton provides a “two-fer”. Trump will attempt to apply other labels like “crooked Hillary” which translates directly into intense voter dislike for Hillary Clinton. These voters will instead cast a vote for the third parties or stay home and not vote at all. This third strategy is ready made for the unknowable. For example, what about a large terrorist attack on US soil ? What about an ISIS attack again in Europe? What about some juicy revelations from newly released emails?

In short, Donald Trump will remain a viable threat to Hillary Clinton’s chances of victory. Hillary’s best defense will be an offense rich in contrasts with the GOP platform and Clinton proposals (with details) on growing the economy.

Hillary could get a break if Trump badly mishandles debate questions but it would be wiser to not bank upon that outcome. Personal attacks are more memorable than policy explanations.

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Voting For The Lesser Of Two “Evils”

August 27, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Election could turn into the election of someone voters  simply dislike less that the opponent. According to political commentators, Mark Shields and David Brooks, if Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump continue their name calling, particularly claiming the other is unfit to be President, whomever wins will receive no mandate from the voters to do anything.

Shields observed the traditional “honeymoon” will last about 24 hours and then the partisan food fight will resume.

With Congressional gridlock, government shutdowns and Congress’ wholesale refusal to approve Presidential appointments, Americans have already seen the dark side of partisan politics. How could a Hillary Clinton victory bring worse Congressional behavior?

IMO, Shields and Brooks have identified the wrong source of concern. For sure a President Clinton might appoint department officials and nominate department heads and judicial members who Republicans do not like (a Supreme Court nominee being the most loathsome for the GOP). But this prerogative follows centuries old practices (not to mention how the Constitution prescribes). If the GOP wins the Presidency, they will get to nominate whomever they prefer.  If Clinton wins, she should be accorded the same privileges. This follows America’s sense of fairness.

Barack Obama received clear mandates in 2008 and 2012 only to have Republicans immediately repudiated his mandates.  The GOP claimed voters elected Republicans to Governorships and Congress and in doing so made clear President Obama had no “mandate”. This Republican twisted logic ignores the fact that President Obama ran and won nationally while governors, representatives, and senators all run on much narrower geographic areas.

Why should anyone, then, expect that a winning President Clinton would suddenly enjoy a bi-partisan thinking Congress?

Voters do have a basis, other than the fitness of the other candidate upon which to make a choice. Both candidates have issued position papers (what they will try to do if elected) and both candidates are running on a Party Platform. Voters should pay attention to what each Party and each candidate advocates while assuming that for most issues gridlock will prevent implementation of either candidate’s promises.

  • Does it make sense to promise deportation of 11 million or does it make more sense to document them all and turn them into tax paying residents with a eventual path to citizenship?
  • Does it make sense to demonize women who seek to end unwanted pregnancies when if these women had the means they could obtain a legal abortion quietly, or does it makes more sense to promote family planning education and the ready availability of means to prevent pregnancy in the first place?
  • Does it make sense, during a period of enormous and growing income inequality to promise tax cuts which further exaggerate the economic difference between the top 1% and the rest of Americans, or does it make more sense to eliminate loopholes favoring the wealthiest Americans in order to pay for new infrastructure spending programs?
  • Is it a legitimate right, based upon religious freedom, for individuals to discriminate in public against others, or is religious freedom a right restricted to ones personal beliefs?
  • Is it a privilege for all Americans to receive emergency medical care only in hospital emergency rooms, or is affordable basic healthcare, including non-emergency preventive healthcare, a right of all Americans.

This election is about far more than picking the lesser of two evils. For many “headline” voters, who go no further than information contained in negative TV ads, they may indeed settle on choosing the lesser of two evils.

If polls continue to point to Hillary Clinton, her election will put the power of the White House behind comprehensive immigration reform, women’s right to choose, progressive tax rates, religious freedom but not in the public square, and the goal of recognizing healthcare as a right.

A majority of voting Americans have basically affirmed these positions for the past two Presidential elections. Should Hillary Clinton win this November, isn’t about time to honor the tradition of “majority rules” and for Congress to dial in the national vote and temper their personal views?

Politics Due Process?

August 24, 2016

Abu Zubaydah appeared before a US Government hearing at Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility and asked to be released. Zubaydah has been at Guantanamo since 2006 after first being detained by the US in 2002. Described as a high official in al Qaeda, Zubaydah has never been charged nor has he had a “day in court” in the 14 years since his arrest.

Zubaydah’s Alice in Wonderland experience, of course, is similar to most other Guantanamo detainees. The US has found it easier to detain and lock suspect terrorists up in Guantanamo and near impossible to process the detainees in a legitimately recognized judicial system.

The way into Guantanamo was straight forward, the way out was an unfathomable maze.

Zubaydah’s plight again shines a light upon the narrow thinking right and the wobbly kneed left. At stake is the reputation, if not the future health of America’s judicial system, a tradition of “innocent until proven guilty”. Guantanamo stands with the best of third world countries judicial practices.

Where has the left political world been? Why have they not demanded that Guantanamo detainees be brought to the US and processed under established civil courts?

The standard reply is that the detainees represent the worst of the worst and keeping them out of the US is a step in assuring US citizens’ safety. This answer of course is patently bogus given that the likes of Ted Kaczynski (the uni-bomber) are safely held in Super-Max prisons for years. So, what is the reason?

IMO, the answer lies in domestic politics. George W Bush’s Administration opened this can of worms when it apprehended al Qaeda operatives, tortured them for intelligence reasons, and tossed them into a detention center outside the jurisdiction of US Courts. Later the Administration even paid “bounties” to foreign countries if they turned over “suspicious” individuals to US authorities. These suspicious individuals were shortly transported to Guantanamo.  The Bush “hawks” had never thought the matter through because they were so tough on terrorists and quite frankly, they could do it.

So, where is the politics.

Domestically, the Republican Party had hijacked the “law and order” and “national security” labels for political purposes.  The GOP could not reconsider and allow the public to think Guantanamo was mistake (for fear losing political face).

Democrats, cowardly chose to say “me too” on national security and felt boxed being unable to claim national security and then support closing Guantanamo.

The GOP controlled Congress even went to the extent of denying any funds to close Guantanamo and open already existing but empty super-max facilities in the US. (Talk about digging a hole and pulling the dirt in on top of you.)

At present, in order to release a detainee from Guantanamo, the Secretary of Defense must assure Congress that the detainee represents no further risk to US interests. The argument is no longer about justifying “indefinite detainment”, but about presumed guilt and without any judicial process.

Hmmm. It seems our current lot of political leaders were absent when their law schools taught about “due process”.

Are The Emails Important?

August 23, 2016

Republicans have made a big deal about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account as well as a private server to conduct official business while she was Secretary of State. Acting “holier than thou”, one Republican politician after another has pronounced Clinton’s action as nefarious to outright treasonous.

“How could Secretary Clinton have been so brash in risking America’s security”, many Republicans have said  in various ways. Other Republicans have suggested the private emails were an attempt by the Clintons to enrich themselves by connecting Clinton Foundation donors with key government officials, including Hillary Clinton herself, for the purpose of fulfilling a “pay to play” arrangement. Hmmm.

As disgusting as these accusation might appear, so what?

There is probably not a single elected member of Congress who has not and will not continue to connect private citizens, especially those who have donated to their campaign, to some other government official. And one can be sure that members of key Congressional Committees are very active in representing key contributors interests in Congressional proceedings. That’s simply how it works.

There are many plausible explanations why Hillary Clinton chose to use a private email server and account. For sure the expectation of privacy ranks high in the list of probable reasons.

Clinton had every reason to expect Conservative groups would try to subpoena her records and go fishing for questionable contacts or judgements which might be used against her in future political campaigns. A private email account was Hillary’s answer.

The important question that lies before American voters is whether to vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Are the Emails Important in this context?

Consider this

Has Donald Trump told voters the truth about his actual wealth and personal finances. Does Trump owe money to foreign courses? Would these sources present any conflicts to a Trump Presidency?  Do you believe if Trump did release his tax returns these returns would confirm his claims of charitable donations, amount and sources of income, and amount of wealth? Do you think Trump has paid Federal income taxes? Would Trump’s tax returns represent a positive example for a President?

 

Is Donald Trump too familiar and reliant with making money via bankruptcy law? Has he undertaking business deals where he took a cut “off the top” and then when the projects floundered, did he take advantage of the smaller players (like subcontractors) in the deal? Is this the type of personal behavior one wants in a President?

 

Is Donald Trump knowledgeable in world affairs and foreign leaders? Does Trump have the focus and attention span sufficient to absorb and understand the endless number of position and fact papers his domestic and national security experts would present him? Is Trump a good bet to be Commander in Chief?

These type of questions could go on and on.

American voters might prefer a President who did not have so many self interests and potential conflicts of interest.  Americans would very much prefer to hear a Presidential candidate promise not to enrich themselves or their supporters as a consequence of their Presidency.   I am afraid voters are doomed to be disappointed with the choice of Trump or Clinton.

But wait, some say Trump will surround himself with competent people. The burdens of the Presidency will not drown Trump, we are told. Hmmm. (Do you remember George W Bush’s 8 years?)

Back to the Emails.

IMO, the emails are irrelevant. There is no reason to believe that Donald Trump is more honest, less interested in person aggrandizement, or would be more professional in his approach to being President than Hillary Clinton.

On the contrary, there is every reason to believe Hillary Clinton, compared to past Presidents is as or more intelligent, articulate, and broadly experienced to be President.

All in all I do not think Hillary’s Emails offer any new information.

Is Donald Trump A Federalist Or A Republican?

August 21, 2016

If you are a student or Revolutionary War history or have read Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, it is reasonable to wonder whether Donald Trump is a “Federalist” or a “Republican”. Consider the possibilities.

Alexander Hamilton was a Federalist along with George Washington (Washington dislike partisan politics but supported Federalist policies) and John Adams. Federalists believed that a strong central government (at least compared to the “confederation” period) was key to America’s security and growth.

Republicans such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe worried that Federalists would seek to return the United States to a monarchy like in Britain.  Republicans wanted to preserve States Rights by keeping the Federal Government relatively weak.

Republican leaders were concentrated in southern and agrarian States where an agrarian economy (which relied upon slave labor) existed. Republicans opposed any Federal measures to eliminate slaves or tax imported goods (import duties aided northern manufacturers allowing them to make and sell goods while it did nothing for southern farmers except raising the cost of many things they bought) In many regards, historians have said this difference of opinion amongst our founding fathers sowed the seeds of the Civil War. There seems to a similarity also with “States Rights” arguments we hear today.

Favoring a strong Federal government or demanding States Rights seems to be just which position benefits one the most.

Federalists tended to share a concern, if not disdain, for the common man. Hamilton and Adams understood how clever rhetoric could sway the common person to follow directions which would be in their self interest and not consider the good of the whole country.

Federalists, however, did not advocate a return to a monarchy as Republicans alleged. Rather, Federalists gave that impression because they were so convinced that their approach to governance was correct.  Federalist became insensitive to the consequence to the southern landowner as a consequence of northern economic growth.

Hmmm.

Donald Trump has shown a lot of old time “republicanism”. He has jumped in the gun owners corner decrying the Federal Governments encroachment. Trump thinks States are the best judge of what healthcare Americans should receive. And if his support will translate into votes, Trump is all for “religious freedom” where the faithful can discriminate at will.

On the other hand, Trump advocates for Federalist programs. His “wall” along the Mexican boarder and his immigration policies are based upon executive actions of a strong Federal Government. And, who can overlook Trump’s intentions to unilaterally withdraw from trade agreements and maybe even NATO based upon his chief executive judgements.

Hmmm.

IMO, today’s States Rights advocates are basically Federalists who do not think they can get their way on specific issues. On those subjects (such as gay rights, religious freedom, taxation, healthcare, voting rights, women’s rights, and so on), these pseudo States Rights advocates have no problem cheering for Conservative majority Supreme Court decisions that are binding for the entire Country, but if the Court leans progressive, then its back to the States to figure out how to side step Court opinions.

So I would guess Trump is a Republican like Jefferson.

Hmmm.

The incomprehensible part of this observation is that Donald Trump does not remind me in the least of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison or Monroe.

The Economy In An Election Year

August 20, 2016

Since 2009, the US economy has expanded each year. This expansion run is near a record but to listen to Republicans, one might fear recession, if not depression, was at our doorsteps.

Republicans offer a remedy… massive tax cuts for the wealthy by reducing the higher marginal rates plus dropping corporate rate from 35% to maybe 15%, and wholesale revocation of regulations (which ones are not clear but environmental related ones seem for sure). Why should voters believe these steps will boost economic growth?

IMO, voters shouldn’t believe GOP claims.

During George W Bush’s 8 years, GDP growth never reached 4% per year.   Many Republicans today hold out 4+% as “in the cards”. Bush’s Administration averaged slightly over 2% per year!

And remember, Bush used tax cuts (you guessed it, favoring the wealthy) to stimulate the US economy. Under Bush the economy peaked at 3.8% growth before crashing in 2008 into negative numbers. What goes up usually must come down.

It might also be useful to look at the current US economy in global terms.

 

In 2015, the US economy grew at a 2.4% (hmmm, slightly more than “W’s” average) and the US ranked about the median of all other countries. With a few exceptions, namely China and India, the countries that grew faster than the US were smaller, relatively minor world economic players like Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea and Uzbekistan.

As significant, the US’ 2.4% was greater than most of the modern industrial world like Germany, France, Canada, and Japan. And of course, in absolute terms the US economy, at almost 18 trillion dollars, is that largest in the world.

So what can politicians reasonable say about the economy?

While everyone can dream of sustained economic growth greater than 4%, looking at the world order, this noble goal might be “just dreaming”. A more reasonable number might be 2.5-3.5%. Such a goal would put pressure on Congress and the next President to ensure the economy grew but did not grow so fast as to bring on another crash.

 

US tax policy offers a two edged knife. Lower taxes (across the board) does little for the poorer Americans (almost half of tax payers) because they already pay little or nothing. More sinister, lower taxes for the wealthy and corporations just put more money in rich pockets and have been shown to do little to increase consumption.

Raising taxes is just as risky since taking from the rich and giving to the poor, Robin Hood style, while appealing could have many unintended consequences. (Some of the proposals like a minimum 30% tax rate for those earning more than $10 million or returning marginal income tax rates and capital gains rates to those employed in the 80’s (adjusted for inflation) might be safe but probably should be taken in steps.) In general terms, raising taxes is antithetical to raising economic growth. More government spending, however, without increased tax revenue is unwise for the long term.

Since economic growth usually follows the successful workings of a government, one might reasonably question how has the Obama Administration worked together in achieving the 2015 2.4% growth?

Regrettably the answer is near zero. The GOP controlled congress as refused to cooperate and even sanctioned “shutting down” the government and threatening to disown the national debt.

On this basis, if the GOP wished to make positive statements about increasing the US economy’s growth, they could begin with promises to work “bi-partisanly” with the next Administration on serious measures to improve the economic environment. Infrastructure improvements and a clear headed defense policy would be two areas where significant gains could be made with both Democrat and Republican winners.

Donald Trump’s economic growth proposals are vague and lack specificity. His proposals seem consistent with the now familiar GOP list. These flatly will not work for most Americans.

Hillary Clinton’s proposals around infrastructure renewal and surtaxes on the wealthy to finance other jobs improvement projects seems in the right direction. The proposals, however, are just proposals unless the Congress can work productively with her.

Assuming a GOP Congress again will decide to just say “no”, than President Obama’s 2.4% will look mighty good while the US steamrolls towards a third world infrastructure.

Aetna’s Short Sighted Move

August 18, 2016

What is Aetna thinking in announcing it was withdrawing from 11 Affordable Care Act “exchanges”? It is mind blowing to think that their explanation (costs are exceeding revenues which is most likely true) is the real reason. Could it be a bluff to get the US Government to up the “exchange premiums” so that Aetna can report better earnings? Could it be that Aetna is hopeful that the next Administration will allow healthcare insurance providers to return to the good old days when they could reject enrollees for “pre-existing conditions” (when Aetna did report higher earnings)? Who knows but Aetna’s withdrawal signifies exactly what is wrong with US healthcare.

Healthcare is a business which is transacted on businessman’s terms.

In most other modern industrial countries, affordable and dignified access to healthcare is a basic expectation. In these lands such as Germany, France, Canada, and Japan (to name a few), healthcare is a right. Why is it not here?

There are companies like Aetna in these other countries. These “insurance” companies, however, provide an “administrators” role processing paper work after the fact. These countries have a “single” payer, their government. Rates are set by national, non-political boards of medical experts. While rates for doctors, hospitals, medical devices, and drug companies are negotiated, the government has the last say. Under this model, the insurance company’s profit is modest and in line with the services they provide.

Healthcare is not free anywhere, and must be paid for in some way. The method of choice for those superior healthcare systems has been a national value added tax (like a sales tax) where everyone pays according to what one consumes. There is no free lunch.

In the US, out of sight is out of mind. The fact that poorer Americans go without preventive healthcare seems unimportant. The idea that less well off Americans could buy basic coverage, often with additional government assistance has been resisted by Obamacare opponents.

What about fairness?  Fairness (I pay for mine, others should pay for theirs) is often given as justification. In truth, very few Americans purchase healthcare directly from money out of pocket.  Most Americans obtain healthcare insurance as part of their employment. As a consequence many Americans act as it healthcare is a free lunch.

“Exchange business makes up a fraction of Aetna’s overall business and does not represent the difference between solvency and loss for the whole business. So why the withdrawal from Obamacare exchanges?

Oh, could it be the Government’s objection to Aetna and Humana proposed merger?

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, according to news reports has told the government that if the government opposed the merger, Aetna would withdraw from the exchanges. Hmmm.

This hard ball approach demonstrates the business aspect of healthcare delivery, not the delivery of basic healthcare services.  One would think that should disqualify Aetna from participating in any aspect of healthcare services.   Aetna, of course, should be free to offer other types of insurance, like life, home, and auto insurance but not healthcare.

Of course, there is no basis in law for this recommendation. And Aetna knows that.

The gamble Aetna’s is making is that our elected representatives will not consider taking action to reverse Aetna’s decision.  Even more disappointing, authorities will not scrap the Affordable Care Act and adopt a well funded “universal” healthcare system.

Sadly, Aetna may be making a good bet.