Archive for September 2016

Getting Disillusioned?

September 30, 2016

The 2016 Presidential race seems to be saying that qualifications and interest in making change are unimportant for someone to become America’s commander in chief. Events seem to be saying “popularity” in a democratic sense is enough. Otherwise how can one explain Donald Trump’s serious run, or Hillary Clinton’s low level support?
With respect to Trump, from his utterances, his facial gestures, and his flamboyant, narcissistic style, how can anyone say other than, “really”?

Never the less, seasoned GOP leaders are carefully backing him, probably in hopes that down ticket Republicans won’t get flushed out if Trump does lose. Speaker Paul Ryan has been quiet demurring that Congressional business is his main focus. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has done much the same although McConnell has endorsed Trump firmly by his total rejection of Hillary Clinton.

At this point in the Presidential contest, the outcome could go either way. There might be a President Trump or there might be a President Clinton. Columnist George Will has said it makes little difference who wins because he thinks Trump is further left on some issues than Clinton. For a lifelong conservative, Will is disillusioned.

Republicans are quietly poised, with a Trump victory, to repeal Obamacare, end funding for Planned Parenthood, and take on the holy trinity, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. A Trump win also puts any comprehensive immigration reform in the waste bin and watch out “Common Core” or any other national program to improve American’s educational system.

Oh, and let’s not forget that every home could have a gun and with a GOP friendly Washington, open carry would be encouraged. If all this is not enough, Republicans are drooling over the prospects to roll back taxes and in doing so, grant the very wealth a huge tax windfall.

Trump supporters and the GOP are ready to do this in order to make America great again. Jobs, prosperity, and the American Dream will be available to all Americans, Trump supporters say. How can Hillary top that?

Hmmm.

Hillary’s path would seem like a walk in the park.  Clinton has promised protection for the “holy trinity”, Obamacare, and promised a jobs creating grand infrastructure repair program. Unfortunately, Clinton has not addressed the problems the holy trinity and Obamacare face, especially the pending funding/solvency threats to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, or the fixes Obamacare needs.

What is really disillusioning is that there is abundant non-partisan information confirming that affordable healthcare, help towards a dignified retirement, and a robust economy necessary to support the American Dream will require changes in the current status quo. Change need not be draconian, nor will simply throwing more money at it will be the answer.  Why doesn’t Hillary say what everyone knows?

What is just as disillusioning is that Congress seems more concerned about keeping their jobs.  The thought of rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work of building non-partisan solutions rather than raising money for their next campaign seems missing.

A Trump victory will be far more than disillusioning. A Trump win will set the US on a steeper decline away from an exceptional country and open the future to even stronger partisan governance.  That is very disillusioning.

What Does America’s Syrian Policy Really Mean?

September 29, 2016

With respect to foreign policy, political pundits are gnashing their teeth. Hawks and Trump supporters are calling President Obama a failed President and possessing no leadership. And any unbiased observer would call Secretary of State Kerry’s negotiations with Russia juvenile. Yet,everyday that passes means more deaths and destruction in Syria.

Republicans and Donald Trump blame ISIS and the Syrian insurgency upon President Obama’s feckless foreign policy. Had the US not pulled out of Iraq, the story goes, ISIS would never have formed. (At least Trump is honest enough to recognize that had George W Bush not invaded and occupied Iraq, the Syrian-Iraq power vacuum would not have arose.) But is the blame game useful?

Lost in the war of accusations is President Obama’s Syrian policy explanation. President Obama, and at least some of his advisers, are versed in 1600 years of Middle East history.  Obama and his advisors recognize that outside military force is akin to trying to shut off a boiling tea pot by taping up the kettle’s spout. This may work for a moment but the boiling water will continue to generate steam until the pot explodes.

President Obama’s Middle East policy calls for the leading Middle East countries to band together and solve these disputes politically. Said differently, until the wealth is shared far more equitably with the common person, those seeking power and wealth will find the populous only too ready to follow promises of a better way.

Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two big elephants in the room, would prefer peace but not at any expense which might destabilize their own worlds. So for the time being, Saudi Arabia and Iran see a small war as preferred.

So given this perspective, why should American lives be spent?

There are many American foreign policy experts who would prefer a limited but far stronger response than President Obama has authorized. Most of President Obama’s critics, however, are pure politicians who neither know what’s sensible or are ready to be held accountable when a more aggressive Syrian policy goes astray. What Americans hear or read about Syria is pure political mumbo-jumbo.

Hillary Clinton’s Syria strategy leans “forward” according to former NSA Director Michael Hayden, meaning she would support a greater but still limited US involvement. For example Clinton has backed designating “no fly” zones where the US would use its military to protect Syrians on the ground. At best, however, no fly zones would allow more time for the Syrian regime to make peace with the insurgents. At the present time, President Assad seems to have no such interest.

There is another, possibly more important, aspect to President Obama’s Middle East policy. While the GOP has been sleeping, the world has evolved and the Middle East is not the most important region. Far more interest needs to be shown to China and its world goals, and to Russia and what would it do if Putin died or his economic policies failed.

Russia and China are single party States and practices we take for granted like free speech, rule by law, and democratic principles do not apply the same in China and Russia. America’s Middle East foreign policy must consider future potential Russian or Chinese actions too.

The world conditions upon which America’s 21st century foreign policy must be build does not lend itself easily to 10 second sound bites. Great difficulty will face either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

One can be sure, however, that Trumps’s “one-off” proposals will lead no where, and his “I’m tough” style will not fly either. Of voters’ choices, Hillary Clinton brings depth and breadth of thinking which might have a chance.

Building a “wall” does not even make the radar screen on foreign policy.

Free Corn

September 28, 2016

Yesterday, NPR interviewed a Georgia farmer and ask his views about the Clinton-Trump debate. The farmer, a Jon Jackson, was effusive about Donald Trump and thought he had performed brilliantly during the debate. Jackson could see no areas needing improvement. Hmmm.

What stuck with me, however, was when he pointed to Hillary’s proposals around helping the middle class. Jackson compared her proposals to a pig farmer’s use of “free corn to entice the pigs to come in for slaughter”. This short story reflects what Jackson and many others associate with Government “handouts”.  Jackson sees them as the fast track to entrenched poverty and lack of individual initiative. Hmmm.

In the 21st century, in the richest country in the world, most center left Americans hold the idea of a laissez-faire government seems inconceivable. A world recession is not the fault of any individual, other than without concerted government action, the recession could get worse and the individual will be worse off much longer. Progressives think government spending could put people back to work and gradually improve the economy. Is this “free corn”.

Healthcare could be viewed as “free corn” in the sense of Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare subsidies. But when comparing the richest country in the world to some 25 other industrial countries (like Germany, France, England, Canada, and Japan), how can the US not recognize healthcare as a right?

Mr Jackson and many others see Clinton’s proposals for more Government spending as contributing to the problem which spending is trying to fix.  It is a bit ironic that Mr Jackson and many others do not as easily recognize “corporate welfare”.

For example, the tax code is full of “corporate welfare”. There is “free corn” for this company and that one, for this industry and that one, and for this wealthy person or that one. Mr. Jackson’s comment, however, only recognize government spending as give aways and overlooks tax code expenditures.

Mr Jackson specific inference was that Hillary Clinton was using “free corn” to garner votes, and Donald Trump was not. Hmmm.

Telling Mr Jackson that he was wrong and that everyone would be better off if the Middle Class grew faster is likely an unproductive path.. Too often government assistance is inefficient. While the aide may help some, too many remain locked in the destructive economic rut they were in before the government assistance.

It is also tempting to point out to Mr Jackson that Donald Trump has been a frequent visitor to the public trough and has benefited hugely from the many exemptions and loopholes in the tax code.  Mr Jackson might consider such comments as partisan.

What might be more valuable is to take Mr Jackson comments to heart.  Suppose Mr Jackson is a sincere person who wants to be fair.  Jackson and many other Americans may genuinely disagree with the center left approach to problem solving yet be quite at ease with progressive goals, just not the methods to achieve them.

What about a moratorium on increased government spending?  During this time out, all government assistance programs as well as all tax code expenditures would be reviewed and rank by amount and estimated return.  Hmmm.

Americans might learn how outlandish many of the tax code deductions, credits, and loopholes are (and who benefits), and second, any new government assistance program proposals would have to produce a “return” better than the existing ones.  It would be even more interesting to see how the value of each tax code expenditure ranks against the return of each spending program.  Hmmm.

I wonder whether this is what Mr Jackson was thinking?

Something For Everyone?

September 27, 2016

Last night’s Presidential debate provided Donald Trump’s or Hillary Clinton’s supporters just what they wanted to hear. Trump supporters were delighted at his “in your face” style while Hillary supporters reflected upon a smooth, fact filled, polished debate presentation. So this morning the question is, who won?

The answer at one level is immaterial. There are still two more debates and almost 6 weeks of campaigning before the election, during which almost anything can happen. On a different level, the early opinion poll results mixed with pundits evaluations says that Hillary changed no Trump supporters’ minds and Trump won over no Hillary fans either.

Hmmm.

The debate may have, however, put the spotlight on the path to a Clinton victory. There is no image in anyone’s mind of a previous President with the experience, temperament, and behavior of Donald Trump. There is simply no previous example to judge Trump against.

It would appear Hillary must make an unforced error and scare away supporters in order for Trump to secure enough additional votes to win. Similarly, Hillary’s debate presence was Presidential and convincing that she could assume the “commander in chief” role.

Hillary’s task, therefore, will be to hold current supporters and enable those on the fence to grow worried about wasting their vote on Trump or Johnson.

The election contest is far from over. National or world events could provide Trump ammunition for further “unsubstantiated” claims that he would be a better President than Hillary. Were there any question before, last evening Donald Trump left no doubt that he would say anything, provable or not, to make his points.

Stay tuned.

The First Debate, What To Watch For

September 26, 2016

If you are a betting person, tonight is an opportunity to make a quick buck. Find your mark and ask the following:

  • Will Donald Trump reveal any specifics on policies or promises?
  • Or, will Trump say he has a plan (like to beat ISIS) but it must remain secret so that ISIS will not have time to react?
  • Or, Will Donald Trump lay out a comprehensive, fact based explanation of what a Trump Administration will do to create jobs and how it will pay for these expense?

There is of course little mystery about the paucity of fact that Trump has so far revealed. There has been virtually none and tonight there will likely be none.

Trump is likely to infer that Hillary Clinton has done in the past will do this or that negative action in the future, all said in a manner that invites “no I won’t” or “no, I didn’t do that”.

In summary, Trump will promise the moon and claim Hillary has failed at every turn in the road. Style will be key and Trump should handle himself well, especially for those who lean his way.

If you see Hillary going over chapter and verse about this proposal or that one, switch to the Monday Night Football game, because this debate game will be over. Trump needs only establish that he is capable of handling himself for 90 minutes and look tough in the process.

At this stage of the race, Hillary has used her ammunition to expose how unfit Donald Trump is to be President. It is turning out few people seem to care.

More and more voters are glomming onto the notion that Trump will somehow bring about his policy proposals and his details are not important. Logic based voters already know there is not a shred of truth in Trump’s promises. Trump supporters, on the other hand, will have none of it. Unfortunately too many potential Hillary voters are hung up on her unfavorables and not what is at stake if Trump does win.

With Hillary, America will have a center left Supreme Court, a steady force ensuring a woman’s right to reproductive health, religious freedom without the right to discriminate, a tone at the top calling for comprehensive immigration reform, an advocate for serious job creation and a steady hand on America’s foreign policy.

If you hear that, it will have been a good night for Hillary.

Ted Steps Up

September 25, 2016

Ted Cruz announced yesterday he would vote for Donald Trump. Hmmm.

One can ponder the motivation that engulfed Cruz and brought him to this endorsement. His words were that he could not support Hillary Clinton and (implied) he would hold his nose and endorse the Trump-ster. Trump said he was honored to receive this endorsement.

This comedy of the absurd is just another chapter in an extremely unconventional Presidential race. Ted Cruz is probably the most unqualified person, a step further than Trump himself, to become President. So for Cruz to say he was trying to save America from Hillary clinton is asking the listener to overlook Cruz’ fringe position.

Cruz is squarely his own best fan. Almost every move Cruz performs in public is for his own self aggrandizement. But then who cares. The evangelicals think Ted walks on water. The Tea Party-ers love his “government shut down” charades. And the “truth challenged” love Ted Cruz for who he is, “lie’n Ted”.

The Clinton camp should take note but not get exercised over this endorsement. Cruz is the darling of a very finite group. The un-obvious concern, however, is that Trump is consolidating the Republican (I won’t vote for Hillary) base, adding one more extreme faction.

Trump is the antithesis of Cruz’ evangelical supporters. Trump has a reserved place in Hell’s waiting line (should there be such a line). And with the Trump “give aways” he has promised voters so far (infrastructure spending, new child care support, and enormous tax cuts), he must have real conservatives and the Tea Party crowd apoplectic. How does Ted reconcile this “free lunch” spirit?

For the Trump campaign this endorsement must come as an expected (and welcomed) surprise. As long as Cruz keeps his mouth shut or reads from a teleprompter, Cruz support removes someone who might have lobbed a grenade in the closing days of the race.

But then, reading from a teleprompter seems good advice for the Donald too.

The Money Hunt

September 23, 2016

Here is a quandary. What does one do if a political party or candidate continually asks for money? For the sake of argument, one might actually support the party or candidate, but asking all the time is a bit much.

What if the opposite party or candidate represents all that is unacceptable? Is this reason enough to contribute to one party or candidate? Why is one contribution not enough?

In fact what does one do if one gives to one candidate and suddenly receives email requests from a half dozen other candidates from the same party? And, what if theses email request arrive several time a day from the same candidate?

There are two easy answers. (1) Send a small amount, and (2) ignore the request completely.

Soliciting money is an art form. Soliciting a lot of money separates the adults from the kids. For these money raisers, the issue seems to be “money”, not the candidate or what the candidate represents.  (Consider all the special causes, like hospitals, diseases, or groups like veterans who are proposed as reasons to give and subsequently we find less than half the money collected goes actually to that charity.  Hmmm.)

Political money solicitation is actually part of an extensive food chain. These bags of money fund a host of others who strategize, coordinate, plan, and execute campaign operations. This money fuels speech writing, TV advertisements, van drivers, office space, and campaign events. Campaign buttons, signage, wardrobe and make up artists, and even lunch runners, all feed off this same food chain.

In short, if you give more, the candidate or the campaign spends it. (In some cases, candidates stockpile excess money and use it later for themselves and to influence others.)

It appears clear, politics is now fought with dollar bills, not great ideas or sound policies.

When the dust is settled in November, news reports and full length magazine articles will turn up recounting the “billions” spent in 2016 for the alleged purpose of electing Congressional and Presidential candidates. The gist will be how much money was spent with so little insight into the next 4 years. Reports will probe where the money came from… like billionaire X, Y, or Z.

Reports are very unlikely to list who received the campaign spend, like TV station or network Q, R, or S. And most likely there will be no inventory of the usual suspects who acted as advisors, strategists, and field leaders, or what these individuals received in renumeration.

This modern political world is not about policy, not about ideology, and not about telling the truth. Rather, modern politics is about the next 4 year viability surrounding the generation of money.

As long as the major parties can generate huge sums of money whether they win or lose, who cares? Like Major League Baseball, a losing campaign which can still attract money can hire the best of the rest, in essence restocking their back stage team (not the candidates) in the run up to the next election. These political pros will sleep well knowing they have good paying jobs until the next election and can put their minds to doing what they do, this time for a new candidate.

So, back to the original question, what does one do about the bombardment of email requests for money?

I would recommend (1) no contributions period. Candidates will attract enough money directly form people who could directly benefit from the candidate or party’s influence (like corporations, billionaires, and special interests). And, (2) if you are a strong supporter for an issue, policy, or broad ideology, I would suggest a single donation and no more. This single donation should satisfy one’s conscience while not contributing greatly to the wasteful use of campaign donations.