Archive for October 2016

So, Why Hillary?

October 31, 2016

The FBI Director’s recent announcement that new emails had been found which might be related to Hillary Clinton’s private email server has cast a hush over her campaign. While nothing incriminating has been revealed, innuendos are rife. And in an unintended (hopefully) consequence, her opponent Donald Trump, has significantly modulated his rhetoric and has made no new inflammatory (and fact checkable as untrue claims). Either as a consequence or a coincident, the polls are once again very close. One wonders whether the unthinkable might just come to pass.

Once again thoughtful Americans are asking themselves, “how can I vote for Clinton?”

Accordingly it is necessary to review the bidding. Is Donald Trump hands down the superior candidate with a clear cut better platform? Is Donald Trump free and clear of any improprieties or potential conflicts of interest? Is Donald Trump a role model for America’s youth and someone who can bring Americans together? Has Donald Trump provided any insight into how he would handle complex domestic and foreign policy issues?

If, at this point, one can affirm these questions, then clearly your candidate will be Donald Trump.

On the other hand, if one considers that as complex and complicated domestic and foreign policy seems today, history instructs us that in the coming years new and unexpected crises will come front and center. History also tells us that great Presidencies are made not by plan, but by how well a President responds to unforeseen and unplanned events.

The Trump campaign has explained that a President Trump will appoint competent subordinates (the best of the best) and he will provide broad direction and intervene to make things happen. While this approach is laudable, does anyone believe someone who makes almost all his campaign speeches somehow about himself could delegate anything?

There are three reasons why Hillary Clinton remains the superior choice:

  • She is not Donald Trump.
  • She favors progressive solutions to complex domestic problems and is slightly right of center on foreign policy.
  • Her Vice President running mate is a competent, well balanced person and would be a consensus builder should he need to assume the Presidency.

Thinking ahead and wondering what Hillary’s legacy might be is difficult. Her speeches reveal much that she thinks is needed and would bring benefits to many Americans. Her speeches, however, are thickly worded and leave the listener with not easy to recall objective. She is most likely destine to be remembered for how she handles events not of her making.

For example on just domestic issues, (1) Obamacare will need at the minimum modifications to take into account insurance company greed and their unwillingness to support many “exchange” operations. If government simply opens the check book and reimburses exchange participating insurance companies, healthcare costs will rise dramatically. US healthcare has and still does with Obamacare suffer from a fatal flaw, depending upon the good intentions of for profit medical service providers. In a capitalist system, increasing profits as much as is possible will bring down any other healthcare model, short of a European style universal healthcare system.

(2) Related to Obamacare is Medicare and Medicaid. Although both are totally separate systems from Obamacare, both are underfunded. With constant cost creep, Medicare and Medicaid must either receive more tax revenue, or must be cut back on services they provide (read, Americans on Medicare or Medicaid will need to pay more individually).

(3) Social Security is another government program which has looming financial difficulties. Similar options of either raising tax revenues or cutting benefits (or both) will likely arise during the next 4 years.

And lastly, (4) when another section of the interstate highway system collapses into a river or gorge, the President will have to lead Congress into action.

Oh, and maybe one more reason to elect Hillary. She will be the adult in the room and will act and appear Presidential representing the Country around the world.

FBI Trolling?

October 30, 2016

Two days ago, on a otherwise sleepy Friday (normally a slow news day), FBI Director James Comey, changed everything. Director Comey sent a letter to the Congressional oversight committee informing them that the FBI has discovered emails which might be related to the Clinton private server investigation. Consequently, the FBI was reopening the Hillary Clinton investigation. Hmmm.

Now, the Justice Department’s own policies preclude any criminal announcements within 60 days of an election so as to not unduly influence the outcome. And, Comey allowed that he could not tell Congress more because the FBI had not read the emails as yet. Hmmm.

The emails, according to press reports were discovered as part of an FBI investigation of Anthony Weiner over alleged sexting. Weiner’s wife is Huma Abedin is a close aide of Hillary Clinton and 10’s of thousands of her emails were found on the computer Weiner was using. So the FBI has begun its search for the needle in the haystack.

Over the past few weeks there has been a lot of mentions of the “alt right” and their tactics of stirring up anxiety, if not downright outrage. Alt rightists announce outlandish claims apparently designed to invoke outrage in the reader.  Journalists refer to much such activity as “trolling. Was Comey trolling to Congress or the Trump team? Or, was Comey confusing a responsibility to inform Congress with his duty to keep the FBI non-partisan?

In time, these newly discovered emails (which may just be copies of already reviewed ones) will be sorted and evaluated. I wonder what Director Comey will say then?

In the meantime, many will wonder whether this latest FBI announcement was designed embolden hard core Trump supporters or just to help down ballot Republican candidates?

Comey’s statements, however, are unlikely to change any minds already leaning or committed to Hillary. So, was there another purpose for this announcement?

Pundits describe Director Comey as a straight shooter, someone with enormous integrity. Earlier when Director Comey announced the FBI would not recommend prosecution over the confidential information held on Clinton’s private server while at the same time calling Clinton “sloppy” in handling classified information, one wondered why any additional qualifications were necessary.

With this seemingly unnecessary and uninformative announcement, many wonder again, was Comey trying to mollify Republicans and hedge his bets for the future?  Others may wonder whether Comey is in over his head in trying to play Caesar.  (Remember Antonin Scalia’s delight in 2000 weighing in on Florida’s recount.  Remember what it got the US.)

So Much The Same, Yet So Different

October 27, 2016

The past three days I have been traveling across Pennsylvania. First was a visit to the Flight 93 Memorial, then onto Farmington, PA (southwest corner of Pennsylvania) to overnight. Next on to Fallingwater (Frank Lloyd Wright designed home) and then in the afternoon to Kentuck Knob (another Frank Lloyd Wright home). That evening and the next day was spent in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This swatch of middle Pennsylvania displays almost exclusively Donald Trump signs, something I am not used to seeing in Philadelphia.

In fact, I am at a loss to understand how anyone can be a Trump for President supporter. His nature and life preparation seem totally unsuited for public office at any level, let alone President. On top of Trump’s qualifications, his basic platform (coupled with the Republican Platform) seem so out of touch with average Americans actual needs. How could anyone be enthusiastic about Trump or the GOP?

Now, back to my travels. The local people were terrific, kind and helpful. They possessed no horns or tails and their eyes were blue, brown, or hazel. Just normal.

These middle and western Pennsylvanians had their own political beliefs, and it would appear these beliefs were not mine. Never the less, their hospitality and willingness to perform their jobs in no way reflected any disdain for someone not a nearby neighbor.

What strikes me as important about these observations begs the question, why is the political discourse so much like Agamemnon?

Why do the political parties imply that the sun may not rise tomorrow should the opposition candidate win?

Why is it that the political parties are so content to make the election a black and white subject with no room for fact filled policy discussions?

During my recent travels, I did learn a lot about a great architect and two wealthy families who had the wisdom (and the money) to retain his services, a plane load of average Americans who said no to hijackers, and a conservative farm oriented city quite at peace with being the home of a key turning point battle in America’s Civil War. From my perspective I met Americans quite content with their lots in life and in no way representative of the vitriol I hear from close supporters.

Yet all the Trump/Pense poster I saw represented sincere supporters of Donald Trump. How could, otherwise normal friendly Americans feel so moved?

The truth probably lies in how people form their beliefs. The Civil War Memorial offered a hint. Both the Constitution and religious teachings should have convinced Americans in the 1850’s that slavery was both immoral and against “all men are created equal”, yet Americans were deeply divided over slavery. Where’s the logic?

Once one considers, as many did, that negroes were not equal to Caucasians, and were in fact inferior, then it is easier to make the leap that “all men are created equal” does not include negroes.

In a sense, I suspect, a similar type of logic is at play with ardent Donald Trump supporters who by day are contributing community members while still carrying a Trump sign. Forget about experience, temperament, or public policy. Forget about the impossibility of “building a wall” or deporting 11 million, forget about repealing Obamacare and leaving millions without healthcare insurance. Forget about snapping ones fingers and global terrorism will disappear or that the US can bluff Russia or China into actions favorable to American interests. Forget about tax cuts design to benefit wealthy as on the pathway to a stronger US economy and good jobs galore. And forget about dozens of testimonies and a video tape of Trumps views about women.

Trump supporters simply have to make the mental leap that he is different and he can make their life better.

America will get an imperfect 45th President come November 8, regardless of who wins. Whether it will be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, will be revealed in time.

What I do know is that the people in middle and western Pennsylvania will be as hospitable and welcoming as they are today. They will be so much the same, yet so different.

Misplaced Criticism?

October 23, 2016

Republican leaders are wringing their wrists over the prospect that Donald Trump is, has, or will bring about the Party’s ruin. Well here’s a news flash. Stop worrying, the GOP is already, has been for some time, and will continue to become more dysfunctional and unequipped to govern unless there are significant changes.

While Donald Trump is a poor choice for the Party’s standard bearer, the Republican Party, itself, reflects a Party, which for the sake of retaining their elected seats and the perks that go with them, has opted to cobble together under the GOP banner desperate factions which have little to offer the average American. In doing so, the GOP, despite what they claim, has drifted out of the American mainstream. Following the Republican loss in 2012, a blueprint, to make the GOP more relevant and for regaining the White House was defined. Nothing changed.

Think about some of the other candidates Donald Trump beat to get the nomination.  Ted Cruz?  Mean, nasty, and self centered.  Marco Rubio, young, inexperienced, and desperate to become wealthy.  Ben Carson, a good doctor but out of his league in politics.  And so on.

The main GOP stumbling block is the collection of policies it has cobbled together in an attempt to appeal to as many supporters and special interests as possible.  What results is a platform which says everything and nothing at the same time.

Here are some obvious out of touch policies.

First, tax policy. Republicans seemed set on offering tax breaks for the wealthy in every tax proposal they put forth.  Republicans claim lower income taxes will unleash entrepreneurial spirit and jobs will grow like apples. History (remember the Bush tax cuts) reveal a different out come. The wealthy simply keep any tax savings for themselves rather than investing. Republicans also promise to lower corporate taxes.  Lowering corporate taxes to levels more in line with global competitors makes sense but corporate tax deductions and loopholes would need to be harmonized too.  You don’t hear much about that from the GOP.

So the promise of jobs and economic growth, as good as they sound, are myths. The Republican plan leads to what is a more likely outcome, either an increase in Federal debt or severe pressure upon Federal spending (read Medicare, Medicaid, and social security cuts).

Why not a tax policy proposal to simplify the entire tax code, remain revenue neutral, and progressive in nature?

Second, repeal and replace Obamacare. There is no Republican healthcare plan other than what preceded the Affordable Care Act. Consequently, repeal and replace means millions less Americans with healthcare coverage, healthcare insurance companies free to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, and American yearly healthcare spending (currently the highest in the world) no less than now and quite possibly greater.

Why not proposing basic healthcare for all Americans while lowering healthcare spending in total?

Third, second Amendment adoration. In modern society and in comparison to the rest of the modern world, Americans possession (and misuse) of fire arms is unprecedented. The unhealthy alliance between the Republican Party and the NRA has detoured any discussions of reasonable gun controls into a litmus reelection test.

Why not depoliticize the 2nd Amendment and in a bipartisan manner seek reasonable controls?

Fourth, women’s reproductive health choices. The Republican Party has not only been against “choice”, it has been committed to reversing the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision. With the majority of women in favor of choice, and assuming many Republicans sincerely oppose abortion, one would think there was fertile ground to champion ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies. With no effort in this vein, one is easily lead to believe the anti-choice views stem from an “authoritative” mind set (my way or the highway).

Why not support a woman’s right to choose but seek policies which lead to much fewer unwanted pregnancies?

Fifth, immigration stalemate. The Republican Party’s inability to deal with comprehensive immigration reform underscores their inability to deal with reality. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented Mexicans living in American. Republican leaders have said there can be no pathway to citizenship apparently out of fear that these new citizens would vote Democrat. If that is true, the Republican Party has only itself to blame for not offering more to Mexican Americans. Worse, Republican policy flies in the face of facts such as America needs agricultural workers, Mexicans are good workers in many other fields too, and Mexicans are religious, family oriented people (just like what Republicans say of themselves).

Why not pledge to undertake bipartisan immigration reform?

And sixth, fiscal conservatism. Under the umbrella of balanced budgets and eliminating the debt, the Republican “fiscal hawk faction’s” capacity to deal with other pressing national problems is severely limited. At the extreme, these Republicans blindly support measures which would “shut down” normal government operations and offer no options to those dependent upon entitlements.

Why not adopt a more comprehensive policy of growing the economy, with more equitable sharing the wealth, while reducing the debt over a business cycle?

Republicans must come to recognize that their policies are internally inconsistent and work to the disadvantage of average Americans. Trump is simply a symptom, not the cause of their plight.

Three Strikes and …

October 20, 2016

The third and final 2016 Presidential debate mercifully concluded last evening in Las Vegas. With a sigh of relief the curtain fell on a modern political tradition with the public little more informed about what policies each candidates would follow if elected. What did come to the surface again was the gulf in temperament that separates the two candidates.

Hillary Clinton, dressed in calming white, baited Donald Trump with carefully constructed dialog. Clinton displayed the difference between the big leagues and a back yard sandlot. Clinton used a saber while Trump rambled around using his elbows. For Trump supporters, this was and is their man. For Clinton supporters, it was “see I told you so”. But what about everyone in between?

The polls will once again provide an indication but that will take days. IMO, the turkey was already in the oven with Trump steadily sinking in voters’ opinions, last nights debate did nothing to arrest this decline and arguably may have accelerated it.

On taxes and the economy, Trump promised better days were around the corner, saying with massive tax cuts, jobs would be created (as well as returned from overseas), the economy would grow in excess of 5%, and America would be great again. I would not worry about a long line of economists vouching for this whopper.

Trump relied on “non-Presidential” demeanor in attempts to belittle and denigrate Hillary Clinton while denying any counter charges regardless of whether Hillary’s claims had already been fact checked.

And strike three (for the undecided, wavering, and uncommitted) came at the very end when Trump refused to acknowledge that he would accept the election results. In essence, Trump said no to the “American Way”.

There were other important differences mentioned on immigration, women’s right to choose, and the Supreme Court. With a more mainstream Republican candidate (remember Mitt Romney), one would have expected a fuller discussion and an appeal to voters on why their position was best. Last evenings these topics were like throw away issues taking away from each candidates real interest, showing their opponent as unfit to serve.

This quadrennial political contest is not over. There is of course still time for some unknown disclosure which could rock Clinton’s candidacy, but chance are small and getting smaller. At this point, Hillary Clinton looks destine to become the 45th President.

The Dark Side Emerges?

October 18, 2016

Republican Congressional candidates are caught in a difficult position when facing the 2016 general election. Do they align with Donald Trump or do they jump ship and run almost as an independent? GOP “talking points” suggest candidates should express disagreement with some or all of Trump’s rhetoric but confirm 100% rejection of Hillary Clinton. The GOP adds, if Republican candidates are elected, voters will get someone who would “stand up” to a President Clinton. Hmmm.

Recently Senator John McCain was interviewed in Philadelphia about his support for fellow Republican incumbent, Pat Toomey. McCain said that if he (McCain) and Toomey were reelected they could act as a wall against any Clinton Supreme Court nominee. What?

In an unprecedented move this year, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow any Senate consideration of Merric Garland for the Supreme Court. His excuse was the nomination came in an election year and he would wait for the next President to decide who would be the nominee. Now McCain is suggesting that as long as the Senate in under Republican control, there would be no Democrat nominated additions to the Supreme Court. Hmmm.

The Constitution clearly states “the President shall nominate” (even in an election year), and the Senate will give “advise and consent”. But what Constitutional reasons might there be for withholding consent?

The founding fathers must have included this provision over worries about a totally unqualified person being nominated, say for political payback or favor. Hmmm.  And there have been precedents for the Senate rejecting a Presidential nominee (like Robert Bork) on the grounds that the nominee’s views lay far outside the American mainstream. Is it possible that all of Hillary Clinton’s nominations would presumably be so progressive as to mirror Robert Bork?

This absolutist thinking is both highly presumptuous and a poor reading of history.

The GOP has no moral or ethical grounds to carte blanche reject all Clinton appointees, and although admittedly the Constitution does not preclude this possibility, the American three coequal branches of government with an independent Judiciary is being jeopardized.

Fairness would have Hillary Clinton winning the Presidency if for no other reason than pay back for the GOP Supreme Court shenanigans. Listening to McCain, even with a Clinton victory, Republicans may still act badly.

I guess life is not always fair.

Two Tales Of One City

October 16, 2016

On Saturday, the annual Baltimore Marathon was run. Saturday also featured “Fleet Week”, and in addition to ship tours, there would be a “Blue Angels” air show.  Excitement on the ground, on the water, and in the air.

The weather was superb and 10’s of thousand of Marylanders would visit the bustling Inner Harbor area and partake in the festivities. This Baltimore snapshot would make anyone proud to live there or nearby.

My wife and our daughter’s family were signed up to run in the accompanying 5K race. My job was to bring the youngest grandchild, a kindergartener, to her race (2/10ths of a mile) by nine o’clock. Ordinarily this would be a simple task but due to the marathon, half marathon and 5K, all direct routes were closed to through traffic. A work around would be necessary.

Coming from the north along I-83, my goal was to get to Camden Yards area. To accomplish this, I needed to leave the freeway and take to city streets cutting though west Baltimore. And this is where your senses go into overload.

Taking a major street (Pennsylvania Avenue), the scenery was reminiscent of “The Wire” with one boarded up row house after another. At each corner, there was someone approaching the car asking for money. Along the street there were single men aimlessly walking, apparently with no place to go (and most probably homeless). And if you told me the man and the boy I saw at one corner were doing drug business, I would not be surprised. This scene lasted at least well over a mile.

After turning onto MLK Boulevard, it was only a short time before I could see the modern M&T Bank Stadium (home of the NFL Ravens) and my destination. The world looked quite different from my tour of West Baltimore.

Baltimore is like many other large cities. There are sections which are devastatingly poor, some that look old and tired, and parts which are posh and exciting. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and Sports Center complex is as nice and exciting as any city in America. The blight which characterized the ride through West Baltimore stems from a host of interconnected social reasons. A perplexing puzzle of opposites.

I wonder whether this is what Donald Trump was thinking when he promised to make America great again?