Archive for July 2017

White Knuckles

July 31, 2017

There appears to be a collective “oh sh*t” coming from US intelligentsia. It has taken a full six months for think tank members along with other thoughtful Americans to grasp how far out on the branch of sound governance the US has crawled. What do you think of our President now?

Conservative and right of center thinkers have cut President Trump all sorts of breaks. “He’s new at this”. “His staff is not helping”. And who can forget the wounds inflicted by “fake news”. No wonder the world seems muddled when the US ship of State has no rudder.

The think tank world makes its living from keeping an eye on the four corners of the globe.

  • Russia has concluded good times are not coming from the Trump Administration despite what his campaign rhetoric and it is time to get back to business intimidating Easter Europe and opposing US goals in North Korea and Syria.
  • China similarly has concluded President Trump is a paper threat towards their US trade. China reasons their long term interest in being the supreme power in Southeast Asia is theirs for the taking.
  • The Muslim world (lead by the twin dysfunctionals, Iran and Saudi Arabia) has concluded the US is over stretched and therefore they are content to ply the suicidal path of nuclear armaments. (Allah would have wanted that.)
  • And the motley collection of third world countries, such as North Korea, Pakistan, most of Africa, and Venezuela, plod along with little recognition how close they are to a failed nation.

The conservative intellectuals also know how leaderless the US current is. Republicans have practiced governance tactics which have lead at best to gridlock and when not gridlocked, to destructive, wrong side of history policies.

Time for a tax cut anyone? Or how about more denial of global warming or the need for 21st century trade practices with both Asia and Europe? And where in the world of international disorder should Mexico stand? Does Mexico rank up there with North Korea, Iran, Russia or China?

President Trump has selected a new chief of staff, a new “silver bullet” so to speak. The conservative intelligentsia know that while General Kelly is a good man and competent choice, there is no reason to expect General Kelly can fix the lack of direction or find the soul of domestic policy. On both scores, there simply is none.

Former President Obama was frequently criticized for “leading from behind”. But few honest brokers could allege President Obama did not understand the world and various global forces at play. President Obama also understood that he would be out on the limb alone because the Republican side in Congress was out to undercut him at every step.

Real thinkers in American think tanks are becoming “white knuckled” as they begin to realize the Commander in Chief has no comprehensive understanding of foreign policy issues and has little interest in listening to anyone who might know.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seems a very capable executive but has no background in foreign policy. His professed loyalty to President Trump is very worrisome since the President has no idea of what to do.

Secretary of Defense, Jim Maddis is by far the sharpest knife in the draw and that in and of itself is a long term danger. The US democracy has long been the domain of civilians with military actions executed by military professionals. Where are the foreign policy civilian experts?

General Kelly has a narrow set of options. Hopefully he will find clear thinking experts whose advice he can preferential route to President Trump. General Kelly must at the same time thwart the access of the one dimensional thinkers and former campaign aides who seek to curry President Trump’s favors.

It’s white knuckle time.

The Bathroom Law Hoot

July 30, 2017

Americasn’ social awareness has evolved and continues to evolve. Homosexuality, which in years past, was the source of whispers, rumors, and outright disparagement has come out of the closet and, in all its multicolor stripes, shines brightly before all Americans. For some Americans this change has been just too much. “My whole life has informed me that this type of life style is wrong”, some say. Others add, “why even the Bible says its wrong.” Hmmm.

The acceptance of gays and gay life styles (by some Americans but not all) stems from largely the realization that someone they know or see regularly was gay and on top of that was respected when the person was in the closet. For this group of Americans, the recognition that the “gay” person was a contributing member of society was enough reason to change their minds. Gay life style was not a learned behavior, rather it was a natural condition for that person. Being gay was nature, not nurtured.

A fundamental of political life is to separate the whole into smaller groups and find ways to lump to gather a majority from these separate groups and produce a voting majority. Since gays are a minority, separating them out and emphasizing some aspects of gay life which could, in turn, cause “non-gays” to unite has been an obvious tactic.

And what better ally than to invoke god and the bible?

Gay men and lesbians were the easiest to understand. Gays and Lesbians were born that way. Transgender people, however, represented a much more difficult group to comprehend. Members of this group was born one gender and later sought to attain the physical characteristics and to live like the other gender. How is that possible?

For bible thumpers and the political low life’s who were ready to exploit them, the trans community was red meat. Discrimination against this group must be possible because they were less known and least understood. And most of all, clever discrimination could result in political victories.

When Charlotte passed an ordinance declaring it legal for someone to use the bathroom which matched their gender identification, North Carolina’s State elected officials had seen enough. (More to the point, many of these officials saw an opportunity). North Carolina passed a law (HB-2) which mandated that individuals had to use public restroom which match their birth gender. Hmmm.

After much debate and more importantly economic backlash from organizations such as the NCAA, the North Carolina legislation cried uncle and reversed the law. Now, here comes Texas.

Gallantly, Texas lawmakers worried about protecting innocent women from a transgender female (read male at birth) from entering a “female” marked restroom and doing something other than using the facilities. Hmmm.

Texas too demanded transgender people to use the restroom of their birth sex identity.

The hoot of this controversy lies in the realization that once someone has undergone a “trans” (transition from male to female or female to male), they no longer necessarily look like their former gender. Trans males often grow beards and trans women grow breasts.

Doesn’t anyone think that would present a give away if a big breasted “male” walked into a men’s room, or bearded “lady” entered a women’s room?

Of course, the real purpose behind these bathroom bills is power and searching for logic is non-sensical. And, to tell these “god fearing” christians that almost for certain they have already been using restroom while a transgender person was using it too could be too devastating to handle. Some things are better left unsaid.

Take A Breath, And Think This Time

July 29, 2017

“Pause and reflect” might be good advice for Republican Congress members. But it is possible pause and reflect may still miss the foolishness of yesterday’s vote on Obamacare “skinny” repeal. The vote confirmed, with little room for argument, Congress is not fully under the control of the Republican Party. There is no Republican Party and Americans had better wake up to that fact.

Those who claim membership in the party in power are not of one mind other than wanting to get reelected. In other words, GOP membership is about winning elections and profiting personally from those elections as best one can. And with the amount of money floating around Capitol Hill, it would take a pretty dumb Congress Member to not increase their personal worth while in office.

For Congress members, unfortunately, there are strings tied to getting elected. Congress members must surrender their right to vote their conscience and instead march to the drum of the big money that financed their campaign. Besides the Congress members’ integrity, the main casualty is the absence of a functioning body invested in the 21st century problems facing America.

Healthcare is a perfect poster child.

Republicans have called out against the rising costs (premiums and deductables) of the individual market. Instead of offering solutions to this problem, Republicans, in essence, have said, if you think the price is too high for a whole loaf, we will offer you a half a loaf at a lower price. Shameful.

The skinny repeal bill took the Republican position even further into the absurd. Republican Senators were asked to vote for a bill which over turned the Obamacare requirements for individual mandate, employer mandated coverage, and certain taxes on makers of medical devices. The bill makes no sense as it would have destabilized the individual insurance market even more and posed the risk of significantly more Americans losing coverage.

Possibly even worse, the skinny bill was never intended to become law. Imagine, grown up elected officials seeking to pass a bill they believed would never become law. Why would that be necessary? Why not try to pass any bill, regardless of how flawed, that was Republicans true intent?

The Republican mysterious behavior has its roots in what basic principles underfoot healthcare. Is healthcare a right or is it a privilege?

Given the opinion polls and most of the nation’s Governors, Americans are trending towards healthcare is a right. (Now be careful and do not confuse, a right and being free.) Healthcare is expensive and the method of paying for it is not straight forward.
The inevitable end point will be a universal, single payer system, as most modern countries have already adopted.

Like most large social changes, US healthcare may still require more baby steps. But other than disgust with the GOP efforts, the defeat of the skinny bill has not brought us closer to any improvement. That work remains.

IMO, there were many Republican Senators who did see healthcare as a government benefit akin to meeting an individual’s right. Regretably, these Senators caved to special interests pressure. There are other Republicans who deny anyone’s right to healthcare unless they can afford it. They seek the best healthcare money can buy. Hence the fundamental schism.

The brightest face one can attach to the failed GOP effort is “some” Republicans working with Democrats could pass modifications to Obamacare which would stabilize the individual nsurance market and return premium costs to real world levels. A necessary fix, but a fix far short of what’s possible and what is ultimately the goal.

“Skinny” option. Hmmm. What will they think of next?

Liberty, Freedom, And The American Way

July 26, 2017

Liberty and Freedom sound like words describing absolute states of being. “I cherish my liberty” or I am prepared to fight for my freedoms”. Listening to public rhetoric, one would think one either has liberty or one has not, one is either free or one is not. Hmmm.

In fact, these are not absolute words and far more resemble a relative state of being. Compared to an authoritarian State such as Russia, Americans have more “liberty”. Russia could be compared to an even more authoritarian State, such as North Korea, and in this light one could assert Russian citizens had more Liberty.

For the past few years many US conservatives have complained about “wanting their freedom back”, they sought “liberty from the oppression of the Federal Government”.

Incredible.

The object of this American’s anger seems to range from paying taxes, to limits on grazing animals on Federal land, to the price of healthcare, and the favorite old saw, “they” are going to take my guns away. In 2016, the dissatisfaction of many Americans combined with the “let me tell you what you want to hear” politicians to elect an unqualified and emotionally unfit President and backed him up with a special interest funded Congress. What could be more in the American Way.

PBS has run a special on life 50 years ago. The focus was the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and the hippie community that blossomed that summer. Talk about liberty and freedom, the hippies were a case book example.

The video showed the wide spread use of marijuana, LSD, and other drugs, the open living arrangements, and the selfless sharing of food, clothing, and shelter which the hippies chose for themselves. And there was no shortage of non-hippies who felt their liberty threatened and their freedoms held hostage by people who wanted to make love, not war.

The American Way has often been a convenient euphemism for what’s right, and the proper way to accomplish things. Not surprisingly, “the American Way” also serves well to aid and abet those more interested in restricting liberties or constricting freedoms. In the name of preserving their own liberty or freedom, too many Americans feel free to constrict the liberty or freedom of others.

The “Bathroom Bills” (one now pending in Texas) is a good example. Requiring transexuals to use only the bathroom of their born gender is a cure for no problem and loss of liberty for a few. Allowing churches with deeply held views on birth control to deny workers in church affiliated businesses the same benefits other Americans receive from their non-religious employers is shameful, and is particularly repugnant when these religious organization claim protection of their religious liberties and freedoms. And, who, in the 21st century, can profess a thirst for liberty and freedom on one hand, and with the other, attempt to deny women their natural liberty on the use of their bodies and the freedom of the right to choose?

Clearly we still live in a country with much liberty and we enjoy many freedoms. Much of this liberty and freedom flows from a country which practices the rule of law and guards against any free speech trespasses.

In case one has not been paying attention, real restrictions on liberty and freedom could be just a “tweet” away.

The Big Fat Lie

July 25, 2017

Exaggeration and Hyperbole are staples of public speaking and popular literature. President Trump, since day one of his Presidency, has added these speech forms to his Presidential Addresses. It appears the possibility of being tagged with multiple Pinocchio’s is not a deterrent for America’s “communicator in chief”.

Yesterday, in a staged photo op, President Trump spoke out over the Senate “repeal and replace” stalemate. Pointing to the gathered group (J Crew looking group), the President asserted that they were Americans who had incurred the injurious nature of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The implication was that here, in flesh and blood, were Americans who were harmed by ACA and wasn’t that proof positive that repeal and replace was necessary?

Maybe, but what about the 22 million Americans who the Congressional Budget Office say will lose healthcare coverage should either the Republican House or the Senate legislation pass. Is that Exaggeration or Hyperbole?

No, Deception or Misdirection would better describe the President’s statements. For someone who appears to have no regard for any statement’s accuracy, President Trump is more complex than just a “truth stretcher”, the President is purposeful and says what ever is necessary, no limits considered, to achieve his goals.

So, as if to say the misdirection statements about how many Americans would benefit from Obamacare were not enough, the President stood before this group and into the camera said, Democrats lied about the Affordable Care Act in order to get it passed, “every single thing they said was a lie, a big fat lie”. Hmmm.

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

The Presidency appears in a race for the bottom. What more outrageous mistruth or magician’s misdirection will President Trump put forth? The larger question might be, how much more exaggerations and hyperboles will Americans accept before deciding to dismiss all statements from our communicator in chief?

Don’t Blame Trump

July 22, 2017

The first six months of the Republican Administration has not lacked for fireworks. Most pundits, however, would describe this rare period of Republican control as a “nothing” burger. If so, who’s to blame?

President Trump has blamed Democrats and the “fake news” media. The Republican controlled House has blamed the Republican controlled Senate while the Senate has quietly pointed to the lack of White House leadership. President Trump when not blaming Democrats counters, instead, claims the first six months have been the most successful first six months ever!

What else would you expect the “mistruth commander in chief” to say?

The frightening aspect of this question is that many claim that the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans could have passed much of their legislative objectives had they approached matters differently. And then there has been that pesky “Russian thing”, the investigation into Russian collusion with the 2016 Presidential election. Hmmm.

For Americans the way things have progressed could be a blessing. Both President Trump and the Republican controlled Congress have been exposed as what they really are, mean spirited, unprepared to govern, and hand maidens of certain wealthy interests.

The center piece of the hopeful Republican legislative program has been the Obamacare repeal and replace. As Congress processed this legislation, slowly but never the less, step by step, it has become clear Republicans lacked a plan and more importantly were clueless over improvements. “Beautiful healthcare Americans can be proud of” instead turned into “healthcare that gamers and the very rich can be proud of”. Replacement legislation passed in the House by a single vote and floundered in the Senate altogether. Not surprisingly, tweak after tweak fell short too. Why?

Each of the Republican healthcare proposals failed in the same way. Each insured fewer Americans, provided less coverage, and benefited the very wealthy. So, how did President Trump get it so wrong?

President Trump is not the architect of this Republican farce. The President is more interested in the pomp that goes with the office, flattering headlines in the media, and a slam dunk reaction win in 2020. There is not much more substance than that.

So don’t blame President Trump for proposing defective healthcare replacement legislation or proposing tax reform which masquerades as (you guessed it) tax cuts for the rich, or for the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Each of these topics is that straight out of the Republican handbook and 100% the responsibility of the Republican controlled Congress.

Troubling is the realization that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is far from perfect legislation and is badly in need of fixes. And who can not agree that the US tax code is more aptly a “jobs” program for accountants than a fair method of raising government revenue. But these goals were not part of any Republican agenda.

The news media has published plenty of reports claiming Trump White House dysfunction and most of it seems well deserved. Never the less, the greater tragedy would be to hold Congress blameless and clear of the ugliness and mean spiritedness of President Trump’s rhetoric.

Democrats had better be taking notice and realize it is not impossible that they will be given the reigns of Congress in 2018. Democrats should be wondering, WWDD?

Is The Federal Debt A Problem?

July 21, 2017

At almost $20 trillion, the Federal Debt is a big number. Politicians’ rhetoric range from “the sky is falling” to “how can we leave this to the next generation”. Others counsel that the US can borrow at historically low interest rates, so from strictly a business perspective, the US should be borrowing more and investing in infrastructure, medical research, alternate forms of renewable energy, and increasing the skills and education level of American workers. So why is there such a divergence in opinions?

Continuing with the business analogy, no investment is wise unless there is a positive return. This means that any money spent on new or improved roads, harbors, or airports must generate enough profit to repay the amount of the investment AND some additional “profit”. So if the Government can borrow (by issuing Treasury Bonds) at 3%, any investment should return the bond value plus some interest in excess of 3% (preferably greater than 6-8%.

When the Government spending, however, goes for Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, what is the return?  The Republican debt argument roughly lies upon this premise. There is no return for entitlements and accordingly there should be no spending on them.

Democrats see Government spending on entitlements as a sacred promise Government has made to citizens. Democrats would be ok with funding entitlements through increased taxes but have not been successful getting Republicans to agree. Consequently, the Government does borrow, does put the cost onto the Federal Debt, and does pass it on to the next generation.

Considering the strength of the dollar and the credit worthiness of the US, increasing the Federal Debt does not present the catastrophic consequences many conservatives see.  Also, if entitlements come with no return, what is the return on military spending?  Hmmm.

But over and above the question of what is the return on government spending, there is still a huge problem, namely continuing to increase the Federal Debt is a default result, not a conscious decision by Congress. The inability of Congress to reconcile its spending and taxing priorities is a far greater problem with far greater potential consequences.

Behind a deadlocked Congress lies one or more special interests which stand to gain mightily. Dark Money (conservatives like Koch Brothers, Mercers, and others) seek simply to keep more of their earnings through lower taxes.   Business interests seek industry specific favoritism normally to increase earnings. This has bred a Congress of era centric, anything but statesmen members.

The current candidate for Congress is normally good looking, modestly well off, and primarily interested in getting reelected. For Representatives, most rely upon districts whose boundaries have been set with the thought towards favoring one party or the other. Who is going to think about the country as a whole?

The Federal Debt could become a problem were interest rates to increase dramatically. Today that is not the case. Never the less, the debt and the unbalanced budget both represent large warning signals about the quality of public officials Americans elect.

Repeal, Not Replace, Hmmm

July 18, 2017

The Senate Republican effort to pass “repeal and replace” legislation which would be the successor to Obamacare, ended yesterday with whimper. Pundits have said there were as many as 15 Republican Senators who would have voted against the bill but until yesterday there were only two announced. Following a meeting with President Trump, two more Senators (Jerry Moran and Mike Lee) announced they could not support the Republican Senate bill.

End of story?

Not quite. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would offer a “repeal” only alternative and expected Republican Senators to pass this bill as they had in 2015. The “repeal” only option has a two year delayed implementation ostensibly designed to allow time for the Senate to find a compromise which could pass.

Does unbelievable come to mind?

What does anyone think is so hard about passing a repeal only bill? Admittedly, passing a replace bill does bring into focus what various factions within the Republican Party and the public think about healthcare. Since there is no consensus (without paying a price at the polls), Republicans will have a tough time finding common replacement ground.

Hmmm.  So why try repeal only?

The fundamental and unstated issue, the elephant in the room so to speak, is whether Republicans think healthcare is a right and they are searching for the most cost effective way to deliver, or whether Republicans see healthcare as a privilege and are seeking the least costly manner to provide minimal coverage and still be able to boast to voters that they are for healthcare.

Hmmm.

An old adage teaches when you are stuck in a hole, the first rule is stop digging.

Republicans are showing in bright, red, white and blue colors that as a Party they are not aligned on principles. Even more so, Republicans are showing that both the President and the Republican controlled Congress, while able to be verbally effusive, are still unfit to lead.

The Game Of Opposites

July 17, 2017

Tonight begins the 7th season for the HBO series “Game of Thrones”. The show has been a smash hit and wildly a commercial success. I wonder whether most Americans could agree on the value of this entertainment, especially since Americans seem unable to agree on much else?

Americans seem to wear, as a badge of honor, titles such as

  • Democrat or Republican,
  • Liberal or Conservative,
  • Authoritarian or Libertarian,
  • Religious or Free Thinker,
  • Straight or Gay,
  • City Dweller or Suburbanite, or
  • Coastal liver versus Heartland Resident.

What is most striking about “wearing” these badges is the wearer declares he/she is not the opposite. “I AM not a Republican, I am a Democrat” as if being a Republican is a disease or mental defect.

Most people I meet, however, do not fit neatly into just one label, rather most people are a mixture even thought they may not think about it. Frequently one hears someone advocate for some restriction or another, but without hesitating disdain any restrictions on their own situation. For example, some Americans advocate for certain “rights” which others cannot attain.

“My tax dollars should not go to others who have failed to provide for themselves.” Sound familiar? Or, “unless subsidies are held to a minimum, more and more Americans will find it easier to expect the government to care of them instead of working hard” Hmmm.

The defect of this argument lies not in what has been said but remains to be said. America’s current free enterprise does not redistribute productivity gains as it did 30 or 40 years ago. More and more of company earning are flowing to the top executives while the average worker’s income remains flat.  In essence, healthcare has been priced out of the reach of many Americans.

Similarly, a liberal who champions a cause requiring public funding, is want if the champion did not provide clear measures for success and failure and set review periods where the cause could be modified, including canceled if benchmarks were not achieved.

An ideologue, regrettably, is not interested in anything other than getting his viewpoint accepted. Any person who does not accept his/her opinion is an “opposite” not worth the time of day.

Whether conservative or liberal, authoritarian or libertarian, etc., too few ideologues see much value in considering the incompleteness of their views or in understanding the basis for why someone else may think differently.  Apparently it is easier to speak ones position louder than to remain silent and listen.

There’s not much that can be done about that other person. There is, however, much that can be done about ones own views.

Close To Greatness

July 14, 2017

Republicans are running the ship. The GOP controls the Presidency and both Houses of Congress. What more could any party want if they wished to leave their imprint upon America. Each day, however, Americans are observing a President and a Congress aim at greatness but suddenly swerve away, missing the mark by a mile.

  • The “Healthcare” train went off the tracks quickly. Instead of focusing on premium and drug costs, the GOP struck up the “repeal and replace” band only to find they possessed no consensus on “replace”. The one attempt at attacking cost was instead diverted to bait and switch. The GOP offered to sell “stripped down” policies, as if they were Obamacare quality, for lower price. That was their version of cost reduction. Would you buy a car with no passenger or back seat (just the open space) just because the price was slightly lower?
  • Even more obvious as a ripe target is the cost of prescription drugs. What other country in the world makes drugs and sells these patented compounds in other countries for less than they sell the exact same materials in the US? The GOP could have seemed genuinely interested in the well being of Americans had they not taken the “repeal and replace” course.
  • The “Tax Reform” train, on a different track, seems destine for a similar miss. Anyone who prepares their own taxes knows full well how complicated a reasonably straight forward process can be. But “tax reform” is political code for “tax cuts”. And if you are wondering how much you might realize, don’t waste your time, the GOP tax cuts are about those who don’t need them, the wealthy.
  • Infrastructure investment, like building roads, bridges, harbors, and airports, is a time proven method to improve productivity by modernizing shared means necessary for economic growth (read jobs). Infrastructure investment is also a popular method to just put people to work regardless of whether the work produces any economic return. Under certain circumstances, even just employing people can be a good thing.
  • Not, apparently, with this Administration. Infrastructure investment means privatization and transferring more wealth from tax payers to private investors.
  • Along these same lines, the growing crisis around student loan debt is viewed as another opportunity to use private enterprises to assist the financial needs of students seeking higher education… at a substantial profit.
  • If training skills and higher education are needed to make workers more employable and more productive, then why would government add a layer of profit from loan administrators? Why would government treat student loans differently in bankruptcy cases than if someone bought too much house or too many cars?

Americans may have been frustrated with these situations in 2016, and decided Hillary Clinton and the Democrats were not the route to fixing them, hence Donald Trump became the 4 5th President and the Republican Party got control of both Houses of Congress. With seven months of this new Administration, Americans instead are seeing “greatness” by-passed in favor of wealth transfer from the average American to the wealthiest Americans. Hmmm.