Archive for August 2018

Lower Taxes, Medicare For All, Income Percentiles

August 31, 2018

In one way or another, politicians running for office in this years mid-terms fall mainly into two categories.  The first group advocates lower taxes and warn (gratuitously) that their opponent will spend, spend, spend and of course raise your taxes.  The second group, to the contrary, speak for new policies such as medicare for all (single payer healthcare).  The first group does not identify what government spending will be cut in order to afford a tax cut, and the second group does not discuss how their spending will be paid for. Hmmm.

In a vacuum it is hard to beat the “lower taxes” pledge.  Who wants to pay taxes anyways?

But in the sunshine of commonsense, we all know there are no “free lunches”, or “you get what you paid for”.  So why are politicians trying to win elections pledging to cutting taxes or supporting new benefits?

Most likely there are two main reasons. 

  • First, most people do not think through the actual tax cut and realize how little of the cut will come their way (of course the top 1% are quick to gage their support on how any cut impacts them).  Voters must think something is better than nothing. 
  • The second, while most people do not focus on income inequality, they are still fearful of how they can afford healthcare if it is not widely available and affordable.

What is so strange about this quandary is that 50% of American families earn less that $55,000 per year.  And 75% of Americans earn less that $110,000.  All of these Americans are at risk of retiring with no pension (or one too small for a secure retirement).  And, healthcare is a growing uncovered cost especially for those with pre-existing conditions.    How is this in America’s best interest?

The tax discussion must change from “lower is good” to

  • which social programs are necessary to raise all American boats
  • and “treat all Americans with dignity from birth to death”,
  • and “how do we share the cost equitably”.  

Can you imagine the howls and cries about such ideas?  Critics will brand these ideas as socialistic and against capitalism which has made America so rich? Hmmm.

Remember that capitalism is fundamentally a selfish economic theory and will create a few winners and a lot of losers.  IMO, although capitalism drives any society to increase productivity, capitalism must include a light touch of regulations which outline boundaries around monopolistic tendencies, and safe guard social responsibilities. 

Of course, America’s success does not just stem from a capitalist economy but depends heavily upon the existence of a democratic republic based upon the rule of law, free speech, and public assembly.  When wide disparities in income distribution exist, however, authoritarian forms of government are usually not too far behind.  

Maybe all candidates might add “income inequality” to their campaign stump speeches. 

Small Hands, Small Man

August 27, 2018

Senator John McCain passed away this weekend following battle with brain cancer.  Tributes have flowed in from both political parties and many countries around the world.  One tribute is missing.  Guess from who?

The man who made small hands famous has now demonstrated that not only his manliness but also his humanity is lacking.  President Donald Trump (make America great again) refused to issue any official government statement praising Senator McCain.

The late Senator McCain, knowing the end was near, asked that there be only two speakers at his funeral.  Both were former Presidents (Bush and Obama).  McCain also requested that President Trump not attend.  Hmmm.

Evidently President Trump sees this request as a personal snub and felt compelled to put his personal feelings ahead of the country’s gratitude to John McCain’s personal service.  Hmmm.

The “I” And “P” Words

August 27, 2018

Some members of the news media continue to attempt making “Impeachment” and “Pelosi” subjects for the upcoming mid-term elections.  That is, these media reporters ask candidates their views on impeachment after these same reporters have asked about whether the candidate will support Nancy Pelosi becoming Speaker of the House should Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.  The cleverest candidates sense the land mines around both of these questions and find some innocuous, say nothing, comment hoping to move onto other questions.

For Pelosi, a “yes I support her” begs Republican opponents to toss innuendo after innuendo into the political debate thereby shifting attention from failed Republican policies to someone not running in the candidate’s district.  Strangely, the negative, “no I would not support her becoming speaker”  accomplishes about the same amount of distraction, in essence helping the Republican candidates escape defending Republican policies and the Trump’s Presidency.  Answering the Pelosi question leads no place prodcutive.

The Impeachment question is also unproductive but for different reasons.  First, the Mueller investigation has not issued a report and that begs the question, “on what grounds is an impeachment based”?  Second, speaking of impeachment now has the smell of political motivations rather than “high crimes and misdemeanors”.  Once again the subject turns from a totally unfit President to cheap, low level gutter politics.

Cooler minds can see that having Trump in the White House speaks for itself and the longer it speaks the more Democrats and Independents will turn out to vote in 2020.  In addition, were President Trump to be removed from office, next up would be President Pence who presents as much risk to our Democracy as the Donald.  Pence would be at home with a theocracy (or as he would say, religious freedom (providing it is his religion), and would rubber stamp any position his supporters propose (seeking to gain their financial help).   

The wise Democrat candidate needs to focus on policy issues (healthcare, education, jobs) while pointing out the pointing out the dangerous and ineffective GOP policies like the tax cut for the wealthy, exiting the Paris Environmental Accord, the whole bundle of tariffs including the shabby treatment of our largest trading partner Canada for example.

Should Democrats somehow take control of one or both houses of Congress, the risks presented by President Trump would be diminished although not eliminated.  America would be a safer place and the next two years could demonstrate the wrong headedness of GOP policies… for most voters.

The Week That Was

August 19, 2018

This past week over 300 daily newspapers published separate editorials on the subject of a Free and Independent Press.  This coordinated action rebuked President Trump’s continual message about “Fake News” and “the Press being an enemy of the people”.  It should not require much more than a cursory knowledge of fascist regimes in the 30’s and 40’s to summon the consequences of a country losing its free press.  Just ask Joseph Goebbels if you could.

President Trump has a new “friend” in the person of Omarosa Manigault-Newman.  OMH is Trump friend from the past (reality star), a former campaign worker, and the token black staff member on Trump’s White House team.  What caused Ms Manigault-Newman to be fired is not clear and probably not important but the consequences could prove very exciting.   Omarose says she has over 100 tapes of conversations with the President and others.  Hmmm.

Some pundits say that in order to change the 24/7 conversation away from Omarosa, President Trump announced he was revoking for CIA Director John Brennan top secret security clearance.  Why?  Because Brennan had criticized the President and this represented a threat to the American people.  Hmmm.

In another tweet, the President threaten to take away the security clearance for a current Justice Department employee, Bruce Ohr alleging Mr Ohr had somehow acted against the interests of the President.  Hmmm.  I wonder whether the President would try to silence Congressional members if they spoke out too?

And, there in lies week’s message.  It is one thing for the President to reward loyal friends and supporters with millions of dollars of tax cuts and government contracts (that’s government as usual), it is quite another to take away key safe guards of an open and free society.  Once taken, the path towards suppressed speech and lost personal freedoms is well documented.

Up to this point in the Trump Presidency, the operative words have been “go along to get along”.  Like all bullies, there is only one language they understand.  Not just “no” but “hell no”, and this must come from Congress and the Judiciary in non-partisan clarity.

The issue is not “impeachment”, rather it is about clearly and loudly affirming the primacy of an open and free society.  What’s at stake is more valuable than a Supreme Court appointee or a tax cut.  The Russian collusion or other high crimes or misdemeanors will in time take care of themselves.  Becoming a third world country where George Orwell’s 1984 rules the day must be stopped first. 

Priest Child Abuse

August 15, 2018

Front pages are full today of reports on the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report summarizing the Catholic Church’s apparent stonewalling (cover up) of priest accused of child abuse and molestation.  News media (print, digital, and video) can’t get enough indignation into their stories.  Some even express surprise at the Grand Juries finding.  Under what rock have these members of the press been sleeping?

Understanding the Pennsylvania report requires only knowing about bureaucracies in general  (how each bureaucracy’s main purpose it protect itself) and celibacy (a totally abnormal act, accompanied with other anti-social behavior).  The Grand Jury report outlines over 70 years of Catholic priest abuse and molestation combined with a church hierarchy committed to protecting the church’s name and not the victims.

While the media is treating this as “news”, the only news is this report is about Pennsylvania and not Boston. Sixteen years ago, similar revelations were published by the Boston Globe (later made into the movie “Spotlight”).  The Globe reported that in ANY all male “celibate” population like catholic priest, fully 6% of the members will engage in some form of pedophilia, and Catholic Church leaders will tend to shun transparency and in the process cover up any priest transgressions under the guise that the church organization knows better.

Many are asking how abuses can be prevented? 

The honest answer may be “they cannot” be prevented 100%.  Most likely, pedophilia is a human condition and has some minimum occurrence in groups of sexually healthy people (like school teachers, office workers, sports figures).  If the Catholic Church wants to end the label of a champion of pedophilia, it needs to open “priesthood” to women and married couples, in other words simulate more closely other groups with less pedophilia.  Since there is no chance to attain zero incidents, the church needs also a true zero tolerance policy and notify police on each occurrence of alleged abuse or molestation.  Notifying law enforcement authorities alone will not be sufficient since the priesthood, as it is currently, is simply a breeding ground for the 6% (or more).   The church is acting as an enabler, so to speak, for these pedophiles to congregate, develop technique, and prey upon unsuspecting children.

American Democracy Unbreakable?

August 9, 2018

There is a creeping danger enveloping the United States.  Captured in the words “Make America Great Again”, the populist slogan, stealthily hides the sinister motives of those clinging to the phrase.  The real meaning is more like “Make more of America’s riches mine”.  Populists be they left or right simply want a bigger cut of the pie than they now enjoy.  What’s so wrong about that?

Populists are so sure their view of “fair” is correct they will follow the most convincing Pied Piper regardless of what the Piper actually is doing.  Again, what’s so wrong with that?

Populist leaders, be they evangelicals or thuggish strongmen gladly promise what they perceive the populist want to hear and go about dismantling the existing infrastructure which may be preventing delivery on these promises and point to the discarded institutions as progress.  President Trump is gratuitously giving the American public a lesson in how this is done.

Most Americans are comfortable thinking that democracy means elections.  With elections, America will remain a free country.  If that were true do voters want to be like Russia, China, Venezuela, and dozen of third world countries democracies?

Strongman and one party rule, regardless of whether there are elections, does not represent democracy.  There are a host of other attributes Americans have and may take for granted which these other countries do not possess.  For example, written constitution with checks and balances, rule of law created by elected officials and backed by the Constitution, free speech and rights of assembly, religious freedom and freedom from religion, and equal protection under the law are key to America’s democracy surviving while not getting in the way of economic growth.

Theocrats who try to lead populists invariable see other religions as a threat and against the interests of the State.  Strongmen, care little about religions unless befriending evangelists can be used to strengthen the strongman’s efforts to secure power.  Both theocrats and strongmen see checks and balances as unnecessary at best and a threat at the worst.  Dismantling checks and balances is the preference for these faux leaders.

Theocrats and strongmen quickly settle on “fear” as their best friend.  Creating a link between members comprising the populist movement and something to be feared is step one through 10 in the authoritarian leader’s handbook.  Education, transparency, and free speech are the medicines for this disease.

At the present, the US is seriously in danger from a strongman leader.  President Trump is following all the classical authoritarian leader’s check list on how to get more control.  Behind the President are special interests who care less about the constitutional protections for others and much more for their own freedoms to gather more wealth.  This is alluring to the populist masses even though there is little or no chance any of them will profit like corporations or individually wealthy people.    

The coincident that President Trump is a boorish, morally corrupt President who has no regard for the truth is beside the point.  Americans should be concerned when Trump denigrates key institutions like the press, scientific research, intelligence and criminal investigators (like FBI).  Looking for the free lunch, for example reviving the coal industry with global warming and cheaper alternatives, or thinking free trade is simply a unilateral demand, or making health care unattainable for too many Americans in return for lower premiums for a few, won’t carry the day.  Or, will it?

The risk to Americans is that President Trump will subdivide voters into small enough groups, each who think they will be winners and elect the President to a second term.  With nothing to lose, President Trump will double down on promises in hopes of changing the 22nd Amendment.

Pope’s Death Penalty

August 5, 2018

Pope Francis issued a “Vatican Executive Order” this week in which the Pope declared capital punishment was wrong in all instances.  Previously the Church had condoned capital punish when applied as punishment for certain heinous crimes.  Pope Francis cited the inherent dignity of each person, even one who had committed a serious crime.

The Pope’s restatement of Catholic Dogma, at first blush, seems like a step in the right direction.  For many, capital punishment is unacceptable regardless of the charges, but for others, capital punishment saves the state money (less time in prison) and for others, an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” retribution is appropriate.

For the Catholic Church, who tell its followers that abortion is akin to murder, the Pope’s new position raises the question is the Church’s abortion stand still akin to murder?  For any “faith” based tradition trying to maintain logic in the face of practical considerations  a huge challenge remains.  Does abortion rank next to the death penalty? 

A fetus is not a direct comparison to a living human person.  Most conceptions naturally abort and others are ended spontaneously due to health or emotional reasons during the early weeks of pregnancy.  In a purely ethical perspective, a man and woman bare a responsibility to not produce an unwanted pregnancy unless they are prepared to give a full term birth.  So, why is abortion viewed so poorly and linked to the death penalty?

Historically, having babies was good business.  The more babies, the more future soldiers or laborers any group, tribe, or nation would have.  For religious organization, lots of babies meant more members, and more members, meant more donations to the religion. 

The Catholic Church took this superstition much further.  Catholics were told no sex unless married and then only sex if the couple’s intent was to have children.  Hmmm.

When birth control methods emerged in the 60’s, and family planning was possible, the Church missed the opportunity to look at abortion from an ethical perspective and instead doubled down by outlawing birth control.  As anyone who still attends Catholic services knows, family sizes now are no linger 8 or higher indicating individual Catholics are practicing family planning.  So, why is abortion linked to the death penalty?

“Thou shall not kill” is a good place to begin.  The Pope is saying that even if someone kills another person, the Church currently does not sanction the State to apply the death penalty in return.  It is pure foolishness to link abortion with the 6th Commandment and the greater question is where else should the Pope look after outlawing death penalties?

How about speaking to those whose actions lead to:

  • War?
  • Police Actions (like Israeli actions against Palestinians)?
  • Jihads?
  • Drug runners?
  • Child molesters?
  • Treason?
  • Land mines?
  • Carpet bombing?
  • Global warming?

IMO, the Pope’s action on denouncing the death penalty is just the tip of an iceberg.  There are so many more global practices which ought to be condemned. 

Unfortunately, the leader of the Catholic Church is so compromised by outdated and irrelevant dogma that when the Pope speaks on important ethical issues, the Pope lacks the credibility to speak forcefully.  Of course, it is better for the Pope to have spoken and nothing happen, than to have the Pope have remained silent. 

Maybe the Pope has more to say?

The Land Of The FOE

August 4, 2018

This past two weeks I have been traveling in France, Germany, and Italy.  Time passes quickly, they say, and unbelievably, it has been almost 15 years since I last lived in Europe and 3 years since I last visited.  Oh, how life there has changed and so much remains still remains the same.

The French are still the “french” as are the Germans and the Italians, still “germans” and “italians”.  That is in important rationale why one visits.  Life and living is uniquely different compared to New Jersey, Alabama, or California.  

Parian life is drifting far more “english” friendly than in the past.  For better or worse, english words have crept into the French language and can be seen ever where.   For the region Cologne to Kobelnz to Frankfurt, German is the language of choice but again, if the situation involves tourism, the German speaking attendant quickly switches to flawless English.  And Italy is special.  The Italian way of citing rules but ignoring them confirms quickly that one is visiting a uniques place.  

In all three countries there is no hint of want.  Security forces, local police and special military border protection details, dot the background, there but discreetly remain on the side lines. 

Most restaurants feature traditional cuisines, but there are no so many others (Balkan, Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, plus American fast food specialties) make for much wider variety.  One selects these alternatives at the peril of missing out on traditionally wonderful French, German and Italian dishes.

But life is about choices.  During the summer months, especially, many thousand of American tourists flood Europe in search of that magical vacation – mixing culture, history, and cuisine.  Football (soccer in American English) jersey with the various stars names on the back are everywhere.  Public transportation (trains, subways, buses, and cabs) make getting around possible since streets are so narrow and crowds are so large.  Visiting Europe is a treat.

President Trump has referred to Europe as a foe in the sense of an unfriendly trading partner.  The President’s “America First” policy seems out of touch if one measures the size of the tourist crowds in Europe and recognizes that America travelers do not see Europe as a foe.  In fact, American tourists find European countries are much more tourist friendly than ever.  But maybe the President knows something the average person does not.

Seventy years ago and and twenty-five before that, found these European countries engaged in a blood bath.  Killing each other and destroying the heritage that lay in the way, that was the message of that day.  Many reasons contributed to the World Wars I and II, but loss of economic  opportunity was a key driver.  And now President Trump proposes steps which will reset the world clock of pre-World War I.  What did the Wharton School teach Donald Trump anyway?

A black-white, transactional thinker, of course, is obtuse to the complexities which allow countries who wish to remain more homogeneous than the US to remain peaceful and on good behavior.  An opportunist, who wishes to fool unsuspecting followers, can paint European relations in thin layers and omit the rich fabric which exists.  Europe is no different than Delaware, Florida, or Oregon, the President falsely claims  Hmmm.

The ironic aspect about the trading partner, the European Union, is that reciprocal trade is an accepted economic principle for both the US and Europe.  What keeps free trade from occurring is also the same… political considerations.  Just as President Trump is pandering to Steel and coal interests, European leaders have political interests (normally meaning jobs) in each country to consider.   Only through negotiations which appear fair to each country can an agreement be reached that has a chance of working.  

But President Trump must know that.  He has claimed to be a genius.