Archive for September 2018

Why Not Brett

September 28, 2018

Yesterday the country watched truly riveting testimony by Dr Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh over whether there was or was not a drunken sexual harassment incident about 37 years ago.  After some 10 hours of tense testimony, the the charges remained “he said, she said”.  That outcome represented a Republican win since they had already scheduled a committee vote for Friday without the benefit of having heard the testimony.  Republican Senators had already made up their minds.

Most observers agreed that Ms Ford had not “proved” anything other than she was sincere in her beliefs.  Judge Kavanaugh offered an emotional defense denying categorically any involvement and tried to shift the subject to the hurt his family was experiencing.  But he said more.

  • Kavanaugh expressed strong influence from his father and mother. 
  • He confirmed that he had attended elitist schools and had belonged to an exclusive golf club.
  • He attended a catholic high school and professed strong faith today too.
  • He saw Dr Ford and others attack part of a Democrat conspiracy to deny him a Supreme Court seat. 
  • And, most revealing, Kavanaugh admitted his frequency and friendship with beer. 

So, what could this mean?

  • The Senate Republicans Senate members should have paid more attention to Kavanaugh’s judicial independence threatened by his Catholic faith. 
  • Senate Republicans should consider whether someone who feels so “entitled” is fit for the Supreme Court.
  • And, his strong parental affirmations could indicate Kavanaugh has a patriarchal view on life (as is typical of catholic teachings).  Bad news for LBGT’s and women in general.  But then there were no women on the Republican sub-committee.

The Democrat’s position is that Kavanaugh did not prove his un-involvement (for example his beer drinking caused him to forget what actually happened), and going forward should depend upon more investigation, namely from the FBI.  This also fits a larger strategy of delaying confirmation until the mid-terms and possibly longer were Democrats to take control of the Senate.

Late today, the Senate agreed to delay a full Senate vote for one week while the FBI investigates.  Who would have thought?

 

The Real Kavanaugh Story

September 22, 2018

The news media was widely reporting today that Republican Congressional leaders have been warned that the “Evangelical” community will stay home this November if Judge Kavanaugh is not confirmed to the Supreme Court.  In other words, even if Kavanaugh had groped and tried to sexually molest a 15 year old, all is forgiven.  Why would that be?

The answer appears to be the expectation that Kavanaugh will work to unravel Roe v Wade and side with the religious freedom advocates, who espouse discrimination against members of the LGBT communities, once he is seated.  Astonishingly, Americans claiming to hold deep Christian faith have found it expedient to “make a deal with the devil” to gain something they think they want.  Hmmm.

One must ask which of the founding fathers’ values supports favoring religious dogma over individual rights assuming the individual right, in and of itself, does not injure others?

In an evenly divided Senate, Judge Kavenaugh would not be confirmed.  Kavanaugh is bright enough but stands far to the right and out of the mainstream.  In the current Senate (small Republican advantage), however, the prospect of a Kavanaugh rejection is still possible and especially so, should Ms Blasey Ford testify credibly.  

The evangelical movement recognizes that possibility and has tried to put the hammer down.  Kavanaugh gets approved or we do not vote Republican this fall.  Hmmm. 

Bush v Trump

September 20, 2018

As former President George W Bush was exiting the White House, with the Iraq and Middle East situation a shambles and the US economy in free fall into recession, a reporter ask Bush what he thought historians would write about him.  In typical “W” style, President Bush said, “I don’t think much about that”, the “W” added, “history is a long time”.  In so many words, the former President said that in the future historians might look fondly back upon his tenure when more history was known.  Hmmm.

I was flabbergasted that “W” would think that any future President could rack up so many first class disasters in 8 years and beat his record.  But history is a wonderful ointment and helps sooth painful memories.

Only 8 years later along comes Donald J Trump. 

“W” was someone seemingly devoid of curiosity, less interested in thinking and more in having his picture taken.  President Trump is in one respect quite the same, he thirsts for having his picture taken.  Trump, however, appears manic, never hesitates that he is right, and presents a constant narcissistic demeanor seeking reinforcement that he is special.  

Bush was surrounded by the Republicans best, put in their jobs because the Republican deep State were worried about “W” on his own.  Trump is surrounded by hand-picked “yes” men who keep their job if and only if they cow-tow to Trump’s every wish.

President Bush had little or no control over the direction his Republican supporters wanted to go (remember the real President, Dick Cheney?).  President Trump, senses where his present day Republican base plus his deep pocket supporters want to go, then merrily leads the parade regardless of whether it is prima facia dangerous.

George W Bush was a decent but not extraordinary man.  Donald J Trump is extraordinary in his aversion to telling the truth, readiness for public boorish behavior, and as someone who just can’t be trusted.  Both men have pushed the standard Republican platform without regard to any moral compass. 

In less than two years, President Trump has shown America that there can be less qualified Americans to be President than President Bush.  Worryingly, President Trump has, like a bull in a china shop, engendered a growing risk of war with China, another collapse of the US economy, and mightily championed the destruction of the public respect for American institutions like the FBI, intelligence services, courts, and election processes. 

“W” had no interest or stomach for this type of destructive behavior.  To that extent, Bush was a good man.

Trump has combined some of his historically based beliefs (like trade deficits, global treaties, and xenophobia) with traditional Republican values (like tax cuts, Supreme Court nominees, and anti women, anti gay, and anti healthcare) into a toxic soup offering no light at the end of the tunnel.

American Republicans can not be all “bad” people any more than American Democrats can be all good people.  But there is an unmistakeable pernicious smell to the current elected crowd called Republicans.  President Trump may be a sorry case for a human being but he is being aided and abetted by the Republican Congressional majority. 

In November step one must include flipping control of at least one branch of Congress (and preferably both).  Step two will follow in 2020 when America gets a second chance to “get it right” and deny President Trump a second term. 

Pay Back?

September 17, 2018

Over this past weekend, a woman has come forward in an interview with the Washington Post, identifying Brett Kavanaugh as someone who groped her at a high school house party some thirty years ago.  Hmmm.

This revelation is sparking hopes among Democrats that President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee might be stopped after all.  For many this is enough to call for celebration, for others this is enough to call out “fake news”.

The incident, even if true, ought not disqualify Kavanaugh.  His repeated denials might be seen as a character flaw (not telling the truth) but trying to have sex with another teenage is hardly aberrant behavior if this was an isolated event.  He was a youth himself and has had plenty of time to have seen the errors of his ways.  Who would like to throw the first stone?

So what’s the big deal?

Many point to Robert Bork’s rejection as a Supreme Court nominee in 1987 as the end of bi-partisan review of Supreme Court nominees and the beginning of purely partisan selections.  The Republican controlled Senate’s refusal to even hold hearings on Merritt Garland’s nomination in 2016 crossed the line of judicial fairness to gutter politics.  With Robert Bork one could argue with a straight face that Bork legal views lay outside the norms, but with Garland, the Senate would have faced a centrist.

Judge Kavanaugh doesn’t deserve this type of smear campaign even though his judicial views are viewed as right of Chief Justice Roberts.  Conservative groups, however, have worked diligently to gain a disproportional representation of their views.  Adding another very conservative justice to the Court could (many say, will) tilt the Supreme Court too far right and out of step with “most” Americans.  

So, will these new abuse charges hold up and represent “pay back” or will they be found lacking in merit?  Stay tuned.

What’s Wrong With This Picture

September 14, 2018

The other night, a police officer who had just gone off duty, went to the wrong floor of her apartment building to a room directly below her room.  What happened next is still unclear, like was the door ajar or did she pound on the door until the apartment real owner opened the door.  In any case, the off duty officer than proceeded to pump some lead into the apartment’s occupant.  You can guess the rest.  The apartment owner’s funeral is this weekend.

What’s wrong with this picture?

So maybe the investigation will uncover some past relationships between the officer and the victim or maybe the officer had stopped for some brews before heading home.  But can anyone say whatever the provocation was, the officer’s actions was a wise use of police power?

It seems that few weeks pass without some senseless shooting.  But the most senseless are the ones involving fellow citizens who job is to uphold the law and protect the rest of us and an unarmed victim.  No place in law enforcement is their expectation that police officers are suppose to make the law, conduct an on the spot trial, and serve up justice as they see it.

Our military sees a broad cross section of young Americans.  These young people are issued a weapon and are given training on how to use them.  The military, however, also has procedures and supervision that control or regulated how the service members use weapons. Can you imagine a National Guard solder opening fire on by-standers when on duty during an emergency call up?  Can you imagine a jet or helicopter pilot bombing or strafing civilians?  This restricted behavior is not an accident.  It results from leadership, training, and procedures.

The are about 1 million law enforcement officers spread out among 18,000 separate agencies in the US.  This number comprises local, county, city, and state police organizations each with a separate chain of command.  What unites them is the issuance of hand guns. 

Remember when the policeman you saw was just directing traffic or helping children cross the street?

To be sure, the days of Mayberry and Andy Griffith have been supplanted by drug runners, armed gangs, and from time to time, one off terrorists.  Complicating this picture more is that there are more people with mental illness on the streets and predicting their behavior is orders of magnitude more difficult.  Policing is not just about directing traffic. 

The situation, however, is not hopeless.  Far fewer State Police shoot civilians than do local police departments.  State Police selection and training are different and the chain of command is clearer and more present.  

In the old westerns, the good guy (white hat) usually “winged” the bad guy or shot the gun out of his hand.  More recently it has become fashionable for the good guy to shoot dead the criminal.  Are you surprised there are no depictions of the good guy getting it wrong and shooting an innocent person.

If we are going to arm our law enforcement officers, Americans must insist that there be checks to ensure these police agents are mental balanced and trained to use force only as a last resort.  Regrettably, training today focuses much more on protecting the office by shooting to kill first.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Socialism Misunderstood

September 13, 2018

Several candidate running in the mid-term election have either avowed or allowed others to paint them as “socialist”.  These candidates often speak to “medicare for all”, “free” college education, “housing for all”, “retirement with dignity for all”, and “progressive taxes”.  Conservative opponents reach quickly for the words “socialism” or “socialist” and brand these candidates with the heavy hint that communism will be next.  Hmmm.

Socialism is defined as a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.  

I do not hear these candidates advocating for government ownership of businesses or total regulation of them either, but rather I hear a search for income inequality cures, particularly from businesses where productivity gains are not shared (fairly).  These candidates see too many Americans who cannot afford healthcare, get a good education they can afford, find housing that fits in their budget, or can expect to live on their retirement benefits.  These Americans do not hear the words socialism or socialist either.  What they hear, however, is a solution to a situation where for them the American Dream has turned to a nightmare.

Think about the world that these Americans see:

  • Fortune 500 CEO’s average over $10 million per year in renumeration and the top 10 average over $50 million.  Average earnings for all Americans remains about $55,000 per year, minimum wage is about $15,000 per year.  Hmmm
  • Most Americans receive their healthcare insurance through their employers.  Should any America become unemployment, these Americans experience higher costs if they can obtain healthcare insurance at all.  In addition, “pre-existing conditions” are often used by insurers to deny coverage (or charge exorbitantly premiums) essentially putting insurance out of reach for more and more Americans.  Obamacare, to some extent, helps but the present Administration is attempting to eliminate this coverage.
  • Americans are told the value of a college education at every turn in the road.  The only aspect not mentioned is the cost and the amount of debt a student will get with their degree.
  • For many Americans the cost to buy a home and/or the cost to operate a home (utilities, maintenance, and taxes) are squeezing them out of home ownership or ability to rent.
  • Social Security benefits do not provide for much of a retirement.  Combining social security with a pension, for most, makes retirement possible.  But pensions are vanishing and a growing number of Americans are thinking that neither social security or a decent pension will be available when it is their turn to retire.

So, it should be no wonder that when many Americans hear a politician promising “Medicare For All”, or “college education” one can afford, or any type of assistance which will help the voter have a better retirement experience, these promise attract attention. 

The knee jerk reaction of opponents has been to label such promises as “socialism” as if socialism was worse than having healthcare coverage, a decent retirement, or affording college.  What do you want, apple pie or a sharp stick in your eye?

Sooner or later Democrat candidates will sharpen their game and correct their conservative opponents. 

  • “Medicare for all” is about providing all Americans with superior healthcare at a global best price. 
  • “Medicare for all” is about adopting policies which have enabled over 20 other countries to provide better healthcare outcomes than the US at 1/2 the cost. 
  • These countries are “social democracies” and do not own all the means of production, distribution, and sales within their country. 
  • Counties such as Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, and Japan can provide example after example.

But why is it at all necessary to look to other countries for “best practice” examples?

The most obvious reason is that America’s democracy and capitalist economy is not working for all Americans.  A rising economy is not raising all boats as politicians are prone to promise.  Human nature is such that “self regulation”, that is those seeking more and more profits (and of course larger personal renumeration) just are not likely to exercise constraint.  As long as the music is playing these leaders want to keep dancing.

The answer will not be simply to tax the wealthy and give it to the rest.  The durable answer must lie in looking at what a well working society should be and asking why America is not.  Then, progressive taxes combined with consumption taxes and fees must be voted upon “upfront” so that all Americans know what they should be receiving and how it will be paid for.

Social democracy with a healthy mix of financial conservatives, critical independents, and imaginative progressives could steer America back to a fairer but still vibrant society.   

 

Vision?

September 9, 2018

Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) said in an interview this week that Congress and the government in general had no vision of where the US would be in the future (say 20 years).  As a consequence, Congress members were content to spend time on partisan issues (not to mention personal financial gain).    Consequently, “crossing the aisle” was by definition too hard and Congress’ efforts have become irrelevant towards the US’ long term well being.  Hmmm.

Senator Sasse elaborated that corporations were well into a practice of phasing out employees after 5 to 10 years in favor of some new productivity tool.  There was no long term linage between employees and employer.  Technical changes and obsolescence were reasons given. 

Americans were likely to have at least 4 employers (if not more) during their lifetimes.  No more “life time” employment.  Hmmm

The import will be a generation of workers who may retire with pensions or savings insufficient to support them during their retirement years.  Healthcare and Education were two other long term needs where affordability was becoming a concern. 

How will future Americans afford these services given current trends.  How can America as a country prosper without a healthy or an educated/skilled work force?  How can America turn its back on those retired and on fixed income?

Vision is red meat for politicians.  Speeches are cheap, especially the “I’m for that too” ones.  Extrapolating current trends and “visioning” how they will impact Americans in 20 years is difficult and open to disagreement.  Even more difficult is crafting what Americans need to do now in order to avoid the destructive aspects of ignoring a vision.

Take for example pensions to cover retirement.  The trend is well underway to switch pensions from define benefit plans to defined contribution ones like 401k’s.  When workers voluntarily or involuntarily leaving one employer for another, portability of pensions would seem an obvious need.  Where are the Federal rules to guide such instruments? 

Remember under capitalism, there is no incentive for an employer to provide a pension unless forced to or pensions becomes necessary to retain good employees.  For many businesses, especially those who outsource work, workers are “disposable” and if the worker leaves, there are others to be obtained around the corner.

One can lump in with the issues of pensions, healthcare, and education, non-personal programs such as infrastructure (roads crumbling, bridges collapsing, rivers becoming impassable), alternative energy sources which are affordable and do not increase global warming drivers.

And how about global warming itself.  What if, just for argument sake, severe weather and rising sea levels does happen, how does the US prosper and grow under such an outcome?

Creating a vision is no easy matter.  First, there is no consensus on when these issues might appear, how they might interact, and how Federal policy might mitigate their undesirable consequences.  Second, for a country that seems (or seemed) at easy with smoking does not cause cancer, global warming is unproven science, and (to an extreme) the earth is flat, a public discussion on the future (what a vision might suggest) should be expected to be fraught with misunderstandings, disbelief, and mistrust.

But, is the answer to wait until the future is a little clearer?

America’s major corporations deal with this quandary all the time.  If one of these corporations chooses to “wait until the future is clearer”, that corporation is destine to obsolescence, what say Kodak, Xerox, Sears?  Universities could privately or jointly with others, create “straw man” visions under contract from the Senate for example.  What might emerge could be several “probable” scenarios about what 20-50 years in the future might look like.  And from those scenarios, the legislative branch of government could extract work that it and only it could do.

Regrettably, there is no guarantee that Congress members won’t remain primarily motivated by enhancing their own person wealth.  This is human nature.  Toughening ethics laws could help keep this destructive behavior to a tolerable level and real work on the future could take place.

If not, what else?