Archive for February 2019

Papel Babel

February 26, 2019

Over the weekend, Pope Francis concluded a Vatican convocation of over 130 bishops from around the world.  The topic, abuse of minors by members of the clergy, and the cover up of these incidents by church leadership.  The conclusions, hmmm, headscratchingly not much.

On the other hand, the Pope’s laments might have spoken volumes about the church and where it stands in modern society.  In short, the Catholic Church is in danger of losing moral authority over its 1.4 billion members, and shockingly, resembles a failing business.  Accordingly, the Pope’s message failed to spell out what the future would look like for catholics nor any hints of how the church would get to that future state.

In the Pope’s defense, some pundits said the Pope’s meeting and concluding message were designed to make the world’s catholic bishops aware of the problem and the seriousness of the situation.  Under this perspective, one should expect the Pope to roll out in short order more directives and fundamental changes, for example how the clergy are selected and supervised.  Given how long the sex abuse situation has been known, this view of the Pope’s intentions is likely wishful thinking.

New York Times columnist, Frank Brunni, commented upon Frédéric Martel’s new book which reports that as much as 80% of catholic clergy were gay.  Brunni argued that there was no connection between being gay and being a pedophile.  Brunni worries that cliques within the Vatican will target those openly gay priest and drive them into silence.  Maybe, but doesn’t that miss the point?

The Catholic Church has spoken loudly about marriage (man and woman), sex only between married couples, and many other rules about regulating a woman’s life.  Where does the church get the moral authority to speak on such subjects?  How can a hierarchy composed mostly of homosexuals (and all males) speak knowingly about the real world?

Pedophilia is not a condition tied solely to homosexuals.  Sexual abuse is not limited solely to pedophilia either.  Sexual harassment and abuse are much more about power and how one handles power in relation to others.

The Catholic Church would do well to look how the leadership selects and supervises its clergy.  Why would there be such a high percentage of gay members?  What would cause Bishops and Cardinals to cover up abuse and harassment?

Why shouldn’t the priesthood look like the world around (a mix of race, gender, and gender orientation)?  The Church might benefit from far more listening and a lot less talking about suspect dogma.  Keeping bad news from the boss is not a characteristic inherent in homosexuality, but is rather a conditioned reflex learned by an organization from the behavior superiors display when confronted with bad news.

The Pope could have said so much more.

Is Impeachment Off The Table

February 22, 2019

Rumors are mounting that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation is coming to a close and the long anticipated report may be delivered in the next few days.  Will there be a smoking gun demanding Impeachment hearings?  Let’s consider.

The idea that Donald Trump, or only members of his campaign staff, colluded with Russians to influence American voters has been the public’s Holy Grail target of the investigation.  Unfortunately, the reality is alleged Russian interference is beside the point. 

Right wing groups routinely publish fake news on social media with as much sophistication as any reported Russian endeavors.  Left wing groups have been know to “stretch” the truth frequently too.  “Dirty tricks” are a staple of American politics and have been for years.  So technically, “colluding” is illegal but what irreparable harm was done?  Enough, do you think, for a Republican controlled Senate to convict an impeached President?  Not likely.

So, how about the “hush payments” Trump arranged through his lawyer to silence two women involved in Trump liaisons.  Once again, these may have been campaign finance violations but they occurred long before Trump became President.  Again, it is unlikely Congress could agree on showing Donald Trump the door.

How about “obstruction of justice”?  The Trump argument that he was authorized to fire FBI Director James Comey may be true but what about Trump’s other statements, like “go easy on Flynn”, “investigation is witch hunt”, “Session should never have recurved himself” as examples.  Once again a Republican controlled Senate is not likely to uphold an impeachment.

In the world of speculation, partially supported by already published rumors, there could be descriptions of money laundering involving members of the Trump family.  With revelations that the Trump organization were in negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow well into 2018 and the tendency of Trump Organization to grease palms creates a wide range of possible violations of US law.  Add these incidents similar ones involving “pay for influence” tied to the “Inauguration Ball” and the “Washington DC Trump Hotel”, a case detailing tax fraud, influence peddling, and violations of the “emoluments clause” begins to shape up.  The question is whether a report outlining this would ever see daylight?

Impeachment and removal from office is very unlikely with what is known today.  Impeachment, no conviction, and no reelection is more probable.  No impeachment and defeat in 2020 is the most probable but not a certainty.  

For Trump to be a one term President, however, the Democrat candidate must run a winning campaign. For Democrats to run a winning campaign, Dems must select a centrist, adult-like candidate, and make the election about Trump.  Hmmm.  

Amazon’s Lesson

February 20, 2019

Amazon’s recent decision to withdraw its interest in New York (Queens, Long Island City) as a location for one of its new headquarters ( especially after having with great fanfare announced New York’s selection) begs several important questions. 

  • Why should certain businesses and enterprises receive tax payer funded handouts while both existing and other new ventures do not?
  • Are the social costs associated with potential displacement of existing residents included in the total cost to attain the new venture? 
  • Do these government funded (incentivized) projects represent good investments for the community? 

Many New Yorkers were excited about the prospects of new job opportunities.  New York social activists, however, voiced concerns about the potential to displace local residents and the jobs would almost assuredly not go to local residents. These activists hammered at the question of why should Amazon receive any tax payer funding.  Hmmm.

Overall, Amazon pitched the project as a growth opportunity where Amazon’s new investment would bring new jobs to New York.  There is a maxim in business that one is either growing or dying.  Amazon claimed it could add to New York’s growth.  Hmmm.

Displacement of existing residents is the first area which should be studied, and costs associated with displacement should be calculated. That cost is difficult and complex to figure.  Most cities are already experiencing pockets of “gentrification” where lower income residents are displaced slowly with the building of higher priced living units.  The plans for new housing infrequently reflect displacement costs. 

Never the less, one could make assumptions and figure whether the New York borough would be better off with or without the Amazon investment at zero tax payer cost.  If the answer is negative, the process probably should stop at that point.    

If, however, New York provided tax incentives and also funding to assist anyone displaced, wouldn’t the proper question be to ask what the return for the city’s assistance might be?   Would $30 billion in local business revenues along with tax revenues from wages and salaries, in return for $3 billion in incentives, be an acceptable business deal?  

The activists seem to say that the $3 billion in incentives should go towards other pressing needs like the homeless, low cost housing, and school repairs.  The flaw in this argument, without questioning the worthiness of where the activist wish to spend $3 billion, is that there is “no return” on this expenditure.  Their proposal is like giving a tax cut to all tax payers adding up to $3 billion. At the end of the day there would be the same problems and no new jobs from Amazon.  Hmmm.

Sports teams, convention centers, and jobs producing manufacturing businesses have had great success (from their perspective) playing one city against another seeking local funding by promising to invest, or if denied incentives, taking their proposal someplace else.  Pretty civic minded.  Amazon was only playing the same game.

Sports teams have been doing this deal for well over 50 years.  Some sports organizations have even gone back to the public well claiming the 20 year old stadium the city had help build needed to be updated… or they would be forced to move.  Most often the city involved caved and ponied up new funding.  Few cities called the bluff and fewer cities called the bluff successfully.  But, were these cities who said “no thanks”, playing on the higher ground?

Consider Mom and Pop who wish to open a small business which will employ a few people (new jobs).  Should they have access to some city assistance proportional to what New York offered Amazon? 

The competitive bidding among cities for these large job creating investments has for the most part produced ever decreasing returns for the cities involved, and especially so when the entity asks for money a second time in order to stay.   

There are no clear cut answers IMO.  Cities and States attempting to stimulate growth are often shackled by two evils, greed (call it fraud) within the officials trying to negotiate the deal, and hard nosed entrepreneurs (trying to please Wall Street) promising the world great things and seeking significant public funding (with achievable goals).  For municipalities, just saying “no” may speak more about the public’s trust in their elected officials.   

Ideas For Democrats

February 15, 2019

Pundits are now writing that if the 2020 Presidential election is about Donald Trump, he will become a one term President.  If, on the other hand, Republicans can define Democrat challengers as too far left, like socialists or worse, then there is a chance, these pundits say, President Trump could win a second term.  Hmmm.

Bernie Sanders’s “Medicare For All” coming from an avowed “socialist” will make great copy for some Democrat candidates  The GOP, however, will link that person with Venezuela President Nicholas Maduro.  A crazy idea, one might think, but shrewd political tactics say experienced political watchers.  Don’t debate the merits of an issue, use emotive rhetoric instead. 

So Democrat candidates need to define themselves and cut off GOP attempts to link them with socialism.  Here are a couple of campaign lines Democrats might try to redefine the election.

  • “The Best Healthcare Money Can Buy”.  Democrats could signal their support for free enterprise healthcare costing twice as much per capita as anyone else pays in the modern world.  Dems could give their support to insurance companies, hospitals, and unregulated drug makers.  Maybe Dems could use the catch phrase, “if it cost a lot, it must be good”.

(The one problem with that slogan is our current healthcare delivery system is already the most expensive per capita in the world.  And even better, it is cost wise out of reach for millions of Americans.  Add to that, US healthcare, according to insurance companies should not be available to Americans with “pre-existing conditions”.  Hmmm.)

  • “Unfettered Capitalism”.  Democrats could rebrand themselves as the party of Wall Street, Big Banks, and the unconstrained Accumulation of Wealth”. Democrats could assert that a wealthy class, say the top 1/2 of 1%, who wealthy and becoming even wealthier, would spend more and the economic impact would “trickle down” to all other Americans.  In essence, the rich getting richer would be a win-win for everyone.

 

  • “Regulation-free Commerce”.  Democrats could stake out the high ground stating Dems, not Republicans, oppose regulatory constraints on businesses.  Dems could blame Republicans for any and all rules, regulations, or laws which provide limits on commerce, environmental protection, and anti-trust limits.  Dems, of course, would promise a flood of new, high paying jobs resulting from their new policies.

Silence from Democrat candidates, or worse, advocacy of vote seeking policies (such as Medicare For All) for which there is not the national or Congressional  political support is a very dangerous strategy. 

  • Our current healthcare delivery system is not a system for everyone and even with a limited audience cost twice as much as someone in Germany, France, Japan, or Canada pays should upset most Americans. 
  • Capitalism which does not share its profits and is loyal only to shareholders is a system we can make better far short of pure socialism. 
  • Commerce without some level of regulations is a situation ripe for abuse.  Look how other successful countries regulate.

The task for the Democrat candidate is to clearly articulate the center of the political spectrum.  President Trump’s record will lead to his defeat if the Democrat candidate simply expose the President’s actions and their consequences.  

Sh*t stinks, cream floats.

#DueProcess

February 13, 2019

The pendulum seems destine to swing to far before it returns to swing too far in the opposite directions.  Playing out before our eyes is public condemnation of business, political, and religious figures on scant, unproven, and often old allegations.  In the past, public and private figures could suppress damaging information through the “good old boy” system.  That system of “who one knows” was unfair but so is the system of feeding the insatiable news media’s appetite with salacious accusations.

For anyone who has visited college bars or similar ones in cities, towns, or villages knows young men and women go out for a good time.  The truly complicated issue involves “what is a good time”, “where does it begin”, and “where does it end”.  “Hooking-up” is a popular phrase for consensual sexual behavior today.  What happens if a “hook up” goes wrong?

There are dishonest people everywhere.  Some use physical force or entirely desceptive language (“I’ll love you in the morning”) to gain sexual conquest at the expense of someone more vulnerable.  In some situation there is an explicit or inferred reward (like a better work assignment, a part in a movie, or a promotion) for sexual favors.  This happens all the time and the line between “you should have known the offer was too good to be true” and “I had no idea he was not sincere” is often thin.

Some of the most disgusting examples of taking advantage of the other person occurred with people in “authority”, especially with those affiliated with religion and invoke “god” as a tool.

From press reports, many women who complain are not taken seriously and the “he said, she said” is the end of the story.  And buried in this mess, there are well intended agreements which just go bad over time.  So how does one sort this out?

Sexual relations are as natural as sun light.  In American society (compared to Europe), sex has been a natural event clothed in a wardrobe of shame and denial by local religions.  This unhealthy life style has given birth to the destructive behavior #MeToo speaks to.  

There are clearly situations where consensual is claimed but in truth does not apply.  Some occasions are forced, others reflect “cold feet” (where one party decides sex is not the outcome they want and says “no”).  Saying “no” might not be heard or believed and sex is forced.  Now there is an aggrieved person.  What’s next?

Due Process.  Hmmm.

In the ideal world, the two parties could present the facts as they see them.  A neutral party could then decide which party was in the right and which was not.  Or more likely, when no side could prevail, the case would end in a tie.  But would there be punishment for the losing side?  Isn’t assault and rape fairly serious crimes?  And isn’t making accusations harmful to a person’s reputation also a crime?  What a mess.

Today there are classes in most universities for incoming freshmen which teach about “informed consent”.  When one party says “no”, that is not “maybe”, or a request to “slow down, but itproceed”.  “No” is meant to mean “permission is not granted”.  But what about events which occurred years ago, or years after ones college days when no instructions on “no” existed?  And what role does alcohol play in encouraging risky behavior?

Finally, #DueProcess can be a clever tool designed to play for a tie.  “He said, she said”, without witnesses, is largely unprovable,  Never the less, accepting the “word” of an accuser without regard to a defense from the accused doesn’t see right either. I wonder whether this subject is a place for a truth serum?

The Cynics Quandary

February 12, 2019

The election of Donald Trump has placed a new lens on the everyday political world.  Through this lens, many, while scratching their heads about the crass, wholly despicable, and greedy attempts by the President to reap benefits from the Office of the President, say “sure President Trump is unusual but what has changed, politicians are all the same, and my life is unchanged and no different than it was under President Obama”?

Trump apologists begin with “I voted for Trump because Hillary was worse”.  To be sure, the Clintons have used their roles in State and National politics to gather and enhance personal wealth.  But both Hillary and Bill Clinton were students of domestic and foreign policy, and observed the accepted decorum associated with political life.  Both were interested in sustaining traditional American values and institutions.  

George W Bush, the compassionate conservative, was already wealthy when he ran for President.  Bush inherited “family” money and connections.  “W”, however, was hardly a student of anything (other than bicycle riding and painting).  And Bush’s term produced the Iraq Invasion and Occupation (the unwinding of the Middle East), Hurricane Katrina (the failure of Government services), and the near depression of 2008 (failure of government oversight).  Americans were left the impression that “W” meant well but was surrounded by those who didn’t.  

Barack Obama appealed to a different voter segment and was swept into office.  Obama was well intended but not skilled as an executive.  Obama was neither rich (meaning wealth and Washington influence) nor experienced (meaning how Washington worked), or just as importantly, how the Democrat Party leader ought to lead.  President Obama was more like a quick learning Don Quixote than “I don’t worry about those things” George W Bush.

President Trump represents something quite different.  His style and actions are foreign to Presidents who respected the office despite what they may or may not accomplish.  Trump is first and foremost about himself, the perpetual need for narcissistic gratification and the robust and crass search for personal wealth.  Beyond Trump’s inclinations  lays a much more dangerous side.

President Trump is putting holes in the ship of state’s side BELOW the water line.  His baseless attacks on the FBI, CIA, and members of Congress are over the top.  Trump’s repeated assertion that he knows more than the Generals (or Global Warming experts) presents  risks to every American in the days, months, and years ahead.  But some tell us Hillary would have been worse.  Hmmm.

The feeling some profess that “nothing has changed”, or that “Congress members unceasing thirst for personal wealth growth” is the real problem simply do not recognize how far out of the mainstream President Trump lies.  His pathological lying and senseless attacks on foreign allies are driving the US into that spot between a rock and a hard spot.  

Presidential leadership should be forward looking while assume the world is inherently unpredictable.  Great leaders prepare the country for unforeseen events while building the country’s capabilities.  Stealing from the future does not make America great, instead America is being hollowed out.

Great roads or bridges, if not maintained, will in time collapse.  Less wealthy countries left to their own devices will become nuisances, and often war with each other.  Income inequality is a natural event and without government’s soft touch, the economy will slow because the mass’ buying power becomes too little.  President Trump’s “friends”, however, thrive and prosper under these undesirable conditions.  Therefore, it should be no mystery why the President acts the he does.

In a large economy like the US, changes occur on the margins.  Consequently mainstream change occurs slowly and only after a period of time.  But once mainstream change begins, it will require even greater force to reverse the erosion, not just another Executive Order.  Cynics who overlook Trump’s destructive rule simply because they “see nothing has changed” are in for a surprise.  When the surprise arrives, cynics will wake up to real change and no good ideas on how to get back to the past.

Oh, Virginia

February 7, 2019

Recent revelations indicate that Virginia’s Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General  each had a racist or #MeToo moment in their history.  Taken individually in the context of recent times, each incident would seem grounds for resignation or impeachment.  The problem, however, with these revelations is that they occurred 15 to 30 years ago.  What standards should apply?

Governor Northam and Attorney General Herron used “black face” in student days, something they would not think of doing if invited to a theme party today.  Lieutenant Governor Fairfax is caught in a much more nuanced situation where a woman is claiming he forced her into a sexual act she did not want.  This classic “he said, she said” can have no winner since truth (at the time of the event) can not be determined.

So, we are hearing “I apologize sincerely to anyone my actions have offended.  I am not the same person today”, and “I was much younger and the event was consensual”.  Should these public servants be judged by the high standards of today or should their apologies allow the public to move on and judge these individuals on the basis of what they are doing today?

While racists acts are never acceptable, does anyone think the Governor or the Attorney General are the only two people who ever dressed up imitating blacks at parties?  Does anyone think that Lt Governor Fairfax is the only person in political office who when much younger did not try to seduce someone else?  

Isn’t the real underlying issue whether these earlier acts telegraph who these people are today?  If the Governor or Attorney General promulgate policies today which are racists, isn’t that far more offensive and grounds for dismissal?  And with the Lt Governor, isn’t it far more egregious if force or power (like with promise of advancement) was used to elicit sexual acts?

Hmmm.