Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ category

The Wheel Goes ‘Round

August 16, 2017

A useful exercise for any person, 8 months into the Trump Presidency, might be to recall or read recounts of George W Bush’s 8 years. While there is little similarity between “W” and the Trumpster, as individuals, there are all sorts of signals that the Trump Administration is stumbling down a similar, risk infested path. Time will tell if the outcomes repeat those of “W”.

George W Bush was elected in a contested race with a minority of the popular vote and a generous assist from the Supreme Court to garner a small majority in the Electoral College. Despite this modest victory, the Bush team treated his win as a mandate.

The Bush White House asserted the country demanded change and “W” would bring it.
The Bush White House began its term with a positive Federal Budget, but that did not last long. Lock step with his Republican controlled Congress, “W” sought and received Congressional OK for tax reductions (actually 2). The tax reductions were intended to “pay for themselves” but as surely as supply side economics does not work, “W” cuts drove the Budget negative and the Federal Deficit began to grow.

Then world events entered the picture. Terrorists hijacked four airliners and crashed three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The fourth aircraft was intentionally crashed just east of Pittsburg when passengers attempted to take back control.

But 9/11 set off a series of inexplicable events fully unforced White House errors.
With most of the world’s countries acting as allies, the US undertook a police action in Afghanistan and in short order, decapitated the Taliban government which had allowed Osama ben Laden and al Qaeda to operate openly. Then without notice or debate, the police action morphed into regime change and nation building. Oh, and by the way, more spending without any budgetary method of paying, hence the deficit grew even faster.

Bush and his Congressional colleagues were also certain there was over regulation from previous administrations and simply too much government. “W’s” approach was department budget cuts and even better, to appoint department leaders who would look the other way on their Departments administrative duties. Hubris took on new meaning.

Unfortunately, nature sent its own message in the form of Hurricane Katrina.

With the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headed by an inexperienced Michael Brown, the nation got to see a leader more concerned about his appearance than possessing the competence necessary for “managing” a response to a natural devastation.

On a different matter, to this day, there exists no credible explanation for why “W” allowed the US to invade and occupy Iraq. For sure there are attempts to attach the Iraq War to faulty intelligence but strategically there has never been a credible explanation.

The War cost the US the better part of a trillion dollars, resulted in thousands and thousands of severe casualties and deaths, and most glaring, unleashed the Islamic schism, Shiite versus Sunni, on the world. (Talk about opening Pandora’s box). Had President Bush not stacked the Defense and State Department key advisors with “yes men”, one would hope cooler minds could have steered the US clear of this foreign policy and humanitarian disaster.

But “W” saved its most ignominious transgression of commonsense for his unbridled encouragement of free enterprise, particularly in areas of banking and Wall Street. The notion that decisions made by chief executives and boards of directors had both the Country’s and their personal well being in mind turned out to be naive and without merit. Without clear sensible rules, corporations and Wall Street were ships without rudders.

The emerging culprit was a red hot housing mortgage market put on steroids by Wall Street securitization. Incredibly, everyone (administration and Wall Street) believed that said buying and selling “security packages” with contained a “piece” of hundreds of individual mortgages (combined into one security) was guaranteed to minimize, no dare I say, eliminate the risk mortgage failure. With no government set of rules, and no government authority watching the foxes in the hen house, the recession of 2007/8 soon grew to the near depression of 2008/9.

Now fast forward to 2017. The US has another Republican President elected with a minority of the popular vote and who thinks his policies flow from a national mandate. “The American People” spoke and President Trump is here to put those demands into action. Hmmm.

Similarly to 2000 when former President Bush took office, a set of domestic policies which favor the already wealthy and pander to the conservative minorities has emerged from both the White House and Congress.

The President and his Cabinet secretaries have reverse dozens of former President Obama’s domestic policies. From National Parks and Monuments to oil and gas exploration to Wall Street risk reduction regulations to FDA heath and safety controls.

But not satisfied with this list of high risk, low return policies changes, out are also the Trans Pacific Trade Pact, the Paris Global Warming Agreement, and NAFTA. Hmmm.

The inescapable teaching from the Bush years was that “no regulations” was extremely dangerous in the complex global world we live in. Society and corporations need clear rules with bright lines that cannot be crossed. The absence of rules and the reinforcement of the notion that government or the private sector can be trusted leads to the worst kind of outcomes… where the average person suffers while the wealthy thrive.

The answer to this quandary is not necessarily a Democrat Administration. Over regulation comes with its own set of problems. The country, instead, needs pragmatic, fact and science based policies. Polcies which blindly please one set of constituents such as labor unions, environmentalists, or anti-war groups could have as devastating consequences as those favoring Wall Street, Corporations, religious zealots, and xenophobes.

What is needed is a President and a Congress that values measured responses, recognizes social changes, and follows policies which allow American businesses to thrive in a global economy.

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.

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?

Should I worry About My Freedom?

May 8, 2017

On National Prayer Day, President Trump signed an executive order instructing the IRS to use “maximum enforcement discretion” when considering a religious tax exempt organization status should the religious organization publicly support a political party or position. In typical Trumpian style, the President boasted of fulfilling another campaign promise. President Trump’s message was a sop to the religious right who complain that they should be able to participate in campaigns without losing their tax exempt status. Hmmm.

Trump’s executive order in effect instructs the IRS to not enforce laws and regulations. Strangely, while as a candidate, Mr Trump strongly criticized former President Obama for not deporting every undocumented alien after then President Obama used an executive order to prioritize deportation. This, of course, is hypocrisy of the most convenient type.

But is the religious freedom executive order a significant threat to my freedom?

Not really at this point. Rather, allowing tax exempt organizations to participate in political activity instead makes suckers out of everyone. The rest of us pay taxes and earn the right to vote. Why shouldn’t religious organizations pay taxes if they want to influence the vote?

A much greater threat emanates from the notion that religious organizations can openly participate in the secular world advocating policies consistent with their ideological or dogmatic views. Sharia law anyone?

Religious organization range from the large (like the Catholic Church) to the small (like evangelical one location mega churches) to the tiny (store front, 100 member or less churches). And in theory, the executive order should apply to any faith even though the same issuer of executive orders has attempted to exclude Muslims from the US. I wonder how much discretion the IRS will use on them?

All Americans are free to hold opinions and are encouraged to use the ballot box to express these opinions. If enough Americans agree, election results reflect these views. Fortunately, we also have laws, supported by the Constitution which drive secular behavior. So, a store cannot choose to sell a product or service to one person (say a white) and deny the same product or service to another (say a black). And no amount of reality stretching can construe religious freedom can encompass this type of discrimination.

Or does this Trump executive order portend discrimination on a wide range of “freedoms”.

Vice President Pence, then Indiana Governor, has past experience in supporting  “religious freedom” legislation. Indiana passed a law, under the cover of respecting “deeply held religious views” of those good Indianians who reject same sex marriage. Had not the sports world promised to abandon Indianapolis financially, Pence was prepared to sign the law.

Religious organizations are just that. They are organization which market a set of beliefs to the public (and collect money from believers. Many, but not all, religious organization peddle dogma which limit or takes away freedom from others in the name of a “deeply held religious view”. Reproductive health, same sex marriage, gender identity, alcohol and caffeine, immunizations, and blood transfusions are a few bans that certain religion would make into restrictive law if they could.

Since no one is required to use contraceptives or have an abortion, or to marry someone of their same sex, or drink alcohol and coffee, or accept immunizations (except in public health situations) or receive a blood transfusion (even in life saving events), religions are better served to sell their beliefs to their members and leave everyone else alone.

Allowing one religion to foster its unique views in an attempt to influence the ballot box is a threat to my freedoms, not to mention a violation of the Constitution.

Public Option?

April 21, 2017

The GOP and the Trump White House are beating the healthcare drum again. The President promises a really good plan for replacing Obamacare. According to a report in the Washington Post, Trump said, “We’re doing very well on health care.” “The plan gets better and better and better, and it’s gotten really good, and a lot of people are liking it a lot.”  “We have a good chance of getting it soon. I’d like to say next week, but we will get it.” Hmmm.

I suspect those Americans who loose their coverage or those who subsequently find out their coverage covers a lot less will not think their health plan got “better and better”.

Republicans are now debating behind closed doors a plan which seeks to bring together conservatives (Freedom Caucus who do not want any hint of entitlements in healthcare and would prefer for the government to not be involved at all), and moderates (The Tuesday Group who fear sharp political retribution if the benefits of Obamacare are rescinded). The Tuesday crowd are offering weasel words that would allow States to opt out of certain Obamacare services. Hmmm.

The overall facts appear unchanged. The American Health Care Act, even as amended, will provide less coverages to fewer Americans than Obamacare and will provide huge tax savings for the wealthiest Americans. The GOP’s embrace of “the best healthcare money can buy” is a sad replacement for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Is that the best we can hope for?

Here’s a dream.  “Medicare for all” could be a next step in healthcare. Compared to the “oh so many” for-profit insurance companies today (which stand between you and your doctor), Medicare, which insures post 65 year old Americans, and fits seamlessly into existing doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies, could offer “a ready to go” alternative.

Of course Medicare is not without some problems, namely how it is funded. Republicans will decry the expansion of government and seek ways to defund Medicare. Cooler minds, however, might see Medicare as the ideal vehicle to determine what is basic healthcare and how to pay for it, especially if Medicare became the standard package for employer provided healthcare.

No sane discussion of healthcare reform should avoid the obvious elephant in the room. Americans spend more on healthcare than any other country in the world and receive mediocre healthcare outcomes in return. The difference in cost is significant (greater than two times).

An additional revelation is that balancing the Federal Budget can not be achieved unless there is a fix for Medicare and Medicaid, both of which collect less in tax revenues than they spend on healthcare benefits. With “Medicare for All” there is one program providing basic coverage with significant negotiating power with healthcare providers. Existing insurance companies could continue to “administer” Medicare benefits but would be unable to set different conditions around services.

Most likely efficiencies associated with a single payer would be insufficient to assure Medicare would be solvent. Consequently tax reform coupled with healthcare reform could be seen as reforms aimed at serving all Americans and not as ploys to pass on huge tax breaks to the already very wealthy.

Despite wrong headed GOP motivation on both tax reform and healthcare, Democrats, unfortunately, appear willing to simply play for a tie (defined as thwarting the American Health Care Act thereby keeping Obamacare) and rejecting tax reform unless the proposal is revenue neutral or positive.  Hmmm.

The can is poise for another kick down the road.

The Fog Of Syria

April 8, 2017

President Trump ordered a military strike against a Syrian airbase in response to horrific pictures of a Syrian Government suspected Sarin gas attack on defenseless Syrian civilians. Initially most members of Congress welcomed the action and those who did not, kept quiet because the tide of public opinion was demanding some US response. Now as the dust is settling, other voices are being raised. Hmmm.

Supporters of President Trump’s actions (actually the specific plans are the product of the Defense Department, not the President) describe the airbase attack as proportional and an appropriate first step. Supporters are also quick to say they hope this action was not be lost on the North Koreans or the Chinese. No more President Obama – Mr Nice Guy – foreign policy, they say. Hmmm.

Other observers point out that the Sarin gas may have come from stock piles held by terrorists and were released when an errant bomb hit the stash. Possible, and an extremely important point if true. But, rebel held chemical weapons seems highly unlikely while Syria has already admitted to possessing chemical weapons in the past.

What’s next?

Bashar Assad’s opponents point out that innocent civilians are dying everyday when Syrian forces drop conventional barrel bombs. What is the difference (gas or bombs) for defenseless people?

This line of reasoning supports the US taking further steps, like disabling other airbases, establishing no fly zones, or even partitioning Syria thereby liberating areas for Assad opponents to set up government. Sound reasonable?

No sooner have such proposals been made than others point out that ISIS, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other similar groups make up some of those who think one of the partitioned Syrian areas would be just fine for their control. Is that what President Trump is thinking?

Yesterday, about 150 protesters blocked traffic in Philadelphia as a protest against President Trump’s Syrian airstrike. The protesters were against the use of force. I wonder what these people think about the nature of the Syrian civil war?

Former President Obama assessed the Syrian situation as one not amenable to western, non-Muslim intervention. Peace would return to the Middle East only when local leaders agreed to live together in harmony. Obama was willing to supply training and coordinating help but severely limited the direct US fighting involvement.

Under Obama, the US policy was still pregnant, but much less than obvious than a full fledged occupation.

Some foreign policy wonks describe the Syrian conflict as a proxy war for the Iranian-Saudi relationship. With Russia’s involvement, there is the possibility of a resumption of the old East-West proxy wars. And some only see the Syrian mess as a conflict between Sunni and Shiite or a battle waged by a greedy authoritarian family against a poor population. Hmmm.

Former President Obama’s strategy may have been wise but it did not “feel” good, it was not decisive in nature. President Trump’s quick and timely response feels better. Only time will reveal whether President Trump has acted wisely or whether his actions will help or hinder a resolution to the Syrian civil war.

Not much is clear in the Syrian fog of war.

Republican Healthcare Secret

April 6, 2017

Today there were reports that the unofficial  second effort to repeal and replace Obamacare had collapsed. It appears that potential changes to the initial failed repeal and replace (American Health Care Act), while encouraging to the Freedom Caucus was unacceptable to moderate Republicans. In other words original no votes that were willing to change to yes votes were offset by original yes votes who would now vote no. Hmmm.

These healthcare deliberations speak volumes about the Republican Party. For the better part of seven years the standard Republican Obamacare line has been “job killer”, “a disaster”, and “we will fix healthcare”. Through the buzz of political speak, one can see that there never was a Republican Plan. Many different Republicans may have had plans but as a Party there was never agreement on anything other than the value of insinuating that the Affordable Care Act was in someways defective and by association, Democrats were also defective. Hmmm.

Republicans are now revealing (1) they are not a party of one mind, and (2) the Freedom Caucus hold views which are mean spirited, ill informed about basic healthcare, and really represent a third party, not a faction of the larger Republican Party.

Around the world, other modern countries have settled on healthcare models which provide basic healthcare to their residents. These countries have found that preventive care and reasonable controls on healthcare provider’s profit incentives produce superior health outcomes for their residents and much much lower costs to boot.

The Freedom Caucus is claiming they won’t agree to any Obamacare changes unless there is a reason to believe healthcare premiums will decrease. On the surface this sounds reasonable. But when one considers the Freedom Caucus approach (eliminate Federal mandates over what services healthcare policies must cover), one suddenly realizes that the Freedom Caucus is comfortable with insurance companies reestablishing pre-existing condition limits and embracing stripped down policies (like catastrophic care only) which provide no access to basic preventative healthcare. The Freedom Caucus has written the book on “the best healthcare money can buy”.

The Republican Healthcare Secret is much more about the party itself than healthcare. The Freedom Caucus would also seek to not just roll back (or moderate) recent gains in civil rights, human rights, and environmental protections, the Freedom Caucus would seek to deny there is any basis for these rights to exist or protections to be implemented.

One might think the right thing for Republicans to do would be to expel the FC from the Party. But the Freedom Caucus has been beneficial to the GOP also. Caucusing with the Republican Party, the combination has been able to “control” Congress, and thereby chair the major committees. While the GOP was the Party in opposition, there was always a greater danger than ideology, the other Party. Now the Republican Party has control of the executive and Congress and can no longer ignore the role of responsible governance.

Damn that Freedom Caucus.