Archive for the ‘Barack Obama’ category

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.

Will The Chicken Hawks Return?

February 15, 2018

Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, has been testifying this past week before Congressional Committees. One news report quoted Coats as saying the US was running out of time to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. Coats indicated that soon only military force would remain a viable option. WHAT ???

George W Bush is still alive and so is the chief chicken hawk, Dick Chaney. The memory of their fiasco telling Americans that when the US invaded Iraq our soldiers would be welcomed by Iraqis throwing flower petals at their feet as they marched by. To be sure some Iraqis threw objects at American soldiers feet but flower petals were not the objects.

The Iraq invasion and occupation remains one, if not the, greatest foreign policy failure whose consequences Americans will be visiting for years to come. The invasion opened a pandora’s box (to the surprise of Cheney and Bush) and unleashed sectarian violence through out the region. Instead of intimidating the Iranians, events embolden them to drive even harder developing nuclear weapons.

On the domestic front, Americas recognized once more that older men send younger men off to war, promise the soldiers full support and then proceed to forget about military members including those wounded and maimed when they return home.

North Korea is a two-bit country which may in fact develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver the weapons to US soil. North Korea will join a list of 8 other nations also capable of deploying the “bomb”. Does Coats think China and Russia will stand by an allow the US to “take out” North Korea or any of the others preemptively?

The conservative right may feel bold and think giving North Korea a “bloody nose” in some type of preemptive move is a wise tactic. Regrettably, these “black-white” thinkers can not recognize today’s world contours. Instead they project American military strength around the world as if military strength was unique and more appropriate than diplomacy. Current generation conservatives appear more comfortable making short term decisions and in the process frittering away America’s moral and strategic leadership.

Strategic patience was the term President Obama used to encompass a comprehensive strategy for combatting North Korea and other uncooperative States. Strategic Patience foresees bad behavior by small countries as a nuisance, not an imminent threat.  And, in any comprehensive policy, President Obama’s Administration tried to engage other powers including Russia and China in attempts to find global solutions for nuisance countries.

In contrast, the Bush/Cheney era was driven by “neo-conservatives” who relied upon rattling the saber rather then undertaking the more nuanced hard work of diplomacy. Sending other people’s children to war against smaller countries was the hallmark of these “chicken hawks”. Shooting first, thinking (about the consequences) later defined these misguided leaders.

Under President Obama, foreign policy was forged with a heavy emphasis on assessing the world as it was and as it was trending. Sending our soldiers into war became a last resort.

I wonder whether Coats testimony has accidentally revealed the emergence of a new generation of chicken hawks?

Governing Part II

November 2, 2017

The Republican Party now holds the reigns of government with control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress. Despite this apparent political control, Republicans have been relatively impotent. Governing Part I offers the thought that the Republican Party is a collection of disparate factions whose inherent policy goals are in conflict externally with a majority of voters’ interests, or conflict internally with other Republican factions’ policy demands, or both.

Implementing the Republican majorities has become surprisingly difficult and fraught with potential unwelcome blow back at the next elections.

Does this imply that Democrats would govern better?

Maybe… but at the very least, the Republican dysfunction speaks to the outsized influence mean spirited conservative big money (“dark money” per Jane Mayer) plays.

Democrat governance would speak to different financial interests. IMO, progressive views, characterized as “center, slightly left”, would be far more pragmatic and directionally sensitive than the current regressive Republican policies.

Contrary to Republicans’s notion that America’s future is destined to look like its past, “Make America Great Again” is on the wrong side of history.

  • Globalization is a fact from which retreat is not possible… and still have America grow in economic terms. Low cost manufacture will chase low cost, high quality labor. High cost manufacturing will reduce Americans’ standard of living. Free and fair trade are a must.
  • Growing income inequality is not a sign of globalization, but rather a greedy, thoughtless, and selfish product of wealthy Americans. Labor regulations and a creative tax code are needed to share the fruits of capitalism more productively.
  • Global warming is real and will drive dislocations in energy supplies. Attempts to favor oil and coal over natural gas or renewable energies denies the science behind global warming, increases the atmospheric carbon, and brings on the destruction associated with rising seas.
  • Digitalization (computers, internet, wifi, artifice intelligence and automation) has changed labor’s definition of “good jobs”, basic skill requirements, and the training and education needed.
  • Population growth rates in developed countries has slowed to below replacement rates and has placed a new value on immigration. Comprehensive US immigration reforms is a far wiser approach than building a wall.
  • Most of the developed world see basic healthcare as a citizen’s right and a necessary government/private sector service. Often over looked is that basic healthcare as a right helps center a person’s thinking around the value of government.
  • Retirement protection is an emerging need. With most companies no longer offering defined benefit retirement plans, and 401k savings plans subject to changes in the tax code, a national retirement pension fund would seem wise. The general notion is that retirement with dignity should be a right for everyone but how to fund such a program must be identified.

So, how does the Democrat Party stack up against these realities of our changing world?

  • Dark Money – Democrats have accepted campaign donations from a wide range of sources, dark money conservative sources excepted.  Reasonable limits and full transparency has been a Democrat position.
  • Globalization – Democrats have reluctantly embraced free trade including NAFTA and the TTP despite the objections from organized labor.
  • Global Warming – Democrats have openly embraced the science behind global warming theory and have endorsed policies which restrict carbon dioxide emissions. Democrats have given only lip service to dislocated labor (like coal miners).
  • Digitalization – Democrats have proposed a wide range of training and education programs but as in many other programs, have not told Americans what it will cost to implement their ideas nor what it will cost the Country if these ideas are not implemented.
  • Immigration and a diverse work force are solid Democrat principles, again if these positions can be sold to the Unions.
  • Basic healthcare – Democrats supported the Affordable Care Act but only a few Democrats strongly spoke out for single payer, universal healthcare for all (like that found in Europe).
  • Retirement Support – Democrats support the government’s role in assuring workers the dignity of a social security-like payment which makes retirement “livable”.

Are you ready to sign up for the Democrat Party?

Remember how Democrats acted after the majority Democrat Party passed the Affordable Care Act.   When election time rolled around, however, many Democrat candidates were silent and tried to change the subject when their Republican opponents criticized Obamacare. Democrats did not campaign on the idea of repealing Obamacare, as did Republican candidates, nor did Democrats vigorously defend Obamacare.

Lukewarm, would you call it?

Great leaders come along every so often. FDR, JFK, LBJ, and to a lesser extent, Bill Clinton were effective in passing important legislation. Barack Obama, when Democrats controlled Congress did get through healthcare reform but not much else (except by Executive Order). Obama will be more remembered for what he urged Congress to do as well thwarting what a mean spirited Republican Congress tried to do.

In this age of sound bites and tweets, will Democrats portray themselves in proactive terms? If Republicans are the Party of small government, low taxes, and individual initiative, what are Democrats?

Party of Opportunity, Security, and Leadership (for all Americans) in the 21st Century might be a place to start.

Hmmm.

Beautiful Healthcare

October 8, 2017

The Tweet-meister has once again promised Americans “beautiful” healthcare, without the “high premiums” some individual insurance seekers are experiencing. What magic does President Trump have in mind? Do you think he will embrace Medicare for all? Do you think he will recommend the US adopt a single payer system like Australia, Canada, or most of Europe?

Unlikely.

To date, the GOP has been serious about controlling cost exposure for those in the single payer market. Shamefully, the Republicans have chosen various forms of “less coverage”, “fewer insured”, and outright mistruths to portray their proposal as providing “beautiful” healthcare coverage. Why?

Opposition towards the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has been mainly a partisan political event. Republicans have never been serious about maintaining (or increasing) the basic healthcare insured rolls. Republicans have eyed the single payer (largely individual owner proprietorships) who could be counted upon to vote Republican.  The rest of Americans were far less important.

The GOP has lamented rising rates and declining insurance company participation in certain markets. Behind these crocodile tears, however, has been (you select which one), either (1) a basic ignorance of how any insurance market works, or (2) a cruel belief that those added by Obamacare were mostly lazy Americans unwilling to do what it takes to work hard.

Why would insurance companies keep raising rates in many markets? Does anyone connect that people who were sick and now have insurance might just be using it?

Does anyone think that many who otherwise reneged on paying doctors and hospitals previously (and by the way, those costs were written off by everyone else paying through insurance), and were now enrolled in Obamacare, were not going to use healthcare?

There have been some commonsense proposals, short of single payer, such as putting all single individuals seeking insurance into a group composed of all other single individual Americans (forming groups like employers do). The idea is that insurance companies could then set rates based upon this much large pool.

This approach might stabilize insurance markets but over all there is no way this proposal will lower healthcare spending. People who are sick or have experienced healthcare coverage for the first time with Obamacare will still get sick and will still want to use healthcare services.

The tweet-meistre might do well if he asked questions about how to lower healthcare costs without reducing coverage or those covered.

Such a line of questioning will invariably lead to where costs are generated, namely doctors, hospitals, and drug companies. This healthcare industry is like no other in the modern world and represents 1/6th of the US economy. If in some magical way, President Trump decreed that the US should adopt a healthcare model like Germany or France, where healthcare spending is about 1/2 that of the US (with equal or superior healthcare outcomes), it would require years to transition to that model without bankrupting many doctors, hospitals, and drug companies, not to mention healthcare insurance companies.

All I can say is that after such a transition, healthcare would be “beautiful” for the average American.

McCain’s Repeal and Replace

September 23, 2017

Senator John McCain informed Senate Republican leadership that he could not support the latest “repeal and replace” bill (Graham-Cassidy). This placed the proposed legislation one vote away from defeat and would then end a Republican only healthcare action. Was this McCain’s finest hour?

Senator McCain rejected partisanship saying healthcare was too important a matter to not have bi-partisan support. Life could have been much simpler for McCain if he had just chosen to wait and in the end go along. But for the 80 year old Senator afflicted with brain cancer, the future might not seem so endless. For whatever his reasons, Senator McCain made a principled decision without regard to special interest pressure and money.

Hip, hip, hurrah for John McCain.

Repeal And Replace II

September 21, 2017

Republican Senators are marching, somewhat like lemmings, towards a cliff over which they are likely to plunge. The Graham-Cassidy proposal is craftily constructed healthcare (not) bill. As previous GOP attempts, this repeal and replace version eliminates the individual mandate, frees employers from the requirement to provide their workers healthcare insurance, and frees businesses and the wealthy from certain Obamacare related taxes.

Graham-Cassidy also shamelessly bribes the 50 States with a promise of a block grant which can be spent as the States see fit thanks to large cuts to Medicaid.

For some States, Medicaid cuts are unwelcome since when they do the math, these States realize they will receive less money than with Obamacare. For other States, especially those who did not expand Medicaid under Obamacare, Graham-Cassidy looks like new found money.

The vote scheduled for next week represents a wholesale capitulation by Republican Senators to big money interests. The vote is expected to be held without the daylight of any public hearings and without knowledge of the CBO review, both steps Senate Republicans had vowed to provide just months ago.

There is, however, no reason to expect the CBO score to indicate less Americans will lose coverage than in previous GOP attempts.  One must wonder why the GOP insist upon retracing its already discredited path.

At risk once again are the most vulnerable, the poor, those with pre-existing conditions, and the suddenly unemployed. Most Americans gain healthcare coverage through employer provided insurance and will not feel the impact of any “repeal and replace’ legislation (until such time as it becomes fashionable for employers to decline to offer coverage at all). The wealthy, if required, could pay for healthcare personally, and while no one likes paying for anything, healthcare insurance cost for the wealthy represents a tiny percent of their disposable income.

One is tempted to blame President Trump and assign this shameful legislation to him. Wrong.

From all reports the President has tissue paper thick knowledge of healthcare and has applied his learnings to Graham-Cassidy.

There is no doubt the President will praise the bill if the Senate finds the 50 votes necessary for passage (President knows about winning). There is also no doubt that were Graham-Cassidy to become law and the public become disenchanted with GOP governance, President Trump will then disown the legislation and blame the Senate.

$700 Billion For Defense?

September 19, 2017

The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a Defense authorization bill which carries a $700 billion price tag. Championed by Senator John McCain, the Defense bill has been positioned as absolutely necessary to keep America’s world leadership role secure. With North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, and ISIS posing threats to American interests, McCain feels it is imperative that defense spending increase.

There is a problem, however, “where will the money for this spending come from”?

Republicans have suggested their new Graham-Cassidy “Obamacare repeal and replace” will save tax payers money. Republicans do not, however, say one must accept less coverage, revisit open season on pre-existing conditions, and allow less Medicaid funding if Graham-Cassidy becomes law. Hmmm.

Tax reform has been held out also. The GOP promises to stimulate the economy, put people to work, and in the his process generate the same or greater tax revenue with lower tax rates. (Sound like a free lunch?).

But there is a far bigger problem than finding funding sources. What would the Trump Administration spend the increased defense budget on?

What is the Trump foreign policy? What is its goals and what strategic relationships would the Administration employ?  What would be the State Departments’ role?

President Obama proposed “pivoting” US military assets from the Middle East where arguably, it was no longer necessary to secure the region’s oil reserves to the far East where China was posing new worries about freedom of the seas for all nations.

Underpinning Obama’s vision was protecting free trade and independence of the region’s trading partners. Countries which prosper are simply less likely to find hostilities attractive.

What does President Trump see? “Making America Great” does not meet commonsense tests. Why would any country, especially a Southeast Asian country cooperate with the US if the outcome was a zero sum, America wins-the other country loses?

And the Trans Pacific Partnership, aimed directly at building win-win trade relationships, along with discrediting the Paris Climate Agreement which called for cooperation among the worlds nations appear not part of Trump’s vision.

How can anyone conclude other than President Trump sees “going it alone” (with a big stick) as his preferred strategy, either because it is simple and he can understand it or because he now finds his campaign rhetoric has boxed the US into a tight spot.

Spending $700 billion on defense may be in the US best interest but until a clear and coherent US foreign policy emerges, these expenditures will be wasteful in themselves, and will require deep cuts in domestic expenditures since there appears to be no appetite amongst Americans to pay more in taxes.

The potential cost of Trump presidency is becoming clearer.