Archive for the ‘Conservatives’ category

Democracy’s Message

June 20, 2017

When Donald Trump was elected President, the US democratic process spoke loudly. Americans had elected someone inexperienced, uninformed, and some said unqualified emotionally to become President by a narrow electoral college margin (Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million votes). What was democracy’s message?

American democracy approximates one man, one vote but it actually reflects the popular vote in each State times the number of House and Senate members apportioned to that State. Therefore it is possible to win the popular vote but lose in the electoral college. So is that why Donald Trump is President?

There’s more. Along with electing Donald Trump, voters returned the Republican Party to majorities in both the House and the Senate. And with these majorities, GOP leaders feel a mandate to roll back much of what constitutes “entitlements” and “excessive regulations”.

Republicans favor less healthcare coverage, less Medicaid spending, and have proposed large changes to Medicaid and even Social Security. On the regulatory front, Republicans are pro-fossil fuels, less regulations on banking and industry, and anti-labor. How can this type of negative, past looking policies appeal to a majority of Americans regardless of which State they reside in?

As usual, there is another way to see life. Republicans claim that best government policy is that which is originated closest to the people (State and local levels). Therefore by definition, healthcare, tax levying, and regulations should be done at the lowest government level which is practical.  Since the governing process is complicated, this simple explanation has appeal. Hmmm.

Traditionally, two key Republican Party segments have been the wealthy and business/banking leadership. Not surprisingly, lower taxes, more fossil fuels, more dependence upon healthcare insurance companies, and anti-labor policies directly benefit these groups. But strangely Republican policies put far more regular people at risk. So, once again, how did American democracy elected a Republican majority and a President of questionable ability?

Hmmm.

  • Could there have been too many litmus issues? Like is a woman’s right to choose, or the protection of individual rights of other Americans regardless of sex, gender preference, or gender identity.  Are these considerations more important than healthcare, a progressive tax code, or reasonable controls (checks and balances) on banking and industry?
  • Could it be that many Americans choose to believe what their elected officials tell them and do not fact check their assertions?
  • Could it be that too many Americans want it all but do not want to do the hard work of paying for what they receive?

Democrats lost the 2016 election mainly because they could not, and would not tell the voter what the voter needed to hear. Democrats equivocated on the big issues and pander on the social issues.

And by the narrowest of majorities, Americans have gotten what democracy delivers, this time an incompetent President who harbors no agenda, a Congress with a shameful agenda currently split along serious fault lines but teetering on choosing the darkest options, presenting the average America with no reasonable outlook for good jobs, more discretionary income, or hopes for a secure future.

Democrats need to wake up. Rather than stand by and watch Republicans promise the moon and deliver dirt, Democrats need to tell voters what is realistic to expect and why Americans can expect a Democrat to deliver.  That was democracy’s message in the 2016 election.

End Game?

May 15, 2017

There seems to be much reporting and analysis these days concerning how President Trump will become ex-President Trump. For those who were neutral or opposed to his candidacy, the option of an ex-President Trump is tantalizingly attractive. For those who supported his candidacy, somewhat surprisingly over 90% of them still think the Trumpeter is performing well and meeting their expectations. So, why the talk of “ex-President Trump?

President Trump has given his supporters all they could hope for. Reverend Jerry Falwell said this weekend at Liberty University’s Graduation in Roanoke, Virginia that “President Trump is the real deal and unlike previous Republican Presidential candidates (Mitt Romney and John McCain), Trump has delivered” (or words to that effect). (Evangelicals may have an advantage versus the rest of the secular America since Evangelicals believe God is listening only to them.)

One must assume President Trump’s supporters believe there should be immigration and entry barriers for Muslims and see President Trump’s so far failed actions as heroic never the less. (I wonder whether these religious champions have thought about which religious group would be next after the Muslims, or if his Muslim bans becomes implemented, what should the Country do with current lawful Muslim residents and citizens?)

Evangelicals must also cheer when they read about the American Health Care Act which cuts healthcare for the neediest. (Sound like lover thy neighbor?). And I wonder whether evangelicals think about the future. After AHCA, can a re-do of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security be far behind?

The Trump proposed tax reform must echo sympathetically amongst their church’s pews. The potential of huge tax reductions for the wealthy (corporate or individual), again overlooking the poorest Americans, must inspire these evangelicals to lift their voices in songs of heavenly thanks.

Of course, evangelicals may be thinking that “god helps those who help themselves”, and surely there is every indication that President Trump, his family members, and his richest supporters are helping themselves and buy into this myth wholeheartedly.

If one is objective about the Trump Presidency, one must admit the President has shown no signs of adjusting his ways despite a hail of criticism and push back. If tweets do not work, then a campaign style rally might. Or, a threat against this person or organization followed by a slam against a foreign country (friend or not) serves to distract the 7/24 news cycle as well as most citizens.

Environmental policy is under attack. Let’s have more oil wells, pipe lines, and even coal fields.  The Justice system has signaled it will be blind to individual liberties (especially voting rights) and instead focus on refilling out Federal prisons. Labor, Education, and HHS are all headed by individuals who are on record of opposing those departments’ previous policy direction. Hmmm.

And let us not forget that the overriding factors that got President Trump elected were two myths, (1) the US economy was flagging, and (2) only President Trump could make it great again.

Both of these myths were and are completely false. With the President’s rants over trade, his stress of keeping American manufacturing jobs in America with one hand and his destruction of jobs with budget and policy decisions with the other, there is more than a reasonable chance that the US economy will begin to slow and soon contract. If that happens, get ready for the wolves to come out.

Today the dark money sources (read Jane Mayer’s Dark Money), conservative and libertarian hedge funds and business owners (plus a lot of wealthy individuals with inherited money) support or at least have welcomed President Trump. These enormously selfish and self centered Americans will turn on a dime if President Trump is unable to provide them the tax reform he has promised and will seek his ouster if the economy fails in such a way as to shrink their personal wealth.

So, back to end game. President Trump is building a public record replete with words, actions, and deeds worthy of supporting impeachment. And, if not impeachment, then not reelections. And if not reelections, then may be not even re-nomination.

Americans, however, need to understand that a President Pence will not change President Trump’s policies. In many regards Pence represents a greater threat than President Trump. Vice President Pence will avoid any public statements if possible which are not fully vetted.  (Pence’s alibiing for Trump’s firing of James Comes is an exception.)   Remember, cutting back on the environment, pushing tax cuts for the wealthy, marshaling aid for religious groups, opposing women’s rights, and suppressing the vote are all bread and butter policies currently supported by Vice President Pence as well as the “dark money” owned Republican party.

Americans must, for their own good, keep an eye on Trump/Republican policies.  Impeachment of President Trump and removing him from office while tempting won’t change the foul wind blowing in Washington.

Repudiation of President Trump by making him a one term President, on the other hand, is that best alternative. Only in cases of severe “malfeasance” should impeachment be considered, regardless of the smell or optics of President Trump’s behavior.  The end game must include the blunting of “dark money” and its stranglehold on the Republican Party.  President is a red herring and not the originator of these top 1% policies.

Death Spiral

May 9, 2017

A “go to” line through out Donald Trump’s campaign was to characterize the Affordable Care Act as caught in a death spiral. (House speaker Paul Ryan likes that line too.) The inference was that insurance companies were losing money and would need to raise rates so much that individuals could not afford to purchase coverage. At some point candidate Trump predicted insurance companies would simply stop participating and there would be no insurance available in the exchanges. Hmmm.

As normal for the course, Trump and other Republicans failed to mention that the GOP had consistently opposed any further government aide for insurers, as envisioned in ACA. Now, the use of “death spiral” is serving as a handy crutch to divert attention from the GOP House debacle, the American Health Care Act.

Over the weekend, several GOP Congress members tried to put a positive spin on the House AHCA by pointing out that Obamacare was about to fail (Death Spiral) and AHCA would come to the rescue. When listeners complained about the AHCA’s weakened “pre-existing condition” coverage and huge Medicaid funding reduction, GOP speakers reminded listeners that most Americans would not be in jeopardy of AHCA.

These Congress members said that most Americans had employer provided healthcare (group plans with no denials for pre-existing conditions), Medicare, and Medicaid.
While this is a true statement, I wonder what these Republicans really meant?

  • Does the GOP think Americans shouldn’t worry about the other 20-50 million without healthcare coverage?
  • Does the GOP think Americans are naive enough to overlook the possibility that even if employed today, in a recession or just normal course of business, they might be furloughed and suddenly have no healthcare insurance?
  • And what exactly does the GOP think are “pre-existing conditions”?

Libertarian GOP members are intellectually the most honest GOP faction. Libertarians reject government welfare in all forms and providing at tax payers expense healthcare insurance just doesn’t cut it with real libertarians. Then again, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid don’t make the Libertarian cut either. Hmmm.

The GOP is moving into dangerous voter territory. While not of their making, the continued, rise in healthcare costs (greater than the rate of inflation) will not suddenly change if Republicans prevail and pass the watered down AHCA.

The US healthcare delivery system is seriously flawed. EpiPens did not increase 400% in price due to the Affordable Care Act. Mylin’s decision to raise prices was a pure exercise of capitalism in the healthcare market. And Mylin’s actions are not an isolated exception. Almost all drug companies are driving up prices to see what the market will bare. And why is it one can buy the same prescription drugs substantially cheaper in Canada than in the US?

As frustration continues to mount, sooner or later, Americans are going to ask, “do other countries have this same cost problem?” Most Republicans know this, yet many Republicans continue to march further out on a limb, probably blinded by the tax cut appeal associated with the repeal of ACA.

ACA has opened Americans eyes to how precarious their insurance coverage is and how the widening income distribution inequity combined with rising healthcare premiums are putting the American dream further out of reach.

Will the current fight over ACA be a death spiral or a rebirth of hope for universal healthcare?

Will It Be This Week, What Republicans and Democrats Won’t Tell

May 3, 2017

Here it comes again. More hints (maybe even boasts) about the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the replacement with the American Health Care Act. The spotlight remains on the House of Representatives where Republicans hold a firm majority so one might be excused not understanding what obstacles lies before an easy Republican victory. Here’s what a closer look reveals.

Republicans have campaigned against the “job killing”, “train wreck”, “big government” healthcare law known as Obamacare (the ACA). Being against things has become a Republican art form and while Republicans have advocated lustily for many things, they have not been for anything for which they would actually be responsible implementing and having to deal with the consequences. Times have changed.

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is far from perfect legislation. In concept, Obamacare represents a noble step forward by sharing America’s wealth with those less fortunate, specifically providing health insurance to more Americans. (“Noble might be too literary a word since over two dozen other modern countries already provide all their residents healthcare at half the US per capita expenditure with better outcomes!!!). Never the less, Obamacare did represents a giant step forward for the US.

Healthcare is not free. So, Obamacare had to find ways to help Americans “buy” insurance coverage. A combination of mandatory enrollment (for those who game the system by not buying insurance when they are young and healthy), “exchanges” where Americans could buy basic insurance coverage even with pre-existing conditions, a complex system of subsidies the government could provide exchange members, and Medicaid expansion to catch the remainder.

So how would this program be paid for?

Democrats had to come up with a dog’s breakfast of taxes to cover the portion of insurance the new insurance holders could not afford. The individual mandate and these new taxes became the rallying cry for Republicans. Take away the taxes, the additional expense necessary to add coverage to 20+ million more Americans, the cost would flow straight to America’s credit card, the Federal Deficit.

Republicans stood tall, said they had a better plan, and said they would give Americans their freedom back. Hmmm.

Back to this week. Republicans have offered the American Health Care Act to replace Obamacare. Almost unbelievably, the Republicans have discovered that those previously without health insurance like Obamacare’s features (like pre-existing condition coverage, basic services coverage, children on parent’s policies until age 26, and for many, financial assistance to subsidize buying coverage). The American Health Care Act offers much less insurance protection while giving generous tax cuts to the wealthy (not the Americans needing coverage). Hmmm.

To make matters worse for Republicans, they recognize that if they offer the same benefits as Obamacare (and just rename it), there is still the problem of paying for the expanded coverage. Moderate Republicans and conservative budget hawk Republicans cannot agree upon cuts which would lower the AHCA cost nor can they agree upon how to fund an Obamacare look-alike. Hmmm.

Democrats have chosen to hold their fire until the House passes AHCA and fight it in the Senate. Most pundits do not see the current AHCA passing a Senate vote. Time will tell.

The bedrock issue that is not being discussed by either party is whether basic healthcare is a right or a privilege. (Apparently, this comparison does not poll well, republicans do not want to be associated with denying healthcare coverage to Americans. Republicans would prefer to say some Americans choose not to buy insurance or prefer to buy a stripped down policy, and that is their right. Hmmm.)

Astute GOP leaders must be thinking how they can minimize a loss on this issue. Republicans are simply on the wrong side of history. Too much of the modern world has already solved the healthcare problems, and it is unlikely Republicans will wish to boast, “Among third world countries, American offers the best healthcare coverage”.

The issues at hand are not Obamacare versus AHCA because Obamacare has some serious shortcomings and frankly does not insure all Americans. And, the AHCA covers less Americans with less coverage. That doesn’t make it either.

Democrats and Republicans appear content to remain silent on the real elephant in the room.

The French Message

April 24, 2017

Yesterday France held the first step in electing its next President. In the French system all candidates run in round 1 and if one candidate receives more that 50% of the votes, that person becomes President. If not there is a round 2 between the two top finishers. The results were: the top finisher Emmanuel Macron, about 24% and Marine Le Pen, about 21%. Said differently, a centrist, not aligned with either of the two major parties and a far right (formerly fringe) candidate will meet in the run-off.

Macron, is a new comer who has never held a major elected position, garnered more votes than all the other 10 candidates. Early pundit predictions say Macron should win the run-off and become France’s next President. Le Pen, however, has been attempting to steer her far right party back towards the middle and may take advantage of unexpected events over the next month.

So what should Americans take as the message from this election?

For France, jobs and border security were key concerns of the electorate. As in America, jobs are a spotty issue. For those unemployed, it is a big deal while those with jobs don’t see the urgency.

Le Pen cites globalism (France First) as the unemployment problem’s root. For Le Pen the answer is leaving the EU and enacting protectionist measures. Macron, on the other hand, sees the world as global and that France must become more competitive in order to lower unemployment.

Border security is another matter. Le Pen used this term to explicitly call for restriction on Muslims including deportation of French Muslim citizens (two passport holders) under certain situations. Le Pen also paints these mainly North African Muslim immigrants as job takers and social services sponges. Macron is relatively silent on this issue reflecting the majority of French citizens (live and let live) attitudes.

France, population-wise is a bi-modal country with one large, densely populated city (Paris) and all the rest. Paris which most tourist flock to is also the center of banking and business. The rest of France is mainly agrarian and in certain cities home for large factories (like auto and air industries).

France has a strong socialist history featuring today the 35 hour work week and a highly developed set of regulations around work rules (pay, benefits, transfer, lay-offs, and firing). In short, it is easier (and often less costly) for a French company to not hire when demand increases. Consequently, even when times are good, one should expect less hiring in France.  The French social contract is well appreciated by French citizens and proposals to change it present a large challenge.

Blaming the EU misses entirely the point and returning France to the French franc will only acerbate the economic situation (where will investment come from?) and open the door for economic policies convenient to the ruling party but ruinous to the country.

So what are the messages relevant to the US?

  • Muslim baiting is not a sure winner. North Africans and other Muslims have had a difficult time fitting into French society.  They look and act differently than the traditional French population. It is true that unemployment and economic distress are higher amongst these Muslim groups but connecting these residents to the overall French malaise is not self evident. (Hmmm, do you think undocumented US residents from Mexico have anything to do with the employment rate in the coal industry?)
  • Jobs is a complicated subject. The idea that closing borders will increase employment is a tough sell (what about exports or reprisals from other countries?). Proposals to increase specific sectors present risk to other sectors. French citizens realize this. (Hmmm, do you think rhetoric will return jobs to the coal mining industry, or tax cuts for the wealthy will translate into lower unemployment?)
  • Voters lack confidence in their legislators. The rejection of the left and right traditional national parties confirms the lack of confidence that traditional leaders can improve the overall French life. (What do Americans think of a Congress which has voted almost 50 times to repeal Obamacare and cannot agree now on what to replace Obamacare with, even though Republicans have control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency?)

One must be careful to not read too much into the French first round election results. French voters have traditionally been volatile people living amongst general apathy. At this point, the French seem to have acted prudently.

Vive La France.

The Jobs Promise

April 17, 2017

President Trump campaigned on the promise to make America great again and a key step was creating lots of great jobs. As these words rolled off Trump’s tongue, one would have thought jobs would be growing on trees when Spring arrived. Hmmm.

As the 100 day mark approaches, a period far to short to measure President Trump’s jobs performance, all that can be said is that the Trump Administration has done nothing to change the former President Obama’s job creation momentum. Frankly this should not be a surprise and President Trump’s ultimate performance is an event for the future.

Most everyone has heard (and seen) the President’s strong arm on the auto industry as well as other American manufacturers like Carrier Air conditioners. Plenty of “new” jobs have been promised but there has been a deafening silence by these same companies on whether they were promising “net” job increases or just a gross number overlooking job cuts, layoffs, and retirements.

The ironic aspect of Candidate Trump’s jobs promise is his selection for domestic cabinet appointments and his much ballyhooed budget proposal. His cuts to the EPA, FDA, Lobor, Energy, and Commerce will (if enacted in the budget) be a real jobs killer, especially when one considers the zealous nature these new Cabinet heads are bringing to the job. To be sure beefing up Homeland Security will add some jobs but the net impact appears to be significant jobs decrease.

President Trump’s ace in the hole has been his infrastructure proposal. A robust infrastructure investment would certainly mean a lot of new jobs, both direct and indirect in support of those working directly on infrastructure activities. Trump’s challenge will be how to get a reluctant Republican conservative faction to go along with his plan.

To understand President Trump’s quandary, one has to understand who are really his constituents. Let’s begin with the unavoidable truth that President Trump’s most important supporters are not voters like the coal miners or the out of work/under employed rust belt workers either. The people who moved heaven and hell for the Republican majority are deep pocketed conservative and libertarian Americans. It is with their money, filtered through an alphabet of foundations, charities, and 401 c (4)’s which turn these charitable donations into ammunition for faceless operatives who in turn destroy the political careers of anyone who does not vote the way this dark money wishes. (Read “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer for a fuller accounting.)

So, why wouldn’t these moneyed interests not also want infrastructure work?

The very best one could say is that these rich interests are agnostic about infrastructure work, providing they do not have to pick up the bill. From an ideological argument perspective, dark money participants do not want the debt expanded. So the question is how to pay for this trillion dollar investment?  Hmmm.

President Trump’s path forward, however, must be as cynical as these rich people. This group seeks less regulations so that their business interests can make greater profits, and they want lower tax rates so that they can keep more of their businesses’ profits.  Accordingly, these dark money leaders approve of Trump’s draft budget and the aggressive roll back of regulations.

These wealthy people speak glowingly about America and the American dream but at the end of the day its about how they personally can make more money and keep more of it by paying less taxes. To be perfectly clear, this large donors care not a dime about average Americans or anything that even hints at fairness. The most important issue, morning, noon, or night is freeing their businesses from government rules and regulations and lowering the tax bill.

President Trump, if he is perceptive, will realize that if he pushes through tax “reform” and delivers for the top 1/2 of 1% wealthiest earners, these greedy interests will lose interest in the rest of the President’s agenda.  The infrastructure initiative which could create lots of new jobs will be last year’s fashion.  The President will suddenly find no friends in Congress where each Republican Congress member will worry more about reelection than doing their job.

The “jobs promise” was a cruel trick to play on voters.  The dark money behind financing the election wants less regulations to make more money, not to create new jobs. The dark money wants smaller government in order to pave the way for their businesses to operate without oversight or burdensome (in their opinion) rules.

Why?

Greed is just that. Greed consumes and often consumes so much that the greedy person does not see it consuming themselves. A lot of voters are expecting a much more dynamic labor market and are very likely to be disappointed.

In time, the dark money trail of revoked regulations leading back to the prime sources will be documented and reveal the unpleasant fact that certain wealthy persons and their businesses were never interested in creating more jobs, just making more money for themselves.  IMO, the grass roots disappointment and disgust could become so big that by 2020 voters throw out this GOP set of bums and give the reins of government to the bums of the other party.

The North Korean Test

April 15, 2017

Is it Deja Vu all over again? The Trump Administration appears to be facing a similar “going nuclear” threat former President George W Bush saw before invading and occupying Iraq. There are some key differences, however. North Korea is already nuclear so there is no need to doctor the intelligence reports. Hmmm.

North Korea appears to be its own worst enemy. North Korea runs a bizarre isolated State where there is the Kim family and a close group of associates and everyone else. Starvation and deprivation are common conditions while the elite eat well and the country spends billions upon armaments and nuclear research. But what separates North Korea from other two bit authoritarian States is its willingness to tell the world of its plans. Irrational maybe but secretive, not.

If one plays along with the North Korean narrative, one should expect to see North Korea soon with tactical nuclear bombs and delivery devices (submarines and intercontinental rockets) capable of reaching any country who threatens North Korea (read US). What then one might ask?

Does anyone think North Korea could survive and exchange of nuclear bombs? Does anyone think the US would sue for peace if attacked by North Korea? Don’t think so.

So, if that is North Korea’s stated strategic intent (nuclear weapons and delivery systems), to what end would this capability be put? Does North Korea still seek to unite the Korean peninsula under their leadership? And would that be the end or would there be further territorial targets, like pay back goals such as attacking Japan or Russia?

Who knows what evil lurks in men’s minds?

One can see even better now what a poor example the Iraq Invasion and Occupation serves. To be sure a nuclear capable Iraq would have been a highly destabilizing factor in the Middle East. But the Iraq War was never really about potential nuclear weapons, there were none. The Iraq War was about enormously misguided neoconservative views about establishing a democracy in the heart of Arab fiefdoms, a shining light so to speak in a dark part of the world. The Iraq War would also show the rest of the world how powerful the US was and consequently make it much easier for the US to exert its will in other trouble spots. Oh, if that had been true?

North Korea is much different, or is it? What might happen if the US (even with China’s tacit approval) launched a pre-emptive attack. What if, as a result of this attack, there was regime change. What might follow? Would there emerge a lawless State bent on disrupting everyday life in South Korea or even China, sort a pirate like Asian Somalia.
Or would the US (and South Korea and Russia) accept Chinese occupation of the North in order to provide law and order. Or if one is really dreaming, would China (and South Korea and Russia) accept US occupation?

Hmmm.

This is the mess facing President Trump. Clearly North Korea is a failed State and if magic could rule, North Korea should be transformed into a peaceful nation. But there is no plan or expectation of this positive outcome at this time.

So, does the Trump Administration just watch and hope for the best? Does the Trump team work on China in hopes of forming a combined effort to change North Korea’s behavior? And what role, if any, does Russia play?

Logic would demand that the three great powers work together and resolve the North Korean threat. North Korea’s nuclear weapons could be aimed at anyone. But working together requires trust and tell me how much trust exist betweens Russia, China, and the US at present?

Arguably the North Korea Test is one the Trump Administration is least able to handle. President Trump has a career of “bullying” tactics, followed by a deal, followed by selective reneging. Is that the type of person Russia and China might want to make a deal?

Consequently, the Trump Administration is left with a “wait and hope” that China can/will apply more pressure on North Korea so that North Korea voluntarily muzzles its provocative statements and puts into moth balls its current efforts to weaponize its nuclear capability. The North Korean Test, far more than the Syrian civil war, teaches the basics of, like it or not, the US cannot be an isolationists (America first), and being a globalist is an extremely difficult act.