Archive for the ‘Conservatives’ category

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.

2017 and World War I

April 9, 2017

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (PAFA) is currently hosting a show titled “World War I and American Art”. The show, timed to coincide with America’s entry into the European war, is compact, contains timely reminders of what man can do, and reminds us of our liberties. Most of us have some acquaintance with horrors of trench warfare and the introduction of chemical (gas) killing methods, both made famous in the great war.

World War I made no sense to most historians but each of the belligerents gave it their all. Deaths and traumatic injuries left people around the world hoping WW I was the war to end all wars.

The show traces America’s involvement with paintings designed to glamorize the “going to war” attitude. There are “posters” advocating every man’s duty to register for the draft, for women to chose some line of work which supports the war effort, and astonishingly, encourages and praises the participation of “the colored boys” (even though US troops were segregated).

Some American artists were embedded with military units and recorded everyday life at the front along with heroic acts against the enemy. It wasn’t, however, until the war ended that art critical of war, especially depicting broken men and senseless slaughter appeared. Why might that have been?

America was extremely divided over entry into World War I. When the Germans began indiscriminately sinking US shipping after three years of war, the tide shifted and Congress declared war on Germany and its allies. And that was not all Congress did.

Congress passed “The Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918” both of which violate 1st Amendment rights. Congress’ intent was to intimidate and silence opposition to the war and keep the nation focused upon the fight in Europe. Speech, writings, and art which opposed the government or its efforts were subject to fines, confiscation, and detention.

Fortunately the war ended about a year and a half after the US entered. Then the flood gates opened and so many artist produced paintings, pictures, and sculptures depicting the unglamorous, horrific realities of the War.   War’s real message could no longer be suppressed.

“World War I and American Art” completes its display with a cross section of works clearly showing what price so many people had to pay. As we know, the war to end all wars failed and most historians say World War I actually precipitated an even more horrible war, World War II… and in turn the Korean War, the Vietnamese War, and Gulf Wars I + II.

In 2017, Americans can again see war from the comfort (and security) of their living room. Americans also feel they can protest in person or write anti-government works with no fear of repression. So why is the PAFA show so important?

Civil liberties can be ephemeral. Most Americans enjoy life and do not spend free time researching where their freedoms came from. Ideologues, on the other hand, are so sure they are correct in their goals that any means are justified.  Rejecting refugees and making it very difficult for certain peoples to enter the US is an early warning signal about civil liberties.

Words are strong, pictures are stronger, and art can be the strongest of all in telling or warning what is or what might happen. World War I teaches us allowing only one set of words, photos, or art works (meeting some government standard) informs us of all we should know.  Rather, we must consider pros and cons, reports from sources we trust and sources we are uncomfortable with. Most importantly suppression of information or expression has never benefited society regardless of how dangerous the enemy is described.

Civil liberties are elusive and can disappear quickly.   Ends never justify means.

Government As A Business Concern

March 27, 2017

Over the weekend reports emerged that President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner had been tapped to lead a “government efficiency” commission. Kushner’s task was said to be about bringing business efficiency to government operations. Get the message, government is inefficient and businesses are efficient. Hmmm.

Governmental agencies are organizations which can be prone to bureaucracy and become tone deaf to the voice of the customer. Some business efficiency experts claim this tendency is part of the human condition and all organization must guard against inward focus. So what is so special about Kushner’s new assignment?

First, one must recognize that his assignment presumes two suppositions, (1) government agencies are inherently inefficient, and (2) business operations are inherently efficient.

One must remember, however, that government agencies are not “pop-up” operations which establish themselves around a perceived opportunity (customer demand). Government agencies are instead consequences of laws passed by Congress. Often Congress passes other laws which consequently set up other agencies creating confusion or conflict. And frequently, Congress does not pass new legislation when the original need has passed. In other words, some agencies simply outlive their original purpose and take on a new raison d’etre. So, in addition to efficiency, a useful question asks “do we need the agency at all”.

Choosing any particular business to model a government agency against has some key factors to consider.  Businesses mostly are about making a profit, the more the better. Businesses exist normally in a world of competition, both locally and globally. Businesses can hire and fire (for just cause). And, if a business fails, it can declare bankruptcy and simply go out of business. Hmmm.

So would one pick a Wall Street hedge fund as the model for improving the efficiency of air traffic controllers? Or select Google as the model for the Treasury Department? Or, Exxon for the State Department?

For sure there are business practices, like salary administration, performance measurement, and quality practices which have direct application to government agencies and should be considered.

Kushner’s task will be better understood when there is word on which Government agencies or work processes he is interested in improving.

Second, we must also recognize that many conservatives are primarily intent upon reducing the size of government. One way that could be imagined is to “bid” out government operations to the private sector. Compare, for example, Internal Revenue Service tax collection with offerings from outside vendors. Then, suggest that some company like “Turbo Tax” or “PwC” could do it less expensively (that is more efficiently). Eliminate the IRS and elevate a private sector, for profit company as the replacement. Hmmm.

There are huge obstacles awaiting Kushner. Government agencies represent employment and those jobs are often located in one party’s political district. This could be circumvented by requiring the new operating company to hire existing employees. Civil Service would most likely end for those impacted workers and hire/fire could begin with the oldest employees out the door first. You can complete the what could go wrong description.

Insidiously, one could speculate that new, private sector management could take over operations seamlessly and actually improved operations. What pressure do you think might fall upon the new operators top management from political operatives who sought further efficiency improvements or in lieu, political donations. Hmmm.

No doubt, there exists government agencies which could improve efficiency and others which do not need to exist. Kushner’s work could be beneficial or a Don Quixote like dream with consequences detrimental to current government employees and the US citizens who are the intended customers.

Let’s watch carefully.

A Week Of Eye Opening

March 26, 2017

This past week has been an eye opener for what a new Republican Congress stands for. How about “for everything” and “for nothing”? Or, maybe “for effective government” and “for ineffective” government? Or, maybe “for sincere government” and “for insincere government”? Hmmm.

This first revelation was striking. Republicans had passed legislation to repeal Obamacare about 80 times during the past 6 years and had campaigned in 2016 for the complete repeal and replacement of Obamacare. Yet when the opportunity was there, Republicans had no replacement plan.

The GOP had many plans, all disingenuous, but there was no one plan Republicans could agree upon. Hint: do you realize GOP candidates lied about their intentions?

The most popular refrain the GOP used was lowering the premium costs which “Americans” are experiencing. To some degree, in some places, this claim seems justified but Republicans were happy to leave this claim unclear. Americans receiving healthcare coverage from their employer, Medicare, or Medicaid, received no staggering premium price increases. These Americans were shielded from the increases some individuals in certain areas experienced.

So why would Republicans make such a claim? Could it be that most all Americans experience some form of uncontrolled healthcare cost increases (as they did yearly before Obamacare) and don’t understand why hospitals, doctors, and drugs cost so much?

Few, if any of our politicians called out for a universal, single payer system to replace Obamacare. Shamefully, Republicans instead called for changes to Obamacare which were designed to reduce cost increases pressure by insuring less people! How do those politicians sleep at night?

But simply reducing coverage was not good enough for some Republicans. The “Freedom Caucus” members sought to change Medicaid from an entitlement for the most needy to a capped block grant which would become the sole responsibility of States in a few years.

The “Freedom Caucus” wants to deconstruct the Federal Government and healthcare seemed an opportune way to begin the process. “Freedom Caucus” members represent a clear and present danger to modernity.

Most Americans have little skin directly in the healthcare game. Next up on Congress’ docket is likely to be “tax reform” where almost all Americans have an opinion.

While there is much good that can be achieved (like eliminating or vastly reducing the number of tax loopholes, exemptions, and deductions), changes which will lower the overall tax revenue or the progressive nature of the tax code, are sinisterly designed to reward the wealthy and to starve the Federal Government and its ability to function.

With tax reform, even more than with healthcare, it will be critical to study what any proposed changes might accomplish before voting upon any bills. The devil will almost certainly be in the details.

This past week revealed a White House and a Congress whose intentions are hidden.   On one hand, the Republicans seem unfit to govern and on the other hand, seem not a friend to the average American.

I wonder whether this GOP leadership will have learned anything that might restore faith in their intentions? I really wonder whether the White House or the Freedom Caucus care?

Free Market Health Care

March 23, 2017

The Republican sponsored “American Health Care Act” is floundering in Congress. The replace portion (as in repeal and replace Obamacare) is in trouble for curious reasons given that Congress and the Presidency are both in Republican hands. The political farce which is unfolding casts a sharp light on the undeniable fact that there is no Republican Party united around a core set of principles. Rather today’s Republican Party is a party of convenience which unite around not being Democrat or progressive.

The shallowness of this union shows through in the Republican argument over repealing Obamacare and trying to agree upon a replacement. Maintaining “no pre-existing condition” or “no life time benefit limits” exclusions along with keeping children on parent’s policies until age 26 showed the world Republicans were caring and compassionate (or so they said).

But doing away with the individual mandate and dropping certain taxes has brought into focus the difficult task of how to pay for these benefits and keep the same number of Americans on the insured roles. The inescapable GOP conclusion is that insurance costs will not come down unless, Republicans say, the free market kicks in. If this mysterious free market does not bring down the cost of insurance, then individuals and Medicaid will see large increases in cost.

The most conservative Republicans, true believers in everyone should have access to the best healthcare they can afford, are now proposing to eliminate the 10 healthcare benefits mandated in Obamacare. Hmmm.

  1.  Outpatient care—the kind you get without being admitted to a hospital
  2. Trips to the emergency room
  3.  Treatment in the hospital for inpatient care
  4.  Care before and after your baby is born
  5.  Mental health and substance use disorder services: This includes behavioral health treatment, counseling, and psychotherapy
  6.  Your prescription drugs
  7.  Services and devices to help you recover if you are injured, or have a disability or chronic condition. This includes physical and occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, psychiatric rehabilitation, and more.
  8.  Your lab tests
  9.  Preventive services including counseling, screenings, and vaccines to keep you healthy and care for managing a chronic disease.
  10.  Pediatric services: This includes dental care and vision care for kids

It shouldn’t take a genius to realize that without some requirement like these 10, insurance companies can price policies high and steer customers to stripped down version such as  catastrophic coverage. Moderate Republicans, especially those representing poor or inner city districts, see a huge backlash coming in the next election if the ultra conservatives prevail.

Conservatives are quick to counter, “doesn’t everyone have the right to buy only as much insurance as they want? Why would a single young man want to pay for pre and post natal coverage if he is not married?”

That strikes right to the heart of the matter. Healthcare costs, are generated by hospitals, doctors, and drug companies and don’t change simply because of insurance changes. The number of pre- and post natal visits will be the same regardless of whether a young man chooses to carry broad coverage or just a stripped down policy. The implication, however, should not be lost, everyone else will pay more if the young man is allowed to buy stripped down policies. That is the definition of insurance.

Republicans are ringing their hands over this dilemma. Conservatives say they will vote against the American Health Care Act if the bill looks too similar to Obamacare and Moderates say without certain coverage and federal assistance (like tax credits and Medicaid) they will vote against it.

Congress members appear to be living in a make believe world. If somehow Congressional leaders along with President Trump can work out a compromise and pass the American Health Care Act, then just looking at the reduce insured numbers and the fewer services many Americans want (and need), Republicans will lose in 2018.