Archive for the ‘Constitution’ category

Governing Part I

October 29, 2017

There has been much written about the inability of the 115th Congress, one with Republican majorities in both Houses, to pass meaningful legislation. In the 113th Congress, Elements within the Republican Party orchestrated a Government shut down squabbling over an ideological but relatively pointless issue. The question is why are current day Republicans so inept when at the Ship of State’s helm?

Could it be there internal inconstancy among policies Republicans claim they hold dear such as:

  • Federal Debt – “Massive, out of control, and an unfair burden for our grandchildren”. In fact, US Federal Debt is about average for all the countries in the world. US Debt is higher than Switzerland, about the same as Germany, and lower than Japan. The real underlying problem with US Federal Debt is that it results from the Congress’ inability to make rational decisions on spending and taxation.
  • Tax Reform – When Republicans mention “Tax Reform”, the are really voicing a free lunch message around “tax cuts”. Republicans claim tax reform will lower (big time) Middle Class tax burden when in fact the tax cuts are premised on lowering the tax for the wealthiest of Americans. Oh, and what about the Federal Debt? This is a shameful policy and consequently Republicans must use all sorts of misdirection and misinformation to keep the voting public from seeing through their scheme before tax cuts are enacted.
  • Healthcare – In the past, Republicans were mainly agnostic about healthcare. Since the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), Republicans have been like a dog chasing after a meat wagon. Not surprisingly the Republican mantra overlooks the fact that some 20 million more Americans have healthcare access with Obamacare than before, or that the US pays twice as much for healthcare than other modern countries. It would appear that the national Republican Party goal is to reduce Medicaid involvement and to eliminate taxes which the wealthy pay, and in return Republicans are willing to see millions less Americans receiving coverage. Hmmm.
  • Medicaid – Even if there was not a broader fight over healthcare, Republicans support only a much smaller application of Medicaid. Many Republicans see Medicaid as “an entitlement” (something Americans do not earn) and a naturally growing government handout.
  • Social Programs – Republicans use this broad terminology to imply that Government aid for specific social programs is a wasteful and wrong headed idea. Surprisingly, the tone was different this past week when President Trump declared an emergency around the growing (predominantly white population deaths due to overdosing with opioids. Hmmm.
  • Environment – when it comes to government policy towards issues such as smoking, industrial discharge into rivers, land, and the air, and most recently global warming, most Republicans have been unusually skeptical on the “science” demanding controls. Could campaign contributions drive Republicans to favor businesses and overlook the welfare of its citizens?
  • Immigration – One of the most convoluted arguments Republicans have made is the danger posed by Mexican undocumented workers. The approximate 11 million illegal workers has been labeled as the cause of most violence, a huge drain on social programs, and “line breakers” who are trying to gain citizenship by not following the rules. Mexicans are mostly church goers, family centered, and extremely hard workers who make model Americans if given the chance. Could it be that Mexicans, if given the vote, might vote Democrat?
  • Faith Based Issues – Probably the most shameful and hypocritical position Republicans candidates have taken lie around the issue of god and religion. Republicans stand firmly by the Constitution when they pander to gun owners but are willing to twist the Constitution and accept discrimination based upon ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation (if the discriminator is motivated by deeply held religious beliefs). This is akin to one Bill of Rights phrase, overriding all other rights if it is favored by a large number of bible totting voters.

The reality of this boils down to who elects Congress members and which issues are the most important. Distorting the otherwise democratic process is the unparalleled amounts of campaign donations coupled with the “legal” and huge amounts of “issues” money.   Mostly all of this money has emanated from the wealthy, and has driven the political conversation to elect a majority of RINOs (Republican in name only). This group, depending upon where in the country they represent, bring a range of intensity to the issue mentioned above.

If instead of keeping the single name “Republican”, each member chose a more applicable name like Christian Republican, No-tax Republican, Big Business Republican, etc, then the current Republican Party would not hold the majority and power would shift to others. So, banding together, even with vastly different depth of feelings around specific issues, makes the Republican brand the majority.

Republicans, however, are showing that being the majority and providing effective governance are two different matters. This year’s Republicans are hopelessly compromised owing so much to so many (tax cuts to the wealthy contributors, discrimination rights to bible thumpers, anti-immigration action to the xenophobes, anti-science policies to short sighted business leaders, and second class and hugely expensive healthcare policies to ignorant (uninformed) Americans.

Republican Congress members are complex and thinking people. Most, if not all, know the real nature of this Post’s issues. Unfortunately too many are willing to “go along”, thereby making unbalanced choices which are setting in motion collisions between common sense and prejudices or flatly unsupportable policies. In such an environment, facts are not important, and democracy suffers while governance becomes problematic.

 

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What Will Happen If The President Has a Personality Disorder?

September 3, 2017

This past week, a semi-authoritative, randomly controlled, White House “leak” routine reiterated a worrisome observation. President Trump was ticked and Economic Advisor Gary Cohn, National Security Advisor HR McMaster, and Chief of Staff John Kelly were the but of his anger. Unnamed sources claimed the President was so “pissed” at being told what he should do (sounds like the job of advisors) that he lashed out at former Marine General Kelly in extremely harsh and demeaning terms that these unmade sources were themselves shocked. Hmmm.

In fairness, I can say frankly that I was not in the White House and did not hear or see the incident personally. Unfortunately these unofficial statements have not been denied and do conveniently fit the emerging Presidential personality. President Trump is a bully who often acts more like a spoiled child.

Cohn, McMaster, and Kelly all are successful professionals who do not need validation from a second rate President. If they remain in service to the President, they do so for reasons of their own. In short, Cohn, McMaster, and Kelly do not need “at a boys” from our President to feel self assured.

The important question, however, is what if the unthinkable were to happen, that is, President Trump pushed his boorish behavior far enough that either one or all of these advisors quit or was/were fired? What would happen to the Country’s leadership, let alone, sense of direction? Would the Commander in Chief become the “Rudderless Commander in Chief”?

In a world where flowers bloom, animals dance about, and war gives way to peace permanently, abdicating White House control to someone seriously considered psychotic, might not make a great difference in American lives. In the world we know, there may be far more concern about a President who hires and fires simply because he can, than one who does that sparingly and only for rational cause.

Hmmm.

Could President Trump’s personality disorder lead to the coming of President Pence, courtesy of the 25 Amendment and a White House staff revolt?

Policy Or Ethics?

January 19, 2017

As each of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks get their day in the sunshine before Senate Committees, the recurring questions before these committees involve the nominee’s policy direction and personal ethics.  Is the nominee free of obvious conflicts and conflicts of interest? And, what direction (what policies) would the nominee pursue if confirmed?

With Republicans holding sufficient votes to confirm any and all of Mr Trump’s selections, one wonders what purpose these hearings serve.

The Secretaries of State and Defense seemed qualified, free of conflicts, and ready to perform these important roles. Arguably one could question Rex Tilleson’s qualifications since he has no prior government experience but he was the CEO of the world’s largest corporation and there is a large, in place, civil service State Department staff ready to advise. Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, breezed through her hearing the easiest of all the nominees. Since there is little controversial about Transportation, other than the billions ($$$) an infrastructure renewal program might create, the Senate Committee treated her with kid gloves.

Betsy DeVos, Tom Price, and Scott Pruitt, nominees for Education, Health and Human Services, and the EPA, on the other hand, presented potential red flags. Each of them in prior public statements have strongly rejected current policies and accepted science.

Ms DeVos is an advocate for vouchers, Mr Price has been a harsh critic of the Affordable Care Act, and Mr Pruitt has questioned the validity of global warming.

The questioning of Ms DeVos revealed (IMO) a wholly unqualified nominee who is intent upon championing the use of vouchers to funnel public tax funding to religious schools. Ms DeVos is a self proclaimed evangelical, and who has never herself attended public schools and chose not to send her own children to public schools. This woman has an agenda.

Mr Price will be charged with implementing the “replace” part of “repeal and replace Obamacare”. Why was any time wasted on questioning his stock trades when there is still almost nothing known about what President Trump will ask Secretary Price to implement? While trading stock upon which the Senate is about to vote is unethical, everyone else in Congress seems to have done it.

But the “replace Obamacare” may also lead to “privatize Medicare” and to “block grant Medicaid”. Is Mr Price going to be comfortable leaving millions of Americans either without healthcare coverage, with second class coverage, or just the best coverage money can buy? (If you have no money, you get….)

Mr Pruitt is most likely qualified to run EPA, if only based upon past government experience. Which direction he will lead the EPA will be a matter of Trump Administration policy and it may be wise, neutral, or dangerously flawed. As the nominee, Price will initially be bound to follow existing law.

On ethics, questions have been raised about Pruitt’s close ties to the Oil and Gas Industries where he has championed Industry positions while receiving large campaign donations from these groups. Unethical? Or has everyone else in Congress done the same with donations from other groups?

These confirmation hearings have shed more light upon how far from “advise and consent”, the confirmation process has drifted. With Congress so conflicted with the need to raise obscene amounts of campaign funding, questioning the nominees appears too often like the pot calling the kettle black.

With respect to policy, elections have consequences. Republicans and President-elect Trump won, and now our Country’s governance is in their hands.

  • Vouchers should be a non-starter if only based upon the first Amendment.
  • If the Trump Administration steps back from the less than perfect Obamacare coverage and insures less Americans, or worse attempts to change Medicare or Medicaid, in two and four years voters will fix that mistake.
  • The EPA might represent the most significant trap for the new Administration. Sophisticated deemphasis which skilled politicians like Scott Pruitt can apply to daily EPA activities, over time, can make the Flint, Michigan lead in water tragedy look mild. Voters will also feel this impact, maybe as early as four years.

No one will remember in four years that Betsy DeVos donated $200 million to Republican candidates, or that Tom Price bought and sold stock while deliberating on legislation, or that Scott Pruitt, while taking large donations from the Oil and Gas Industry, sued the EPA over regulation limits targeting those industries.

What Americans will know is whether education has improved or not, whether their healthcare is affordable and adequate, or whether the air, water, and ground are more polluted or less so.

With respect to these nominees, there is no reason that they could not be successful. Success will not be measured, however, how many Republican check list items are accomplished, but rather by the state of life four years from now.

Unfit To Govern

June 21, 2016

There are two political races to be decided this November. One, the Presidential selection which offers an experienced, intelligent women versus an opportunistic political neophyte. The other race contests the legislative branch hopefuls, “just say no Republicans” versus “just say yes Democrats”. Polls currently favor Hillary Clinton but are inconclusive on whether Republicans will lose control of the Senate or both the Senate and House. Why should we care?

Yesterday offered one example. Four proposals spurred on by the Orlando mass shootings were defeated. At least two of the proposals made common sense on their own merits without any added emphasis from Orlando. Yet the GOP majority was able to narrowly defeat the measures.

More and more political pundits are now writing about the “Republican Party is theparty with no clothes on”. The past 8 years and the recent GOP Presidential primaries have exposed the Republican Party as nothing more than a collection of single issue, the earth is flat, factions. Protecting the 2nd Amendment is one thing, but interpreting the 2nd Amendment to include rapid fire assault type weapons equipped with high capacity ammo clips defies common sense in all civilized countries outside the US.

Senator John Cornyn speaking after the Republican majority voted down these proposals said that the country needed to get back to eliminating the real cause of these mass shootings, ISIS, rather than pursing measures which attacked the 2nd Amendment. Hmmm.

Ones first reaction is “what did he just say”? Newtown, Columbine, and Virginia Tech involved no political motive at all, and the Orlando mass shooting did not involve foreign assistance at all. The Orlando shooter just went to a friendly gun store and bought his weapons of mass destruction.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is also speaking out. He is touting “A Better Way”, a saga in six parts. His message, to his credit, begins saying yes to some policies.

For example, Ryan says the GOP wants to end poverty, and that is Plank 1 in the 6 steps to A Better Way. Without a doubt this is a worthy target. Ryan’s plan, would make recipients be actively searching for work. Hmmm. Not much more details available unfortunately.

Plank 2, National Security while important is another non-starter for a party which seems not to recognize the US spends more on defense that all other countries combined. Ryan’s proposals would spend even more while still being against increasing taxes and in favor of cutting entitlements.

Plank 3, Tackling Excessive Regulations simply begs the questions which ones and in what manner. George W Bush tackled regulations and brought us a weak FEMA (Hurricane Katrina response) and ultimately the near 2009 depression. Today the GOP decries oil and gas regulations even while there are rising concerns about drilling operations and associated earth quakes. Hmmm.

Plank 4, Congress Reclaiming Its Constitutional Rights is a duh moment. For a party which voted near 50 times to repeal Obamacare without ever proposing what would replace it, one would not be out of place to think Congress (at least a GOP lead one) already has too much power.

Plank 5 and 6, Healthcare and Taxes are still to come. It is hard to believe these planks would be more than same old, same old.

Credit to Ryan for at least raising issues which would do well with serious review. Poverty is by far the number one issue weighing down America’s productivity, not to mention its conscience too. Healthcare and taxes have plenty of room for reform if done with all Americans (not the top 1/2 of 1%) in mind.

Pundits are recommending that Donald Trump toss out his great Mexican wall and open profiling of Muslims positions and get behind Ryan’s “A Better Way”. So far Trump has not seen this wisdom.

Sadly, I do not expect to see much better thinking from Hillary Clinton or the Democrat Party. The best they can offer is status quo and fewer promises that cannot possibly be kept.

Looking at the rest of the developed world and thinking that America can go back to some time in the past, “Making America Great Again”, or giving more latitude to flat earth religious groups, is simply emblematic of a political party caught on the wrong side of history.

The current version of Republican thinking inescapably paints the GOP as unfit to govern (at this time).

And Now There Are 80

April 18, 2016

The Department of Defense has announced the return to two Yemeni “detainees” to Saudi Arabia from the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. With their release, Guantanamo headcount drops 80. This number includes another 23 who have been cleared for release pending completion of the nitty gritty such as which country will actually receive them. Hmmm, 57 in a prison with a capacity for upwards of 700.

Anyone who worries about the foibles of big government need look no further than the fiasco of Guantanamo. Originally establish to house and process al Qaeda members and sympathizers, the Guantanamo detention facility vacuumed up a motley collection of nasty terrorists, questionable persons guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a healthy dose of totally innocent souls turned in for the promised ransom payment.

Once housed in Guantanamo, the unfortunate detainees and the US authorities began to realize there was no recognized legal procedure to process the detainees.

So if anyone is wondering how so many Americans can be Donald Trump supporters, Guantanamo is one reason. Congress, read the GOP leadership, has made keeping Guantanamo operating when any security or business analysis leads one to closing it and transferring the remaining inmates to super max prisons State side. Why?

The reason given (said with a straight face) is “to protect” Americans. Guantanamo is full of “crazy bastards” who are bent on killing us, Lindsay Graham says. You are immediately struck with the question “does he really believe that” or is this just another political smoke screen?

Bringing the Guantanamo detainees to US prisons would probably open the possibility of civil rights court actions since these prisoners have not been charged (a Constitutional guarantee for a speedy trial). And for most there is a reasonable chance they would be released.

But there is a bigger recognition that is being overlooked. There is no shortage of terrorists or persons willing to attack Americans and American interests around the world. No one should ever allege that the Guantanamo detainees are the worst of the worst. What about all those ISIS thugs who decapitated their prisoners? Are they somehow a grade less on the scale of worst of the worst.

Closing Guantanamo makes sense from a financial position, from a consistency with our laws and traditions, and demonstrating that Republicans and Democrats can make worthwhile decisions together.

The Republican intransigence is just one more proof to Trump supporters (and many others) that the GOP can’t govern.

Pandering To “Deeply” Held Religious Views

April 16, 2016

The Constitution’s first amendment guarantees that Government will not restrict expression of religion. But what is included in this presumed freedom? Can mothers prevent their children from being vaccinated to guard against a communicable disease if their brand of religion believes god will safe guard their child? Or, what if ones religion rules out blood transfusions? Could an individual refuse a transfusion? Could that individual refuse a life saving transfusion for his spouse or child? Hmmm.

Many religion are associated with certain wearing apparel. In America, there is fairly wide acceptance or probably better daid, an indifference) to religious dress such as Jewish Kippah, Muslim Hijab, or Amish traditional dress. And underlying this acceptance (or indifference) is that no one else is forced to wear these items.

The operating principle over the years has been religious freedom means that an individual can believe what they want providing their beliefs do not hurt others.

The secular world is another place altogether. Here is where the economy and daily living takes place. One would nowadays never expect to see a door at Walmart which said “Christians Entrance”, or another which said “Blacks Only”. Over the years, secular laws have evolved to provide a commercial world open to all.

The rub arises when religious worlds cross paths with the secular world. Christians normally have religious services on Sunday while Jews hold services Friday evening. In the recent past, there existed a set of laws restricting commercial activity on Sundays. These so-called “blue laws” attempted to discourage most commercial activity on Sundays.

Today there are no laws requiring a commercial establishment to operate on Sunday but more importantantly there are no laws preventing them from being open. Commercial businesses, even those associated with specific religious groups have a choice. No one is required to shop on Sunday and no business is required to be open.

Now a new conflict has arisen testing freedom of religion.

Over the past few years as the Country’s social conscience has evolved to where a majority of Americans accept the LBGT community and recognize same sex marriage.Unfortunately many religious organizations have brought forward objections under the headline, homosexuality, changing gender identity, and same sex marriage violate “deeply held religious views”.

While the law of the land might be that same sex marriage is legal in all 50 States, certain individuals holding “deeply held religious views” believe they possess a right (from the first amendment) to withhold service (during their work) from those who are in some way in violation of their “deeply held religious views”.

There is a cartoon circulating which shows a number of grocery store check-out lanes. In the first lane, the employee tells the customer that due to his “deeply held catholic beliefs” the condoms the customers wishes to purchase must be taken to another lane. In the next lane, a Muslim tells the customer that due to his “deeply held religious beliefs” he can not ring up the bacon and that the customer must take the product to another lane. Sound ridiculous?

Consider then the recent move by some Republican majority States to pass laws nibble away at rulings by the Supreme Court.  These individual instances are not isolated but reflect a broader effort by evangelical and fundamentalist religious groups to have it both ways. They want freedom of religion and they want the right to take certain freedoms from others. Hmmm.

These religious groups want the right to deny service to others whose life style they deem an offense to their “deeply held religious beliefs”. As private organizations, one might understand rules excluding others who can not meet religious tests but when members of these religious organizations are working in the public sector, this seems way over the line. What ever happened to “love thy neighbor as thy self”?

As disappointing as these religious groups behavior, even more disappointing, yet not that surprising, are the political leaders who are pandering to these evangelicals and fundamentalists.

So it should be no surprise that States like Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama have all proposed or implemented State laws which in some way attempt to “guarantee” religious freedom and protect individuals who discriminate from civil suits…  anyone, that is, who withholds services due to “deeply held religious views”.

For these religious groups, it takes very small people to think and act in a mean and discriminatory way.

For these political officials, the bar is even lower. Politicians only seek enough votes to remain in power while feeding off the public trough.  Votes are just votes.  Et tu Ted Cruz.

Equal Protection Under The Law

March 24, 2016

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Zubik v Burwell, or better said the Catholic Church against women’s right to reproductive health.

The legal argument briefly stated is that Catholic (or any religious) affiliates should not be forced to violate their deeply held religious beliefs if so required by some Federal law. In this case the issue is Obamacare and its requirement to provide cost free birth control methods as part of an employee’s healthcare plan.

The Sisters of the Poor said “we can’t” and Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell said there is a “work around”, use it. Legal counsel, of course, used more complicated arguments but the plaintiffs argue that their religious rights were “hijacked”. Hmmm.

There is no question that the Catholic Church (other religious organizations) have a perfect right to hold whatever beliefs it deems important. And there should be no question that the Catholic dogma has consistently opposed birth control, even though most Catholic women today welcome and use birth control.

The question before the court is whether the Sisters in observing the Church’s ban on contraception can overlook the ACA’s birth control requirements. Please note the law does not require anyone to use birth control.

This conflict need not have been necessary. When the Affordable Care Act was being constructed, a strategic decision was made to retain the array of private health care insurance companies and to attempt to use employers as the major means to underwrite the cost of health care. A single payer, universal healthcare could have taken the Catholic Church out of the equation (although the Church probably would have lobbied against such a universal health plan simply because birth control was available.)

In news reports it is striking how little attention is being given to the rights of employees being denied birth control coverage, many of whom are not even catholic.

The Catholic Church’s position does not reflect the behavior of its parishioners and is socially and medically out of date. Clinging to the Constitution’s provisions on religious freedoms while the Court closing its eyes to equal protection under the law is difficult to explain.

Pundits predict the Court will vote 4-4 and ironically the lower Court ruling (affirming Burwell) will hold. Regrettably other lower Court rulings against Burwell will also be allowed.

What a national mess a 4-4 Supreme Court decision would present.  The law of the land is not the law of the land.