Archive for the ‘GOP’ category

Buyer’s Remorse

August 19, 2017

What a week.

If someone voted for Donald Trump, holding their nose or not, that person most likely did so because they detested Hillary.  Well, this past week must have felt like a cold shower. It was Trump in the raw, all 250 or more pounds, pink faced and teeth gritted saying what “President 101” tells one not to say.

For those who did not vote for Trump, it was either another infuriating moment, or a “I told you so” one. For still others, the past week was a two out of three win, Trump unplugged twice, Trump sanitized (using a teleprompter and for these voters disappointing) once.

Here’s a news flash.  There should be no expectation that President Trump, regardless of changes in his cabinet, will emerge differently in the future. At his core, he is a selfish, narcissistic, unethical, and immoral person, a composite of each of us but with a high concentration of these four traits.

Donald Trump is, however, President for all of us, and all Americans need to accept responsibility.

It is not sufficient or acceptable for anyone to say, “I did not vote” for him, he is not my President”. Wrong! Donald Trump is, to be sure, a black sheep of the American family, but never the less, he is one of us and won the election.

It is also worthwhile remembering that his anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, anti-free trade, and pro-white supremacy rhetoric are simply his flawed personality shining through. His domestic policy views such as anti-global warming, anti-women’s rights, anti-regulatory, anti-healthcare, and pro-tax cuts for the wealthy are paper thin positions which he could alter in a heart beat, a heart beat which was advantageous for him personally.

And let us not forget, these domestic policies are largely held by Congress’ Republican majority.  Remember “repeal and replace”?

On foreign policies, like the US relationship with Russia, China, and NATO countries flow from incompetence. Trump’s ADHD-like focus is well demonstrated with global hotspots like Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, India, and North Korea… where Trump posits no over arching policy or consistency of action.   Whack-a-mole time, anyone?

So crying or lashing out at what an embarrassment President Trump might be, those dissatisfied ought to focus on what can be done. How about

  • Sharing your dissatisfaction with your Congress members, especially if they are Republicans
  • Gear up for the midterm elections and get out the vote – goal to take away control of the House or the Senate, or both from Republicans
  • Come to grips with a “center, slightly left” agenda.  Defer a highly progressive platform until 2024
  • In 2020, get out the vote and pick anyone but Donald Trump.

Complaining about the person our system elected won’t fly. Everyone deserves a portion of the blame. And, the only way to find relief (and consolation) is through the ballot box.

The Wheel Goes ‘Round

August 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When People Think Differently

August 8, 2017

The idea of “universal, single payer” healthcare seems so obvious as both the most efficient and least costly method of delivering a nation’s basic healthcare, it seems incredible that there are so many Americans who do not embrace this notion. Why would that be?

Fewer and fewer Americans remember the time before the wide spread availability of insurance company provided healthcare. Yet the US system of “for profit” healthcare insurers is a relatively recent happening. Following WWII, employers began offering health insurance as an employee benefit designed to retain employees in a period of relatively full employment. Health insurance as a benefit caught on and employers have found it difficult to retain workers without offering health insurance. Hmmm.

Also escaping most Americans knowledge is the cottage industry which is necessary to support the multitudes of healthcare insurers. Healthcare service providers (doctors, hospitals and drug companies for example) must carefully keep track of each patient and how much service that patient has consumers, report those services using each insurers different set of codes on each insurers specific form, and then argue with each of these insurers to insure they receive reimbursement for the services already provided. This entails millions of more healthcare workers who do not themselves provide healthcare. Hmmm.

More than two dozen other modern countries (like Germany, France, England, Japan, and Canada) utilize a single payer, universal healthcare service delivery system. These countries all offer “best in class” healthcare services at about one half the total cost experienced in the US. These countries also report excellent healthcare outcomes and boast longer life expectancies than the US. Oh, and these countries provide this healthcare to all residents. Hmmm.

So, why would anyone not be in favor of universal healthcare?

In the US there are many who decry the idea of universal healthcare. They predict unacceptably long wait times to see a doctor or receive treatments. They ask the question “if healthcare is so good in other countries, why do people from Canada travel to the US for medical care?”, and “Why should we put the government between you and your doctor?”, the ask.

The politics of healthcare is even more fascinating and not easy to understand. Progressives are for a universal system and conservatives are not. Conservatives point to Progressive’s record of entitlements and using taxes to fund the cost. Conservatives see creeping socialism behind the call for universal healthcare and the resulting dependency of Americans to look for government to solve all their problems. And worse, universal healthcare will bloat the government making what is already (in their opinion) too big, even bigger. And even worse, conservatives don’t want their tax dollars going to pay for healthcare for someone else. Hmmm.

Hmmm. What could be simpler. Big government, less choice, poorer quality, and offering out of control cost increases, conservatives claim.

Why do conservatives think that way when there are so many examples around the world that prove otherwise? Why don’t conservatives recognize that some Americans already have “universal healthcare”. These Americans, of course, are over 65 and are enrolled in Medicare.

Is this a subject of “the glass is half empty, or half full”? Do progressives and conservatives see the same problem (basic healthcare available to all Americans) or do they see different solutions to different problems (basic right versus small government with low taxes)?

If Americans see the same problem, conservatives may still view the delivery of basic healthcare too difficult a task for “American thinking” and from their perspective, a universal healthcare system must inevitably end up with poorer healthcare and higher costs. Progressives could, alternatively, see no problem too great for Government to solve and therefore discount totally conservatives’ warnings.

The recent Congressional fight over repeal and replace for Obamacare should make conservatives take notice. The conservative sponsored alternatives largely failed because they offered less coverage for the poor, those with pre-existing conditions, and the elderly.   Voters representing those groups made their views known. Progressives and conservatives would be wise to heed this warning.

Healthcare is not free and does require funding. Most other countries employ a “prevention” oriented healthcare philosophy, inhibitions towards uncontrolled price increases, and utilize a consumption tax (value added tax) to fund healthcare along with modest co-pay requirements.

Obamacare could be a starting point were Republicans to acknowledge that Obamacare was based upon Romneycare (Massachusetts) and that was based on a proposal from the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

If conservatives can’t agree with progressives on what the problem really is, voters make make the choice for them. The 2016 Presidential elections was a clear sign that the electorate was dissatisfied with both parties and threw its support to a total outsider.

What will voters do next time?

Up Next, Tax Reform

August 7, 2017

The President and the Republican controlled Congress agree (for now) that “tax reform” is the next target for action. Tax reform is a umbrella term, and like any good umbrella, tax reform could mean many different things. Soon Americans will know what Republicans have in mind.

There will be two parts to the reform, corporate and individual tax codes. For corporate taxes, there is a rich world of exceptions, exemptions, and deductions which could make anyone dizzy trying to figure out which ones apply to which businesses. Not surprisingly, President Trump has promised to lower corporate rates from 35% to 15% claiming the current US tax rate of 35% is the highest in the world and puts American businesses at a significant competitive disadvantage. Hmmm. (I wonder what the President will propose about the existing dog’s breakfast of loopholes, deductions, exemptions etc which contribute to the current average business tax rate of 14%, far below the starting point of 35%. Which buasinesses will be winners and which one will not?)

An important aspect of corporate tax deals with pass through taxes and carried interest taxes. Both of these options create tax favorable situations for certain wealthy business owners (lowering their overall tax liability). What will the GOP propose for these during tax reform considerations?

For the individual tax code, it is hard to imagine a more complicated set of rules. The individual tax code is used to generate tax revenue on earned income after certain exemptions and deductions are taken into account. When the adjusted income level is determined, individuals fall into tax brackets and the tax is calculated. For many tax payers (but still a minority over all), pass through and carried interest income plays a role in lower the overall bracket.

Some very wealthy Republicans want a straight “flat” tax of say 10% on all income, no exceptions, and no deductions of any kind. Others argue for less deductions and lower bracket rates but, of course, argue certain deductions are still important. Hmmm.

What is normally never discussed under the heading “tax reform” is what would be the consequences. On the plus side, tax reform is often argued as a route to stimulating the economy.  Some even say a tax cut (their idea of a reform) would pay for itself by growing the tax revenue even at lower tax rates.  Yes, believe it or not, a free lunch.

And unmistakably, there are those who plead for tax reform for various purposefully sounding reasons, in truth only seek a tax cut for themselves.

The more insidious consequence resides in what the government will not be able to afford on lower tax revenues.  Will a GOP controlled Congress lobby for healthcare and entitlements cuts too?

The current tax code has something for everyone to find wanting. The tax code seems to complex. There must be something wrong when an average person needs the help of tax experts to file ones income tax.  Corporate taxes are too high we are told yet American business, on average pay about the same tax rate as foreign businesses.  And, the tax code seems unfair to both the wealthy and the average person.  So “reform” seems a reasonable goal.

The mystery is what will the GOP think constitutes reform?

White Knuckles

July 31, 2017

There appears to be a collective “oh sh*t” coming from US intelligentsia. It has taken a full six months for think tank members along with other thoughtful Americans to grasp how far out on the branch of sound governance the US has crawled. What do you think of our President now?

Conservative and right of center thinkers have cut President Trump all sorts of breaks. “He’s new at this”. “His staff is not helping”. And who can forget the wounds inflicted by “fake news”. No wonder the world seems muddled when the US ship of State has no rudder.

The think tank world makes its living from keeping an eye on the four corners of the globe.

  • Russia has concluded good times are not coming from the Trump Administration despite what his campaign rhetoric and it is time to get back to business intimidating Easter Europe and opposing US goals in North Korea and Syria.
  • China similarly has concluded President Trump is a paper threat towards their US trade. China reasons their long term interest in being the supreme power in Southeast Asia is theirs for the taking.
  • The Muslim world (lead by the twin dysfunctionals, Iran and Saudi Arabia) has concluded the US is over stretched and therefore they are content to ply the suicidal path of nuclear armaments. (Allah would have wanted that.)
  • And the motley collection of third world countries, such as North Korea, Pakistan, most of Africa, and Venezuela, plod along with little recognition how close they are to a failed nation.

The conservative intellectuals also know how leaderless the US current is. Republicans have practiced governance tactics which have lead at best to gridlock and when not gridlocked, to destructive, wrong side of history policies.

Time for a tax cut anyone? Or how about more denial of global warming or the need for 21st century trade practices with both Asia and Europe? And where in the world of international disorder should Mexico stand? Does Mexico rank up there with North Korea, Iran, Russia or China?

President Trump has selected a new chief of staff, a new “silver bullet” so to speak. The conservative intelligentsia know that while General Kelly is a good man and competent choice, there is no reason to expect General Kelly can fix the lack of direction or find the soul of domestic policy. On both scores, there simply is none.

Former President Obama was frequently criticized for “leading from behind”. But few honest brokers could allege President Obama did not understand the world and various global forces at play. President Obama also understood that he would be out on the limb alone because the Republican side in Congress was out to undercut him at every step.

Real thinkers in American think tanks are becoming “white knuckled” as they begin to realize the Commander in Chief has no comprehensive understanding of foreign policy issues and has little interest in listening to anyone who might know.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seems a very capable executive but has no background in foreign policy. His professed loyalty to President Trump is very worrisome since the President has no idea of what to do.

Secretary of Defense, Jim Maddis is by far the sharpest knife in the draw and that in and of itself is a long term danger. The US democracy has long been the domain of civilians with military actions executed by military professionals. Where are the foreign policy civilian experts?

General Kelly has a narrow set of options. Hopefully he will find clear thinking experts whose advice he can preferential route to President Trump. General Kelly must at the same time thwart the access of the one dimensional thinkers and former campaign aides who seek to curry President Trump’s favors.

It’s white knuckle time.

Take A Breath, And Think This Time

July 29, 2017

“Pause and reflect” might be good advice for Republican Congress members. But it is possible pause and reflect may still miss the foolishness of yesterday’s vote on Obamacare “skinny” repeal. The vote confirmed, with little room for argument, Congress is not fully under the control of the Republican Party. There is no Republican Party and Americans had better wake up to that fact.

Those who claim membership in the party in power are not of one mind other than wanting to get reelected. In other words, GOP membership is about winning elections and profiting personally from those elections as best one can. And with the amount of money floating around Capitol Hill, it would take a pretty dumb Congress Member to not increase their personal worth while in office.

For Congress members, unfortunately, there are strings tied to getting elected. Congress members must surrender their right to vote their conscience and instead march to the drum of the big money that financed their campaign. Besides the Congress members’ integrity, the main casualty is the absence of a functioning body invested in the 21st century problems facing America.

Healthcare is a perfect poster child.

Republicans have called out against the rising costs (premiums and deductables) of the individual market. Instead of offering solutions to this problem, Republicans, in essence, have said, if you think the price is too high for a whole loaf, we will offer you a half a loaf at a lower price. Shameful.

The skinny repeal bill took the Republican position even further into the absurd. Republican Senators were asked to vote for a bill which over turned the Obamacare requirements for individual mandate, employer mandated coverage, and certain taxes on makers of medical devices. The bill makes no sense as it would have destabilized the individual insurance market even more and posed the risk of significantly more Americans losing coverage.

Possibly even worse, the skinny bill was never intended to become law. Imagine, grown up elected officials seeking to pass a bill they believed would never become law. Why would that be necessary? Why not try to pass any bill, regardless of how flawed, that was Republicans true intent?

The Republican mysterious behavior has its roots in what basic principles underfoot healthcare. Is healthcare a right or is it a privilege?

Given the opinion polls and most of the nation’s Governors, Americans are trending towards healthcare is a right. (Now be careful and do not confuse, a right and being free.) Healthcare is expensive and the method of paying for it is not straight forward.
The inevitable end point will be a universal, single payer system, as most modern countries have already adopted.

Like most large social changes, US healthcare may still require more baby steps. But other than disgust with the GOP efforts, the defeat of the skinny bill has not brought us closer to any improvement. That work remains.

IMO, there were many Republican Senators who did see healthcare as a government benefit akin to meeting an individual’s right. Regretably, these Senators caved to special interests pressure. There are other Republicans who deny anyone’s right to healthcare unless they can afford it. They seek the best healthcare money can buy. Hence the fundamental schism.

The brightest face one can attach to the failed GOP effort is “some” Republicans working with Democrats could pass modifications to Obamacare which would stabilize the individual nsurance market and return premium costs to real world levels. A necessary fix, but a fix far short of what’s possible and what is ultimately the goal.

“Skinny” option. Hmmm. What will they think of next?

Liberty, Freedom, And The American Way

July 26, 2017

Liberty and Freedom sound like words describing absolute states of being. “I cherish my liberty” or I am prepared to fight for my freedoms”. Listening to public rhetoric, one would think one either has liberty or one has not, one is either free or one is not. Hmmm.

In fact, these are not absolute words and far more resemble a relative state of being. Compared to an authoritarian State such as Russia, Americans have more “liberty”. Russia could be compared to an even more authoritarian State, such as North Korea, and in this light one could assert Russian citizens had more Liberty.

For the past few years many US conservatives have complained about “wanting their freedom back”, they sought “liberty from the oppression of the Federal Government”.

Incredible.

The object of this American’s anger seems to range from paying taxes, to limits on grazing animals on Federal land, to the price of healthcare, and the favorite old saw, “they” are going to take my guns away. In 2016, the dissatisfaction of many Americans combined with the “let me tell you what you want to hear” politicians to elect an unqualified and emotionally unfit President and backed him up with a special interest funded Congress. What could be more in the American Way.

PBS has run a special on life 50 years ago. The focus was the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and the hippie community that blossomed that summer. Talk about liberty and freedom, the hippies were a case book example.

The video showed the wide spread use of marijuana, LSD, and other drugs, the open living arrangements, and the selfless sharing of food, clothing, and shelter which the hippies chose for themselves. And there was no shortage of non-hippies who felt their liberty threatened and their freedoms held hostage by people who wanted to make love, not war.

The American Way has often been a convenient euphemism for what’s right, and the proper way to accomplish things. Not surprisingly, “the American Way” also serves well to aid and abet those more interested in restricting liberties or constricting freedoms. In the name of preserving their own liberty or freedom, too many Americans feel free to constrict the liberty or freedom of others.

The “Bathroom Bills” (one now pending in Texas) is a good example. Requiring transexuals to use only the bathroom of their born gender is a cure for no problem and loss of liberty for a few. Allowing churches with deeply held views on birth control to deny workers in church affiliated businesses the same benefits other Americans receive from their non-religious employers is shameful, and is particularly repugnant when these religious organization claim protection of their religious liberties and freedoms. And, who, in the 21st century, can profess a thirst for liberty and freedom on one hand, and with the other, attempt to deny women their natural liberty on the use of their bodies and the freedom of the right to choose?

Clearly we still live in a country with much liberty and we enjoy many freedoms. Much of this liberty and freedom flows from a country which practices the rule of law and guards against any free speech trespasses.

In case one has not been paying attention, real restrictions on liberty and freedom could be just a “tweet” away.