Archive for the ‘Koch Brothers’ category

Choice And Chance

June 1, 2016

The 2016 Presidential race will probably boil down to voters’ making a choice and taking a chance. Trump supporters are sure their candidate will make a difference and can apply his business moxie to the tough problems of government. Trump supporters choice is clear but it seems they lack any comprehension of what a chance they are taking.

Hillary Clinton supporters also will make a choice and will do so for some clear reasons, like Supreme Court nominations, executive protection for women and gay rights and sensible immigration reform. Clinton fans do not also realize how much of a chance they are taking with the Clinton approach to neutralizing the far right attack dogs and what that might do to exaggerate the partisan divide already at hand.

One would think that the pro-Hillary message will eventually penetrate the Sanders supporters’ heads. Regardless of how much Sanders people love Bernie, sitting out the 2016 election will likely lead to a GOP victory and the loss of the Supreme Court, repeal of Obamacare, encouragement of anti-gay, anti-choice, and anti-immigrant legislation, all points Sanders’ supporters would support.

While there is less reason to believe Hillary will break up the big banks, unlike Sanders stump speeches, breaking up the big banks is not a risk-free proposition. And with a GOP controlled House, there is no chance for campaign financing reform.

Donald Trump is for sure crazy as a fox. He demonstrates manifestations which are unsuited for the Presidency… but one can not be sure what the “real” Donald really is. The odds that the Donald will suddenly change once he were elected President would seem diminishingly low. The chance lays beyond Trump’s rhetoric which is suitable (designed?) for capturing news media headlines.  Where is the substance?  Would he do the same when events do not go well as President?

Clinton is not crazy (like Trump) but is for sure calculating. With a team of advisors and strategists, Hillary will not represent chance on Supreme Court nominees, support for women, gay rights, and comprehensive immigration reform.

On other matters, however, Hillary could be prone to see which way the weathervane is pointing before taking action.

What is clear is that Clinton will deliver a better set of Supreme Court nominees than Trump if one considers Citizens United and Hobby Lobby wrong headed decisions.

So it would appear the 2016 Presidential election will be between two flawed candidates, both intelligent but a bit opaque about how they will govern. The election is clearly about “make your choice and take your chance”.

Looking For The Silver Lining

May 26, 2016

The 2016 Presidential race has developed a dark picture of American life for the next several decades. Donald Trump’s, Hillary Clinton’s, and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns each have shined a dim light on the size and shape of this elephant but have neither defined the real dimensions of the problem nor proposed comprehensive remedies. Many voters are reacting in ways which aggravate rather than contribute to a positive path forward.

Donald Trump is the most disingenuous of these candidates, but in many regards is the most appealing. His campaign dialog is carefully constructed to raise fear and anger without specifics or genuine solutions. Everyone but “us” (presumably the crowd he is speaking to) is either the “problem” or sympathetic to the forces causing the “problem”. And foreign countries and foreigners in general are the central forces creating the “problem”.

Bernie Sanders has described the “problem” broadly as income inequality and targeted banks, Wall Street, and large corporations as the villains. One might reasonably question whether income inequality is the problems or the symptom. Campaign rhetoric, however, is not the best place to explore this difference. Sanders speeches are as divisive as Trump’s but split the “us” between the wealthy and the middle class.

Hillary Clinton has campaigned in a more classical partisan way. Her message is that the GOP is the wrong direction especially if you are middle class, gay, Hispanic, or a woman. She expands her message to a broader range of domestic issues and a more rational set of foreign policies. Clinton is the personification of a traditional Presidential candidate which Americans have seen for years.

So why the dark clouds?

There is income inequality and no candidate has proposed any rational steps which would lead to wages distributions similar to the good old days of the 60-80’s.

The Republican party, which is paralyzed from its coalition nature, lumps together deeply held but demographically losing ideas, has added xenophobic, hate baiting standard bearer in Donald Trump. Tax cuts for the wealthy represent a mighty leap of faith for one to connect them with a boom in “good paying” jobs creation. Globalization combined with the current American skill base does not suggest tax cuts will suddenly change the jobs picture.

Sanders’ vision of breaking up banks, restricting corporate campaign donations, and taxing the wealthy even more, while seeming fair if one is middle class or lower in income, does not suggest any reason that “good paying” jobs will suddenly reappear.

Cooler heads must step back and consider whether corporate America’s decision to outsource jobs and pay their senior executives many more multiples than the average worker is leading to a better place. It is hard to see how globalization can suddenly be made to look like it doesn’t exist, the world is a global market.

The globalization consequence reveal there are a lot of Americans who are now unskilled to take on higher paying jobs. Corporate America needs to wake up that at the current pace of average wage stagnation, there will be a shortage of consumers soon who can afford to buy what corporate America makes (or sells).

Which candidate do you think can engage in such a conversation with corporate America?

The dark clouds are not the repeal of Roe v Wade or Obamacare even though both would be serious social disruptors. The American people are not going to return to a no abortion world nor are the health insured going to give up coverage willingly.

The dark clouds are not tilting the Supreme Court back to a conservative outlook nor turning loose the neoconservatives to conjure up another WMD country to invade. America’s social momentum is not going to turned back by some religion pandering decisions, and even if there would be another foreign invasion, the all volunteer Army, where few Americans have skin in the game (like enlistment or tax money), will fare no better than “W’s” venture.

The dark clouds are only dark in comparison to other country’s dark clouds. If American leaders keep in mind that a country can’t grow its economy if all it depends upon are citizens who have no (or too little discretionary) money themselves.

Embargoes and tariffs will not cure the problem because for each dollar received with tariffs, the trading partners will reduce their US purchases equally or greater. Job training and government spending can work temporarily but to have a lasting impact, far more workers have to acquire new skills which in and of themselves demand “good pay”. Which candidate carries that message?

Americans who now support Donald Trump are not bad people and they are not that unusual. Globalization is complicated and there is little reason why these Americans should believe the greedy heads of corporations understand or care.

Trump-type supporters can be found around the world, particularly when a country’s key industries and their associated jobs have become redundant. Trump-type leaders, however, have been time after time seen as ineffective.

It is only May and the general election does not take place until November. The silver lining, if there is one, is that there is still time for even the most emotional American to realize of the three candidates, only Clinton has a chance at improving their lot in like.

This race may end up picking the lesser tarnished of the two evils but so doing may be the smartest choice.

Bernie Watch Out

May 7, 2016

The Republican Party is currently in a full blown melt down phase. Their traditional platform planks, which are designed to appeal to a dog’s breakfast of varied so called conservative values, have been cut to the root by Donald Trumps far more bread and butter oriented campaign. What is the Party to do?

Traditional GOP leaders are lining up, some holding their noses and backing Trump, while others are ready to deny Trump the nomination if they can. This a prescription for a poor showing in November. So are Democrats smiling?

Hillary Clinton’s team is probably high five-ing and back slapping in private but have been disciplined enough in public to hide their delight in the prospects of facing Donald Trump in the general election. This is a very wise position since the Donald’s so unorthodox tactics might introduce some unsavory claims over the Clintons which some voters may believe and increase Hillary’s negatives even more. Better to take Trump seriously and plan for an effective campaign, than to appear celebrating too soon.

But Trump is not Hillary’s only worry. Bernie Sanders is still in the fray. While pundits predict Bernie cannot win the nomination, he has piled up a lot of primary votes and wants the right to insert his favorite planks into the Democrat platform. Bernie said yesterday that if he is denied enough seats on Democrat Convention committees, he will force floor fights on all sorts of issues and get his favorite planks on the official Democrat Platform. Hmmm.

Bernie’s favorites involve income inequality, breaking up large banks, and getting big money out of politics. Its hard to see Hillary wanting to increase or even ignore income inequality, so this one should not be a problem. But breaking up big banks and getting big money out of politics are something different.

Breaking up big banks (or reinstitution the Glass-Stiegel Act) seems a wise move giving the near catastrophic results seen in 2008 when “too big to fail” institutions got drunk on sophisticated and incomprehensible financial instruments. Banks, Investment Houses, and Insurance Companies all played with depositors money and made some risky bets.

Government bailouts became necessary because it was unclear whether letting some fail would not lead to a domino effect and all the others might come tumbling down. The infamous $85 billion AIG (insurance company) bailout was in fact a bailout of investment houses like Goldman Sachs who held insurance written by AIG.   If AIG failed, Goldman would have been seriously wounded too.

So why not move on this apparent “no-brainer”? World finance is very complicated and tying specific reforms to campaign promises is ready made for becoming “just another promise not fulfilled).

“Getting big money out of politics” is worthwhile, especially when the views “big money” express are not yours. But making all political contributions public at the same time as the donation is made may be more powerful. Public disclosures means a direct line to the actual donor, not the bundler or bundlers in the process leading to the donation.

Also, ending the current Congressional practice of appointing sub-committee status to the Congress member who raises designated amounts could be even more powerful. What ever rules or reforms that might be adopted must, however, be enforced across all parties or they will produce unintended consequences.

Full, timely transparency is more achievable than signaling certain donors and their money are unacceptable.  There is always risk eliminating certain donors could hurt one party more than the other.  A well intended democratic reform could become simply a partisan tactic.

There is no question that Bernie Sanders’ demands are popular with his followers. Sanders’ supporters should take a breath and think about who the real opposition is. If achieving a Democrat platform which divides the party or makes campaign hay for the Republicans, what would be the purpose?

Sanders has fought an amazing battle. He has eloquently put forward compelling arguments but he must recognize that the gulf between him and Hillary is a puddle compare to that between him and Donald Trump or the ocean separating him and Republican orthodoxy.

What Makes Republicans Conservative?

March 20, 2016

The unprecedented move by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to withhold “advise and consent” Senate actions on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee raises a rather simple question. What has possessed Republicans to simply deny past practices and declare “no way, no how”?  Is this action the mark of a conservative?

Clearly Merritt Garland’s nomination is not in and of itself confrontational. By all accounts, Judge Garland is considered a centrist and a student of law, not an ideolog. Never the less, McConnell dismissed out of hand any consideration of the nomination during President Obama’s term. Why?

The surface reasons are obvious. Even a centrist Justice will break the conservative hold on the current Supreme Court. If one holds conservative views, then nothing but another conservative will do. Even though these same Republican leaders cry about the need to follow the Constitution in Court decisions, apparently following the Constitution and past practice does not apply in this case.

Why?

Former Justice Antonin Scalia weighed the hands of justice so far to the right that replacing him with a centrist, will by default shift the Court’s direction to the left. It is all about ideology, the Wall Street Journal says.

The Journal allows that Garland is not as progressive as the Kagan, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Breyer, and has had a distinguished career on the Court… but, in essence the Republicans could do better. Of course, “better” is in the eyes of the speaker.

Why is this so difficult to comprehend?

It may be that seeing politics as the left (progressive) versus the right (conservative) is no longer sufficient. Left versus right was convenient just as in the old wild west movies the good guys wore white hats and the bad ones wore black hats. As others have suggested, one might better see political disputes by imagining two axes, one with left at one end, right at the other end. Perpendicular to that axis would be one with libertarian at one end and authoritarian at the other end. Hmmm.

Republicans who seek to block consideration of Judge Garland have a large dose of authoritarianism. This group “knows” they are correct in their thinking and just as strongly sees Democrats, or progressive thinking, as an imminent danger to good order.

Being conservative (right) is not necessarily a bad virtue. In difficult times, moving cautiously (like in a mind field) can be quite beneficial. Balancing progressive ideas with touches of common sense can turn a well meaning but inadequately conceived idea into policy which can work and last.

The dysfunctional Washington GOP behavior is not that type of conservative thinking. Rather denying Judge Garland a fair hearing is about “we know best”, and by the way, we can pervert the Constitution to get our way.

At the extremes of the libertarian-authoritarian axis lies anarchy and dictatorship, both of which are important to recognize as end games if common opinion drifts to far in “free thinking” direction or follows obediently what “father proclaims”. Universities tend to lie along the libertarian axis while religious institutions lie at various points on the authoritarian axis.

Now, imagine a third axis which runs at a 45 degree angle from the libertarian-progressive quadrant down through the center to the conservative-authoritarian quadrant. The end points this axis would likely be today’s Republican and Democrat Parties, I would suggest.

So back to the original question, what are Republicans conservative?

I would submit conservatives are simply cautious by nature. Relative to progressives, most conservatives are skeptical that government policy can remedy what ails the country. Republicans share this caution.  Republicans, however, are also composed of some libertarians (small government, less taxes) and some authoritarians (Republican managed policy and agencies are ok, but not Democrat ones).

What we are seeing in the Garland situation is the ugly, short sighted authoritarian (we know best) face of the GOP. Their misuse of Constitutional prerogatives can, however, be perceived by a more centrist public as a party not playing fair and probably unfit to govern.

The GOP is composed of many who are less authoritarian and grasp fairness (less authoritarian) as an important element of governance. This internal GOP conflict may lead to a fracturing of party unity and potentially a loss of control of Congress.  GOP leaders are playing with fire.

Hmmm.

Wall Street Money?

February 5, 2016

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are going toe to toe for the Democrat Presidential nomination. One of Sanders’ stump speech trademarks is Clinton’s acceptance of $675,000 for speeches given to Wall Street firms. Last night she called him on it and asked what exactly did this money do to change her views on policies? Hillary asked whether Bernie had a specific charge or was he just trying to “smear” her reputation? Hmmm.

Three hundred thousand plus does seem like a lot of money for an hours work. But is it?

Access to someone like Hillary, especially if she should become President would be “priceless”. And for these large banks, $325,000 is not too much money considering what they spend on lobbying anyways. And Hillary is not a new recipient, former Secretary of States Powell and Rice both have received large honorariums.  So, is Bernie pointing out a naked attempt to influence a public figure and potential President, or is he just pointing out a questionable practice?

More probable these firms were willing to spend these large sums of money because Clinton (and former senior Government officials) had both fresh insight and direct knowledge of happenings around the world, including developments in foreign capitals. Hillary also had insight into thinking within the White House and the Administration’s view of the domestic economy. For global financial firms in the business of advising clients around the world, information such as Clinton might have is critically important.

Sanders makes a point of saying he has not accepted Wall Street money and has gone further, saying he has no “Super Pac” money either. Sanders emphasizes his campaign money comes from small donations by average Americans. The implication is that he will be immune to special interest pressure. Hmmm.

From an appearance perspective, Hillary might wish she had not accepted these paid speaking engagements.  Sanders appears to have hit an awakening feeling that income inequality and general dissatisfaction with the American Dream is tied to Wall Street. In the general election, Wall Street money will not be an issue since if it isn’t Wall Street, its big oil, the NRA, or maybe even the Koch brothers. The Democrat primary, however, is another question.

Wall Street money is like salt and water. Too much is lethal while not enough is deadly too. Clinton can’t deny these paid speeches and can only minimize the damage to her campaign. Regardless, should Hillary become President, Wall Street will be only one of many potential special interests trying to reach her.

With the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, corporations are “people” and as such have a first amendment right to donate money to politicians. The issue remains whether free speech demands a kick back for the money donated. We shall see no matter who is elected President.  The Supreme Court doesn’t seem so supreme in this light, however.

The Business OF Politics

July 6, 2015

The Washington Post reported that Ted Cruz raised $10 million in the second quarter and a total of $14.2 million since announcing his candidacy. In addition, his super PACs have raised an additional $37 million. That’s a lot of money (and he’s not done yet) for someone who has about zero chance of gaining the GOP Presidential nomination.

So $25.2 million that Cruz directly controls and another $37 million “uncoordinated” (my foot it is uncoordinated) is over $60 million to flow through a lot of hands. Hmmm.

Could a creative person divert 10-20% through selective business entities that provide services to the candidate? Or even better, what if these campaign funds purchased services from a business that in turn purchased services from etc until the money made it to Cruz or a family member?

Hold on, I am not accusing Ted Cruz of any illegalities, I am simply asking what if?

Most likely, only the crassest and least sophisticated politician directly syphons off money from their super PACs or direct campaign funds. The experienced politicians, I would prefer to think, would instead steer the money towards purchasing necessary services from those who would later throw business, influence, or favors back to the candidate (who presumably would be back in civilian life). Hmmm.

With 16 GOP and 5 Democrat candidates, it is not hard to imagine a cottage industry flourishing around Presidential, Congressional, and Governor races. Billions will be thrown at the 2016 Presidential race alone. And among friends what’s a few hundred million?

One must wonder why the Supreme Court chose to throw out campaign donation limits? Was it a clever plot to trap unsuspecting and greedy politicians? Or, was it a conspiracy of sorts to throw temporary advantage to conservatives who were suspected of having more money to distort public opinions? Hmmm.

Think about it.  Free speech being equated to corporations and unlimited spending seems far removed from the average voter. How could “Joe Average” compete with the Koch Brothers in mounting a civil debate over public policy? Hmmm.

It almost seems that candidates garnering some of the political donations for themselves is the lesser of the real problems created by Citizens United.