Archive for the ‘National Agenda’ category

The New Year

September 2, 2014

It is only September 2 and it feels like a new year is beginning. As one who just before going to bed closes the windows, locks the doors, and puts out the lights, yesterday there was a closure process and a mass exodus from the New Jersey shore.

Those who had been enjoying the sand, sun, and otherwise wonderful ocean weather, headed back to their towns and cities. This morning it just feels different.

For many, it is time for the kids to go back to school. Others it is work time following the last of vacation days. Still others dutifully sigh and simply follow the westward migration.

If it were not the calendar reminding us, we could fall back on the TV to tell us something was different. College football is back and there must have been 3 dozen games on TV last Saturday. There is a touch of familiarity since the sports broadcasting business has fashioned a cookie cutter approach for us. Along with what might be a terrific game, we hear from three to six other breathless, beauthiful announcers analyzing, critiquing, and unbelievably, telling us what we just saw.

And, if you watched, the entire television broadcasting crew have morphed into dead ringers for each other.

Baseball is still around but the season has reached that stage where your team is “in it”, or have reached the “wait until next year” stage.  The television broadcasting crews mysteriously also all look and alike.

Pro football kicks off this week too. For many, pro football is preferred to the “amateur” college variety. The NCAA will again do everything possible to amass as much money as possible, of course at the expense of the college athlete.

On the national scene, Congress will soon be back in session. Following a well deserved summer recess, our public servants will return to doing what they want and not what the citizens may need. Surprisingly, the national political gridlock paid big dividends with respect to the US economic recovery. With Congress hopelessly deadlocked, our legislators could not pass more spending bills nor could they throw a bone to the very rich by enacting tax reforms (read tax cuts). As such, the economy has slowly recovered and while not roaringly hot, compared to other industrialized countries is doing very well. So what does Congress have in store in this “new year”?

Hmmm. Some how it seems Congress did not get the memo about a new year.

The President also enjoyed the recuperative powers of a seaside vacation. Surely, that experience will recharge his batteries. I wonder what insightful new strategies or tactics he will implore on domestic and foreign issues? Will the US begin bombing the illusive ISIS? Will the US confront Russia in the Ukraine? Will the South China Seas see more US presence?

Hmmm. What? President Obama did not get the memo?

This is a mid-term election year. Voters will hear some of the most outrageous fabrication from their candidates. The stench of campaign financing which is now a 12 month activity will be all around but few will notice. Have you noticed that President Obama hardly ever travels to any place in the US to give any type of speech without also not attending a “fund raiser”?

This is the same for our elected Congress Members too. What’s wrong with this picture?

I suspect the Supreme Court members also vacationed this summer during their recess. I wonder whether the conservative majority took the opportunity to reflect upon their first amendment stands. Remember, corporations are people, the Constitution ensures people have free free speech, spending unlimited amounts of money supports free speech? Do you think there is a connection with campaign financing, time to legislate, freedom from undo influence, and protecting everyone’s free speech?

There is a melancholy feeling leaving the summer sea side and returning to the “real world”. While summer will surely come again, I am reassured that the “fall” new year will not be that different from the past.

Maybe the virtue in all this is assurance that the new year will most likely be predictable. Hmmm.

Still The Big Three

October 27, 2009

With so much going on now, what should President Obama, and for that matter, Congress, be seeing as their most important objectives. There are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is the task of restarting the economy, there’s fixing the regulatory loopholes that contributed to the financial sector collapse, there is the public option, and so many more. But what should be the main focus and around which everything else should be placed in some priority?

The “Big Three” remain the same. They are:

  • Eliminating dependance of fossil fuels. This objective would bring forward alternative energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal. It would allow for medium range use of natural gas and “clean coal” in order to immediately discontinue the use of foreign oil. Benefits would be the sharp drop in transfer of US wealth to foreign countries necessary to pay for oil. There would also be an accompanying easing of diplomatic/military pressure that seems necessary to keep the oil lines open.
  • Adopting a sensible health care delivery system, most likely single payer, that is patterned after ones like Germany, France, Canada, or Japan. There are two objectives with this goal. First, we must eliminate the source of social instability that lies at the heart of our current “some have, and some do not” health care delivery system. The American multicultural fabric will be torn apart if we allow the current disparity to continue. The second goal is the reduction of health care cost and the improvement of outcomes. Success in this area is critical to our Country’s future financial strength.
  • Putting Education back into our schools. Today too many students are “baby sat” in school while they either put in time until they can be legally on their own, or until they can enter the job hunt only to get (if they are lucky) lower paying jobs. Education is about learning useful skills and knowledge and most importantly, about how to make informed decisions.  Education is critical to truly restarting the economy and being able to compete in a global world. Education is critical if the electorate is to decipher the intentional misrepresentation and spin of political extremes. Education, especially math, science, and engineering, are critical to creating value which is the only way Americans can have hope that our children can have as good, or hopefully a better life than we have had.

Oil, health care, and education. If we get those right, then all the other serious issues we face will fall into line. If we do not, then what ever we accomplish will be built upon a house of cards, soon to tumble down.

 

Marriage

October 21, 2009

Last evening at the National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, PA, a discussion concerning the Constitutional nature of Gay and Lesbian requests for same gender marriage to place. David Boise and Keith Boykin argued “for” and Maggie Gallagher and Glenn Stanton argued against. This discussion went something like this.

For: It is unclear how today’s Supreme Court will decide on this issue, not withstanding their conservative leanings. If they decide that marriage is an important enough right, than a majority (as in California) can not deny a right from a minority (gays and lesbians). Under this light, gays and lesbians should not be denied the right to marry. If the Supreme Court decides this is a State issue, then it will be decided in each State.

Against: Marriage is a very special “idea”. It is, by definition, a union between a man and a woman, and has been so since antiquity. It is only a man and a woman who can conceive a child, and children are very important to perpetuation of the race. Further the “ideal” situation for a child is to grow up in a household composed of one man and one woman who are in a loving relationship and care about the child. (The notion here is that neither a gay couple nor a lesbian one can meet this criteria (no matter how sincere, committed or loving they may be), therefore they are not ideal. There was no also no recognition of all the marriages that end in divorce, contain incest, or are simply parented by immature and unfit adults. Some model of ideal.)

The idea of equal rights and that a majority can not over ride a minority on Constitutional issues was the mainstay of the “For” arguments. The “Against” speakers were more emotional. Marriage was so clearly the province of a man and a woman that society should decide.

The evening’s discussion at times seemed surreal. The “Fors” stuck to legal precedents although they did point out the generational difference where Americans under 30 overwhelmingly favor allowing same sex marriage. The “Againsts” used example after example which went tangential to the core legal argument and instead grew out of some religious or ideological belief.

Motives are hard to decipher and some say should not even be considered. I wonder, however, what are the motives behind those who champion either position. For sure, gay and lesbians want to gain equal rights and garner the emotional advantages of adoption and sick bed visitation. I am sure. also, the economic pluses like marital tax deductions and inheritance are also prime goals.

But why do the “Against side” protest so strongly. Do they believe these advantages they enjoy will disappear if same sex marriage becomes the norm? Or do they hold some strong Biblical or religious doctrinal belief that same sex relationships are inherently abhorrent? Or, are they even more basic and are championing this course because it is their job and others will pay them for their services?

In the question and answer section, one young woman made a statement that she felt same sex marriage “cheapened” her marriage. Astonishing is the only words that came to mind. Later I thought that this, clearly sincere person, had not a clue about what was involved in marriage and would sadly wake up someday to see her children hold entirely different view (and even sadder, can you imagine if one of her children becomes the 1 in 10 who are naturally homosexual?).

Public Option

September 24, 2009

A survey of the modern, industrialized world does not yield the “single payer” health care system as the only effective one. In Germany and France, for example, private insurance competes right along side of Government plans quite well. So what is the big deal being made here in the US?

To begin with in the rest of the modern world, health care is a right and not a “for profit” business. It follows from that basic assumption that “private” insurers are highly regulated and run as non-profits. Of course these companies make a profit but the amount is quite small. So let’s fast forward to the US.

The “public options” is so threatening here for one reason and one reason alone. Insurance companies and the shareholders who own them see the probability that their fat salaries and stock dividends and capital gains will disappear overnight. To these people this is wealth destruction.

In a way there is a touch of fairness to this concern. Why should this group of people suffer losses? Even when the President says that with free enterprise there should be competition, and there is no reason why private insurers could not compete.  There is a little tongue in cheek in that claim. While for sure private insurers could compete, but if they chose to compete by matching prices, their fat profits would disappear and so would the demand for their stock. Hence wealth destruction.

The so-called “public option” instead of a direct switch to “single payer” would allow a transition for private insurers. They could offer coverage above or different from some basic level (available to everyone) and possibly earn their desired profit levels. Not likely, however. Another approach might be for the Government (all of us) to buy out these private insurers, say at their capitalized value. (Each shareholder would receive the stock price at some designated day). The Government could then undertake an IPO and return the company to private investors as a “non-profit” insurer.

While this would undoubtably be costly, it would cut the Gordian Knot and get the country quickly to a reduced cost health care system.

The Unsung Hero

October 30, 2007

Today’s Wall Street Journal carried an editorial calling attention to an apparent split between Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense and George Bush (and his main handler, Dick Cheney).  The subject was the “missile defense” system that has been proposed for Poland and the Czech Republic.  “Missile defense” is in quotes for a reason.  It is totally unclear who it will defend, against whose attack it will defend, and most fundamentally, what proof is their that the defense system will work at all.

The President is quick to say that the Missile Defense system is not targeted at Russia.  He instead says it is aimed at Iran and other rogue states and is intended to protect Europe.  He neglects to say that there is no evidence that Iran has any such intercontinental missiles nor is there any reason why Iran would fire a missile at Europe when NATO could retaliate and completely destroy the Iranian military targets.

The WSJ fully supports the deployment (and the sooner the better).  WSJ claims that simply the presence of these missiles (whether they work or not) will deter the Iranians or any other rogue state.  I think the WSJ needs to wake up and smell the coffee.  The stated enemy are Islamic States and the last time I looked there was no shortage of suicide bombers.  Using cold war logic on a people who are constantly feed matyrdom as a desired state is an exercise in foolishness.  Robert Gates knows this.

1. Missiles in Czech Republic is like Putin putting missiles into Venezuela to protect Russia against the rebels in Columiba.

2. Putin is not Russia (although he clearly has a lot of influence).  Russia has as many right wingers as the US and the support of these people is important to Putin.  The US justification makes no sense to the Russians hardliners.    US troops that much closer to Russian soil does not impart a good feeling with them.

3. Resorting to missiles is akin to trying to kill a fly with a shot gun.  You might get it but you will probably be too slow and miss.

4. Robert Gates is the only sane member of the Bush Administration who thinks about the ramifications of US Policy.  Gates represents the moderate-conservative wing of the Republican Party.  This group most closely follows what you would think conservatives should be… conservative, thoughtful, careful, trustable, rational, reasonable, principled, and big enough to understand there are other views.

I hope I do not wake up one morning to hear he has resigned.

A Man With No Vision

October 17, 2007

Early in the Bush Administration’s first term, our macho man told the Russians that he was no longer going to be bound by the ABM treaty.  George and his pals wanted to begin deployment of a new missile system and the ABM treaty prevented the deployment.  But George assured the Russians that they had nothing to fear.  The Russians, however, did not buy that line and warned that they would have to reassess their other agreements too.

George (and the little man on his shoulder Dick (Dr Strangelove) Cheney) saw the Russians as weak and almost goaded them into resuming a arms war where the Russians could bankrupt themselves again.  George and Dick were so smart.  They held all the power and the Russians did not.  Times have changed.

Earlier this year the Bush brain trust proposed putting these new missiles into Poland and Checkia.  The Russians got really mad and threatened to realign their European military assets.  George told Putin that he should not be concerned because these missiles were not aimed against Russia.   So it was full steam ahead as far as George was concerned.

Unforeseen in the Chicken Hawks’ thinking was the consequences of invading Iraq.

1. Invading a former Russian ally was bad enough but doing it without the Russian’s non-objection was rubbing salt in the wound.

2. The ensuing turmoil resulting from the Iraq War has been a doubling of oil and gas prices, and suddenly the economically weak Russians were awash in money.  And money can buy weapons.

3. A second consequence of the Iraq War coupled with the Bush Administration’s fiscal malfeasance is the weakening dollar.  Now it costs the US much more to buy anything in the world.

4. The Iraq War has strategically stretched US military forces and rendered them useless if another justified police action arose.  The Russians know this.

 So now the shoe is on the other foot.  President Putin has just visited Iran and posed smiling with Iranian leaders.  Putin also made a speech in which he said that no one (naming no one but covering everyone) should even think of using force in the region (read against Iran).  This is a bold statement reminesent of the good old cold war days.

The amazing aspect of this is that this situation never had to occur.  Both the war and the star wars missile defense program represent huge mistakes and wastes of money.  Both have resulted in large messes and the route to get out of Iraq and to improve relations with the Russians is not clear.  Looking to the future where one can see only a larger presence for China and India, goading the Russians into an antagonistic posture simply makes no sense.  I wonder what the neoconservatives and the cowboy chicken hawks are saying now?

Is the Surge Working?

October 16, 2007
  • News reports issued this week indicate that killings and bombings have dropped considerably in the Baghdad area where we have placed the extra troops.  Is this a sign of victory and justification for our invasion?  If you think so then you must be on some strong medication.

Most military leaders who were not under the thumb of Donald Rumsfeld have said repetedly that more troops were needed to bring order to the chaos that meets most Iraqis everyday.  This is not brain surgery material.  Wars have been fought through out history and once the regular Army action is over, the occupation and efforts to produce post war peaceful condidtions just do not happen without adequate police action.  So it should be no surprise that the symptoms improved when the surge troops arrived.  But there was more.  Much of Baghdad has been essential ethnically cleansed leaving most neighborhoods as either Shiite or Sunni.  General Patraeas wisely has done nothing to try and re-integrate these neighborhoods and has continued policies of making agreements with both Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders.  In the process, Al Qaeda in Iraq has dwindled in strength and activity.  Doesn’t this sound like a victory of sorts?

There are several problems with this current position:

1. The Iraqis are no more united than ever and therefore are incapable of maintaining the reduced hostilities if left to themselves.

2. Without a large American presence, Iraq’a neighbors will be exerting greater cross boarder influence.  Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran all have strong interests in Iraq and little of their interests are common with each other. 

3. Oil is the goal of all the players.  Without a strong Iraqi Government, each of the neighbors will use their influence to arrange the best terms for oil.  There is no strong Iraqi Government and there is not likely to be one for 10 or more years.  The only stable form of Iraqi Government that Iraqis have known is a Sunni lead dictatorship.

4. Most military and civilian experts have insisted that a political settlement is the only possible path towards a stable Iraq and getting the US troops out.  The Bush Administration has had great difficulty with that concept since it seems devoid of understanding what negotiations mean.  In addition, without a reality based Iraq policy there can be no instruction to the US negotiators.

5.  There seems to be so many pieces to a puzzle sitting in front of us.  All of these pieces need to be addressed if we are to expect progress that will last.  They are:

  • Accords for a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace
  • A settlement of Lebanon’s problems
  • An end to the Iran nuclear weapons program and their reentry into the larger world community.
  • Accommodations for the greater Kurdish people without the need to seed land from Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.
  • A Federal state approach to Iraq with the Federal Government ensuring that the oil revenues are dividing fairly along some compromise agreement.

 Stopping for a moment a taking a deap breath, do you still think that Bush and Cheney did any of us a favor by invading Iraq?