Archive for the ‘senate’ category

Can 90 US Senators Be Wrong?

December 28, 2016

CNN ran a bottom of the screen headline “90 US Senators Oppose Change in US Policy Towards Russia”. This is a signifiant number and almost assuredly is greater than the number of US Senators that accept man is playing a role in global climate change. What does it mean and is it significant?

The headline was most probably a shot across President-elect Trump’s bow. CNN did not cajole 90 Senators into taking this public position but the network was delighted to flash it across the screen. Maybe the Trumpster will begin a “tweet” avalanche.

The larger issue relates to why 90 Senators might agree on any policy. US Russian policy dates from the cold war when “containment” was the bi-partisan goal. With the fall of the Soviet Union, rather than adopt a “live and let live” policy versus Communist Russia, US policy switch to a hubris based view that Russia’s end was near. The path to this end was to entice the bordering countries (like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, etc) to join NATO and the Common Market. The big idea was to enable these countries to thrive economically and demonstrate to Russian people how their communism system was doomed for the trash heap. Then, these experts theorized, Russia would crumble from within.

The experts appear not to have read the Catherine The Great biography by Robert K Messie. This biography reveals the deeply entrenched Russian DNA which is paranoid about threats from abroad. US inspired intrusion into these former “buffer” States set off nationalistic alarm bells. Russian conservatives and Communist hardliners have marshaled the Russian public’s support for saving Mother Russia. Hence we have seen intervention in Georgia, Crimea, and now Syria.

So much for that policy.

Thinking Americans should seriously question any US Russian policy which worries about Communism. If there is not already sufficient evidence that pure Communism does not work (compared to most democratic capitalist systems), then a new US Russian foreign policy crafted to change Russia is day dreaming.

This a long winded way of saying that the Senate would be wise to listen to what President-elect is really thinking about in terms of Russian relations. Assuming instead that the State Department is prima facia correct is a risky bet.

The world has changed. Think about it. There is the West led by the US, there is Russia, there is China, and there are a number of rogue or potential rogue nations, possessing nuclear weapons, and all with ideologies truly foreign to Western thinking. So how can the US follow a foreign policy with a singular view of Russia? How can a US Russian foreign policy not consider China and these rogue nations too?

The world has become too small for a set of specific country oriented foreign policies. There is a need for an overall US policy towards all foreign powers.  This policy must envision US values and what the US would be willing to fight about.

Peaceful coexistence ought to be the base minimum with mutual economic growth as the preferred outcome.

The world is a messy place and President-elect Trump needs to express his views too.

Whether the Trump Administration can put forward a strategic vision or will prefer a series of one-off policies time will tell. Until such time, there is no reason to be critical of Trump given the current out of date US policy.

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Will Toomey Be One?

May 21, 2016

Senator Pat Toomey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, is running for reelection. His reelection has been labeled “at risk” and one of the senate losses which could lead to Democrats regaining Senate control. Democrats need net four wins and Toomey could be one. Hmmm.

Toomey has not been a terrible Senator (damning with faint praise) although he has lined up with the Republican majority on all major votes. As a past president of the “Club For Growth”, Toomey is an unabashed friend of big business and tax cuts for the wealthy. Hmmm.

So, one might expect Toomey would run on his record, especially against his Democrat opponent, Katie McGinty, who has no elective office experience. Instead, Toomey has opened his campaign with a “police and security” theme. Vote for Pat is a vote for protection and security. And what exactly is the risk?

One might think that a law and order advocate would also be in favor of a strong court system too. Yet Toomey has said he would not vote for Supreme Court nominee, Merritt Garland, even though Garland is well qualified. Toovey’s decision is clearly ideological and demonstrates his concerns that a less conservative Supreme Court would not be good for conservative causes.

Could global terrorism also be on Toomey’s mind? Voters seem spooked when there is a terrorist act someplace in the world. If Toomey could establish this worry in voters’ minds, how could voters then choose a woman?

This thinly veiled sexist campaign strategy flies in the face of logic. If Toomey was really worried about taking care of his constituents, one might expect him to also be an advocate for sensible gun control which account for over 50,000 deaths each year, or increased funding for heart disease research which takes over 20,000 lives each year, or increased motor vehicle safety which adds another 30,000+ to the death list.

But these tangible risk factors do not provide as effective a campaign platform as terrorism. Hmmm.

Pat Toomey is in a tough spot. His party has decided to just say “no” to what ever President Obama has proposed including the appointment of a Supreme Court justice. The consequence is there is no platform upon which Toomey could run on.

So beware. With clever advisors and strategists, Toomey will run on a bait and switch platform which does its best to avoid owning up to his actual Senate record.

Will Toomey be one of the GOP losses?

GOP – No Way, No How

February 24, 2016

Yesterday, the Congressional GOP leaders got to say “no” twice. “No” to closing Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility and “no” to even courtesy meetings with any Obama Supreme Court nominee.

“Why meet with the nominee if we already know the outcome”, Senator John Cornyn said. He could have said welcome to the end of bi-partisanship, it’s all or nothing.

The Supreme Court opening, more than any other, could likely lead to the end of what America has known as a two party system. The refusal to consider a lawful Presidential nomination (forget about considering and then rejecting) will expose the GOP as a collection of splinter factions many of which are out of step with both history and the future.

American history has seen Democrat and Republican majorities and with these changes in majority party, Supreme Courts which have swung conservative and then back to liberal. For the GOP to put their foot down now exposes members with a short memory and little or no respect for precedent.  Looking more closely, it reveals a party which stands for nothing but its members’ well being.

The Guantanamo situation exposes  other GOP hypocrisy in a different way. Guantanamo Detention Facility is a stain on America’s reputation with a dark and dishonorable past. Today with a dwindling number of inmates, Guantanamo is becoming obscenely more expensive every day. Where is the fiscally minded GOP looking for opportunities to cut wasteful Government spending?

Locked within this Guantanamo controversy is the unseemly fact that all the detainees are uncharged with a crime, some imprisoned for over 14 years. To be sure, some detainees represent the hardest of hard core terrorist but that secure US super max prisons would not be adequate to hold them is simply untrue.

While some GOP members admit that prisoners could be safely held in US facilities, they point out that (liberal) US courts might in fact enforce Constitutional Law and require charging and trials. Hmmm.

It appears everyday that the GOP has morphed into a collection of conservative camps infiltrated by your everyday greedy politicians willing to sell his/her souls for a vote. The GOP has no lofty goals other than dismantling what progressives have built. While working to improve or make more efficient public institutions is a worthwhile pursuit, simply repealing or obstructing is a coward’s approach and leaves no one better off.

The upcoming general election will put in play a lot of GOP Senate seats.  Control of the Senate could return to Democrats.  With the Supreme Court likely balanced between Conservative and Liberal on many issues, the GOP will not win anything long term by delaying acting upon an Obama nomination.  Instead the GOP could lose the White House, the Senate, and ultimately the Supreme Court “activist” majority.

Such an outcome will drive the far right to even further damage the governing process, and I would predict, still unsatisfied, damage it to the point where the GOP breaks apart with a right of center and a far right factions emerging.  This will translate into the end of the modern day Republican Party.  Hmmm.

Should The Progressives Speak Now?

March 25, 2015

Republicans in both the Senate and the House have issued budget proposal outlines. While slightly different, the GOP proposals share the belief that Government expenditures should shrink, the Affordable Care Act should be repealed, and in the House version, Medicare spending should be capped with the introduction of vouchers. Both proposals predict that magically the economy will boom and life will become better for everyone. Hmmm.

Regrettably, it is no clearer than with these budget proposal that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts. There are serious problems in the American economy and the GOP ideas do not deal with them.

Income inequality data shows that average wage earners’ income has been stagnated (for 30 years or so) while the income of the top 2% has grown handsomely. Without more even income distribution, the average earner will not be able to purchase as many goods and services from business as they do now. In time following the GOP script, our economy will shrink, not grow.

Bridges and roads, the backbone of business, are woefully in need of repair and maintenance. Without substantial investment, getting goods to market or for consumers to easily travel to services will become much more difficult. Undertaking the massive investment to prevent this will require substantial expenditures, something the GOP is reluctant to fund due to their “no new tax” pledge.

Standardized tests continue to show American K-12 education lagging over 15 other modern industrial countries. While the path to improving our students’ performance is not agreed upon, abandoning the “Common Core” curriculum and instead following the paths of Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina sounds more like a race to the bottom.

And whether we want to recognize it or not, the cost of healthcare services is beyond the reach of all Americans but the top1/2 of 1%. Without the aid of health insurance, normally provided by employers, few Americans could afford any healthcare at all. So the notion of repealing the Affordable Care Act, without an equally affordable alternative appears wrong headed at best and cruel at the worst.

So the question is, should Progressives speak now?

I guess the answer is “it depends”.

It will serve of little value for Progressives to only point out the obvious, the GOP plans are grossly unfair and will almost certainly not deliver their promises. Progressives, if they choose to speak, must address the facts.  Progressives must offer remediation ideas that provide a pathway to a fairer and more stable future state. Here’s why.

The business world has changed.  American no longer lives in the world of the wild frontier, the gilded age, or post World War II. Globalization and wide spread use of qualify principles insures that goods (and many services) can be produced anyplace in the world where the economics dictate. In and of itself, this will continue to drive down wages. Simply paying workers more (without commensurate productivity gains) will only lead to inflation. Sharing productivity gains liberally with workers, however, will have a very positive impact upon real average wages.

The “average” wage earner must acquire new skills and training in order to fill better paying jobs of the 21st century. Without the new skills and training, workers will be relegated to “minimum” wages, part time hours, and a world of few benefits.

Conservatives may choose to think it helpful to remove entitlements like Medicaid, Medicare, or social network expenditures thinking these reductions would motivate Americans to “pull themselves up by the boot straps” (the way it was done in the past). The GOP, however, will see their hopes fail. The world has changed.

Progressives, on the other hand, who call for these programs to be left alone and even new programs added for training and skill development are just as off base… unless funding is addressed. Tax code reform (a GOP recommendation) offers a route to increasing the tax revenue flow even while lowering certain tax rates.

Probably the biggest opportunity to reduce Government spending and eliminating the deficit lies in reducing the reasons Medicare and Medicaid cost so much. The GOP method appears to be based upon capping the Government’s portion and forcing those without generous business supplied health insurance to pay more. Over time, much more.

The GOP’s budget proposals call for no action to control and reduce the actual healthcare cost. With over two dozen other modern industrial countries experiencing health care delivery at half the cost per capita and equal or better outcomes as the US, there is clearly food for thought in a fairer approach to dealing with our deficit.

Maybe that will come up in a future Ted Cruz speech?

The Gang That Couldn’t Think Straight

March 10, 2015

The news today, to the delight of the news media and to the shame of all Americans, was the childish behavior of 47 Republican Senators. These Senators wrote a letter to the Iranian Government questioning whether the Iranians understood that any deal they cut with President Obama was just that unless Congress enshrined the agreement into law. The implicit message was unless this agreement fits what the GOP members in Congress think satisfactory, the US will walk away with the next GOP President or next veto proof GOP Congress.

So what were these GOP Senators really trying to say?

Inviting the Israeli Prime Minister to speak before Congress without even informing the President was dysfunctional at the least. Netanyahu, however, laid bare the quandary those opposed to negotiations with the Iranians have. Netanyahu said “Iran cannot be trusted” and therefore any deal will doomed to being broken. Maybe so, but what would alternatives look like?

Forget for a minute what a better deal looks like, why should the US try if “Iran cannot be trusted”?  The spin masters have said, however, the US should seek “a better deal” avoiding the obvious conclusion of military action if the other party cannot be trusted. Hmmm.

Now the GOP has stepped into the same contradiction as Netanyahu, and raised the ante implying “only Congress knows best”. If the President cannot be trusted to negotiate on behalf of the US, how can anyone speak for the US? Why would a new Congress, maybe one that is Democrat controlled, not try to overturn the policies of a GOP President?

Congress has an important “advice and consent” role as laid out in the Constitution. They do not have a role in executing foreign policy for very practical reasons… how could a country conduct foreign affairs with 535 legislators?

The Senate letter and Netanyahu’s invitation are really the result of something else. The GOP majority has been frustrated with President Obama’s executive actions and have been unable to reverse the President’s actions. Activist Congress members have decided to lay aside historic precedents and simply find new ways to “say no”.

As the GOP continues to take dysfunctional public positions (like the willingness to shut down the Government or parts of it), the public record gains weight that GOP cannot govern.

There might not ever be an Iran deal for unrelated reasons. And even if there is a deal, Iran may cheat on key aspects. But what are the alternatives?

Americans should wake up that “no deal” either means Iran gets nuclear weapons or the West must go to war. Why in the world would the US seek another war?   And just which countries would side with our foreign policy view?

A more practical question might be “what type of example would a war with Iran be for Russian or Chinese expansionist wishes”?

If the GOP is so concerned about President Obama’s health care or immigration reform policies, why don’t they propose comprehensive policies to replace them and let Americans decide? Hmmm.

Wishing For A Punch In The Nose

February 17, 2015

The dire warnings that House Leader John Boehner has issued over the Home Land Security funding makes one wonder what are GOP leaders thinking. With control of both Houses, the GOP has the keys to the legislative branch and the opportunity to put to rest claims that Republicans do not know how to run the government, they only know how to say “no”. Events unfolding now, however, suggest the latter.

The GOP can rightly be upset that President Obama has through executive orders taken steps to reform the immigration situation. The President’s actions represents a lost opportunity for Republicans.  It seems they could not agree on steps or even to work with the already passed Senate Immigration reform version.

I guess there logic is, “if the House can’t agree, then there will be no reform”. Hmmm.

So here comes the surrogate issue, funding Home Land Security. Republicans in the House passed a funding bill which excluded funds for those parts of Home Land Security which would play a role in carrying out President Obama’s orders. Pretty slick, they had the President over a barrel. Not quite.

Senate Democrats have blocked action on this House bill utilizing the Senate filibuster provision. Boehner is up in arms about the “Senate not doing its job”. What is the good speaker smoking?

If the Senate were in some way to get to vote on the House bill, most likely it would pass and go onto the President for his signature. Instead of a signature, the bill would get a veto. And there is insufficient votes in the Senate to override the veto.

This is not new news. Everyone with a pulse knows this. The President will demand a “clean” bill funding Home Land Security and lacking that someone needs to blink.

It is a shame that this issue has come to game of chicken. Far more appropriate would have been to pass a clean bill and wait for 2016 when a Republican super majority might be elected.

I wonder what Jeb Bush or other GOP Presidential hopefuls are thinking. What a platform to run on. “True my party shut down government once more and turned their backs on Hispanics, but with me (_______________ fill in the name), I will be different.”

Hershey Kisses

January 15, 2015

Today in Hershey, PA, begins an important GOP Congressional retreat, presumably to facilitate the House and Senate Republican governing majorities to plan successful strategies and tactics for the next two years. Pundits report that the ultimate goal Republican leaders seek is a legislative posture which would support a Republican Presidential victory in 2016. Good luck.

The retreat’s objectives are not a waste of time or a hidden opportunity for a weekend of frolic. There is a desperate need for a functioning Congress. All Americans would be well served if the GOP could galvanize around sensible objectives, and pragmatic and transparent tactics to reach these goals.

Progressives, however, are already girding their forces to defend at all costs social security, healthcare, Medicare/Medicaid, Education, and a wide range of social network laws. Defending the status quo, however, is short sighted since each of these Progressive programs are full of shortcomings and in danger of running out of funding or bankrupting the rest of the national budget. Hmmm.

Progressives might be well advised to relax for at least the time being and not worry about a GOP frontal assault on these programs. The GOP is racked with ideological division (not unlike moderate Democrats and extreme liberals) and are highly unlikely to get their act together. Progressives might better use their time to engage the GOP in discussing benefits, costs, and how the need for these programs might be reduced or ultimately eliminated.

Thinking this way may sound silly or naive, or both. Hmmm.

But think about the alternative, doing business as normal. Already the House has passed a bill which increases funding for Homeland Security but denies authority to spend it on implementing President Obama’s executive order. The House GOP has said no to Hispanics and yes to spending more. Hmmm.

The insanity of this GOP position is that there are not enough votes to bring the law into force in the Senate. Instead the GOP will go on record of denying Hispanics some relief through a comprehensive immigration reform.  I doubt that will be helpful in 2016.

Hershey, the home of Hershey chocolate (especially Hershey Kisses), seems an ideal place for the GOP to work out the acrimonious division between its right and moderate wings. I wonder whether the aroma and mouthfuls of chocolate will work?