Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Elizabeth Warren?

September 17, 2019

Democrat Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren (Senator from Massachusetts) held a rally last night in New York’s Washington Square.  Crowd estimates ranged between 10 and 20 thousand which puts Warren in the big leagues.  Her stage appeal is growing, her oratorial skills are evident, and public recognition is beginning to register.  While there are still many months and many primaries ahead, Warren seems to be gathering momentum while other Democrat candidates seem stagnated or declining.

To date, Warren has been noted by her capacity for producing fairly well fleshed out policy statements on a wide range of issues.  Yesterday, Warren published another policy statement and moved closer to the “how to fix government” silver bullet.  The topic was political corruption.

The usual image conjured when one thinks political corruption is the bribe, “you do this for me and I’ll do that for you”.  While Warren undoubtably would find that version of corruption repugnant, she spoke of something far more systemic, politely discreet, and a true poison for our political process. 

Warren highlighted the Washington norms built around the “revolving door” and “paid lobbyists”.  The “revolving door” involves government legislators and regulators who cycle between government jobs and private sector jobs where their influence and knowledge is exploited and while in government, fulfill their debts to private sector employers .  Treasury Department to Wall Street and back.  Defense Department to industry and back.  and so forth.

Lobbying, on the other hand, is a first amendment right (information and constituent’s feelings are good to know).  Lobbying in today’s world is far more about how much money can pass from the lobbyist to the legislator or secretly to the regulator.

Warren connects this “political corruption” to explain why commonsense issues (like there are no limits on military style weapons) with the existence of political corruption.

Her cure prescription is transparency and elimination of the revolving door.

While Warren is emphasizing “government corruption”, Congress right before our eyes has ceased to function as a deliberative body.  America’s needs have been supplanted with the special interest.  Hmmm.

Elizabeth Warren may or may not win the nomination.  And if nominated, may beat President Trump or not.  And, if Warren become President may be able to end this corruption or not.  Regardless, the characterization of political corruption cannot help but make  the public more aware of why nothing sensible is happening.  Stay tuned.   

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Bolton’s Lesson

September 12, 2019

John Bolton’s recent resignation/dismissal (?) was the big news item.   Ironically, Bolton was as unfit for any Government role as has been Donald Trump as President Trump.  As national security advisor, Bolton has been described as unable to deliver the most up to date intelligence without putting his thumb on the scales, shading the intel towards his own personal views.  Bolton combined two questionable traits, (1) performing as an unapologetic chicken hawk (neoconservative) and a well developed inability to work with others, especially those who did not hold the same ideology.  

Bolton has not changed since he assumed the Nation Security Advisor role following General McMasters.  Press reports have consistently pictured Bolton as cock-sure, good guys wear white hats, bad guys wear black.  His 2019 persona is indistinguishable from the image generated during his service in the Bush/Cheney White House.  So, why would have President Trump chosen Bolton as his National Security Advisor?

President Trump has said his management style is to surround himself with good people, let them fight it out, and then in the end, the President would tell everyone else which option he wanted.  Maybe that style is ok for some businesses, but the world is far more complicated and nuanced.

The President appears to prefer telling his staff the answer and then expecting them to make the world conform to Trump’s whims.  Regrettably, the world doesn’t work that way nor does John Bolton.

So President Trump’s selection of John Bolton as National Security Advisor was flawed even if the President thought Bolton was a good fit.  The President cannot claim he got damaged goods.  John Bolton has carried out his duties as should have even expected.

At the end of the day, the most prominent “Bolton’s Lesson” is how poorly the President understands how the US Government ought to work.  The President appears to think he can make snap decisions, cutting out red tape and soul searching.  Of course, President Trump can make the calls.  What the President cannot do is confidently tell Americans that his decisions offer the best results for Americans.  (President Trump will most certainly claim he remains the smartest person in the room but there is copious evidence that that is not true).

John Bolton was temperamentally unqualified for the NSA job and has been burdened with too much neoconservative baggage.  In short Bolton should have never been picked.  It is, however, not clear that the President is better off with an all “yes man” team, or still having a contrarian Bolton in the mix.  Hmmm.

Republicans Versus Socialists?

September 10, 2019

There is a “infomercial” running this past weekend in Pennsylvania featuring Republican Senator Pat Toomey.  I suspect twin infomercials are running in other States just substituting the local Senator.  A breathless woman narrator tells us that Pat is looking out for Pennsylvanians by standing against “socialist price controls” which hurt consumers and stunt medical research.   When it comes to healthcare services, Toomey supports free market forces.  Hmmm.

Did you catch the dog whistles?  Try “Socialist”, “Price Controls”, and “Free Market”.   One is supposed to read these dog whistles as Republicanism corner stones.  In Republicans parlance everything liberal or progressive as “socialist” and the first step down the road to America becoming Cuba or Venezuela. Communism is on the way.

Republicans do not seem concerned that voters will recognize that Cuba and Venezuela for both authoritarian States lacking a free press as well as open and free elections.  Republicans do not point out that most of Europe operate on social democratic government and provide better healthcare per capita than the US,

And the only thing worse than price controls is socialist price controls.  Sort of Government interference.  (The last use of price controls was during Richard Nixon’s, a Republican, Presidency.  Hmmm.)  Through out American history, Government has had to step in when “unfettered capitalism” threatened the American economy.  Big oil, railroads, and war time shortages all needed the Government to hurd in capitalist excesses.  

But wait, isn’t the free market the answer for capitalist excesses?

Unfortunately not in all cases.  Entrepreneurs have tried withholding product as a means to drive up prices.  Others have colluded with competitors to set prices.  And still others have bought out their competition and set prices knowing there would be no competition.  Consumer protection was left to the “buy, don’t buy” decision.

What is very helpful in a “buy, don’t buy” decision is knowledge and the consumer’s ability to assess whether the article or service was worth the value the seller was asking. Consider the decision of whether to buy tap water versus some high priced specialty water.  It is not unreasonable to assume most consumers understand tap water is safe and as good for ones health as available.  High priced water is a reasonable purchase if the consumer valued fancy packaging, serving size, or prestige more than the cost difference with tap water.

Healthcare, however, is not close to a “fee market” because most consumers simply do not understand medical diagnoses or the underlying costs.  There simply must be some transparency such as what makes up the initial price and what justification exists for price increases.

So, what’s going on? Why is Senator Toomey even interested.

Could it be that there is mounting information and more damning data to be released concerning the greedy and predatory pricing practices prevalent in the US drug industry.  Could it be that “Medicare for All” campaigning is familiarizing Americans that their healthcare industry spends twice as much per capita as two dozens other modern countries and delivers no better outcomes.  Could it be that Americans are wondering why well known established drugs like insulin have suddenly risen several hundred percent ?

Senator Toomey is not taking his marching orders from the RNC I would guess.  Rather lobbyists representing the drug industry are trying to frame the issue of serious drug reforms as some scary socialist plot.  One really can tell what “big Pharma” thinks of the average American.  Easy to distract? Uniformed on what’s really going on? Insulated from most healthcare costs (the average diabetic can’t be fooled but everyone else doesn’t need insulin).

The Toomey infomercial speaks to the notion that “capitalism-free markets-America’s prosperity” go together like apple pie and hot dogs.  Transparency and reasonable controls on healthcare costs makes common sense when viewed on a global basis.  Transparency, like sunlight, is so needed before the US healthcare delivery system bankrupts the American economy.

Hmmm. 

Unfit For Office?

September 4, 2019

A casual observer who reads this post’s title, “Unfit For Office”, is probably thinking well of course President Trump is unfit for office.  But wait, that is not who the title is referring to.

There are many factors cited by historians to explain the United States in its birth, development, and maturity as a nation has been fortunate.  Along with two oceans which separated the US from other warring countries, the rich and bountiful land contributed mightily too.  But in any list of keys to America’s success, the most revered is the Constitution upon which the nation began its independence.

The Constitution set out a “balance of power” between the three branches of government.  Our founding fathers learned well from history about the tendency for all previous forms of government to concentrate power in one branch and subsequently one person.  Our founding fathers wanted no “King George” or “Napoleon” or “Czar”.  

So, fast forward to 2019.  The country is faced with an unimaginable problem concerning gun availability and misuse.  No other civilized country in the world has as many guns per capita than the US.  No other civilized country has as many killings associated with gun possession than the US.  No other civilized country has as many mass shootings where the shooter did not know the victims than the US.  Hmmm.

Logically there is no justification for this situation or the patch work of US gun laws… concealed carry, open carry, stand your ground, gun show gun sales without background checks. and on and on.

Gun advocates point to the 2nd Amendment underlining each citizen’s fundamental right  to own guns.  The Supreme Court has ruled that the 2nd Amendment indeeds allows all Americans to own guns, but has also ruled that “reasonable” regulations can be applied to gun ownership.  The provenance for regulations falls to Congress and to date, this responsibility appears to have been too great for our 454 Congress members.  No meaningful actions have come forward.

Recently the country has experienced three mass shootings and as usual, the question of more thorough background checks, on all gun sales, has been put forward.  The NRA, of course, is dead (pun intended) against background checks.  The NRA says it opposes any laws which would infringe on “law abiding citizens” from exercising their full 2nd Amendment rights.  Hmmm.

This week, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would not bring up gun control measured unless President Trump first gave his ok to specific gun control measures.  What?

Since when is President Trump (or any President for that matter) the head of the Senate or the House?

Abdicating one of the key separation of power responsibility qualifies  McConnell for the designation – “Unfit For Office”. 

The World Around Us

September 3, 2019

Say what you will but one must give credit where credit is due.  President Trump has sucked all the air out of “world awareness news”.  Whether it is just one more mistruth or stinging slanderous verbal attack, President Trump is aiming for the news cycle’s center of attention.  And there seems to be no depth Trump is not willing to descend in order to be the lead story at 6 pm.

What about 

  • Brexit – With the United Kingdom poised to withdraw from the European Union without any negotiated terms, America’s “special relationship ally” is headed down a dangerous path based solely upon political misinformation.  British voters heard politicians remind them of the woes associated with free movement of labor where Eastern European laborers, willing to work for low wages, were pushing out UK workers.  “Don’t you want your sovereignty back”, asked the politicians.  British citizens voted in favor of Brexit in a referendum partially on promises of a brighter day tomorrow and no problems with the “Brexit” itself.  Pundits tell us “sunshine and no problems” was never true and voters were misled.

Of course, British citizens have the right to decide for their future and Brexit or no Brexit is a British choice.  What is important to Americans is the precedent where use of a referendum fueled by misinformation and no route to revisit the referendum vote is an abdication of responsible governance.  In the age of mis-information, Americans should recognize how fragile democracy can be and from history, once democracy is taken away, what an ugly path authoritarianism can be.

  • Burning of the Rain Forest – Brazil’s hinterlands are a world wonder.  According to environmentalists Brazil’s rain forest sucks up CO2 and pumps out O2 helping to offset the developed world’s production of global warming gases.  Recently when pictures emerged (even from space) of large Amazon Rain Forest parcels ablaze, the world (not necessarily the US) took notice.

The fires were not an accident of nature but rather the purposeful intent of local farmers to increase the area of land available for raising cattle.  Free enterprise at work.  What basis does the rest of the world have to deny Brazilians the right to pursue their own future?

The world has no right to deny Brazil its chance to develop its economy.  If keeping the rain forest green is important for global warming reasons, the developed world needs to offer trading opportunities that make it preferable for Brazil to keep the Rain Forests green.

To draw a line under the irony of Brazil raising cattle, is reportedly the new customers were from China!  Why is China not a potentially good customer for US farmers.  Hmmm.  

  • North Korea – When President Trump broke with past precedents and agreed to meet with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-Un, the President signal that making a deal and using personal diplomacy were his specialty.  Our President pointed out that in only a short time he had done more than any President before him.  Now two years later, how do things stand?

The recent picture of Chaiman Kim standing beside a submarine thought capable of firing a nuclear tipped missile off the US shores captures the notion of what happens when one pokes a bees nest with a stick and then walks away.  Our President has no way to put the North Korean behavior back in a box especially since neighbors China and Russia are at odds with President Trump and US Foreign Policy.  North Korea seems determined to follow a nuclear course of their own.  Americans are getting a reminder that good relations builds coalitions which in turn present a united front towards countries which disagreeable policies.

  • Japan-South Korea – Two US allies have descended into a tit for tat, destructive foreign policy with respect to each other.  The basis for Japan and South Korea’s quarrels is routed in history with Japan’s occupation of Korea during WWII as the most recent reminder.  The US has the credentials to remind both countries that there are bigger adversaries than each other.  But with an “America First” policy, the Trump White House is blind to the cracks forming in our Pacific defense wall.  Hmmm.

 

  • India-Pakistan – “The little old lady who lived in a shoe, she had so many children, she did not know what to do”.  Little old ladies, India and Pakistan fit this fable to a Tee.  But add to this children’s story that these old ladies have nuclear weapons and have been ready in the past to attack each other, there should be genuine worry in the White House about keeping the peace.

What me worry(?), says Alfred E Trump. 

President Trump acts as if those 2 billion plus countries were like Australia and New Zealand.  No problems there.

  • Middle East – Probably no place else in the world has the Trump doctrine been more poisonous.  Give the Israeli and Saudi Arabian governments what ever they seek and the Middle East will take care of itself.  This attitude certainly clears the calendar to allow for more golf but like giving candy to a baby, Israel and Saudi Arabia will misuse whatever the Trump White House gives.  Even if one thinks that Israel and Saudi Arabia will act as surrogates to contain Iran, the three countries shackled by theocracy and selfish objectives can open more cans of worms before the tweeting President can retweet.

 

  • China – Most Americans still think of China as a back water country with “coolie-like peasants running around” keeping busy.  Wrong.  China has burst into the 21st century with tall buildings, high speed trains, and economy second only to the US.  The Chinese political system is built around one party.  Who ever controls the Communist party controls China, and the Communist party membership realizes that their individual good lives rests upon the Communist Party remaining in charge.  Chairman Xi knows that economic stability is key to keeping the masses placated.  Over twenty years of double digit growth has satisfied much but not all China’s population so Xi is aware of keeping the image of a strong, growing, and peaceful China before his citizens.  

China has a long history and expectation that life presents surprises but real change takes a long time. Xi is not fooled by President Trump.  Quick “tariffs fights” are not going to happen and worse, during these trade wars, China will see little reason to cooperate with US wishes.  Hmmm.

  • Russia – Although the Russian economy is small compared to the US, the EU, or China, Russia’s nuclear weapons make Russia a player.  The Communist Party rule, as with China, insulates President Putin from normal political pressure.  Accordingly, Russian foreign policy is geared to what’s good maintaining the Party and indirectly what’s good for enriching Putin.

With Russia’s fingers in the Middle East, coveting former Soviet countries in Eastern Europe, and a supposed ally of North Korea, US Russian foreign policy must be thoughtfully constructed and executed.  Not President Trump’s long suite?

President Trump is simply unqualified to lead the US in a world as complicated and intertwined as we find today.  Despite the President’s insistence that he, Donald Trump, is the smartest person in the room, the facts speak otherwise.  The 35% Trump supporters probably do not need to think further about this matter.  For the rest of us, we should realize that the next President’s most pressing task will be to provide leadership that will bring sensibility back to our allies, and to appoint qualified Americans to rebuild our domestic institutions.  The 2020 election cannot come soon enough.

Call Me A Globalist Or Maybe A Cosmopolitan

August 27, 2019

In a New York Times Sunday magazine article featuring Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), Hawley declares the world is divided by “Cosmopolitans and everyone else”.  The “C-group” of course come from the coasts, according to Hawley, mostly the northeast and certain big cities on the west coast.  The “C-group” are at home in world settings and simply do not think about what’s best for the average American.  Hmmm.

IMO, Hawley’s observation is accurate to the extent that most cosmopolitans are comfortable thinking of themselves as citizens of the globe and some (but not all) cosmopolitans think they know what’s best for average Americans.  Hawley could have gone further and said, “many of the rest do not feel comfortable traveling to a land of different customs and languages”.  Hawley could have said that many of the rest do not know or appreciate the hopes and desires of other Americans populating the “rest”.  Hawley (and his speech writers) could have… but are more concerned with carving a unique persona for Senator Hawley, one that would enhance his advancement in conservative Republican land.

I am proud to be a globalist (and I suppose that means I am a cosmopolitan too).  Considering the globe populated with other normal, albeit different, humans is a safer, not to mention saner, mind set than thinking that everyone who is different is defective.  It is far easier to attempt to understand someone from another country if one has some knowledge and appreciation of that country’s history, language, and customs.

Leaders through out history have tried to picture opponents as something different.  If the opponent lived in another country (or came from another country), the ordinary person is extremely susceptible to characterization which paints a picture of someone unfit and dangerous to society.  Hmmm.

Isolationists, nationalists, and those who reject and demonize globalism are dangerous to us all.  Many of them cite outsourcing of jobs as the sin of globalism.  Hmmm.  To be sure, outsourcing of jobs has caused great harm to individual workers but it is unrealistic to think a capitalist will voluntarily help displaced workers.  In fact it is far more likely a cosmopolitan will sense the excesses of capitalism than an isolationist or nationalist.

Globalism brings fruits of more beneficial trade, freer travel and expression of views, and in the end, a safer world.  When we know the other person, seek to trade with them, and personally experience the benefit, the world is safer.

Wharton Withdraws Degree?

August 24, 2019

Do you think it is possible that University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance would withdraw the degree previously awarded to Donald Trump.  Wharton might have to refund the donation Fred Trump gave on behalf of his son.  Hmmm.   But isn’t the image of a first class business school worth more than Fred Trump’s money?

Donald Trump, now President of the United States, has made a cock-up of both the US and the world economy in such a short time.  If the job was about screwing things up, President Trump would be a great face for the Wharton School.  Sadly, it appears the President has no clue as to what helps or hurts the economy.  Consequently, the world economy is trending poorly and the potential for political fallout in traditional US allies is a real possibility.  Unstable foreign governments is not good news.

  • The President and his advisors (including Republican Congress members) were gleeful in passing an unfunded tax cut.  Just watch the economy explode the President said.  So far the only things that have exploded are the national debt and the cash reserves of the US’ largest corporations.  Now if the economy is entering a recessionary period, tax policy is a tool no longer in the drawer.

 

  • Oh, but the Fed could lower interest rates and thereby stimulate the economy.  Hmmm.  This traditional tool is a bit limited since interest rates are already at historically low level.  And if the Fed did lower interest rates by 100 basis points as the President has demanded, what will the Fed do if the recession is severe?

 

  • But the economic gun that continues to shoot President Trump in his foot every day, without him seeming to recognize the source of this pain, is the President’s trade policies and his infatuation with tariffs.  “Trade wars are easy to win”, our President has said.  Hmmm.  The President seems oblivious to the consequences of imposing tariffs unilaterally both on the trading partner and on his own economy ( that is, higher taxes for US citizens and less spending pwoer).  Talking tough is easy, acting smart seems beyond the President’s reach.

 

The world economy expands for some period and then contracts.  Think about cars.  There are just so many cars people can buy and at some point people decide to wait a year or two before replacing the car they own now.  As a recession begins, people cut back on all sorts of spending “a little”.  Traditionally, government stimulates the economy (lower taxes, lower interest rates, and sometimes increased government spending) and gently slows the recession.  Where are the tools for President Trump?

Tariffs have spooked many businesses and caused their executives (globally) to be caution on new investment and spending.  As the global economy contracts, sooner or later so will the US.  But what will our President do?  My bet is he is preparing a list of others to blame.

Wharton may not be seriously considering withdraw Trump’s degree.  But they should.  In the process they could release his college academic record and the rest of us could see what a weak student he was.  That might explain why President Trump has made so many bone headed economic decisions.