Archive for the ‘Wall Steet Journal’ category

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.


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.


The New GOP Budget?

February 9, 2015

Today’s Wall Street Journal ponders the prospects for the next GOP Federal Budget proposal (replacing Paul Ryan’s). The quandary they face is will many GOP Senators facing reelection in 2016 take a pass on the GOP conservative wing’s ideas? The over arching concern these Senator’s are experiencing is the almost certain possibility that Democrats will picture them as against the elderly if the GOP budget proposal cuts Medicare. Hmmm.

This possibility casts a pox on both political parties. There are all sorts of costly shortcomings with Medicare that do not involve reducing benefits to any recipient. The notion that Democrats would demagogue Medicare is shameful but fully predictable. The suspicion that the GOP would support deep cuts to benefits if there were no political consequences is not only shameful but unnecessary.

There is a crying need for both parties to ask the right question and then test their policy ideas against a goal to reduce unfunded Government Medicare expenditures without reducing real benefits.

Medicare provides healthcare benefits to those Americans over 65. This cohort comprises a cross section of Americans, many of whom are on fixed income household budgets and can not accommodate sharp health care cost increases.

Conservatives argue (correctly) that healthcare providers will see no reason to contain costs if the government stands ready to pay. Conservatives see a combination of greedy providers with a “really don’t care since I am not paying” public as a recipe for out of control expenditures.

Conservatives also argue that the market place will self correct through free market principles. Hmmm. What are they smoking? The free market concept totally misunderstands the relationship between a sick person and their health care provider. The healthcare market place is an exchange between two parties grossly different in medical knowledge. Free market thinking, like when we buy groceries or autos or homes simply has no comparison with health care.

At the same time, to simply say Congress should not address our “out of control” rising Medicare expenditures because that would be unfair to elderly is just as irresponsible.

Congress (and Americans) would be better served if Congress started with problem definition and not some ideological policy. When expenditures exceed revenues, one must ask simple questions like “why are revenues insufficient”, “why are expenditures increasing so much” and “how does Medicare stack up when compared to health care delivery in Germany, France, Japan, or Canada for example”.

polTo simply conclude Americans must pay more avoids the role of cost control or why there is Medicare in the first place. Congress can do better. Congress must do better.

A New Foreign Policy Strategy?

February 1, 2015

In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan wrote a piece titled “America’s Strategy Deficit”. Hmmm. What does she mean?

Reading her opinion column doesn’t help a whole lot. Ms Noonan recounts the opinions of several present or former Generals as well as several former Secretaries of State. All of whom find fault with the present Administration’s grasp of a coherent strategy. Ms Noonan offers no suggestion about what that may be but drives home the point that the Obama Administration does not understand the world correctly.  Hmmm.

A little history might help to begin.

President Obama inherited a foreign policy that was like a ship had been bouncing along a rocky coast.  In 2008, the US foreign policy had come to rest stuck in on Middle East/Islamic beach unable to move.

We can see in 2015, that the assumption supporting the Bush foreign policy were patently wrong and the tools used to implement it were clearly inadequate. So to understand President Obama’s foreign policy one must start here.

Briefly, President Obama decided to “stop digging” in order to get out of Bush’s hole. This policy also fit the President’s personality which is risk adverse.  Obama sees the world as overly complicated and compensates for the global unknowns by waiting to see “how things played out”. There have been no information or events during President Obama’s term that supports the view that Bush had it right and Obama has it wrong.  So if Obama is wrong about the world, who should we consult to find the correct views? Why has the world become so difficult to understand?

Following WWII, there was but one country wealthy enough to provide global leadership and also grow its own economy at home. The US saw the world as divided in two camps, the communist world and the “free world”. Foreign policy was called “containment” and its goal was to keep the communist ideology from spreading beyond its current boards (largely the Soviet Union and China). This type of foreign policy was succinct and actionable. What few paid attention to was the simultaneous reality that the world also was divided along the lines of manufacturing capability too. The “West” grew more and more capable of producing “goods” while the “communist world” fell further behind.

This all changed suddenly. Along came the Japanese decade where Japan, propelled by its electronics and automotive industries conquered western markets. The Japanese seemed unstoppable but their secret to success was finally discovered.

The Japanese had mastered quality manufacturing.

Of course as it turns out, any country who follows quality principles (such as put forward by Deming, Juran, and others) can make high quality, lower cost goods. China and most of Southeast Asia have become the world’s manufacturing hub without firing one bullet.

So what’s the point?

The worlds trading partnerships have been reordered. Russia has opted to be a natural resource exported (oil and gas). China has chosen to be the 10,000 pound gorilla in the low cost, high quality manufacturing world. And thanks in part to Bush Administrations Middle East policies, the oil exporting countries from Morocco to Iran have been turned upside down with their indigenous “have nots” now seeking “more of the pie” in countries like Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. So tell me what’s the obvious US foreign policy so far overlooked by US strategic thinkers?

The world has changed but conventional US thinking has not.  The US  still pursues destruction of communism, keeping oil available and at predictable prices, and above all maintain the openness of world shipping routes.

Witness, expanding NATO’s boarders (and threatening Russia in the process), attempting to keep China from expanding its territorial ambitions into the South China Sea (and posing economic and security damage to countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan), and increasing US Southeast Asia alliances with nations we have previously disdained due to their internal policies (which has created all sorts of contradictory situations where human rights might be concerned). It is not hard to draw the conclusion that US foreign policy is on the wrong path.

Ms Noonan’s view of a US “strategy deficit” is only half the proposition. The more important half is “what should the US foreign policy be”.

If foreign policy is left to the Generals, it would be “boots on the ground”. If left to the politicians, it would be something for everyone (and results for no one). If left to the State Department professionals, it would be more of the same.

If left to our presumed allies, it would be more American money and lives while quietly diverting more and more wealth to their countries. What should we do?

You won’t find the answer here. Rather I would propose we consider that following:

  • America is wealthy enough and militarily strong enough to outlast our next strongest competitors unless we spend our way into bankruptcy. The combination of an open society and free enterprise makes the US economic model more durable and more competitive in the long run than other systems on the globe today. So there is no need to panic.
  • No religion anywhere in the world is our enemy. All religions are so internally flawed that the US secular society can prevail and be seen with envy from all other societies. We, of course, must not misinterpret this as a justification that any religion practiced in the US is superior to any other in the world.  Basically keep religions out of the equations.
  • From time to time, the US will be forced to use military forces with any foreign policy, to either defend itself or to achieve its foreign policy. As a safety precaution, the US must augment its volunteer Army with “drafted” civilians whenever US forces are committed for more that 90 days. Equally important, all employment of military force, must be funded with new designated proportional taxes on the US population. We should avoid any further conflicts where the expense is borrowed and the wars are fought with a narrow cut of Americans. This will force our leaders to think before committing the military.

In my opinion, these three simple principles will lead whatever party is in power to adopt and follow foreign policies that make sense. Every day that goes by is witnessing the rise of stronger military and economic threats to US national interests. Ms Noonan is correct is suggesting it is time to think what the US strategies should be.


April 19, 2008

The Wall Street Journal in an editorial on Friday criticized Barack Obama for his tax policies.  This criticism followed their support for Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulus as having asked relevant questions for those 45 minutes of spell binding nonsense.  But their ranting over Obama’s tax pledges boardered on calling him incompetent or plain dishonest.  Since they are backers of the conservative Republican side of things they are well familiar with both incompetence and dishonesty.

The question that a newspaper of WSJ’s reputation (on its news pages) is that should the budget situation be and why.  Should the Government turn its back on its citizens and tell them they are on their own?  Or should a Government attempt to build the “common wealth” and provide a safety net for those who can not provide for themselves?  Now in both cases, the first duty of Government is to provide basic services and national security through a strong military, so there must be some tax revenue.  The question is how much is enough?

The WSJ chose to pounce on Obamas pledge to not raise taxes on those earning less than $250,000 a year.  You do not have to be too smart to know that this shields the middle class.  Now here are two technicalities.  First, Obama apparently will support a rise in ceiling for social security tax which will expose some middle class to more total tax, not a higher tax rate.  Second, Obama wants to go back to the capital gain tax in place at the end of Bill Clinton’s term (20%).  (There is a question whether this increase will generate more tax revenue or not.  There is evidence that lower capital gains tax rates actually generate more total revenue.  This should be studied and confirmed.)

The challange facing the next President is a weak economy, a money draining Iraq War, and a hopelessly unbalanced national budget.  Unless we bring the budget under control, our currency will continue to erode in value and bring a shocking round of inflation upon us.  The WSJ needs to focus on the real issues and not praise a John McCain for proposing over $ 500 billion in tax cuts without a clue as to how to balance the budget.