The Republicans Brought This on Themselves!

The grandees of the Republican party are nearing panic over the potential of Donald Trump becoming their nominee for President.  They alone are to blame for their fate.  And this fate does not depend solely on whether Trump becomes their candidate.

Republicans created the environment that allowed, maybe even enticed, a candidate like Trump to run and win or come close enough to  fracture the party.

They created an atmosphere in which complete disrespect for the other party is not only OK but expected. The 2008 decision by Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor among other Republican leaders to obstruct every Obama initiative gave substance and sustenance  to massive disrespect.  The contempt with which party leaders and now the candidates spew disdain for anything Democrat paves the way for Trump’s outrageous comments to fall on numbed ears.

It extends to public disdain for “the other”.  “The other” is any bogeyman the current political speaker needs to blame for whatever they don’t like to generate an emotional response.  The Republican list currently includes Democrats, immigrants, scientists, Muslims and the press.  For the Democrats, it is “Wall Street”.  That is a shorter list and more nebulous but just as dangerous.  Both parties have culpability in the search for bogeymen.

It is hard to deny the disrespect Republicans create when they attempt to shut down the government rather than advancing principled but achievable options; when they spend more time fund-raising  than they spend working; and when they fail to do their constitutional jobs like passing budgets and confirming court nominees.  If Congress doesn’t respect the government, why would we not expect the people to drift toward a candidate to promises to “make America great again”. Whether you think government should be smaller, larger or just work, most people expect their representatives  to work to make it so and not just avoid tough votes.

Facts have never been of major concern to political campaigns.  Nonetheless, the Republicans’ continuous attacks on science from denying climate change science to defunding the Office of Technology Assessment, helped increase the general populace’s acceptance of the idea that facts are subject to political vetting.  When they assign Representatives who fundamentally do not believe in the process of science to the House  Committee on Science and Technology, you have to think they don’t take science seriously.  (Paul “science is spawn of the devil” Broun for instance.  Google it.  There are now at least five Republican anti-science members of that committee.)

If facts don’t matter in science or political campaigns, why would it matter that 76 of 77 statements made by Mr. Trump and fact checked by Politifact turned out to be false?

The Republicans have also shown a systematic revulsion for their own ideas when proposed by a Democrat – e.g., ACA, Cap and Trade, and Common Core (which was more bi-partisan but a grass-roots initiative).  When a Republican dominated Congress spends six years arguing over purely symbolic issues instead of trying to improve anything, how can a large part of the public avoid a level of cynicism that makes the Donald look attractive relative to professional politicians?  At least he gets things done – according to his branding.  The fact that he makes stuff up, makes outrageous claims and has no political theory is of no consequence if all other politicians are regarded as the same!  Then, simply the facts that he is from outside and reflects the frustration is enough to give him a platform.

Hilary – similar lessons applies to the Democrats!  Wonder why Bernie looks so appealing?

 

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President Obama’s ISIS Strategy – What I Heard – and Didn’t

I found president Obama’s response to ISIS to be unsatisfying.  It described why we feel a threat from ISIS and that we are planning an extended bombing campaign.  However, it isn’t clear how it really differs from current policy except that it will go on longer  and may extend into Syria.  Most of my questions are still unanswered.

  1. Represent a wide coalition.  All I heard about the composition of the coalition was that Secretary of State Kerry is working on it.  It is intended to be a large group but apparently is not yet.  This is not the George H. W. Bush style of preparing a coalition before the fight starts.  Too bad.
  2.  Enable building respect for traditional Islam.  The president noted that ISIS is not an Islamic organization by any stretch but could have done more to attract true Islamists and promote moderate clerics.
  3.  Make our motivation is clear.  Our motive seems to be only the interests of the US.  That’s ok for us but there was no story to tell those who are inclined to believe that all we care about is oil and our business interests.  He mentioned groups that have been severely oppressed but it was sort of a passing comment rather than a strong motive.  We would not be increasing our activity solely to protect Iraqis.
  4.  Goal. How do we know when we’re done?  How will we know if we are winning?  I still don’t know.  I guess we’ll know when ISIS is defeated because we’ll know it when we see it.  I was hoping for something a little more specific.
  5. Roles.  Since we don’t know who the partners are, we can’t say their roles.  Makes this post easier to write though.
  6.  Sunni relationships. As I feared, the president took the wishful thinking approach that the new government is automatically a better and more inclusive one and that the Sunni’s will therefore automatically be motivated to fight ISIS.  Time will tell but this is a major issue.
  7.  Exit Strategy.  Oh well, maybe that will be clear as well.  It certainly is not now.
  8. Forward.  Last, can we leverage the coalition for the future?  Well, we don’t know who is in the coalition, what their roles are, how they are motivated so a prediction of the future can only be made by a politician.

I give the president an A for effort and for taking on a campaign he really does not want but a D for content.  Now I hope there is more to come and wish John Kerry remarkable success in his mission.

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President Obama’s ISIS Strategy – My Hopes

The president’s and the country’s strategy for “defeating” ISIS has been evolving, as it should, as we learn more and work with other countries to develop the strategy.   Here’s what I hope he addresses.

  1. Represent a wide coalition.The coalition should include European, Arabic, sub-Saharan African and Asian partners from both Islamic and non-Islamic cultures.  This is important because the virus of ISIS exists in only moderately weaker versions in both east and west Africa between al Shabab and Boko Haram plus splinter groups and fringe elements.  If we are going to eradicate it, we need to get it all.   Also, that wide a coalition is important because ISIS is a threat to Saudi Arabia, Jordon, Egypt, Qatar and all the other neighboring governments.  They need to show that they fight against the funding for ISIS that comes from their own countrymen, block borders from ISIS militants and stop providing safe havens.  In addition, Russia needs to participate!
  2.  Enable building respect for traditional Islam.  ISIS is completing the hijacking of Islam that began some decades ago.  They have made it a refuge for psychopaths and sociopaths worldwide that have no respect for the basic tenets of the religion.  Their actions defame Islam and need to be repudiated widely and loudly by legitimate Imams and clerics.
  3.  Make our motivation clear.I want to see opinion pieces in Al Jazeera that reflect the threat and a motive that showing concern for the Arab states as well as the west.   Our stated motives should make sense beyond the shores of the US and western cultures.  This means improving our image with the Arab street.
  4.  Goal. How do we know when we’re done?  How will we know if we are winning?
  5.  Roles.  What role will our partners play?   What will the Saudis contribute?  Jordanians?  Israelis?  Europeans?  Who supplies weapons, troops, tactical command, and strategic command? Who takes care of which border crossings?
  6.  Sunni relationships. We need to show how we are going to get Sunni support in Iraq and Syria to help combat ISIS. The new Iraqi Prime Minister will be said to be the way forward but he has not had time to demonstrate “inclusiveness”. There must be a stronger case for inclusiveness than wishful thinking.
  7.  Exit.  What do we do when we are done?  That will include what we do when things go wrong before we’ve met the goal.  There will be defeats and set backs for us.  Will we be prepared emotionally for those situations?  It must also include the governing arrangements for Iraq and Syria.  Will we make peace with Asad if he stops killing the moderate rebels and drenching his citizens with chlorine gas or are we pushing for regime change?  If the latter, how do we get countries to support us?  If the former, how do we get popular support in the west?
  8. Forward.  Last, can we leverage the coalition for the future?

I fervently hope that the president has a well thought through plan and has the requisite alliances in place. He approaches problems with care and thoughtfulness. Let’s hope he gets this one right.

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This is an article I’ve had in mind for some time and I’m going to use the WordPress Writing 101 session to get at it!  This is take 1.  There will be more versions of the same idea until I get it right.

Our elected “leaders”, otherwise known as members of Congress (both federal and state versions count) as well as our President and governors and mayors, have little to no incentive to fix probelms for their constituents or their country.  Why not, you ask? Continue reading

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Obamacare – Another Congressional Success Story

Congress takes a lot of abuse!  Their popularity is at all time lows.  Most Americans now claim they would vote even their own representatives out of office.  They never cooperate with the other party!  Well, maybe that claim isn’t quite accurate.  In fact, I think they cooperate all the time!  Let’s look at one example of a program where the parties in Washington have done a wonderful job of working with each other to divide and conquer the difficult issues facing the country!

We’ll look at Obamacare or, as it is more formally known, ACA.  (Note – Because many people like ACA but hate Obamacare, I need to clarify that they are in fact the same thing.  Sorry).  I’ll call it ACA because that’s easier to type.  This is the president’s signature program and illustrates what Congress can accomplish when they really put their hearts into it.

The original goal of ACA was to provide affordable health insurance to most of the 15% (47 million) of Americans who are uninsured.  The short-term goal is 7 million by March 2014 and an estimate of about 16 million by year-end 2014 in a combination of Medicaid and ACA with the rest coming over time.  Note that about 12 million of the 47 million are illegal immigrants and not eligible.  To date, the results are unknown.  They can’t be until initial sign-ups are completed in December.  So both parties agreed to make up their own facts and distort the few honest projections that exist.  Problem solved!

ACA is intended to have the work and administration done by the private sector with the rules being set by the feds.  Thus, all uninsured Americans will need to purchase a health care insurance policy from a private carrier.  All private carriers will stop “rating up” individuals for pre-existing conditions and will give up the ability to decline coverage. That creates a larger group of insured people.  To the extent that people who are uninsured actually participate, there is a downward pressure on the price of insurance.  However, the feds also set rules on the minimum coverages for individual plans as well as ending rating for pre-existing condition and requiring guaranteed issuance.  They chose a minimum coverage that is a good deal higher than many people were voluntarily choosing.  (In the interest of full disclosure, the selection of a “floor” preceded Congress’ new program of cooperation.  It occurred during the passage of the law which was a fully partisan event and includes all the Democrat’s pet health issues like mental health, preventive medicine and erectile dysfunction).  Not that these are bad coverages but their mandatory inclusion in all policies can only be an upward force on price.  As part of their agreement, the Congressional Republicans agreed only to talk about the upward pressures while the Democrats agreed to deal only with the downward pressures.  That gives each of them own set of talking points.  It also avoids the ugly prospect of talking to each other about how both their positions might be true.  That, after all, might offend the base voters that the politicians so carefully selected through redistricting.

Also, as was evident in the inquisition of Kathleen Sibelius this week, the parties agreed to split up the “bad guys”.  The Republicans agreed to put all the blame on Obama and the Democrats who passed the bill (more than three years ago) without a single Republican vote.  The Democrats agreed to blame the IT contractors and insurance companies.  Both agreed not to do a real investigation into the true causes of the website malfunctions.  To do that of course  would require waiting for the facts to become known and that would delay the theater.

The final part of the cooperation pact was to avoid discussing why both parties have done nothing substantive in over three years to fix or to test the suspected problems in ACA.  That agreement gave the Republicans over forty opportunities to pass symbolic and pointless votes to repeal ACA without having to help their constituents by improving it.  The Democrats gained the chance to stay in the background and not have to appear as though they were criticizing the plan that they wrote.

So, far from disagreeing about everything, the parties in Washington are actually working in close cooperation by agreeing not to tread on their rivals’ turf and to continue living in their own, separate virtual worlds.

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What is greatest threat to the US?

Once again, our estimable Congress has elected not to solve nor even deal with our country’s problems but to continue the cycle of distrust, antagonism and political gamesmanship.  This cycle has reached new lows since December 2008 when Republican leadership announced that their goal for the next four years (oops, eight years) was  defeating president Obama.  Not moderating liberal policies, not solving the nation’s long-term fiscal issues, not even to looking thoughtful and grown up in preparation for the next election but only to deny success for the administration regardless of the effect on the country.    To be fair, this basic instinct to win at any cost is as old as humanity.  However, a functional democracy demands something better,

America has some serious problems.   For example, growing economic disparity and forty years of income stagnation among the middle class, education, jobs, our declining international standing and influence, dysfunctional government, jobless recovery, the  long-term financial trouble facing the federal government, most states and many cities.

Our healthcare system does not work as well as it should for the cost.  For example, compared to other industrialized countries, US healthcare spending as a percentage of GDP is highest, our life expectancy is lowest, we have the highest infant mortality and the highest medical cost per capita.   See http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/bca4c114-29d8-11e3-bbb8-00144feab7de.html#ixzz2gxmLgVgc.  A US study a few years ago also showed that the level of preventable medical deaths was roughly the equivalent of a 747 crashing everyday!  A hip replacement is three times as costly in the US as in Great Britain.

So there is a very legitimate discussion to have on the healthcare system and ways to fix it.  But, the House of Representatives’ most conservative members have sacrificed more than forty opportunities to hold that discussion.  I am confounded as to why they went out of their way so many times to avoid addressing the problems that the ACA brings with it or other problems in the health care “system”.  ACA has some problems but it is not the end of the world and certainly does not encompass all the other health care issues.  So why is ACA everything in the view of the House Republican minority?

I can only conclude a few things.  One is that ACA does not poll very well and may be a potential winner for Republicans on that basis.  Another is that they don’t know how to fix the problems.  They then prefer to take  symbolic votes on the problem that polls best.  That’s smart – avoids any sort of accountability while leaving the issues available for later use like sticking in front of a CR or debt ceiling debate. Or perhaps they don’t actually want to fix the problems but prefer to have someone else to blame for them.

At the start of the shutdown, they began to argue for a delay in the individual mandate claiming they just want to improve ACA so the world won’t end.  That’s good.  I’m not in favor of the world ending just yet.  But, if they wanted me to believe that they have my welfare in mind, they would have started putting forward suggestions that were practical and had a chance of becoming law.  They squandered more than forty opportunities to point out weaknesses, simplify the law, do something to educate the public or do anything else good.  Instead, they used all forty efforts to pass symbolic measures that had no chance of becoming law.

And now that the polling again turns against the shutdown and in favor of increasing the debt limit, the minority of the Republican minority is saying “Well, what we really want is a conversation on the budget and debt and the size of government”.  Great discussion!  The Senate has been waiting for months for the House to appoint conferees to negotiate the differences between their budgets.  Too bad the House is so focused on fighting symbolic fights.

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Trial of US Congress – Press Conferences

In competing press conferences today, both the prosecution and defense in the case of United States Citizens vs United States Congress, known as United Citizens, laid out provocative claims on their positions.

Attorney Adams for the prosecution stated that they are facing difficulty in controlling the amount of evidence they want to present.  They  have already been warned by the court that they would not be allowed the full six months requested to present evidence.  Attorney Jefferson, in response to a question, said the evidence is so overwhelming they can make the case in a matter 0f hours if necessary.  He said that the difficulty the court was having finding unbiased jurors had convinced him of that.

The attorneys for the defense had trouble with the sound system at their press conference.  That was due primarily to the fact that the Democrats and Republicans hired separate attorneys and all were trying to speak at the same time.  The basic messages that seemed to come through the babble were that it was all the other party’s fault and that they had selected their voters fair and square through gerrymandering.  However, they also seemed to be setting a possible course for a group insanity defense.  The attorney for the Republicans, Javier Rasputin, commented on the rumor that Systemic Accountability Disorder, SAD, or Reactive Apoplexy Disorder, RAD, would be part of the defense.  “Absolutely no truth at all to those rumors.  They are baseless charges created by the Democrat Party to hide their true agenda of increased spending”.  At the same time, the lead attorney for the Democrats, Melissa Malicious,  said “the preposterous notion that we will claim Bipartisan Anxiety Disorder as a defense is a just a ploy by the Republicans to take the spotlight off their refusal to raise taxes on the rich”.  Based on the denials, we expect to hear much more about these disorders in the near future.

Related News

The court had to expand jury selection to include Mexico and Canada.  In so doing, they overruled a defense motion to restrict the jury pool to the United States.  The court cited two justifications.  One, there are too few potential jurors in the US.  “The probability of finding a potential juror of sound mind who has not already convicted Congress in his or her mind is about the same as winning Lotto and being struck by lightening while an asteroid hits earth “.  The second reason is that Congress has as much potential to hurt all of North America as it does the US alone.

A small group of Representatives and Senators are quietly disassociating themselves from the crowd.  The group of a few Republicans and Democrats have taken the recently unprecedented step of talking to each other in defiance of their party’s leadership and extremes.  Responding to a question on catering to primary voters, one said “The slightest sacrifice we can make is to lose our jobs by doing the right thing for the next generation¹.”

1.  Senator Joe Manchin, D, West Virginia, at No Labels Meet for America, January 14, 2013

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US Congress Indicted on Contempt of the Governed Charge

Washington, D. C., February 29, 2013

The Grand Jury of the United States handed down long-awaited indictments of the United States Congress today.  All five hundred thirty-eight members of the House of Representatives and the Senate were named in separate seven count indictments.  The charges are ignoring the oath of office, taking oaths to unelected constituents, failing to complete constitutionally required tasks, taking money under false pretenses, misleading the citizenry, abdication of responsibility and treason.

The only surprise in the indictments was that the fifty to seventy-five members of Congress who have shown they understand the difference between facts and political claims and who have found ways to talk across the aisle were included in the indictments.  At a press briefing announcing the indictments, the spokesperson for the Grand Jury, Thomasina Paine, clarified.  “Although some members of Congress may be shown to be innocent of the specific charges, it is the failure of Congress as the governing body of the United States to work effectively that lead to these indictments.  Therefore the Grand Jury felt obligated to indict all and let the evidence fall where it may”.

On the first count, ignoring the oath of office, the indictment lists a series of breaches of the Congressional Oath of Office including “failing to have serious discussions on the future of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, corporate tax expenditures, complaining about out of control spending and too-big government while subsidizing the Senate barber shop $400,000 a year and brinksmanship with every issue  constitute failure to ‘well and faithfully discharge the duties of office’ as required by their oaths of office”.  Also, since the greatest enemy of the US economic recovery today is the Congress, the indictment charges “Congress has become a domestic enemy of the US rather than defending the country against its enemies.”

The second count states that “many in Congress feel such pressure from super-PACs, special interest groups and the extremes of primary voters that they solely serve those groups and not the people of their districts or states as a whole.  That is tantamount to pledging allegiance to bodies not recognized in the Constitution.  Since the donors behind some of these sources do not need to be disclosed, it is also possible that individual members of Congress are in effect following foreign powers and other interests from outside their districts in direct contravention of their oath of office.”

Count three, failing to complete required work, accuses Congress of not doing the work they are required to do to pass a budget and appropriations bills.  Even the recently passed No Budget/No Pay provision seems to have had little impact on them to date.   The indictment charges “proper financial operation of the country requires more care than a string of Continuing Resolutions”.  A bystander at the briefing was overheard to say “If only they would spend as much time doing their work as they do on their hair, we’d all be better off.”

Count four alleges that the “current Congressional work schedule of three days a week for a total of 126 days in 2013 could only be the result of a) desire to rush off to fulfill other desires, so to speak or b) needing to rush of to pander for campaign contributions (see count two) and in either case constitutes taking money under false pretenses” stated Ms. Paine.

In the fifth and most damning article, they were charged with abdication of responsibility. Two principle items were offered in support of this charge.  The first is the fact that members of Congress spend more time blaming the other party or other branches of government than they do looking for solutions. Second, they failed to provide solutions to the “sequester” for two years and instead spent the time practicing their sound bites.

The sixth count accuses Congress of lying to the public.  Ms. Paine said this was self-evident.  However, examples in the indictment include suppressing Congressional Research Office reports that don’t support their positions, calling everything they don’t like either “job killers” or “helping the super rich at the expense of the middle class” and generally refusing to tell the truth to the public on the belief that either the public will blame Congress for it (as they should) or won’t blame the other party for it.

Count seven, treason for providing aid and comfort to enemies of the United States, reads in part “that there is sufficient evidence that Congress provides constant amusement and entertainment for our enemies and embarrassment to the United States and its allies” citing in particular the failure of Congress “to solve any problem that takes longer than their three day work week.”

Congressional Reaction

Congressional Counsel, attorney B. Arnold, argued that these charges only represent incompetence and do not rise to the level of criminality.

A statement issued jointly by Representative Boehner and Senator McConnell and dated, strangely, December 2008, stated “This is a result of the president’s failed leadership”.

Senator Reid and Representative Pelosi also issued a joint statement saying “Our party won the elections.  Doesn’t that count for anything?”

The trial is scheduled to begin on April 1.  Attorney’s J. Adams and T. Jefferson are expected to lead the prosecution.  Pre-trial hearings may begin immediately.

The Grand Jury is believed to be investigating similar charges against the president and justices of the Supreme Court.

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