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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Future Post Topic Dump

Future Post Topic Dump

Thoughts for more in-depth posts...







EDUCATION




The Federal government should solicit our highest-rated teachers from around the country (by whatever measure) and then videotape their classes for an entire school year. There should be incentives for teachers to compete, just as we now incentivise teachers relocating to rural and other underserved areas.

The resulting videos would then be made available by Internet stream. Ideally, classes could be conducted in format would leave 30 minutes of a 55-minute class for direct interaction with the teacher onsite.

Any teacher nation-wide could incorporate the videos into their class if they are teaching that same subject. Whether they use them or not could be left up to the local school boards, but even if their use was not mandated by a local school board, the videos should be available, as they would be an awesome resource for teachers to use for strategies and peer review, as well as offering extra credit to students watching portions of them after school.

Children in school districts that did not use the videos could view them at home or the library, as could parents and generally, any under-educated adult. The classes should at least cover all classes in K-12, but including junior college would be better, as some of those classes are already available to high school students in the form of "advanced placement" offerings. This could make more subjects available to students nationwide.

Obviously, making English classes available worldwide would be particularly useful.




HEALTHCARE



The answer to our current healthcare problem is Medicare for all.

Bernie Sanders said a lot about this, but, perhaps because he is up in years he assumed everyone knew what that would mean. Instead, it was characterized as ‘government-provided' health care like that in England.

The National Health Service in England is the biggest part of the system by far, catering to a population of 54.3 million and employing around 1.2 million people. Of those, the clinically qualified staff include 150,273 doctors, 40,584 general practitioners (GPs), 314,966 nurses and health visitors, 18,862 ambulance staff, and 111,127 hospital and community health service (HCHS) medical and dental staff.

However, the fact is, Medicare does not generally provide medical care at all - instead, it makes payments for medical care provided by professionals that do not work for the government, and in medical facilities that are not owned by the government. Obviously,  there are exceptions, like the Veterans Administration, but frankly, that should be eliminated and rolled into Medicare for all with 99% coverage instead of the usual 80%.

With regular Medicare, your coverage is 80% of the negotiated cost of the care received and the facilities utilized. The Medicare-covered individual that is receiving the care must pay the remaining 20% - which can be further offset by either a private sector supplement policy or participation in a private sector HMO which meets or exceeds the services provided under Medicare. Those often require care through a specific network of doctors and facilities, but a lot of people like the plans better because of the reduced cost.

The point is, "Medicare for All" is not "government healthcare" and it could save citizens billions over just a few years, as the buying power of 340 million customers allows Medicare to negotiate reasonable prices for products and servers that we have otherwise seen escalate into gouging.

Concepts like medicare for all are the capitalist equivalent of universal basic income.




PUBLIC UTILITIES


Just as a private corporation might repurchase its own stock, I believe America should purchase, by means of eminent domain, all of the electric and water systems across the United States of America and unify and upgrade them for the safety and security of future generations.

The transfer of these resources should be accomplished over a reasonable period of time, after a national survey of the resources and infrastructure plans, with a national water main being a top priority. The absence of safe and affordable utilities is more of a national security threat than any of the political wars we have engaged in over the last 70 years.  Concepts like public utilities provide a solid basis for the capitalist equivalent of universal basic income.



MODERNIZATION IN STRUCTURE AND PRACTICE



Originally, there was one Representative for about every 33,000 citizens. That means that if a Representative spent an eight hour day speaking to each of their constituents for ONE MINUTE, it would have taken them sixty-nine (69) days.

Today, the average district size is approximately 700,000 and growing. That means that today if a Representative spent eight hours a day speaking to each of their constituents for the same ONE MINUTE, it would now take them FOUR YEARS!

That's eight hours a day, seven days a week for FOUR YEARS! That's their entire term! And since none of them will be working seven days a week, they'll barely have time to tell you to get lost. And THAT is why people have to beg for the attention of an aide they never voted for.

It's time to increase the number of Representatives and reduce the number of constituents being told to get lost. If we added enough Representatives to bring the number of constituents down to 50,000, that would require an additional 6,365 Representatives.

But so what? It's time to take this mess digital anyway. There's no reason that all Representatives need to go to Washington for every session. And trust me, if there were 6,800 Representative in the House, not only would you see an amazingly noticeable responsiveness from your Representative, it would devastate lobbyists and their corporate agendas. Imagine trying to buy off 6,800 Representatives. That's a lot of books and fundraisers.



Friday, February 10, 2017

The Shell Game Analogy

The Shell Game Analogy


The shell game (a.k.a. thimblerig, three shells and a pea, and the old army game) is portrayed as a gambling game, but in reality, when a wager for money is made, it is almost always a confidence trick used to perpetrate fraud - which sadly made me think of government.

In the shell game, three shells are placed face-down on a surface. A pea is placed beneath one of them so it cannot be seen. The shells are then shuffled by the operator in plain view. I see this as the three branches of government where laws seem to appear and disappear.

In the shell game, the operator can win if he shuffles the shells in a way that players cannot follow.  If the player cannot correctly identify which shell the pea is under, he or she will lose. This can be a real challenge depending on the shuffling skills of the operator.

But it's worse than that. You see, the contest is usually rigged. Commonly, the operator will supplement his shuffling skills by using sleight of hand. This allows the operator to move or hide the pea during play and replace it as required. Such illusions make it difficult to detect cheating.

This seems similar to government presenting the illusion that things are done transparently and in a way that is fair to all citizens. Instead, we see laws with misleading names and provisions that benefit only corporations and the rich. We see our rights abridged and our privacy invaded.

Citizens that watch government closely tell us government's responsibility to the citizenry is more and more often being superseded by an allegiance to money and power. At the same time, we see tax formulas that are capped or stop escalating after the lowest brackets - thereby allowing the future to be manipulated on a financial level that will affect your grandson's granddaughter - neither of which will ever have any real chance of closing that gap.

In the real shell game, an operator often employs the assistance of an accomplice, or a shill to create a sense of confidence in the honesty and legitimacy of the game. The shill also entices and encourages others to participate in the con, as well as provides distractions on an as-needed basis.

The government's shill is undoubtedly mainstream media. Owned by huge corporations and the ultra rich, the media mostly operates as a marketing arm for whichever one of the two ruling political parties that is preferred by the owners of their respective networks.

And if you actually catch the shell game operator in the act of cheating, both the operator and the shill would attack you. In the government, this is also true, as we have witnessed in the treatment of whistle-blowers and those leaking information.

In the end, the real trick to the shell game is that the operator actually palms the pea so that it will not appear under any of the shells. This ensures that you will lose no matter which shell you may choose, just as you will lose no matter which candidate you may choose from either political party. The two ruling parties are the left and right hand of the shill game operator.

Today the difference in those political parties is little more than the difference in the types of corporations they represent. Thus the difference to the average citizen is reduced to a choice between the ideologies associated with a handful of social issues.

Beyond that, citizens are relegated to boycotting corporations to bypass government for redress of their grievances. Really, what is surprising to me is not the fact that almost half the people eligible to vote have refused to participate, but rather the fact that the other half are still bothering to vote - even after prolonged exposure to the tactics of career politicians.

Then again, it was the daydream of "drain the swamp" that was in large part responsible for Donald Trump's ascension to the White House. I think people are saying it's time for some new ideas.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Current Events Education

Current Events Education


What is an appropriate definition for the "news" we see and hear today?

The importance of accurate information in maintaining an informed electorate cannot be underestimated. Yet, the time required for a citizen to stay moderately informed is now hours per day.

More and more of that time is dedicated to judging the validity of "news." Only by comparison of reports and supplemental independent research can one, eventually, gather a sense of security in accurately understanding an issue or situation.

Was it a Muslim ban or a temporary pause in immigration from dangerous countries to allow us to review our vetting policies? Did the Russians hack the election or were DNC emails leaked? The answer to these and many other questions will depend on your ability identify and extract common threads of information from various sources, filter them for competing ideologies and natural biases, and then evaluate the aggregate of competing "facts" and condense them into the most likely truth.

And if that weren't enough of an obstacle to being informed, the information provided is often some repackaged marketing materials from one political faction or another. Or it may be a collaboration of a reporter and some cause or a campaign (corporate or political). Often, even accurate information is presented in a manner that lacks meaningful context.

For example, consider the story about the $12.8 million that candidate Trump's campaign spent buying rent and services from his own companies. Sounds ethically challenged, right? But, what if he had put five times that amount of his own money into the campaign?

To me, that last bit makes a lot of difference. The first part sounds like he's trying to make money from running for President (which some have suggested), but when you realize it was his own money, then yes, of course, he would want to spend it at his own hotel - not a competitor's property.

What would it have said about his own properties if he stayed at the Days Inn?

Anyway, you may have noticed the first article makes no mention of Trump's contributions to the campaign. The second article - written months earlier - does include both bits of information, but introduced the information in an entirely different context.

To me, both article titles ("Trump's Campaign Paid Millions To His Own Properties, FEC Documents Say" and "No, Donald Trump has not given his campaign $100 million, and other answers to your money questions") seem negative. The first title implies some kind of self-enrichment and the second article implies a falsehood or misrepresentation.

Now I see the angle each writer is viewing, but combining the information makes a material difference in my perception of whether the arrangement described in the first article was ethical.

The more angles you can see, the more likely you are to understand the 3D characteristics of a fact.

For example, grab a friend and try this; hold your hand out in front of you as though you were motioning to your friend to stop. Then, both of you spend ten seconds making mental notes of what you see.

Now imagine you are both testifying under oath as to what you actually saw in that ten seconds. Your friend would explain how he or she had seen lines that were slightly embedded into smooth skin.

You, on the other hand (possible pun), would have to testify that you saw only knuckles and fingernails that were embedded into skin that with barely-noticeable veins or was perhaps covered by tiny, fine hairs.

And if there happens to be another witness that was positioned 45 degrees to your right when all this occurred, then don't expect to hear testimony about knuckles or palm, but rather something about a pinkie finger instead.

Now imagine if all these people, including you, had a preconceived bias about each other. And what if each of you had your own following with similar biases. After all, biases don't have to necessarily be bad, but they do have a reputation for clouding issues. And when combined with the alternate facts presented by each perspective, they can create real barriers to understanding the issue in discussion.

Still, it is difficult to quickly imagine a situation where I would want less information. I'm thinking I'll always feel more confident about my understanding of an issue when I have more and better sources. I think most Americans would agree, but I also think they feel overwhelmed by the challenge of analyzing the volume of information that is available today.

That is basically the answer to the question, "Why would you want to start a citizen-based multi-source news organization?" The question that it does not answer is "Why does this matter in my life?"

Well, there's a good chance it doesn't. That's because the whole thing is a circus and the next act is already warming up in the hall. Or to skip the metaphor, it's all a show designed to distract, entertain and pacify the people that are over-funding the government (us).

But what are the distractions and what are they really costing us?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Banned

Banned


On January 27,2016, President Trump issued an order that temporarily bars all people hailing from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen from entering the United States.

I was initially confused about the Executive Order, as several news outlets are calling it a Muslim ban - which is something that candidate Trump called for while campaigning. Until now, I had thought Mr. Trump had either misspoke or had changed his mind about that after someone told him that banning people from almost anything based on their religion is pretty much illegal.

Or at least that's what I thought. Even today I have read both, that the Executive Order is and is not legal. But if you look at the President's arguments, they are eye-opening.

Specifically, the Administration asserts that the Supreme Court has granted Congress great leeway (under the plenary power doctrine) to limit immigration based on criteria - such as race or national origin - that would be considered unconstitutional in other contexts.

On top of that, the President contends that Congress authorized such bans with a provision in section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.
All of these guys are smarter than I am, but to me it looks like this one might go to court on several levels. And after everything I've read, if I had to guess, I would probably have to bet on the President winning out on the core question of authority.

But we'll see...

So maybe it's legal and maybe it's not - but it certainly is not a Muslim ban - despite numerous published reports from around the world (like here, here, here, here, and here), and the grandstanding of people that you know know better (or at least they should), but seem eager to get in on the action.

Yet facts can be stubborn things. And in this case, they don't support claims that the order was a "Muslim ban". The facts seem to indicate there are about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and the entire population of all seven countries affected by the order is about 212 million.

Indonesia alone has 204 million Muslims and India is just about to catch-up. In fact, only one of the affected countries is in the top ten countries according to Muslim population.

But if it's not a Muslim ban, then what? Well, according to the order, the ban aims to “protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States.” But a look back at the major terrorist attacks that have taken place on U.S. soil since 9/11, shows most perpetrators were either domestic or not from countries affected by the President's order.

Once I realized the ban wasn't based on religion or terrorist origin, I came across the proposition that the list may contain only countries we have bombed in connection with terrorism. But that didn't hold water since Iran wouldn't qualify and Afghanistan and Pakistan didn't make the list.

There was also the Washington Post and Bloomberg pointing out that Trump’s ban did not include any of the Muslim-majority countries "where the Trump Organization — which is now being run by his sons — holds business interests." But even as cynical as I can sometimes be, that made no sense in explaining the countries that are on the list. Places without a Trump property would be a much longer list, for sure.

Further digging (and bit better search terms) resulted in finding the idea that the list was derived from the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act exception list. That act was signed by President Obama and initially banned Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan from taking advantage of the program. And in February of 2016, the Obama administration added Libya, Somali and Yemen to the list.

So those were the seven countries already identified by Congress and President Obama as not being trustworthy for lax (no visa) passage into the United States. And combined, those countries are an exact match for the seven countries affected by President Trump's order.

In conclusion, I see the people's response to the order as being disproportionate and overblown. Various organizations have already gone to federal court to start clarifying some details of enforcement, and Homeland Security has already said they would abide by court orders.

So why is misinformation still so rampant? I suspect it is just the latest opportunity for Democrats and other disgruntled citizens to express their dissatisfaction with the election of Donald Trump.

Of course, protesting and spreading disinformation is legal, but when I think of all the important issues facing the country, the effort to fight President Trump's order seems like a waste of energy and just a small sample of the difficulties that are to come as new, stricter immigration policies are implemented. If I felt that strongly about refugee and immigration issues, I would contribute to an organization that could effectively argue the matter in court to find out exactly what the law is.

But if I was of a mind to get out into the streets and march with a sign, my sign would say TERM LIMITS NOW! Because right now President Trump could be very useful in getting the required amendment off the ground.

In fact, one of his more fierce competitors in the presidential primary, Ted Cruz has already advanced such a bill. It hasn't been the subject of any establishment media or politician interviews I've seen - even though the vast majority of Americans want term limits for all members of Congress. But that's another post...

But how do Americans get sucked into these types of distractions?


Friday, January 27, 2017

The Trade Problem

The Trade Problem


As we struggle to conclude week one of President Trump, we yesterday saw several top officials at the State Department [quit | get fired] and [President Trump | President Pena Nieto] cancel a meeting scheduled for next week. Meanwhile, we're still waiting on the "replace" part of "repeal and replace" and it seems there's no real strategy on trade - other than "America First" - which does nothing to highlight the real issues that face the American worker.

Look, no random border tax or tariff is going to work for the American worker. The problem with our trade policy today is that government has not enforced our values at our borders. Instead of respecting the laws we’ve agreed upon, the government assumed a position that what’s good for big business is good for America. That’s wrong.

You see, in America we believe social security is important for our retired workers; we believe unemployment insurance is important for workers during employment transitions; we believe it is important that workers have a safe work environment; that workers injured on the job receive compensation while they recover; that a worker receive medical leave; that children are not allowed to work at a young age; that women receive wages comparable to their male counterparts; that all workers should receive a minimum wage; that workers not be discriminated against for their race or age, and; that if a worker puts in extra hours they get an overtime premium.
Consider that in addition to salaries and wages, American employers incur the following payroll-related expenses:
  • Employer portion of Social Security tax (6.2% of wages)
  • Employer portion of Medicare tax (1.45% of wages)
  • State unemployment tax (4% of wages)
  • Federal unemployment tax (6% of wages)
  • Worker compensation insurance (4%  - 15% of wages based on type of work)
Additionally, U.S. employers must absorb any expenses associated with implementation of laws protecting workers, such as:
These are important, long-standing rights and requirements for the American worker. Our message to the world as a country should be one of leadership and guidance for the betterment of people - not a message of loophole and exploitation.

Yet our politicians have spent the past three decades telling the world that the United States of America doesn’t care how you treat your workers. In fact, our politicians have adopted trade policies that encouraged poor and communist countries to ignore our values. The message has been "Do whatever you want to do so long as you keep shipping cheap goods to our corporations." And in a nutshell, that's the "race to the bottom" that has destroyed the American working class.

To solve this dilemma we must look beyond the simplicity of arbitrary tariffs and border taxes. Tariffs are useful in limited circumstances, but they aren't the right tool for this job. Tariffs are essentially a tax or duty to be paid on a particular class of imports or exports; we need something more comprehensive than that.

Fortunately, there is a fair and reasonable way to turn this all around - and at the same time reestablish our position as a leader of human rights and be a shining example for the rest of the world. We do it by taking an entirely new approach with a Human Rights Trade Incentive.

(I just made that name up, so don't bother Googling it.)

A Human Rights Trade Incentive would identify all of the requirements associated with American employer's responsibility to employees and then assigns a national average cost for each. Once those costs are established, foreign corporations wishing to import goods into America can be viewed through that filter to determine if there will be penalties for non-compliance.

It works like this: a global company shows up on our border with a shipload of widgets. The Customs worker says, "Nice widgets, can I see your workers compensation certification for these widgets?" The global company says, "We don't have one; it's not required for the population we're exploiting." The customs worker says, "Sorry, but since you don't have a certification for your workers comp policy, I'm afraid that's going to be an additional 3% import penalty." The global company says, "That's too high! We could get a workers comp policy for only 2%!" To which the Customs worker says, "Oh good! Then you guys can take care of this before your next shipment and you won't have to pay that part next time."

By running down a comprehensive list and assigning fair and appropriate penalties to be associated with each and every value we believe is important (our laws), we can not only level the trade playing field in the short term, but at the same time, we can encourage other nations to improve the working conditions for their people.

Many American corporations already require quality certifications before they will accept foreign shipments, they just haven't been concerned with workers - here or anywhere else. We do similar things internally, so why wouldn't we do it with trade partners?

It's a simplistic concept, but it's a good start and it gives us a foundation to begin making a meaningful change. It offers a sound basis for international trade, a promising alternative to failing globalist views, and an opportunity to truly lead by example for a change. We just need to be thorough and comprehensive when we create the list of requirements.

Since they are currently in the news, let's take Mexico for example. The simplest place to start is minimum wage. Last month Mexico raised its minimum wage to 73.04 pesos per hour, which is $4.30 in U.S. dollars. Now, considering that our minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, on that basis alone, American workers have an unfair disadvantage.

And remember, we're only talking about product that is brought into the United States. If their minimum wage is good for them internally, it's nothing to us, but if the products are bound for the U.S. then the Mexican employer needs to address the same issues that the American employer must, by law, address in their company here.

Even after 20 years of NAFTA, the CIA says this of Mexico: "Mexico's $2.2 trillion economy has become increasingly oriented toward manufacturing in the 22 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) entered into force. Per capita income is roughly one-third that of the US; income distribution remains highly unequal."

But the corporate shills (including politicians) that are trying to scare people with the idea that "American consumers will pay the border tax" are being manipulative - they know Americans are already paying for trade with their jobs and the stagnate wage growth that has accompanied the unfair competition of NAFTA.

Tell Congress and the President to get serious about the job of helping the American worker! Oh, and be sure to remind everyone you talk to about it, that it isn't just blue collar jobs. We need to address the same prevailing wage issues for digital outsourcing occupations, like programmers, network engineers, those working in customer service call centers and technical support call centers, and any other service sector where we are currently setting a bad example.

But wait! Right now we have to be distracted by the "Muslim ban."


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Absorbing Trump

Absorbing Trump


Life is real for the time you are living it. For some of us, things don't always go the way you want. For a smaller subset of us, that happens so often that we have learned to look for the silver lining. In the current environment, this is a useful exercise.

The election I just witnessed was disheartening in unexpected ways. As a Bernie Sanders supporter, I had already lost before the election began. My immediate knee-jerk reaction was to just sit it out all together. The negatives for the two viable party candidates - while extremely different - were equally discouraging. Do you want a nasty woman or a vulgar man?

And that's how I ended up casting my vote for process gains. Helping the Green Party take a step toward viability seemed almost noble at that point. I didn't even mind the fact that it required me to vote for a doctor who questioned vaccines and had zero chance of winning.

Truely, Stein was an awful candidate. She pulled in less than 2% of the national vote - which is amazingly bad when your running against the two most disliked candidates in American history. And in the end, the party was damaged when she decided it was a good idea to demand recounts in three states. Even though the Green Party refused to endorse or participate in the effort, the pointlessness of the exercise by their candidate reflected poorly.

I mean, there probably should be a random audit of a few states in every Presidential election, but it should be conducted by federal employees and followed up by providing the audited states a full report highlighting any inconsistencies or process errors.

But I digress. We have a new President. His name is Donald J Trump. It's time to refocus.

Okay. On the bright side - love him or hate him - I think President Trump is more upfront about what he's trying to do. Sneaky, surreptitious leaders are the scariest for a democratic republic. Technically, we're a constitutionally limited representative democratic republic, but the point is - if someone tells you what they are really trying to do, you may not agree, but at least the proposition is on the table.

The downside to knowing what people are thinking is that what they are thinking may [surprise, alarm, disturb, upset, infuriate] your sensibilities - especially when there is room for misinterpretation. Which is to say, a lot of people just don't seem to like President Trump as a person (judged from a persona of course, since most people have never met him).

Many are convinced he a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic*, sexist that is totally unacceptable as President. But one thing is for sure, whatever he is or isn't, Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America.

Part of the problem is that we saw way too much Billy Bush-type "news" that rightfully upset people. And while that incident is indefensible, the clandestine effort and enticement that went into getting the recording seemed unethical and generally reprehensible.

Having personally worked on a construction site, I have seen and heard many things from coworkers that I would not like to be associated with. Even laughing at something that is in poor taste is a reflection of your personality. But apparently, context matters, too - which is exactly why judge selections are so important.

I'm thinking the best thing to do in a situation like this is to look past the personalities and put a laser focus on the issues. If it helps, you might think of President Trump as a contractor without a non-performance clause.
How is the President like a contractor?

Many of us that don't live in the city pay a large company to pick up our trash. I do not know the names of any of those guys (and they do all appear to be men), but so long as they don't leave my can in the middle of the street or throw away the lid, we're all good.

Now, if I saw one of those guys on TV last night in undercover video and I noticed he didn't wash his hands very well before eating, or he said some really vulgar stuff when he stumped his toe, or whatever... Well, I would immediately be reluctant to ever have him over for dinner or whatever... I mean, he could still pick up my trash, we just won't be hanging out or whatever.

Now if the next night I saw an undercover video of that same guy kicking a cat after emptying someone's trash, I honestly would not be surprised to hear that there had been at least one person to call for the guy to be fired. And if he wasn't fired, the ratings for a video of what he did today would be through the roof.

So quit watching the undercover videos and see if your can is where it's supposed to be and the lid is still on it. If it's not - or it has been dented all to hell - then let the company know about it so they can straighten him out. (BTW Congress would be the company in this little goofy analogy.) Otherwise, live and let live, right?

Even with direct contractors, you don't want to be pals. If you get too consumed in a personal relationship, the next thing you know, things get weird. And if you have naturally clashing personalities it can be bad. Just don't do it.

Or have you’ve ever worked with a contractor that you couldn’t wait to get off the project? If so, you know the trick is to keep all your focus on the tasks that the contractor is responsible for. Leave as little room for questions as absolutely possible and try to not let things get any worse.

Think about it; the President does work for the people - whether he takes a check or not. Ask yourself, do you personally like/endorse everybody that works for you directly or indirectly? Really? Your waitress? Your cab driver? Your doctor’s new assistant?

You probably know little about most of them. Yet you trust the waitress not to poison you. You trust the cab driver not to involve you in an accident. And you trust a new assistant with your health care. You may change your mind if you had to hang out with them for 24 hours.

The fact is, in most instances, people aren’t looking for a good dinner guest when they hire people (directly or indirectly). What they are looking for is someone that can accomplish the task at hand - without creating any new problems. It’s better when they conduct themselves like professionals, but frankly, it doesn’t always work out like that.

So maybe people can do the same with President Trump; maybe we could all spend our energy pressing him to do the good things that he said he would do. Bernie Sanders has already started down this road.

Fortunately, I think President Trump really is sincere in his desire to make the country better in a big(ly) way. But for me, it's just that a bunch of his ideas seem to focus on the wrong things; it's not the big idea stuff we need. So what then? Well, jump in and help, do nothing, or fight against it, right?

Not really. There are hybrids where you might support and encourage likable portions of what has been proposed, but there's also the underutilized option of putting forth a better idea - or at least a competing vision. And if doing nothing or helping wasn't what you were thinking, what are the things you will need to compete against with a Trump administration?

Well everybody is different. For me, the ideas I would like to help President Trump with are few, and those for which I have competing are equal or more. That being the case, let me first touch on those with which I agree:
Abandon the TPP || Block actions to enter this agreement. CHECK! (1/20/2017) 
Impose a "five-year ban on executive officials becoming lobbyists after they leave the administration” and a “lifetime ban on executive officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.” || He hasn't done that yet and frankly, without pressure from the public, such changes will not occur. There are simply too many issues competing for his attention. CHECK! (1/28/2017) 
Renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA || I think the wheels are already in motion on this one, but I would be happy to do whatever I can possibly do to move this forward.
Ban foreign lobbyists from raising money for American elections || Where do I sign up? This seems amazingly close to illegal already; let's stop it! 
Designate China as a currency manipulator || Uh yeah. If global trade is going to work for America, this is one of the things that is required to ensure that our minimum wage laws aren't being bypassed by going out of the country. This, among many other things, is why doing business with currency manipulators is bad business. President Trump needs to do this as soon as possible. 
Pursue a constitutional amendment to put term limits on Congress || This is one of my favorites and is something the President absolutely cannot do alone. It is also something Congress will NEVER bring up on their own. This is one of those that the people will really have to get behind. This is one of those things that demonstrates how important it is to address the President on an issue-by-issue basis. 
“Transform America’s crumbling infrastructure into a golden opportunity for accelerated economic growth and more rapid productivity gains with a deficit-neutral plan targeting substantial new infrastructure investments.” || I like the sound of this and have some ideas to share on infrastructure, but let's move on for now. 
Pursue an ‘America’s Infrastructure First’ policy that supports investments in transportation, clean water, a modern and reliable electricity grid, telecommunications, security infrastructure, and other pressing domestic infrastructure needs. || And we aren't already doing this because...? President Trump has to declare his concepts and, if required, Congress has to implement it into law. The people have to educate themselves on the specifics and let the President and (when required) Congress know where we are on the issue.
So yeah, that sounds like some pretty good stuff to me. There are also some important tweaks too, such as policies that would rein in drug pricing and policies that would strengthen unions, but like so many of the things we are focused on today, these issues really should be part of a larger discussion.

Take the trade problem, for instance.



Monday, January 23, 2017

The Russian Issue

The Russian Issue


As the narrative goes, Russia interfered in the election by (somehow) hacking Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails and then tricking Clinton Campaign Manager, John Podesta into clicking an email in his Gmail account that led to a phishing scam. Oh yeah, Russia was also apparently setting up "troll farms" similar to the ones the Clinton Super PAC set up.

But let's go back to the beginning.

Well, the back and forth between the United States and Russia goes back a very long way; the beginning I'm referring to is the round of back and forth that encompasses the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

In that context, the beginning appears to have been March 16, 2016 - the day WikiLeaks released the Clinton emails. The only mention of "Russia" and "election" together in the news prior to that was, ironically, a report about Russian President Vladimir Putin warning his federal security service that Russia's "foes abroad" were preparing to interfere in the country's September general election.

But before we get into that, I wanted to look at where Donald Trump comes into the story.

On June 16, 2015, Donald J. Trump announced he was officially running for President. Within the first 60 seconds of beginning his announcement speech, he had identified China as an unfriendly target. By the time another sixty seconds had passed, he had added Japan and Mexico to the list, saying of the later, "They are not our friend, believe me."

Immediately expanding on the statement, Trump said, "When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

Before circling back around to China, Trump verbally attacked Iraq, Iran, the losing of military equipment, and Islamic Terrorism. He then proceeded to deride fake unemployment numbers, our aging nuclear arsenal, and ObamaCare (especially its five-billion-dollar website, of which he said, "I hire people to do a website, it cost me three dollars.") And after pledging to "repeal and replace" ObamaCare, Trump said, "let it be for everybody."

Next, Trump criticized the Bergdahl trade, political hacks, free trade, and then railed some more on China. Then, for the first time of his candidacy, and completely without any context whatsoever, Donald Trump said Russia. In review, it looks like it may have been an irony of fate, as at the time he was in the middle of a diatribe on China. It was the first and last time Russia was mentioned in his announcement speech.

The consensus at the time about Russia was that any meaningful improvement in relations was very unlikely. Of course, at that time, the assumed candidates were Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush - not Donald Trump. In fact, Jeb Bush was making news attacking Vladimir Putin and faulting President Obama before he even announced his candidacy, saying the administration’s attempt to “reset” relations with Russia had failed.

Jeb's immediate alternative consisted of a beefed-up presence of NATO troops along Russia’s border - basically, more war talk, which was coincidentally followed by news that NATO was refocusing on "the Kremlin, Its Original Foe.

This was about the time of a New York Times article titled Confronting Russia Holds Peril for U.S.

In that article Dimitri K. Simes, a Russia expert who runs the Center for the National Interest, and Graham Allison, a Harvard professor and confidant of Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, discussed how ratcheting up pressures could play into Mr. Putin’s hands.

And remember, President George W. Bush has already looked Putin in the eye and got a "sense of his soul," and his assessment was that Mr. Putin was "a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country," also adding, "I appreciate very much the frank dialogue and that's the beginning of a very constructive relationship." President Bush perceived Putin as "straightforward and trustworthy."

Of course, it has been suggested that President Bush - and President Obama after him - were simply "serving the national interest in trying to establish a working relationship with the leader of a major country that controls thousands of nuclear weapons." But when asked what previous administrations have gotten wrong about Putin, Jeb Bush put the onus on the Russian leader himself, saying "Putin has changed" (an echo of something George Jr said back in 2010).

Well sure, we all change, but one thing that hasn't changed is that Russia is a major country that controls thousands of nuclear weapons. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that Russia actually has more nuclear weapons than the United States of America.

In any event, as best I can tell, the focus on Trump and Russia as a thing came during a couple of interviews where Trump was responding to Jeb Bush's tough talk on Russia. Appearing on the Fox network in mid-June of 2015, Trump said "Putin has no respect for our president whatsoever. He’s got a tremendous popularity in Russia, they love what he’s doing, they love what he represents," Trump said. "I was over in Moscow two years ago and I will tell you – you can get along with those people and get along with them well. You can make deals with those people. Obama can’t."

After that, articles began to appear with titles such as "These Are the Dictators Donald Trump Loves." In August 2015 David Ignatius, in a New York Times article asks, "Is Donald Trump an American Putin?" And before the year ended Trump was being compared to Armand Hammer - all while the military tit for tat between the U.S. and Russia was raising fears.

The 2016 new year began much the same, with articles warning Trump about Vladimir Putin and rhetorically asking like "Why Putin Loves Trump," wherein the author compares Trump to Silvio Berlusconi. But the use of Russia as an actual election issue against Donald Trump appears to have been started in earnest by Jeb Bush when he said Trump seems more fond of Vladimir Putin than of George W. Bush and he “would not be the proper nominee for our party.”

In March 2016 WikiLeaks released the first of the Hillary Clinton emails; a former Putin press minister died in a Washington hotel with a blow to the head, and; as if he needed more controversy, on March 28, 2016, Trump hired Paul Manafort, a Ford-Reagan era retread with ties to Russia.

In April, news started breaking that a Russian hacker was likely involved with the Clinton-related email leaks. Clues included information found in the metadata of some of the hacked emails and ultimately a name: Guccifer 2.0. Also in April, a huge amount of data was leaked from Mossack Fonseca, a firm that helps the super-rich hide their money.

The data, which became known as Panama Papers, detailed how Putin’s associates used a variety of offshore structures to move vast sums of money around the world. In responding to the leaked information,  Putin said this: “WikiLeaks has shown us that official people and official organs of the US are behind this.” The “customers” who ordered the Panama Papers’ leak were clear, he said. WikiLeaks chimed in with a tweet that said, “#PanamaPapers Putin attack was produced by OCCRP which targets Russia & former USSR and was funded by USAID and Soros.

Whether the Panama Papers leak and the Clinton email leak are related - perhaps the work of battling governments or a grudge match between Clinton and Putin - is unknown at this time. But the Panama Papers leak has several differences: The data was leaked in Germany, there are very few Americans in the database, and nobody seems to have the slightest clue of who leaked them or what country they might be from.

There is some stuff out there about John Podesta's brother working for the company or something and the papers showing a connection between Hillary Clinton and the Kremlin, so who knows. But whoever the culprit may be and however nefarious their motive(s), once the contents of Clinton's emails were revealed, people couldn't unsee them; they couldn't stop thinking about it.

The DNC's negligence and disregard for the process are at levels so high they command prudent people to assume corruption. It is with this preface that I suspect the last coordinated effort between the Clinton campaign and the DNC under Debbie Wasserman Schultz was deployment of a July media blitz - a campaign designed to redirect the country's focus to the idea of Russians interference in the election, and not to the fact that the DNC corrupted an election - an election in its own organization.

By October this had escalated. Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a joint statement announcing that with "confidence" they could report that the Russians had "intended to interfere with the US election process." We also saw Harry Reid criticizing FBI Director Comey's revelation that, as part of a separate investigation, more Clinton emails had been found on Anthony Weiner's laptop.

Seeming to try and counter the impact of Comey's news on Hillary Clinton's campaign, Reid announced that Director Comey possessed "explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government."

By the first of November, the FBI had opened an investigation into the Manafort matter. But even after Reid's announcement, when Clinton lost the election she blamed Director Comey - not the Russians. Still, the mantra of "Russian interference in the election" continues today as it works its way ever closer to President Trump himself.

Meanwhile, fans of Russian coincidences have been having a blast. First, Russia came to Trump's defense (not the first time). Next, Trump nominated an Exxon CEO with deep ties to Russia as his Secretary of State. And then, just a week later, Senator John McCain gave Director Comey a dossier on Trump and Putin, saying he had received the report from the British.

The 35-page dossier claims that Russia is in possession of damaging or embarrassing information about Trump which could be used for purposes of blackmail to get Trump to cooperate with the Russian government. The report includes allegations about Trump's sexual and financial dealings in Russia and further alleges that Trump has been cultivated and supported as a presidential candidate by Russia for over five years.

None of the information in the dossier has been verified and, as may be expected by now, Putin said the report's allegations were fabricated to “undermine the legitimacy” of Trump’s presidency.

Back at the White House, still-President Obama announced sanctions against six Russian individuals, (including Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev and Alexey Belan, both on the FBI wanted list), and five Russian entities. Additionally, President Obama ordered some 35 Russian diplomats to leave the country.

All these actions were said to be in response to Russia's alleged attempt to influence our elections. And what did Putin say in response to the sanctions? He said he would not deport U.S. diplomats, that instead, he would wait to - you guessed it - cultivate relations with Trump.

So here we in week one and U.S. counterintelligence officials have already created a multiagency working group "to coordinate investigations across the government" - including reviewing intercepted Russian communications - and the people they are investigating are the President and his associates.

Is Russia a big deal?

Absolutely.

Do I feel it is one of the top issues I currently face as a citizen?

Not even close.