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Monday, October 12, 2020

What Can Make American Democracy Better?


October 12, 2020


America's political system the past 244 years has relied on two main political parties in various incarnations.  For the most part, it has worked.  However, in the age of hyper-partisanship, and intense tribalism, it has made passing vital legislation and effective governing nearly impossible, not to mention, respecting free and fair elections.  Has the time come now to make room for more political parties to save American democracy?

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For most Americans, our options when we vote or choose our political alignments are traditionally binary, in the forms of two main parties, Republicans (conservatives, or the "GOP") and Democrats (liberals).  This election cycle has been far more partisan and challenging than in years past.  The country is dealing with racial strife, economic class issues, lack of faith in government, and impartial institutions like the Supreme Court, and I feel that this is a culmination of the last 30 years of a two-party system that has outlived its usefulness. The country is at a point where elections now are a zero-sum game, where its either victory for the right party, or intense opposition where the party in the minority does everything in its power to damage the opposing party who controls the White House.  Even though many Americans do not like President Trump, if his election is certified by each state's Secretary of State, there is nothing that can delegitimize his re-election. There have been wargaming scenarios by "progressive groups" to do just that, however, by encouraging Joe Biden not to concede, to force the inclusion of ballots sent by mail (which the Republicans will contest), and use the court system to delay certification of the election unless it works for their political interests (Republicans are really no better in this case, either).

How did we get here?  I feel that the two-party system itself has outlived its usefulness.  Both parties are now entrenched and show no sign of adapting or being conciliatory when it is required.  The Democrats and Republicans are primarily focused on protecting their loyalty to the powerful and wealthy corporations, individuals, and mega-donors who provide the lion share of their fundraising.  Look at the most recent Presidential debates on September 29th.  It was an ugly shouting match between two septuagenarians, who are more focused on tearing into each other (to please their donors) rather than what both men can do for their country, which is enduring a difficult year on many levels.

The Democrats, at one time, were the party of the working class and stayed true to their roots even though they would lose three consecutive Presidential elections from 1980-1992. It was Bill Clinton's shocking win in 1992 against incumbent President George H. W. Bush that altered that narrative and which allowed Democrats to seek out the same corporate benefactors of the GOP.  Once the Democrats gave in and sought out productive relationships with influential corporate interests, things changed. A result of this cooperation was President Clinton signing the law that abolished the Glass-Steagal Act, which separated retail banking and investment banking (which some say led to the 2008 financial crash) and his infamous support of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), which gave American corporations the ability to offshore jobs to Mexico, China and other parts of Asia in their pursuits of even more profits.  That turning point meant that the middle class and lower-income Americans really had no real advocate on their behalf.  Both political parties essentially neglect most American's concerns in favor of the business interests of the largest corporations and industries, particularly in Silicon Valley, the oil and gas industry, and Wall Street.

Donald Trump's 2016 surprise election was from the neglected segments of American society throwing a "Hail Mary" of sorts because it was the first time a political candidate spoke plainly and showed surprising concerns for their desires and interests in many years, and Mr. Trump won as a populist.  However, I don't see the Republican party turning into a "populist" party that advocates for the interests of the middle-class worker, or seeking to provide some assistance to those close to poverty and the downtrodden. Based on their overall history, the party tends to be aligned with the goals of large businesses and offers solutions to problems in the form of individual self-reliance, while focusing to loosen the reigns of a suffocating, over-regulating, authoritarian government. That platform is appealing for large multi-billion dollar corporations and wealthy families, but for everyone else, not so much.  Some of their goals, such as individual liberty and responsibility, are admirable characteristics, but promoting them by a political party is hard to get behind, even if I do support those ideas in practice.

I think both political parties show no signs of changing or adapting to attract new voters and instead want to solidify their base of passionate and loyalist voters.  The GOP wants to protect its alliance with conservatives, businesspeople, and Christian voters, while the Democrats are focused on social justice and gender relations, issues that impact their two largest voting blocs, African-Americans and women.  Democrats also want to "pack" the Supreme Court by adding more liberal jurists, so that it will be overwhelmingly liberal for a generation or two. The Democrats also want to give statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C, which would give the party four dependable and reliable senators to pass bills, and protect their control of the Supreme Court nomination process (Republicans would love to protect the court in the same vein, but do not have any potential new states from which to draw even with the Democrats).

By carrying on with these unproductive battles, both parties are oblivious to issues that most Americans truly care about (jobs and healthcare to name a few), and on passing important legislation that will improve and protect the quality of life if its residents. They are most concerned with guarding their political territory, and killing off any competition, either from an independent third party, or a self-funded candidate.  Congress is now entrenched in frustrating legislative gridlock, where neither party wants to work with the other side because it would anger their most dependable and loyal donors, for whom politics and winning are absolutes. Part of this is due to districts in the House of Representatives that are "gerrymandered," or designed to protect respective incumbents.  Districts are always altered and tend to shapeshift to match where the most loyal voters live.

The drafting of Congressional districts is done according to demographic trends and their geographic locations during U.S. Census years that will be productive and beneficial to the political party that gets control of the process based on majorities of state legislatures (see image and link below).  The goal is not for citizens to choose their representatives, but for representatives to pick their voters, which will ensure they do not have to work for anyone's vote.  It is the reason certain members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, say outrageous things, are unprofessional, who show a lack of class in working with the other side, and are generally not punished for their actions.  They represent the reason there is gridlock and the lack of civility in politics.  The other variable is that the American people are becoming those very same individuals.  I think social media is the primary cause, along with a format on cable news that allows people to scream at each other without making any sentient points without resolution of their issue.  Not to mention a lack of time spent with actual people in dialogue.  Families rarely spend time together, and if they do, are always checking their phone instead of talking to one another.  People do not talk and work things out anymore, and if the country cannot return to a day when we disagree with one another but are living and working in respective harmony, I see troubling times for the foreseeable future.

 "Evolution of a Pennsylvania Congressional District"


https://www.fairdistrictspa.com/the-problem/about-gerrymandering

In Wisconsin this year, the Democratic party was using legal and political maneuvers to eliminate any challenges from candidates from the environmentally-conscious Green Party.  The move was done I believe because the new party could potentially take away voters who are registered Democrats, but who may like the environmentally-conscious policies Green Party initiatives that might be more progressive than its own Democratic party platform:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPhk16CsxEk&feature=push-u-sub&attr_tag=fAFTWH8GW878Z-Uh%3A6

These methods are to the average person, very anti-Democratic. So why are Democrats doing this?  Because they can, and the GOP engage in similar shenanigans when doing so benefits them (i.e. felons in Florida who have paid their dues to society and want to vote, but the Republican lower chamber in the state legislature makes it harder for them to do so by forcing them to pay off all debt they owe, which the average is around $1,500).  There are over 100 million Americans who are eligible to vote but do not, and instead of courting those citizens, the major parties try to protect their power by giving voters the least amount of options as possible and eliminate any challenges to the status quo.

What are the Options?

Major Third or Multiple Parties

If American democracy is to be saved for future generations, now is the best time for the emergence of other political parties.  These parties can be single-issue (environment), economic support (blue-collar workers and working families), independents, and Constitutionalists.  I strongly believe that these parties or other relevant incarnations must start to win House and Senate seats.  The stranglehold that allows for partisan gridlock might be eliminated when new, independent party members caucus and vote as a block when needed, but also allowing each individual members to choose how they want to vote.  In theory, the duopoly that the Democrats and Republicans have could be broken, but it requires the right people as independent members to change the system.

Look at the current United States Senate breakdown currently, with 51 Republicans (red) and 49 Democrats (blue).  As an example, if nine new senators not affiliated with either party win seats, it would be a game-changer.  It would transfer a large amount of power from the two majority parties to the nine senators not affiliated with either party. They could caucus simply to organize as a group, but each individual member has the opportunity to vote the way their constituents want or their own personal convictions.  It would force the Republicans and Democrats in each party to actually vote and pass important legislation through horse-trading, which is what the Founders intended.  If the nine independent members could side (or a majority of those nine) with whichever party presents a solid piece of legislation, both major party senators would have to make a choice or risk losing their leverage and power.  


I think this idea has a better chance of bearing fruit in the House of Representatives, where you don't need to raise obscene amounts of money (Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey raised almost $28 million dollars for his recent senate campaign, although the national average is a little over $10 million, while House races average $1.5 million-Mother Jones). Out of nowhere candidates can pull off upsets because the races are not well-known as senate races.  Buying airtime statewide is costly for senate candidates, especially in large, expensive states like California, New York, and Florida, so if this phenomenon is to succeed, it needs to happen in states like Oklahoma, Iowa, Nebraska, Idaho, and Missouri, where costs are much lower to run for office.  For this method to be successful and effective, a lot of money needs to get behind these independent candidates and parties, through political action committees (PACs), joint fundraising committees, and grassroots fundraising.  While it is not ideal to use PACs in order to win, you need a vehicle to generate and expend revenue for a campaign.  It is awfully hard to pull this off when you are part of an independent party.  Success would be determined when multiple candidates not affiliated with either the Republicans or Democrats win a cluster of Congressional seats. I think the probability of this happening is very small, but I would personally root for this to succeed on some level.

Ranked Choice Voting

One idea that progressive Democrats and some Republicans have supported, and is gaining more exposure is the process known as "ranked-choice voting." Essentially it allows voters to "rank" their choices for a particular primary and general election.  If their first-choice candidate has dropped out after ballots are printed or don't make a runoff,  then their subsequent ranked, chronological choices get their updated vote preference. Some of the additional reasons proponents tend to like this method is that it allegedly protects against wasted votes, ensures that delegates to conventions truly reflect the will of the voters and upgrade old methods tallying votes, which include in-person caucus voting like they do in Iowa and Nevada, respectively (Hyatt and Lockhard-Spectator.us). Polling done in states (Kansas and Utah) shows that this form of voting is popular, in that it eliminates multiple rounds of voting, thereby saving money for taxpayers.  Advocates for this type of voting say it protects votes from being wasted on candidates who have dropped out and want the vote to still matter. Additionally, ranked-choice proponents believe it will allow states to award delegates to the winner of the party primaries, and general election (Electoral College) a fairer chance for the candidates to win with a majority share of votes.   Others believe this method would eliminate the need for in-person caucus voting, which can be a process that requires a lot of time consumption.

While I think ranked-choice voting has some merit, I am not fully certain that it would be trusted by political parties and voters for that matter, notwithstanding the states of Utah and Kansas, where the process was well received.  Both of those states are safely Republican, and they do not have a high Electoral College delegate count.  If ranked choice voting were to be tried and becomes popular in larger states like California, then it would build momentum.  I think more opportunities to test it, and have the vote count monitored by independent organizations, to see if this process is safe, secure, and trusted is worthwhile.  At this time, I am not sold on this process.  It would create more trust in the process if the data collected is transparent could help guide the conversation in the near future.

Eliminate Gerrymandered Congressional Districts

After every Decennial Census count, Congress, through state legislatures, updates Congressional Districts.  The goal is to protect incumbents and provide dependable votes for either party.  As mentioned above, demographic and population trends are used to carve out beneficial districts that will provide preferred individuals of either party.  As mentioned above, demographic and population trends are used to carve out beneficial districts that will protect members of each party.  I firmly believe that instead of third-party candidates, independent parties, or ranked-choice voting, this option is the best chance to change the make-up of Congress.  The Lower House is extremely partisan, much like the senate, but it is not statewide, and its districts reflect that partisan divide.  If you truly want members of Congress to actually earn their vote, gerrymandered districts must be eliminated as best as possible.  The topic was the central point of two U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) cases, Gil v. Whitford (Wisconsin) and Beniserk v. Lamone (Maryland) which was to determine the constitutionality of gerrymandering itself.  Gil v. Whitford was brought to court due to the methods used by the Republican party in Wisconsin to secure additional seats, challenged by citizens, who were mostly Democrats. Benisek v. Lamone involved the redistricting of Maryland's 6th Congressional district. Ultimately, the Supreme Court remanded the case without a decision back to the lower courts. SCOTUS agreed to include the issues involved in the Wisconsin case but in the end, SCOTUS felt that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated the merits of the case, and the eight justices were evenly split to what degree the plaintiffs should have shown "injury" (Wikipedia.org).

I believe Congress should take the lead on this, but there must be intense public pressure, beginning at the grassroots level locally, to force both parties to come to the table.  A state-mandated, impartial committee of judges (I think this was tried in California) to create voting districts that are competitive, instead of relying on partisanship is a good way to start.  Currently, voters are given members of Congress who have ideological symmetry and who are not punished for political bomb throwing, which is the crux of why nothing gets done in Washington, D.C.

When legislators choose their voters, they are not required to really care for them outside of voting every two years.  The voters in these gerrymandered districts are simply happy if you demonize the other side. Americans are satisfied with their own member of Congress, but as a group, they are not popular nationwide.  This is precisely why hyper-partisanship is the norm in the nation's capital.  In order to have constructive dialogue, or have Congress actually pass important legislation, you have to forcibly remove partisanship.  Without removing that toxicity out of American politics, nothing else will improve, and much needed change in terms of how we govern ourselves will not evolve.  If districts are made competitive, then those members who used to be in safe voting regions, will finally have to show results, or they get voted out and replaced. Corporations want a stable Congress, one that can be controlled, or publicly "encouraged" to vote the right way.  Congressional districts that are always competitive change that preferred narrative.  If gerrymandered regions can be eliminated as a tool to protect incumbents, then voters will once again get to choose who represents them.  In my opinion, this is the best way out of the options considered and discussed in this post to save American democracy.




 


 


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Joe Biden chooses Kamala Harris for VP. Smart choice, or political Hara-Kiri?

 

August 25, 2020

On August 11, 2020, Democratic candidate for President Joe Biden chose California Senator Kamala Harris as his Vice-Presidential running mate.  She was not his first choice (Governor Whitmer of Michigan was) but she was deemed the best choice to win in November, according to the Democratic pundits.  Was this a good pick, or did he damage his own candidacy?

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Joe Biden has announced that Senator Kamala Harris of California to be his running mate for Vice President of the United States.  While her choice was praised in certain circles (CNN, MSNBC, Democratic operatives, and party loyalists), the general consensus that I have read and heard was that it doesn't really help his candidacy.  California is a safe Democratic electoral vote, and in the past, presidential nominees choose partners who "do no harm," and provide at least some weight for picking up the electoral votes in a state that matters in the Electoral College, for the most part.  I have a feeling that the major donors of the Democratic party, the ones that provide a large part of the financial support to the party, told Mr. Biden to pick Senator Harris.  She has a great relationship with the Silicon Valley tech firms, and Fortune 500 corporations.  Ms. Harris is known within party circles as a fantastic fundraiser, and she will provide that benefit to the Biden campaign.

Senator Harris had a rapid rise throughout the ranks of the legal community in California after finishing law school at the UC system's Hastings College of Law.  Kamala Harris became a Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County, which includes the city of Oakland. A few years after winning the race, she debuted as the unofficial companion for former California Speaker Willie Brown, who was on his way to becoming mayor of San Francisco in 1996.  In 1998, she moved to the DA's office in San Francisco but after several years moved within the city attorney's office due to office politics. Ms. Harris was named to two part-time patronage jobs within the city's government oversight committees by Mayor Brown, the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, and the California Medical Assistance Commission. Soon Kamala Harris mounted a primary challenge to her mentor and boss in the San Francisco DA's office, Terry Hallinan, and surprisingly she won. Four years after her victory in that race, Ms. Harris chose to run for Attorney General of California in 2010.  During her time in that position, she was pretty focused on being a law and order type of Attorney General, one who was strict in her enforcement of marijuana arrests and convictions and also to threaten jail time for parents whose children did not attend school regularly. 

As Attorney General, she fought against overturning wrongful conviction cases where evidence was dubious because it would I believe ruin her success record should she choose to run for higher office, which she did when she announced her candidacy for the soon-to-be-vacant US Senate seat belonging to Barbara Boxer.  She easily won both the Democratic primary and the general election in 2016, which was a run-off against a fellow Democrat, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. AG Harris was very flippant in her dealings with those who disagreed with her positions on marijuana, and the banking sector in particular. In one such case, staff in her office presented evidence that One West Bank was committing misconduct relating to foreclosures on California residents, including veterans, but Ms. Harris refused to investigate.  At the time, the bank was headed by current Trump Administration Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.  Even though he gave her $1,000 towards her campaign, I seriously doubt that was the reason she did not investigate his bank.  That reason still remains a mystery. Sacramento Bee writer Gil Duran, a former Harris staffer, wrote that during the primaries Kamala Harris "has not staked out any positions, stick to a plan or give voters a sense of her core values" (Garrow, Spectator USA). Not prosecuting friends who could be valuable donors in the future was one of them it seems.

Kamala Harris's tenure as Attorney General included using the department to investigate organizations where no political capital would be sacrificed.  In 2015, a covert sting operation by a pro-life group, the Center for Medical Progress and its founder tried to prove that Planned Parenthood was utilizing the sale of aborted fetal body parts.  Instead of investigating that claim further, Ms. Harris used her office alternatively to look into the Center for Medical Progress itself and founder David Daleiden, and eventually charged him and the organization with countless felonies.  Many of those charges have been negotiated away by the current Attorney General Xavier Becerra, but the legal fight is ongoing.  What was not brought to light until later was that Planned Parenthood had given Ms. Harris $80,000 toward her campaigns for Attorney General and the Senate.  It was not a great look, and conservatives were outraged when the major conflict of interest was known.  Additionally, as an example of hypocrisy, Kamala Harris praised animal rights groups who conducted their own stings against the poultry industry.  The appearance of that double standard was hard to defend.  While liberal groups will not get bent out of shape for issues relating to her policy against anti-abortion groups, they may find it hard to overlook her refusal to investigate police shootings in San Francisco after the Michael Brown death (Wilkinson, Spectator USA) in Ferguson, Missouri.

Another point of controversy and conflict of interest that stands out to me was when Kamala Harris chose not to investigate a client of Venable LLP, the law firm where Ms. Harris's husband, Douglas Emhoff, is a partner.  Their client is Herbalife, the "multi-level marketing firm” which promotes health and wellness through the sale of its products by individuals who must buy them in bulk beforehand. She did not join many state attorneys general in calling on Congress to investigate Herbalife (Khouri, LA Times).  Ms. Harris tends to show patterns where she will or will not investigate individuals or groups based on political expediency. That is a troubling sign when it is so blatant and overt to trained observers. If a Vice Presidential candidate who could potentially become President shows capability for such behavior, it is a very disturbing and troublesome attribute.  I think the American people should consider these facts when they cast their votes on election day.

Despite her inconsequential record as District Attorney, Attorney General, and U.S. Senator, former Vice President Joe Biden ultimately chose her.  Do I think it was solely his choice? I think the powers within the party weighed heavily in his final choice.  While Senator Amy Klobuchar would have been a good choice in any other year (she is intelligent, deliberate, calm and boring, the perfect qualities for a Vice President in my opinion), due to the controversy around the George Floyd incident, she was considered toxic since she chose not to prosecute the officer at the center of the issue, Derek Chauvin, for a prior issue.  Senator Harris is not known within the Senate to be a popular or influential person.  She rarely gets important legislation passed, let alone shepherding it herself and horse-trading with colleagues to vote for her bills.  She has mainly used her time in the upper chamber of Congress for her own vanity during intelligence and judiciary committee hearings, bullying witnesses to commit perjury, trying to damage their reputations, or make them look bad during her time allotted to question them.  

While the Biden campaign may give the impression that Kamala Harris was Mr. Biden's choice, I personally believe it was a committee of the Obamas, the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, the DNC, and the party's loyal and influential mega-donors who actually made the choice for him. Senator Harris is close with those heavyweights in Hollywood, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley and they all know, in my opinion, that she will provide them the use of the most powerful government on earth for their business and political ends. In return, I feel, she will not prosecute them, based on her past history as a Senator and Attorney General.  I might add that in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement and racial unrest, the Democrats and Mr. Biden really had no other choice. Not to mention the letter that 100 prominent and influential list of African-American men that insisted to carry their vote, the Democrats had to choose a woman of color.  I am not sure the former Vice President should have capitulated to their demands. It showed that he is easily bullied and can be forced to do something based on public pressure.  While that can be good in appropriate circumstances, using this method to choose a Vice President is unwise.

Kamala Harris was chosen specifically because she is described as an empty vessel, a "shape-shifter" (Sagaar Enjeti, The Hill), and changed her position regularly and frequently, that it turned off Democratic primary voters.  She did not win the Democratic Presidential nomination because of sexism and racism which she gave as excuses for her failure.  Most of the party's primary voters are women (60%), and of that number, roughly 70% are women of color, and she qualifies as both.  Senator Harris ran a poor campaign and did not win the confidence of her own party, let alone the majority of Democrats in California, where she polled in third place.  Those were the actual reasons for her loss.

However, the Biden campaign and their handlers chose her because after studying her, she appears to be a politician of the best kind, someone who has no serious convictions or causes for which she will not waiver.  She can be "encouraged" to assume positions that are not beneficial to most of the country but will bring about political, financial, and power windfalls for particular groups and industries.  Senator Harris does not strike me as someone who has any deep convictions, and I don't see her putting up a fight when she thinks any decision will improve her politically and (later) financially.  I personally feel that she will be a danger to American foreign policy since she lacks any gravitas and has no experience dealing with serious foreign policy problems.  Starting a new war in the Middle East (either by Biden or Harris herself) is a real possibility. Domestic policy will be put forth by Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer, and I am not confident the country will embrace their agenda.  If people do vote for Biden, it is really an anti-vote for President Trump, and not for the agenda the Democrats want to enact. 

While I hope Joe Biden made a wise and good choice for his running mate (only he really knows), I think Vice President and soon-to-be President Kamala Harris is not going to be the person America needs right now to lead the country out of troubled times.  She may break the glass ceiling, but will she help the United States break out of its current difficulties and move us forward, like a leader this country so desperately needs?

I do not have confidence in the agenda of Biden Administration, nor Senator Harris, whose prior record contains shameless political expediency in her decisions, her leniency for friends and allies, and the selective enforcement of the law.  I think Mr. Biden could have done a lot better in his final choice.  Election Day and its aftermath will determine if I am wrong.





Wednesday, July 1, 2020

#Defund the Police?



June 29, 2020


With the recent public protesting regarding the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, there have been increased cries from activists to "#defund the police."  What does it actually mean, and what does the future hold for this action plan?
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The death of George Floyd has caused immense feelings of anger, sadness, shock, and a serious desire to make important changes in how we police our communities.  Over the past month, the country has seen massive protests, rioting, and looting as a result of the viral video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin sitting on the neck of George Floyd, a resident who was arrested and interrogated due to the alleged use of a counterfeit $20 dollar bill.  During his arrest, he died of asphyxia when Mr. Chauvin put his knee on Mr. Floyd's neck for approximately 9 minutes. The tragedy was that Mr. Floyd did not have to die, and his death has plunged the country into a time of chaos and intense soul-searching. A few weeks later, Rayshard Brooks, an Atlanta resident, was also shot and killed by officer Garret Rolfe, after talking to him when he fell asleep in the drive-through at a Wendy's.  The incident inflamed national protests as well and the media covered it incessantly.  The officer was charged with murder by the District Attorney's office, who it could be said, was motivated by political ambitions as well. Although it appeared to me he was pressured to charge officer Rolfe with murder, media pundits felt that it was too harsh, and the officer should be acquitted.  That could lead to more racial unrest as well.

The unfortunate killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a police officer in 2014 was jarring itself, but I think this event was just the match to ignite the tension, based over years of the city using the poor population within Ferguson to make up for revenue shortfalls for the city's budgets.  The police department was the collections agency and sought out individuals who would have a hard time paying fines and dealing with the bureaucracy.  It was a combustible mix.

What is the next step? There has been some talk amongst the political class, and activists, to "defund or abolish" the police.  I don't see that as a logical and practical step to improve interactions between police departments and black citizens in this country.  Police are needed, and an important part of a quality of life within cities in the United States.

Anger is palpable in those communities affected the most by wayward police officers.  Since 2020 is an election year, the hashtag #defundthepolice has picked up steam, both on Twitter and with the mainstream media.  This is a very dangerous idea that is being fueled by partisans in the public sphere.  While I think many Americans genuinely feel that reforming the police in our communities is good, completely removing effective policing is not the way to go.  Citizens in lower-income neighborhoods will bear the brunt of the void.  Criminal elements, including rival gangs, will move in and force residents to adhere to the laws of the street, as opposed to what legislators enact through laws and ordinances. Most American cities are controlled by the Democratic machine in those cities, including New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Boston, and Chicago.  Many of these cities do have large crime problems, especially violence.  So, the idea of removing police seems absurd to me but is understandable because of the large groundswell of desire to do something.

What are the options for Congress and the American people to move toward?  One idea that can be tried is the example set by the city of Camden, New Jersey, a Democratic party stronghold that has historically had serious crime problems.  The murder rate was roughly 87 people over 100,000 of the population, a number that was higher than the city of Baltimore, which has the nation's highest murder rate, according to Steven Walters, of the National Review.  In 2012, Camden revamped its relationship with the police.  Before the change was made, the police union was able to get the city to compensate each officer with a generous benefits package (the cost to the city was $182,168) which resulted in Camden being able to afford only 175 officers, of which a small number were assigned to patrol during peak hours when needed the most, at night.  They ultimately chose to fire the unionized police officers and re-hired some of them as county employees, which reduced the costs to the city for each officer to $99,606 (Walters), and within a few years of this change, the police department grew to 400 officers.  Liberal organizations like to say the city abolished their police force because it reads better, but in actuality, it simply restructured compensation so that the city could afford more police, and made them more effective.

Another program to consider is the Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) program run by the city of Eugene, Oregon.  The city works to provide an alternative method of policing in terms of dealing with those individuals who have mental health and other non-violent problems within their community.  Those encounters may be more open to dialogue and could de-escalate a situation if a civilian professional was dispatched to a location as support to, or perhaps instead of, law enforcement.  I feel that for large cities this may not work as in Eugene, due to the massive scale of their own problems, but in smaller cities such as Portland, it could lead to a community's better relationship with its police. Metropolitan locations with dense populations will have the tax money to make similar changes, but in locations where tax money is scarce, such as rural towns, it might be hard to implement what the city of Camden did.  This is a good time for Congress to borrow from Camden and Eugene or similar type models to avoid the Ferguson model.  Good legislation to modernize and innovate policing with well-thought-out guidelines is paramount this year.

The people protesting in the streets on a weekly basis are not interested in police reform.  I think they have a different agenda than the actual community activists who want to see better policing, and not the elimination of a police force.  Since this is an election year, some Democrats are promoting the idea of getting rid of law enforcement altogether, which makes for great soundbites on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, but is not helping move the dialogue along.  Those in poor neighborhoods will suffer the most with a lack of effective law enforcement, and most Americans who are polled are actually in favor of a better police presence.

The media tends to create narratives around an agenda rather than finding the root cause of an issue and provide the facts to the viewer.  It is presented as riveting drama and conflict to see people fighting with police. It increases conflict and causes the people to lose faith in their much-needed institutions, such as police departments and local government.  I believe the horrible way in which George Floyd died was the impetus to break free of the confinement of social distancing and let out suppressed anger of the many things we as people are forced to endure this year.  I understand the reasoning for this, in addition to genuine sadness to how black Americans interact and suffer from aggressive policing.  Now is the time for Congress to avoid partisan bickering, and put forth policy proposals to improve the way we police our cities.  In return, Americans need to reassure the police they are needed, appreciated and their sacrifices mean something to us, and the deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks will bring about the change we so desperately need.

America is a great, but flawed country and the Constitution provides us with the tools to make necessary changes to improve our quality of life including equal protection under the law. If we as a society can make profound improvements regarding our relationship with police, it will be a massive boost to our spirits in a very challenging year.

#ImprovePoliceInOurCommunities



Monday, May 11, 2020

How will history judge President Trump and American Democracy relating to Covid-19?



May 9, 2020


For the past few months, America and the world have had to make changes to how we live like no time in world history since the influenza pandemic of 1918.  How will history judge President Trump, Congress, and American Democracy in terms of how each reacted and governed during the time of COVID-19?

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The year 2020 did not start well, with the sudden and shocking death of NBA Legend Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash.  It was a foreboding of things to come.  During the month of January, there was news about a serious viral infection originating in China which was first diagnosed in December of 2019.  This infection was classified as COVID-19, a respiratory variant of a coronavirus (like SARS and MERS, but clearly different) that many believe originated in Wuhan, China.  Symptoms included a lack of appetite and taste, difficulty breathing, sore throat, and fever.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Chinese government reported a pneumonia-like disease originating in the city of Wuhan, on December 31, 2019. It has since exploded as a global pandemic, leading to approximately 280,000 deaths, the majority occurring in countries that have been most affected, such as Italy, Spain, Russia, the United Kingdon, and the United States, where 78,000 have died.  Drastic measures have been taken by many governments include social or physical distancing, the closing of many restaurants and sports and entertainment venues, in order to limit person-to-person contact,  and lower infection rates.

This appears to be one of the great world events that will be part of our shared human history.  How did our country deal with a 21st Century crisis, one in which the disease spread so rapidly around the world due to interconnectedness? Since COVID-19 has arrived, it has caused a massive hit to the economy, and how we live our lives.  It has put front and center how our democracy functions under intense world events that affect millions of Americans.  Has President Trump done enough to deal effectively with the crisis?

Like every change with the country's leadership, the Trump administration was provided with policy recommendations and guidance by the outgoing administration.  The new team evaluates their objective and some are given serious attention, and others are ignored.  Over the last few years, President Trump's directives have directly and indirectly shaped how this administration dealt with this pandemic.  Of importance is the fact that he closed down the Global Health Security and Bio-defense agency within the U.S. government.  Within the Homeland Security Department, Mr. Trump fired Tom Bossart, whose job it was to coordinate any pandemic response by the administration, a position that was not replaced.  Dr. Luciana Borio, who was the National Security Council's director for medical response and bio-defense preparedness, left her position, and Mr. Trump did not replace her either.  Prior to this life-changing time for the country, during budget negotiations, the administration proposed a drastic 19% cut to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a 10% cut to the Public Health Services (PHS), and a 7% cut to the Global Health Services (GHS).  These are government agencies and organizations that are responsible for advising the Executive Branch to help control any health crisis in the United States. In hindsight, all of these decisions were not proactive or visionary and highlighted the failures to respond to this pandemic with alacrity.

According to Tim Miller with The Bulwark, in 2017, the incoming administration was given an intelligence briefing book regarding the government's ability to handle bio-warfare and future infectious disease outbreaks.  In it were details of how to combat the breakout of a virus that affects the U.S. population, which included early procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) as soon as a threat in a region was identified. Additionally, it was suggested the Trump administration have a large supply of test kits available so that when there are signs of a virus spreading in a location, the population can be swiftly checked to monitor levels in subsequent outbreaks. The administration cut 80% of CDC funding for preventive measures in global hotspots like China, Pakistan, Haiti, Rwanda, and the Congo.  In retrospect, these measures were obvious signs that the administration felt an infectious pandemic was not a huge priority.  I suspect there was enormous pressure from President Trump's base to "drain the swamp," which included reducing budget obligations for "non-important" government agencies.  However, the COVID-19 global pandemic with the enormous number of infected cases and mortality in the United States changed the outlook of how important it is to have a strong agency within government that can provide the President with sound advice and recommendations to handle a health crisis.

Certain political leaders, like Calfornia's Gavin Newsom and Washington state's Jay Inslee, were able to move early and force physical distancing and limitation of the virus spreading through containment, respectively.  Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio, however, seemed to act slowly, unable to contain the damage, due to desperately ill patients that initially overwhelmed the healthcare system, where many lives were lost.

Has Congress been a supportive partner to President Trump?  I don't see too much bipartisanship between Republicans and Democrats which explains why I think the response to the virus has been slow, inept, and challenging.  The media networks choose a side, rather than report on government directives with feedback from expert medical professionals as to the best course for the country to follow.  A recent stimulus bill that will award $1,200 to individuals who make less than $75,000 per year, plus $500 for any additional dependents doesn't provide long-term relief.  With physical distancing in effect throughout most of the country, many jobs have been lost, furloughed, or outright eliminated.  A one-time check is unlikely to provide long-term assistance.  With help from the medical community, the government must have large-scale testing in place to direct efforts, resources, and personnel to combat this and future surges of infection, and in re-opening of the economy.

What do the American people think of President Trump and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic? For the most part, it does fall along partisan lines and is similar to his job approval percentage (44%), according to the Pew Research Center.  The president does receive his best polling numbers from people who feel he is addressing the economic needs of businesses facing financial issues.  I would venture to guess that those "businesses" tend to be larger Fortune 500 companies, rather than small businesses who are in danger of going under and never coming back.   President Trump gets lower numbers from the general public for his public briefings, where he is supposed to provide the American public with the best and most accurate information available.  Many media outlets do not cover his daily briefings anymore. He should cede the spotlight to those medical professionals who can provide the best information.

How have the American people responded?  As usual, with their typical grit, grace, and immense sacrifice. Most Americans have been asked to work from home, schools have been canceled, and citizens have kept their distance from their friends and family.  The goal has been to "flatten the curve," whereby cases of COVID-19 does not overwhelm the healthcare industry all at once.  Physical distancing is helping, but I don't expect it will be a long-term solution.  The country will not be able to tolerate being in self-isolation for prolonged periods. 

What should be done now and for the future? I believe President Trump should continue to use the Defense Production Act (1950) to mass-produce PPEs, ventilators, and highly effective masks like N95s, and build stockpiles that can be shipped to any part of the country in a moment's notice, especially for future needs. Even after this is controlled, the country must be prepared to contain future epidemics very quickly. Secondly, the target population of vulnerable Americans, such as the elderly, infirm, those susceptible to COVID-19, must be tested and isolated.  Government agencies that are tasked with proactive education, first responses, and sound policy plans for infectious diseases should be given ample federal funds. Vaccines should be developed quickly and assessed for protection, and not dependent on the election cycle timetable. Pushing unproven drugs like Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin by the President and conservative media should not pre-empt the truly efficacious therapy. In an age when political cycles tend to be short and winning the day in the media wars in a presidential election year, positive or negative results can have an enormous influence.

American families have been going through a lot of emotions these past few months. Most are worried about putting food on the table for their families, and lengthy periods without income is not tenable.  Eventually, as people lose faith they may resort to civil unrest. Guns sales have already skyrocketed, and fears of violence should include concerns about increases in suicides associated with economic distress.  The Trump administration must support and enhance the work with local cities and state governments to solve crises.  If the economy craters, the government will not only have a pandemic but transition from a recession to another Great Depression. 

How the Trump administration navigates this pivotal time in world history while working with a divided Congress and getting the American people to still have faith in their government will be the key to how history views him.   Even though the Democratic party is unlikely to give him any support, the President must harness the power of the government to work with state leaders and try to improve the levels of those affected by the virus.  Half the country wants to return to their normal lives, while many others want to remain in self-quarantine.  The Trump administration must bring about the testing of Americans, identify those with antibodies, and try to find a vaccine for protection against a surge as well as new infections.  The longer it takes to find a way to test more Americans, the level of anger Americans have to each other will get worse, and his approval amongst Americans will plummet.  This crisis provides a powerful test to see if President Trump can both heal the country, and stave off a national medical and economic crisis. If he can do this, I doubt anyone can remove him from his time in history.  If he fails, he will not recover and his moment in history will vanish.











Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The 2020 Democratic Primaries: Finally, There was One.



March 11, 2020

Silly season has started in the early months of 2020, lurching the Democratic party through the Iowa Caucus, the primaries in New Hampshire,  Super Tuesday and on March 10th.  Now the political world is paying attention to the serious battles that are emerging between the activists, political class and members of Congress.
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As the media focused on the massive voter turnout on March 3rd, known as "Super Tuesday," the Democratic party's internecine struggles are being offered to the party's ardent supporters to make the decision of who to challenge President Donald Trump.  For the past year, the nation got to know many aspirants to the White House, among them Senators Kamala Harris,  Kristin Gillibrand, Corey Booker, Amy Klobuchar, billionaire Tom Steyer, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock who comprised the large field that campaigned for most of 2019. Most of the lesser-known candidates had their moment in the sun, and many have in fact dropped out on the eve of Super Tuesday.  The remaining primary process is largely a battle between two combustible wings of the Democratic party:  the Bernie Sanders socialism wing, and Vice President Joe Biden's Establishment wing.  This is not so much a nomination process as the culmination of a decades-long fight for the soul of the party.  Super Tuesday was the first major battle to determine which direction the party moves heading into a new decade.

The "first in the nation" Iowa Caucus was highly anticipated, and while Bernie Sanders won the popular vote and received a large share of the apportioned delegates, fresh-faced Peter Buttigieg seemed to steal the spotlight from the popular senator from Vermont by coming in a close second place, by 2 percent. What added to the chaos of the voting was the poor attempt by the Iowa Democratic Party to use an untested new app to help tabulate the votes during the caucus meeting locations.  It didn't help that media reported that the app designer included some former Obama administration staffers and the company also received payment from candidate Buttigieg's campaign for prior work.  This enraged the Bernie Sanders supporters, including the aggressive and infamous "Bernie Bros," who wanted a recount to ensure fairness was in order.  The images on TV of caucus members flipping coins (including one horrible attempt caught on camera) made the entire spectacle into a sad joke. Online commentary decried that if the Democrats could not properly run their vote counting, why would the country trust them to run the United States?  It was not a good visage for the party that it hoped for.

After the country had watched many televised debates, New Hampshire turned into a predictable win for Senator Sanders.  Another caucus state, Nevada went to Senator Sanders as well.  History had shown that whichever person had won both Iowa and New Hampshire primaries went on to win the nomination.  It appeared that Senator Sanders was cruising, and all that remained before Super Tuesday was the South Carolina primary.  This was a firewall of sorts for the Vice President, who won that state handily. This was attributed to a large number of older, registered African-American primary voters, who were in his corner because he was the part of the first black president's administration in American history.  Despite being in politics for over 40 years, it was the first time Mr. Biden had won a presidential primary.  He did so decisively which gave him some much-needed momentum going into the first major battle of apportioned delegates needed to secure the majority to win the party's nomination.

California was the state on Super Tuesday (March 3rd) that has the largest delegate haul, almost 400, which is the most coveted state in a Democratic primary and also the general election for 55 Electoral College votes.  Bernie Sanders was favored to win that state in a big way, and he did comfortably. However, the Democratic party does not award all its delegates in states to whichever candidate wins the primary, unlike the Republican party.  So even though Senator Sanders will get the largest share of delegates, since Vice President Biden made a strong showing, he will bring into his campaign a significant share of delegates from that state too. 

The result of Super Tuesday proved Mr. Biden has staying power (at least in terms of winning the nomination) due to his impressive haul of winning 10 states, including a shock win of progressive Minnesota.  That must have hurt Senator Sanders, and what it foretold, which was a night in which he only collected wins in 4 states, one of which was aforementioned California.  Mr. Bloomberg, for all of his massive spending to date ($500 million) won only one the territory, American Samoa.  Tulsi Gabbard also won a single delegate, but her chances of being included in any future debates appear dim since the DNC wants to lock up the nomination process soon and avoid Vice President Biden being exposed to the national media. This is shameful treatment of the only remaining woman candidate for the presidency and that adds to the negative public perception of the Democratic party.

Senator Sander's insurgency looks to be dying out, after the results on the second round of state primaries that took place on March 10th.   The pulse of his campaign is on life support because the former Vice President Biden won the state of Michigan, a state Senator Sanders beat Hillary Clinton for in 2016.  His loss in that state means most likely the progressive champion has fought his last major battle in his political career.  A new leader must emerge from that wing of the party. Perhaps Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who may be more successful in her attempt to win not only new hearts and minds for the cause, can achieve the eventual goal of winning the White House in the future for progressives.

What does this mean for the remaining debates, which are supposed to feature Mr. Biden and Senator Sanders on Sunday?  What does it mean for the Democratic party's nomination process from here on out?  If Senator Sanders tries to vainly push on, and he does not make any serious dent in Mr. Biden's candidacy after the next debate, he will probably bow out.  It will be a finale to his attempt to change the political narrative in the party to a new progressive way.  His supporters will be angry. Some might not even vote in the general election, something Vice President Biden must attempt to change during his fight against President Trump.

What is the Democratic path now?  Mr. Biden is an "Establishment" Democrat, one who is very comfortable with the corporate wing of their own party who may not make too many concessions to the populist and Leftist wing of the fractured party.  His potential cabinet includes mega-donor and head of J.P. Morgan Chase Jamie Dimon (Treasury), and foreign policy hawk Susan Rice (Secretary of State).  Mr. Biden is keeping a small pool of candidates for the Vice Presidency, including former candidate Amy Klobuchar and defeated Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams for his potential administration.  These are just rumors, but if they have a bite to them, I think most of the progressive members of the party will stay home on Election Day in November especially if Senator Klobuchar is the nominee for VP.  This might be the official split between the factions of the party, and I could actually see a new "Progressive Party" rise to challenge the orthodoxy and power of the corporate left in politics. Additionally, the images of Mr. Biden slurring words, forgetting parts of historical Constitutional language, wanting to challenge voters to fights and tests of physical strength, scares some people about his mental acuity and ability to wage a tough and winnable campaign:



Can Mr. Biden go the distance? While many of the Democrats who voted for Hillary remain angry, the support for Mr. Biden is not genuine, other than seeing him as the best person who can defeat Donald Trump. Can he campaign hard, win convincingly in the Presidential debates and win over a significant part of the country's electorate? I am not sure he can do it. Those who have watched Mr. Biden's gaffes during the numerous party debates,  his interactions with voters on the campaign trail, and his inability to form coherent thoughts don't inspire confidence, at least to me.  He may end up being a sacrificial lamb, since the economy is doing well, and President Trump has fulfilled the campaign promise in 2016 to put two new judges on the Supreme Court, along with hundreds of judges on the lower courts as well. Conservatives are behind him. The public panic over the Coronavirus (Covid-19), its effect on the economy and how he handles it, along with the public's perception of his leadership, may ultimately determine how this intense 2020 campaign cycle ends.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Death of NBA Legend Kobe Bryant



Wednesday, January 29th.


On Sunday, January 26th, the world was shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden passing of Los Angeles Laker Kobe Byrant, his daughter Gianna ("Gigi"), and 7 other precious souls in a helicopter crash during heavy fog in the hills of Calabasas.  I was notified via an alert on my phone, and when I read it, I was in a state of shock.  Most celebrities are like us in many ways, who live out their lives and grow old. However, when a sports legend dies so young, and one who brought joy and happiness to many who follow the NBA and the powerful brand that is the Los Angeles Lakers, it was heartbreaking.
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Kobe Bryant was the first thrust into the public consciousness in the late '90s, when as a senior at Lower Marion High School in Philadelphia, he spurned going to college and headed towards the NBA.  It was a brash decision that many claimed was arrogance on top of being a basketball prodigy.  Going from high school basketball to playing in one of the most financially successful and popular professional leagues in the world, one with a huge cultural imprint, and where most players make tens of millions per year, is pretty brazen. Mr. Bryant even attended to his senior prom with pop star Brandi, which brought a contingent of paparazzi.  Kobe was thrust (by his own doing, I might add) into the public fishbowl, and his time in the spotlight was marked by success on the basketball court, a controversial and socially divisive sexual assault allegation and court case, followed by more success without his partner and fellow NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal.  His playing career included 2 Olympic Gold medals, 18 NBA All-Star appearances, 2 NBA Finals MVPs, and of course, 5 championships, tying him with fellow Laker Magic Johnson.  Kobe Bryant's long and illustrious career almost assuredly garnered him a place in the NBA Hall of Fame (as of this writing, the NBA waived the normal requirements of voting, and awarded him a secured place in the 2020 class, posthumously).

The sexual assault case was dropped because the accuser refused to testify.  A subsequent civil suit by the accuser resulted in a settlement, where Mr. Bryant acknowledged he made an error in judgment but did not admit guilt. After the dust settled, many of his business endorsements returned, including a new contract with the Lakers (7 years, $136 million), which angered feminist activists who worked with sexual assault survivors.  He was able to finish out his career beloved by Laker fans.  

Kobe Bryant was known as an intense player, one who turned on his teammates who he felt were not giving their best, nor putting out the effort he felt was required to perform at the level he wanted.  Coaches, including Phil Jackson, who also won 5 titles with Bryant, felt he was a player who focused on himself, and who he believed wanted to be the center of the team and the main cog of its offense.  While he was loved and appreciated by a small cadre of teammates, he was not popular with fans of other teams, and those who covered the league, who felt his prickly demeanor hid an arrogant sense of entitlement, at least as I remembered when reading and following his career. He even gave himself a new nickname, "The Black Mamba," named after a venomous snake in the cult-classic Reservoir Dogs. It was a reply to his many critics and signaled how he would respond to society after his legal troubles were behind him.

Once he left the stage of the NBA, Kobe focused on transitioning to a new career in business, entertainment and investing (Kobe, along with friend and advisor Jeff Stibel, started a venture capital hedge fund).  He recently won an Academy Award and Sports Emmy for his animated short, "Dear Basketball."  He was featured on an episode of Real Sports on HBO (it was an edited introspective after his death) about his time in the NBA and business aspirations outside of the sport.  He wanted to become a media and financial titan, and I suspect with his connections, popularity, branding, he was well on his way to achieving many of those things.

So it came as a shock that someone who was slowly making his way into a new career as a mogul, that life was cut short.   The epitaph of Kobe Byrant will include many things: basketball genius and intense competitor, accused of sexual assault, Hall-of-Famer, business titan, loving dad, and devoted husband, and what has recently come out, devout Catholic.  Mr. Bryant must be remembered for what he did on the basketball court, his intense desire to be successful, how he pushed his teammates, was controversial at times, a coach of his daughter's growing journey in basketball, deeply religious, and someone who loved his wife and children.  He was a member of a community in Newport Beach and traveled throughout the region in a helicopter, partly to go where he needed to be in a shorter time frame, so he didn't lose time with his children.  

His death cut short many of the things he was focused on.  I think the best way to remember him is to tell the truth about his entire life, which included his flawed behavior, along with his athletic and business achievements, for that his how we truly honor those we have lost.  Celebrate what he did, how he repented, and how he lived his life until the very end.  

I shall remember for Kobe Bryant, Gianna "Gigi" Bryant, John, Kerry, and Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah and Peyton Chester, Christina Mauser, Ara Zaboyan.  Kobe and his daughter might be the most famous, but the tragic helicopter crash cut short the lives of others who loved their families equally, tried to inspire those around them and supported youth athletics.  Those inside the helicopter who perished that fateful Sunday morning were traveling with someone famous, but in the end, they were all us.  Remember who they were, and be inspired by them.

Mamba out.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The fight for the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, (S. 386)



November 12, 2019

One of the recent legislative bills that was introduced this year was Senate Bill 386 (S.386), The Fairness for High-skilled Immigrants Act by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT).  The bill's essence was to remove the 7 percent cap provision on high-skilled immigrants coming from a particular country.  The legislation is to counter a previous law that tried to institute fairness from who receives Green Cards after their permits to work in the United States and to make sure that no one country dominates receiving the coveted legal immigration status for its citizens.  In other words, it eliminates a 'country of origin' restriction. For example, the current system in place limits that India receives a maximum of 20 percent of the legal work permits (H-1B visas), most of whom enter the IT sector throughout the country.

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The topic of immigration has become an intense topic in the last three years, most notably due to the inauguration of President Trump, and his inflammatory rhetoric during his introductory news conference announcing his candidacy.  However, the focus has been on immigration of low-skilled workers, a large number of whom are undocumented.  What has not been discussed ad nauseam from media networks has been the proposed changes to the H-1B visa laws, which is a temporary visa category that allows companies in the United States to petition for high-skilled foreign individuals to work in "specialty occupations" in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, and who act as the individual's sponsor while they work in the country.  Some critics of this policy say that companies use this method to hire foreigners who can work for less money since they do not hold Green Cards or permanent residency. Both for and against this policy make salient points. These H-1B visas allow large American conglomerates to seek out coveted graduates in prestigious academic categories, while not having to pay fair market wages if they were U.S. citizens, as some critics allege.

Tech companies do tend to seek those who qualify for the H-1B visa program, saying that they do not have enough talent within the U.S. to fill many of the open positions.  However, American universities tend to produce the most graduates worldwide in STEM fields, although the areas that tech firms need the most are in engineering and product development.  American colleges and universities produced only 56,000 graduates in Information Technology and Silicon Valley firms have professed that they have many unfilled positions. Most of the H-1B visas tend to be given to outsourcing firms, primarily for their contracts in the United States. The visas are primarily for contract work for outsourcing and consultancy services.  Those companies include Infosys, Wipro, and Tata Consultancy Services, which are the largest. The Economist provided data that by 2020, there could be almost 1 million computers and IT jobs that could be vacant and need to be filled. Tech companies have to petition the U.S. government for an applicant they want and have to make sure that any immigrant who comes over on an H-1B must have at least a bachelor's degree, but many do in fact have Master's level of education.  These companies also must pay thousands of dollars in petitioning the government, so any effort on the part of the tech companies is due to chasing talented individuals.

The IT outsourcing firms get the lion's share of H-1B visas, and not the Silicon Valley tech companies as one would believe.  The stories that are promoted in the media where American workers who have to train their replacements are in IT services for large companies.  It is not for engineers and software developers, which is considered the most sought after occupations within the tech sector.  These IT firms tend to hire H-1B workers for low-end entry-level work ($60,000-$70,000).  The common misconception is that highly-qualified American workers are passed over in favor of immigrants in the same field.  While that is true in some instances, it is not wholly accurate. This is the crux of the issue.  The H-1B visa was intended to provide an opportunity for American corporations to bring in talented STEM graduates, but the law has been used instead to give outsourcing firms in the United States a loophole to bring in IT workers who are given below-market salaries for the work that could be done by American IT workers.  Senator Mike Lee's bill does not seem to clarify what type of jobs the alleviation of country caps will bring in.  It simply allows for a cap to be lifted on the number of applicants who are given the visas.  Does this benefit American companies, while preventing American citizens from finding those jobs available?

Another aspect of this debate is a push to get more women into STEM fields.  While that is a good thing, there have to be jobs open for them to apply.  Approximately 50% of all graduates in the STEM fields do not find employment within the field they studied for at U.S. colleges and universities. For some, it is due to finding gainful employment with a financially better opportunity outside of their field of study, while for others it is due to the lack of openings.  Senator Mike Lee's bill will make it harder for STEM graduates to find work as IT professionals, but I don't think it will harm those who graduate with engineering or software development degrees.  The tech companies are supportive of any legislation that allows for more immigrant graduates who have high levels of education.  Congress needs to make a determination that S. 386 will not impede Americans finding employment.

I would recommend that any reconciled bill of S.386 must show what types of positions the lifting of 'country of origin' restrictions for H-1B visas and subsequent pathway for Green Cards are being sought after. Specifically, are they for IT services positions (not in-house) since these are the positions that affect Americans in IT the most?  This will give Congress the opportunity to prevent companies from seeking large numbers of H-1B applicants for IT services that are given to foreign outsourcing companies. Instead, any signed law regarding H-1Bs should ensure that most IT positions within American corporations are given to Americans first, and if not, the evidence must show that no Americans are qualified to fill those positions.  Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) wants public hearings on this matter, and that is a good sign that whatever intentions there are for S.386, it will be transparent. There is no rush to pass a bill that deals with income for Americans.  Any issues that affect American jobs in a coveted field should not be diverted to firms specializing in outsourced IT jobs. I hope Senator Mike Lee is in no rush to get S.386 passed, for one of the few remaining options Americans have is to ensure that Congress protects their chances at a professional livelihood and provides opportunities for Americans first.















Friday, November 1, 2019

What is wrong with the United States Men's National Soccer Team?




October 18, 2019

Recently the United States Men's National Team (USMNT) played a FIFA sanctioned, regional tournament game against Canada, and to everyone's shock, lost 2-0.  This result came on the two-year anniversary when the United States was knocked out of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia during a rainy evening in Cuavo, Trinidad &Tobago. The US Soccer Federation (USSF) waited for a little over a year to hire their new coach, Greg Berhalter, who happened to be the brother of the Federation's Chief Operating Officer (COO), Jay Berhalter. This hire and the process that chose him was not well received by die-hard fans. If that wasn't troubling enough, the men's team has not climbed out of their rut, and continue a slide into irrelevance.
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The loss to Canada was not what the Federation had expected with the hiring of Greg Berhalter, who was hired to bring about a fresh and improved tactical approach after the October 2018 disaster in Cuavo. It was labeled by American soccer media and fans as the lowest the USMNT has been in years. The state of the men's program is a troubling sign, which is in stark contrast to the women's program, which this past July won their second consecutive FIFA Women's World Cup (and fourth overall) over the past 28 years.  That's pretty amazing.  Why have the women achieved success on a regular basis while the men's golden generation peaked about 10 years ago (the American team's best finish at a men's world cup was in 2002 when they narrowly lost to Germany in the Quarterfinals, after beating regional arch-rival Mexico in the Round of 16)?

Part of it is due to Title IX, the collegiate law that was signed by President Nixon in 1972 to give women opportunities to play and succeed in sports.  The two most popular sports for women were basketball and soccer.  Women were allowed to play competitive soccer through the NCAA and the United States Women's National Teams (USWNT) had a massive head start globally. At the time of the first FIFA Women's World Cup in 1991, very few nations allowed girls to play, and most of the women's national team opponents consisted of amateur and part-time players, who did not train regularly and only received consistent playing time when they attended American universities.  This talent imbalance allowed the US women to dominate subsequent women's World Cups, and Olympic tournaments, which were considered a varsity-type tournament for the women as well (for the men, it was an Under-23 tournament).

Soccer in the United States was an afterthought in America during the 20th century, the lone bright spot being the United States shocking victory over England in the 1950 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.  It was the best World Cup result for the USMNT for many years to come. This was so especially since England invented the game and was a world power and whose football association boycotted the previous three tournaments before World War II.  What was amazing about the victory was the US team was comprised of mostly amateur and semi-pro players.  It remains to this day, one of the greatest triumphs of the men's team.  It wasn't until 1990 that the USMNT qualified again for the World Cup since 1950 after beating Trinidad & Tobago (this country seems to play a major role in the positive and negative trajectory of the USMNT).  That began a run of eight consecutive world cup appearances.

There were ambitious programs to improve the quality of players through the US Soccer Federation's "Project 2010," which was to try and win the FIFA Men's World Cup by 2010. A tad ambitious and arrogant, but it was an attempt at an aspirational path for the USMNT. The goal was to find and give US men's players the tools to be successful on the field, backed by the Federation's resources.  It was a grand plan, but one that was not able to bear fruit in the way the USSF intended.  Some great players came out of that era (1996-2014): Landon Donovan, perhaps America's greatest ever player, Clint Dempsey, goalkeeper Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Steve Cherundolo, Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride are just some of the players who represented the United States. These men's players formed the core of the teams that won regional Gold Cups and competed well in World Cups, thereby winning praise for American soccer from the international community.  Now that most of those players have left, USMNT fans are asking what has happened to the talent pipeline?  The recent results have not been promising as to whether the USSF can work with Major League Soccer (MLS) to find, grow and develop talent for the international stage.

I think this is where the problem really lies.  The USSF has a role to play in ensuring that its most talented players are in the best possible situations with the right clubs to grow and develop (for their own career, as well as the national team) and keep an eye on their progress so that the USMNT coach can select the best players to win international competitions. However, most of the heavy lifting needs to be done by MLS clubs and their technical coaches.  "Soccer" countries that win international trophies tend to be successful because the federations of those countries work in harmony with the clubs of their top-flight leagues.  MLS works with the USSF, but primarily to ensure that its marquee players are chosen for national team duty, and then sell those players and the team to sponsors.  The USSF and MLS simply want to make money. Neither seems to have a pressing interest in finding the best talent or trying to recruit great athletes to play soccer.  Most leagues and teams do, but American soccer, on the men's side, is "behind the 8 ball" if you will. They have to make inroads in player development and technical ability since Latin America, the African continent, Asia and Europe are years ahead in terms of talent acquisition and development than in the United States.

The problem is made worse by the cozy, intertwined, and laden with the conflicts-of-interest relationship between US Soccer, MLS and the marketing and licensing arm of the league, Soccer United Marketing (SUM).  It is a relationship based solely on the ability to generate positive revenue streams for MLS, of which US Soccer gets some remuneration for their joint effort. This presents a serious challenge to find soccer players of quality.  MLS has a salary-cap restricted payroll, which means that most teams have a budget of $4.5 million. That is peanuts compared to the mega-club payrolls in rich European leagues.  However, David Beckham's arrival in 2007 ushered in the "Beckham" rule, which allows teams to sign players to incredibly lucrative contracts, of which a tiny portion counts against the salary cap.  The league office promoted this measure so MLS teams can sign superstars or players whose value was too large for a regular contract.  David Beckham (LA Galaxy), Thierry Henry (NY Red Bulls), Carlos Vela (LAFC), and recently, Zlatan Ibrahimović (LA Galaxy) were players who were signed using this provision.

This is all well and good for visibility, and for corporate and television sponsors, but it does not improve the general theme of what ails the USMNT, which is bonafide American soccer talents plying their trade in the United States, or the top leagues in Europe.  Soccer has always been the sport the middle and upper-middle-classes, whose parents put their kids into it when they start playing sports. Eventually, with boys, there are other well-established sports options (basketball, Little League baseball, Pop Warner football, etc.) that pulls some of the most talented boys away from soccer.  If the sport is to find multiple generational talents, it needs to seek out those players in immigrant communities, especially low-income Hispanic and African-American kids who may not have access to travel teams like wealthy children have, nor the means to pay for playing on teams.  It is known as "Pay for Play," and most of the children who benefit from this concept generally come from wealthy (and generally white) communities across America.  For most of these boys, the goal is to receive a soccer scholarship from a university.  Soccer stars who play in Europe play the sport through various club academies and most come from poor communities throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia and parts of Eastern Europe.  If America is to compete with this process, it has to do more to recruit and retain talented soccer players to go through MLS academies and hopefully make contributions for the club's first team.

Big European clubs (Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Manchester City) are setting up offices in the US, and are hoping to attract new fans and find standout soccer players to move to Europe and gain technical coaching that is required to succeed at the highest level.  Does MLS do this enough? They recently forced all clubs in the league to open academies, but because it is free, and due to various labor laws in the United States, they cannot sign star talents until they are at between 16 and 18 years of age.  In some cases, despite the time, money and effort to groom these players to play in MLS, a handful of rich clubs with global appeal sign these kids to move to Europe.  This is a financial loss for the clubs, who lose any chance to recoup their investment in their kids to stay and play in MLS.  The league is not doing enough and must do more to keep star talents in their own backyard.  This is where the war is lost in trying to compete with soccer nations with rich histories, trophies, and legendary players.  The USSF and MLS must do more to get athletic superstars to play their sport, and part of the failure to draw players is the relatively low salaries of MLS, compared to the riches of Europe.

If MLS is not doing enough, then the USSF cannot do much more than what the league is doing, because national team players have to receive quality training from somewhere. I feel that some MLS owners do not care enough, because the passion for the sport is nowhere near what competitive owners in the British Premier League, Spain's La Liga, Italy's Serie A, France's League One or the German Bundesliga do to seek the world's best talents. If even 40% of owners were passionate about the sport, they would be aggressive in their approach (even with the league office itself), to find ways to mine the country for exceptional talent and find financial compensation to keep many of the players in the United States.  Right now, European leagues have the resources to sign the best talent. MLS does not have the cultural cache, brand awareness or loyalty, or provides an incentive to keep players in the league. Until that changes, I do not see the USMNT contending for any international trophies (outside of regional tournaments).  The Federation, MLS teams and owners must care more, and fans of the men's team must demand more, and show their displeasure with their viewership and dollars.  If that doesn't move either the USSF or MLS to make drastic changes, the USMNT will remain in their rut and will fade into a foreseeable irrelevance. That is not something a fan of the team wants to hear.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Is Tulsi Gabbard the Democratic Party's Enigma?


September 26, 2019

While most of the media focus on the battles between most of the known Democratic aspirants to the White House, very few outlets are spending any time getting to know Tulsi Gabbard, an enigma to the party faithful, but who is an interesting candidate not too many people are talking about.
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Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), is an enigma in party circles.   Although she has not played any effort in passing noteworthy legislation, she has won some support for bucking the Democratic party at times.  During the 2016 presidential campaign, she went against the DNC and vocally supported Senator Bernie Sanders.  As a result, she was forced out from being a DNC insider and a member of the senior staff itself.  Backers of Hillary Clinton were furious about her open stance for Mr. Sanders. However, she was not afraid of any political blowback.  Even though Clinton secured the nomination, Ms. Gabbard chose to not be ashamed or bullied about her vocal support of the Sanders campaign. I was impressed with her courage, and it showed that she can make her own choices independent of the party establishment.

Tulsi Gabbard was one of the first candidates to declare her candidacy for the White House in 2020.  The national media gave her some exposure but relegated her to the lower tier of candidates.  Her shining moment came in the second official Democratic debate, where she tore into Senator Kamala Harris's record when she was Attorney General of California, specifically her prosecutions of those charged with minor drug offenses, denying bail to those who were not a threat to society, and a host of other opportunities where she had the power to make changes in criminal justice reforms.  The concerted attacks were so effective that to this day, Senator Harris has not recovered from her peak position after attacking Vice-President Biden about his past history relating to forced busing.  Senator Harris has not regained her momentum and has fallen off her trajectory that she now trails upstart Andrew Yang in one poll in her home state.  That is pretty good for a relative unknown.

It is too bad the mainstream outlets like CNN and MSNBC continue to downplay her candidacy and will not give her more platforms to showcase her policy goals and vision for the country.  One can venture to guess that her positions did not win her any allies amongst the DNC and the leftward media, and her absence on the third debate stage was seemingly due to her numbers in any of the "preferred" national polls that determined the candidates selected for the debate. This despite her meeting several of the "qualifications" which included campaign donor threshold, and position in various polls; even though some of the polling companies were not selected by the DNC's non-transparent determining requirements.

Ms. Gabbard is very vocal of her criticism of President Trump, especially of this support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's bombing campaign against Yemeni rebels, and its bellicose saber-rattling against Iran.  She also supported Senator Sander's position of withholding material and financial aid to Israel due to its intransigence regarding settlements in the West Bank.  This position will not win her any friends within the pro-Israel segments of both parties, which is extremely influential and powerful.  However, if she can continue her momentum despite opposition by well-funded pro-Israel groups, it could put a scare into the coordinated campaign by both the DNC and the media to "select" preferred candidates in the run-up to the Iowa Caucus next February.

I wonder why the Democratic Establishment does not want her to be front and center within the nomination process to choose a nominee to challenge President Trump.  She is of Samoan descent, a convert to Hinduism that has served her country as a member of the Army National Guard and was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait as a medical officer.  She is the first Hindu to serve in Congress.  Ms. Gabbard has an amazing American story, yet the party is not championing her candidacy.  She checks many of the boxes of "intersectionality," which is a combined set of characteristics that would make her popular with the progressive base.

For some reason, she does not have as much support from the Democratic voter as she would like to have.  I don't know if that is because she does not have a large platform from which to espouse her beliefs and policy goals, or that the party's leaders are not excited about her candidacy.  Perhaps they want someone who can assuredly beat Trump, and for many, former Vice President Biden is that person.  I think Mr. Biden has large support due to his positive time as President Obama's valued Vice President.  That has garnered a large percentage of support amongst the party's African American base.  Tulsi Gabbard should be able to make her case to those voters, but perhaps their loyalty to his association with Mr. Obama is what will carry him to the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary.  If Vice President Biden falters, then Elizabeth Warren seems poised to benefit the most, not Ms. Gabbard.

She has some positions that would be popular with many Democrats, including receptiveness to the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), wanting the United States to move away from the use of fossil fuels, the removal of dark money in politics through campaign finance reform, and criminal justice reform, and as a fierce advocate for anti-interventionist foreign policy, to name a few.  However, some issues that could be the reason for her lack of larger support is that during her time as a Hawaii legislator, she was against gay marriage, an issue that was supported by her father, through the Alliance for Traditional Marriage.  She has since apologized for her previous position, and now supports members of the LGBTQIA community to be able to marry with full federal protections.  Despite this, the gay community, of which Hawaii has a large number of residents and who are part of this constituency, do not want her to win the nomination.  Ms. Gabbard was initially against abortion, and considered herself pro-life, but has now shifted to protecting a woman's right to choose. Feminists do not trust her because she changed her position and feel it could be a political calculation, instead of a passionate position.  Additionally, she has shown support for India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who is a Hindu nationalist.  Christian evangelicals will not support someone who feels a kinship with a leader who has allowed Christians in India targeted by Hindus who do not want the country to protect equal rights and status to those other religious denominations.

Representative Gabbard has many qualities that would make her an effective champion for Democrats in the general election against President Trump.  However, what ultimately defeated Senator Sanders during his run was staunch opposition by mega party donors, superdelegates, covert opposition by the liberal media of CNN, MSNBC, the network news, and bloggers, who ultimately will doom her candidacy too.  Which is sad, since she is one of the true independent voices for progressives, and she is passionate about a new foreign policy for America, one that is prudent, does not promote interventionist wars in the Middle East, and who articulates this as a combat veteran, and also a patriotic woman to boot.  The Democratic party will miss a chance to nominate someone who can make serious change in how the country grows into a mature superpower.  Unless she can win new hearts and minds, now that she has qualified for the fourth Democratic party debate in October.  While enigmas can be a mystery, when they are discovered, they can be powerful and inspiring. Too bad Democrats seem poised to overlook and ignore this interesting political enigma.  It could have been for the best.



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