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Thursday, April 8, 2021

U.S. Soccer Failure: Under-23 men's team fails to qualify for Olympics...Again.

 

April 6, 2021

After a defeat to Honduras (2-1) in Mexico for 2020 Olympic qualifying this past March, the Under-23 U.S.  men's soccer team failed for the third time in as many attempts over 12 years to gain qualification for the games.  Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on U.S. Soccer.  The problem may not be the players anymore.  Failure rests at the feet of how the U.S. Soccer runs its men's program.  To do nothing now is to ignore the rot at the top of American soccer's hierarchy, beginning and ending at the door of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF).

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For the last three Olympic qualifying campaigns, the United States Under-23 team failed to qualify for the  Olympic Games, including the upcoming games in Japan this year.  It is the same old story.  The primary problem, in my opinion, is that the USSF does not have any idea how to seek out talent and maximize their skills to win international tournaments, on any level, for that matter (youth teams or the senior men's team). 

The federation is essentially a non-profit that is designed to promote the sport of soccer through its national teams, specifically the men's and women's senior teams. The women's national team is the best in the world and consistently wins against overmatched and underfunded opponents. This is due to the fact that U.S. women have more rights and resources than women in other countries, so they are able to pursue their dreams.  

The soccer federation's imprint on the men's program, on the other hand, lags behind Mexico, Latin America, and Europe in terms of developing talent and utilizing them for the senior national team.  The Under-23 teams are part of this evolution. That process is damaged and stunted when the men's Under-23 teams are not able to test themselves against their peers from around the world on a regular basis in international tournaments.   

If the U.S Under-23s cannot win decisively against teams in their regions with smaller budgets and fewer resources (for example, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Dominican Republic), how can one expect them to beat exceptional teams from Mexico, Italy, Germany, Holland, and Brazil at the World Cup? The program for that age group seems to be regressing, rather than progressing.

How does this failed method change?  The problem lies with the federation.  In other organizations, if there is failure to achieve stated goals or generate profit, the chief executive is held to account, and reform happens within the department itself, including how they operate and termination may ensue.  However, the USSF has not made any effort to alter the way it functions. It answers to no outside organization, but simply reports its expenditures to its own Board, most of whom have no soccer experience. The organization functions similarly to the Vatican, in that critics and reformers are powerless to make the change they want to see from the outside.  This explains the frustration of men's soccer fans who desperately want visionary leaders who can help the men's program improve its history and find success in the future.  

Drastic measures or necessary reforms are extremely hard for an organization that is under no pressure to change by sponsors to do so, and also doesn't fear any repercussions for its on-field failures. I believe these steps can bring about more accountability and better results:

  • If a coach has been chosen to whatever men's best team (First Team, Under 23s), his or her sole job should be to qualify for a specific tournament (World Cup, Olympics, Junior World Cups), and if the team does not qualify, then the day after, the coach must resign; no point in keeping an unsuccessful coach around if he or she didn't do what they were hired to do. If they qualify, they should get a bonus (if they don't already stipulate in their contracts) and must leave their position before qualification for another international tournament begins.  This will allow for new coaches to get a head start in selecting talent, and forming their teams, and playing cohesively together ahead of important competitions.  Exceptions with their contracts can be made when they are successful, as in the example of Joachim Low of Germany, who has coached the senior team for 15 years and has World Cup and European titles to his tenure.
  • Hire people who have a track record of winning and building talent in the soccer world, even if those people come from outside the American soccer community. The sport in the United States is run like a provincial village in Europe, in that everyone knows each other, and having the right connections gives you jobs over better-qualified outsiders. Merit must count. This is paramount in how the USSF should function for better competitiveness.
  • The influence of MLS (Major League Soccer) over coach and player selection for the national teams needs to be reduced.  The reason for this is that the league is motivated to have a large number of their league's academy players and stars playing on the national teams and if successful, infer that is due to the MLS talent pool  While I can understand the league's motivations, it supersedes picking players who are the best at their positions, regardless of where they play, especially if they are in the best leagues in Europe. The national team players don't necessarily need to come from MLS, and the league's influence on this process must be removed.
  • Outside of the Board, there needs to be a group of people that can provide their own assessments of the men's teams within the USSF and determine what steps must be needed to reform the organization's methods to choosing coaches and how they in turn select players.  This should include fans of the national teams and of MLS.  They can meet with the Board and the USSF's leadership on a quarterly basis to provide an outside opinion and inform the organization of how its decisions affect the soccer community as a whole (which can provide insights into interest for tickets, merchandise, and sponsorships).

These ideas may not be the best, but it starts a needed conversation. Someone has to start presenting suggestions to improve the performance of the Mens' teams with the USSF.  If the U.S. men do not qualify for the FIFA World Cup in 2022 in Qatar, then the federation's operations will have to be exposed.  Change ideally must come from those who work inside, and I believe the newly elected officers and the staff they hire must provide a better blueprint to create a new, proactive, and most importantly, a successful culture within the USSF. Otherwise, not making drastic choices in how it achieves operational goals, but expecting better results on the field in the future is madness.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

MAGA Chaos Takes Over the Capitol Building...And write Trump's real legacy

 

January 27, 2021


What was thought to be a vociferous "protest" to the status of free and fair elections in the United States, exposed the actual, horrible legacy for the MAGA ("Make America Great Again") crowd. The world watched the most powerful country in the world having Capitol Police drawing their weapons to protect members of Congress while certifying the 2020 federal election. While there probably were Trump supporters who were angry that he lost, the militancy of some of the actions of a small, but passionate and vocal group, and what we witnessed on television will ultimately, indirectly seal the real legacy of Donald J. Trump.

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When members of Congress were certifying their state's Electoral College voters on January 6th, President Trump rallied his supporters a short distance from the Capitol.  He rambled on about his "landslide victory," and the "stolen election," and it was certainly not the best language to use after a long, drawn-out campaign that resulted in Joe Biden's victory in a still-divided country.  While I am sure there was fraud on some small level, I don't believe there is any evidence that would throw into doubt President Trump's loss or that votes were given to the candidate from which they were not intended. I believe what really determined his defeat was his administration's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of empathy and understanding by the President for Americans who were dealing with the trauma of losing loved ones under tough economic times.  

It was not helpful to say his re-election was robbed, however, to millions of voters watching on television, not to mention the thousands that descended on Washington, D.C. to protest the election certification. Mr. Trump was throwing a large dose of fuel on the inflamed tensions.  I know of no member of Congress who sincerely believes that the election was stolen from Donald Trump, and saying anything in the affirmative is incendiary.  Most were implying this on a minor, and obfuscatory level because it played well politically.  Many Republicans are nervous of potential primary challenges for their cushy and secure seats, so they went along with this inflammatory rhetoric, and the riots that followed President Trump's address was a result of this post-election build-up. Those who promoted a lie should be voted out of office, or demoted from plum committee assignments, and ethics inquiries should be opened.

The storming of the United States Capitol was one of the darkest moments in American history, and a stain on the virtue of American democracy. Regardless of what people think of Donald Trump, his behavior regarding this volatile time will be the exclamation point of his tenure in the White House. His very damaging words, without proof, that his rightful re-election was taken from him, is the root cause of what happened the first week in January. The subsequent violence by his supporters overflowed into a confrontation with the U.S. Capitol Police, which resulted in the deaths of one police officer (Brian Sicknick) and 4 MAGA supporters (Ashli Babbit, Kevin Greeson, Rosanne Boyd, and Ben Phillips).  Their deaths could have been avoided, and while I think there are extremists of all stripes, I agree with Vox's Zack Beauchamp that this dark day will be owned by Donald Trump and certain elements within the Republican party.  Threats of violence by the opposition to the party in power have escalated going back decades, from Alaska Congressman Don Young (R) stating that if the government tried to tax firearms purchases any more, that a new government (not administration) should be constituted.  Republican Sharon Angle, who was running for the U. S. Senate in Nevada in 2010, said during her campaign that "Americans might need to take up arms against the tyrannical Obama administration, and the Democratic Congress," or might want to use "2nd amendment remedies (Beauchamp-Vox)."  For a long time, it was primarily Republicans (especially Tea Party Republicans) who would use the potential use of violence if certain rights were threatened, especially the 2nd amendment.  

However, Donald Trump's election has thrown the extreme Left, and certain folks in the Democratic party, into this armed confrontation frenzy as well. This was never part of the liberal orthodoxy, and adherents were generally passive when it came to a confrontation.  Many  Democrats never did come to terms that President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016.  There were videos online of various progressive groups wargaming for election night this year, and in one case, in particular, talking about the use of weapons (and that Republicans had more of them) in case the other side did not accept defeat.  The country is close to the point of no return.  The Democrats can no longer take the high road of abhorring the use of violence to achieve political ends.  Cooler heads must prevail from the first days of the Biden administration to preserve a better future for forthcoming generations.

That being said, I feel that Donald Trump's rhetoric was the primary cause of the Capitol Hill riots, and these deaths are on his shoulders.  This whole day could have been avoided.  As I have said earlier, President Trump had the legal right to challenge certain state vote certifications, but once it was obvious time and evidence were not on his side, he needed to do the right thing and assuage the supporters of his loss and concede this election with magnanimity.  While people may not have liked him, it would have been the gracious thing to do and set an example of what to do even when you lose.  That gesture was necessary and did not happen.  Vice President Mike Pence was dignified and called Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and congratulated her on her victory, while sadly, President Trump did not concede to President Joe Biden.

The political chatter I am reading about have people invoking the "Rheistag Fire" in 1930s Weimar Germany as similar to the Capitol Hill riots. That was an alleged conspiracy that the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler exploited to win power and usher in an authoritarian government and loss of democracy. While I do not see that happening in the United States, I do see the Democrats exploiting the event to vanquish Donald Trump, his supporters, and the Republican party for a generation or more.  That is a real possibility, since the riots are now part of GOP history, and it might relegate the party's national aspirations to exile for the next decade at least.  This is sad because the most vibrant democracies around the world have a multitude of perspectives, parties, and policy opinions.  

Since that day, the Democratic party has impeached President Trump for the second time (and first since he left office), and the Senate is now preparing for yet another impeachment trial in the well of the upper chamber. Additionally, prominent Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have demanded that Republican Senators who took part in the legal challenging election results (Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley) resign their positions.  This is flagrantly aggressive in demonizing and crushing any political discourse in the United States.  It will not help the country "heal," but drive resentment underground, where it is most dangerous, rather than working through it and trying to live to the ideals of the country's founding.  In turn, it will lead to reciprocal violence and vindictiveness when one side wins and wants to punish opposing viewpoints. If that is the new norm for American democracy,  no one can claim the moral high ground anymore. 

Our democracy only works when we acknowledge defeat in political elections, understand that the victors have a legal claim to governance, and respect the rule of law, regardless of disagreement.  The events of January 6, 2021, are the direct result of the Republican party not complying with the above sentiments.  However, I do not absolve the Democratic party of playing a role in this malignancy in the American political system.  To truly heal something, one must nurture and support on both sides.  If the Biden administration wants to heal the country, pettiness and revenge must not rule the day.  President Trump has cemented and tarnished any good he might have done while in office, and his legacy is set in stone for eternity.  If Joe Biden wants to be remembered as a great President, he needs to start now and be forgiving, gracious, and more importantly, nurture Americans to acknowledge the great differences in political thought, and not to punish those citizens because of it.  There are 74 million Trump supporters, it would be good for Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris to find out why they adore President Trump and seek to bridge the chasm with their party's agenda. The direction of our country must move toward a more healthy and vibrant democracy. Our tribal politics toward one another is not healthy for our freedoms and protections and cannot sustain those ideals in their current form.  I do hope President Biden has some success in this regard.  


 

 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

2020 Election Recap: America is exhausted.

 


December 15, 2020

America voted on November 3rd, putting an end to a contentious and volatile four years of the Trump administration.  Although Mr. Trump is fighting legal challenges in court relating to vote counting and alleged voter fraud in states that have been called for the Democratic nominee, it appears Vice President Biden has been certified by the Electoral College to be the nation's 46th President.   After the smoke clears, the pundits, political class, donors, and citizens will have to analyze the past four years and see what has become of our democracy.

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I think I am part of a large segment of the American electorate that is simply exhausted from the constant aggression between President Trump and his supporters and everyone that was against him and wanted to see him fail or get removed from office: The Democrats, the legacy media, political pundits, titans of Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Hollywood, just to name a few.  The 2020 election saw the largest number of voters for both candidates in the history of our country, with Joe Biden receiving a little over 81 million votes, while outgoing President Trump received close to 74 million votes.  Those numbers are simply staggering and were the culmination of four years of trench warfare and "Get Out the Vote" drives between those for and against a divisive President and his agenda.

Most media outlets and many Americans conclude that Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in on January 20th, 2021 as the next President and Vice President of the United States.  President Trump and his supporters believe there was extensive voter fraud and irregularities with vote counting, and have mounted legal challenges to fight for the ability to have their votes counted, and illegal votes removed from the vote count. The President is allowed to do so, and within his rights, but I believe most Americans feel that this race has been settled.  While I personally think there is always some minor level of vote fraud and irregular ballots, I don't think the scope of what the Trump administration alleges to have been that large and extensive. If it was, it would be the biggest scandal in American history, but evidence needs to be shown for his campaign's claims to have merit. Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Texas and the other 20 states that wanted the election overturned. 

Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia, an important state for both campaigns, concluded the audit of vote counting in his state and certified the winner.  This has not lowered tensions and divisiveness, but President Trump should focus his remaining time on helping his party in the two run-off Senate races so his party can keep control of the United States Senate, and promoting the achievements.  The incoming Biden administration should also be respectful of Trump voters too, and figure out a way to move the nation forward and try to implement his agenda.  I think for his lasting legacy, and what the country's final images of his time in the White House should is to graciously concede his loss, and work to begin a peaceful transition of power to the incoming Biden administration.  Pursuing legal fights is not convincing the American people of his case, and should stop.  Since the Electoral College on December 14th confirmed Joe Biden as the 46th President, Mr. Trump now needs to be magnanimous in defeat.

Therefore, it is appropriate to analyze both campaigns and see what they did right and what they did wrong.

President Trump's successes & failures

One of President Trump's strengths is that he has a keen awareness of the public mood and sentiment (at least towards his own supporters) and that was what led him to initially win the Republican nomination and the White House in 2016.  However, during the 2020 campaign, that skill eluded him, most notably when it came to Covid-19 and the psychological damage and economic toll it took on the country at large.  Americans were notably scared initially, then frustrated, then despondent, and now angry and divided into reliable viewpoints.  I think that is what ultimately cost President Trump re-election.  The country, including those who did not vote for him the first time, and still didn't like him, supported most of these policies and foreign policy initiatives (First Step Act, prison reform, peace deals in the Middle East).  Once the President lost support amongst those voters, with a close election expected, his margin for victory needed to be much larger, and the lack of it showed when he lost by nearly 7 million votes.

Another factor that cost him with voters was his open lack of empathy towards those who were scared and grieving for those who lost family and friends to the virus.  This played a larger role than many want to believe.  Had President Trump been more proactive towards assuaging the country's fears,  and taken steps to implement mandated mask-wearing at all federal buildings, and amongst members of Congress, and if he had worn a mask regularly, would have sent a strong message. He needed to lead by example. Conversely, it was not a good look when he was stricken with Covid.  His administration had many successes, but he had self-inflicted failures that were too much to overcome in the eye of independents and white, college-educated voters, not to mention white, blue-collar workers who abandoned his campaign when he needed them the most. It might have changed the narrative for his election, but those losses could not be stymied despite President Trump's gains with Latinos, African-American men, and a smaller percentage of Asian-Americans.  

President Trump stated he didn't want to "alarm" Americans when Covid cases proliferated. However, his policies and actions, along with those who opposed his administration at every turn, did not help him or make a case for him to get another four-year term.  The opposition against him was so powerful, well-funded, organized and cohesive, with active support from senior Democratic elected officials, on the federal and state levels, that he stood no chance being as clumsy as he was politically.  Mr. Trump did not have a large number of competent administration staff who shared his vision for the country, outside of a relative few and instead relied on a large army of sycophants, party loyalists, and close family and friends. By doing this, President Trump stood no chance against the entrenched administrative state of the government. He stacked his cabinet with political neophytes and wealthy individuals like Commerce Secretary and billionaire  Wilbur Ross.  President Trump needed more politically savvy people to tell him what he was doing wrong, and what he needed to do to show he was especially managing the fight against Covid better.  If people who dislike you imply that you do not know what you are doing, and you help them by fulfilling their impressions of you, it is difficult to change that negative narrative.  As a result, it cost Mr. Trump dearly in his quest for re-election.

Vice President Biden's successes & failures

If you ask most Americans, many would have said before Covid-19 became the terrifying virus in its current form, Donald Trump was going to coast to victory.  A campaign cycle is a long time, where even a few months can change the trajectory of an aspirant to the White House.  The late, former President Geoge H.W. Bush would have agreed. He was a decorated war hero from World Word II, who was leading the upstart Clinton campaign almost a year before election day but ended up losing due to the effective marketing by the Democratic nominee. The fact that the economy was becoming sluggish heading into the final weeks of that election year was the nail in the coffin President Bush's ultimate loss.  

Once countries around the world dealt with the debilitating effects of the virus, especially in the United States, Donald Trump's political fortunes started to take a turn for the worse.  The Democrats who supported Joe Biden did their part to engage in asymmetric warfare with the incumbent President, and they were aided by powerful allies in Silicon Valley, Wall Street, wealthy donors, and friends in the large media corporations who carried water for the Biden campaign.  It was smart by his staff to keep him inside his house, where he did the occasional scripted interview with the media, and none seemed to ask him difficult or pressing questions about his convictions and goals on foreign policy, domestic and economic policy, and how to bridge the massive divide between citizens of this country.  It was obvious to me that the national media had a preference to the Democratic nominee and protected Mr. Biden.

Mr. Biden was also helped by President Trump's poor first debate performance, where he was erratic, his counter punches did not seem to cause any damage, and he appeared flustered and undisciplined. Even though the President was interrupted repeatedly, by the moderators, and to some extent, by the former Vice President himself, he should have taken the high road and tried to be more presidential, calm, and to show the American people his presence on the national stage.  I don't think he was able to convey any of that that during the presidential debates against Hillary Clinton in 2016, due to her being intensively disliked.  Joe Biden, despite his many faults, is not a disliked politician.  He is gaffe-prone and doesn't convey strength, but what worked for Mr. Trump with Ms. Clinton did not have the same effect as with Mr. Biden.

The party's power brokers wanted to protect Joe Biden from making any lasting mistakes.   It was an effective game plan to win, but I feel it didn't provide the Biden campaign with a mandate to implement their agenda. What was surprising was that Senator Kamala Harris, who was a former prosecutor, and had a presence during senate confirmation hearings, was not made available to the media either.  No one challenged this overall strategy, and I am sure President Trump and his supporters were upset by this. The Democrats preferred to let the Covid virus, and Mr. Trump's handling of it, aided by infection and death rates shown on a daily basis, to be the straw that broke the camel's back for President Trump, and which it succeeded in doing.

Conclusion

While President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris are starting their transition to the White House, the Democrats, on the whole, did not have a good campaign cycle.  Media polling provided countless opportunities to show President Trump trailing on a weekly and monthly basis. It perpetuated this impression of a "Blue Wave" that would give the Democrats a powerful majority, control of both houses of Congress, with the ability to change the Supreme Court to their liking.  It was supposed to be a transfer of power to the Democrats for at least a generation, but that did not come to pass.  The Republicans could hold onto the Senate majority (unless they lose both Georgia Senate run-off races), which regardless gives them a huge advantage heading into the 2022 election cycle.  In the House, the Republicans did not lose any incumbents, while the Democrats lost 7 seats as of this writing. Some races have yet to be called:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/elections/election-results/house-2020/

If the GOP wins the outstanding races to be called, Nancy Pelosi would have the smallest majority in at least 60 years (222 Democrats, 213 Republicans). I doubt she holds onto power past 2022 (in fact, she stated that this Congress will be her last time as Speaker and party leader).  More importantly, the Republicans won control of 30 of 50 state legislatures, which gives the party enormous control when it comes time to drawing congressional districts to protect future incumbents.

In closing, while the Democrats won their grand prize, the White House, they actually had a terrible campaign in many down-ballot races.  The 2020 election was a referendum on President Trump himself, and his outlandish personality, and the country's desire to see someone who is a better fit for the office of the President.   Other than that, the Democrats did not have the mandate they were hoping for, and there will be no unity in the country for the time being.  Which is sad and unfortunate.  I think the country was hoping for calm waters in Washington, D.C. President Trump was what the country wanted in 2016, an actual 'bull in a China shop.'  Four years later, America was just tired and exhausted from all the bull. 


 



Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Do California's Statewide Propositions Represent Grassroots People Power?


November 10, 2020

When I reviewed the approximately 12 statewide propositions, I wondered if these measures truly represent "grassroots initiatives," or shameless corporate goodies, or special interests masquerading as 'people power' movements?  As Californians voted on November 3rd, we should also ask if these propositions are really effective, and does it constitute the best ways to get Sacramento to legislative and spend on behalf of the voters?  What is the best alternative to passing measures that will benefit the residents of the state of California?

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There was a brief write-up that I found interesting in a publication called Calnews.com by Chris Micheli when I was researching this issue that talks about some of the ideas that I was thinking about. I wanted to incorporate some of the talking points into this piece. According to the author, the initiative process has been part of the legislative methods relating to law and policy methods available to the voters of California. It requires people of the state vote on propositions during every major election cycle (two years), and determines if an initiative becomes law, or allows the legislature the breathing room to pass measures that will affect the people within the state. Mr. Micheli states that the initiatives, in order to get on the ballot, must get signatures for at least 5% of the votes cast for Governor for a past election cycle, and any California Constitutional amendment must receive around 8% from the same set of voters.  The Calnews article goes on to point out that roughly 1,767 measures have been attempted to make the ballot, some were withdrawn didn't qualify.  Of the 360 that qualified for a vote, only 122 were approved by the people of the state, which is roughly .06%, which is a very small amount indeed.

That being said, should voters in California have to vote on ballot initiatives every two years, or on a frequent timeline?  Most of the voters do not really do any research, from what I gather, and I feel that some of these propositions are written in such a way to get as much support or opposition as possible without too much discussion.  Many are attempted to be put on the voting calendar by special interest groups, or as a marketing concept by corporate lobbyists.  A good number of the current propositions for 2020 have immense amounts of money behind them. I tend to notice the flooding of the radio and television airwaves with instructions to vote "yea" or "nay" quite frequently, especially on the radio.  Some of the commercials I have seen on television have compelling characters describing their own hardship, and why voters should reject the proposition on the ballot (Prop 23-additional government and medical oversight of dialysis centers). Others tend to present an emotional response to the idea of removing cash bail for those arrested (Prop 25) or the ability for residents to earn additional money as a gig driver, such as those citizens who are not considered full-time employees of rideshare or food delivery companies like Uber, Lyft, Grubhub, Postmates, etc. (Prop 22).   Prop 22 was a counter initiative to a bill that was passed in both houses in California (AB 5) in 2019 that would have forced the rideshare or meal delivery companies to make their drivers full-time employees, not independent contractors, and who would be required to receive benefits and retirement options.  Since Prop 22 had passed, current and future drivers for these companies will be classified as independent contractors, and the tech companies will be spared from increased encumbrances in the form of stock options, retirement plans, and healthcare costs.

The Calnews article does make some salient points about the difficulties all around for those involved, from voters to those who want issues to be on the ballot, etc.  Some of these include the language of the initiatives, which can be difficult to understand to the average voter.  As the author notes, ballot measures are not reviewed by Legislative Counsel in Sacramento, which means there is no formal drafting of the language, and most are written by those who are sponsoring it. Most voters also do not understand the language and are not familiar with certain terms and the budgetary process, specifically to revenue for said measures. These statewide measures also in most cases require only a simple majority, no serious threshold that would force the measures to have significant statewide support. The ballot measures require serious financial investment, and for the most part, most of them that get on the ballot have large, powerful financial backers, such as tech companies, medical, or pharmaceutical companies, and individual mega-donors.  Few propositions are brought forth by grassroots movements,  or "people" power.

While reviewing the various propositions post-Election Day, I saw that voters rejected affirmative action proposals (Prop 16), changing voter age to 17 (Prop 18), and against replacing cash bail (Prop 25) but state residents who want to make money in the gig economy (Prop 22) passed.  While I had faith in the voter after seeing some of the fringe proposals fail (Prop 18 & 25), I am not a fan of the ballot measure process for the state as it currently is.

Mr. Micheli did make some suggestions in his Calnews article which he believes would make the process better, some of which include (1) requiring legislators to consider a proposed ballot measure for one year in legislative session before it can go on the ballot, (2) higher vote threshold, which would insist on a higher approval threshold for any spending or budgetary measure, (3) increased fees to get a measure to the Attorney General for title and summary, which allows for signatures to be gathered, (4) drafting of propositions by Legislative Counsel in Sacramento.  This would ensure that clear language and specifics are put forth so that voters have a better idea of what is being proposed.

I feel that some of his suggestions make sense, especially to a layman like myself.  Propositions that require an increase in spending or budgetary requests should have a higher vote threshold, such as two-thirds approval, rather than a simple majority vote for significant changes involving taxpayer money.  The Legislative Counsel's office should be considered part of any draft proposal so that what is at the heart of every ballot measure can be comprehended and understood easier by voters who do not spend their time researching legislative issues affecting the state.  That is their job and what that office is for, to do due diligence, and see if any proposition or proposed law does have merit. Additionally, will any proposed bill survive any legal challenges once it passes for state legislatures when they bring forth ideas and new laws? This will eliminate any frivolous measures that were promoted by special interest groups or large well-funded corporate measures.

Statewide ballot measures can be effective, provided they are used right.  I do feel that Mr. Micheli made some good arguments in favor of his recommendations. It would be better if there was a special committee, which worked with the Legislative Counsel in Sacramento. The purpose of this committee would be to review any ballot measures and determine if it could proceed to being assigned a number and put before the voters (after the requisite signatures are met). In other words, weed out any prospective propositions that do not meet muster, or have ambiguous claims or goals.

I did go back and forth about whether I was for or against these measures.  On the one hand, they are prepared, funded, and promoted by wealthy donors and organizations whose living it is to get these propositions on the ballot.  On the other hand, sometimes good things can come out of it, such as Prop 22, which allowed those who want to make additional money for Uber, Lyft, and GrubHub, and not forcing those companies the burden of adding additional full-time employees, unless it was of their own initiative.  This proposition countered AB 5, which was passed by the California legislature and signed by Governor Newsom.  Essentially, what the legislature wanted to be done was on behalf of unions (who give generously to Democrats), and was defeated by the voters of the state based on their own free will to make a choice.  In one sense, veto power was given back to citizens.  How can one not like that?




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.











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