Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Mueller Report and the AG’s Decision

The long-awaited report has arrived and, at least as it’s been summarized by the Attorney General, Democrats are very disappointed.  

Regarding Russia’s interference in the election, Mueller found no collusion or coordination.  Given the information that has been made public over the course of the investigation, this is not a surprise, or should not be.  Knowledge of  Russia’s dirty tricks, and hoping to benefit from the dirt, is not the same as colluding or coordinating.

Regarding obstruction of justice, the Special Council declined to make a “prosecutorial” decision.  He has just presented evidence for and against.  Why he chose to not make a decision is beyond me.  

Without question, Trump acted to obstruct, he had the intent to obstruct, and it pertained to an ongoing proceeding, namely the investigation.  So it would seem that the Attorney General’s three requirements for prosecution were met.  One of course needs evidence to prove all three points, but just from Trump’s own Tweets, one would seem to have sufficient evidence on all three points.  

The fact that the report exonerated Trump and the campaign from collusion with Russia should not in any way impact the obstruction charge.  Perhaps most people would not try to obstruct a proceeding if they knew they were innocent.  But Trump is not most people.  He obviously was obsessed by this investigation.  The mere fact of it roiled him.  So not only should the exoneration on collusion not be determinative regarding the obstruction charge, as the Attorney General said in his letter, it should really have no impact.

As for the Attorney General’s decision to make the decision his and say there wasn’t sufficient evidence, it is unseemly and reeks of politics.  Mueller, after months of deliberation, was very careful to say that while he wasn’t recommending a charge, the report did not exonerate the President regarding obstruction.  

Yet the Attorney General did just that, although actually what he said was that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge the President.  Now, insufficient evidence does not mean not guilty.  But for the public, and certainly for Trump’s supporters, that is a distinction without a difference.

Congress and the American people clearly need to see the entire report.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Medicare for All or Some?

Progressives are pushing the Democratic Party to embrace a universal single-payer health care system, what is being called Medicare For All.  But is that the best way to proceed for the American people?

I am in favor of a universal single-payer system in the United States.  Where every person is covered, where there are no deductibles, where there are only reasonable copays.  

But there are serious problems with the attempt to pass a Medicare For All plan now.  How would the transition be handled?  What happens to all the insurance companies and their employees?  

And there is the fact that many people do not want to be forced to change the insurance they have now.  Obamacare had major shortcomings, so many are not confident about the government’s ability to run a plan.  Even most people on Medicare do not experience a government run plan.  They have a Medicare Advantage plan run by a private insurance company that beefs up the coverage provided by “pure” Medicare.

So I don’t think the ground work is there for a Medicare For All plan now.  Instead, I would suggest going back to Obama’s idea and have Medicare For All as an option in the insurance marketplace.  Let people choose.

At the same time, improve Obamacare by finding ways to reduce the horrendous deductibles and co-insurance that people who buy the lower cost plans have to pay.  Even with the maximum out-of-pocket built into these plans, a serious illness would bankrupt many a family.

This approach would do two things.  It would enable people to compare and choose the Medicare For All option.  The ability to choose is critical.  The second is that it would give lower income Americans who do not have employer plans more affordable health care, whether through the private option or the public option.  And it would not disrupt the lives of all the people who work in the insurance industry.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Donald Trump’s Thuggery

In a recent interview with Breitbart, as reported in various mainstream media, although interestingly not The New York Times or the Washington Post, Donald Trump stated the following. “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough—until they go to a certain point and then it would be very bad, very bad.”

For whom would it be very bad?  The obvious answer is Trump’s opponents.  He’s made this kind of veiled threat before, but never quite this directly.  And as always, he removes himself from threat.  It is these supporters who would vent their anger on his opponents, with no direction from him.  He would hold himself absolutely clean, take no responsibility.

Breitbart has responded to this coverage by saying that there is nothing in this quote, or the context of it, which suggests violence.  It said Trump was talking about getting politically tough.

How disingenuous.  When he said that if his supporters get pushed past their breaking point it will be “very bad, very bad” he is clearly not talking about political revenge, he is talking about physical violence.

This is thuggery.  It may not be a crime.  He is not inciting violence.  But it is a threat; another kind of obstruction of justice.  He is telling the opposition that if he gets impeached or if he is voted out of office in 2020, perhaps even if the impeachment process is formally started or investigations get too close, all hell will break loose. 

We have already had incidents of Trump supporters going after opponents.  And while Trump said in response that “we must never let political violence take root in America,”  he also said, referring to himself, “There’s no blame; there’s no anything.”  And he has never admonished his supporters not to resort to violence in support of him.  

Taken together with Michael Cohen’s sworn testimony that if Trump loses the 2020 election “there will never be a peaceful transition of power,” Trump’s comment must give pause. It must be taken seriously.

This is language we expect from a Hitler, a Mussolini, not from the President of the United States.  Even for Trump this is a new low.  This admittedly does not rise to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” required for impeachment.  But it’s far worse than “conduct unbecoming.”  He may not be inciting violence, as legally defined, which would be a high crime, but he is condoning it and thereby encouraging it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Unfortunate Democratic Hubris

The new crop of Democratic progressives in the House scares me.  I am a liberal and a progressive.  But these new Reps have a huge chip on their shoulder.  Not surprising given the past two years of dealing with Donald Trump, but that’s no excuse, certainly not for someone who seeks to be a leader.  

They are arrogant and self-righteous.  They are in fact the mirror image of those on the Right they hold in contempt.  They throw out excoriating labels without thought for they see the opposition as cartoons, cardboard figures, all guilty of the worst of conspiracies to destroy our democracy.  As I said in my previous post, it smacks of McCarthyism on both sides.

They call things immoral which are not immoral, other than perhaps in the religious sense.  Immoral means something that does not conform to the pattern of ethical and social conduct accepted by a society.  Thus, for example, being filthy rich is certainly not immoral in our society.  Jesus may have said it was immoral to be rich, but modern-day Evangelical preachers certainly don’t say that, nor does our society.  In fact to be rich beyond one’s wildest dreams is an accepted goal or fantasy.

It is, however, unjust for someone to be a billionaire many times over or for a baseball player to get $330 million over 13 years, when many people in this country are dirt poor, when they do not have adequate medical care, where 1 in every 8 Americans cannot depend on having enough food on the table, where a large proportion of people live in substandard housing, where the middle class is no longer middle class but sinking into lower class, when young people either can’t get an advanced education because of the expense or they become saddled with huge debt, and the list goes on.

Thus progressives quite rightly propose various ways to tax the wealth of the extreme rich.  But “unjust” doesn’t have the self-righteous ring of “immoral.”  It doesn’t have the God-like condemnation of “immoral.”  

Likewise the other day when a Republican used as an example a black appointee of Trump’s to prove that he wasn’t a racist … that was not a racist tactic.  It was a political tactic to evade the issue.  Whether the Representative is in fact a racist cannot be gleaned from this incident.  He was just supporting his President.  

Just like Representative Omar cannot be called an anti-semite because of her comments that AIPAC encourages people to pledge their allegiance to Israel or uses money to influence people.  She may in fact be anti-Semitic, but that can’t be gleaned from her statements.  

AIPAC, like all PACs, does gain influence by spreading money around; that’s the American way.  And there is a certain “Israel right or wrong” aspect to their posture which I don’t like and think is not in America’s best interest, but that does not equate with pledging your allegiance to Israel.  

Basically, she’s an American muslim who supports the Palestinian cause.  That’s not being an anti-semite or racist, that’s a political position.  She is, however, immature and does not choose her words carefully, nor when called on them does she back down.  She seems intoxicated by the publicity she is reaping.  

In fact, Omar is also guilty of the same thing she accuses Israel’s supporters of … blind support.  She has never criticized, as far as I can tell, the Palestinian elected leadership, not Arafat who for decades was a disaster for the Palestinian people, nor the current PLO or Hamas.  I on the other hand am an American Jew who in general supports the Palestinian cause but I also have lots of criticism for the Palestinian leaders as well as Israel.

We are living in a time when the number of people who are willing to give opponents the benefit of the doubt regarding their humanity, their good faith, seem to be in the minority.  People who try to be objective.  Whether on the left or the right, there is such a loathing for people on the other side (often even in their own Party), a feeling that they are beyond contempt, worthless, that it is hard to see how we as a nation are going to heal and get back to the point where, as the legal phrase goes, people agree to disagree.

It is a sad state of affairs for the country that for most of its history, regardless its flaws, has been the guiding light of democracy for the rest of the world.  The country of the Bill of Rights, of freedom of expression.  Of agreeing to disagree.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Criticizing Israel - Questioning One’s Loyalty

We have a real problem in this country when it comes to commenting negatively about Israel. Recently, Representative Ilhan Omar has come under intense criticism for her statements.

Her main target and the statement that got the most criticism dealt with the power of AIPAC.  While the way she phrased her comment, talking about promoting allegiance to a foreign country, was not accurate and unfortunate, her basic point about AIPAC and its power is well-taken.  

There is a difference between being anti-semitic and being against a particular government of Israel.  The latter has nothing inherently anti-Jewish about it. 

I say this as a Jew who while very supportive of the existence of Israel has been very critical of Israeli governments and policies regarding Palestinians for decades.  The current Israeli government has at times even called American Jews like myself anti-semitic because it’s an easy way to counter criticism.

It is unfortunate that some American supporters of Israel also invoke the anti-semitism label whenever someone criticizes the Israeli government, especially if someone is a Muslim.  Would they call someone anti-American if they criticize the policies of President Trump?

That said, once Rep. Omar was called on the fact that support, even strong support, for Israel by an American does not mean allegiance to Israel, she has refused to back down from her characterization of such support.  That is a mistake and shows a lack of maturity, not anti-semitism.

She may feel that such support is not in the best interests of the United States, and I would agree.  But reasonable people can disagree on what is in the best interests of our country.  I have no question that those who support Israel feel that is in the best interests of our country.  And that is the proper question.  The issue of allegiance is a red herring.  

Likewise, Republicans calling her anti-American because of her lack of support for Israel is nonsense.  Actually both her accusing supporters of Israel as having allegiance to Israel, and Republicans calling her anti-American because of her lack of support smacks of McCarthyism.  Questioning people’s loyalty to country is going down a very dark road.

Representative Omar may well be an anti-semite.  But that cannot be gleaned from the statements she has made.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

What is the Role of Corporations in Our Society?

As I have often written, corporations are a creature of the law.  The law developed to allow corporations and gave them various benefits because corporations served a public purpose. 

Let me backtrack … before the law created corporations, all business concerns were partnerships or sole proprietorships.  Under this system, the individuals who owned the business were personally liable for the actions of the business.  The law of corporations, however, generally shields the owners (whether private or public/shareholders) from liability for the acts of the corporation.  Over the years there came to be many more benefits that accrued to corporations.

Why did the law allow individuals to incorporate and thereby shield themselves from liability?  Why were other benefits bestowed on corporations?  Because corporations were seen to serve a public purpose.  They were seen to be key to economic expansion and advancement, to increasing the power of the United States internationally, and to providing jobs for an ever-increasing work force thereby increasing the standard of living of Americans.

Once the age of the robber barons ended with the progressive policies of Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, while corporations still were always about making money for the owners/shareholders, corporate management became more conscious of their responsibility to the communities in which they were located and to the workers they employed, up to a point.  

Part of that was good public relations; part of it was necessitated by the National Labor Relations Act and other laws that gave real power to labor unions.  But where the law did not constrain them, where the public’s guard had not been raised, they acted with no concern as before, befouling the local environment and endangering lives.  Corporations literally got away with murder.

During this period, there was no felt need to cater to shareholders as they had little power over management. Then in the 1980s, after a decade of lagging corporate profits due to increased competition and the beginning of globalization, corporations found themselves under attack by corporate raiders and others.  The mere threat of a possible takeover moved corporate executives to focus more on shareholder value to insure shareholder happiness.  

In the years since, the concept of maximizing shareholder value has become the mantra of all corporations.  This perspective of corporate management is supported by the business schools who train future executives.  It is this perspective that has encouraged the short-term profit outlook which has caused many of the problems we face today … the loss of jobs (first to cheaper parts of the country and ultimately overseas), the stagnation of wages, increased income inequality, and even the increased volatility of the stock market.

At a minimum, we must return to a more worker/community/consumer focused corporate management perspective.  But can’t we do more; can’t we elevate that perspective as never before?  Since we’re talking about culture and behavior here,  this will not be easy.  Especially given the nature of the corporate beast.  The dynamic is not going to change on its own.  It will require leadership from the top.  

It will require a change in the curriculum of business schools that train our future executives.  It will require changes in the law:  one which makes the public good part of every corporation’s mission; one that includes workers and a public ombudsman on the management team, as has been done in Germany; and one that limits the amount of profit a corporation can make, which will help encourage corporate management to better reward workers, not reduce the workforce through automation, protect consumers, and be better citizens … all of which are in the corporation’s best long-term interest.

As I noted in my post, “The American Dream?” changing our corporate culture is critically important to the future our country, if young people are to have hope again and have the drive to push the envelope of what is possible.