The Science of Economics

Economics is an inexact science — we all know the joke about getting three economists in a room and ending up with four different opinions — but certain general principles always hold true. One thing we should know for certain: tariffs create an inefficiency and remedying them with trade agreements provides the best way to increase jobs and improve the financial health of both nations. That’s why both Democratic and Republican Presidents have sought fast-track approval of legislation to reduce unnecessary barriers.

One thing we should know for certain: tariffs create an inefficiency and remedying them with trade agreements provide the best way to increase jobs and improve the financial health of both nations.

Granted, some people will lose their jobs during the process, but these jobs would eventually be lost anyway as our economy adapts for the future, and we become stronger through our natural advantages over other nations, the ability to innovate being our best skill. The Internet did not start in Europe nor did smartphones. They were developed by U.S. companies promoting U.S. products with U.S. jobs.

Sometimes Keynesian economics is counterintuitive — it seems that a recession calls for austerity instead of deficit spending. But the wisdom of our President saved us from this critical error, a mistaken approach Europe still hasn’t learned from. The stimulative effects of the Fed has proved critical in leading America’s recovery as well as various efforts by our President.

So, for once the Republican Congress has done the right thing in granting the President fast-track authority to promote Pacific trade. Let’s hope that Hillary Clinton doesn’t get called on the carpet by inevitable pressure from constituencies such as trade unions and others.

Is Iran a Frenemy?

It was bound to happen. The crazy quilt relationships of the United States with its various allies in the Middle East has broken out as a full-scale battle among the religious fault lines of Sunni vs. Shiite.

The crazy quilt relationships of the United States with its various allies in the Middle East has broken out as a full-scale battle among the religious fault lines of Sunni vs. Shiite.

By blundering into Iraq, we have created new dynamics in the region, and the two strongest nations on each side are on the verge of hand-to-hand combat. Saddam Hussein, for all his undisputed evil, held Iraq together and prevented its dissolution into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish tribes. The majority Shiites took over the reins of government but came a hair’s breadth away from falling to ISIS, the Islamic State.

Moreover, Iraq was befriended by its fellow Shiites in Iran who sent military and logistical support to prop up the government. Meanwhile, Iran became involved in overthrowing the legitimate government in Yemen, and this action constituted a step too far from the other regional giant, Saudi Arabia.

As fighting rages across the Middle East, these two behemoths are on the verge of squaring off directly in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is conducting air strikes a la United States, and we back them on the Sunni side of the equation. Simultaneously, we are backing Iran and the Shiites in the struggle against ISIS. And military coordination with Iran seems to be the only way to beat ISIS without massive loss of life.

What’s the solution? God knows. But United States foreign policy in the Middle East is in a mess. And it’s hard to see how we get out of it.

Balance of Power

Sometimes, when a struggle develops between Congress and the President, it gets depicted in partisan terms when it should be viewed as an institutional matter instead. At such times, the wisdom of the Founders is often displayed because they set up the federal government with a balance of powers among the executive, legislative and judicial.

Yesterday’s decision by the Obama administration to allow Congressional overview showed our system at its best.

After the foreign relations committee insisted on a role for Congress in the Iran negotiation, by a unanimous vote, the President conceded to do so. He was not particularly happy about it, but his decision exemplified a democracy at work.

Now, in the past, the Congress has tried to overstep its bounds by attaching riders to unrelated legislation and, in effect, blackmailing the President in an effort to get its own way. Such attempts have resulted in unequivocal failure and have often stalled in the Senate when faced with filibusters by the Democrats.

But this case was different. Both Republican and Democratic forces joined together, and not with the recent depiction of bipartisanship, that is, one or two Democratic votes, but with the full strength of the legislative parties. The President could not defy this united display of power because any veto would be certainly overridden.

Now some Republicans may have been voting due to their ideology, but the entirely reasonable Bob Corker displayed the moderate side of the Republican Party and showed the power of compromise.

The Youth of Rubio

As Marco Rubio entered the Presidential race yesterday, he gave a passionate speech and presented an image of vigorous youth for the American electorate. Yet voters must see beyond his rhetoric and look at his issues history, conveniently compiled for us in his Senatorial decisions.

Other than the issue of immigration, Senator Rubio has backed the policies of the most ardent Republican leaders …

Other than the issue of immigration, Senator Rubio has backed the policies of the most ardent Republican leaders, including a commitment to reduce taxes on the rich and modify Social Security. He would kick millions off healthcare and has committed to disbanding Obamacare.

You can frequently judge people by the company they keep, and Senator Rubio is surrounded by neo-cons and related advisors who got us into and bungled Iraq. So images can be deceiving, and a good speech does not a President make.

Of course, Mr. Rubio would make a far better President than some of the others on the Republican side, many who come with built-in flaws. One shudders at the prospect of Ted Cruz, who has managed to alienate nearly all of his colleagues, for example.

The 2016 race may represent one of the most critical ever for our country. It will determine whether healthcare remains a right instead of a privilege, how we approach income inequality and even the continuing rebound of our economy. On all these issues, Democrats provide the safest alternative.

Hillary

It’s not like the story snuck up on us yesterday, but with an appropriate panoply, and a touch of a regal nature, Hillary Rodham Clinton took the first step to becoming the first woman President of the United States. The video touched all the bases, depicting the diversity of lifestyles in our pluralistic society, and celebrating some of the people who make our nation great.

The idea of getting ready also represented a note of gratitude for all those who have been this moment possible, including the Ready for Hillary organization. However, the concept of getting ready for change represents a constant in America, where change is celebrated as somehow inherent to our nature.

Bob Dylan observed it in his classic, “The Times, They are a Changin,'” and Hillary’s video paid tribute to a nation on the move, where if you don’t keep moving, you’ll quickly be left behind. Perhaps, that’s one reason why we are a nation of entrepreneurs, willing to take a risk to make it. It’s what’s made our nation so prosperous as we always try to do things better, to squeeze a little more memory into our computers, to make our iPhones thinner and more sleek.

Hillary! has made an excellent start to her campaign for the Presidency, and if all her efforts are as well suited to our nation as this initial video, we will be celebrating her victory very soon.

Yemen, Another Vietnam?

The fighting raging in Yemen could make it one of those isolated countries responsible for starting a much larger conflagration. We’ve watched Shiites square off against Sunnis throughout the Middle East in a rivalry going back to the seventh century. With separate holidays, mosques and traditions, the two sides don’t mix together and live in separate regions of their respective nations. At one time, strongmen such as Sadaam Hussein kept the two sides apart, but now there are no restraints.

In Yemen, Saudi Arabia has entered the fray, primarily because of its concern about Iranian proxies supporting the Houthi Shiites. Militias from Iran have insinuated themselves into conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and the Sunni nations in the region have become alarmed. But the Saudi’s involvement in Yemen, initially through air strikes, could spark a wider conflagration.

Yemen seems like exactly the kind of inconsequential area that sparks larger wars. We all remember how the backwater of Vietnam sucked up young American lives, and I can’t think of a country more worthy of that comparison than Yemen. It is a dirt poor nation, primarily desert, with a desperate people riven by tribal conflicts between the north and south. In fact, north Yemen was a separate country from south Yemen until 1990.

But aside from supporting our ally, Saudi Arabia, I can’t think of a less consequential country to American security interests. It is only geopolitical issues that give it any prominence at all.

Geopolitics and Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of State Kerry, our chief negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks frequently characterizes the Iran nuclear talks as separate and distinct from other disagreements with the nation. These include the authoritarian nature of the regime and its expansionist policies in the Middle East. Now, however, with Saudi Arabia and Iran squaring off in a proxy battle in Yemen, that decoupling becomes more difficult to sustain.

While theoretically it may be tenable to proclaim the separation, even in geopolitics, you are dealing with human beings. It becomes problematic to ask them to trust you on one hand while stabbing you in the back with the other. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to find Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, make assertions about unresolved areas of the talks, namely the timing of the lifting of sanctions.

While one can understand the eagerness to emerge from decades of isolation, a little patience could go a long way. Libya was smart in totally suspending all aspects of its nuclear program, and it was rewarded as a result. But its reunion with the world community occurred gradually, only after the finality of its decision was verified. Iran needs to proceed in a similar manner.

Meanwhile, Khamenei’s assertions are making a final accord more difficult and jeopardizing approval by Congress as well. If these negotiations are finally concluded and ratified (or acquiesced to by Congress), it would represent a foreign policy achievement by the Obama administrator every bit as impressive as its passage of universal healthcare in the domestic arena.

Searching for the Truth

The slogan, “Black Lives Matter,” has become a mantra for the latest civil rights movement as a plethora of videos has captured police violence against young black men. The spread of smartphones throughout our society mean someone is always taping, photographing or recording you.

The recent events in South Carolinas and in Staten Island, New York, have reverberated across the nation as we can all see for ourselves what happens when conflicts escalate out of control. Shooting a black man as he runs away, rather clumsily at that, may have gone unpunished if a bystander did not use his cellphone to record the truth about the situation.

Justice was quick, though, once the video was produced. The officer, Michael Slager, was fired and accused of murder. Everyone in positions of authority condemned him.

The ubiquitousness of people with smartphones, ready to use them, also represents a tragedy of American life. If we can’t even trust our police officers, and indeed demand they wear body cameras, the glue of our society comes undone, and the integrity of our communities is harmed as a result.

No one is saying we should go back to the days of “Father Knows Best,” or other 50s-era sitcoms. But at a time when politicians and public servants are held in such mistrust, where can we turn for neutral arbiters and a source of the truth? Who can we rely on as a pillar of society? Without the police as a haven of enforcement and order, our nation will fragment even more than it already has.

The Courage of His Convictions

Rand Paul announced he will be running for President yesterday, and he is definitely not from the Republican establishment. His overarching libertarian philosophy, grafted into his policy positions through his father, creates an unusual mix, appealing to a cross-section of demographic groups, some who have never voted Republican in their lives.

To see Rand Paul’s appeal to young voters, his recasting of drug laws and the logical conclusions he reaches makes his candidacy unusual, more suited for a third party than the Republican elite.

Of course, he neglects or downplays many of the positive effects government regulations provide, such as clean air, disaster relief and protection of civil rights. Product and food safety and many other government programs would be dismantled during a Paul presidency.

But in a war-weary nation, there is a certain appeal to his willingness to spend less on defense and engage in nation building at home. If Mr. Paul can continue to mobilize his brigades, he could create an irresistible force as the more conservative Republican candidates split up the vote.

But Mr. Paul will face an onslaught of negative campaign ads, often by nefarious groups, and he will be unable to avoid certain questions during Republican debates as he has tried to do in the past. The Paul candidacy may be just an aberration, a blip on a radar screen, but it deserves continued scrutiny during the early stages of the campaign.