Bifurcated Effect of Trade Agreements

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Ostensibly, lowering barriers on trade seems like a good thing. Any Economics 101 student can tell you how tariffs and other protectionist measures result in a loss to all parties involved. For this reason, I typically expressed support for trade agreements in opposition to the majority of the Democratic Party, my long-time and beloved political organization.

However, the recent debate has made me change my mind. Yes, trade agreements benefit the overall economy in the long-term, but there are a number of caveats that must be addressed. First and foremost comes the questions about winners and losers in America. After all, this is where the impact of trade agreements comes home to roost. It turns out the Economics 101 argument primarily benefits international corporations who have the infrastructure to operate on a global level. The trickle-down effect, like the Republicans’ supply-side economics, is largely a sham.

… trade agreements might be more productive if the competition occurred on a level playing field.

Moreover, trade agreements might be more productive if the competition occurred on a level playing field. But inevitably, other nations enter the game with minimum wages hovering around $1 or $2 an hour. This allows the establishment of quasi-sweat shops that American competitors should not and are not able to match.

Finally, other national economies use currency manipulation as a standard tool to improve their domestic economy. We have safeguards in the United States to prevent that sort of thing. And we should.

So, unless trade agreements are very tightly worded to address the above, they hurt our workers more than helping them. And taking away the ability to amend these agreements and just subjecting them to an up-or-down vote makes it impossible to address the above issues.

Americans have Big Hearts

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We Americans have big hearts when it comes to alleviating suffering in foreign lands. We are grateful for all this nation offers, and we want to share it with others or, at least, put them on the right path to similar prosperity.

However, we’ve never been very good at saying “no,” especially when our military has played a role in conquering malevolent forces. That tendency is afflicting us with Iraq.

The vast resources of the United States exist for a reason, and we’ve never been the type to hoard them for ourselves.

The Pottery Barn rule, “if you broke it, you own it,” only applies to us because we feel a responsibility for people we have tried to help. The vast resources of the United States exist for a reason, and we’ve never been the type to hoard them for ourselves.

That’s why it’s so easy for our leaders to get sucked back into Iraq. Despite a recalcitrant Shiite government, President Obama has become sucked back into that nation’s destiny, if only, ostensibly, to fight ISIS. Because a fight against ISIS does not by any means need to include Iraq.

I hope the Iraqis are able to find their way out of this dilemma without dividing the country into three separate pieces. But we need to avoid sending in any more troops — at least beyond the current batch.

The cost in terms of lives lost and wasted treasure has already been way too high.

 

 

 

The Meaning of a Leader

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As we move into the heart of the Presidential campaign season, we should keep one distinction in mind when evaluating the candidates. A leader will bring their own convictions into play and will try to make the American people understand their reasons for holding the policy positions they pronounce. The worst ones will yield to the polls on hot button issues even if that means a rather inelegant flip flop.

Yes, a leader can change his/her mind and “evolve” in certain areas. But when this occurs too frequently, as it did with Mitt Romney for example, people see the hypocrisy and doubt the messenger.

Candidates are at their most effective when they believe passionately in the positions they hold

Conveying one’s political positions and, even more difficult, weaving them into an integrated political philosophy, is a job for the communications staff, but first the candidate must do some real thinking before foaming at the mouth. That’s why Hillary Clinton’s various “listening tours,” though handled a bit awkwardly, should be adopted by more candidates. Because creating a forward-looking philosophy for the next five or ten years represents a critical task both for the public and the country. After the President is elected, he or she will be bound by the promises made during the campaign, at least to some extent, so all this talk about appealing to the base versus the undecided voters is mainly cynical political science.

Candidates are at their most effective when they believe passionately in the positions they hold, instead of just getting elected.

The Disappearing Undecided Voter

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Our American culture is becoming polarized between two different philosophies of America: one Republican and the other Democratic. Self-reinforcing media outlets such as Fox News and MSNBC are preaching to the converted, even though one, Fox, seems to be more intransigent in its viewpoint.

As a result, the moderate voter, somewhere in the hazy middle between the two, is rapidly disappearing. That trend should be viewed with alarm by both parties because it carries with it an inability to compromise and, more importantly, an inability to govern.

America always grows during periods of inclusiveness . . .

Major programs such as Obamacare, a healthy improvement to American society in more ways than one, would be impossible to enact today, but so would any changes to Social Security and Medicare. The paralysis besetting any form of Congressional action disables the possibility of any bold new program, or any legislation at all. Even the USA Freedom Act, a no-brainer with huge majorities in the House, barely made it through to the Senate and onto the President’s desk.

Our political campaigns for President are endorsing this analysis of the disappearing undecided voter, targeting their base of supporters, the activists at the ideological extremes, instead of trying to convince moderates. Breaking this log jam may require some form of Congressional action, but even simple reforms hold some hope. Holding primaries for the whole electorate, and just choosing the top two to run off in the general, is one promising idea. Turning back gerrymandering is another.

America always grows during periods of inclusiveness, and we need to adopt some type of election reform to facilitate it.

G-7 Governance

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President Obama was able to leave behind his struggles with Congress this weekend as he went to the German Alps to discuss the world with his peers, the other leaders attending the G-7 summit. Of course, Russia used to be a member of that summit, when it was known as the G-8, and much time was spent discussing it in absentia.

Vladimir Putin seems content with playing a waiting game, as he knows the European Union will maintain their sanctions at a significant cost to them.

The topic du jour was the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine and its continuing policy of flouting the Minsk peace agreement. However, for now, Vladimir Putin seems content with playing a waiting game, as he knows the European Union will maintain their sanctions at a significant cost to them. The countries of Europe have developed a robust trading relationship with Russia, and the sanctions are hurting them much more than the United States.

Whether the Europeans can maintain a unified front against the Russians is open to question, and the sanctions need to be maintained over the long haul if they are truly going to bite and possibly affect change. Mr. Putin is riding high in the polls among the Russian people as he seems to be restoring some of the old glory of the Soviet Union, when his nation was truly a superpower.

Of course, the G-7 discussed many other critical issues as well including ISIS, climate change, bailing out Greece, etc. It’s not exactly a good sign that they had so much to discuss.

Cyber Disaster

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We take for granted Chinese assaults on our computer systems and work to improve our security, both for government and corporate users. But the Chinese have no interest in a full-fledged attack on our system; as a state actor, they are dependent on the United States for trade and even as a shelter for their investments.

Even a temporary hiccup in the Internet would cause major disruptions.

But someone who is truly fomenting an attack on the United States would not harbor any compunctions about bringing the entire Internet to a screeching halt. Al Qaeda and, even more so ISIS, are becoming computer literate and manipulate social media for an organizational advantage. But, as they learn more about our system, what if they carry out an overarching plan to bring it all down?

Without the Internet, business communications would become impossible. Phone calls represent a last-decade model, and we rely on email to transmit our work product and opinions in the most convenient way possible. How much time and money would be lost if we were continually interrupted by phone calls?

Moreover, small business and their owners, the backbone of the American economy, could no longer telecommute. With no way to transmit documents, commerce would grind to a halt.

How about all our bank accounts? How would the banks know how much money we had in order to facilitate withdrawals? How would debit cards function? Even a temporary hiccup in the Internet would cause major disruptions. An attack on the Internet would be every bit as virulent as an attack on our physical infrastructure embodied by those jetliners flying into the World Trade Center.

Edward Snowden: Victor or Loser?

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Edward Snowden has been widely condemned by American government officials, but he has spurred a searing political debate in Congress about the reach and intrusiveness of the National Security Agency. Moreover, Mr. Snowden’s revelations are directly responsible for the recent decision by Congress and the President to limit the compilation of meta data for every citizen’s phone calls.

[The federal government’s] ability to cling to special temporary authorities allowed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 must be scaled back to restore the land we love

To many average Americans, Mr. Snowden is a hero who has chosen to stand up for the land he loves and stop its denigration by over-zealous intelligence agencies. Mr. Snowden has forsaken his family and many creature comforts to uncover illegal activities such as the use of mass sweeps of the population without any corresponding warrant. Those in power continue to bemoan the loss of these capabilities, but they clearly extend beyond the government’s proper authority.

Even a Republican like Rand Paul has stood up for the right of privacy for every law-abiding American citizen, and renewal of the strict line that used to separate criminal investigations from foreign intelligence. That line is starting to blur again as the NSA seeks to control foreign hackers by similar sweeps of the Internet. And Mr. Snowden has once again confounded his critics by revealing this overreach in an attempt to stop it.

The accretion of authority by the federal government can be accepted for critical national needs such as healthcare and immigration control. But its ability to cling to special temporary authorities allowed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 must be scaled back to restore the land we love.

Bravo Hillary!

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Hillary Rodham Clinton is starting her campaign off on the right foot with an early emphasis on voting rights. The widespread Republican campaign to engage in voter suppression flies in the face of our democratic values and is only designed for cynical statistical advantages.

Since its founding, this country has moved to encourage voting participation, expanding the franchise to women, blacks and young people. If Republicans wish to stop this history, they will soon find themselves as extinct as the days they are trying to usher back.

Republicans can’t point to any recent instances of a campaign result changed by voter fraud, and their efforts in this regard will create a backlash by encouraging groups such as African-Americans and senior citizens to vote against them. If Republicans were smart, they would try to improve their demographic appeal and expand their base. Doing so would build a foundation for the future instead of limiting them to their past supporters.

Instead, however, the Republican Party seems to be becoming more and more restrictive. Candidates need to follow the conservative script on immigration, marriage equality and climate change; otherwise, they will be drummed out by the party’s activists. In fact, some in the Republican Party are clamoring for a “true conservative,” a move that will surely result in their defeat.

Meanwhile, Hillary is going beyond voter ID to fight other Republican attempts at voter suppression such as eliminating or curtailing early voting. Early voting is only designed to encourage that most American of traits, going to the polls. And she will call for re-integrating former felons into our society by, under the proper circumstances, letting them vote as well.

Since its founding, this country has moved to encourage voting participation, expanding the franchise to women, blacks and young people. If Republicans wish to stop this history, they will soon find themselves as extinct as the days they are trying to usher back.

Proud to be an American

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I woke up this morning proud to be an American. Despite heavy pressure from the military-industrial complex, Republican hawks, and no less a figure than Mitch McConnell, our Congress passed common-sense legislation limiting the right of the state to conduct surveillance on innocent citizens.

Senator McConnell, the head of the Senate and a leader whose parliamentary skills have been honed for decades, was “hoisted on his own petard.” In a turn of events that has no equal except perhaps when Hamen was hung on his own gallows (Book of Esther in the Old Testament), Mr. McConnell sent the Senate off on a week-long recess so he could use the threat of the complete lapse of the Patriot Act to get it renewed in its entirety.

If Mr. McConnell hadn’t been so manipulative by letting the Senate go on a week-long vacation, this situation would not have occurred.

However, he didn’t anticipate the actions of Rand Paul who was quite willing to call McConnell’s bluff. Then, when the Patriot Act had indeed lapsed, the backers of the USA Freedom Act used Mr. McConnell’s own skill at timing against him. Now, any amendments to the USA Freedom Act would have extended the debate, thus continuing the lapsed period, so the Senate were forced to back it as is, and therefore beat back all of Mr. McConnell’s attempts to make it stronger.

If Mr. McConnell hadn’t been so manipulative by letting the Senate go on a week-long vacation, this situation would not have occurred.

And meanwhile, we American citizens were treated to a full-throated debate about the competing values of privacy and security. Mr. Paul played a critical role in that debate, but so did many other Senators as well. The debate did not hew to any strict partisan lines, and the only issue concerned was the well being of the country. If only our Congress could follow this script in other debates as well then the low approval rating of the Congress might be improved.

Mitch Blows the Pitch

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Mitch McConnell, the senior Senator from Kentucky and Senate Majority Leader, looked great when he was leading the Republicans as a minority force, throwing bombs, gumming up the works, vowing to make President Obama a one-term President. However, he is finding, to his chagrin, that running the place is a lot more difficult.

Nowhere was this more in evidence than in his handling of the debate over the Patriot Act. Determined to renew the legislation without weakening it in any way, especially in terms of the NSA compiling meta data for the phone calls of all Americans, Senator McConnell thought he would jam the renewal through by forcing the debate right up against the hard deadline for renewal. Surely no one would let the protections of the Act expire, he thought.

Rand Paul called his bluff, and moreover, Senator McConnell misread the sentiments of the American people

Well, Rand Paul called his bluff, and moreover, Senator McConnell misread the sentiments of the American people. For a change, the it was the House that compromised to pass the bipartisan USA Freedom Act by a large majority. Only by passing that, and without any amendments, could the Senate continue the protections of the legislation — and only if the meta data was held by the telephone companies instead of the government.

Now Senator McConnell is reduced to pushing the Freedom Act or getting nothing at all. His face-saving attempt to amend it would only extend the lapse of the legislation (because it would then need to go back to the House), and he knows that. Seems it’s a lot harder to govern than trying to get in the way.