My Musings about the Mid-Term Election on LoneUmbrella.com

One of my former students runs a terrific site called Lone Umbrella, where he does top-notch, fact-based political analysis. I sure wish I could take credit for his brilliance! But alas, he’s just that good. 

He asked me to be a guest contributor on his site and I had the privilege of writing up my analysis of the upcoming midterm election. Here’s an excerpt:

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Mid-term elections are volatile. Almost always. They historically display the cantankerousness of the American electorate with pristine clarity. Mid-term elections are like the shiny new Christmas toy that finds itself dunked in an April mud puddle simply because you’ve become bored with it. That’s what happens. Two years after a presidential election is just enough time for the euphoria of “change” and “hope” and “greatness” and all other election slogans to wear thin to such a degree that the populace brutally penalizes the president’s party to let the other jokers have their turn messing things up. It’s a cynical cycle without question. The numbers back this up very clearly. Let’s take a look at the data before conjecturing their meaning for 2018.

In post-World War II America—which covers a span of eighteen mid-term elections—the president’s party on average loses 24 seats in the House of Representatives. Currently, there are 235 Republican representatives, 193 Democratic reps with seven vacancies.

Piqued your interest? READ the ENTIRE ARTICLE ON LONE UMBRELLA

 

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Supreme Court Confirmations – By the Numbers!

In a topsy-turvy two weeks of high political drama, the US Senate is on the brink of voting on the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the high court. If he does survive the FBI background check currently underway, and he is confirmed, it will be by the slimmest of margins. Perhaps even one vote. If he isn’t confirmed, he will be the first judge not confirmed by a floor vote since Robert Bork in the 1980s.

How does Kavanaugh’s possible confirmation stake up against those currently sitting on the bench. Let’s take a look at the intriguing numbers.

Of the previous nine Supreme Court justices confirmed by the Senate spanning three decades and five presidents, five have been nominated by Republican presidents and four by Democratic presidents. Two additional nominations during that time span were never voted upon. Harriet Miers, a George W. Bush nominee, withdrew from the process. Merrick Garland appointed by President Obama in 2016 never had hearings or a vote. With these two out of the picture, there are some voting patterns which are interesting to look at.

Let’s start with the four justices appointed by Democratic presidents: Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan.  Their combined confirmation vote tallies are 314 ‘yes’ votes and 80 ‘no’ votes for an overall approval rate of 80%. This clearly shows some broad non-partisan support from the Republic party towards Democratic nominees.

What about Republican nominees? The five appointed by Republican presidents were: Souter, Thomas, Roberts, Alito, & Gorsuch. Their combined confirmation vote tallies are 332 ‘yes’ votes and 166 ‘no’ votes for an overall approval rate of only 67%. However, if Souter, the only one of our list no longer on the Supreme Court, is dropped off this list, the numbers change to 242 ‘yes’ votes and ‘157’ which is only a 60% affirmative rate. Souter also is a bit of an anomaly because, though appointed by a Republican, he was widely viewed as a staunch liberal justice.

So, of the current Supreme Court members, Democratic appointed candidates fly through confirmation at an average of 80% affirmative votes but Republican candidates squeak by at only 60%, and this number will assuredly go down later this week when the Senate votes on Kavanaugh. Even if confirmed, it will likely be by a mere 1 or 2 votes. As a side note, a Democratic appointee hasn’t been rejected since the Grover Cleveland presidency. Yeah, it’s been a while.

What’s the reason for such a voting discrepancy?

Let’s pose a few ideas.

Option 1: Do conservatives have a more literal view of the constitution? As such, their role as “advice and consent” hinges more on whether a candidate is worthy of such a nomination regardless of whether they agree with his or her political persuasion? Ginsburg might be a good study here. She was clearly a judge with a very liberal voting record. She was even a member of the board of directors of the ACLU. Clearly liberal. Yet, qualified—even Republicans agreed by joining the Democrats in approving her appointment with an astonishing 96-3 vote. While something like that won’t happen today, you’ll still notice that Kagan and Sotomayor’s confirmations were much easier than all Republican-appointed justices since Roberts.

Option 2: Are liberals more aggressive in seeking their progressive agenda through the court systems? As such, they purposefully seek to confirm justices who they deem to be progressive and are more contentious with those candidates whom they deem will be a hinderance to progressivism? I think this is doubly true with the Kavanaugh nomination because of its significance related to Roe v. Wade.

Option 3. It’s all random?

Option 4: You make the call!

Here is a list of the last nine justices confirmed to the Supreme Court. What will be Kavanaugh’s numbers – if he makes it?

Gorsuch 54-45 (Trump)

Kagan 63-37 (Obama)

Sotomayor 68-31 (Obama)

Alito 58-42 (G. W. Bush)

John Roberts 78-22 (G. W. Bush)

Ginsburg 96-3 (Clinton)

Steven Breyer 87-9 (Clinton)

Thomas 52-48 (G. H. W. Bush)

David Souter 90-9 (G. H. W. Bush)

Whatever these numbers ultimately mean, Trump is going to have to fight and scrape for any of his nominations to get through, and if he did have to appoint a successor to Ginsburg, don’t hold your breath for 96 voting to confirm. Those days are long gone.

Socialism? Seriously? I take my cue from my years in Vietnam.

I’m sorry, but I can’t take socialism seriously. Blame it on my ten years living in Vietnam when I received a first-hand lesson of what socialism really is and what it really does.

And what it doesn’t do.

The political left in America is giddy with idealistic hope that the dawn of the Democratic Socialist United States of America is right around the corner.

I have to laugh. Poor JFK must be doing some serious flips in his grave. Same with FDR. They might have to rename his hometown to Hide Park instead of Hyde Park by the fact he would hide in embarrassment from these people espousing the death of capitalism, mostly from his own party! It’s ironic that I point out FDR because he was the most socialist president – in terms of nationalizing the state’s economy – America ever had. But he was, thankfully, no Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Cortez, the new poster child for the Bernie Sander’s democratic socialist bandwagon, says that capitalism will not always exist.

Let’s hope that isn’t true.

Let me backpedal just a moment in case you think I’m trying to be political here. I am not. I have my personal political beliefs, of course, but I greatly respect other points of view. I am a strong proponent of rigorous debate between both sides of the political aisle. One of the greatest features of America is its pluralism, which pushes us to consider new ideas while defending our own points of view.  No one party has the exclusive claim on truth or good ideas. I hope any two Americans could easily agree with that statement.

Furthermore, every country uses socialism to one degree or another.  FDR, of course, introduced social security in the 1930s as a means of taking care of the nation’s elderly. It was the state mandating people to pay a portion of their earnings to the government so that the government would manage it and distribute it back to retirees. We don’t need to get into a debate about how well it works, but it has been functioning successfully for 80 years. My parents have been using social security benefits as a key means of income during their retirement. In addition, the U.S. has long used Public Utilities as a means to expand access to electricity and water systems throughout the US. Public Utilities continue to be a bedrock of American energy management.

Government control of certain parts of society is good. Needed. Even desirable at times. Governments, when well-managed, can achieve things that private citizens mainly cannot. (Now this wasn’t always the case. If you need a historical case study, look up J.P. Morgan or JD Rockefeller.) There’s a small community about 25 miles north of New York City where the local government decided to create a gorgeous park around a lake. It has a raised walking path which creates a stunning setting and a terrific place for the entire community to come together and enjoy the outdoors. This is an example of government at its best. Seeing a need and creating something for the community, through tax dollars, that gives citizens tangible benefits. Every government will take at least a part of the nation’s economy and manage it directly.  How much control should the government have? It’s clearly a debatable point.

I say all of this to clarify that I not hear to bash the need for a functioning government. We all need governance, but there should be a healthy, on-going debate about its role and how much of the economy, and what part of the economy, it should have control over.  After all, it will never be zero, nor should it be.

But what I’m hearing from the far-left is a departure of the America of the past. The death of capitalism? Really? You sure you want to go there? What would take its place? Government control over the entire economy? (As a side note, look into Elizabeth Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act. A proposal for the government to have direct input (control?) over companies worth over a billion dollars.)

And this brings me back to Vietnam.

I arrived in Vietnam to teach English in August of 1994, just a few months after the US lifted the trade embargo against Hanoi. That was 19 years after the fall of Saigon. Thirty years after LBJ ramped up US involvement in the Vietnam War. In 1994, Vietnam was dirt poor. A GDP of barely a $1000 per capita. I arrived in Haiphong, a city near the coast due east of the capital, and everyone I met worked hard to make ends meet. There were very few foreign products — no Coca-Cola besides an occasional flat bottle brought in from China. Westerners were still referred to as “Lien Xo” – Soviets, because since 1979 nearly any expat in the country was Russian. I was apprehensive about being there, not completely sure how a young American man would be viewed. But I can’t tell you how many times I saw the faces of the Vietnamese I met light up when they heard I was a “Nguoi My” – an American. They would smile from ear to ear and put their finger in the air and say “America number 1.” I was shocked, actually. And so very welcomed into their community.

Why was America number 1 in their eyes? I came from a country, after all, that spent billions of dollars and many years fighting against the communists in Vietnam. (And remember, I was living in the communist north – no sympathetic Saigonese there.) But America was number 1? Why?

Simple. An enviable economy. America had built themselves into a superpower through decades of innovation and economic achievement. That’s what the Vietnamese people I met those years wanted. They wanted opportunities to work for a better future. They wanted opportunities to have “luxury” items they could never afford. A bicycle. A washing machine. Dare they dream- a motorbike? A reliable food supply. Consumer products like toothpaste and soap and laundry detergent. In 1994, when I arrived, Vietnam was just beginning to awaken from nearly twenty years of a post war economy driven by what? Socialism.

If you visited Vietnam today, you’d hardly recognize it. The country is engulfed by commercialism, entrepreneurship, and dare I say it? Capitalism.

What happened?

Over the first several years of living in Vietnam, I came to learn a phrase which was frequently used, “thoi bao cap.” A literal translation is something like “the time period when the government supplied everything.” That sounds kind of frightening, doesn’t it? This phrase was always, and I mean always, followed by another phrase “ghe lam,” which means “truly miserable.”

As I lived there and delved into their history and listened to their stories, I began to understand how miserable that time really was. Here are a few examples:

  • During “thoi bao cap,” if you happened to be rich enough to own a bicycle, you might be stopped and harassed by the police. Why? Because they would want to know how you had enough money to own a bicycle.  It was that rare. Poverty was the expectation.
  • During “thoi bao cap,” Vietnam did not grow enough rice to feed its own people. There were bouts of famine in the countryside. The government imported low quality grain from eastern Europe to try and make up the difference. Can you imagine a Vietnamese meal without rice? My friends and neighbors didn’t have to imagine. They lived through it, telling me how truly insufferable this grain was. But they had no choice to eat it because there wasn’t enough rice. (My first thought was how in the world could there not be enough rice ? Have you been to Vietnam? Have you seen the expansive rice fields? Hello, what about the Mekong Delta? What’s going on?)
  • During “thoi bao cap” each family would line up and wait for hours to receive their monthly rations from the state run stores. It was referred to as “the brick years” named for the people who would write their names on a brick and place it on the ground to reserve their spot in line at the state stores so they wouldn’t have to stand for hours on end. Of course the stores had no supplies and the amount of food and goods received was extremely paltry. There were no other options. No corner stores. No “pho” stalls on the evening streets. No shops or markets. They lived on the basics of basics.
  • During “thoi bao cap: if a family was lucky enough to raise a few chickens, and if they were lucky enough to slaughter one in order to have a luxurious chicken dinner, they would shut their house up as tight as possible and eat in the back, hoping no one would smell it and then question where the meat came from.

There are many more examples, but I think this illustrates the point of how poor Vietnam was throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s.

What changed? Cause this is not the Vietnam you will experience today if you travel there. (And you should.)

The answer is simple. Vietnam slowly allowed elements of capitalism to creep into their economy. Once it starts, good luck stopping it.

Wait a minute. A communist government that allows capitalism? (Have you ever wondered what has made China rich today? It wasn’t their unyielding grasp on Maxist-Leninism.)

Famed North Vietnamese General Nguyen Vo Giap even said that a socialistic society needs capitalism (he said for a time) in order to build its economy. Hmmm, I wonder if the Vietnamese themselves have had enough time. It’s 2018 now. Are they ready to go back to “thoi bao cap?”

And here, to me, is the proof in the pudding. Or the water in the rice paddy.

Both Vietnam and China have followed the same model. Renovation. And when it came to economics, that meant giving the individual more control over their own personal economic activity. Allowing the citizens to innovate and create things which previously didn’t exist. It’s called capitalism, and it has pulled millions of people out of desperate poverty in a relatively short amount of time.

Remember the years when Vietnam couldn’t grow enough rice to feed its citizens? Well, in the 1980s, the government changed their policies. For the first time under their communist government, farmers could keep their own products once they had fulfilled their yearly government quotas. Well, can you guess what happened? The farmers suddenly had incentive to grow more rice and more vegetables and more everything. The surplus could be used to sell in the local markets, to feed local families, to help increase their monthly income. An increased income meant they had money to spend on consumer products which in turn created a market for yet more consumer products. This is capitalism 101. Even working under the strict economic constraints of a socialist government, capitalism proved to be an amazing force to combat poverty.

Capitalism isn’t a cure-all. It has its weaknesses. It has its excesses.  But of all economic systems and theories, what’s better at giving people freedom to achieve their goals and reach their potential? As Milton Friedman said long ago on the Phil Donahue Show:

” … the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, that there is no alternative way so far discovered of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free-enterprise system.”

So, I’m sorry. I can’t take this thought of “killing capitalism” seriously because the results would be catastrophic.

And that’s my opinion based on my years living in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

What are your thoughts?

 

 

Will They or Won’t They: The Trump-Un Dance

I’ve been following the on-again, off-again US-North Korean summit news with much interest, like, I suppose, is much of the world.  For me, it’s more than just the issues of global peace that interest me, though those are, without doubt, the most important part about this possible diplomatic break-through. My interest is more than just as a casual observer of the daily news.

We’ve had the privilege of getting to know hundreds of wonderful South Koreans throughout the years, so I’ve heard firsthand many times over what it would mean for the Korean peninsula to be unified. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I think we’d all settle for peaceful with a lack of war mongering.) South Korean students are some of the most respectful and hardworking students I’ve ever taught, and I taught hundreds of them when I was living in Malaysia. In addition, we were served as house parents for several South Korean international students at a private boarding school in Virginia for two years. Those were terrific years. I never played so much ping-pong in my life. My affinity for South Korea runs deep, and even more so when my daughter married her high school sweetheart who happened to be South Korean. And now, my first grandson is half South Korean. So I feel I can claim a tiny personal stake to the political posturing which is going on.

So the question is, will they? Do the political dance, that is.

My gut tells me it will happen. Maybe not on June 12, but there was too much show from North Korea to completely back out of it now. What I mean by show is that they have shockingly showed their hand (and it hasn’t proven to be a scam yet) that they are interested in peace. But this is also why I wasn’t surprised this week when the North Korean minister started bashing Mike Pence and seemingly contradicting the weeks of goodwill which had preceded.

This is a classic posturing of saving-face, and building themselves up, the same way they have been tossing hot rhetoric for years. If the DPRK hierarchy completely fell over on themselves and paved a perfect path for Trump to play the hero, that would have been surprising.  I think it was the change in perception, both in country and out of country, was moving too quickly, and they had to remind the world that they still have a huge army and a heavy payload.  So this backtrack didn’t surprise me at all.

How should Trump have reacted? That’s obviously debatable. If I had been advising him, I wouldn’t have pulled the plug on the meeting so quickly, and would have allowed the DPRK one more round of tough rhetoric as long as the other steps towards the meeting were being followed. Trump decided differently and pulled out right away. Was it the right move? Impossible to know because there are no right moves here. Now word is that the meeting still could be on, so who knows.

This whole situation has the Democrats not really knowing what to do and how to respond. It’s that awkward, “Darn-it, I’m not in power” look which makes every minority party seem a little pathetic. Of course, they criticized him for agreeing to meet with Un. And then when Trump pulled out, they criticized him for that.

Regardless of political stripes or citizenship, I’m hoping we collectively can hope for a lasting peaceful solution to the conundrum on the Korean peninsula.  Who cares who gets the credit. I’d shake anyone’s hand who had a role in bringing something like this about.

I’m rooting for this because of all of my South Korean friends. May you know lasting peace in your lifetime.

Hopefully, it will start soon.

One View on the Paris Accord Pullout

Well, President Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords and the anti-Trump pundits are in a full tizzy about him doing exactly what he said he was going to do during his campaign.  You can debate the merits of the Paris Accords all you like, and you’ll find people on both sides of the issue, hotly touting their view as the one which will “save the world from a climate cataclysm” or will “finally put America first, dislodging it from being the world’s lapdog for punishing the neo-colonial forces of the world.”

I’d like to stay away from those arguments to look at this issue in a couple of different ways. Trump’s pulling out of the accord is President Obama’s fault. No, don’t get me wrong. I’m not using the Obama administration tactic of blaming the previous president for everything. Obama set the stage for a withdrawal by circumventing the way U.S. treaties are supposed to work. The U.S. constitutional lays out very clearly that treaties with foreign entities must receive Congressional approval. The Obama administration didn’t even attempt to pass the accord through Congress because he knew, as written, it would have never passed. So he signed it as an accord, approved only by the executive branch, which allows the next chief executive to rescind it at will. If it had passed through Congress, President Trump would not have been able to pull out of it without, again, Congressional approval. Perhaps the Obama administration thought that his legacy would remain due to a favorable election outcome in 2016. Well, we all know how that went. The Dems walked away with egg on their face. And now they have a non-binding Paris agreement which falls by the wayside because they didn’t involve Congress.

It’s easy to see why Obama didn’t involve Congress. He knew that the Republican controlled House and Senate wouldn’t have ratified it. But this was his greatest mistake. Ours is a republic, a pluralistic one, a two-party one, which requires compromise, give and take, back and forth wrangling in order to get anything done. Can that be frustrating at times? Of course, but that’s the way the Founding Fathers wanted it. Obama would have been wise to use this tactic in Paris. “Look guys, I’m with you on this. I really am. But you have to understand how my government works. If you want a lasting treaty on climate which is going to mean anything moving forward, we have to negotiate with our elected Congress. No, you’re not going to get everything you want. But if we don’t come together and find an agreement palatable for both parties, this accord could unravel very quickly with a different president who doesn’t hold my views.”

President Obama could have approached the Paris Accords like this. But he didn’t and so the U.S. pulled out. Just like that.

President Trump said in his pull-out speech that he would be willing to renegotiate the Paris Accords in order to find terms more acceptable for the United States. Here’s a response written in one of the articles about the pullout:

“While Trump said the United States would be willing to rejoin the accord if it could obtain more favorable terms, the three European leaders said the agreement cannot be renegotiated, ‘since it is a vital instrument for our planet, societies and economics.'”

And this brings me to my second point of contention about this whole issue. According to these world leaders, “it” (it being the Paris Accords) is a “vital instrument” for our planet … blah, blah, blah. It. Only it. This whole explanation reeks of elitism which I hate more than anything else. Only the accord as they have negotiated it, as they have proposed it, as they have signed, IT and only IT can be “a vital instrument for our planet, societies, and economics.”

A re-negotiated deal could never do that?  Really?

It’s the same old “our way is the only way.” Now their way will unravel because they are unwilling to ponder different possibilities.

Moral of the story: this is politics. If you live in a democracy, you have to work with others. If not, you just have a series of short jaunts in various directions depending on who is in office.

The Future of Discrimination: White Male

I’ve been waiting for this article. Perhaps there have been others espousing similar points of view, but leave it to some brilliant graduate student of philosophy, of all things, to express what I’ve been guessing at all along: the blame the white narrative is getting much more pointed.

Here’s the article if you want to read it. Not at all a surprising addition to the back list of of Huntington Post. You may want to read it before eating, though it might prove an effective means of losing one’s appetite. HUFFPOST South Africa

If you want to be spared the gross negligence your eyes may suffer while reading it, let me summarize. This forward-thinking philosophy student is posing the question of whether it’s time to put a moratorium on white male voting. This is coming from the post-Apartheid South African context. The reason for disenfranchising the white males, even for a period of 20 years as she suggests, is to redistribute wealth that white males have stolen over the years (stolen through capitalism, cronyism, white male privilege and other such ways, I suppose) so that a fair and equitable society can emerge. It would be a positive, long overdue step to help right the wrongs of the past.

I’ve seen this coming, this philosophy, this radical departure from sanity. And it won’t take long for some far-flung politician to pick it up and throw it in the debate arena. The push will be slow and steady until one government, undoubtedly democratically elected, will inch towards compensation, demanding a wide range of actions meant to address historical grievances against the white male.

In full disclosure, I am a white male. I’ve lived the last twenty years in different cultures, working alongside people from all backgrounds, creeds, and ethnicity. I’ve been in schools where diversity isn’t lauded, it’s a simple backdrop of life. My first child was five years old when she finally realized that all her friends had black hair. There is a movement in the world, there are people in the world, there are day to day interactions in this world which have come to the point where differences and backgrounds and colors and creeds and social envy means nothing because everyone is treated the same.

This is what real progress looks like. I’ve seen it, and yes, I know the world is not a dreamy-eyed utopia and it never will be. There are problems. But hearkening backwards looking for villains who happen to be white and male is the essence of anti-progress. You do not compensate historical grievances by stripping people of rights. You can not further progress by ripping apart one of the modern world’s founding tenets of progress: universal suffrage.  I just wish a certain graduate student would realize that philosophy is dead if this is the best you can come up with. Heaven help us if this is the future of education. Heaven help us if this is the future of our world.

Perhaps I’ll discover it was all a mistake. A piece of brilliant satire. But I doubt it, because I knew it was coming.

On a brighter note, this world of ours continues to be an unending source of new writing materials. I guess I should thank her for that. Now let me get to work on that new play. A satire, perhaps.

Minimum Wage Robots

Does mandated federal and state minimum wage increases help those struggling on low paying jobs?  Or does it simply give more jobs to robots?

In this opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal, The Minimum Wage Should be Called the Robot Employment Act, Mr. Pudzer makes the case that the increasing minimum wage will do nothing to help low wage earners and will, most likely, force more workers out of the market place as employers, restaurants especially, automate.

It’s already  happening. McDonald’s kiosks are rolling out all over the country. Wendy’s is doing the same thing, and as Mr. Pudzer explains, a California burger joint is going a step further by hiring robots to grill, flip burgers, and put the patties on the buns.

There is no mystery here. Many places simply can’t make a profit where, especially in some areas, the minimum wage is going to hit $15 an hour in the next couple of years. Who will this hurt? Mostly inexperienced youth and it will disproportionately affect minorities. Liberal governance is once again going to be hurting the very population which they say they want to help. But government can’t control capitalism to the degree it needs to in order to for minimum wage laws to work. In order for that to happen, you need to shift everything into a highly controlled mixed if not bordering on command economy. Oh, and with that, you’ll get a loss of freedom and more widespread poverty as everyone becomes the same: unproductive and poor.

I defer to the experts on things like this. One such expert I respect and quote a lot is Thomas Sowell. Do yourself a favor and spend some time on Youtube marveling at his logical and concrete examples. He’ll tell you what minimum wage actually does, it robes the poor and the youth of valuable work experience. The only way a youngster is going to get experience – learn how to show up to work  on time, learn skills, learn to function as a subordinate, etc… – the only way someone is going to get that experience is to get an entry level job. The unemployment rate for under 25 is already high. A higher minimum wage is not going to help that. In fact, it’s going to do the opposite because jobs will be scarcer as companies “hire” robots to fill positions rather than pay an unskilled 18 year old $15 an hour.

I wish the government would  let the market work. Of course, it should look out for abuses and step in when someone is clearly being taken advantage of, but it should stay out of private agreements between individuals. If I agree to work for $8 an hour, I should be allowed to do so, and it is a death to freedom and individuality when I’m told I’m not allowed to work for $8 an hour. But I am allowed to stay at home and gain no experience and no income.

If we don’t let the market work, then we are only giving way to a robotic takeover. I’m afraid there’s no stopping it now.