Saturday, June 25, 2016

Making Things The Way They Were. A Physics Problem

The Brexit decision is being showcased as a premonition of the American election, and there is no doubt that there are factors and variables that come into play in both. But sharing some or all of the variables doesn’t mean that they are the same, or even close, with respect to how those factors create the end-resulting conditions of ‘reality’. In fact, in order for anyone to posit that the degree to which these factors and outcomes are the same would imply that the values of the variables are essentially the same.  This assumes that the two ‘equations’ comprising these factors are the same, or the expectation of a common outcome is even more ludicrous.  If there were just two or three factors of significance, then attempting to quantify and compare them and the resulting ‘reality’ would be a reasonable assessment of how similar are the two results? Even if there are dozens or hundreds of variables but only two or three that dominate the equation then the other factors don’t matter much anyway. So whether the Brexit situation and America’s 2016 political election are equivalent would depend upon an understanding of the factors that they share, the factors that they don’t share, and the overall culmination of what results from them.

Perhaps it would be worthwhile to enumerate some of the factors that we hear are what Brexit and the American election share. The news and media (I do not equate the two as the same) have been presenting a couple of ‘reasons’, which I will re-term ‘factors’, that were substantive to the British voters in their decisions. The short-list would include:

Sovereignty:      The UK voters want to run their own nation without the influence and constraints of the other EU nations, and particularly the EU bureaucracy. The commonality of this sentiment with an American counterpart is at best crude or requires a significant bit of contortions. But hey, let’s see how far one might be able to ‘stretch’ rationality.  Perhaps this is akin to the “states versus federal” authority issue, or the “local” versus “a DC government department”, or it may just be the “Us versus Them” mentality that pervades our political parties or those seeking an ‘easy’ answer to all their problems. I think that there is an emotional context that applies between the UK and the US along these lines, but an emotional appeal isn’t an actual connection or comparable situation that would relate to the having the same origins, the same impacts, or producing or being addressed by some common approach to government or social environment. One big difference between the US and the UK is that the US is and has been a sovereign nation since its inception.  So regaining a ‘sovereign’ government and social approach is somewhat of a contradiction with the situation that Britain’s voters were seeking via exiting the EU. So the emotions may be more a shared factor but the logic and reality would be quite questionable. This means that it will be a factor in the US election but hopefully there is more than just the ‘feel-good’ act without any substantive purpose; because there are cause and effect consequences to an act regardless of whether you understood what they would be or not.

 “The Economy”: British voters were also motived by a slumping, stagnant and unequal economy. Yes, just like in the US (and in most/all other nations) the recovery from the last economic crisis that toppled the unstable and irrational financial monstrosities that we, them, and everyone else created and participated in; the UK voters were unhappy, unsatisfied and mostly angry about the economic reality that they are experiencing now and for several years. The economy in the US has been slow in recovering. The economy in the UK, and in the EU, and in the rest of the world has also been experiencing slow, no, or other degrees of recovery/non-recovery; but while they share some causal factors (like the financial mortgage-debt crisis), there are numerous other factors that they do not. The EU countries did not and do not operate in as cohesive a manner as their counterparts in the US do. [You have to accept for argument sake that our states are the counterparts to the EU nations, or it’s really hard to equate some of the economic factors involved in the UK/UE environment to the US’s economic environment.]

The UK voters it would appear think that they would be better off if they were not part of the EU because of either advantages in being ‘independently’ able to manage their economic relationships both internally and externally, or in not being subject to the actions and consequences of the other EU nations. Equating this to where the US is today would seem to be more of the UK wants to become like the US which has its own independent control over it economic decisions. So it would seem hard to argue that what UK voters want isn’t the same thing that US voters are seeking even though both are unhappy with the current economic climates in their respective countries.

It’s possible I suppose that there are more factors involved in any (or all) nation’s economic reality; but how likely is it that factors like Trade, Resources, Technology, Competition, Education, Infrastructure, Investment, or Taxes have any relationship to a country’s, a union’s, or the world’s economy? Oh, yeah! An economy is influenced by more than the style of government a nation follows, or even the ‘who’ provides the leadership of a government. So the Brexit decision and the US’s upcoming election not only won’t be, but can’t, address or resolve via as simple-minded an approach as the economy can be solely dealt with by who runs the government (sovereign, union, or pick-your-favorite-descriptor).

The economy may be voted on like the Brexit case, but are we sure that that was based on reason or on emotion? And regardless of what prompts the vote, the situational realities are not the same.

Jobs and Trade: Brexit is supposedly going to improve the job situation and the trade situation in the UK. Well, that’s a position that was argued by one side, but many people on the other side argued exactly the opposite. Which one was right? Well, both and neither. Leaving the EU will change things, so some will be good, and some will be bad, and some won’t change much at all; but what the end-result is only time, leadership, investment, trade, competition, technology, and you-know a few other things will tell.

There should also be a consideration, a recognition actually, that the concept of ‘returning’ jobs is premised that ‘restoring’ the jobs of before (of the past) is practical, reasoned and even desirable. The objective is a ‘nice to want’ concept and would appear to solve a part of a nation’s jobs problem; but the objective isn’t the same thing as a proof, nor is it necessarily beneficial. The jobs issue isn’t whether the US or the UK gets its old jobs back but whether it can create new, good and productive jobs that enable a superior and competitive economy. If your leaders focus on the wrong approaches and policies, then you are not likely to reach the desired goals; it’s sort of a ‘cause - effect’ thing.

Immigration: The Brits were motivated by immigration issues and concerns. Some of these related to jobs, to security, to social change, and to other diverse factors that evoked a Brexit-solution. Just as there are issues that share a name and a conceptual arena, there is little comparison between the UK’s and the US’s immigration realities. So this would call the equivalence of the two realities into question, except perhaps with respect to the level of fear evoked, or the anger, or name your emotional state.

Maybe one of the sub-issues around immigration is a key factor in both, that is meaningfully the same.
Borders: The “Protecting ‘Our’ Borders” theme differs not some much in sentiments as in realities. The UK’s borders are currently defined and operated within the context of the EU’s policies that allow (even promote) the ability to move between EU nations more or less unimpeded outside of the security processes that apply across the EU. The US’s borders are managed under US policies and processes, which is what Brexit would bring about in the UK (more or less). So the US’s view isn’t to have the control but to apply a different level and nature of control. Brexit voters want to stop ‘outside’ immigration that threatens jobs, security (see next), culture, or ???. The notion of being invaded by a huge number of illegal aliens doesn’t appear to be the motivating factor that the influx of people from Central and South America into the US is and has been for 30-plus years (or longer). The impetuous for immigration to the UK would include economic and social reasons that are also applicable to the US’s but the situations and origins of US’s illegal immigration problem not identical.  The solutions for each are certainly not the same either in terms of methods, costs, consequences and even goals.

Security: Are UK security concerns and US security concerns fundamentally the same. The goal is of course. In terms of issues/problems related to immigration, the UK and the US face different realities in many ways. The answer can thus have the goal of Security, but that is the goal it isn’t the policies or processes that will achieve the goal. Will Brexit improve the UK’s security? We can be certain that it either will or it won’t, but that outcome is not a forgone fact it is a to be determined result with all its corresponding consequences to the how it works and works out. In the US, the same laws of physics cause and effect will operate. What we do will begin the process that turns into effects that follow, but if you think you have an answer without a well-defined plan and approach is just more “wishful thinking” (which isn’t actual ‘thinking’ in the realm of reality).

Culture:  I don’t know how much a factor the “culture of the UK” was in their Brexit voting, but I am sure that it played some role for some voters. Anyone who thinks that the UK’s culture and the US’s culture are equivalent in voting for Brexit to the US’s election voting will have make the case that they are the same; unless it’s nothing more than a ‘Keep the UK for Britons’ equivalent to ‘Keep America for Americans’ another meaningless slogan that supports other objectives.

Government Leadership: “The Elites” versus “The Non-Elites”
Now here is an issue that seems to resonate in a significant group within both the UK’s and US’s populations. I emphasize with the public’s dissatisfaction, disgust, and frustration with the politicians. However once again not clear that the situations are the same for the UK and the US. It is true that the political leaders in both nations are elected by the public. They are elected from the different parties that put forth candidates in their elections. There are many more than the two dominant US parties in the UK; but those who win are elected by their voters. Now one might argue that if your government (US or UK or ??) is run by an elite-class of politicians that you choose them. If these elite politicians aren’t looking out for you, then why did you elect them exactly? If you didn’t or don’t like them, then why do you keep electing them over and over? Perhaps they weren’t ‘elite’ when you elected them, but become corrupted into an ‘elite’ once they got into power. If this is true, why would the next set of politicians that you elect not be subject to the same ‘elite’ corruption?

Wait! Is it that the ‘establishment’ politicians are ‘elite’ in regards to some other criteria? Are they folks who see themselves as ‘smart’ and represent a class of people who think they are better than everyone else, and deserve to govern? But why did you elect them?  Now personally, I take argument with many people (perhaps the vast majority) that think politicians are ‘smart’ or ‘elite’. If anything, I think that it is much more likely that we (and the British) have lowered our expectations, or requirements and our desires for individuals who might be considered some of the ‘best and brightest’ to serve as our representatives.  I sometimes contemplate whether I think the US was served better by individuals elected that were ‘just your average’ person or who were ‘a cut above’ the norm. I don’t see our American Founding Fathers as simple, average men that were just good folk like everyone else. I would contend that the issue isn’t whether a politician is a member of the ‘elite’/’establishment’/party or not but whether they present sound, reasoned, and productive policies that have some basis in achieving benefits for the nation and people.

A Physics Problem: Looking at the Brexit decision and viewing upcoming American election, there is a lesson to be learned from looking at these events as a physics problem. There is a problem and you are seeking a solution, an answer to your needs. To successfully solve the problem, you can’t choose what you want the answer to be unless all you want and expect is to express your opinion. If you actually want the world, the reality, to change into what you want then you need to do much more. You need to understand the problem, and this is not easy but it is unavoidable. You need to define what you want to happen and how that will end in some physical conditions and circumstances that achieve your goals. Oh yes, and you need to define your goals. I don’t mean just say: “I want” this or that to be, but to explain how the goal can be determined to have been reached.  You have to deal with all the things that exist where we are now, where we are to go, how we are going to get there, and when do we know that we are on track to reaching those goals. This is not the work of emotions. You don’t get there just because you are angry or afraid.

Now for the part of the physics lesson that you won’t like at all. You cannot go back to when things were the way you want them to be. You can’t go back there because you don’t or can’t control all the variables that would be required. You can’t go back there because you won’t accept the cost to do it, if you could even find a way. And here’s the killer, you can’t go back to then because it never was the way you ‘want’ it to be again.

So learn to deal with the laws of physic, cause and effect, and nothing stays the same. The key to our success as a nation (or any nation’s) is to do what Americans have done before, seek to do it better than we have done so far or that anyone else has done to date.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Guns: Rights, Risks, Controls, Consequences

Guns are a major topic and source of controversy in America. Whether the intensity and extremes of the controversy has been amplified by or even created by the Political Parties is simply one more facet of the issues around guns. Guns are one of the most polarizing issues, if not the most, that even creates some groups that are essentially one-issue voters who are positionally align with the left or the right (and maybe some other location on the spectrum), that provide a political funding source, and that are a reliable media topic whenever there is a gun-related incident like the Orlando, FL nightclub; the San Bernardino, CA government office; the Sandy Hook, CN elementary school; the Virginia Tech, VA campus; and the many other locations/incidents of mass shootings. After each event there is an outcry for Congress and the state legislatures to take some action, but little to nothing results from these demands since the political sides are entrenched and resolved to hold fast to their singular view. There is no discussion, there is just politicians stating why they are right and the other side is wrong.

For such a highly charged and evocative social issue, it also seems to be a remarkably under-discussed and an almost unexamined topic between the two Parties, and I would predict it will not be a “well debated” issue between the two ‘presumptive’ Presidential candidates. Given how much attention and time is spent by politicians, the political Parties, the media, the NRA, numerous other pro-/anti-/control of gun groups, and the public at large this would seem an impossible self-contradiction. But while there is a great deal of time consumed on the issue there is little to no actual reasoned or rational discussion and particularly no debating of the issue.

Perhaps one contributing factor for the gun issue being a highly divisive and politically unresolvable issue is that the issue is not often, if ever, even clearly defined with regards to what the underlying differences and disagreements are. Just because guns are seen as a political or social issue doesn’t mean that politicians, Parties or advocacy groups have looked at the issue(s) from a rational perspective; in fact, it seems that this issue is more driven by emotional factors than logical and cognitive views. If one were a scientist, engineer, technologist, mathematician, system analyst, or anyone engaged in solving a problem (issue) in their business or job then understanding the dimensions of a problem and determining the facts relevant to the problem would be fundamental to trying to assess and resolve the problem. This is not how the gun issue is or has been dealt with. The ‘solution’ is almost universally known a priori, but the ‘known solution’ is dependent upon your established position not by asking what addresses the requirements of the problem.

So let’s try and look at the ‘guns’ issue, but let’s do it as if it were a problem that you were seeking a sound, reasoned, and intelligent solution to and not simply seeking a solution that fits your pre-determined answer. As we start, we should acknowledge that this is a task that politicians and political Parties are not competent in performing or, if they are, they have spectacularly failed to do or attempt to do so. Given this basic lacking of any problem-solving skill-set, it is strange that the public looks to their Parties and politicians to solve this and any of their other problems.

The first step is to define the ‘gun’ problem, as it is hoped that understanding the problem might be useful in finding a solution to the problem. Many of you might relate to this in terms of answering the question: “What’s your first move?” in that it likely causes you to ask or wonder “What game are we playing?” So what is the ‘gun’ problem?

On the pro-gun side, the following seem to be the essential areas of concern or requirements to a solution.

  •      Goal: Protect citizen’s right to own a gun.  The ownership right supports the ability of a citizen to protect themselves and their families which is a justification for the need to own a gun.
  •       Requirement: The right to own a gun(s) is guaranteed under the Second Amendment, and is not to be ‘infringed’ upon by the government passing laws to that affect.
  •          Concern: Any gun control law or regulation is an attempt to prevent individuals from obtaining a gun and thus violate their right.
  •          Concern: The collection of information about gun ownership is an attempt by the government to be able to seize private citizens’ guns, which if it occurred thus violating their right.
  •          Concern: Efforts to control guns are misguided and counter-productive. Preventing citizens from obtaining or carrying guns places law-abiding citizens at risk from criminals who will not adhere to any gun regulation or law.
  •          Sub-issues: Open carry and concealed carry restrictions are an illegal infringement upon citizens’ rights.

On an anti-gun side, the following seem to be the essential areas of concern or requirements to a solution.

  •          Goal: Reduce the threat to the public presented from unrestricted access to guns.
  •          Requirement: There is generally a broader range of views on the anti-gun side regarding ownership. The anit-gun goal is varied and extends from reducing the types of guns that can be owned, to restricting where guns can be owned, or to even a complete prohibition on guns. Different solutions would thus vary on the degree to which they accommodate a particular spectrum of an anti-gun proponent.
  •          Sub-issue: Ban of hand-guns. This goal is focused specifically on hand-guns, which are seen as the weapon used in the vast majority of shootings. This is a variant of the ‘type of’ anti-gun group.
  •          Sub-issue: Ban on assault-weapons. This goal is focused specifically on guns that are fundamentally designed to shoot a large number of rounds. The semi-automatic / automatic types of guns and of magazines are all facets of this issue.
  •          Sub-issue: Locations / jurisdictions that ban guns. This goal is focused on banning guns from specified areas or jurisdictions. This goal would have to reflect either a public policy decision related directly to the residents of a ‘banned’ area, or would have to be based on some defined criteria that an area met which was legislatively identified as the justifying rationale.
  •          Sub-issue:  Open-carry and/or concealed-carry restrictions are essentially the counter-position of those opposed to the proponents of open-carry or concealed-carry.
  •         Sub-issue: Prohibition on purchasing a gun if purchaser is on a ‘restriction’ list. [Restriction category will need to be defined:  Terror watch list, no-fly, FBI active investigation list, …  .]

Not surprisingly, the pro-gun and anti-gun advocates position themselves as have been basically at non-negotiable odds with each other; since any restriction is seen as a violation of ownership rights and conversely no restriction/ban is seen as a disregard for public safety and national security.

Now if you thought the anti-gun side was the only other side, you’re just thinking in a binary world view. There is no ‘law of physics’ requirement that there are only two philosophical positions on guns. There are in fact many distinct positions that vary from each other. The pro-gun position was presented as an aggregate of positions that hold what are considered the ‘major’ themes; however, there are pro-gun proponents that support some elements of legal restrictions applied to gun ownership. The anti-gun side is its own aggregate view that isn’t a one-size fits all position, and there is another perspective that is focused on gun-violence control versus an anti-gun philosophy that is a distinct perspective that isn’t required to be aligned with or in opposition to the other two common orientations.

The gun-violence control side is focused on a dimension of guns that is quite different from the pro- or anti- gun positions. There is no absolute requirement from this group’s goals that would deny citizens their 2nd Amendment right to own a gun. Thus resolving the gun issue from this perspective doesn’t require or result in a conflict over ownership rights versus public safety and national security.

On a gun-violence control side, the following seem to be the essential areas of concern or requirements to a solution.
  • Goal: Reduce the incidents and number of deaths that are gun-related.
  • Requirement: Accept and protect gun ownership rights in concert with providing adequate, effective and efficient mechanisms and processes to reduce gun deaths and other gun-related criminal activities.
  • Sub-issue: Require back-ground checks for all gun purchases.
  • Sub-issue: Waiting period for:  any gun, or hand gun, or a designated type of weapon.
  • Sub-issue: Establish gun registry requirement.
  • Sub-issue: Eliminate restrictions on law enforcement entities from sharing gun data/information.

Taking these three sides and the differing objectives, the problem might reasonable be summarized as:
  1.           Gun ownership rights must be accommodated and protected.
  2.           Limits on guns must be allowed.
  3.        Reductions in gun deaths, crimes and security risks must be accounted for in any policy.

Solutions that can address these objectives are evidently perceived as non-existent since the ‘gun issue’ persists and persists without any evident or notable progress toward a resolution. A major obstacle is a perception that the gun ownership right is threatened by any law about guns other than ones that make access easier; however, this is not an historically accurate perception. It’s not that there aren’t adequate legal means to both preserve and protect the 2nd Amendment right, and there are solutions that can overcome one of the deep-seated fears by some that the government will attempt to seize private individual’s guns under some nefarious attempt to overturn our democratic government.  So one question is how much of the resistance to laws directed at meeting other goals for guns would diminish or disappear, if the ‘right to own’ were further protected by legislation that defines the penalties that are required by law if Congress and/or the Administration were to attempt to undertake any seizure of guns not authorized jointly by a federal and state court or related to an imminent threat* of the owner to the public (* - a power that exists under current law and doesn’t violate the ownership right). The legislative language would be diligently reviewed by the pro-gun advocacy groups like the NRA so that gun rights are adequately insured.

By providing well-defined and clearly acknowledged ownership right ‘protection’ requirements, the fear of “The Government” taking everyone’s guns is rendered illegal. While there will be some who will insist that “The Government” could still attempt to seize all private weapons, the action itself would require that the US military would support it. For the military to do that would mean that our sons and daughters that serve in the armed forces would permit and participate in violating not just the 2nd Amendment right but our basic American values.

If the ownership right aspect of the gun issue can be reasonable accommodated and protected, then some of the other concerns and issues can be examined as separate and solvable pieces of the problem.

The issue of ‘banning’ can be explored. Today there are already weapons that are banned, so this is not an all-or-none issues but rather determining what the categories of weapons are that are banned. What is at issue isn’t banning or not banning but where the line is drawn. So a decision must be made and if the current circumstances indicate that the previous decision may be questionable then it can be revisited. We have seen these decisions reexamined before, so it is not a threat to ownership but a responsibility of our elected officials to determine in the light of our own times. Additionally, even the term ‘banned’ needs to be clearly defined. Some weapons could be (and currently are) banned completely, some would be limited to specific conditions and banned outside that domain, and some others may have constraints that are defined under the legislation; with remaining weapons listed as unlimited by its designated and documented classification.

Each area of contention can be examined for how it can be resolved with an approach that protects ownership rights, and provides for public safety and national security, and that reduces the level of gun-related deaths and crime. Background checks, waiting-periods, sales and distribution reporting, and even registration processes can be established that are purposefully designed to insure that private citizens’ rights are protected.  The problem is that politicians are not likely to be able (competent) to solve these issues, which is why they haven’t been able to solve these problems. Now just because those who the public turns to are not equipped to handle the task doesn’t mean that there aren’t those who can.

The gun problems are there. If you think Congress or your state legislature has solved them then you are ok with the status quo. If you are not happy with the status quo then you need to ask Congress or your state legislature not to solve the problems but to seek people who are competent to provide them with public policy approaches that do, and to then enact appropriate legislation to accomplish the multiple goals that the multiple dimensions of the issues require. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

What We Can Learn From Ryan’s Endorsement

Sen. Paul Ryan endorsed the Republican Party’s 2016 Republican nominee, the presumptive and de facto nominee at least. The convention will formal confer the official title in an exciting climax that will keep everyone on the edge of their seats. As soon as ?news? of the endorsement broke there was an immediate and self-evident explanation by the political analysts and talking-heads that Ryan had no choice but to endorse. One might ask therefore, what does it mean to be endorsed by someone who has no choice; or what does it tell us about the politics of political parties?
So what can we learn?

We can learn, if we didn’t already know, a variety of things about politics, Parties, media, and the voters/public. Of course that we can learn from this doesn’t in any way mean that we will. As in all areas, the act of learning requires that information is noticed (in some way attended to), that some processing of the information creates a new state of awareness that would affect future behavior differently than if that information had not been noticed, and that the information or the processed results from it are retained/remembered at some level. Perhaps a simpler statement would be that ‘learning means that a changed understanding has occurred’, but like most things in life making simpler statements doesn’t mean that it’s easier to comprehend the meaning of such statements.

Learning something about politics: Ryan didn’t immediately endorse Trump once he had breached the ‘inevitable’ delegate barrier so there must have been some reasoning for refraining to ‘hop on the wagon’. Since we are talking about a politics the reasoning at least in part needs to be examined through the lens of a political calculus. One variable for Ryan most certainly was how to use his endorsement delay (assumes the inevitability as a given) to gain influence, position and commitments from the situation. In other words, to do what any politician would do, to increase their political capital and to get his agenda included in the Party’s platforms, policies, and plans. Thus through his delay tactic, Ryan is more powerful and influential within the Party. His position is strengthened regardless of whether Trump wins or loses, and he has established himself as an independent power-base for shaping and directing legislative direction and as a counter-balance to the Administration, even should it be Trump’s.

As a leader in the Party, particularly among the ideological conservatives, the delay provided for Ryan to get meetings and understandings from the Trump campaign that he thinks will serve his views, principles and policies. By engaging in these discussions, Ryan provides a basis for why what he thinks is in the best interests of the Party, the nation and his own career are being sufficiently met by or agreed to by Trump and his campaign. Thus Ryan enhances his image and his actual credibility with the Party, and with his own supporters.

Given that his endorsement was a given, or more accurately an event that he had no choice but to make, Ryan used his delay to an advantage which he could not have gotten had the Trump campaign been more politically astute in reacting to. At the political level, Ryan out maneuvered everyone else and it’s not clear anyone noticed.

Learning something about the Party: There are a few things that I would expect are commonly known about the Party, but on the off chance that they aren’t then you could learn that the Party puts its own interests before the nation, our citizens, its own constituents, its own ideology and principles, and our democratic form of government and American values. Since Ryan had and has no choice in endorsing the Party’s candidate, the Party requires absolute allegiance and obedience to its Party-first doctrine. This isn’t a unique or novel aspect of a political Party, it’s just a disappointing one. Surprisingly, it represents a philosophical and social mentality that is in oddly what should be in direct opposition to Ryan’s own views. Perhaps Ryan is struggling as best he can within a situation where he cannot find a clear path toward the goals that he believes in. What we can learn for this dilemma is that not every challenge is met and overcome by those who are confronted by the challenge, no matter how much they want to do what is right the Party offers no choice but to conform and obey.

Learning something about the media: The ‘Ryan Endorsement’ issue even tells us something about the media. What was the issue(s) that concerned Ryan that were at odds with the Trump campaign or Trump’s policies that required clarity or compromise before an endorsement could be given? What were the details of the resolution that enabled Ryan to support Trump? If it’s accepted that Ryan didn’t have a choice except to endorse then what did the media provide by way of information about what the delay was for? Did the media ever mention that Ryan would eventually ‘have to endorse’ before he announced his endorsement?

So what does this inform us about the media? It says that the media is quite ineffective and inefficient in applying any critical analysis to topics that they identify as an issue. They turn to ‘experts’ who they expect to provide them with answers and insights into an issue, to their questions, and to provide an understanding of an event, condition or circumstances. However, they don’t get answers or insights that appear to actually provide any substantive information. That may be a result that they don’t know they are not getting any value-added information and just accept that the answers given are the best that they can get. We learn that the media is very inept at following up on a response, in assessing defects or contradictions in answers, or in challenging their ‘experts’ to provide either immediate sources or references to their statements or in even asking if the sources will be provided within 24 hours in writing.

We can learn much from the media here, but it’s not necessarily much that puts them in a favorable light.  The purpose of a free, independent and constitutionally protected media is to provide information on events that serve to inform the public. Meeting this objective isn’t something that is accomplished simply by spending more and more time talking about the issue without providing any substance about the issue.

Learning something about the voters/public: What can be learned about voters or the public depends upon the various groups and demographics that compose the overall population. There are the Party-aligned groups, the Party-unaligned, the non-Partied but ideologically bent, the single-issued, the racial/ethnic/economic/gender/belief-orientation/generational/level of education stratifications that present views of the world that filter the ‘meaning’ or ‘importance’ of items like Ryan’s endorsement. If you are a Party faithful or die-hard then Ryan’s endorsement is demanded and required or you cannot be a Republican. Much like there will be a Democratic endorsement expectation and requirement for their Party faithful and die-hards. So for that segment of the population that falls into these groups, Party affiliation preempts any individual or personal views on what justifies and validates an endorsement. A Party member’s endorsement being required renders it unsubstantial and unimportant, it's just a pro forma task to retain one’s credentials in the Party. 

For the unaligned the endorsement is more relevant in terms of the individual given the endorsement than about the person being endorsed. Most people who are unaligned likely expect that the ‘no choice’ requirement means that it doesn’t mean anything that they care about. But the conditions and circumstances and the nature of the endorsement may be significant to this segment of voters. If the endorsement comes with a rationale and energy that demonstrates that the endorsement would have been made regardless of the Party’s ‘no-choice’ requirement. If the endorsement seems to be a cursory action that just couldn’t be avoided, then it may in fact be a de facto act of rejection in disguise.

For other groups/segments in the population that view Ryan’s endorsement through their own lens the consequence is more likely to be a response impacting Ryan than Trump. If the endorsement is seen as a capitulation on principles, policies or issues that are the core drivers to those individuals then it would not be advantageous to Ryan. If the endorsement is seen as a misjudgment or failure of leadership then it weakens Ryan’s image, support and influence with these groups.
The public may be influenced by endorsements but not necessarily in the manner or ways that the politicians or the Parties believe. Endorsement are double-edged weapons which more likely than not hurt the endorser than benefit the endorsed. For those who require it, the endorsements are useless in gaining any actual value. For those who look at the endorsement in non-Party terms, the significance is much more unpredictable since the “cause and effect” consequences from the endorsement depends upon other factors that are relevant to the individual voter who judges that endorsement in terms of their values, issues, and positions.

We learn that the public can see an endorsement as anywhere from being total unimportant and irrelevant to being a critical test of character, principles and values. Thus if not placed in the right context, politicians are skating on thin ice if they do not understand how the ripples from their endorsement will affect the voters’ boats.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Trump-Effect and Political Denial – Choosing Versus Owning

The 2016 election is certainly entertaining, which may not be a bad thing in and of itself. Surely a campaign season that engages the public’s interest is better than one that doesn’t or conversely that causes the public to disengage or worse completely abandon their participation in the political process. Of course, we can hope that most people would likely agree that the purpose of campaigns isn’t to entertain but rather instead to inform and participate on public and national issues.

So here’s an interesting question: Is the public more engaged on issues because of the quality of the campaigns, the debates, the issues being discussed?

Based on the content of topics in the news, I am hard pressed to conclude that the issues are being well served by anyone’s campaign, the debates, or what the media finds most deserving of its responsibility to present to the public. This isn’t to say that they are entertaining us, but it’s supposed to be the news not entertainment.

This isn’t unique to the 2016 election, the disingenuous style of political campaigns isn’t new but perhaps the extent and concerted efforts by parties, candidates and campaigns to adhere to and placate the extreme wings of their constituents is reaching the dysfunctional level. Add to this that no candidate or party have sound, reasoned and effective approaches or policies to deal with national issues and the net result is that we have the American equivalent of our candidate Nero(s) “fiddling while Rome burns”.

The source and cause of America’s political dysfunction isn’t of course principally with the candidates, it’s with the voters (including the ones who don’t). The reason is that the candidates and their parties can’t succeed without the complicity of the public allowing and even abetting the spectacle over the substance. It is this convoluting of emotional appeal in place of rationality that in part explains the rise in the “anti-candidacies” (those politicians who aren’t the same-old party hacks) that have a popular appeal. The appeal is satisfying, visceral and even communal. It’s politics as sport; the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ only one team can win view of the nation. The ‘traditional’ politicians even strive to garner that tribal susceptibility.

What does it mean to be an ‘anti-candidate’? It’s to be an ‘outsider’, a ‘pure’ this or that, a non-establishment partisan, and/or a ‘true-believer’. The benefits to being an anti-candidate is that you are already not something that the public hates, despises and sees as being the ultimate source of all the nation’s ills: Yes, a politician. Being an anti-candidate is a proclamation that you are not one of those scum that your supporters otherwise would object to.

The surprising aspect of being an anti-candidate is that they are appealing to the voters as not the people that these voters have so often elected in the past. The voters don’t seem to see the schizophrenic nature of electing a politician and then wanting someone who isn’t at all like the ones they just elected to replace them because they don’t like the results. Presumably the voters are applying a political version of the gambler’s fallacy. So if the voters just play another round they will definitely win because they have lost so many time before and are not due to get a ‘good’ politician. The notion that the voters themselves are choosing candidates that produce the unacceptable, inept, and damaging policies isn’t seen as the ‘original’ sin. Failing to see their own culpability the public is unlikely to comprehend that “the fault, dear ‘voter’, lies not in the ‘candidates’ but in ourselves”.

In this context, the ‘Trump-effect’ is a measure of how disassociated the voters can be with substance of a candidate versus the simple sensation itself a candidate creates. The Trump-effect presents itself across a variety of dimensions but in each the value and quality fails to present itself. Consider the value and quality that is derived from:

“He says what he thinks.” The implication is that he is being honest and not simply ‘politically correct’. Of course, saying what you think can be many things besides this, and there is no proof or validation that what is said is honest or in fact politically incorrect. Perhaps what is said prompts discussion, but then perhaps it just petrifies positions on an issue since what is said doesn’t contribute to a discussion, to an explanation of the reasoning that justifies the statement(s), or to a comprehension of what the issue is and what the impacts of any proposed policy would be. Is saying what you think good just because it is thought? Fools think what they say is good to the same degree that an actual intelligent person does. People who believe in their position on Climate Change think what they say is good, informed, reasoned, and correct; however, at the end both sides cannot be right. Saying what you think isn’t a sufficient condition to establish any merit in your position.

Then there’s celebrity, a trait that usually is detrimental to a candidate but it isn’t always so Trump isn’t the first celebrity candidate. But again what is the value or the virtue of celebrity in an anti-candidate being celebrity? Does celebrity prove or even demonstrate intelligence, wisdom, judgment, leadership, integrity, a sense of public/civic duty, or other admirable qualities that one would want in an elected official? Many celebrities are the epitome of the exact opposite of what voters would define as qualities that they seek in representatives. Just being well-known doesn’t attest to the abilities required to perform as national leader, or even a state leader.  

In the current case, being a consistent and steadfast individual regarding core issues seems to be an asymmetric requirement. An anti-candidate can be a “Flip-Flopper” who has changed their stance on issues one or more times while other candidates from the same party would be disqualified if they were to ‘flip-flop’ or had ‘flip-flopped’ in the past. How the same voters who castigated previous politicians for what is now nothing to be concerned about doesn’t explain what changed about the quality of the candidate unless the issue was never important to begin with.  

Finally, like other facets of an anti-politician, the concern over special interests’ having too much political influence is asymmetric. Claiming to be untainted by special interests is a claim but as all prospectuses note the claims made ‘based on past performance is no guarantee about future performance’. The claim isn’t necessarily accurate either. What constitutes a ‘special interest’ condition of influence, and thus how can voters know that none exists? Plus, since much of our political influence comes from political action committees and lobbying entities, the assertion that an anti-candidate is somehow free from or ‘pure’ of influence is a dubious claim. There is an asymmetry that isn’t absent in this situation that doesn’t seem to have occurred to others. If you have been a contributor to campaigns in the past, how exactly would you be clean of political influence? Perhaps if considered in a more fundamental context of the current political environment which has to exist for an anti-candidate to be possible there must exist the value and quality of having been a contributor to produce in fact a precursor cause to the dissatisfaction that the public has with politicians and with imbalanced and self-serving political influence.

That brings us to the salient question. Why do the voters attend to the spectacle and the entertainment and so ardently avoid the issues? Being an insider or outsider is only important if it brings with it a difference in what the public policies and approaches to government will be. Making an impact there requires that those policies are clearly stated, presented in contrast to that of one’s opponents, and explained in the context of how they will be delivered. And when those policies and approaches fail in being delivered and don’t produce the results “promised”, as they so often do, a candidate needs to be forthcoming with what their plan is for what corrective actions and changes will be made to undo the errors in policies that were advocated by said same candidate.

The voters should take heed of an American truth: “You get what you pay for.”; but more importantly voters ought to be equally concerned that “You pay for what you get.”

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fairness and New Burdensome, Onerous, Demanding, Trying Tax(ing) Plans

It’s campaign season, so that also means that the public, the media, the political parties, and a plethora of special-interest groups will be striving to bring the electorate on board, to bait you with something you want, to hook you with some attractive emotional lure. This is not unusual, in fact, it is the very essence of a political campaign: trying to win over the hearts and minds of the voters. So this season is like those that preceded it. The politicians are trying out various forms of bait to find those that are effective in getting nibbles from this years’ stock of voters. Fairness is a recurring component in several of the newly refurbished lures.

Voters are attracted to an eclectic set of lures. Given the Family: Voter, we can find a wide range of species and sub-species that appear to have various genetically triggered compulsions for one particular type of lure while other species are irresistibly drawn to different bright and shiny items. Among the lures required by any candidate trolling the depths or shallows are the must-have standards: foreign policy, healthcare, National Security, Jobs, the Economy, and oh yes TAXES.

Not surprisingly we are seeing candidates’ Tax Plan proposals being cast onto the scene in hopes of snagging a few voters. New tax approaches to resolve the problem that has so cunningly evaded any effective or successful strategy for decades. New creative ideas to excite the public so as to entice taking a bite. Feeding on how their frenzied frustration, anger and disdain for the current tax code and the IRS. Innovative plans that completely change the cost of government to the public and to businesses.

Well, maybe not actually new, or creative, or innovative ideas but at least they are plans so that’s something. It’s not really important that the plans aren’t new solutions, because the salient issue is whether our nation’s tax system can be improved. Isn’t that really what the voters are looking for? A tax system that is “fairer”, that improves the nation’s economy, that helps families afford a decent lifestyle, that promote business and growth, and that delivers the government and government functions required to sustain the nation. All the things that the public wants, and candidates are solicitously promising, that their plan will achieve; particularly a “fairer” way of taxing.

But is every plan able to deliver the same results? Because if every plan can solve the problem then it must not have been that hard. Isn’t one plan better than another? Because if they all provide for the same “fairness” and the same value then does it matter whose plan you prefer (or which candidate)? Are all plans at least better than the current tax system? How would we know? Because if they’re not then aren’t we just going to be reeled in to feed the system rather than being taught how to fish so we aren’t dependent upon a ‘catch and release’ campaign returning us to the same pool?

I believe that there is a way to answer those questions. It may seem a little strange and certainly it’s unusual, and it goes against every rule of political campaigning; but maybe voters deserve a little more than they are getting, just like they deserve a better tax code than the one they currently have.
Every voter wants a “fair” tax code. Ok, almost all voters do; or the majority do. Enough voters want a “fair” tax code to make having one in your campaign important. And having “fairness” being a key element of the new plan is the only way to bait the hook and satisfy them. So given how important “fairness” is, what exactly would a “fair” tax plan be? What is “fair”?

Surely a “Fair” tax code in a democracy would treat everyone equally. Now equally doesn’t mean everyone pays the same dollar amount in taxes, no one is as moronic as to expect that. Equally means that there aren’t special rules and circumstances that would advantage one person or group over others; no special exemptions, deductions, loopholes, credits, incentives, nothing that makes it un-“fair”. Except is a system that doesn’t recognize some or any special rules and circumstances really “fair”? Is having no deductions for children/dependents and taxing a family of four the same amount as an individual or couple with no dependents dollar for dollar the same amount when their incomes are the same “fair”? What about being blind? What about deductions for home mortgage interest? Excessive medical expenses?

It is not self-evident that “fairness” is excluding all else from consideration. In fact, if there isn’t any reason to take into account special circumstances why is there a different tax rate for income versus capital gains? Is it “fair” to tax one form of earnings less than another? We all know the rationale used to treat the two forms of earning differently, but that doesn’t explain why the two tax categories is “fair” just that there is a reason (and we believe a benefit) for the unequal treatment.

Being realistic no one is expecting that the tax system will be perfectly “fair” but we are looking to ‘fix’ the blatantly un-“fair” present system that isn’t even close to “fair” or treating everyone equally.
Except does the present tax-code treat people unequally? What if it actually treats everyone exactly the same? Now since it is a very complex tax-code, and there are tons of exemptions and ‘this’-s and ‘that’-s; let’s focus on the progressive rate method. That’s unfair right? As you make more, we tax you at increasing rates. It’s like you’re being punished for succeeding. But not actually, since the progressive rate method taxes everyone exactly the same. Just like the “flat-tax” method, and just like the four-tiered Trump plan, or the ‘this many/that many’ tiered plans. The particular rate schedule method doesn’t tax you differently, so how many rates you have is a red-herring. Don’t be distracted by the notion that the rate makes the difference, it doesn’t. Under every plan, every one, you will never pay more or less than anyone else for the same amount of earned income. Every American pays the same tax on the first thousand dollars of taxable income, for the first ten thousand, hundred thousand, million, ten million and billion. What differs is that not everyone earns a million. But you and the millionaire and the billionaire each paid exactly the same amount of taxes on that first thousand dollars of taxable earned income.

The “fairness” isn’t in the rate table, or in the flatness of the rate, or number of tiers, or the difficulty of the math. If that was where the “fairness” really was then even our elected politicians could have solved this problem long ago. And any of the candidates running today would be able to solve the problem (unless they have done something really, really stupid with their plan that would be just unexplainable). But the rate structure isn’t where the unfairness is, the unfairness is in the complexity of the special rules and circumstances that alter what is or isn’t counted as taxable earned income.

To get to “fairness” the questions that need to be dealt with are much more difficult than picking a rate. Those answers will require a clear and understandable rationale for a tax policy and even a taxing rate structure that addresses fundamental aspects of our nation, it’s economy, and the preservation of our democracy. We will have a “fair” tax code when we have agreed how to handle the needs of the people and the nation in a manner that meets our responsibilities to our freedom.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Solutions: Doctrine for Conflict/War Driven Immigration

What the United States, the European Union and Middle-Eastern nations need both individually and in a correlated manner is a Doctrine of Conflict/War Driven Immigration. It would be even better if the United Nations had a Doctrine for Conflict/War Driven Immigration; but such a doctrine would run afoul of procedural controls that prevents the United Nations from affecting a policy that would disturb one or more of its privileged members. So the proposed doctrine would be a foreign policy lightning rod for those nations and world powers who either benefit from war/conflict situations or who fear the doctrine would interfere with their ability to act on the world stage without consequences beyond their control.

The proposed doctrine is conceived on the principle that non-military citizens of a nation where the societal structure is disintegrating under internal conflict or civil war have a right to safety in their lives, their families’ lives, in their businesses/professions, and in their beliefs. In essence the doctrine asserts that when a nation’s governmental entities cannot ensure the safety of their citizens or is the actual threat to their citizens and thereby results in a portion of their population to attempt emigration to another country. That situation of emigration would constitute a condition for other nations receiving the influx of emigrants to be empowered to act under the doctrine.

When internal conflicts produce massive, large-scale exoduses of their civil population to other nation states’ territories, the consequence is invariably an immigration crisis to those affected nations. The crisis can manifest along any number of dimensions but always includes humanitarian, security and economic problems. Accommodating the influx of people requires that receiving nations’ government agencies have policies, resources and funding to respond to the immigrants. Even if these nations’ had programs in-place to handle nominal levels of immigrants, those programs do not automatically or simply ramp-up to deal with a large rapid increase. Even when extraordinary efforts are made to respond and provide care, the immediate actions and solutions are only temporary. As additional immigrants continue to arrive and as the duration of support extends over time, the impacts on nations can exceed their ability to provide refugee relief and to accommodate and integrate the refugees into their economies and societies.

These crises usually result in border closings and confrontations, isolation camps for refugees, refugee smuggling activities, internal political issues, and of course increasing costs. Regardless of the outcome of the conflict/war within the refugee’s home nation, the receiving nations will not have a means to recover their costs from those nations that caused the crises. Thus providing a haven for citizens of other nations in conflict is a destabilizing force that has few, if any, benefits. It thus become incumbent upon these nations to affect policies and programs to respond more effectively than just struggling with refugees and hoping for an end to the conflict that will allow for repatriation.

The proposed Doctrine for Conflict/War Immigration permits a nation or group of nations to designate a nation undergoing conflict and thereby promoting emigration to their nation as a regional or global stability threat. Based on evoking the doctrine under this circumstance the impacted nation(s) would be within their rights to secure a section of the refugees’ nation for refugee support, settlement and protection. Thus under the doctrine affected nations become governmental representatives for the refugees in the area(s) designated as in-nation refugee havens. Any action taken by any group, in-national military force or any external entity not in-nation against the haven areas would represent an act of war and permit military actions against such without restrictions.

Within the haven area(s) the doctrine’s policies would be to promote the resettlement of refugees into the delivery of local business, healthcare, community and to become the internal security and law enforcement operation for refugee/residents. No accommodation is made for any military group that is actively engaged in the on-going conflict, so the haven is not an area for one side, faction or group to organize or secure their military resources. The haven area(s) create a safe place for civilians until those citizens decide to rejoin with whatever government is recognized as a post-conflict sovereign government or become a separate state. The nation(s) instituting the haven(s) use their resources on constructive solutions that don’t disrupt their own economies and cause internal displacements that add to the problems produced by the immigration events.

This doctrine is intended to make it undesirable and self-destructive to nations that engage militarily in internal conflicts that result in mass migrations of their citizens to other nations. The doctrine does not address or offer a basis for responding to internal national conflicts that do not involve civil migrations.

The Doctrine of Conflict/War Driven Immigrations puts in place an option and a means for nations to respond to the causal agents of the crises rather than just being caught in a responsive position with little to no impact on or influence on the factors that are at the source of the crises. Ignoring the cause through inaction has the predictable outcome of not making any difference.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Faithful Belief in the Law Of Unintended Consequences

Kentucky may be the Tennessee of the 21st century. While I doubt that the Kim Davis – Rowan County Clerk’s office incident will spawn a play or motion picture, it may be setting a precedent that has interesting implications. At this writing the situation revolving around the ‘conflict’ between the right to marriage equality versus the right to religious freedom has apparently settled into a proclaimed victory by both sides. Certainly the Constitutional right to equal treatment regarding same-sex marriages is unaltered and required despite the clerk’s refusal to perform the function herself; and the clerk seems satisfied to just not engage in fulfilling that function within her office while allowing other office personnel to process and approve the licenses.

At one level this might be viewed as a form of ‘reasonable accommodation’ for her religious beliefs. Although, to fulfill the spirit of the legal basis for that position it would seem to imply that her religious beliefs are to be considered a disability recognized under another law. This does not seem reasonable since religious beliefs are deemed a normal aspect of our civil lives. So it would seem that the accommodation is made more in alignment with another law that supports and permits social accommodations to individual’s religious beliefs and traditions. However in neither case of making an accommodation does its underlying supportive law allow for a public official to not fulfill their official duties.

So the question to be considered is what are the ramifications of the current accommodation or ‘stand-off’? Just because this case may be considered settled, as long as no one attempts to introduce yet another lawsuit related to a subordinate issue like: challenging the legitimacy of the issued licenses, or creating a hostile work environment if the issue were to surface in her office; there can be subsequent effects for the precedent that is being accepted. In other words, what are the Law of Untended Consequences that follow from this state?

If one elected official can decide individually based on a religious belief what governmental functions and duties they are permitted to refuse to perform, how wide ranging is that individual’s discretion in ignoring the law? No one can say that this objection only applies to this one duty but no others because how would anyone know? With the precedent that it’s permissible to reject a function that offends your beliefs then at any time another law might be just as offensive or even more so to one’s beliefs. In some cases this would become apparent immediately upon refusal such as when the Clerk’s office refused to issue marriage licenses; however, not all deviations from adhering to the law need be so obvious. If the Clerk determined that following a procedure wasn’t proper and allowed a filing to be approved that would have been rejected is procedures were followed, who would know or perhaps complain? The unintended consequence, we have a precedent that approves of a public servant not following the law.

Next effect that can follow from this precedent: does the right to not have to follow the responsibilities of one’s office extend to all levels of government? Can the Clerk’s staff operate independently of the Clerk’s positions on policy because of their religious belief? This would mean that there is no equality of the law since it now depends upon the whims of those public servants who are paid to follow their interpretations of religion and not the fundamental principles of our American system of government. Now if you think that having a horde of public servants running wild with our laws is disturbing, imagine the consequences on the other end of the public servant spectrum; let’s think state and federal legislators, executive department heads, state governors or the president.

Why an opportunistic politician might even deduce that they could justify any decision, policy or action simply by citing their religious belief that compels them to follow the ‘laws of God’ which have supremacy over the ‘laws of the land’. Now I know that no one would think any of our politicians would ever do such a clearly unconstitutional act since they took an oath of office sworn before their respective deity of choice. But now there is a precedent that says there really isn’t any requirement to follow the Constitution not even if you are a strict interpretationist.

I keep wondering if this was the reason that the Founding Fathers were so insistent that the government must avoid putting a governmental stamp upon civil enforcement of a religion’s view upon the public. Allowing a public servant to use a religious belief to negate a law is effectively recognizing that religion at the exclusion of others. So a consequence of the reasonable accommodation becomes a crack in our American principle of religious freedom. It cannot be possible for the government to support one religious view that contradicts another religious view on the same question without overtly ‘establishing one religion’ within the context of the law.

There might be a motion picture concept in this notion after all, but it’s not a story about the self-appointed clerk of the law but about the willful forfeiture of a sacred American principle and the slow corrosive impacts that can proceed from there.