Archive for the ‘opinion’ Category

On Inequality

May 11, 2017

Since at least, the bought and paid for result in Bush v Gore (2000), a saying of mine has been, “Never has an increase in public cynicism failed to benefit the Republican”.   Today, reading Joseph Stieglitz The Price of Inequality, he explains it in easy-to-understand terms.  On p. 120:

If the belief takes hold that the political system is stacked, that it’s unfair, individuals will feel released from the obligations of civic virtue… In the United States today and in many other democracies around the world, mistrust is ascendant.

The irony is that the wealthy who seek to manipulate the political system for their own ends welcome such an outcome.  Those who turn out to vote are those who see the political system working, or at least working for them. …

Moreover, if voters have to be induced to vote because they are disillusioned, it becomes expensive to turn out the vote; the more disillusioned they are the more it costs. But the more money that is required, the more power that the moneyed interests wield.  For those with money, spending to shape the political process is not a matter of civic virtue; it is an investment, from with they demand (and get) a return … That, in turn increases the sense of disillusionment that pervades the rest of the electorate and boosts the power of money further.

I’d leave it there but for an anecdote.  I’ve volunteered to make phone calls for John Wisniewski, NJ Assemblyman, and a candidate for the June 6 Democratic primary.     We use a robo-dialer with prepared lists of likely supporters or likely persuadable.  On the evening before the first TV debate we were using the latter.   I happened on a citizen whose standard reply was “they’re all crooks”.   Realize this is not an opportunity to debate with such an attitude, I offered that she might challenge herself and tune in and see how she felt after the debate.   “They’re all crooks” — Thank you for your time.

At the risk of disappointing my candidate and supporters, having watched the debate on Stockton University’s Facebook live stream, I’ll offer this judgement:  the least among the Democrats will be a much better public servant than any of the Republicans.    A bit of background. My support for Wisniewski is for his being the Assembly leader in the “Bridgegate” investigation, attempting to hold Gov Christie responsible for the actions of his immediate subordinates.   Wisniewski’s strongest points, in summary, are his plan to right the state’s troubled pension system, protect our environment, make good the Irene/Sandy recovery,  and reduce the influence of the state’s political county chairs.    I think he was unique among the four Democrats in calling for eliminating one of the state’s standard tests, the PARC, which he says the test-preparation costa the students and teachers 15 days/yr of valuable education time.  Depending which poll you follow, he’s either 2nd or 3rd, behind Phil Murphy, the latest Goldman Sachs gubernatorial candidate.   I’m feeling good about my choice.

So, bottom line, I’m invigorated by a Nobel Prize economist having illuminated the cause of political cynicism.   It’s important to me …







The Road Not Taken

November 15, 2016

Because of the recent national election disaster, I’m tacking my boat to port.   I’d spent way too much time on Facebook, and not enough time reflecting, pondering, thinking and then writing.   In a follow-up post to my sister Meg, on that other forum, I left a thought I’ve been simmering these past seven days:  I’ll be restricting my posts there to the family stuff, like our children, and theirs, our six grandchildren.   Recently their gift of Blue Apron to grandma and grandpa, for example, can make it’s way to Facebook.

Otherwise, my only self-restrictions on Facebook will be political comment and cat videos.    Political comment will be here, with references on Twitter, and in our closed family mailing list.

So, looking down the road not taken, we see the poem allows us to ponder that path for the remainder of our lives.   And in the case of this election, we’re allowed to consider the person of Uncle Sam as the one who trod the path.

President Obama, in recent days, advises us to “give the man time to make his choices” before getting rankled on first appearances.   I believe Obama has learned greatly in his time in office.   An early judgement of mine was his apparent political naiveté on the possibility of political comity from the other side.  And, I’ve not said it here, but I “blame” VP Joe Biden, while as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in his last blanket-trust act in behalf of the Republicans, gave Clarence Thomas a free pass to the Supreme Court.   He had the power to block him, and didn’t.   Obama came to office not having learned the lesson, and thought he could lead by example.   I daren’t count the number of times he was rebuffed.  He must have been listening to his mother’s advice, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again”.  So, in the present instance, I’ll be taking the President’s advice, and giving the president-elect some room to make his own naive mistakes.  But not for long.

In an exercise of self-correction, and hence withdrawing from the sand-trap that is Facebook,  I’ll take more time — days and weeks — rather than minutes, to render an opinion on the scandal of political news.

For my father and his, recorded in  The Cub’s Corner and Martinis, respectively, the publishing cycle allowed them a week to fill their column. They occasionally felt the pressure of the deadline.  This suggests one of the great things about the past: as we chose to filter our memories, the past was “slower”; we felt less pressure to be in the moment.  Martin’s Sr and Jr chose their own way to observe their present.  Sr gave us classics such as “The Family Dog”, “The Plumber”, “Our Congressman”, “My National Readership”,  while Jr was about the cup of coffee on Main Street, the troubles of the local merchants, introducing HHH around town, his own growing brood, and awe of his own father. These were more imminent than Sr’s and reflected the quickening post-war prosperity.

We have some sense of their “roads not taken”.   In the case of Sr, it would be the early death of his first bride, and loss of a daughter, but his later re-marriage brought us yet another lovely family.   And my father, Jr, had imagined a career in the big-city news. But the WW II that required my grandfather to operate the family newspaper also brought my father home.    How do we relate those to the present need?    Those men, in their own times, and possibly halting efforts,  were effective models in extending the promise of the American dream to those around them.   They lived and flourished in  the 30’s and 60’s respectively, where social progress was taken for granted as the essence of that dream.   The brief resurgence offered by the ’90s has been trimmed by the general hostility of the 80’s and the current 10’s.   So, my hope is the present moment is but a brief interlude, and the generation before us returns America to a sense of shared, rather than exclusive progress.

I will not join those who predict or hope for failures from  the incoming administration.   Rather expect a growing political awareness to distinguish between our leaders directing shared spirit and purpose, rather than exclusive gains.   Those are at the fork in this road.  Which will be the road not taken?


Dark Money, the Koch Bros

February 21, 2016
This letter went to a good friend, a member of the MIT of Northern NJ Club.
    Your challenge to MIT President Hockfield is often on my mind.   It’s a story I relate at appropriate moments.   Here’s more fuel for the fire.   The current NY Review of Books has a review of a book by Jane Mayer, Dark Money, where Bill McKibben, the reviewer, summarizes Mayer’s laying bare the Koch brother’s outsized, and corrupt (my characterization) of the influence of money on the election process.
   I’ll be writing, not a review of the article, but an indictment, to be posted on Facebook (and anywhere I can do some good) challenging those who give money to any Republican to point out they are wasting their money, since Charley and Dave have all the influence money can buy.   And then working to support my cousin, Rick Nolan. (D, MN 8th) who faces Koch money at every turn.  He’s won re-election twice (’12. ’14) since he last held a seat in Congress (’79-’81), the record interval in US history.
  I’ll be looking for you to again raise the challenge to the MIT board since you last challenged the president.  Here’s probably the least damning of the indictments from the Review article:
   What makes this book more than a study in sociology and history is the effectiveness of these billionaires in dominating our political life.  They merged three forms of political spending — campaign dollars, lobbying expenditures and philanthropy at think tanks. universities, and media properties — into a juggernaut. 
   After this article, and the reviewed book which I’m about to order, my prior remarks about reviling the Koch brothers have been too timid.
   Stay tuned for my posting on Facebook  and a public web link.
  Marty McGowan   908 NPA-NXXX
bcc: a bunch of close, influential a/o liberal friends, a few conservatives, family, classmates, and associates, begging forgiveness from those who may receive multiple copies
p.s. for those who may not know, charley, dave and i share the “university” in question, where i’m limiting my formerly generous (too me anyway) contributions now to a dollar per year per year.  (i.e. this year I’ll give “the Tute” $50, since it’s my 50th reunion coming up).  when a solicitor asks to up my pledge i tell them “chuck and dave are covering for me”, followed by my explanation.

On the Papal Encyclical (almost)

June 20, 2015

I’ve promised myself to refrain from commenting on Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudauto Si”.  So, “what’s this?” you might ask. This is a comment on a comment: “The Pope’s Climate Error“, in today’s (6/20/15) NY TImes.

I was captivated by the title.   (in my print edition, it differs from the current on-line).  Further by the author’s credentials: philosophy, University of Toronto. And interestingly, his argument is honed with economic reality, and the pragmatic: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the practical.

My plan was, and remains, to read the encyclical.   And the next thing I’ll do. Since i’m one of those influenced by the last word i’ve read, especially if it has a liberal bias,Heath’s argument is now my point of reference.   One might think from the title that Heath disagrees with Pope Francis in principle.   He doesn’t. In summary:

Here he reveals the limitations of his own approach.  The problem of climate change is so urgent that we cannot wait for people to come to some kind of spiritual agreement.

And that would be my only quibble with Heath’s argument.   Who says we have to wait for people to come to some kind of agreement.   Stephen Carter offered the way through this apparent dilemma.  paraphrasing, at best:  in the marketplace of ideas, let’s allow all value systems, and especially not discount those arriving from a faith perspective.

In Heath’s behalf, he offers the necessary philosophic (mathematical logic, really) perspective:

 This commitment can be found at the heart of the “polluter pays” principle, which Pope Francis also endorses.  Most people like this idea when it’s read forward: “If you pollute, then you should pay.”   They dislike it, however when read backward:  “if you’re willing to pay, then you should be allowed to pollute.”

I’d not spent much time with this idea, and now realize my discomfort in it.   Hearkening, back to my teaching geometry at Benedictine, in the curricula of the time, this is where elementary boolean logic was taught.   “If A, then B, does not imply if B then A”, and so forth.   I used to challenge the students, “How may you answer ‘At a fork in the road do you turn right or left?'”   Most students, thinking for a few seconds would choose either obvious answer, some would still be scratching their heads.   I don’t think anyone got “Yes” as a possible response.  There are many ways to phrase such a choice.  The challenge is recognizing similar forks in the logical road.

Heath has shown me one I failed to recognized.

Free Trade — post NAFTA

May 9, 2015

Today’s NYTimes reports Obama Scolds Democrats … .   Well, good for him, but since NAFTA I’ve thought those who see themselves as gaining from these “free trade” bills would assist those who see themselves as losing.   In this later category, there are plenty of folks who are willing to self-identify:  “I can see my job going overseas if we do this deal”.   Well last night, on the News Hour, I heard first evidence of the former: someone willing to announce they will benefit.  One of our sneaker manufacturers (I believe, someone check me on this) announced “If we get this deal, we will create 10,000 US jobs”.   For them, that’s a cost they seem willing to bear.   Let’s say we want to hold them to this commitment.

If we wanted to see this was more than an idle promise, we’d have to put some more information into the Labor Department statistics.  That would add costs, both to the government and private sector.   But, of course, since any trade agreement is sold as a net plus to the economy, we should expect commitment on both sides.   And by commitment, I’m thinking more than just words, which our sneaker manufacturer appears willing to do.   But they can’t be alone.   Here’s where the government, with a plan, steps in.

Each state in the nation offers a number:  How many jobs is this agreement going to cost us?  These are totaled.    And to keep the numbers from being wildly speculative.   Each state’s compensation is calculated on their accuracy of  reporting on a ratio of their estimate to the total, given their population.   The total cost is the cost of creating the jobs.   This is not on the back of any state, and certainly not the federal government.  It’s on the back of those companies pledging to create those jobs.   And not until the pledges of new jobs exceeds the total demand as tallied in the states, is there any free trade agreement.     The rationale is as follows:  “this will create more jobs than its costs”.  Good.

There would be a penalty for a shortfall.   The penalty is the salaries of the un-filled jobs.   The money collected (units of percent for administering) would be disbursed to the states whose job-creation (from these promised jobs) fell furthest from the target.

There are obvious problems, but let’s call them details.   It would be difficult for any company to pledge it’s job-creation to be uniform across the nation according to the perceived need to offset job loss.   So, an additional piece of overhead would be tallying the jobs lost as a result.   We hear too many companies (not necessarily their fault) who lose jobs overseas, if not ship them out by themselves.     Another problem:  small companies.   We can’t ask every mom and pop to take on specific jobs, not to mention the bureaucratic overhead of accounting for need and job-creation credit and loss.   Some provision would allow, if not encourage trade groups, chambers of commerce, etc.   to take on this role.   With carrots and sticks. It all has to add up, so, at the end of the day we can say:  “this trade agreement lived up to it’s promise”.

So, how would we pay for this?   Our sneaker manufacturer has hinted at the way.   Increased economic activity will necessarily produce increased income and corporate taxes.   But this has to be more than wishful thinking.   These increased  taxes would pay for the administration, and the disbursement to the states.   Missing pledged job growth would incur the much greater cost of the salary.  Imagine a corporation, faced with paying 6% of a person’s salary as a tax, or 100% of a person’s salary to the government as a penalty, would have little trouble in finding a productive job for a person to fulfill their pledge.

Now there’s an incentive for job growth.  Let’s get the projected winners to put some skin in the game.

Fidel’s and my birthday

December 17, 2014

is  August 13th, along with Alfred Hitchcock, Tony Cloninger, and Ben Hogan.   Having tried baseball and golf, because my birthday was covered in those endeavors, I also decided to forgo careers as movie producer or communist dictator.

In full disclosure, I was a high school junior when Fidel came to power in Cuba.  I may outlive him yet.   But that’s not today’s story.  Here’s one from those years.

It’s a little know fact, but Cuba did not just fall, nor was seduced into the russian/communist orb.   It spent a few seasons testing the then non-aligned nation role.   Fidel traveled to Indonesia and more notoriously India.   Here’s what happened there:

Fidel was scheduled to meet Jarawhala Nehru, India’s Prime minister.  He was expected in Delhi, but went to Bombay instead.  Making no move towards Nehru, he traveled elsewhere.   I don’t know if they ever had an amicable meeting.  The moral of the story:

While Fidel roamed, Nehru burned.

Which brings us to this day:  Dec 17, 2014.   On which the US took the first step — thanks, President Obama — to normalize relations with Cuba.  Add my voice to those who say:  “Our policy of the last 50+ years hasn’t worked.  Anything different has to be better”.   And to those who say we’re giving the Castro brothers a free pass, I’d ask, “what do they have tomorrow that they don’t already have”?   Other than citizens who can call their family in the US, or vice versa?   Duh?

And, while I’m thinking of it, those who oppose this openness belong to a certain segment of American political thought which believes opportunity is dispensed by the powerful, it is never won by the majority, the people, the “man” in the street.   Today’s US Republican can’t bear the test of the idea that freedom arises from the people.   No, our freedoms are dispensed by the Walton’s, the Koch’s and god-willing, if we grant them the lever’s of government, the Bushes.  Heaven forfend that the citizenry would ever establish its right to determine its course.   That’s what rankles the Marco Rubio’s, the Jeb Bushes, etc…

God willing, Fidel and I will celebrate another birthday together.  He’ll be no less free then, but the people of Cuba will be more free.

After the storm, hope.

November 17, 2014

It’s now in the history books.

We Democrats took a shellacking at the polls.   For me, the saving grace was the re-election to Congress of cousin Rick Nolan in Minnesota’s Iron Range 8th district.   Congrats to Rick.

Hopeful Ideas

But this is about ideas, particularly of the hopeful variety.   Thru this report, and in conclusion, Ill offer my thoughts on why I’m still hopeful.

This morning, Paul Krugman’s, When Governments Succeed got these juices flowing.   Also, left-over reading from Sunday’s Newark Star Ledger, Tom Moran’s Lance Shows why the GOP won’t budge on climate, and conservative (yes, Conservative) columnist, Paul Mulshine’s Can a RINO cry crocodile tears? rise to the level of motivational.

At the risk of sounding like a plug for the paper, but the Star Ledger has at it’s disposal any number of terrific writers in all directions: opinion, sports!, and certainly the Jersey beat; those who  hold my interest in “print” so long as we both survive.  Those who know me, know my roots are in printers ink — long may it flow.

Can a RINO … ?

Mulshine, while the conservative columnist, is one I often agree with.   Why?  He represent the age when Republicans were thoughtful and had a plan beyond cutting taxes.  A dieing breed in the land, and shrinking badly here in the region that gave us “Rockefeller Republicans”.  (note to self:  time to read Richard Norton Smith’s Nelson Rockefeller biography)  Mulshine is unafraid and unapologetic about reminding Republicans of their true calling.  Recalling the history of Romney-/Obama-care, Mulshine says

The health-care reform Romney endorsed also would have been pretty much the same as the plan Obama pushed through.

So why the Republican outrage? The only possible explanation is because Obama is beating them at their own game.

That they should never have played it in the first place does not seem to have occurred to them.

As a footnote in his online column, he points out the MIT prof, Gruber, who made the “stupid voters ” remark about Obama-care is also the author of Romney-care, and also said of them, “they’re the same”.

Lance shows …

Moran delivers live data gathered from the field of dieing Republican values.   Reporting on Leonard Lance, a 3-term Republican from NJ’s central 7th district, Moran interviews and quotes Lance, concluding that

… Lance has done a full 180 on the most important environmental question of our generation. He has become as rabid as the rest.

To me, this is beyond sad. In Trenton, Lance was a man of unshakable principle. He lost his chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee after he bucked the party and refused to support Whitman’s bonding scheme, a stance that history has vindicated. He was deeply respected in both parties.

But since Republicans took over the House in 2010, he’s become an orthodox conservative on big issues like the climate and the budget.

and further:

That’s an explicit warning from the Americans for Prosperity, one of the financial tentacles of the Koch Brothers.

They impose discipline by promising to kill the outliers.

Lance says that none of that plays into his calculation on climate. “I’ve always voted my conscience,” he insists.

My $0.02:  any suggestions the Koch brothers are in it for anything (or one) but themselves needs more evidence-based reasoning.

About Lance:  He really needs to check how his conscience has been formed of  late.   Moran traces his evolution from one who could work across the aisle, to where he now can’t find the center aisle.  For me, Lance, our former congressman (Pat and I left our home in the Sandy- and Irene- ravaged Union Co squarely in the 7th, for the more liberal if not safer central Jersey 12th this year) is the model of the impact of money and public cynicism it so easily spreads on people of principle.

So, where’s the hope in these?  For me, it’s that there are still people of principle who have the courage, resources, and support to hold our public servants’ feet to the fire.

Governments succeed …

Krugman hits a smorgasbord of current issues: the Ebola “freakout”, DOE energy investment, ACA success, and Obama deficit growth (or not).   These are remain current to Krugman, and the rest of us evidence-based folks, since respectable commentators on the public sphere collect evidence as we go for later recall, something beyond the 24 – hour video cycle.

On the Ebola freakout, it will have a hiccup today (11/17) as word arrives that Dr Salia died from Ebola.   Krugman points at the political hay the right was making over “lack of preparation”, etc… but that has proven to be the noise it was.   Sadly, the problem remains, but the cautions from the CDC about getting to the roots of the problem will fall on deaf ears in the new majority in Congress

The DOE energy investment screen was about the $500 +M we taxpayers lost on Solyndra.   Krugman reminds us that was an investment, and the whole program as returned $5B ( ten times as much ) to the government.  Even Warren Buffet lost half again as much as us taxpayers on Solyndra.  Part of my thinking on this one is the right, moneyed interest section, doesn’t want to help JQ Public think too deeply about what investing means, lest he demand his fair share of the capital landscape.

That the ACA  success is out of the news does not surprise.   First, because bad news sells, and secondly, those in media who were promoting rather than reporting it’s potential failure aren’t likely to apologize.

… and a new Gallup survey finds that the newly insured are very satisfied with their coverage. By any normal standards, this is a dramatic example of policy success, verging on policy triumph.

In an atta-boy selfie, better part of 3 yrs before the ACA, I was saying “where can I send my check to see that everyone get’s healthcare”  (what is health insurance anyway, if not care).  Here’s a simple challenge:  What’s it worth to you ( in dollars ), to see that everyone has healthcare?   I was willing to kick in $1K / yr.  Too many of us would say, “nothing”, which is a legitimate, if not too-selfish reply.

The purported deficit growth from the ACA receives Krugman’s attention:

Surely the exploding costs of Obama-care, combined with a stimulus program that would become a perpetual boondoggle, would lead to vast amounts of red ink, right? Well, no — the deficit has indeed come down rapidly, and as a share of G.D.P. it’s back down to pre-crisis levels.

That the rabid right refuses to be held accountable for those predictions points to why I have little faith in dialogue with that segment.  Except, bending back to Mulshine and Moran respectively, there remain people on the right capable of harmonic dialogue and those on the left who remember and report on dialogue across the aisle.

Where’s the hope…

I’ve alluded here, and confessed to a certain bias for the “print” media.    As TV made it’s inroads in the ’50s, my dad told my brother and me as we sold subscriptions to the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, “tell them they can’t cut it out of the TV”.  Well that’s changed.   As the TV and the newspaper collide here on the internet, I detect a residual difference in the reportage, if not opinion and thought.  Print media has at its heart a level of engagement not possible in the push media of the video.   Certainly changes are afoot in both directions.

My hope here is in print media, however it sees itself, to ever foster legitimate dialogue that holds us and our ideas accountable.


A or B vs/or Yes or No

September 21, 2014

I’m tired of the opinion questions of the sort: “Do you prefer A or B?”    Today’s NYTimes offers a good example:

Do you approve or disapprove of the way President Barack Obama is handling: His job as President?

The strong implication is you have to choose.   Today, it’s difficult for the informed person to be short of opinion on matters of national opinion, but maybe not always.  For each of us there are varying degrees of how strong an opinion we can muster.

Years ago (’02 – ’06 ) while i was at Benedictine Academy, I thought I was having a joke with the sophomore geometry students when we examined boolean expressions such as:  A is True or B is True.   I’d answer “Yes”, if it was apparent they were mutually exclusive.   e.g. when straight ahead is not an option, the question “do we turn left or right?” i now answer “Yes”.   You might spend a little time thinking about how to rephrase the question to elucidate either “left” or “right” as an answer.

So, back to the pressing question, and my opinion:  “Do you approve or disapprove …?”    For most of the questions under the above link, my answer would be “No”.   The truest statement I could make, on Obama’s handling of foreign policy, “that i certainly don’t approve is not a statement that i therefore disapprove”.    I take the wishy-washy position since (I believe) in today’s hostile political climate,  disapproval implies from the right.   My unverifiable assertion is about one-third of Obama’s disapproval comes from the left.

So, for this class of opinion question, my answer is a resounding “NO”.

it’s Time To move on CItizens United

June 10, 2009

This blog points at activity here in the State of New Jersey, as we roll back  Citizens United,  the Supreme Court decision which extended the franchise of big money into the political process.