Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day 2016: I Fought for You

Today is Memorial Day in the USA, a day when Americans pay tribute to those who gave their lives defending their country. It was originally called Decoration Day as towns and communities gathered together to decorate the graves of their sons who had died during the American Civil War. Civil War memorials still grace the center of many towns and villages today. In my home town of Fairfield there is a Memorial Day parade every year where thousands turn out to enjoy, celebrate, pay tribute, and perhaps remember.

I never served in the military. I was born right before the outbreak of WWII. I was too young for Korea, and exempt from service in Vietnam because I was married with children. I don't think I would have been good soldier but I have always respected those who did serve.

Here is a very moving video that honors those who fought for us. Click on the link or view below. ###

Friday, May 20, 2016

Presidential Qualifications 2016

Harry Truman takes the Oath of Office
Recently both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have claimed that the other is unqualified to be President of the United States. I will leave their claims for another day but now would just like to look at the qualifications of some Presidents who have served during my lifetime.

In 1945 Vice-President Harry Truman became President after Franklin D. Roosevelt died in the first year of his unprecedented fourth term. At the time few people thought that Truman had even the qualifications or experience to even hold the largely ceremonial office of Vice-President.

Before being picked by Roosevelt to be his running mate in 1944, Truman had been a largely insignificant Senator from Missouri. He had been hand-picked for the Senate post by the powerful Prendergast political machine in St. Louis and was expected to do its bidding.

Yet Truman threw himself into his job and made it a point to immerse himself in the political, economic, and social realities of wartime America. When circumstances thrust him into the Oval Office, he had no executive experience other than his early attempt to run a haberdashery shop after he returned home from military service in WW I.

Nevertheless, he fooled most of the commentators and pundits and today is regarded as one of America’s better Presidents despite the fact that he often behaved in an un-Presidential manner even while in office.

Truman loved music and his daughter, Margaret, aspired to be a concert pianist. When a music critic panned one of her performances, Truman publicly threatened to punch him in the genitals if they ever met. Such conduct only endeared him to the American people and helped him win the Presidency in his own right in 1948 in one of the greatest political upsets in American history. “Give ‘em Hell, Harry” became his popular slogan.

In 1952 the Republican Party chose Dwight D. Eisenhower as its candidate for the Presidency. Eisenhower had no political experience at all. His whole life had been spent in the Army and he had risen to become the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe in WW II.  He was a wartime hero but still faced a primary battle against Robert Taft, a long-time Senator from Ohio with much more political knowledge and experience.

The party went for Eisenhower who was easily elected in both 1952 and 1956.  Although he brought the Korean War to an end, Eisenhower’s presidency was derided by liberal opponents but today he and his administration are increasingly being viewed in a better light. The relative peace and tranquility of the time provided a launching pad for American economic growth. The building of the National Highway System commenced during Eisenhower’s administration, and its great impact has been more revolutionary than practically any other development in American history.

It is hard to believe today but before Ronald Reagan became President in 1980, opponents and pundits claimed that he was unqualified for the job. He was just a movie actor, and a bad one at that. The fact that he had two very successful terms as Governor of California made no difference. He was still unqualified.

Today, he is close to being ranked with America's greatest Presidents. His economic policies brought down record high energy prices, interest rates, and inflation. In foreign affairs he will always be remembered for his role in bringing down the Berlin Wall and for the subsequent break up of the Soviet Empire.

It is interesting to compare these three Presidents to some with more political experience and qualifications. We just have to name Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and the two Bushes. The court is still out on Bill Clinton’s two terms even though his wife’s current campaign is trying to portray it as a kind of golden age.

To my mind the one quality that Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan shared was their ability to rise above party, faction, race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual preference, and appear as President for all Americans. This quality is sadly lacking in the current occupant of the White House who has been one of the most divisive Presidents in history. It is also a quality that Hillary Clinton has never possessed and will never possess if her campaign rhetoric is to be believed. Trump seems to at least have the potential to be a President for all Americans. That is an important qualification. 


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Issues 2016: Minimum Wage

The minimum wage will probably be a big issue in this year’s presidential campaign. Increasing the minimum wage is so popular that Democrats from Hillary Clinton on down will use the issue like a sledgehammer to beat down Republican opposition. Already Donald Trump, the Republican presumptive nominee, has admitted that he doesn’t see how anyone can live on the current Federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. He would only leave it to the 50 states to set their own minimum wage level.

In the campaign it will do no good for economists or journalists to point out that increases in the minimum wage will cause many low-income employees to lose their jobs, and find that their wage reduced to zero. Just this day in trying to deal with an issue about the delivery of our Wall St. Journal, we discovered that the phone representative was in Manila.

Nor will it do any good to point out that most people who earn the minimum wage are not just living on the minimum. Often the minimum wage earner is not the sole support of a family. Often, their wages are supplemented by employee benefits or government subsidies and tax credits. Any such arguments will be drowned by placard waving protestors.

Donald Trump doesn’t need any help from me but I would suggest that he ask the progressives who support doubling the minimum wage to $15 an hour to pay for it themselves in the same way that he wants the Mexican government to pay for the Wall on the border.

He could ask university professors to reduce their salaries in order to increase the wages of the miserably underpaid “adjunct” instructors or graduate assistants that universities hire to save money. He could ask university students to pay increased fees in order to raise the salaries of the cafeteria ladies. He could even ask so-called public service employees to take a cut in pay in order to raise the minimum wage for the people they serve.

Of course, all of the above would be met with the greatest resistance. When progressives call for increases in the minimum wage, they always expect and want someone else to bear the cost. The professors and the students can be excused for their innocence, but the unions have a baser reason for supporting increasing the minimum wage.

Suppose you were running a small business and you hired a high school or college student to do basic office work like filing papers. Suppose you even started the student at $10 an hour, 40% more than the minimum. You might have other employees in the office making $20 an hour. What would these employees think if you had to raise the student’s pay to $15 an hour? Wouldn’t you have to raise their pay to $30 an hour because the work they were doing was twice as valuable as the student’s?

Actually, this is the reason why unions are big supporters of increases in the minimum wage. Union employees all earn more than the minimum wage but every time the minimum is raised, they insist on, and usually get, corresponding increases in their own pay scales. They could care less about people who are actually earning the minimum wage. They even care little about their own members who are at the bottom of the wage scale. Rather than cut their own pay or benefits, they will normally acquiesce in the layoff of younger, recently hired union members when times get tough.

This scenario is being played out right now in my own state of Connecticut. Once again the State is facing a massive budget deficit but the Democrat governor and legislature are in bed with the public service unions. The State faces cutbacks in public spending as well as layoffs of largely lower salaried employees. At the same time, there is no growth in private sector jobs as companies like General Electric have chosen to leave the State. Currently, the State is ranked as one of the least attractive for business in the country. One of the reasons could be that the State has a minimum wage level higher than the Federal level. At $9.60 an hour it is 30% higher than the Federal level, and scheduled to go even higher.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Trump vs Clinton


Last week Donald Trump swept five Republican primaries in the Northeast, including my home state of Connecticut, to get even closer to locking up the Republican nomination for President. His victories were impressive since he won substantial majorities and not just pluralities. More than the size of the victories I was impressed by Trump’s performance after the election results came in.

My wife and I watched the primary reporting that night and the post election speeches by the victorious candidates from both parties. Hillary Clinton, who won four of the five Democrat primaries, was featured at 9:00 pm, and then Trump followed at 10:00. Never mind the content, the difference between the two appearances was striking. Clinton gave her familiar stump speech that only a masochist or fanatical party loyalist could listen to for more than a minute.

On the other hand, Trump made a few remarks but then turned his appearance into a press conference where he fielded questions from reporters on the spot. He did an impressive job of answering these questions and driving home his points without rehearsal or assistance from teleprompters. He seemed in command, one of the qualities one would like to see in a President. It was in marked contrast to Clinton’s banal verbiage, and I wonder if one of the networks took the trouble to have people in a “focus group” give their impressions of the two performances.

I didn’t vote for Trump in the CT primary but I have to admit that I thought he made some very good points in his answers. In the first place, when asked what he thought was the greatest problem facing America, he quickly replied that nuclear armaments and the threat of their proliferation in rogue states like Iran and North Korea constituted the gravest threat to America today. In doing so, he contrasted himself with President Obama who believes that “climate change” is the Nation’s greatest problem.

Secondly, Trump called for new approaches in foreign policy. He appears to believe that it would be better to work with Russia than to continue to regard it and Vladimir Putin as enemies. He thought that NATO might be an obsolete relic of the Cold War and that if European nations did not want to make their agreed upon contributions to their own defense, then the USA should reconsider its role in Europe. Russia and the USA have a common enemy in Islamic radicalism and yet NATO is building up its forces in Eastern Europe causing incidents like the recent one between an American destroyer and a Russian jet fighter in the Baltic Sea.

Trump still wants to build a wall between the USA and Mexico but now supports “legal” immigration. I think the Wall will turn out to be a useless public works project but if he is elected President, he may discover that it would be better to change the laws on immigration than to enforce those made in the 1920s to keep Catholic immigrants out of the country.

In domestic affairs I liked his expressed intention to dismantle the Federal Department of Education and restore control over education to the fifty states. I also liked his intention to reform Obamacare and correct its abuses. What conservative would disagree with those positions?

I also liked his willingness to confront “political correctness” when it comes to calling our Hillary Clinton for continually playing the “gender” card. Commentators demand that Trump act Presidential, but how is Clinton Presidential when she seems to represent not all the people of America but only favored groups like women, blacks, and Hispanics?

Finally, I believe that Trump is correct when he discounts national polls that give him high negative ratings and show him trailing Clinton in a head to head contest. National ratings can turn on the proverbial dime. I recall that after the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012, Romney jumped ahead of Obama because of his debate performance, but then faltered after a lackluster performance in subsequent debates. Trump has proved to be a much more powerful debater than more experienced politicians.

I believe that Trump is the only Republican candidate who could possibly win in the November election. It is not the national vote that counts in November but the votes in each state. In November, the Republican candidate must carry Ohio, Florida, and Virginia along with the traditional red states to have any chance of victory. Trump has a good chance in all three states. Actually, his celebrity status could even put New York, Pennsylvania, and even California in play. It will be interesting to see how he does in the California primary.

Only Trump has the potential to create a broad based campaign. Conservatives might not like him but would they rather have him or Hillary Clinton making the next Supreme Court appointment? On the other side of the political spectrum, I believe that Trump also has the ability to attract supporters of Bernie Sanders. In the Connecticut primary, for example, Clinton eked out a victory only with the help of the urban Democrat political machines in cities like Hartford, Bridgeport, and Stamford. The more conservative remainder of the State went for Sanders. It is easy to imagine that a good percentage of those voters might prefer Trump to Clinton. Stranger things have happened in politics.