Category Archives: Current events

Corona Virus and Monday morning quarterback

How do we figure out the best way to handle the current crisis of the Corona virus? Let’s look at two extreme options. The first is to close everything except critical business until we are 100% sure the virus has exhausted itself. The second is to reopen everything and let nature take its course. Neither is an acceptable answer. In the first case, while sounding plausible, does not consider 2d,3d or .4th order effects of an economic and social downturn. These range from an increase in spousal abuse, increased alcoholism or just a large segment of the population dropping into poverty which increase the problem of malnutrition and other problems too numerous to mention. In the second case we are condemning a portion of the population to sickness and in some cases death. For transparencies sake I will let you know I am in at least three of the high-risk categories.

Admittedly there are several other choices, but the question is how you arrive at the correct answer if you are in charge, and keep in mind we are speaking of the person who must make the decision. We must separate the emotional charges that are being made that it is strictly economics over elderly. We must also understand that we are nowhere close to having to make this decision.

While over the years several books and publications have come out on how decisions are or should be made, there does not seem to be one single answer. One commonality is that for every action or decision there will be some form of consequence. To begin I will look at the classic thought experiment in ethics known as the Trolley problem. To save you from looking it up the Google version is:

The trolley problem: should you pull the lever to divert the runaway trolley onto the sidetrack?

The trolley problem is a thought experiment in ethics. It is generally considered to represent a classic clash between two schools of moral thought, utilitarianism and deontological ethics. The general form of the problem is this:

There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the sidetrack. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.
  2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the sidetrack where it will kill one person.

Which is the more ethical option? Or, more simply: What is the right thing to do?

To make this more complicated there is a version were the lone person is your son (daughter, parent or spouse).

If the question was simply between economics and life it would be an easier answer. As we have said above there are other consequences in an economic downturn that weigh in.

A more real-life consideration is to look at the concept of triage, we’re in  a crisis and with limited resources decisions must be made based on:

  • Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive.
  • Those who are unlikely to live, regardless of what care they receive.
  • Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome.

We can always look to history to see what other have done. It is being said that we have never faced a crisis of this magnitude in recent history. This is only true if you confine recent history to the last 3½ years. Getting past the hyperbole we can come up with several examples, none exactly match today but since we are looking to make a decision they act as a guide.

The US has seen a number of epidemics and pandemics is recent years and has reacted to each with degrees of difference and similarity. One thing that appears to be consistent in our reaction is isolation. The next was rushed vaccine development and of course constant updates to the public. In the days of widespread smallpox, we also saw quarantines of houses and families. Today we are self quarantining. In other words what is happening today is what has been done in the past.

Increased requirements for protective gear such as masks and gloves have caused a strain on the system as has the need for ventilators. What sort of decisions should have been made for these. In the 2009 H1N1 pandemic 100,000,000 N95 masks were used but never replaced. Had they been we may or may not have solved the current crisis since there is an expiration date on them. Ventilators are needed. The government did indeed see a need and had over the years placed orders for up to 40000 units. While the contracts were canceled by the manufactures for different reasons the numbers, had they been delivered, would have been insufficient. New Your alone has called for 30000 units, leaving 10000 for the rest of the country had the government stockpiled them.

How then should the decision-making process work? We can look to history and try to decide based on what was done in the past, which was done today but based on the differences and extent of this pandemic from those in the immediate past actions were missed. We could have insured resources were available, but we see that there is a shelf-life on items so how many to buy and when to replace becomes problematic. Without a crystal ball the number of items to purchase and store becomes an imposable task. Based than on limited resources who gets what and when comes down to what? Is it a medical decision of who is most likely to survive and just make the rest comfortable? This last brings us to the ethics of decision, how do you decide where the trolley goes.

In the end someone must decide and it is not always easy or straight forward. It is easy to criticize the person who must make it and to say they are wrong, if you are not the person making the decision. Monday morning quarterbacking is a time-honored tradition in America, but for now let’s stop and hope/pray that we get through this soon.    

How We Need to Think about Coronavirus

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It is time to end the politicization of the coronavirus. When the president moved to appropriate 2 billion dollars to combat the virus the Democrats and some Republicans yelled it was not enough. OK if that is the case the release the 2 billion and move to appropriate more. We are told the president did not move fast enough yet it was only about a month after the world learned of the outbreak in China that Trump declared a health emergency and at that time there were no cases in the US. Compare this to the six-month delay by the Obama administration that the swine flu H1N1 was declared a health emergency and that was after millions of Americans had been infected and more than 1000 had died. A New York Times editorial comes out and state “We should start calling it the Trump virus.” When the president goes on the air to reassure the public that the US is doing what it must to mitigate the impact and that most Americans are safe, he then appoints the Vice President to lead a committee on government actions, the Democrats decry this as wrong and that a doctor should lead the effort.
To put this in perspective the outbreak of the swine flu in 1976 led to a mass immunization program that begun months after the first patient was diagnosed following recommendations by the CDC and a blue-ribbon panel that included Jonas Salk Albert Sabin. The Swine flu was at that time being compared to Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, which is now happening again. Four months after the first indications of Swine flu the president and his panel move to produce a vaccine appropriating 135 million dollars for the immunization program. Drug manufactures were recruited to begin producing the vaccine and were informed by their insurance companies that they will not be protected. Congress passes legislation to protect the manufactures, the vaccine is produced and then, associated with an increase in Guillain-Barre syndrome. In the end the program is stopped after 25% of the nation receives the shot. In the end an estimated 35 people died of the swine flu and approximately 500 contracted Guillen-Barre, through there is still a question on the connection between the vaccine and Guillen-Barre. In 2009 over 12,000 people died in the US from swine flu and between 26 and 52 thousand deaths are attributed to the flu in 2019.
The point of all this is that over the years we have seen a too fact reaction little study then too slow a reaction resulting in many deaths. Wee need to add to this that death from the normal influenza infection is in the tens of thousands. Today we are facing a deadly strain of corona virus that will spread across the country. The administration is moving to mitigate the impact. We have seen death from this in the country and will likely see more. When the president says there is a low probability of individuals getting the virus, he is correct. Looking at the normal deaths from the flu we see about .0002 percent of the population effected. This does not mean we can ignore it and do nothing, but it does not mean we need to live in fear.
The government must act as a single entity in this and stop fear mongering and politicizing the problem. It does no good to exaggerate the problem any more then to dismiss it. Its time for all to Pleasethink about how they must act.

 

 

We Need to Stop the Petty BS

This will not go over well with some of my friends or those who have called me a Trump apologist but here goes. Enough is enough its time for everyone to grow the F… up. When I was a young man and running as a democrat for town council someone asked me what the difference between Dems and Republicans was. My answer then is the same as it is now, both see the same problems but have different solutions.
Generally, the Democrats have looked to government solutions and the Republicans have look at more, for lack of a better term, capitalist solutions. A case in point is health care and pre-existing conditions. Under the current Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) you cannot be turned down for any pre-existing condition. This sounds great but based on the increases over the years in premiums it is making the care less affordable. Under the proposed American Health Care Act (Trumpcare) the definition and allowed premiums would be set by the insurance companies in compliance with state mandates and regulations. What this last means is if you have a condition that will require long term care your insurance company will be allowed to charge a higher premium. In 2017 this passed the House but not the Senate. Instead of trying to compromise both sides yelled and screamed and declared the sky was falling. This can be worked out but not under the current state of congress.
A similar program in healthcare is how to reduce drug costs. There is in congress currently a bill, HR3, which is designed to lower costs by applying foreign drug cost guidelines to Medicare part D purchases. The effect of this is to decrease revenue to drug companies that would be used for R&D to bring newer innovative drugs to market. Trumps plan is to force drug companies to reveal prices they give to hospitals and the discounts so that patients will see what they are paying for. This would force insurance companies to reevaluate what they charge us for these services. This plan would likely just cost the hospitals their discounts and provide little long-term relief. In all likely hood both would increase the cost of drugs to the public.
I could go on, but the point is that the main difference in how the two parties view different solutions is in the level of government involvement. Not that very long ago this was fully understood, and the result was a fight to see how much could be compromised before a middle ground solution is found. Today we see a dysfunctional government on both sides of the aisle refusing to talk compromise. Further they refuse to listen to each other.
The result was the debacle that was the State of the Union address. The truncated introduction, the refusal to shake hands, failure to applaud success or acknowledge a 100-year-old Tuskegee airman, and so on. The final was the tearing up of the speech calling it a manifesto on misinformation, and here we have it. The number one problem that polls tell us the people are interested in is healthcare. There are several good healthcare proposals out there. Obamacare has good points but needs to be modified and more control returned to the insured. This will not happen until we turn from ideology to pragmatism. Gun violence is another area of concern, truthfully violence should be the concern. While minimum federal laws may be good, minimum age, hours of training etc, States need to step up and work on local requirements, a 14 year old in NYC likely does not need to walk around with a rifle but a 14 year old in Wyoming on a cattle ranch might need it.
We must also get away from the feel good laws/regulations. Red flag laws sound good, being able to disarm the mentally ill, however they go against the 2d, 4th,5th and 14th Amendments may be used against it. This would hold true, different amendments, on any religious ban on immigration or entry. Open discussions between the branches of government or more importantly the government listening to the people would go a ling way to return integrity to the government.
What all this means is the children must leave the room and let the adults be adults. PLEASEThink before you vote next time. Take the time to understand the candidate and their positions and who they are. Do not rely on social media or news outlets to make up your mind for you. It does not take that long to check out a Representatives voting record to see if it truly aligns with your beliefs.

Trump and Iran

 

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By Paul Davis and Chiman Zebari

Today the world is holding its breath to see the response of the United State to an anemic attack by Iran on Iraqi bases housing Americans. The Islamic Republic launched around 15 missiles at targets in Iraq, some of which were shot down most of which missed the target. The attack was in response to the killing by the US of an Iranian terrorist and commander of an Iranian terrorist group.
Some say the Iranians missed their targets on purpose in order to avoid a major retaliation by the US. The Iranian FARS news network at one point said up to 80 Americans had been killed. The US is saying no casualties. While there may have been no US casualties there were Iraqis injured. So, what is next.
This is also being called a face-saving device so that the Iranian leadership, playing to a domestic audience, can show that they took decisive action to retaliate for the US actions. The operation was called the “Martyr Soleimani.”
The fact is that the death of Soleimani was a major blow to the Iranian ability to continue to export the Islamic revolution. The technical capabilities of Iran have increased in the last few years but the war fighting capabilities are far short of what they need to engage in any protracted war. This however will not fully deter the actions of Iran since there war model has been to use proxy forces to carry out limited attacks on selected targets.
The belief that this is a one-off operation does not track. The anger in the Islamic Republics leadership is very strong and revenge in their history. The President in his statement announced additional sanctions on Iran and justified the strike that took out Soleimani. The foreign minister of Iran told the world that this missile strike was proportional and served it purpose. This is difficult to believe since Iran has been attacking anyone or any country it sees as an enemy for 40 years. What may be considered is that Iran may not launch attacks by its forces from Iranian soil again. The standard Iranian tactic is to use proxy forces which gives them deniability.
The President also said that it appears that Iran is standing down, not sure what that means, in fact the next day there was an attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad. I expect to see a lull, which means back to normal, and then a spike in attacks in Syria and Lebanon as well as a potential Hamas or Hizballah attack on Israel. The Iranian dominated Iraqi militias will continue to act independently of the Iraqi government and under the control of Iran.
It should also be pointed out that the missile attacks were aimed at bases in Sunni and Kurdish areas. This tracks from past IRGC controlled attacks by the PMF militias. Soleimani’s main objective has been to spread the Islamic revolution, increase Iranian hegemony and remove the US (west) from the region. This last is important to understand, Iran sees little to no difference between the US and other western nations yet will continue to manipulate those western nations for trade.
Short of all out war with Iran the US needs to adjust it position in the region in order to continue a US presence as well as be prepared to defend US interests and allies. Based on the resolution of the Iraqi Parliament to seek to have all US forces leave one solution would be to move the US embassy from Baghdad to Erbil and ask the Kurds to hold another referendum on independence, and this time back them up fully. Kurds as we have mentioned previously are the only true allies the Americans have in the region. A truly free and independent Kurdistan would be a game changer. Removing US forces from Iraq would be a financial blow to Iraq and a political blow to Iran and Turkey.
With Soleimani out of the way Iran does not have a replacement of his caliper. Much of the control and personal contacts may begin to weaken and allow for the different actors to operate on their own. Beside the Kurds, the Sunni in Iraq have been victims of the Iranian control of Iraq. It is within their power to vote for autonomy and break away from Baghdad. What has stopped this in the past was not Iran but the US which maintains a one Iraq doctrine.
While so many are saying this is going to lead to World War III I would reiterate that the Iranian are in no condition to wage an actual war. As for terrorist attacks Iran and the IRGC are the leading exporter and planners of terrorism already. The Iranian government is facing a dilemma with a shift in the way the American government is reacting, holding Tehran accountable for the actions of its proxies, and the widespread protest in Iran and Iraq. This is in fact the perfect time to apply maximum pressure. The only thing that is working in Iran’s favor is the US House pushing a new War Powers Act exclusively to stop any action by the US in the event it is needed.
We need to build a strong coalition that will truly isolate Iran and end the regimes reign of terror. It is time for the majority of the government to understand that to do nothing now will result in a greater loss of national security then what they can understand in their current state.

The Houses Treatment of the Impeachment process

 

 

I have watched the impeachment hearings and seen President Trumps tweets and am embarrassed for my country. We have lost sight of the core values of America, those values that have made us the envy of the world. Chief among those values was and should be a sense of fair play. Everyone should have the right to speak their mind and if accused of wrongdoing be able to defend themselves. The president is wrong when he comes out and attacks his critics and accusers. If you do not like the president, then you have the right to say so. There was a time when this was done without invective, but no longer. Today we attack any and all personal habits and traits. The president makes up names and insults the integrity of his opponents. The democrats attack the president with insults and name calling. The worst part of all of this is the current impeachment hearings, begun with little to no evidence of an impeachable crime. They have concluded without the presentation of any hard evidence, only rumor and hearsay. The next step was the House Judiciary Committee review of the results of the hearings and writing articles of impeachment. The house will then get the articles and will almost certainly vote to impeach. Unlike past impeachments such as Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, there is no hard evidence to support the commission of a crime that is impeachable.
Most of what we have seen, and likely will see, is hearsay and opinion. The Ukrainians themselves have said there was no demand and they felt no pressure. We are not currently talking facts or evidence but opinion and spin. We followed this up with the House Judiciary committee, chaired by Congressman Jerry Nadler of NY, a man who has been an adversary of Donald Trump for years. The committee heard from four so called experts on the constitution and impeachment. Of the four, three were acknowledged opponents of the President and the fourth was a token republican because the chair would not allow any other republican picks.
One of the things that bothers me is that there is not even a pretense at any form of judicial fairness. The Intelligence Committee first meet in secret then had a couple of open hearings. According to those with access at the beginning and then on live TV the Democrats ran the hearing as a Star Chamber, controlling the questions and the witness’ while going for a predetermined conclusion. Then onto the Judiciary Committee which began by bringing on four law professors three of whom have been on record as avid Trump haters. One of the witness’, Pamela Karlan, a law professor from Stanford was quoted from a video last year as saying “ “I came in from the airport yesterday and I got off the bus from Dulles [Airport] down at L’Enfant Plaza and I walked up to the hotel, I was walking past what used to be the Old Post Office Building and is now the Trump Hotel, I had to cross the street of course.” Noah Feldman of Harvard once spoke of the high standard of proof needed in Sharia law. In 2008 wrote in the New York Times, “Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah for a handful of offenses, we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation. Before an adultery conviction can typically be obtained, for example, the accused must confess four times, or four adult male witnesses of good character must testify that they directly observed the sex act.” This of course is what is written but rarely is this standard kept. Feldman and three of the four are hardy keeping to a high standard of evidence since none has been forthcoming. Michael Gerhardt of UNC has written a number of books on the presidency and impeachment said the founding fathers would impeach Trump. Only Jonathan Turley of George Washington University pointed out that the evidence so far does not hold to the high standard of Impeachment.
All of this goes to the main problem, there is no way to shift through the noise to determine the facts. The only fact we actually know is that a phone call happened between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine in which, amongst a number of topics Trump used the phrase “.. do me a favor.” This was followed by request to see what was known about the DNC server and a group known as crowd source. Later on Hunter Biden was mentioned as well as a request by VP Biden to fire a prosecutor. This last is also considered a fact since Biden himself admitted it.
After all of this we are left with the question, what was the intent of the president? Some who listened to the phone call did not hear anything that they construed as wrong. Others said it was an improper request. None have said it was a violation of law. The house is moving forward with the impeachment proceedings. Speaker Pelosi told Nadler to move forward with articles of impeachment, even though the hearings were only in their second day.
After a very raucous session the Judiciary Committee passed two articles of impeachment, abuse of power and contempt of congress. It will now go to the full house and pass at which point it will go to the Senate for trial. In support of the articles the committee issued a 169-page assessment of the case. In the 169-page report the committee brought up the constitution 259 times. Never citing evidence but saying the evidence was irrefutable in showing the President violated his constitutional oath. They pounded on the fact that the president obstructed the congressional probe by refusing to allow his staff to appear under order of subpoena by the House. While it is not clear how many subpoenas are active the ones that were issued are being reviewed in the courts. While the house has insisted that the president is not above the law, agreed, neither is the House. Stating that the House has the sole authority to impeach and that they are co-equal to the president, then so is the judiciary. Let the courts decide the limit of Presidential power to resist the House. Yet while the courts decide many of the democrats are saying it is not up to the courts that the house has the sole power to decide, therefore ignoring the co-equal branch of the Judiciary.
The case of abuse of power hinges on an interpretation of the July 25th phone call. The democrats say it showed an attempt to interfere with the 2020 elections by a foreign power. The republicans say it was a request to investigate a potential crime by Hunter Biden and perhaps his father, then the VP. The true motive can neither be proved or disproved. This brings us to another legal term, reasonable doubt. If a charge cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, there must be an acquittal. In the 169-page assessment the Judiciary Committee contends the president committed multiple federal crimes including criminal bribery and wire fraud. Why then not include these charges in the articles of impeachment. Likely because they are criminal charges that need to be proved. Abuse of power is a catchall phrase that lacks specificity or the stringent standards of a criminal charge.
The President has not helped his cause with a constant stream of tweets that for the most part attack the opposition with child like invective. Calling people names and insulting them in other ways does not bode well in Washington or the rest of the country. The concept of inocencent until proven guilty should be the way to go. Put out the facts and let the other side try and prove guilt. The release of the transcripts and the denial of the Ukrainian government vs. the opinions and hear say of the witnesses against him should stand on there own. The president did send Speaker Pelosi a 6 page letter detailing the political nature of the House actions and laying out the defense that was denied him.
The question to resolve is whether or not the President broke the law in a way that justifies his removal from office. The democrats have said that he does not need to actually break the law to be removed that his actions alone demonstrate that he is unsuited for office. They have called him dangerous to the constitution and the country. They have called “witnesses” that have witnessed nothing and have been shown to be prejudicial to the president. During hearings in the house the presidents’ side was not allowed to make a concerted defense and when they questioned the witnesses they were, in many cases, gaveled to silence.
None of the actions mentioned prove the President innocent, but that is not what drives American justice. You do not have to prove your innocence, the other side needs to prove guilt, which they have not done. The actions of the House are not about constitutional power or a need to save the country but about a political campaign begun November 9th, 2016. The people need to understand the reality of what is going on and understand the danger the country faces if we reduce the process of impeachment to a political activity.
This entire process is driven by politics, not a concern of law or constitutional fidelity. I am concerned that it may work, not that Trump will be removed but that he will be damaged enough to loss in 2020. We will need to see how the Senate handles the trial and what kind of coverage it gets.

The House Investigation

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So now we have an open and pubic vote on beginning an official impeachment investigation. All republicans voted against, no surprise, but two democrats also voted against, a little surprise. It will be interesting to see how the various committees handle themselves when the hearings are open. Will they call back witnesses who had testified behind closed doors or not? Will they truly allow the republicans to call witnesses or will they throw up roadblocks? How will they handle cross examinations? It is interesting to also note that unlike the Nixon and Clinton impeachment investigations different committees will hold hearings instead of just the judiciary committee.
There is no doubt the house will impeach since all the democratic members of the committees as well as most of the house have already declared Trump guilty. I am sorry, regardless of guilt or innocence of the president there is no way to take these investigations seriously. This has devolved into what the president has called a witch hunt. The hope here is that open and fair hearings can right this ship and show the president broke the law beyond a shadow of a doubt or that there is not enough actual evidence to move forward giving the dems plausible reason to end this.
We can only wait and see.

Trump Impeachment, Round 3, Ukraine

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Foreign policy is the purview of the President. Congress has an advice and consent role in some cases. If the president of the United States asked for information on a political rival who may have broken the law that is his right. If the request was conditioned on the US providing aid that is unethical. The Democratic leadership in the House has called this an abuse of power and an impeachable offence. My take.
To begin I believe in the concept of innocent until proven guilty. In criminal procedures guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The question then becomes is acting unethically an impeachable offence or just a political problem. Did the president abuse his power, I do not know?
What bothers me most is that there has been an unending attempt to prove Trump did something wrong. The call for his impeachment started even before he took office.
In December 2016, Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren, Dick Durbin, Chris Coons, Ben Cardin, and Jeff Merkley introduced a bill that would require the president of the United States to divest any assets that could raise a conflict of interest, including a statement that failure to divest such assets would constitute high crimes and misdemeanors “under the impeachment clause of the U.S. Constitution”
In their book “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign’ Jonathan Allen and Arnie Parnes, two journalists with access to the Clinton campaign discuss the meeting within 24 hours of the loss on how to spin it, in part, to Russian collusion. The FBI also did their part by opening a counterintelligence investigation on some of Trumps campaign officials. All of this came to nothing after the Mueller report found while there was Russian interference there was no collusion. The next thing we hear about is the potential of obstruction of justice by Trump. While this is still out there it also appears to have hit a dead end. Now we have abuse of power.
If you were accused of murder you would be allowed to mount a defense and question potential jurors to see if they were impartial. How is Trump to get a fair hearing when those in charge of the investigation are also the prosecution and the jury? Had the Democrats waited until they had a solid case then maybe this would be considered a legitimate impeachment process, but its not. On the other side Trump is not doing himself any favors by making ridiculous and petty statements and lashing out at anyone he does not like.
With all the emotion surrounding the case I am reminded of the George Zimmerman-Travon Martin case in Florida in 2012. If you recall Zimmerman, a security guard shot and killed Martin and was accused of second-degree murder. He was acquitted because he was overcharged amidst a politically charged atmosphere and high emotions. Had he been charged with first-degree manslaughter he likely would have been found guilty.
I don’t know what the truth is in this regard. I know that there is too much emotion and political intrigue for the truth to come out until historians get a look at it in the future. I just hope the country is not torn apart while the politician’s fiddle.
I hope we can all Pleasethink about what we are doing and get back to normal lives.