Aftab Pureval for Congress

Aftav_Chabot

Aftab Pureval is challenging Steve Chabot, the incumbent Republican, to represent Ohio’s 1st District in the House of Representatives.  Opinion polls show this race is a toss up, so every vote will  matter.  My attempt to provide a rational assessment of the candidates is probably more than you want to wade through, so here is a quick summary:

  • If you support Donald Trump, vote for Chabot. 
  • If you oppose Trump, vote for Pureval.
  • If you just want the best person for the job, vote for Pureval.

I wish more of the us were in that third category, but the reality is that Trump continues to dominate the political landscape even though he is hardly mentioned by the candidates.

In 2016, I supported Aftab Pureval for Clerk of Courts, selecting him as the stand out candidate among those running for local office.  He won, unseating the Republican incumbent.   He then proceeded to deliver better service to the community:

He did all while saving money (rounded up to  $1 million in first year) and increasing the revenue .  You would think that ending political patronage, reducing the size of government, providing better service,  and saving money would please conservatives, since these are in keeping with their typical talking points. 

In politics, however, you undermine your opponent’s record, whatever it is. Chabot’s first political ad tries to turn these accomplishments on their head.  Eliminating unnecessary positions and getting rid of political appointees becomes, in Chabot’s ad, “firing long time employees.”  Chabot’s ad concludes “Aftab may mean sunshine but his record is pretty SHADY”.  As political ads often are, this ad is misleading, but at least you could argue that it is tethered to the truth. 

The same cannot be said for the ad from the Congressional Leadership Fund.  This paid ad, titled “Lies and Hypocrisy,” was the first thing to pop up in any Google searches involving the word “Pureval.”  The ad somehow ties Aftab Pureval to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and features a picture of Gaddafi, looking sinister as ever, a scary picture of some terrorists, and, for good measure, a picture of Aftab Pureval and Hillary Clinton smiling together into the camera.  The tortured logic connecting Pureval to Libya is completely refuted by the Washington Post, which concludes:

Even by modern mudslinging standards, these ads by the Congressional Leadership Fund stand out for their dark tone and their strained relationship with the facts.  These attack ads are grossly misleading. We give them a cumulative rating of Four Pinocchios.

Pureval’s first ad, in contrast, is largely positive.  His name is Aftab, which means “sunshine”.   He is the son of immigrants: his mother was a refugee from Tibet, and his parents met in India.  He was born and raised in Ohio and was educated at local colleges.  He has only a slight dig at his opponent, who has “simply been there in too long”. He concludes with the promise: “New leadership that fights for you.”

The release of new ads continue as the campaign enters the home stretch.  One features Pureval playing softball.  Others just throw mud, accusing each other of lying.

There is one of Chabot’s attacks that seems to have some substance.  Pureval, who is not accepting corporate donations, used money from the Clerk of Courts campaign funds.  The question is whether or not this was spent for the congressional campaign, which would be illegal.  Pureval’s campaign claims “All of these expenditures were appropriate and legal.”

One of the disputes is over Chabot’s record on health care.  Chabot opposes Obamacare, saying that the American people deserve better.  Of course, the Republicans have not been able to actually craft anything better, but that is not the point of contention.  The argument is over pre-existing conditions.  Chabot says that he has always supported protecting people with pre-existing conditions.  Pureval says that he “voted to strip away protections from people with pre-existing conditions.  It appears that both claims are true.  Chabot “supported legislation to replace Obamacare [that] guaranteed coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.”  This sounds great, but nobody could come up with an workable plan that met this requirement.  The legislation he ended up voting for did not protect people with pre-existing conditions.  I think Pureval has the better argument here. 

However, the more substantive issue is how to address the heath care financing in this country.  The Republicans have been up in arms over Obamacare for years, but have been unable to craft a replacement.  Chabot has shown that he will loyally follow whatever the Republican leadership comes up with, which, most likely, will be more attempts to sabotage the system they inherited from Obama while they dither around, failing to come up with a viable alternative.  On the other hand, some Democrats want to offer a “single payer” system; Pureval seems to be interested in more modest strengthening of Obamacare.

The two candidates fall along traditional party lines on the other substantive issues as well.  Concerning the economy, Chabot emphasizes lower taxes and less regulation, especially for small businesses.  Pureval talks of “equal pay for equal work”, protecting unions, and raising the minimum wage.  On taxes, Pureval emphasizes fairness in taxation.  He wants permanent relief for the middle class, and to “ensure that hedge fund managers don’t pay less than working families”.  Chabot touts the Trump tax cuts.  Thus, one represents the interests of the those he labels the job creators, the other the workers.  Both claim to support the middle class.

Chabot supports a constitutional amendment that would impose a balanced budget.  This is in line with traditional (pre-Trump) Republican thinking.  It is a bad idea that would be disastrous if implemented.  First of all, no business operates without using debt, and many of our most successful businesses go through periods where they loose money.  Secondly, if we suffered a financial recession like 1929 (or 2008), having such an amendment would force the government to take the same actions that were taken in the Hoover administration, exacerbating the problem.  Finally, while Chabot touts this proposal claiming to be concerned with prudent financial management,  he votes profligately for tax cuts, increased defense spending, and consequently, ever larger budget deficits.

An issue not talked about directly by either candidate concerns race.  When Chabot talks about immigration, he focuses attention on gangs, while Pureval, the son of immigrants, speaks of the American dream.   Generally Cbabot plays the card subtly, labeling Pureval as an outsider by focusing on whether he was raised in the district (Beavercreek is in a neighboring district), or whether he lived in the district.  Before deciding to run, Pureval lived on the other side of the carefully gerrymandered line splitting apart the voters in Cincinnati.  For his part, Pureval “celebrates diversity and inclusion.  People who don’t agree with him on this will vote for Chabot. 

If you care at all about protecting the environment, Pureval, though hardly a zealot, is the clear choice.  He wants to properly fund the Environmental Protection Agency.  Chabot does not even mention the environment on his web site.  As late as 2014, he was saying “Despite claims to the contrary, the evidence concerning man-made climate change is far from conclusive.  Chabot is focused on energy independence, and wants to “increase domestic oil production.”  Perhaps this is why the Koch brother’s PAC Americans for Prosperity has put its weight behind Chabot.

For Chabot, a central issue is abortion, which, he says, “has been described as the moral issue of our time.”  (It irritates me that he expresses his central moral position in the passive voice and attributes it to others.)  Chabot will do what he can to undermine access to abortions.  Pureval thinks “we must support a woman’s constitutional right to choose safe, legal abortions established in Roe v. Wade.  Pureval does not think the election is about abortion, but for those driven by this one issue, the choice is clear.

I disagree with Chabot not only about abortion, but about what truly is the moral issue of our time.  The Republican party has descended into deceit and bigotry.  Trump is the result.  There are a few brave souls in the party, such as John Kasich, who are standing up for traditional Republican values, but most, like Chabot, are just riding the wave wherever it takes them.  Historians are sounding warning bells: we could loose our democracy.  Steve Chabot, over two decades in Congress, has shown no sign of having the courage and independence that our time in history demands.

Though Chabot wants to paint Pureval as a lefty,  he is not.  He is a follower not of the anti-establishment social democrats, but of Obama.  For example, he has not come out for reform of our marijuana laws, an issue that I think would bring out the voters.  Whether Pureval will emerge as the kind of leader that I hope for is yet to be seen.  I want to give him that chance. 

Aftab PurevalMy impression of the two candidates is that both seem to be genuinely nice people who want the best for this nation.  Given my view of the current state of the Republican party, I would vote Democrat.  However,  in this case, I can enthusiastically support the person, not just the party.

 

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The Nunez Memo

Nunez press conference

Devin Nunez at Press Conference (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

So, after much ballyhoo, the memo was finally released to the public.  Here are my thoughts.

  1. The memo is essentially correct in its main implication: there are those in the FBI that are opposed to Trump.  After all, they are searching for the truth: they come to conclusions based on actual facts.  In the world of alternative facts espoused by Trump and his followers, this is opposition research, by definition.  Trump has made clear that he wants loyalty to him, not a dogged pursuit of the truth.
  2. The memo does not reveal anything that should have been classified in the first place.  While I am willing to concede that anti-espionage requires some secrecy, I can’t imagine that anything in this memo wasn’t already known to the professionals engaged with the topic.  I read it without gaining any new insights into “sources and methods.”
  3. The memo castigates the FBI for using a dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, who was working on a research project partially paid for by the Clinton campaign.  According to a source quoted in the memo, “Steele was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.”  Given what Mr. Steele had learned in his research, I fully understand and sympathize with his point of view.   He acted to make the information that he had gathered known to the public and was therefore terminated as a source for the FBI.
  4. The memo labels the dossier “salacious and un-verified” (when the investigation began), and condemns Steele for “anti-Trump financial and ideological motivations.”  Thus, it is basically an ad hominem attack on Steele.  It does not convince me that anything in the dossier is untrue.  Buzzfeed, which published the dossier in full, noted that it does contain some errors, but these appear to be minor details.
  5. Those who criticize the memo for cherry picking facts to give an erroneous picture of what took place are almost certainly correct.  If I trusted the authors, I might be concerned about the issues that it raises.  However, these are clearly politicians with an ax to grind.

I conclude that the FBI is doing its job, and that Trump and his Republican allies are not happy about it.  I knew this before the memo came out.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does its work in secrecy and, as John F. Kennedy said, “The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society”.  This court needs supervision.  However, I find it hard to imagine our current congress providing any useful oversight.

Continuous Improvement in Policing

cmo_community-forum3_1217.jpg

In society, nothing remains stagnant: either you work to get better or things deteriorate.  And so it is with the Collaborative Agreement among the police and various civic organizations in Cincinnati that emerged in response to the riots in 2001.  It had been voluntarily extended for over a decade, and people were beginning to suspect decay.  Consequently, the city has embarked on a refresh.  As a part of this effort, they held three Community Forums, “designed to solicit invaluable feedback from Cincinnati residents, Cincinnati police officers, and various community stakeholders on the state of local community-police relations.”  The last of these forums took place on Thursday, 1/11.

3rd Forum CrowdUnlike the first such forum last September, this one was lightly attended: I think police and other officials attending outnumbered the civilians, and there were many empty tables.

3rd Forum QuestionerDuring the question period, one person attacked the panel for not getting the word out, in essence blaming the organizers for the poor attendance, especially from the population that is most impacted by the consequences of biased policing.  City Manager Black defended the organizers, citing a number of steps that they had taken, ending with “We can’t make them come.”

Though I had noticed the size of the crowd as soon as I entered the room, after a moment’s reflection, I was not surprised. It is much more exciting to rise up in anger over the shooting of Sam Debose than to sit and talk about procedures, accountability, data, problem solving, and recommendations to “develop metrics to evaluate mutual accountability…”.  It is all too abstract. Kim Neal, director of the Citizen Complaint Authority, told me that they even have trouble getting people who have registered complaints to return their calls.  If people are reluctant to engage in issues where their stake is personal, it is not surprising that they won’t bother with some city wide forum like this.

1st forum crowd 2To me, the first forum seemed to feature lots of like-minded people of various backgrounds getting together for Kumbaya, but there was no grit.  I had trouble imagining this forum having significant impact, no matter how “invaluable” they called the feedback they received.  Regardless, it is important to give ordinary citizens the opportunity to participate.

Saul Green

Saul Green

Saul Green, who was appointed by the court to monitor the collaborative agreement when it was put in place back in 2002, is overseeing the refresh.  He is critically examining current procedures, and my impression is that he is not going to put up with pointless activities that have no real impact.  The team is making recommendations for change. City Manager Black is accepting them all, and forming concrete plans to implement them.

The specifics of these recommendations and the implementation plans would have been too numerous for presentation in this meeting, and are in any case not finalized.  Some in attendance were clearly dissatisfied, but what they were asking for was a level of detail that I, for one, had neither the time nor the expertise to evaluate.   I left this part of the presentation with confidence in the qualifications and engagement of the leadership, and I am willing to trust them to bring about constructive changes.

Dan Hils

Dan Hils, FOP President

In my opinion, there is one major obstacle to a successful refresh: the reluctance of a certain segment of the police community to participate.  Initially, there were reports that the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) voted “to stop taking part in the process of reviewing and renewing the Collaborative Agreement”.   Apparently, the FOP later backed off of this stance, but Hils, the FOP president, still points out “a big difference between looking at things and signing off on things.”  The rank and file police officers can undermine the agreement, no matter how carefully crafted the procedures are.   Perhaps a citizen forum is not the place for these police to air their point of view, and, to be honest, I might not be very receptive to what they have to say.  However, somewhere in this process, their concerns need to be heard and acknowledged.

At the end of the forum, they talked about PIVOT, “Place based Investigations of Violent Offender Territories”.  This is an awful acronym, but an effective program.  It won the 2017 Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.  For me, this presentation had the kind of detail that meant something.  Instead of just talking about problem solving in the abstract, they presented the actual data, described the problems that it identified, and articulated specific steps taken to address the problems.  PIVOT E WestwoodThe highlight of the evening was the video documenting the problem and the community response in East Westwood and Westwood. These adjoining neighborhoods had narrowly defined locations where many crimes were being committed.  The response to the problem involved not only significant policing, but also collaboration, though the Neighborhood Enhancement Program, with other city departments and various community groups.  Unlike in some “broken windows policing” scenarios where citizens feel harassed and disrespected, here then citizens felt involved and empowered.  The result was that crime in the area was significantly reduced and life in the community improved.

In many parts of our country, policing mixes comfortably with the legacy of racial discrimination, harking back to a time keeping order meant, in part, keeping the coloreds in their place.  Far too often, the police will deny that racial bias is a problem in their department.  In the aftermath of the riots in 2001, Cincinnati confronted reality head on and found a constructive path forward, embodied in  the Collaborative Agreement. At the forum, I talked with a lieutenant with 25 years of experience who spoke with pride in the transformation that had occurred in the department since she first joined it.  However, pride in past accomplishments is never sufficient.  In Cincinnati, civic and religious organizations are working together with the police department and the city government to continue to improve.  The refresh of the Collaborative Agreement, with its focus on metrics and procedures, is only part of what is going on.  People are also developing innovative strategies like PIVOT and the Neighborhood Enhancement Program to confront the problems of a city in the 21st Century.  These strategies recognize that policing, no matter how innovative and well meaning, cannot provide the whole solution.  It is the whole community, working together, that can solve the problems we face.

Ohio Issue 2: the Drug Price Standards Initiative

The war over prescription drug prices has come to Ohio in the form of the Drug Price Standards Initiative, which will be on the ballot as Issue 2.  Depending on who you believe, it will be either “saving Ohio taxpayers millions of dollars … while improving healthcare”  or  “a prescription for disaster”.   In any case, it promises to be the most expensive Ohio initiative ever, not because of its substance, which is not all that consequential, but because of its symbolic significance in the national political fight.

The pharmaceutical industry’s take on this is summed up in the warning included in the SEC 10-K report file by Depomed Pharmaceuticals, under ITEM 1A.  RISK FACTORS:

Although [California] Proposition 61 was rejected, these and other cost containment or price control measures, if adopted at the federal or state level, could significantly decrease the price that we receive for our products and any product that we may develop or acquire, which would harm our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Thus, to the industry, this is not just about what happens in Ohio.  Passing this initiative would signal to the country that the people are finally ready to act to stem the rising cost of prescription drugs.  The industry is not about to let that happen anywhere.

Michael Weinstein 1

Michael Weinstein

The organization behind this initiative is the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), led by longtime AIDS activist Michael Weinstein. This foundation, based in Los Angeles but which has facilities in Columbus and Cleveland, financed the gathering of signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot. Employees of this foundation are identified in the initiative as people with standing to defend it against any legal challenges.

This initiative is almost identical to the 2016 California Proposition 61. After a campaign in which $19 million was spent in support and $109 million in opposition to the measure, it failed, 53% to 47%.  Why AHF thinks they will fare any better in Ohio is beyond me.  However, perhaps that is not the point.

Health care financing in America is a mess.  The system is absurdly complex, beyond the comprehension of a layman like myself.  With all the secret deals, it is almost impossible to find out what is really going on.  Those in power like it that way. Each convolution creates another opportunity for someone to extract more money from the public, and the pharmaceutical industry seems to be at the head of pack.

Perhaps the most egregious example is Turing Pharmaceuticals, under the leadership of former hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli.  They obtained the license for a life saving drug, Daraprim, and promptly raised the price of from $13.50 to $750 per pill.  This is angered everyone.  However, it was entirely legal.  Sckreli realized that although prescription drug prices are rising faster than any other part of health care, the drug industry is actually showing restraint.  He simply acted to maximize his company’s profits.  Most drug industry leaders realize that if they were to fully flex their muscles like this that America would rise up and take away their power.

There is one point that everyone seems to agree on.  Even Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue leads their ad with “Ohioans need access to affordable medications.”  The question is what to do about it.

Weinstein’s answer, with the Drug Price Standards Initiative, is to disrupt the status quo.  Thus, Our Revolution, “the next step for Bernie Sander’s movement”, fully supports it.  Against it are PhRMA, any establishment politicians dependent on donations from PhRMA, and most establishment medical associations.

Meet Michael Weinstein

Meet Michael Weinstein

The ads, both for and against, feature the kind of personal attacks that clutter the political landscape these days.  In the mail, I received a flyer supporting Issue 2.   It displayed a large picture Craig Landau, head of Purdue Pharma, “the nation’s #1 opioid drug pusher”; since he is opposing issue 2, we must be for it.   On the other side, those opposed to Issue 2 have an website Meet Micheal Weinstein devoted to exposing the man behind the initiative.  As far as I can tell, they stick to the truth.  However, the worst they can do is label him a “California Healthcare CEO” of an organization which makes “nearly 80% of [its] revenue selling prescription drugs” and “has a documented history of frequently engaging in litigation to advance its interests.”  Evidently, thoughtful, nuanced discussion does not make effective advertising.

You might have noticed that i haven’t yet mentioned what the initiative actually does. It has two main provisions:

  • “Require the State of Ohio … to not pay more for prescription drugs than the price paid by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.”  This mandate would only apply where the state of Ohio was the ultimate payer.  Private insurance plans would not be directly affected.
  • Give the petitioners standing to defend the law against any court challenges, and require the state to cover “reasonable legal expenses”.  If the court rules Issue 2 unenforceable, the petitioners would have to pay the state $10,000.

This second provision assures that the issue would be vigorously defended in court even if the state Attorney General chose not to do so.  Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue claims this is “an unprecedented provision granting [the promoters] the right to intervene at taxpayer expense in any legal challenges that may be filed against the measure.”  Ballotpedia analyzed the claim and concluded, “That is correct.

In a teleconference on Oct. 5, Dennis Willard, head of the Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices, said that this provision was moot because Attorney General Mike Dewine has promised to defend the issue if it passes.  I have not been able to confirm that Dewine has actually said this.  In any case, this is a sidelight, a diversion from the main point.

The main question is whether this initiative would lead to a substantial savings.

The Veterans Administration (VA) pays 20% to 24% less than other agencies for prescription drugs.  If the state of Ohio would pay that same price, it would save around $400 million each year.  This is simple math.

However, the American health care finance system is anything but simple.   In particular, drug prices are negotiated, and these agreements often prohibit public disclosure.  Although the VA publishes a 17,000 line spreadsheet of pharmaceutical prices, the prices that the VA actually pays are not generally available to the public.  Thus, the central mandate of Issue 2 might not be strictly enforceable.  Nevertheless, the savings would still be substantial even if Ohio was only to achieve the published price.

Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue make the following assertions:

Issue 2 won’t fix the problem. In fact, it’ll make things worse. It could lead to: •

    • logoHigher Drug Costs

    • Reduced Access to Medicines
    • More Red Tape & Bureaucracy
    • Negative Impact on Veterans

Michael Weinstein has discounted these possibilities, saying that “such dire scenarios will only come to pass if pharma chooses to hurt the public rather than accepting lower profit margins for drugs on some insurance plans”.

How likely is it that the drug companies, after spending over $100 million to defeat the measure in California and some similarly gargantuan amount in Ohio, would placidly accept lower profit margins?  Investors evaluate the performance of executives based on their ability to increase profits; those executives who accept lower profits will be replaced. If Ohio attempts to derail their gravy train, big PhRMA will make damned sure that nobody else wants to follow its example.

Issue 2, by itself, does not change the power relationship that Martin Shkreli so callously exploited.  These prices still have to be negotiated, and big Pharma, on the other side of the table, has no interest in making this initiative a success.  Since the VA price would become the price for the state as well, some drug companies might choose to raise VA prices.  This would have a “negative impact on veterans.” Alternatively, drug companies could refuse to sell to the state at the low VA price, making some drugs unavailable through those agencies.  This would “reduce access to medicines.” Another threat is that the drug companies could simply make up the lost revenue by raising prices for private payers in Ohio, leading to “higher drug costs.”

Thus, each of the “could lead to” assertions by the Issue 2 opponents could turn out to be true. Of course, these result not directly from Issue 2 but from the actions of the drug companies, actions that the drug companies can take whether or not Issue 2 passes.

The California Legislative Analyst provided an analysis of Proposition 61 concluding:

If adopted, the measure could generate annual state savings.  However, the amount of any savings is highly uncertain as it would depend on (1) how the measure’s implementation challenges are addressed and (2) the uncertain market responses of drug manufacturers to the measure.  As a result, the fiscal impact of this measure on the state is unknown.

I have not found a similar state analysis of Ohio Issue 2, but it would come to the same conclusion.

Health care financing in America is a mess.  After November, it will still be a mess, whether or not Issue 2 passes.  Whether Issue 2 passes or not, another similar initiative will appear in the near future in a different state.  It is a national problem.  It cannot be solved at the state level.

I will vote in support of Issue 2 even though I do not expect passing it to result in substantial savings.  I support the long term goal of fixing health care financing in this country.  Defeating big PhRMA would be a giant leap toward that goal, not because of the content of this initiative, but because it would change the political landscape.  Even if it fails, having Issue 2 on the ballot raises awareness of the problem:  something must be done about the rising cost of prescription drug prices.

And, or course,  it’s possible we could win.

 

 

 

 

Russ Hurley for Congress in 2018 (Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District)

Ohio's_2nd

The voters of Cincinnati have been carefully divided up into two congressional districts, both of which are reliably Republican.  The gerrymandering is particularly obvious in the 2nd district, which reaches to Pike County, roughly 100 miles away from the carefully carved appendage slicing through Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Currently, this district is represented by Brad Wenstrup, a tea partier who beat the incumbent Republican in the 2012 primary.  Unlike many tea party types, Wenstrup is no lightweight.  A former pediatrician, he is intelligent and articulate.  He runs a very professional congressional office.  His campaign already has a half a million dollars on hand. Given all of the advantages of incumbency and the demographics of the district, whoever runs as his opponent is sure to be a long shot.

In order to win in this district, the Democrats need to step outside their usual box and give the voters something to be excited about in an off-year election.   In my opinion, there is one issue that can generate that excitement: the legalization of marijuana.

Teapot RussMany Years ago, when I was smoking pot regularly, I assumed that when my generation came to power, marijuana would become legal.  Belatedly, this is starting to happen.  It has been legalized in a few states, and many more, including Ohio, have approved if for medical use.  However, the federal government still classifies it as a Schedule I drug, putting it along side heroine and other highly addictive drugs.  It is time end this prohibition at its source, through national legislation.  A Quinnipiac poll says that most Americans (60% to 34%) agree “that the use of marijuana should be made legal in the U.S.”  This is a winning issue.

In the 2016 Democratic primary, there was one candidate for congress who put the marijuana issue front and center: Russ Hurley.  This is why I endorsed him then. Now, he has started an on-ine campaign for the 2018 primary and asked me to endorse him again.

King Court 2Since that primary, I have had the opportunity to meet Russ at his place of business: the King’s Court Master Barber & Shoe Shine Service.  I have not seen him address a crowd, but he strikes me as a down to earth guy who might appeal to the stereotypical Trump voter in a way that Wenstrup, with all his polished professionalism, might not.

I like candidates who let you know where they stand.  Hurley has done this, publishing his “top 10” issues.  Since this blog is about my point of view,  here is what I think of each or Hurley’s points:

  1.  Legalize industrial hemp and marijuana adding trillions of industrial $$$ into our economy. Saving 100s of billions on law enforcement. Eliminating the need for many prison cells across the nation. Close private for profit prisons and re-purpose them for indoor agricultural use making them more profitable for owners and providing even better jobs to the communities in which they reside.

One might question the wisdom of putting the marijuana issue first: we clearly have other important issues facing our nation.  However, the legalization of marijuana is what distinguished Hurley from the rest of the field in the previous primary, and it makes good sense to put this first.

Closing private, for profit prisons is a separate issue.  Even if we succeed in legalizing marijuana, the current Attorney General seems bent on incarcerating our way through the current opioid crisis, which will generate plenty of new prisoners.  America already jails a larger percentage of its population than any other developed nation.  This is horribly misguided.  Furthermore, we have a history of using prisoners for profit, and it is ugly.  We need to stop this now.

However, once we close the private prisons, we do not need to be directing the owners in how those facilities will be used.  Free market entrepreneurs excel at producing wealth from existing assets; they should not need our guidance.

2. Create a living wage increase commensurate  with CEO to minimum wage pay scale from the 1960s and double military base pay.

The increasing inequality in the distribution of wealth in our nation threatens the very foundation of our society.

I support increasing the minimum wage as one step in addressing this problem.  Seattle has set it at $15.00 an hour, which seems reasonable target to me.

As for military base pay, I do not know what is reasonable.  Currently, a Private (E1) with less than 2 years of experience earns $19,198.80, which is what someone earning $9.60 an hour would make working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year.  Clearly, the base pay should be increased if we are increasing the minimum wage.  Doubling it seems over the top.

The growth in CEO wages in the last few decades has been obscene; we cannot simply replicate this obscenity throughout our society.  “Commensurate with CEO to minimum wage pay scale from the 1960s” might sound fair, but as near as I can tell, this would put the minimum wage somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 an hour.  This is ridiculous.  Hurley, using different sources, thinks it would be about $28 an hour.  Still ridiculous.

3.  Equal rights at work (equal pay) or home (marriage) and at the doctors  for all people (ALL MEANS ALL) in the USA.

In the bathroom too, although I think it’s fine that he didn’t mention that.

4. Create high speed rail and help update and improve inner city public transportation.  

We need major improvements in our transportation infrastructure.  However, it seems strange to emphasize high speed rail and inner city problems given the district that Hurley seeks to represent.

5. Return retirement age back to 65.

I oppose this.  We are living longer, healthier lives.  I think it reasonable to move the “official” retirement age up, as is happening now.   However, since I myself retired early, you may call me a hypocrite.

A more important improvement to Social Security concerns the earnings cap on the tax used to support it: this should be raised.

6.  Fix immigration with a true path to citizenship. provide better border security by creating more military bases across our border to keep terrorists out.

I support a quick path to legal status for people who are here.  This is much more urgent than the long term path to full citizenship.

Border security is problematic.  While it is plausible that some minuscule fraction of the people entering this country illegally are terrorists, this threat is magnified beyond all reasonable sense of proportion by our politicians.  Trump’s giant wall will not help much; nor will Hurley’s army bases.  This should not be on the high priority list.  We already waste more than enough money on security theater.

7. Strengthen and expand the A.C.A. until single pay comes for a vote.

Here, I think Hurley has exactly the right approach.

8. Eliminate corn subsidies for ethanol replacing corn with hemp, leading towards 100% renewable, cleaner, cheaper and closer to home energy sources.

I know Russ thinks hemp is more efficient than corn as a source for ethanol.  This might be true.  However, there are lots of ways to produce ethanol, and corn is clearly not the most efficient choice.  Thus, I agree that we should move away from corn subsidies.

I think the government has a role to play in subsidizing the production of ethanol from renewable sources.  I would prefer to support multiple options, rather than have the politicians choose their favorite.

9. Fund adult and child education building new schools.

We need to spend more on education.   However, I don’t think providing buildings is the best way to involve the federal government in this.  So here, I agree with the goal, but perhaps not the specifics of the proposal.

10. Expand wind and solar power, updating our power grid to eliminate the 30% lost energy every day.

Improving our electric grid is a major priority.  Efficiency and flexibility are needed to make use of these newer, less predictable, power sources.

We also need to protect it from cyber attack.  I think there are vulnerabilities here that the government could help address.

Thus, my judgment on Russ’s top 10 issues is mixed: I am enthusiastic about some of them, other I find  are too strident.   In my opinion, there are also a few things missing from this list:

  • Paying for it all.  Politicians talk only of benefits, never of costs.  Several of the objectives that Russ lays out cannot be reached without allocating the necessary financial resources.  This money has to come from some place.  There are several options available: borrowing the money, reducing the amount spent on defense, or taxing people who have money.  If Hurley is going to be specific on these priorities, he needs to be prepared to talk about how they are going to be funded.
  • Simplifying the tax system.  As long as our system is so complex and littered with so many loopholes, arriving at a fair method of taxation is impossible.
  • Providing good government, compromising when necessary to move us closer to our long term goals.  In normal times, this would not even be worth mentioning.  However, today there are politicians who take pride in their obstinance. As a result, our politics has become toxic and dysfunctional.  Our constitution was founded on compromise.  We need representatives in congress committed to making our democracy work.

Hurley

So often, campaigns are based on platitudes so broad and bland that it is impossible to have anything constructive to say about them.  Russ Hurley has stated positions that are clear and specific enough that I can have an opinion.  I appreciate this.  That my opinion differs from his in several points does not upset me; since I think for myself, it is inevitable.  I can endorse a candidate who is ready to lead us in what I perceive as the right direction, and is able to analyze problems, and evaluate proposed solutions. What I am concerned with is that he is pointing in the right direction and is able to think things through.

This brings me back to issue number 2, concerning the minimum wage.  What Hurley proposes might sound fair, but I don’t think he has thought this through at all.  Hurley’s position is so far over the top, so impractical, that I question whether  he can be taken seriously as a candidate.  I cannot endorse such lame thinking.

In 2016, I moved from one part of Cincinnati to another, crossing that carefully gerrymandered line.  So I longer vote in the 2nd congressional district.  However, if I had the opportunity, I would seriously consider voting for Hurley, despite my misgivings.

Did I mention that he supports the legalization of marijuana?

 

 

A Prophecy

I brought you into a fertile land
to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land
and made my inheritance detestable.
“Therefore I bring charges against you again,”
declares the Lord.
“And I will bring charges against your children’s children.”
Jeremiah 2:7, 2:9

In ancient times, when God’s chosen people were making a mess of things, which they did  fairly often, God sent them warnings via the prophets.  This was revealed truth, not to be questioned, but to be obeyed.  However, the people usually did not obey.  After all, these prophets seemed crazy, and they demanded way too much sacrifice.  Consequently, the people suffered what  they would come to understand as God’s wrath.

Today, we no longer need to rely solely on revealed truth.  Using our natural talents and our ability to pass detailed knowledge from generation to generation, we have developed a method for understanding the world around us based on careful, systematic observation.  This understanding has deepened over the years through continually building on what came before, by repeatedly questioning the received wisdom, testing it, verifying some ideas, refining others, and discarding those that did not correspond to the world as it actually is.  Thus, in the place of revealed truth, we have theories that can be verified or disproven by observing the results of reproducible experiments.   In ancient times, people understood the world to be controlled by God: disobey and you will be punished.  Our scientific understanding is founded on cause and effect: touch a hot stove and you will get burnt.

This approach to human understanding has proven extremely effective.  It has enabled us to transform large areas of the planet to suit our needs and build cities that reach to the sky.  Our modern technological civilization stretches around the globe.

Today, scientists observe that the planet, on the whole, is getting warmer.  This was predicted decades ago by people whose ideas used to seem rather far fetched.  Now, these assertions have been verified by careful examination of what has actually happened since the predictions were first made.  The idea is simple and profound.  Our civilization has become so ubiquitous that our collective waste is effecting the climate of the entire planet.  Glaciers are melting, sea level is rising, and storms are becoming more destructive.

There are times when the gentle correction of a modern Quaker simply will not suffice, times that call for the fierce intensity of the prophets.  You don’t have to believe in the wrathful God of the Old Testament for the message revealed through Jeremiah to reverberate in the depths of your soul.   And so I repeat his prophecy:

If we continue to trash the planet, there will be a catastrophe of Biblical proportions, and our children’s children will suffer what the ancient Hebrews understood to be the wrath of God.

Of course, all this is in response to the announcement that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord.  However, like those Biblical warnings of old, this is not just about the behavior of far off kings and princes and presidents.  Each of us needs to examine our own actions, because simply by living in this society, we are complicit in the ongoing devastation.

So, let me conclude with a query taken from the Faith and Practice of Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends:

Do you endeavor to live in harmony with nature, avoiding pollution and the destruction of our environment? What are you doing about your use of the world‘s irreplaceable resources?

 

 

Trump, Russia and The Threat to Democracy

Putin behind curtain

People are all excited about the investigation, now led by special council Robert Meuller.  Did the Trump campaign collude secretly with the enemy?  That would be high treason.  Frankly, I was extremely skeptical .  It seemed that this was nothing more than another political sideshow, but, as Douglas Blackmon reports: “This scandal has metastasized more quickly and destructively than I could possibly have forecast.”

There is nothing surprising about Russians doing what they could in the American election.  Both Russia and America have been meddling in the internal affairs of other nations for decades.  Sometimes, the United States, contrary to the lofty principles of our founding fathers, has helped overthrow popularly elected governments in favor of those willing to support our military or business interests.  Khrushchev claimed to have had a small but perhaps decisive effect on the election of Kennedy over Nixon in 1960.  In 1984, Russia tried in vain to help defeat Ronald Reagan, but he won in a landslide.  So, Russia meddling in our affairs is not new.  However, this time, as explained by Eugene Rumor in testimony before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,

The experience of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election should be judged an unqualified success for the Kremlin.

Since the turn of the millennium, Russia has morphed into a more and more authoritarian kleptocracy.  As in the Soviet days, it sees democracy as the enemy.  To combat this enemy, it has developed an impressive arsenal of political weapons, called “active measures”.  Some of these, such as assassination, are truly frightening. However, most target the public’s ability to determine what is true.  As historian Timothy Snyder says:

Timothy Snyder

Timothy Snyder

So if you want to rip the heart out of a democracy directly, if you want to go right at it and kill it, what you do is you go after facts.

Thus, the first line of defense against these active measures is good journalism.  Throughout the previous century, America had a vibrant core of reliable news sources dedicated to providing the public with a firm foundation for making informed decisions.   Of course, we also had the National Enquirer, but its wild fabrications were pretty harmless in the context of the whole information scene.

However, new technologies have disrupted the news business, fragmenting it and undermining its traditional business model.  Newspapers are reducing their staff or closing all together, and new sources of information are gaining prominence.  Some are excellent, but many publish wild distortions and outright lies.  With our  information infrastructure weakened, fake news is no longer so harmless.  Our society has become more susceptible to disinformation campaigns.

Clearly, the Russians aren’t the only ones engaged in such campaigns.  With its denial of climate change and thinly veiled bigotry, the “conservative entertainment-outrage complex” has been peddling misinformation, willful ignorance, and bizarre conspiracy theories for years.  Pundits have found it lucrative to provoke outrage with purposely misleading or blatantly false assertions.  The Republican Party, after discovering how well these techniques worked, got on board this plush, well-funded train and lurched ever more towards the reactionary right to appease the loudest voices in the crowd.

Having largely abandoned thoughtful and reasoned debate, the party found itself helpless in the face of a hostile takeover by a showman brandishing even more brazen bigotry, more outlandish conspiracy theories, and an almost complete detachment from reality.  Trump dominated the 2016 field in the primaries, effortlessly sloughing off all attacks.  The fact checkers declared “pants on fire”.  Big deal.  They were always making noise about something.  Trump’s proposals were unrealistic and impractical.  So what? Almost all of the Republican proposals were.  Trump could say something that qualified as “the textbook definition of a racist comment,” but the party base didn’t care.  They were tired of all this “politically correct” pussyfooting around.  They wanted someone who would tell it like it is, and Trump delivered.  Thus, the Trump phenomenon sprouted out of ground that had been richly fertilized with fake news and manufactured outrage for many years.  Trump is a symptom, not the root cause, of the disease affecting our democracy.

We have the remedy to this disease in hand: multiple reliable sources of accurate information.  However, there is a core of Americans who have developed resistance to this remedy.

Donald Trump Tweet

@real@realDonaldTrump

Trump, recognizing the threat that good journalism poses to him and what he represents, lashes out at the press whenever he can.  In one case, he tweeted

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

In truth, it is pretty easy to see why he is so upset with the mainstream media.  A Harvard study has shown that the coverage Trump received in the first 100 days was much more negative than for other presidents.  Almost every day, the Washington Post calls out something that he said as demonstrably false, or at least inconsistent with what he said earlier.  Almost all of the newspapers in the country endorsed Hillary Clinton.  To someone who supported Trump in the election, it must all seem pretty one-sided.  However, these reliable news sources rejected Trump for a good reason: he is manifestly deceitful and unqualified.   How can you provide fair and balanced coverage of a man who lies so persistently?

I actually agree with Trump about the significance of fake news; I disagree with him about which news is fake.  And the phrase “enemy of the people” has a frightening pedigree, particularly as used by Stalin during the purges.  This is all a part of a calculated strategy, one pulled directly from the fascists in the 1920s and 30s, that Timothy Snyder describes it this way:

Step one: You lie yourself, all the time. Step two: You say it’s your opponents and the journalists who lie. Step three: Everyone looks around and says, “What is truth? There is no truth.”

And then, resistance is impossible, and the game is over.

Trump has praised Stalin’s heir, Putin, for the strength of his leadership and for his high approval rating.  Of course, Putin, like Stalin before him, assures the security of his regime and his high approval ratings by systematically suppressing dissent and controlling the press.

Trump seems envious of Putin’s power, unfettered by that pesky Constitution.  In his recent trip, Trump appeared much more at home with the Saudi monarch than with the leaders of European democracies.

During the campaign, I was continually mystified by Trump’s praise of Putin and by the presence of aids in his campaign with known ties to Russia. Trump even asked for the Russia’s help getting at Clinton’s emails n a nationally televised debate. (Though he wasn’t referring specifically to the emails at the DNC, I imagine he was pleased enough at what he got.)  How did the party of Reagan and Eisenhower ever get to the point that they acquiesce  to such as this?

Even so, I had trouble believing that there was actual collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, not because I believed Trump when he claimed there was none, but because it was so unnecessary.  The Trump campaign meshed naturally, publicly, with what the Russians were trying to do.   No behind-the-scenes coordination was needed.

robert-mueller

Robert Meuller

So, what will Meuller find when he looks into Russia’s meddling in our election?  Probably, he will confirm much that we already know.

 

Clearly, someone hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s server and leaked a boatload of emails to WikiLeaks.  The intelligence agencies claim to have established that this was done by Russians, apparently under the authority of Putin himself.  However, given the DNC’s rather cavalier in its approach to security, I’m not surprised someone broke in.

The Russians probably funneled money to the campaign of Donald Trump, perhaps also to Bernie Sanders, through some front organizations. They used dummy accounts to promote certain stories on the web that might otherwise have been ignored. They might have added a bit to the fake news, but there was so much of that I hardly see why they would have bothered.  In general, I expect the Russians amplified the havoc, but they certainly didn’t create it.

It might be that Trump or one of his functionaries was dumb enough to step over the line and do something that would justify prosecution in a court of law.  Certainly, people in the Trump entourage, i.e. Paul Manifort and Michael Flynn, had financial ties to some unsavory Russian characters.  It appears that Trump has attempted to interfere with the investigations, and there might be something in the cover up that was illegal.  You would think Trump would have learned enough from Nixon in the Watergate scandal to avoid this, but Trump occasionally shown himself to be phenomenally brash and ignorant.

In summary, Russia’s political tools are sophisticated and their motives are sinister.  We need to understand what they are up to and how to combat them.  But while we concern ourselves with the active measures of foreign governments,  we also need to pay attention to the attack on truth from within our own country.  This actually poses the bigger threat to our democracy.

And subscribe to a good newspaper.  We need them.