Sunday, September 27, 2009

• Obama’s Blunder On Iran

We cannot listen to Iran’s Ahmadinejad posturing on the expansion of the Iranian atomic energy program, without recalling Obama’s dramatic reversal on the U.S. land based missile defense system in Europe only days ago. The blunder was not in the reversal, but in its timing and its process.

The degree to which Iran has advanced its uranium enrichment capabilities will remain an unknown factor, and the international community reaction will continue to be perplexed, and marooned in paralysis of fear. Iran will not let anyone into whatever enrichment facility exists. No one will see what the ayatollahs do not wish to make public, sending us into recollections of the disastrous outcome following a long hide-and-seek dance with Saddam Hussein seven years ago. This leaves the world, Israel and the U.S. in particular, with a conundrum of literally seismic proportions. Iran’s nuclear progress is not new, nor is it news. What is new is the loss of one very powerful strategic negotiating tool that could have been useful in addressing Iran’s dangerous belligerence – the land-based European missile defense system.

When Obama backed off the deployment of a missile defense system in Europe, he did so without gaining a single concession from Putin and Russia. Russia had long blustered and railed against the U.S. missile deployment plan. Putin claimed the missiles were intended to threaten Russian sovereignty in the region, and that they were not meant to defend against Iran. The hovering menace from the U.S. was a significant affront to Putin's self-image. Obama’s abrogation of such significant “stance” on behalf of the United States suggests that this Administration learned nothing from the Ronald Reagan approach to international negotiations. Reagan changed the world when he boasted of his Strategic Defense Initiative satellite based defense system. The long list of concessions extracted from Gorbachev by Reagan, as well as his brilliance throughout the process of negotiations, should be compulsory reading for any student of Presidential impact on history.

Disclosure that Obama has known about Iran’s second uranium-enrichment facility all along, and that he has supposedly sprung an international trap for Iran, as some media such as the Washington Post are now suggesting, is peculiar analysis, as well as it is pandering in the extreme. Obama gave up a major negotiating card that could have been used to push Russia toward joining the strengthening of sanctions against Iran. China cannot be counted on to assist any future confrontation with Iran, having taken itself out of the equation with investments in Iran to feed its own requirements for energy and natural resources. The only other power, whose advocacy is truly needed in the region for serious containment of the ayatollahs in Tehran, is Russia. China and Russia provide Iran with enough trade to successfully finance the Ayatollahs through many more elections no matter what sanctions Obama might think of adding to the existing limitations. Iran’s path to becoming a nuclear power appears unobstructed.

The alternative to the controversial land based system being mothballed, according to Obama, is cheaper, quicker and more effective. This means the decision to embrace the new technology is very likely a good one. If you had this information in hand, would you have run headlong into an announcement, given that the planned European shield had been a major thorn under Putin’s belly? The diplomatic clout that the West’s tension with Iran has provided Putin still remains, and no concessions have been extracted, nor are we likely to see any extracted in the near future. Russia’s response has been to provide more rhetoric, and more blustering. The Russian envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said, “… Americans have simply put their own mistake right. And we are not duty-bound to pay for someone to put their own mistakes right.” Putin will continue to view Iran as an economic opportunity that will be exploited without interference from the West. The threat of crisis and instability in the region will also maintain energy prices at levels that Russia requires to finance its annual operating budget.

Adding to the confusion of signals emanating from the White House, Obama suggested that he could resurrect the European missile defense plan if Russia doesn’t help with the threat presented by Iran. This kind of accessory statement further weakens America’s hand. It suggests a lack of resolve on the initial reversal of the strategy, and it also infers apprehension about the new strategy and the underlying technology. Can America rely on the new capabilities and technologies or not? Are the interceptor capacities more flexible and cost-effective? Are the advanced sensor technologies capable of detecting and tracking enemy missiles, or aren’t they? Why would Obama even hint at such uncertainty?

The signals showered on Americans and their allies by this Administration’s decisions and announcements are confusing, but to Russia, they seem to be welcome and they reinforce its strategy of saber rattling. Sanctions have also not deterred Iran's ayatollahs. Now, with the loss of a major strategic and negotiating option against the Kremlin, the enlistment of the Russian bear’s assistance will undoubtedly be impossible, and will lead to a more belligerent Iran. We can expect an increase in its destabilizing activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its financing of terrorism. The violence we witnessed against the Iranian people after the recent elections should be indication enough that a strategy pursuing, "engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect," as Obama wishes it, is simply just that, … wishful thinking.

.... Read more!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

• Health Care – What Are You NOT Hearing?

The lawyers and legal minds holding the joystick of politics in America’s White House and Congress, are afraid to make a move. The administration and legislature are staying away from confronting their friends, and former classmates, in the legal profession.

America is holding fast on its resistance to health care reform. The double talk and confusion from Washington is abundant, however the leadership is unwilling to implement changes that could dramatically reduce health care costs such as those that could easily be acted on pertaining to tort reform. We are provided claims such as those from the “nonpartisan” Congressional Budget Office report that malpractice litigation represents only 2% of health-care costs. This one is very “misleading,” since lawyers have always made up the majority of representatives sitting in Congress. It also purposely ignores the real costs burdened onto physicians, and the costly “actions” they take to protect themselves from being financially wiped out. Insurance premiums are just the beginning of the overhead. Defensive medicine has nothing to do with health care, but with doctors protecting themselves, and there is almost no viable measurement on the hundreds of millions that this truly mounts to.

You could extrapolate some numbers such as the 83% of doctors in Massachusetts who order tests they know are unnecessary in order to minimize their potential liabilities. When doctors already pay up to $250,000 per year in malpractice insurance, it is understandable that protecting themselves as much as they can, comes naturally. This is defensive medicine, … not the good kind, but the expensive kind. These tests are not preventive care defending patients against future illness. These defensive actions come from doctors protecting themselves against lawyers of the ambulance chasing kind. While some doctors can be accused of offensive medicine by ordering extra, not wholly necessary tests, don’t believe for a moment that there can be no agreement on what constitutes defensive medicine. You might also ask yourself on average, and in their general population, would you trust more of the doctor, or would you trust more of the lawyers?

Federal tort reform must be implemented, such as bringing under control the size of verdicts handed down by the courts, as well as placing serious caps on noneconomic and punitive damages. It is also critical that the fees taken by law firms in all such cases be reviewed and percentages controlled and capped. Let’s not submit to the bromide that lawyers are society’s first line of defense against private or civil wrongs. That claim is a virtuous and finespun abstraction on justice, no matter how much we wish it to be a truism. We have been witness to enough abuse of the legal system by lawyers over the past twenty years. It is time to close the open season trial lawyers have enjoyed on the medical profession, and bring the enormous judgments into the realm of reasonableness.

Obama refuses to support limits on liability. Does he really want reform of the medical care system? His words are delivered emphatically, but they are vacuous. He seems incapable of taking a specific stand against his friends and financial supporters in the legal profession. Congress is right behind him from both sides of the isle. Neither Democrats nor Republicans seem willing to launch a determined heads-on confrontation with the waste, although some of the reticence can be explained by the fact that the Democratic party took $47 million in contributions last year from the its benefactors in the legal profession. The lip service we are subjected to is easily dispensed, but accomplishes little. The White House and Congress would demonstrate more honesty if they would only pick a side, … address health care needs of taxpayers OR admit to supporting the very financially supportive legal profession.

There is much to be fixed before you ever get to a complete overhaul of the health care system. When there is a dearth of will to implement partial corrections, or controls, pertaining to waste and abuse in the existing system structure, there can be little hope for serious reform other than pursuit of ideological doctrine. Tort reform would be a start, though only a start, on the long road to an improved and sustainable system.

The American public is right to be suspicious of leadership that will not take immediate and specific action that would reduce an estimated $200 billion dollars from the Nation’s annual medical bill. How can taxpayers not be apprehensive of a program whose point person, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, previously led the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association? This is more assurance that “change,” is not coming.

.... Read more!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

• Political Campaign Funding – A Democracy’s Dilemma

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the restrictions that have been placed on corporate money in politics. The ruling may be one of the Court’s most critical decisions in an age which has seen one Presidential campaign accumulate almost a billion dollars in contributions. When the constitutionality of any far reaching federal law is opposed, it is a matter of national relevance, however, when a law affecting the foundation of the Democracy is challenged, such event should be arousing everyone’s notice and should be at the forefront of all news media outlets.

The case in front of the Supreme Court, Citizens v. Federal Election Commission, revolves around a documentary called “Hillary: The Movie,” produced by Citizens United. Based on Hillary Clinton, the film was banned for violating the McCain-Feingold bill which requires disclosure on funding sources, and stipulates that neither corporate or union treasuries can finance any “ad” pro or con just before a primary.

The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), also known as the McCain-Feingold bill, was the last major piece of legislation passed to control the source of financing for Federal political campaigns. The bill eliminated soft money donations to the national party committees, and restricted the funding of political pronouncements, ads, etc., by corporations, or organizations such as unions and non-profit organizations.

The arguments and presentations beginning tomorrow in front of the Supreme Court, will address a question all voters should take a stand on. Are your rights to free speech the same as the rights of corporations or organizations? Corporations and organizations are not individuals, they do not have the inherent rights of the people, nor do they have the same privileges. They are vehicles created and used by society for diverse purposes. Voters should seek to minimize their further influence on the political process and on the political landscape.

You will hear and read arguments whining that the government is treating organizations big and small, unfairly by prohibiting election advocacy, and is in effect imposing censorship. Some suggest that such treatment of organizations provides them less protection in the eyes of the law than is provided to individuals. The suggestion that organizations should be equal to individuals under the law twists the interpretation of the Constitution beyond common sense, and ignores the fact that current laws provide organizations with rights and privileges not available to individuals. Let’s not let anyone convince us that organizations are “persons.”

You will also hear that the media companies have no restrictions on their election leanings, or that restrictions do not apply to them and should therefore equally not apply to other corporate entities. While it is true that media companies have been given a pass on their ability to “manipulate” opinion, this is not a persuasive argument for overturning laws that in themselves do not go far enough in the restrictions of campaign finance.

The First Amendment of the Constitution explicitly prohibits Congress from infringing on the individual’s freedom of speech (other than inciting government overthrow), and as we long ago learned, free speech is a great freedom, but is not so “free.” While you may be able to shout your ideas, demands or wishes freely out your window to the extremes your lungs will allow without bursting, you will not achieve the reach that well financed organizations are able to affect as they shout at you through your invasive televisions.

This court decision revolves around financing free speech, but at its heart is the impact the decision will have on ability of organizations to influence voter perception. Organizations large and small already have too much influence on the electoral process. Corporations and labor organizations already impact election outcomes through such vehicles as Political Action Committees (PACs), or through the doors of political party organizations. We should note that the billion dollar campaign which carried Barack Obama into the Oval Office could not be audited by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) because the task was too onerous. Do not believe the pretense that the FEC is a watchdog, or does its job of monitoring campaign contributions, much less where and how the money is spent.

Allowing entities to finance the formation of perceptions, places a vast amount of power in the few hands at the helms of those entities, far overreaching the capacities of their “rank and file.” Politics have always been and will always be subject to self-serving influences. As wealth concentration continues unabated, effective control of the political process has already been skewed away from the average taxpayer. Simply put, the CEO of Goldman Sachs reaching into the company coffers has access to more money than you do to impact the outcome of an electoral campaign, and it’s not even his money. Neither shareholders, nor his employees, have any say on the candidate receiving the CEO’s largesse.

Some alternative legislation should be considered, including anonymity of donations, capping personal contributions and matching them with government funds, as well as eliminating all corporate and union political contributions and related loopholes. Beyond cleaning up the abuse of the process, this would bring campaign funding and spending within realms that might foster the advance of alternative parties to the political game on the national stage.

Should the Supreme Court overturn years of tested law in favor of corporate and union spending, it will relegate the taxpaying voter to that of second-class citizen, and insinuate a gigantic crack into the democratic process. No matter what the Supreme Court decides, the voter should take a stand at the poles with facts rather than with the prejudice of well-financed and influential rhetoric and advertisements.

High definition cameras bringing the drama into public consciousness should invade this upcoming Supreme Court hearing, and educate voters on the fundamental process none can take for granted. A Democracy is a very fragile environment demanding fastidious nurturing. “We the people,” was never intended to mean, “We the corporations and unions.”

.... Read more!