It’s such a warm, feel-good photo of McCarthy and Upton in the halls of their frat house, sorry Congress. Grinning and clutching like two little puppies playing in the back yard. And why not? They got some serious business done – negotiating with Obama himself over entitlements. These – the Social Security Disability Insurance in particular – will undergo “structural” reform and in exchange, there goes the Nation’s Debt Limit floating out the window and over the Potomac.

The structural reform at the SSDI is in place of a 20% reduction, and apparently will “strengthen” the now bankrupt fund that pays out insurance to anyone with a disability – regardless of income. In other words, there is no means testing as far as SSDI goes.

In fact, according to a study by the Cato Institute, disability insurance is handed out to many who would not fit the term “disabled” under any reasonable interpretation. Of course, tightening up the medical requirements – as opposed to the actuarial requirements which do insist you pay in to Social Security for a number of years to qualify – would be taken by opponents of entitlement reform and used to paint any reformer as a Dickensian Scrooge. Throwing people in wheelchairs out onto the sidewalk or stealing their walkers from out under their clutching hands.

It’s literally a nerve issue. And one that must be dealt with by stating clearly that disability insurance is a key support program. You have to say that over and over. And then begin to work up and lay out a plan to make sure the fund for SSDI becomes solvent again.

But political action needs to be seen to be done by voters themselves. Serious work that shows how money will be saved and/or better spent. And two congressmen engaged in horseplay in the halls of Congress just gives the impression of same old, same old. Especially when you consider that the “fixes” to Medicare premiums and deductibles – people paying less – will have to be funded. And the easiest way to do that is to add to the deficit. Again. Just a few more tens of billions this quarter. Or maybe a little more. And we swear, we are now in a perfect position to solve the Nation’s Finances. Especially with a free-floating debt limit drifting through the fall air …. somewhere over the Potomac.

Everyone needs an exit strategy. A way to sell out at the top when your idea, or company, is worth as much as you think you can get. Or when you can’t see a floor and you’re not sure when you’ll start bottoming out. Political brands are trickier because almost everyone has a backup strategy, a plan B and C that usually involves the seat/office they’re already holding. So it’s more like a high-stakes game of musical chairs. But sometimes some people decide to leave the music behind, and exit the game itself, rather than switch between those expensive leather armchairs. So while some – those closer to Jeb Bush for the moment at least – suggest that Rubio should resign his senate seat, the numbers are in fact starting to wear Jeb down.

He complained in South Carolina, mentioning he has “cool” stuff he could be doing. There is no doubt that the former governor could be leading a far more pleasant life, one that has little to do directly with the cut and thrust of a campaign. So the big question is, after Jeb and his family and donors closed the doors and gathered in Houston, who are they going to come out swinging at?

There seems to be two clear targets: Trump and Rubio. And talented commentators are laying out the reasons for both. Those saying he should target his former protégé define the issue as one of who’s the best Anti-Trump? If Rubio is doing a better job at presenting the type of Republican perspective that Jeb’s donors signed up for – Hispanic- friendly and tax-cutting – then will those big money donors keep backing Bush? It seems that Rubio was targeted by some of Jeb’s team at the Houston get-together to try and bump Rubio from Jeb’s “lane.” That seems to have produced some grumbling by some of them, but the fact is that those donors do have to choose between Bush and Rubio. And maybe Fiorina.

But is Trump a more immediate threat? Should Jeb’s team instead use the vaults of cash sitting there to go negative in a big way on the Beast from Manhattan? Or is there a fear that Trump would love that kind of a slugfest – a real mano-a-mano with Jeb? And turn it quickly into a mud-wrestling mania buzzfest? Trump would likely win that street fight. Attacks on him have bounced back to hurt just about every candidate who’s tried it. Should they do it anyway and keep doing it? And hope it finally works? They have the money to.

But do the donors – the establishment – really want that at this point? Some surely do and would do just about anything legal and non-hit man like to neutralize The Donald. But perhaps, the big money is looking at Rubio and thinking they need to switch horses. And Jeb’s team knows it.

Ben Carson is such a good man, with a beautiful mind, but boy does he have to learn about politics in 2015. How a campaign works. How you add subscribers to your cause. How you fundraise online in a world dominated by Social Media like Facebook. He’s just not ready to confront the realities of politics here and now. Is he?

So. Maybe he is. Ben Carson and his team are building a base across Social Media – Facebook in fact – and raise funds and slowly engage their growing base – a thousand or so subscribers at a time. Not fair. Not fair at all. We thought Carson was sort of the Rick Santorum of the nomination race, without the political experience Santorum has. Turns out Ben is more the Steve Jobs – ok that’s a bit much it’s true – of the GOP field. Or the Zuckerberg maybe, although that doesn’t have quite the same soaring tone to it.

Perhaps even more than Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson is redefining what a political campaign to be the Republican Nominee for President means. He doesn’t stare into the camera with affected laser-beam focus. He bends his gaze inward and smiles quietly as a firmly lays out his moral or policy stance and explains why and how he has come to it. And his followers respond to his authenticity with it’s faith and it’s lack of political experience – a quickly diminishing lack of political experience – as he shows that his team is perhaps in charge of the most sustainable strategy among all the GOP candidates. Even Trump himself.

Iowa is still a few months away and things change, but Ben Carson’s rise has been as impressive and unpredicted as Donald Trump’s – or Carly Fiorina’s to a somewhat lesser extent. Is Facebook Carson’s secret weapon? Or is it one more tool in an increasingly functional and impressive toolbox? So who’s building the best foundation? Could that be the doctor with the hammer and the focused crew? Even with that billionaire developer and his showy towers over there in Gotham City? It just could be that Ben´s neighborhood home is the one a majority of GOP voters show up to in the end.

Infernal Smoke at the Synod


Filed Under Latest News on Oct 22 

He would have had to be from – or more accurately have his church in – Kazakhstan, wouldn’t he? The archbishop Tomash Peta of that landlocked former Soviet Republic, a nation notorious for being the butt of a feature film length joke by ambush-man Sacha Baron Cohen, has not been humble about expressing his disagreement with Pope Francis over the Holy Father’s vision for the Catholic Church. Apparently he described some of the policy changes in the current Synod – on divorce, communion and homosexuality – as having the scent of infernal smoke.

In fact, what the Polish-born prelate initially said was a direct quote from Pope Paul VI spoken in 1972 when the current archbishop of Kazakhstan was a 21-year old four years short of his ordainment. What the then Holy Father said was, “From some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the Temple of God.” He was of course referring to those taken with the spirit of Vatican II who were eager to rush into existence a brave new world, with a brave new Church. Father Bergoglio himself was presumably in or on his way to Spain at that time, in the final stages of his spiritual training as a Jesuit. And he will understand perfectly the intent and context of the archbishop’s accusations.

Archbishop Peta was careful, if one can use the word, to balance his damnation of his more liberal brethren with a phrase that suggests they have misunderstood the Holy Father’s call for dialogue as a call to action. But he listed his concerns most explicitly and it seems he has helped drive a nail in the coffin of hopes for a more liberal doctrine on divorce and communion and on the acceptance of gays in the Church of Rome.

The Gospel of the marriage and of the family and nothing shall cleave the rock that the church was founded on. At least if Peta and a presumably large contingent of conservative prelates assure that this Synod does nothing too disruptive and dissolves into endless talk and no real meaningful action. Whether Peta has the high moral ground can be debated among Catholics endlessly. He does seem to have the better tactical ground, for now at least. And although he arrived in Kazakhstan several years after the iron curtain came down, as a priest from Poland, the archbishop will know fully the freedom of conscience that is so precious and that Pope Francis praised in Philadelphia. What exactly that conscience entails in 2015, is as they say, a matter of debate.

Will Paul Ryan be the next house speaker? Does he really want the job? Apparently the Ways and Means Chairman is being besieged with requests by “heavyweights” to apply for the role of Speaker of the House. We will assume that these heavyweights are Republicans, but Ryan has garnered admiration from the other side of the aisle in his current job. Will that be a problem for conservative members like the Freedom caucus?

Ryan likes to run so-called education sessions to whittle down the resistance of members to bills like the Trade Promotion Authority, which gives a big win (politically) to Obama’s White House. Will that detailed-oriented focused work be successful should he accept, and win, the Speaker’s job? praised Ryan for moving from “broad strokes budget manifestos to concentrating on doable, discrete policy tweaks.” That means giving Dems tiny victories in order to pursue those broad goals. That means compromising, sometimes on visible hot-button issues that may prove tough to line up support for.

And that brings up immigration and Ryan’s tireless lobbying for the Gang of Eight’s immigration-reform bill. Ryan needs to be really sure he wants the Speaker’s job because he will have a bit of a battle on his hands to get the votes necessary. And more of one to just do his job. Will the Freedom Caucus give him a list of 10 demands? And if they do, will he tell them that he will consider their demands and then remind them that they are a minority in the House; as a lobbyist close to Ryan suggested?

There is no speaker that the House can unite around quickly and unconditionally. If the party heavyweights are seeking that one magic person that qualifies, that seems an unrealistic goal in the fall of 2015. Any speaker will have to deal with divisions in the House GOP that reflect divisions in the party itself. The only thing that matters is how the eventual job-holder deals with those divisions. Discrete doable policy tweaks seem to work well in Ways and Means. There is little that is discrete and not all that much that is doable – at least lately – when you’re Speaker. Can Paul Ryan change that?

Those Big-Money Republican candidates. Just look at them. Jeb Bush, why he raked in 13.4 million dollars in the third quarter, according to recently released numbers. And he had a little over 10 million in the bank. He is rolling in the dough. In fact, he raised 50% of what Hillary raised in the same period. 50%! How about that?

Is it a surprise that Hillary conveyer-belted in (raked just won’t do it) about 28 million dollars during the third quarter? And that she apparently has $32 million on hand? With Wall Street and Hollywood in tow, anything less would be a let-down. And Bernie Sanders? That salt-of-the-earth socialist ran a rather successful fund-raising campaign. $26 million: just about twice what Jeb raked in. If I was setting up a venture capital fund, whose advice should I seek? Jeb or Bernie?

And then there’s Ben Carson. His numbers were just over $20 million, almost in the ball park with the Clinton-Sanders big-money crowd. But there is a difference, and Bernie and Ben do share something in common: small donors spread across a wide base. They say that is a good measure of future sustainability of a campaign. It’s not reliant on big accounts that may and often will switch horses in mid-race. If a church warden in Kansas or an environmentalist in Oregon decide that Ben or Bernie is no longer for them, the campaign can plough on.

But the question now becomes: who exactly is supporting – in greater and greater numbers and money – Bernie and Ben? Carson is continually criticized as being a candidate based on evangelicals, which suggests that if you are faith-based in your values, then you must be part of a politically insignificant minority. Labelling Carson’s supporters as Seventh Day Adventist splinter group members one and all, is a bit much. Maybe future polling will start to shine a light on all those people – in their diversity – who support Ben Carson, for example.

And whether it’s only young ecologists and union members who love Bernie remains to be seen as well. Certainly Sanders and Carson do rely on active bases that have a lot to do with themes like: faith, youth, unions, and environmentalism. But their undeniable sustainability is revealing something far greater.

Hillary was far more polished during the debate, of that there can be no question. Bernie Sanders kept sticking his finger in his ear – one hopes that was to adjust his ear plug – and occasionally pausing and stumbling on words. But his passion was clear and he was unapologetic about who he is: a classic old school left-winger who really does believe in socialism a la Scandinavia. He clearly has little to do with the identity politics and big money donors/Wall Street coalition that is so 2016 and is what Hillary is relying on. He did not rave about gun control but he did rave about the financial system in America and how he feels the very system itself is perverse.

He had a vocal minority of the crowd cheering him on, although he did garner wider applause in response to some of this comments. So did Hillary clean up and leave the Sander’s miracle in the dust? Maybe we should not rush right to that conclusion quite yet. In the hours after the debate guess who garnered far more followers on Twitter than the rest of the Democratic candidates? The feisty independent from Vermont, of course. In fact, he added more followers than the rest of the field combined, and almost 3 times the amount that Hillary added to her Twitter following.

What does this mean? As Sanders seemed to suggest in some of his attacks on Republicans, he’s gunning for the youth vote, to use a turn of phrase that Bernie would perhaps not mind at all. As it happens, the biggest age demographic on Twitter are 18 to 29 year olds, at 37% with 30 to 49 year olds at 25%. 50 and up are a small slice of the Twitter demographic. So, yes, all those added followers are much more likely to be younger.

Will they vote? Will they get Bernie nominated? How much does Twitter matter in a campaign? Those questions will be answered as the campaign rolls on, but it’s interesting to look beyond the polished beltway crowd’s assessment of who won the debate, and wonder if the older guy really is getting his feisty and radical message across to the young. Bernie just might be doing that. Polls will tell that story in a few days. Remember whose numbers soared after her twitter following surged first, right after the debate? Yes, that would have been Carly Fiorina.

Do you check your principles at the door with No Labels? The political group that gathers Democrats, a few Republicans, and Independents, (many, but not all, from a Democratic background), had a get-together in New Hampshire. The speakers included: Trump, Sanders, Kasich, O’Malley, as well as a Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Christ Christie, and Jim Webb. It was all about Problem Solvers with a capital P and a captial S. And the idea makes sense: dysfuntional gridlock in Congress means problems do not get solved.

But is it just House and Senate bickering? Or are the partisan divisions on the hill the reflection of deep divisions across the country on how to solve problems? Or even what is a problem? Can Congress get back to compromise on legislation when significant sectors (if not majorities) of voters deeply disagree vigorously on the solutions themselves?

In other words, what is not checking your principles at the door and what is unecessary bickering in Congress? And who decides that? The Tea Party exists in part because of anger at the consensus solutions provided by Washington. So given that No Labels says they do not expect you to check your principles at the door, they also state that a new silent majority is sick of ideologues on the left and the right. In other words, if you are a conservative, check your principles at the door please. It is less clear if the same thing applies to left-wing advocates like Bernie Sanders who, of course, was a speaker at the Problem Solver confab in New Hampshire.

At the Democrat debates, will the spirit of No Labels cleanse the agenda of attacks on the GOP and on conservatives? Or will Hillary come out swinging at her opponents? With an issue like charter schools, for example, that now pits black parents, who love the idea of giving their kids a good start in a competitive world, against teacher’s unions who are unwilling or vocally opposed to the changes that charter schools imply, be seen as a problem to be solved? And not a place to stake a flag for unions? How will Hillary – who depends on identity politics – solve that one? And how will Bernie Sanders – who has never met a union he doesn’t like – deal with charter schools? And will the question even get asked at the debate? No Labels, please take note(s).

Hillary Clinton is not the Queen of Arkansas, and the Springsteen song – Mary Queen of Arkansas – is a lesser-known, rough little gem from his first album. As Hillary fights for her political life against a surging Bernie Sanders, she’s been forced to “tack left”, in the words of Michael Barone, to try and win back the momentum in the Democrat primary. That means espousing a very liberal view on immigration that goes beyond even Obama’s path to legal status and invokes citizenship for dreamers and perhaps their parents. And to achieve that she’s promising to make Obama’s White House look passive as regards to executive action.

She’s now talking about sticking “more resources, more personnel into the system” in order to “help as many people as possible get different status.” In the U.K. they have subjects of all sorts of status. Each has a different set of rules applying to their particular case under the legal meaning of that word and the ghosts of an empire that spanned the globe. And of course a subject being a subject of the monarchy. One is tempted to start calling dreamers subjects: beneficiaries of the blessings dispensed by royal assent – I beg your pardon; executive action – enabling them to attain their dreams of citizenship without law. That is, without following the laws passed by Congress.

Bruce, in his song, laments to Mary – a Carny of ambiguous gender with a traveling circus – that her “blows for freedom are missing.” It’s a bit of futile fun trying to read too much into the slightly psychedelic word play – it was written at the start of the seventies, but it’s hard to imagine a President Hillary swinging hard for less regulations and more transparency and the rule of law when it comes to immigration. So that sets up – should she win the nomination – an interesting battle over immigration. In the first place, she is far more liberal on immigration than even Sanders himself who seems to be talking to a different constituency. One that does not necessarily want the southern – or any – border opened wide.

And assuming she can win the nomination, does that place her electability at even greater risk in November 2016? Will it mean her electoral votes – if that hypothetical becomes a reality – head south? And cross the border where, in Bruce’s haunting little allegory the protagonist can start his life over again, seeing he’s got “contacts deep in Mexico where the servants have been seen.” Identity politics and process solve any possible contradictions between the two by – in the liberal playbook – having process firmly led by Identity. As a subject, it’s all about who you are. Not what laws you failed to follow.

The FDA gets criticized from both sides of the debate on how tightly to monitor and regulate new drugs as they are tested and brought to market. They are attacked for under-regulating and also for over-regulating. The then Institute of Medicine, (now the National Academy of Medicine), in a 2006 report advocated more regulatory powers for the federal agency. This is hardly surprising from an organization that is part of the United States National Academies, along with the National Academies of Science and Engineerings, as well as the National Research Council. Getting a perfect clinical trial – always an impossibility but always a goal – that contains as little bias as possible is a great way to do research. There’s a problem, however, with this approach. People’s lives may be at stake in clinical trials, and the possibilities of aiding the terminally ill are far more important for some people than getting a perfect sample and an airtight clinical trial.

Politically, as Michael D. Green writes in his book Benedictin and Birth Defects, Congress has never gone after the FDA for not approving a new drug when the agency had doubts about its safety. But they do go after them with countless investigations when a new drug is approved and turns out to have unforeseen hazards or negative side-effects. You approve a new drug and you may very well be investigated. You disapprove of a new drug and it’s not even news.

Until now. The risk-averse behavior of the FDA given the tilted political environment in D.C. is now being eclipsed by another flaw in the agency. It is a centralized one-size-fits-all body in Washington that decides the rules for drugs across America. Could it be that in certain cases, local works better? This is not an easy devolve-back-down strategy because cancer is cancer no matter in what city or state it shows up in a patient. But when it comes to terminal patients willing to try risky new and unapproved drugs to try and help improve their desperate situations, don’t they have a right to try them?

Right to Try legislation has now been passed in dozens of states of all types of political colors. This is a bipartisan issue and one that points to a reformed and flexible FDA in the future. There is another problem however. Litigation. And that is one that Congress – perhaps any Congress – has been and remains unwilling to solve.

“We have to do SOMETHING.” “SOMETHING has to happen.” “SOMETHING needs to change.” Does it make me a bad person that I don’t say this everything time a group of innocent people are gunned down. Unless you have a brilliant idea of what that is, saying “something” is completely useless. So useless in fact that “something” hasn’t happened since Columbine in 1999.

If “something” was a solution, it would’ve been done by now. These senseless tragedies continue to occur, and it’s devastating, but a solution hasn’t been found because the only input anyone has is “something.” Obama said it himself yesterday.

This is a horrible tragedy…devastating. But when all people can say is that America needs to wake up and something needs to be done, it’s pointless. That’s obvious, but there aren’t any guaranteed solutions, so it’s just kind of annoying hearing “something,” “something,” “something,” when we should just be praying, sending love, or positivity to the victims and the families, whatever is your preferred vibe. The rest is nonsense and somewhat dancing on the graves to make a tragic death about politics.

In addition to “something,” the media’s coverage of school shootings glorifying these evil individuals with 15 minutes of fame is another point that is tirelessly repeated yet continues to happen. A very, very sad truth is the media LOVES these kinds of tragedies because it gives them ratings. The best thing you can do is log off social media, turn off the news, and pray, send love, good vibes, etc.

The latest RealClearPolitics poll average has top GOP contenders listed as follows: Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Rubio, and Bush. It may be that a Ted Cruz or Bobby Jindal will eventually win the nomination, but it is more than reasonable to discount such a possibility as being next to impossible in Jindal’s case, or rather unlikely in Cruz’s case. What will Syria look like when one of them assumes the nomination? What will Syria look like when they swear the oath of office? Putin has pulled the trigger and the bombing raids to support al-Assad’s regime are targeting CIA-backed rebels. It’s back to proxy wars again, but in an area that makes Vietnam or even Afghanistan look relatively simple.

Obama’s missteps are almost beside the point now. The disaster that is Syria can be debated and related to the Iraq War, and/or the withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the current White House. But what does America do going forward? What will the next President do when he or she has that first security meeting? What will be burning in the Middle East and what action plan will the President and his or her Secretary of State and National Security Advisors have in place to deal with the fires raging over there? What will the President say to Israel on that first phone call?

Carly Fiorina has set the tone on foreign policy, so experienced leaders like Jeb Bush have to show they have the same executive command of the issues. They have not so far. Cruz comes close, but he is a brawler in the Senate – which is what his followers love about him – and how he governs rather than provokes matters. But the substance of a Cruz action plan will no doubt be impressive. He has to convince that he can execute like a CEO and he hasn’t shown that and the polls reflect it. Will Trump have the substance to back up his tough-dealmaker persona? Will he listen, and will he then command on foreign policy? Ben Carson may be the truest conservative on a spiritual level and that journey that he has made will surely support any tough action he would have to take. But it’s hard to picture him doing that at this point. Maybe he can surprise any skeptic: his cognitive process is a touch ahead of most in the field. And that leaves Rubio: who might seem a little young and fresh-faced to bring the experience and nerve to deal with something like Syria. His policy record in the past has been less conservative than he would currently like, and he needs to convince voters of his strength on tough foreign policy issues. He may just do that. But for now, with Syria burning, Carly seems to be the one to imagine on inauguration day.