It appears that President Obama now has a plan of sorts to deal with IS in Iraq and Syria. On the eve of the 13th anniversary of 9/11, Obama delivered an address on IS and what actions the U.S. will take to counter it. I had low hopes for the speech and as anticipated, I was let down by it. In presenting his plan he prioritized rhetoric over details and answers to questions while doing little to instill confidence that he truly believed in what he was suggesting. Now it would appear that we are engaging in a half-hearted attempt to “degrade and ultimately destroy” IS, a campaign that might extend into the next presidency. The plan is unrealistic, simplistic, and is a poorly crafted attempt to rectify the failure of this administration to generate a strategy against dealing with a group we’ve been fully aware for over a year.

I find the strategy put forth by the president as completely lacking. There are too many questions that remain unanswered while the plan itself seems simplistic and poorly conceived. One of my biggest problems is the military strategy. There is an absolute reluctance and opposition on the part of the president and many of the American people for the use of ground forces regardless if they are in combat or not. Obama insists that the eventual 1,000 troops we are sending will only advise and train the Iraqi military. Various analysts though have suggested that the troops sent are too few and upwards of 10,000 troops will be needed for such activities to be successful. To that end, our campaign against IS depends on using the forces of Iraq, militia groups, and Syrian rebel groups as our ground troops, all of whom have already proven to be less than capable of meeting this threat.

Our primary military contribution to the operation will be airpower. Airstrikes as they are being conducted now against IS in what is a piecemeal manner will not bring about the groups destruction. Airpower would have made a major difference when then ISIS was on the offensive and convoys were travelling in the open desert between cities. Now we are forced to engage a group no longer in the open but that is blending in with civilians in cities and towns. Our intelligence estimates on IS are sorely lacking and this will further hamper destroying them; just recently the CIA revealed that it had grossly underestimated the number of IS fighters in Iraq and Syria. When you are conducting an aerial campaign it tends to help when you can identify targets and know critical information about your enemy. It seems though that we know little about IS and as a result airstrikes will continue to be against targets as they present themselves rather than being truly focused. Prepare to be awed by videos of $60,000+ missiles being used to destroy random pickup trucks and tents while the administration insists that we have the upper hand.

Then there is the problem with arming and providing more assistance to moderate Syrian opposition groups which is part of Obamas plan. Just weeks ago Obama considered such a move as “fantasy” arguing that arming who are essentially “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth” would make little difference in the fight against Assad. Well now that’s no longer the case; never mind that the moderate rebels also have to contend with fanatical IS fighters in addition to government forces. Then there is difficulty in choosing who to provide assistance as there is a history of groups we supported later turning on us. Also weapons we provide to supposedly moderate groups have a habit of falling into the hands of the enemy. Lastly there is the complexity of the situation itself in Syria; a conflict between the government, moderate opposition, and IS fanatics all of whom are backed by different actors internationally. Are we arming moderates to fight just IS or also Assad? What if IS is defeated and Assad is still in power, do we abandon the moderates or do we become militarily engaged against him as well?

Finally there is the issue of time and what will happen if IS is ultimately destroyed. Already the White House has said the campaign against IS might take three years, mind you a three year military campaign against a group the president earlier this year termed a “JV” basketball team. Now the situation might play out radically different. Sunni groups that had allied themselves with ISIS in a move that was seen by some to have been meant as a political message to the government, are now ready to fight against IS. The Iraqi military and the Kurds might successfully rally and go on a full offensive against IS. There is that chance that IS might be defeated by mid-2015, anything is possible. Regardless, if this administration is serious about defeating IS don’t say it can take three years because it looks like we aren’t serious. Furthermore how far have we planned this because I highly doubt that we will be able to just extract ourselves from this easily. Upon defeating IS we might be setting ourselves up for a military confrontation with Syria or the Kurds might push for greater independence from Baghdad; in either case we will remain heavily involved.

I want to see IS absolutely liquidated but that doesn’t mean I will support a plan that I don’t believe in. What has been proposed is a military strategy that is watered down to be politically acceptable and to reduce the footprint of U.S. involvement. Remember, Obama ended the war in Iraq and it is no doubt hurting him that we are returning to Iraq. If you engage in military conflict you do it to win, not a partial but an absolute victory; this plan speaks of an absolute victory but it doesn’t portray the realistic ways and means to achieve it. Furthermore I feel it is too open-ended and leaves us open to a military confrontation with Assad in Syria. I firmly believe IS must be dealt with though I would rather take the time now to create an effective strategy rather than rushing in with one that is so lacking.

The Levin brothers, Rep Sander Levin and Sen Carl Levin are out to get Burger King. The issue at hand is tax inversions, like the fast food chain’s purchase of Canadian Donut Franchise Tim Hortons and its announced plans to move it’s HQ, if not much of it’s staff, to Canada to benefit from a lower tax rate. In other words, the so-called tax inversions that the Levin brothers fear will cause a wave of US companies to move their headquarters offshore and reduce the US tax base. While Sander’s boss Harry Reid has not been overly enthusiastic about introducing anti-inversion legislation for now, the way forward for these two economic policy wizards seems to be promoting a change in Treasury Department policy that would make it less profitable for US companies to utilize tax inversions. How to do it would be through some sort of policy directive that would reduce the tax benefits of moving to a lower tax jurisdiction. That would have to mean penalties of some sort, whether directly applied or perhaps involving the elimination of any benefits or subsidies that the tax-inverting corporation was deemed to be receiving.

So, the question is, what can the Treasury Department actually do that doesn’t require Congressional approval? The Treasury Department has been around a long time. Along with State and Defense, (The Department of War until the late 40′s), it was one of the first three executive departments of the nation, having been founded in 1789. But Congress has always had the power to pass the laws which the Treasury Department then enforces, and without Congressional approval, Treasury is limited to some sort of administrative action. Whether opposing or attempting to prohibit corporations seeking tax efficiency is good economic policy in today’s world is doubtful. But even assuming it is a worthwhile fight, Treasury seems to be limited in their scope of retaliatory measures. And let’s be clear, this is retaliation to discourage a feared flood of tax inversions eroding the tax base. This seems rather to be a case of moral suasion, or spin to put it more bluntly, pursued by the administration rather than a clear change in policy. There of course could be a way to solve this problem: lower the corporate tax rate from the near-European level of 35%. That would certainly be a clear change of policy rather than Secretary Lew giving press conferences to supplement the President’s sound bites about over-taxed corporations being “deserters.” And the Levin brothers would have even less of a chance to pursue their ill-guided legislation.

In Colorado, Rep Mike Coffman is studying with a tutor for an upcoming debate in the race for his House seat. What is Mike Coffman studying? Spanish of course. The debate will be on Univision, the Spanish-language network, and his Democratic opponent, Andrew Romanoff, is apparently fluent in Spanish. This matters of course, because some re-districting means that about 20% of voters in his district are Latinos. To his credit, Coffman has maintained a hard line on illegal immigration, advocating denying illegals public services, for examples, and allowing a sort of hotline to report on suspected illegals. On the other hand, he has advocated giving DREAMers a path to citizenship by serving in the military and has worked with Dems in the House on trying to put together an immigration reform package. As he girdles himself for combat in another language one wonders if Coffman’s efforts will be appreciated by the Latino community in Colorado.

It’s an interesting question because right now Colorado Latinos are really mad at Obama. At least that’s what people like Sonia Marquez, of the Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition (CIRC), have stated, saying that her coalition is “outraged by President Obama’s continued lies and betrayal” and is determined the latino voice in Colorado will be heard. The question is how they will express their anger. She is referring to Obama’s no-show on the promised amnesty which is in great part the result of pleading by people like Colorado’s Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and other nervous red state dems to hold off on any amnesty until after the mid term elections. The CIRC will hold a protest this week outside the senator’s offices but Bennet hardly needs reminding that Latinos want amnesty. The question remains as to how they will vote in November. If they hold to the threat of an electoral boycott then the Senate race could very well go the GOP’s way, adding a key seat in the upper house for the party. Are Latinos really that mad? Perhaps they are. Will their votes be important in places like Colorado? Important enough for Mike Coffman to debate in Spanish, but not important enough for him to betray his beliefs – and those of his conservative base – on illegal immigration. It will be up to the exit polls in the end to fully answer the question of whether latino votes were key in 2014.

Thirteen years later, the former White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, shared his day on 9/11/01 that began in a motorcade with President Bush to an elementary school. Where he initially planned to discuss education with a small group of folks which turned into a speech that America was under attach by terrorists.

Fleischer addresses a moment that Democrat film maker, Michael Moore, initiated a controversy that the President continued reading to a class knowing America was under attack. He tweeted, “Bush said later he stayed 2collect his thoughts and send a signal of calm. He said he didn’t want 2bolt from his chair and alarm the nation.”

“Bush also told VP – and I quote – ‘We’re at war Dick and we’re going to find out who did this and we’re going to kick their ass.’”

Fleischer concluded this live 9/11 timeline on Twitter saying, “I don’t remember what time I got home that night. It was a long day – and its ramifications, as world events today show, still haven’t ended,” and, “That’s what I did September 11, 2001. Thanks for listening. God Bless America.”

Check out Ari Fleischer on Twitter @AriFleischer to read the entire timeline. It’s pretty remarkable.

If you want to get technical on a sensitive issue, then one can consider the accepted definition of the medical community of when a pregnancy begins: when the fertilized egg successfully implants itself in the lining of the uterus. That makes sure that most contraception – and especially the Birth Control Pill – acts before pregnancy begins, which draws a clear line between contraception and abortion. Now that definition may not accord with the view of Catholic Bishops in America, and the Catholic Church in general, as well as other religious groups and some pro-life advocates, but for most, it is a common sense and comfortable demarcation. Well, actually, most who approve of over the counter BC pills haven’t dug down that deep into the science and perhaps would be uncomfortable doing so. Or maybe not.

The GOP, candidate by candidate with Bobby Jindall’s op-ed piece in December of 2012 as a key moment, has decided to support over the counter BC pills. In the most part this is to neutralize the Democrats constant attack on the party´s supposed lack of support for women’s rights in general, and women’s health issues in particular. But it is more than that; the issue seems to be one on which a large majority of women, and a majority of the general population in America have made up their minds. And the optics of birth control according to health organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists seems to be one of educating parents – you can think of it as reprogramming family values – to ensure a productive and functional family outcome. That means the conditions for having a child are starting to approximate a privilege that must be earned by potential parents displaying the right attitudes, budget, and even lifestyle. Spanking, for example, has been criminalized in parts of Europe, and it is only a matter of time before a court case in America decides against any physical punishment of children, even as teenage violence against parents is a relatively minor but noticeable problem. Are families happier, healthier, and safer than they were fifty years ago? It seems impolite to ask the question to many nowadays. What matters to them is that families are changing and BC pills available over the counter, according to this view, is just one piece of our postmodern world’s matrix of entitlement and efficiency. Birth Control will likely disappear as an issue over this election cycle. The GOP has decided to help the issue on its way to oblivion, and it is a reasonable – if not completely comfortable – choice they are making.

How would you like to be the ambulance driver who took the doctor who has Ebola to the hospital in Nebraska? Or the health care workers who will look after him? The Ebola virus is a Risk Group 4 Pathogen. It requires BioSafety Level 4-equivalent Containment. That means you use positive pressure personnel suits, multiple showers on entry and exit to any area where the virus is contained, There is a segregated air supply, a vacuum room, an ultraviolet light room and other precautions. The Ebola virus is often fatal and there is no known vaccine. Almost 2,000 people have died in the recent outbreak in Liberia and other parts of West Africa, but that didn’t stop Dr. Rick Sacra from heading there to help deliver babies after having heard that two other missionaries had become ill. So now he lays in a special isolation ward in a Nebraska hospital infected with a deadly virus that he knew was ravaging people in an outbreak in the area he deliberately visited.

Maybe what is being done with Dr. Sacras is the most rational way to control the outbreak of the deadly virus, but one wonders what the total cost will be and what the risk is to anyone along Dr. Sacra’s travel route to that Nebraska Hospital as well as the people in the vicinity of that hospital. How many millions will have to be spent? But at least this way, it is done in the open, and that does allow a rigorous control. One can also assume that Dr. Sacra is now the latest guinea pig in the desperate search for a cure. He will be studied carefully and his agonizing journey of sickness may provide cold hard data that will help, someday, to arrive at a vaccine. Did this have to be done smack in the middle of the USA? Places like Guantanamo Bay, for example, could provide an isolated location where the disease can be studied under secure conditions. There of course are multiple security concerns. The ability to isolate and reproduce the ebola virus is something terrorists – ISIS and al Qaeda for example – would love to be able to do to unleash their hatred on the rest of the world, and America in particular. So keeping Dr. Sacras safe from others as well as others safe from him seems to be the deadly balancing act that is being done right now in the heart of the US.

Did he have to go? No, of course not. It was an act of defiant charity, of a “we´re all in this together” ideology taken to it’s most dangerous limit. Almost any hint of discrimination against anyone because of possible diseases – even fatal ones like ebola – is seen as infringing on the rights of the diseased to circulate and live freely, according to this view. Nigeria’s President Jonathan complained of discrimination to UN special envoy David Navararo after Nigeria’s team was forced to abandon it’s participation in the Youth Olympics in China because of fears of the disease spreading from Nigeria to China. It is almost impossible to hear the word “quarantine” issue from the lips of any politician almost anywhere because of the worries of the optics of such a call. It goes without saying that deadly infectious diseases like Ebola do not discriminate; and that is precisely why quarantine – however we call it – must be part of the responses available to contain any outbreak that threatens lives from villagers in Liberia to ambulance drivers in Nebraska. We cannot simply assume that diseases will inevitably reach across the globe, a reasonably rigorous policy of containment must be done with no shame on anyone’s part. It is in the interests of all, as the best medical minds continue to try and find a cure. Dr. Sacras is not one of them.

Nelva Gonzales Ramos earned her law degree from U of T in 1991 and was confirmed by unanimous consent to the bench in 2011, with support from both Democrats and Republicans. She now has the Texas Voter ID case in her court and must decide whether the law brought by Attorney General Greg Abbott, who will almost certainly be governor of Texas come early November, discriminates against the poor and elderly. It is assumed they vote Democrat more than Republican. It is also assumed that Voter ID Laws are about discrimination.

The right to vote has been defined over the years by four amendments to the Constitution that have expanded the franchise from the mid-19th century through the early seventies when 18 to 20 year olds were given the right to vote. The Constitution itself did not explicitly state who had the right to vote and that right has been expanded by the courts and the legislatures over the last 150 years or so. Is the Texas law a step backwards? Should Texas have to bend over backwards to prove it is not discriminating against voters?

The best way to answer that question is to look at the details of the law itself. You basically need a legitimate photo ID that can be one of seven types, from a driver’s license to an Election Identification Certificate or EIC. Passports and Military ID’s are part of the list as well. Does this requirement seem onerous and discriminatory? These types of documents are the basis of one’s legal identity in most states, and many other countries as well. Voting is both a right and a responsibility in the US, and obtaining such ID’s seems a reasonable act of responsibility. Is voter fraud a major problem? Perhaps not, because the issue is more a case of who else will have the right to vote in future elections, whatever the intentions of Texas in framing the law. For example, for voting rights activists convicted felons should be able to vote. Are alien voting rights next on the list? Beyond immediate partisan gain in any given election, this is the bigger issue that is waiting in the wings and that judge Ramos will perhaps have to consider. Right now, the case will be about whether the law is discriminatory, but the right of permanent residents who are not US citizens to vote has already been attempted in Texas by representative Roberto Alonso in 1995. Judge Ramos has a lot more on her plate than she might have asked for. Her ruling, and other court decisions that follow, will resonate far beyond the November elections.

The US Chamber of Commerce likes Washington so much that they spent over $35 million on federal elections in 2012 according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s hardly surprising seeing they represent companies in the world’s largest economy. No the Chamber of Commerce is not a government department, it’s a lobby group. How conservative the Chamber of Commerce actually is, is open to debate. They supported the Clinton’s failed health care reform and lost a few members as a result. Since the early 90′s they have apparently shifted back to the right, but last fall, Bloomberg News declared that a civil war had erupted between Tea Party stalwarts like Ted Cruz and the USCC over it’s opposition to government shutdowns as a negotiating tactic. They did not support Obamacare but now a key decision is coming if Obama uses an executive order to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants. USCC members like the National Restaurant Association are in favor of amnesty and business groups worked with the gang of eight in the Senate in its attempt at immigration reform.

Assuming Obama does issue that executive order – some are beginning to doubt it because blanket amnesty would anger some labor groups as well as African Americans – there could be a further split between Tea Party members and some conservatives and big business. There is a curious confluence between those on the left who argue that illegals help keep wages low because of their vulnerable status, and those on the right who say illegals take jobs away from those Americans as well as keep wages low. Their solutions are diametrically opposed; Amnesty or Deportation. Amnesty is uncomfortable at a certain level for big labor as well; they would love to increase latino participation in union membership and turn back a steadily declining trend, but also are aware that a large pool of illegals will inevitably keep wages under pressure for their members. Whether business has thought through the consequences of a large scale amnesty and how it likely would encourage further illegal immigration on an even larger scale is uncertain. A low wage economy is hardly the recipe for future prosperity. An economy where the rule of law is respected, and where labor markets have the freedom to be flexible within that very rule of law, is something else.

Will Florida matter as much in 2016 as it did in 2000? We seem to be getting a preview in the bare-knuckles, too-close-to-call race for governor. Incumbent Rick Scott and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist are at it, and it will only get nastier between now and November. That won’t be such a bad thing in fact because one of the central focal points in the mud slinging is Obamacare. Rick Scott built one of the largest healthcare companies in the world, Columbia HCA, and was then forced to resign after a payments scandal with respect to medicare and medicaid that resulted in charges being laid and a $600 million fine being paid. This will be dragged across the stage by Crist’s campaign, but the fact remains that Scott was not personally implicated and no charges were laid against him.

Governor Scott, on the other side, is launching attacks on Obamacare and the flexible – from Republican to Independent to Democrat to staunch Obama ally – Crist’s support for the Affordable Care Act. His attack is based on the fact that Crist’s support for Obamacare is not about liberal principles on the part of the former governor, but rather convenience. He gets the full support of the White House in return for being an unqualified supporter of Obamacare. Whatever party, whatever policy it takes, Charlie Crist wants back in the governor’s office. And Crist seems to be aiming for South Florida’s undecided voters rather than just focus on Central Florida.

That means working on turnout among Democratic voters in South Florida. Does that sound familiar? The primaries that both contenders easily won indicate that voter turnout among Republicans was higher. Not a good sign for Crist’s campaign and hence his focus on South Florida. That means not only talking about Obamacare but also railing about immigration – Rick Scott’s stance on immigration that is. In fact, after winning four years ago with a hard-line stance, Scott has softened on the issue, supporting reduced college tuition for younger illegal immigrants, the so-called dreamers. Crist is also focusing on South Florida because Obama has managed to win there – barely, but win he did – for two consecutive elections, And those staffers that plotted those victories are now available for Crist’s campaign. Tampa, as always, is still key and if Crist can do well there then his chances against Scott improve. Scot will keep hammering with negative ads to ensure Democratic or Independents do not turnout in increased numbers. With Libertarian Adrian Wyllie as a wild card, the election for governor in the sunshine state will be very hard to call. If Crist wins, it will not be what he stands for, but because Democrats are scared that Florida will go the other way in 2016. So they are willing to suspend judgement on who Charlie Crist really is, and vote for the former Republican.

Jeff Bell is a veteran of politics and the think-tank circuit. And it just might be that this fall, people will actually know who Jeff Bell is. Last June, he won a four-way primary for the GOP in New Jersey and just lately, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP’s all-things-elections organization in the senate, has begun running attack ads against New Jersey Democratic Senator Corey Booker, Bell’s formidable opponent who holds the New Jersey Senate seat. Have they rolled out the red carpet for Jeff Bell? Hardly, but it is worth remembering who he is and what he has done.

After working on Reagan’s national campaign staff in 1976, he was a Reagan delegate for New Jersey in 1980. But in between, in 1978 he won an upset in the primary for the GOP Senate seat in New Jersey. He did it by anticipating the Reagan tax cuts of 1981 on the same day in June of 1978 that Proposition 13 passed in California. He lost the election back then, but 36 years later is surely hoping that his luck will change. What is he running on? He criticizes quantitative easing as a Wall Street bailout that has left middle class America in decline. It’s a bold strategy that he’s outlined in pieces for the Weekly Standard, and it puts him at odds with some in his own party. But he earned his place in the GOP a long time ago, and now he might have an outside chance to collect some dividends on all the years he’s put in as an advocate for monetary discipline, even a return to the gold standard.

To even mention the gold standard today is to put yourself at odds with the overwhelming consensus on monetary policy within the halls of the Fed, or other major central banks around the world. Quantitative easing is seen as a successful strategy that saved America, and the world, from depression. Perhaps it did save the financial system from a freeze-up that would have turned the crisis into something much worse; but the question remains as to whether it went on too long and whether central banks around the world are now addicted to easy money. At some point there will be inflation – how much is hard to say as the competitive pressures of global marketplaces help contain price pressures. According to some measures, inflation is already here. And it may be that Jeff Bell is at least partially right and his stance on Wall Street will not hurt him with average voters. It may be that the media is swooning over Booker, but Jeff Bell may be able to mount a better campaign than most expect. And even if he doesn’t win this election, he might turn out to be right in the longer run.

One of the reforms to the tax code proposed by Paul Ryan involves the deductibility of state income taxes against federal income taxes. He’d like to eliminate that provision, stating it’s basically a subsidy for high-income tax states like California and New York, who can spread the burden of their state deficits across tax payers throughout the country. The state of California’s finances are abysmal and why should voters in Wisconsin help pick up the tab? While subsidies to energy and agriculture have been in place for a long time – and one can argue for them in terms of national interest although that might not convince some people – the only justification for this particular subsidy is to gain votes on both coasts.

Subsidies in America have been around a long time; tariffs were slapped on British coal in 1789 by the newly minted government. Given they had just fought a war to liberate themselves from perfidious albion, it made both military and mercantile sense that such a subsidy was enacted to protect and encourage local industry and gain energy independence. In terms of agriculture, the USDA really expanded it’s functions under Roosevelt in the 30′s and no one has been able to roll back agricultural subsidies since that time. Agricultural lobby groups have co-opted the support of those who favor food stamp programs in urban centers as well as those who support environmental subsidies, linking them back to agricultural subsidies. So good luck on trying to cut back on agricultural subsidies.

Ryan might have a little more luck with state income tax deductions. If he does indeed end up heading Ways and Means, then he will have the position, and perhaps the clout although that is less certain, to push for eliminating the deductibility. The only thing the state income tax deductibility subsidizes is deficit spending in California. If Ryan deems that compromise with California and New York on this issue is not vital, then he may succeed. Voters in Wisconsin, and quite a few other states, undoubtedly hope he does.

There’s a storm raging in the halls of Congress among Democrats. It will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls. Well, not really. Burger King is moving it’s Headquarters to take advantage of lower taxes … in Canada. Well, not really. But yes, the corporate tax rate under the Conservative Government of Prime Minister Harper has come way down in the last few years compared to Canada’s Liberal Party days. According to the OECD, the combined federal, provincial, and local corporate tax rate is 26.3% compared to 39.1% in the US. But Burger King’s effective tax rate, according to its own annual report was 27.5% last year. And the company that Burger King will be swallowing up to the tune of 11 billion dollars, Tim Horton’s, had an effective tax rate last year of 26.8%. So, this isn’t really about taxes, it’s about breakfast.

Burger King wants to break in to the morning coffee and McMuffin market and sees Tim Horton’s – a doughnut, coffee and sandwich franchise that spreads right across Canada – as the perfect product to bring to the US market. Not that Tim Horton’s hasn’t tried to break into America. Their $600 million plus expansion into the US market has failed to impress consumers and now they seem to have found a willing buyer. Part of the deal is that the combined companies, (each of which will keep its current head office in place in Miami and Oakville Ontario), will have their headquarters in Canada. This is the part that has Democrats threatening punitive legislation. How many lawyers and accountants will actually troop north of the border from sunny Miami, remains to be seen. The combined HQ seems more of a pat on the head to Canadians who will lose one of their favorite franchises to the clutches of the Florida colossus. In fact, however, Burger King is owned by 3G Capital, a Brazilian investment firm which will own 51% of the combined companies. Yes, it may garnish a few tax savings by moving north but this seems more of a strategic alliance to try and wiin the fast-food war against MacDonald’s. Of course, should the corporate climate turn colder in Canada, the newly formed fast-food colossus can always think about moving the combined head office back south. Way south, to somewhere like Sao Paolo. Given Brazil’s left wing politics and rising inflation, that may be some time away.

Rates are going up for Obamacare. What a surprise. The Affordable Care Act has as its goals, increasing coverage, reducing costs, improving affordability, and increasing the quality of healthcare. This is an absurd mixture of conflicting goals; but you can’t say that because it’s health care. Even under the – somewhat – more efficient system of private insurance, these goals imply trade-offs. There is no way around this fact in the real world. No amount of intelligent organization – leaving aside the fact that the ACA is less of an improvement and more of an added layer of bureaucratic complexity – can erase this trade-off. How can you possibly increase the quality of healthcare for millions of Americans and not pay for it? How can you increase coverage for patients who either couldn’t afford or were seen as high risk by insurers and not have rate increases to cover at least some of the added cost?

Well you do it by a delicate balancing act that inevitably ends up landing on its backside. The two forces at work here, in economic terms, are pooling and moral hazard. At one end of the spectrum, with a free market solution, insurers are drawn to pooling as the more profitable strategy: lower-risk, healthier patients are accepted while higher risk patients are either not accepted or must pay much higher rates. Moral hazard in this case is very low; patients will not over consume health care services and clog the system. At the other end you have a single payer system that funtions with rationing; you need a hip replacement? We´ll wait a few years and see if you die first to save on costs. There is little pooling, everyone is in the same state-run boat and have to wait their turn to one day hopefully get the treatment they need. Except government officials of course, who seem to get prompt attention under any system. Moral hazard, the wasteful use of resources because there are no disincentives against wasteful or risky behavior, is very high in this case.

Most health care systems in the developed world are some mixture of these two. That means trade-offs, and managing those trade-offs to produce the result aimed for is no easy matter. In the case of Obamacare, patients are passive recipients. In free market solutions, like those proposed by Dr. Ben Carson, patients can take charge of their health the same way people have learned to do with their retirement savings. It still leaves the problem of catastrophe insurance – a bad accident, a fatal disease – and that is where state subsidies should really focus. But when you launch a boat as big as Obamacare, added decks inevitably get built. The result is titanic, but rather than an iceberg that will sink you in the blink of an eye, what you get is a slowly sinking ship that has to bailed out – both by taxpayers and Obamacare users themselves. Rates are going up? No kidding.

 

Of the latest participants, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has “broken the ice” into politics. Former President George W. Bush intended to “simply write a check,” but his wife Laura decided it were better for him to be doused in ice water.

In a statement on Facebook, Bush said, “Thanks to Jenna Bush Hager, Rory McIlroy, Woody Johnson, and Coach Jim Harbaugh for the#IceBucketChallenge – and to Laura W. Bush for the check. Next up: President Bill Clinton. Help#StrikeOutALS at www.alsa.org.

In a political atmosphere of perpetual finger pointing, it is refreshing to see some sort of bi-partisanship for such a deserving cause. President Bush concludes the video saying, “Now it’s my privilege to challenge my friend Bill Clinton.” Watch the video below.

 

Ferguson, Missouri has become a must-see destination for media and progressive activists, as well as criminal elements that have come from as far away as New York and Los Angeles according to local law authorities. Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol who had received and given hugs a few days ago is now furious. His officers received gunfire from protesters and a truckload of “activists/protesters” were detained with guns and a molotov cocktail. Amnesty USA’s director Steve Hawkins, a long-time advocate for prisoners, especially those on death row, stated he wasn’t sure if rocks were thrown by protesters, but did point out the obvious that police had used tear gas. He of course is now on the ground in Ferguson along with German media crews who can show violent images to a lustful European public who can cluck their tongues disapprovingly because police had to fire canisters at armed and violent protestors. Won’t you please come to Ferguson for a riot; and we don’t want to change the world as much as cause chaos and get a little looting in.

It is tempting to talk about the Weather Underground and their campaign of terror in the early 70′s as a protest against the Vietnam War. They were inspired by the rioting in Chicago in 1968 – they were an integral part of the rioters/protesters of course – and turned to out and out terror. Bill Ayers, the ex-leader of the group and a retired U of Illinois professor who has defined the Weather Underground’s bombing campaign as “extreme vandalism,” would surely approve of the molotov cocktails in Ferguson. He might even wax nostalgic about how he would have been on the front lines had he been a little younger. The left always justifies it’s violence through the prism of marxism and its class struggle. So it is clear that underneath the breathless tones of some of the media, as well as people like Amnesty’s Hawkins, there flows the stale, polluted waters of dialectical marxism whether they admit it or not.

It is tempting to make these sorts of analogies, but it’s a mistake. It only encourages and justifies further confrontations that end up giving way to the most violent, rather than those protesting peacefully. And it paints a picture, a false, distorted picture of events in Ferguson. Violent criminals are taking advantage of the protests; both to profit and because, well, they’re violent criminals. Justice will be done in Missouri, whether Hawkins, Sharpton, or reporters for Die Welt are present or not. And it will be done because Captain Ron Johnson and his men, along with the National Guard, restore order and because investigators do their job. Will criticism of militarized police tactics – now coming from some voices on the right as well as those on the left – be part of this rebuilding process? Undoubtedly, but at this point, disarming the rioters would seem to be the priority, not disarming the police.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was created in 1965 under LBJ’s Great Society entitlement scheme, just as Henry Cisneros was in his sophomore year at Texas A&M. It would be another 9 years before Julian Castro (and his twin Joaquin) would be born in Cisnero´s hometown of San Antonio. Both Cisneros and Julian Castro would hold the mayor’s office in San Antonio before moving up to Washington to take the job of Cabinet Secretary at HUD. Cisneros took a while to get there; he was well into his forties by the time he got the job. Julian Castro is still – barely – in his thirties, and by all accounts, HUD will not be his last stop in Washington, unlike Cisneros who after a scandal with a former mistress was forced to resign. We haven’t seen such excitement in a while from Democrats over someone who might be a VP candidate in 2016. Obama himself welcomed him to the job at HUD and now he’s had his swearing-in ceremony with Joe Biden whose job many Democrats are hoping he will take.

Why? A Hillary-Julian ticket is the perfect identity-politics pairing for many Dems. If the marriage seems a little May-September at first blush, it will be up to Julian to prove he belongs on the podium. So who is he? Or more to the point, what has he done for voters lately? San Antonio has a council-manager system of government where the mayor’s office is largely ceremonial. That means you have to look back at Castro’s record as a council member. That mostly means his being part of the council that lured Toyota and several parts suppliers to the San Antonio area. Of course, that would have had a lot to do with the State of Texas and the tax-friendly environment provided to corporations by state laws. They say the Riverwalk expansion is a very nice addition to the city but that mostly comes from Castro’s predecessor in the mayor’s job, Phil Hardberger who left office with an 86% approval rating.

In other words, the main thing about Julian Castro is that he’s … Julian Castro; a bright – he got into Stanford with a little help from affirmative action – young – he’s almost forty – hispanic american politician who believes in affirmative action and gay rights. He’s a Texas progressive with a very short list of tangible accomplishments. How will he do at HUD? He’s got a slow, make that really slow, housing recovery in his favor – for now at least. Will he handle beltway politics well? He already has had the principal and the vice principal give him pats on the head (and you can throw in a well publicized meeting with Harry Reid as well). Do any of his fellow Democrats want to take him out behind the swings and work him over? One suspects we’ll find out fairly quickly how adeptly Julian Castro manages to survive in Washington. 2016 is a long way away in the beltway calendar.

Ferguson was back in riot mode this weekend as Governor Nixon ordered the National Guard in to control looting and violence among protesters. Up until now, the police and the media have been the two main institutions present, with the courts yet to enter the fray, and politicians still trying to calm things down in order for investigations to proceed. So we have lots of footage of clouds of tear gas and angry mobs confronting heavily armed police – is there any other way to face molotov cocktails? – interspersed with Reverend Sharpton’s raging calls for justice. Does any of this this help calm things down? Dr. Ben Carson wondered out loud on television who exactly the looters were, or more precisely, whether they were from Ferguson or elsewhere. And he also asked what exactly do they want? Mob violence is a dangerous phenomena that takes a lot of energy and skill – and involves considerable risk – to bring to an end. Ben Carson’s call for dialogue is understandable, but the question is how do you get there? Any dialogue at this point will surely be nothing more than a shouting match – shouting is of course preferable to firebombs and looting.

So by all means, start the shouting, but stop the rioting as well please. There is evidence that is being released piecemeal and what is needed is an expedited investigation to clear up the facts. That does not mean a rush job. It just means avoiding any unnecessary delay. We will have had at least 3 autopsies by the time investigators truly get to work and some reports are suggesting that Michael Brown was charging the officer by the nature of the bullet wounds in his body. In Missouri’s long hot August, these investigations will have to be handled as cooly as possible. It is an impossibility that they will satisfy all of those concerned but the only other option is charging security forces with containing rioters night after night. Let’s remember how the Detroit riots left a scarred city that is still trying to recover its former glory. Ferguson is not Detroit nor will it become a little Detroit so to speak. But expediting the judicial process, as Dr. Ben Carson suggested, would clearly set things in the right direction.

In Texas, Umphrey Lee Elementary School has fallen from grace. The Dallas Independent School District (DISD) has uncovered cheating – teachers coaching and preparing students with near exact versions of the exam questions – on the STAAR tests taken by students. After 5 teachers were transferred out of Umphrey Lee, the scores dropped dramatically as the school fell from the top of the rankings right to the bottom. The DISD unfortunately failed to let parents know of the scandal until very recently. What is STAAR? Why that would be State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, a state-mandated standardized test born on the grave of TAKS – Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills which was killed by the state senate in 2007 in a bill demanding a return to end-of-course assessments instead of TAKS approach of testing general core subjects. TAKS in turn was begat by TAAS – Texas Assessment of Academic Skills – which saw light in 1991 after being begat by TEAMS – Texas Assessment of Minimum Skills which was laid to rest in 1990.

It is not at all cute to say that these twisted tangles of acronyms are in fact the Genesis of state mandated testing. It started in Texas, and it seems Texas is still trying to get it right. Who needs Common Core when you can have all kinds of fun with battling versions of what an appropriate standardized test should look like? Or perhaps one should ask, should it be easy to come up with a schools standardized test? And what are they intended to be used for, compared to what they are actually used for?

In a piece published on ASCD’s site – formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development which saw light in 1943 – James Popham criticized the use of standardized tests for evaluating the quality of education. He stated that: Standardized tests are a one-size-fits-all and do not measure “curricular diversity.” What is taught in a particular classroom anywhere around the country might not match the focus on a standardized test. Secondly, in order to differentiate between students, tests are constructed in such a way that questions that a large majority of students tend to answer correctly are eliminated from the test. Questions that most students fail to answer correctly are also eliminated. That means items that students understand well are often not on the standardized tests. As well, questions that measure student’s “in-born intellectual abilities” are not a measure of how well they have been taught, according to Popham. Finally, he takes a shot at out-of-school learning which is often reflected in these tests, placing lower-income students at a disadvantage, although he is careful not to use the term. Throw in the conflict over intelligent design’s place in any curriculum, especially as regards the Texas Education Agency, TEA, and it seems that constructing a standardized test that will please all so-called stakeholders is an impossible task.

Unfortunately, some sort of standardized tests are necessary if students abilities to do math and science and read and write are to be assessed. How much weight should be given to any of the test results is a matter that each state will be grappling with for some time.

In Ferguson, Missouri, businesses are cleaning up after a little rioting. A candlelight vigil for Michael Brown, who was shot during a scuffle with a policeman, turned ugly. Stores were looted, cars vandalized and over 30 people were arrested but the looting was widespread, literally, and it was hard for the police to track down all those involved. Ferguson mayor James Knowles was concerned over the violence and what it would do to Ferguson’s reputation. St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley had a different view. “Right now, I’m just worried about people, not property.” County Police Chief Jon Belmar had yet another perspective centered more on the incident itself. One of the two men (young men presumably) had pushed a police officer into his vehicle after the officer confronted or spoke to the man. Belmar is trying to clear up what happened inside the vehicle, where a shot was fired. The “scuffle” – which seems to have been a police officer fighting off an attacker inside his own squad car – then spilled out onto the sidewalk and more shots were fired. Brown was fatally shot.

One hopes that whatever investigation is carried out, some sort of clarity can be achieved on what exactly happened in Ferguson. Whether that will be enough – assuming the investigation is prompt and thorough – to ease tensions remains to be seen. The confrontation occurred outside an “apartment complex” and one can imagine that the suspicion of drugs may have played a role, but that as well remains to be seen. If the officer was indeed pushed backwards into his vehicle, what right does that officer of the law have to defend himself? The question might seem tautological – self-defense is part of the job description – but the question will be whether the self-defense was justified. Race will be cited as factor between Ferguson’s majority African-American residents and the Police Department but the right to self-defense hangs heavily over the incident.

The Florida stand your ground law and the Indiana self-defense statute, for example, share the view that you are not required to flee or retreat when you have the right to defend yourself, especially in your home or vehicle – whether before another individual or even before a public servant in Indiana’s case. When exactly you do have the right to defend yourself is a matter of law, whether in Florida, Indiana, or elsewhere. Laws,however, are not always clear until the courts clear them up and that takes years. A confrontation involves split-second decisions, especially if you’re a police officer struggling for control of your own weapon inside your own squad car. It is clear that arbitrary detention, along with taxation without representation, were the kindling for the revolt of the colonies, so the roots of these self-defense laws run deep. It would be a grave mistake, however, to shackle the police’s ability to enforce the law under the banner of self-defense. And it’s absurd to think that anyone will be safer in Ferguson because people rioted and looted.

Voting in Mississippi is again in the spotlight with Chris McDaniel likely to challenge the June 24 run-off vote for Senator in circuit court. McDaniel, who has Tea Party support, lost a close race to GOP incumbent Thad Cochran, and has leveled accusations that Democratic voters – prohibited from cross-voting in different primaries – were illegally recruited by Cochran’s campaign. The McDaniel campaign compiled a list of crossover votes, “irregular votes”, and “improperly cast” absentee ballots. The total comes to about 15,000 votes which is about double Senator Cochran’s margin of victory. Unfortunately for McDaniel, the Mississippi GOP will not be hearing his challenge, and the courts seem the next move on his part.

Thad Cochran had graduated from college, served 2 years in the navy, gone back for his law degree and successfully campaigned for and won a seat in the House before Chris McDaniel was born in 1972. He has been in the Senate since 78, and if re-elected will likely break even more length-of-tenure records. He has been popular for a long time, or was popular in the past and is less so now. Aside from the question of whether he broke state voting laws – violations are considered a misdemeanor – it seems clear change is coming, if not as fast as McDaniel would like. The run-off vote might not be a scandal, but it does raise the issue of voter laws at the state level. The initial vote in early June and the run-off were the first time Mississippi’s new voter ID laws were put into practice. In the days before the June 3 vote, scrutiny was being cast over the voting procedure to ensure that voters were not denied their rights, and the state seemed to bend over backwards to make sure no one was denied a chance to have their say at the ballot box: 1000 government ID’s were handed out free to those who apparently lacked an acceptable photo-ID card. You had a choice of 10 types of ID cards you could present when voting as well. When the courts take up Chris McDaniel’s likely challenge, they will have to decide if, rather than being denied rights, voters in the primary run-off took advantage of their rights, or let someone else take advantage of their rights in order to win a close race.

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