Monthly Archives: April 2019

Occam’s Sledgehammer


On several occasions, this blogger has invoked the concept of Occam’s Razor, the principle espoused by medieval philosopher William of Occam that “one should not make more assumptions than the minimum needed.”  Among the variations of this tenet is the most often cited, all things taken into consideration, the simplest explanation is likely the most accurate.  If it did not already exist, perhaps it might be called Mr. Obvious’ Razor.

Image result for she the peopleThis past week I realized there should be a corollary which for lack of a better term I have dubbed Occam’s Sledgehammer.  When given a question, provide the obvious answer.  The need for this additional guidance became evident during Bernie Sander’s appearance at the She the People presidential forum.  For those unfamiliar with She the People, it is an organization designed to give women of color a voice in the political arena.

When asked a direct question, if elected president, what would you do to stem the increase in white nationalism, Sanders began by telling the audience his life-long interest in this topic was first inspired when he attended the 1963 march on Washington at which Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.  He followed with a brief summary of his major policy proposals such as Medicare for All and free college tuition.  The audience, which had moments earlier given him a rousing ovation when introduced, began to mumble and even boo Sanders.  Sanders’ staff and supporters seemed surprised.  This morning on MSNBC, Dr. Jason Johnson, a political science professor at Morgan State University, ‘splained it to them.  We don’t need Medicare for All or free tuition after we’ve been killed by a white supremacist.

Which brings me back to Occam’s Sledgehammer.  There is one, and only one, answer to this question.

Unlike the current occupant of the White House, I will take every opportunity to call out acts of violence and discrimination based on the totally un-American belief the United States is the domain solely of white people.  I will direct the Justice Department to make the identification and disruption of hate groups which embrace this nonsense a priority.  In instances of actual violence, I will make sure the Justice Department in coordination with state and local authorities prosecute the perpetrators.  And if current laws are insufficient to safeguard the protection of any American, I will work with Congress to correct that.  Furthermore, let me make it clear, if you disagree, fine.  I do not seek nor do I want your vote.

In my lifetime, until 2017, every president of the United States, Republican and Democrat, has offered some variation of this response.  Lyndon Johnson championed civil rights legislation knowing it would forever change the political landscape in the Deep South. George H. W. Bush told racists they were not welcome at the 1988 Republican National Convention.  His son stood by the Muslim community after 9/11 and told Americans they should not take out their anger against all followers of Islam because of the acts of one radical sect.  And in response to Donald Trump’s suggestion of moral equivalency after Charlottesville , Barack Obama wielded Occam’s Sledgehammer by asking, “How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?”

Any Democratic or Republican candidate for high federal, state or local office who cannot get this softball question right, does not deserve the vote of anyone who understands the moral underpinnings which, while always falling short of the ideal, should make us all proud to be Americans.

For what it’s worth.


Randy Newman Was Right

The 2020 election cycle has been dominated by the pros and cons of identity politics.  Is the path to a Democratic victory next year tied to the energy among voters of color, especially black women?  And much of the punditry has focused on whether there has been media bias covering the five female candidates versus their male counterparts.  In a field as diverse as the 20 contenders for the Democratic nomination, the commentary is peppered with questions such as:

  • Are some too old?
  • Can another white male energize the party’s base?
  • Are Americans ready to send a woman to the White House?
  • Can an openly gay mayor really get elected?
  • Will Democratic identity politics energize the Trump base?

Well, we’ve had old presidents.  And more than our share of white male presidents.  We may have even had a gay president without knowing it.  And we know that with a little help from his BFF (best foreign friends), a candidate who appeals to old white voters without a college degree can carry the electoral college.  We can even elect a black male.  TWICE! So that leaves the gender question as the outlier.  Is sexism the single most dominant form of discrimination when it comes to presidential electoral politics?  Sure seems to be the case.

But if it’s not, what else could it be?  Which brings me to the title of today’s entry.  What if it’s not the fact they are women per se, but there is something about women that puts them at a distinct disadvantage compared to their male counterparts?  Enter Randy Newman and his musical treatise on “Short People.”  First, he suggests, “Short people have no reason to live.”  But it is the third verse which spells electoral defeat.

Well, I don’t want no short people
Don’t want no short people
Don’t want no short people
Round here.

Image result for truman deweyIt seems voters don’t want short people in the White House either.  For over one hundred years, since 1904 to be exact, with only one exception, no candidates have succeeded in becoming the nation’s chief executive if they were more that three inches shorter than their opponent.  The single anomaly was 2004 when 5’11.5″ George W. Bush defeated 6’4″ John Kerry.  I would have thought another example was 5’9″ Harry Truman.  But much to my surprise Thomas Dewey was actually shorter (5’8″).  Maybe that explains the above picture.

What was the greatest differential in height between the nominees of the two major parties in American history?  You guessed it.  Hillary Clinton at 5’5″ or 5’7″ depending on the source is either eight or 10 inches shorter than the 6’3″ Donald Trump (if you believe his questionable physical exams).  Even in the best case scenario, the difference exceeds that in any past election.

So what does this suggest for 2020 and the five announced female candidates who might face off against Trump next November.  In order of height, they are:

Senator Kamala Harris/5’2″
Senator Kirsten Gillbrand/5’5″
Representative Tulsi Gabbard/5’8″
Senator Elizabeth Warren/5’8″
Senator Amy Klobuchar/5’9″

The male front-runners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders fare a little better, both being 6’0″, but would still lose the tale of the tape to Trump.

As we consider the Democrat best positioned to retake the White House, maybe we should take a second look at 6’4″ Beto O’Rourke.  Or if we’re serious about electing the first female president, maybe trading a couple of those currently announced candidates for  Lindsay Taylor of the WNBA Houston Comets (6’8″) or Brittany Griner of the Phoenix Mercury (also 6’8″).  Maybe, it’s not who can stand UP to Trump on a debate stage, but who can stand OVER him.

For what it’s worth.


Skin in the Game

Image result for john w altmanThe title of today’s post is the mantra of the founding director of the entrepreneurship program at Miami University.   We will be honoring him on May 15 when the program is re-branded as the John W. Altman Institute for Entrepreneurship in recognition of his contribution of time, talent and treasure to educate future generations about the risks, rewards and challenges of starting and growing new ventures.

For John, the concept of “skin in the game” is the glue that unites diverse interests to pursue a common goal.  In business, it means that everyone associated with an enterprise from the founders on down have a personal stake in its success.  The most common manifestation of this tenet for start-ups, when cash is at a premium, is when employees are offered a share of the company in lieu of salary or when contractors are offered a percentage of future revenue rather than a fixed price for their work.

Several current events over the past week led me to contemplate whether “skin in the game” might be the defining principle which helps Americans move past the divisions which characterize politics and culture today.  It may also provide a road map which reconciles the tension between those who see pure socialism as an inherent threat to a capitalist-based economy and those who view pure capitalism as antithetical to the public welfare.  Consider the following examples.

Tuition-free college for all is gaining support among the Democratic base and, to a lesser extent, independents.  That is understandable when one sees how the cost of an undergraduate education has grown at 2.5 times the rate of general inflation over the past 17 years. (Source: EdVisors)  As a result, college debt now exceeds $1.3 trillion affecting approximately 44 million Americans with an average outstanding loan of over $37,000.  At the same time students are told a college education is essential to economic survival as the workforce becomes more dependent on brains than brawn.

Clearly, affordable higher education regardless of economic status is a desirable goal.  But that is different from “free.”  Take the most extreme case in the news, Lori Loughlin and her daughter Olivia Jade.  Ms. Jade, by virtue of having been born into a wealthy family, had the equivalent of a “tuition-free” education.  I doubt she ever had to pay for her own room and board or books.  And she would have had no debt upon graduation from the University of Southern California. And how did she respond to this totally subsidized undergraduate education?  By spending her time building her brand and reputation as a celebrity “influencer” on social media.  In response to one follower’s question about her college experience, Jade replied, “I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend…But I do want the experience of like game days, partying…I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”  If only her followers did not really care about her.

Rather than free tuition, why not create a subsidy which still requires every individual to invest some of their own resources?  Government does that with the Section 8 housing program.  Residents pay 30 percent of their monthly income while the HUD subsidy covers the rest.  Occupants of Section 8 housing have “skin in the game.”  A similar approach where families would pay even a minimal percentage of their monthly household income would ensure students had a stake in their post-secondary educations.

The same principle could apply to national security.  According to, only 0.4 percent of Americans presently serve in the military.  I know most of us pay taxes to support the armed services, but a payroll deduction and being in harm’s way are two entirely different things.  It is much like the role of a chicken and a pig in the making of a bacon omelet.  The chicken participates.  The pig literally has “skin in the game.”  I oppose a universal military draft for several reasons, but mandatory national service is one way of leveling the playing field.

And finally, how can anyone not question the fairness of companies such as Amazon or Netflix not paying any income taxes for 2018?  According to CBS News, it was even worse.  These tech giants received tax rebates totaling $4.3 billion.  Meanwhile, the American Society of Civil Engineers reports the U.S. needs to spend in excess of $2 trillion over the next 10 years just to bring roads and bridges up to standard.  Shouldn’t the 60 major domestic companies which paid no taxes for 2018 have some “skin in THIS game?”

Remember how often we hear government needs to run more like a business?  What if government ran more like a start-up?  There are several proposals for an infrastructure bank capitalized through corporate equity rather than taxes similar to the equity versus salary approach for the employees of new ventures.  Every U.S. corporation would contribute a small percentage (proposals range from one to three percent) of non-voting shares to the infrastructure bank.  Such an arrangement would have a dual effect.  Business would want to know they are getting their money’s worth and the public infrastructure bank would have a vested interest in the success of the companies which make up its broad port folio.

As suggested above,  “skin in the game” can be an overarching philosophy which supports a balanced approach to many of the issues which currently divide us.  I am sure, with a little creativity, the ones presented above are just the beginning.  Just ask John Altman.

For what it’s worth.


Gator Politics

Or…everything I needed to know about the Democratic Party I learned from a mother alligator.

In July 2017, I posted an entry on this blog titled, “It’s a Jungle Out There,” in which I compared the 70 year standoff between the United States and North Korea to my relationship with the resident alligator on the creek behind our Florida home.  Two stories in this morning’s news suggest there are additional lessons my BRF (best reptile forever) was trying to share with me.

  • During a 90 minute conference call, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi strove to reach a consensus among members of the Democratic caucus how to proceed with investigations, and the potential impeachment, of Donald Trump.
  • A Bernie Sanders supporter tried to temper the growing enthusiasm for Mayor Pete Buttigieg as he stock rises among the contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020.

Let’s start with the party’s response to the Mueller Report and the evidence which added to the narrative of Trump’s unfitness for office.  Speaker Pelosi is walking a tightrope, attempting to placate those representatives who believe not to impeach is a dereliction of duty and those who think an impeachment without some assurance of bipartisan support will energize Trump’s base.  Both positions have merit which makes Pelosi’s task that much more difficult.

That is where mama gator comes in.  Last September she had her third pod of offspring.  One of the great pleasures of living on Amelia Island is my daily walk with our rescue dog to check out mama and her wards.  Last week I counted 11 youngsters who fell into two camps.  Some hang very close to their mother even riding on her back as pictured here.  Other more adventurous siblings will swim away from the group.  That is, until there is any sign of external danger.  Two weeks ago, a river otter eyed the youngsters as their potential main course for breakfast.  Mama was quick to react and bring all of her progeny back into the fold.

Mama gator might as well have been named Nancy as that is exactly how the House Speaker manages her brood.  She allows, and even encourages, some of the bolder newcomers to express themselves.  But at the first indication their behavior turns from audacious to dangerous, she reminds them their survival depends on the security she provides.

Which brings me to the story about the Sanders’ supporter.  Fox News (who else) tried to rile up Bernie supporters when Buttigieg “compared President Trump’s supporters to those who back Bernie Sanders, stating both groups feel marginalized and want to tear down the system.” (Source: Liam Quinn, Fox News, April 22, 2019) To which, Sanders endorser California Congressman Ro Khana tweeted, “Come on @PeteButtigieg.  It is intellectually dishonest to compare Bernie to Trump.”

Last night during a CNN town hall, Buttigieg  responded by affirming Trump and Sanders are “stupendously different.”  The comparison was not of the candidates, but of their supporters, both of whom were looking to political insurgents who would shake up the establishment. Perhaps Representative Khana missed Sanders, himself, claiming he had the best shot at bringing Trump voters back into the Democratic column as they shared a political disaffection similar to that of those who voted for Sanders in 2016.

Time for mama gator to enlighten us again.  Baby gators stay close to their mother for their first two to three years of life.  Then the mother pushes her maturing offspring away.  Why?  Because innate jealously of “the new kids on the creek” are a threat to their recently hatched siblings.  The older generation sees the newcomers as nourishment rather than playmates.

This is not intended as an endorsement or rebuke of any of the announced or potential contenders.  As mama gator knows so well, the creek is big enough to support multiple generations.  Each succeeding generation establishes its own territory which allows the newcomers the same opportunity.  Eating your own is not the formula for truly making the creek great again.

FOOTNOTE:  I apologize to all the alumni of the University of Florida and its rabid sports fans who thought this post was about their beloved institution.

For what it’s worth.


Giuliani Is Right


Image result for rudy giulianiTwice yesterday on the Sunday talk shows, Donald Trump’s defense lawyer Rudy Giuliani claimed there was nothing wrong with getting information from Russians.  On NBC’s Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked Giuliani, “Why did the president think it was ethical to essentially trumpet what WikiLeaks was doing?”  His response:

Well, if I’m, if I’m — even in law enforcement, if I’m running an investigation and all of a sudden evidence is given to me about the criminality of the person I’m investigating, even if it comes from a, from a questionable source, I’m going to use that information. And there was nothing, nothing to suggest that this was manufactured evidence.

On CNN’s State of the Union, Giuliani was more direct telling Jake Tapper, “There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.”

I actually agree with the now-disgraced Trump sycophant.  There would be nothing wrong with taking information from Russians, IF AND ONLY IF, it is attributed to Russians.  For instance, if Tass, Pravda or the GRU (the main intelligence directorate of the Russian army) had published the fact they had hacked into the DNC email server and shared the information and the Trump campaign had prefaced their use of the information by noting it appeared in Russian media, I would not be happy, but I would be okay with it.  A rebuttal would have been easy.  The Russian government and its mouthpieces are openly supporting Donald Trump including using illegal activities.  Why?  Are voters really okay with that?

But that is not what happened in this case.  Russians disseminated the information as though it was coming from Americans.  And when this became apparent to the U.S. intelligence community they informed the sitting president Barack Obama.  And when Obama went to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell in hopes of making a bipartisan appeal to both campaigns to reject such overtures, the titular head of the Republican party turned his back.  And that was wrong.  As have been the plethora of lies and misdirection by Trump and his allies to the overt and systematic nature of Kremlin activities in support of their White House ally.

The episode reminds me of a second instance in which the false narrative of transparency has undermined the electoral process. In the 5-4 Supreme Court decision in the 2010 Citizens United case, Justice Anthony Kennedy (yes, the same justice who abruptly resigned to make room for Brett Kavanaugh) wrote:

With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.

In a 2015 interview with Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow, Kennedy admitted he may have wrongly assessed this rationale.  “You live in this cyber age.  A report can be done in 24 hours.  But disclosure is not working the way it should.”  Which is why I am skeptical any legislative remedy to redress the 2016 problem will not work as long as the perpetrators of deceptive activities are not under the direct control of the candidate or the campaign. And as long as there is no readily enforced, punitive remedy for violating the law.

In the absence of a loophole-free regimen, the best defense is a skeptical and inquisitive voting population backed up by a free press.

For what it’s worth.