Recent Posts by Richard Friedman

Using Smart Tech to Solve the Impass in US Health Care

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The American health care payment system is stuck in the mud–mired down by traditional ways of delivering medical services.

We can do better. Major, cost-effective technologies are available to be utilized.

It is unlikely that the Senate Republican factions will resolve their health care related legislative differences, although last-minute compromise is possible. Also, it is unlikely that Congressional Republicans and Democrats will bridge their ideological and political differences. The American public demands lower cost, effective, appropriate health care coverage.

Pragmatic economics, coupled with technology, is key because money to be saved by reducing Medicaid expenses can be used to provide increased health care coverage to the really Medicaid eligible, working Americans, and retired senior citizens.

This reality concept will be regarded as mean-spirited by the 45 percent of American adults who do not have full-time employment, and the 94 million people who have decided to remove themselves the job market, and their political supporters. Requiring work as the consideration for receiving Medicaid social benefits is not necessarily mean-spirited.

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Why Obamacare Failed

 The Obamacare (ACA) health care law concept and implementation has failed because it has substantially increased health care premia and reduced coverage.

The Republican House alternative may be better than ACA, but it will be changed because the Republican Senate has three or more competing groups with conflicting approaches to health care legislation, none of which conform to the House version.  A two-party compromise Senate health care bill is unlikely to be reached because Democratic senators will not vote for Republican health care legislation, and the likelihood of a good faith compromise is nil.

There is an impasse: a predicament affording no obvious escape. Meanwhile, the future health care of Americans is in limbo.

The solution is apparent, but unperceived: patient data collection by smartphone, and the acquisition of an available personal health care profile and its adaptation.

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Nobody’s happy with the Republican proposals, either

 The most recent health care public polling suggests dissatisfaction with both parties’ plans.

For example, the Republican House bill, repeal and replace ACA, has only 16 percent approval.

The public approval of ACA and whether efforts should continue to repeal and replace this law are almost evenly split among the public.

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Self-interested players in Health Care . . . with different goals

 The health care discussion arena is composed of numerous self-interested players. Their interests are often different.

Following are differing perspectives:

  • Provide what the public needs, rather than what they want
  • Older people use more than one-half of the health care money in the last few months before they die
  • The younger generation believes that they are health infallible, and they do not want to pay for older generation and senior health care expenses
  • What can the federal and state governments afford to pay for health care that competes with other national priorities such as road building and maintenance, education, national security, and military defense?
  • Compassion for the health care underclass has financial limits: single-parent families, the disabled, many of whom could be employed part-time, and alcohol and drug addicts
  • Many private health care insurance companies have and are canceling their participation in government sponsored health care plan coverage because of contemporary major losses and future financial uncertainty
  • The fallback solution that may emerge may be a federal government single payer, rather than the private sector insurance
  • Personal health responsibility:  stay healthy and save money for oneself and for the government is not part of American culture
  • High volume Medicaid provider hospitals provide high technology services that are duplicative and are expensive, although these devices are not fully utilized in many urban areas
  • Primary care physicians correctly believe that they are under-reimbursed for the essential Medicaid services that they provide. As a consequence, many primary care physicians are leaving the practice of medicine, or they decline Medicaid patients because of the high volume of paperwork documentation that is required

Economics encompasses all of these issues: what can taxpaying citizens and their government afford, and what is the priority allocation among competing government services?

Although there are no easy solutions, we need to use the best technology currently available and some emerging ones, and supplement them by training a new generation of medical-technology providers.

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Medicaid’s Explosive Growth, Explosive Costs

 President Obama’s ACA increased Medicaid eligibility to 133 percent above the poverty line. However this Medicaid increase was challenged in NFIB v. Sibelius, finding that it was state coercive, and that the federal government could not compel states to increase Medicaid eligibility.

The federal government pays states for a defined percentage of their Medicaid program expenditures. The Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage (FMAP) varies by state based on criteria such as per capita income. The average federal payment made to states is 57 percent; 50 percent for wealthy states, and 75 percent for lower per capita income states.

The 1965 Medicare amendment to the Social Security Act established the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The concept of Medicaid is that it is a social health care program for families and individuals with limited resources and special needs that is funded by federal and state governments. States manage the program and they have broad discretion to determine eligibility and benefits. Medicaid eligibility is an ideological and political battleground. Reduction of people who receive Medicaid benefits is regarded as mean-spirited – an estimated decrease of 20 million Medicaid recipients by the year 2027.  In contrast, there may be as many as 20 million Medicaid recipients who are not eligible.

An estimated 1/3 of people who receive Medicaid payment are able-bodied who can work in the public or private sector. This concept – “get off the couch and go to work” – is now enforced by some states which have passed “Workfare” legislation wherein able-bodied persons must work to qualify for social program benefits.

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Back to the States to Cope with Costs

 Consider another proposition that places health care responsibility with states, rather than the federal government.  States would receive a federal government payment, varying from 50 to 75 percent based on poverty eligibility levels. The states would have responsibility and flexibility to determine eligibility and the amount that they would pay for Medicaid expenses. The federal government responsibility would be to audit state health care payments to be certain that health care money provided by the federal government would not be diverted to other state programs. The advantage of total state responsibility would be administrative control, program efficiency, adherence to strict eligibility enforcement, and the political choices to be made by state citizens, that would vary by state.

Economics drives political and social policy decisions because funding for Medicaid health care is finite. The FDA has provided an exception to the spiraling cost of Medicaid by reducing the cost of prescription medicine for patients. Many drugs do not face competition from cheaper generic alternatives even though their intellectual property protection rights have expired. When there are two or more generic competitors the drug cost to consumers drops by about 50 percent, saving consumers an estimated $250 billion dollars. Economic competition in medicine can result in major cost savings. The issue is whether economic cost saving and program efficiency can compete and overcome political differences.

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Conclusion: Looking Forward

 Look to the future of medicine and health care. Hardware and software permeates all sectors of health care, but it has not been applied in medical practice. Sensors, imaging, patient genetic history, artificial intelligence, and home health monitoring, if used nationally, can retard or reduce the $3 trillion annual health care expense.

US health care is the primary responsibility of doctors and hospitals that have made marvelous contemporary advances in patient diagnoses and care. The future improvement will be to exponentially advance contemporary health care by focusing on available, cost-effective technology.

This is an opportunity to create a new, innovative profession: data-based health care consulting, with or without traditional M.D. degrees; and for medical schools to adopt emerging technology in their curricula.

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Richard Friedman worked on Medicaid and Medicare cost containment for the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare 1974-76 when these programs were 9 percent of GDP – now at 18 percent. He has provided legal representation to hospitals and physician groups while in the private practice of law.

 

 

How to Build US Strategy

 A coherent, pragmatic, effective US strategy must be built on three pillars:

  • US domestic institutional survival
  • Flourishing as a nation
  • National and global security

Although the US is the primary participant among global states, it is imperative that America’s domestic needs have priority.

US global commitments support our fundamental domestic needs. The two spheres are interdependent.

But the focus must be on “America first,” a somewhat pejorative term, supported by clear US-centric policy and decision making, with a dash of traditional US global altruism.

America First is not so strange. Nations typically put their own interests first

This principle may be anathema to US liberal one-world critics, but that is how most of the other global states operate. They receive US largesse without reciprocity.

Freeloading should be terminated so that a new era of US “competitive strategy” can begin. This mirrors American contact sports, football and hockey, where mutual brutality is exercised during the game followed by player hugs when the game is over.

An Overlooked Dimension of Strategy: Getting Friendly States to Relate their Strategic Objectives to Ours

The US is the global leader and we revel in our primacy. Another dimension of US strategy is “complementary” strategy. The US is the 800-pound global gorilla that can ask other states to identify their strategic objectives that relate to the US. The US can accommodate other states’ objectives and incorporate them into our strategy, provided that they do not unduly interfere with US strategic objectives. Exercise and acceptance of this orientation has the potential to regain and sustain US global primacy, something that all Americans can be proud of, notwithstanding that “America first” may be perceived as an awkward, self-centered phrase.

The US strategic objective can be compressed and stated in 25 words, or less:

Survival, Flourishing, and Homeland Security.

The implementation process is more complex:

  • Analyze the components of the matrix, below
  • Identify the expense associated with each component
  • Determine whether each component is dependent on other components, or is free-standing.

This is the tactical implementation phase where each component is analyzed to determine what is efficacious or garbage.

Confess error, if needed.

Begin the critical analysis process in the third out-year of the presidential four-year term and deliver a new draft overarching strategic document in the fourth year.

The Matrix

Earlier, I mentioned the three pillars of US Strategy.

  • US domestic institutional survival
  • Flourishing as a nation
  • National and global security

Now, let me flesh out what each entails.

US Domestic Institutional Survival

  • Democracy: teach civics in elementary and high schools
  • Rule of Law: the ultimate constitutional arbiter of legal conflict. Provide high school and college courses that teach the legal system to non-lawyers
  • Congress: the out party should be a rational critic, not a blockade
  • Politics: the instrument by which government is achieved
  • Domestic drug addiction: address the opioid trend and other narcotics and alcohol addiction by early intervention, non-criminalization for users, and a mandatory rehabilitation program
  • Enforce a judicially approved prescreening of travelers from terrorism-identified states
  • Immigration: create a pathway to citizenship for the 11.5 million illegals who reside in the US. Encourage the best and the brightest people to immigrate to the US
  • Corruption: vigorous investigation and prosecution of corrupt government officials and their bribers
  • The media: identify spurious media news coverage and media fact abusers. Distinguish objective journalism reportage from hidden commentary
  • Counter-terrorism: encourage the Islamic community to publicly condemn radical Islamic terrorism; institute intra-Muslim anti-radicalism programs
  • US good neighbor program with Canada, Mexico, and Western Hemisphere states
  • Secure the US southern border with Mexico with minimal barriers and the fee for service cooperation of the Mexican government to prevent illegal border crossing
  • Intervene in Black America to break the three-generation welfare dependence cycle
  • Provide adequate funding for the US military. Prioritize the counter-ISIS campaign. Focus on “small wars and demolitions” rather than a major war with Russia or China
  • Identify states that are enemies, adversaries, or partners
  • Engage in a US charm offensive with other states

Flourishing as a Nation

  • Achieve domestic stability that is based on fundamental expectation of citizens
  • Recognize that the “Pursuit of Happiness” (Declaration of Independence) means that America will never become a perfect society
  • Live within our means: every government program must be paid for as part a balanced budget
  • Target 3.5 percent GDP annual growth
  • Reduce the near $20 trillion US deficit and create a budget surplus within a target 8 years. This would result in terminating the one-third of the US annual budget that is allocated to debt service
  • Focus on healthcare cost-effectiveness.  Reduce the growing percentage of GDP that is allocated to health. The Obamacare replacement must provide citizens with an affordable annual healthcare premium (one-third less than Obamacare), access to healthcare, and near-universal coverage. The outlier patients would be covered by Medicare and state contributions
  • Taxation reform: amend, simplify, or totally revise the US Tax Code to terminate special privilege regulations. Encourage commercial and small business entrepreneurs by providing tax incentives
  • Repair the US critical infrastructure. By so doing, this would create jobs
  • Revise the higher education and post-high school model by utilizing online education to reduce college student expense. Emphasize 2-year community college associate degrees. Provide access to vocational education and periodic retraining courses that are adaptive to new technology
  • Buy American goods and services. Review the trade deficits with all foreign states. Identify how goods that are purchased abroad can be manufactured or grown in the US
  • Water conservation, particularly in the agricultural sector. Pursue desalinization to fresh water conversion technology
  • Adopt the Israeli military-private sector technology model wherein one-fifth of military training is allocated to private sector technology and entrepreneurship
  • Recognize that in the near term, manufacturing processes will become computerized and less labor intensive. Train the workforce in computerized manufacturing fundamentals
  • Provide incentives to high-skill foreigners to immigrate to the US and become citizens
  • Target the US economy to provide well-paying jobs to middle class and blue-collar Americans. Adapt jobs and employment to the new reality – a job shift every 5 years without pensions
  • Extend the age of the workforce to 70 years of age. Incentivize personal savings accounts by partial government matching contributions
  • Workfare: every able-bodied person should be offered a capability-appropriate job in the government sector as an intermediate step towards non-subsidized jobs in the private sector. This would require job skill education. Drug addicts would be temporarily excused during their drug rehabilitation
  • Reinstitute economic incentives to encourage two-parent households, particularly in the black urban community. Encourage and provide government financial incentives to black neighborhood community associations
  • Urban gang violence is partially driven by drug sales and distribution. Incarcerate gang leaders under appropriate new state and federal criminal legislation
  • Incarceration: reduce sentencing time for nonviolent crimes. Use incarceration time as an opportunity for in-jail inmate vocational education with a potential for post-incarceration jobs
  • Create a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that was highly successful in providing jobs for unemployed males during the Depression years. The focus would be both urban and rural, combining work and vocational education
  • Provide environmental employment in the public and private sectors
  • Air and water pollution reduction to be achieved by application of new technology – a combination of voluntary participation and financial incentives and sanctions

National and Global Security

  • Coordinate domestic and national security training and intelligence gathering among local, state and federal agencies to identify and track potential terrorists in cooperation with local Islamic communities
  • Encourage the Islamic community to educate their young generation about the perils of affiliating with ISIS – that brings shame on Islamic families and the US-based Islamic communities. Communicate concerns about potential terrorists in the community
  • The US is regarded as the political and military leader of Western Europe, Israel, and the Mideast/Gulf States, Japan, and the ASEAN states. Clarify the concept of America First that does not interfere with or diminish the US global leadership role
  • Engage with Russia and China to clarify the potential for conflict with the US and how to achieve peaceful resolution
  • The US should maintain and enhance its special cultural and military relationship with Israel, notwithstanding political and domestic differences
  • The enemies of the US-led freedom coalition are Iran and North Korea. Both are potential nuclear weapon threats. The US orientation should be a combination of political and military deterrents. There is no infallible way to handle North Korea
  • The US should maintain its flexibility to conduct bilateral negotiations with other states and through established international organizations. Regrettably, the UN is a US-hostile debating forum. However, it remains useful as a forum where US interests can be fostered
  • NATO leadership should be transferred to Western European states, without US primacy. The US should reduce its financial support for NATO by fifty percent and remain as a member in good standing
  • The US military should adapt to rapidly changing global threats – ISIS and new organizations that sponsor terrorism. A mobile, rapid deployment US deterrent force is necessary
  • China is positioned to choke South China Sea freedom of navigation. What is the appropriate US relationship with China?
  • The US should support the ten ASEAN states as a counterbalance to China. The Philippines have tilted towards China, and Cambodia is a China supporter
  • India should be encouraged by the US to aspire to become a great state power within the next decade, notwithstanding India’s pervasive and retrograde bureaucracy
  • The Western Hemisphere states comprise the US backyard. We have ignored this region to our detriment. US/Latin American trade would double the North American consumer population
  • Provide environmental employment in the public and private sectors
  • Air and water pollution reduction to be achieved by application of new technology. A combination of voluntary participation and financial sanctions

Conclusion

What is strived for in strategy is “that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The three pillars identified above, survival, to flourish, and security, provide a satisfactory framework for strategic thinking. The ideal implementation process can be enlarged and become more effective when each component is successful and functioning. Of course, each of these components is a variable – success, marginality, or failure.

Politicians who become high-echelon government officials with policy responsibility are rarely theoretical thinkers.

They are flexible and adaptive pragmatists, but they are not knowledgeable or inclined to become strategists.

This provides an opportunity for a young generation of aspiring congressional leaders and potential presidential candidates to become strategists and to base their election campaigns on strategy and its components. This advice to potential candidates is a certain way for them not to engage or persuade their respective electorates.

 

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Richard Friedman was chair of the National Strategy Forum/Chicago. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Counselor to the American Bar Association Committee on National Security.

 

 

The US Needs A Global Strategy. It Hasn’t Had One since the Cold War

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 If you don’t know where you are going, all roads will get you there

Since the end of the Cold War, the US has not known where it is going.

America’s global policy has been drifting – no well-defined objective and an absence of strategy.

Other nations have well-defined strategic objectives, and they have allocated the necessary resources and policy discipline to achieve their goals.

Here, for instance, are some well-defined strategic goals:

  • Russia: to regain the loss of its near-abroad states, and Ukraine.
  • Turkey: to become a conservative Islamic caliphate. This requires diminution of secularism, control of the military, and re-institution of Islam.
  • Iran: to dominate the Mideast by acquiring an arsenal of nuclear weapons.
  • China: to become a great state power in parity with the US; to dominate the Pacific Rim and Central Asia.
  • North Korea: to unify the Korean Peninsula under their control; and to insulate itself from attack by threatening nuclear war.
  • ISIS should be defined as a political Radical Islamic State, without borders. Their objective is to establish an Islamic caliphate by combining religion, military force, and acts of terrorism.

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The US Needs a Strategy to Meet an Array of Threats

Tactics are not enough

 

 How can the US overcome and survive the array of its threats? The answer is the application of a realistic strategy.

Regrettably, the US has exercised tactics without an overarching strategy.

It is likely that the Trump administration will be similar to the Bush II and Obama administrations non-strategy model to its detriment. America must adopt “strategy” that will achieve parity with its adversaries.

The Trump administration could acquire a strategic orientation by listening to common sense guidance from a combination of academics, commentators, political switch-hitters, and united congressional Democrats and Republicans. Is there is potential to educate President Trump to become a strategist?

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The Fundamentals of Strategy

◆ The origin of the concept of strategy is military operations, the science or art of combining and employing military assets for the purpose of planning and directing large-scale military operations: the skillful management of getting the better of an adversary.

In contemporary usage, strategy applies to both military and civilian matters. The core issue is how to attain an objective that is subject to competition from adversaries. What do we want to achieve? The answer frames the precise, overarching strategic objective.

The road to a specific objective – a destination – is not easily traveled because there are always adversaries and competitors.

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Good Implementation Does Not Mean an Effective Strategy

◆ To achieve a strategic objective, tactical implementation is required – how to deploy available resources to reach a defined objective.

The common problem for government, business, the military, and individuals is that tactics is subordinate to strategy. When a problem arises, the reflex is to do something – anything will do.

⇒ This overwhelming urge to act without well-conceived strategic goals is the great failing.

We have no strategy; we utilize tactics to address a limited problem, but this tends to obscure and interfere with the strategic objective.

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Conclusion

◆ Nonpartisan discussion of strategy is one of many elements of American society needed to provide guidance to the president.

Ideally, the President would listen. He would be amenable to public input and pressure.

All foreign states are US competitors, and most of them have a well-defined strategy that is tactically implemented. The present US lack of strategic orientation is detrimental to our national security. However, the US can transform itself from kindergarten to postgraduate status, if it correctly identifies and resolves the problem.


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Richard Friedman was chair of the National Strategy Forum/Chicago. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Counselor to the American Bar Association Committee on National Security.

 

 

In Trump’s America, who are the inmates and who’s running the asylum?

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 The inmates have taken over the lunatic asylum. That’s how it seems these days

The inmates: President Trump, the Congressional Democrats, and the media with its unrelenting anti-Trump drumbeat.

The asylum is America.

President Trump’s persona has invited attacks, directed more at his person than at his policies (though they have taken a lot of incoming fire, too). The only US president who suffered more public vitriol was Abraham Lincoln. Not that I’m comparing them . . .

Amid the controversy, it’s worth remembering that President Trump has made important, substantive initiatives such as replacing Obamacare, tax reform, budget constraints, and infrastructure improvements. Unfortunately, his many blunders have obscured achievements and stymied his initiatives.

The Presidency Really Matters for a Healthy American Democracy

The presidency, its attributes and code of conduct, is the foundation for a continuing healthy democracy. The criteria are a modicum of dignity, exercise of sound judgment, and personal stability.

A bit of eccentricity is acceptable, but not bizarre tweeting, paranoia, and a pattern of verbal inconsistency. Those unforced errors invite legitimate criticism that morphs into vitriol. Is America having a nervous breakdown?

Trump’s recent trip to the Mideast, the NATO and G7 summits, and papal meetings were successful—some more than others, of course. But they provide evidence that his presidency can survive and succeed.

But will it? Running the country is not a one-person project. The Trump inner-circle is composed of competent patriots-masochists who seek to serve a bizarre boss.

Good Donald, Bad Donald

We are in the fifth month of a 48-month term of office. There is a good president Donald and a bad, juvenile Donald. The underlying distraction is the bad Donald. That’s the president’s persona, not matters of state.

What are the sources of curative leverage? What can restrain the bad Donald and coax out the effective leader?

The Republican members of Congress have the political muscle to confront the president. So do the president’s immediate family counselors. In another time, with another president, the media might help. Today, that’s a long-shot, at best. First, they would have to return to their primary professional responsibilities: objective reporting and fact-based commentary.

Another untapped resource for US domestic and global stability and achievement is Democrat and Republican “switch-hitters” who could create an over-arching strategy for the president and Congress.

 Donald Trump has developed his unique persona for the past seventy years. It is highly unlikely he will change. At the very least, he needs a massive ego massage, perhaps one administered with that Big Stick Teddy Roosevelt talked about.

Or maybe we could ask him, “Mr. President, why not think of America and your responsibilities as President as another potentially successful Trump Tower project?”

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Richard Friedman was chair of the National Strategy Forum/Chicago. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Counselor to the American Bar Association Committee on National Security.

 

 

A Brief Guide to Trump’s upcoming NATO Summit

What Can NATO Do in Today’s Threatening World?

May 25, the NATO heads of state will meet in Brussels. It’s an important meeting for the world’s most important alliance, the cornerstone of America’s military and diplomatic partnerships.

If NATO is important to the US, the US is critical to NATO. It is the organization’s de facto leader because it has the diplomatic and military muscle and because it contributes 70 percent of NATO’s $890 million budget.

What issues are on the table when Trump arrives in Brussels? The same ones that have plagued the organization since the Soviet Union fell in 1991.
  1. Is NATO obsolete?
  2. If not, what is its mission?
  3. Is NATO a paper tiger? If it is, how can it become more relevant?

A Little Background

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in the late 1940s to contain the Soviet Union and safeguard the security of its original fourteen state members. It expanded occasionally during the Cold War, adding Greece and Turkey in the early 1950s, for instance, to contain Soviet probes to gain influence (and a warm-water port) in the Mediterranean.

After the Cold War, NATO took in many of Eastern Europe’s new democracies, former Soviet satellites eager to form close connections with the West. In the process, the original 14 members doubled to twenty-eight, with Montenegro scheduled to become the twenty-ninth.

NATO is both political and military

Although the sub-text of NATO’s mission is to prevent conflict, in reality its reason for being is not peace.

Today, NATO’s primary purpose is to constrain a belligerent and expansionist Russia.

That is both a political and military task, and NATO has both dimensions. Or, rather, it has them in principle but not always in practice.

NATO did not respond to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea or its bombing of the Syrian military and civilian opposition. Russia also guaranteed that Syria’s chemical weapon inventory would be totally liquidated. Not so. Last month the Syrian government committed a chemical attack resulting in the deaths of scores of opposition fighters and civilians. Again, NATO did not respond, although the US did with a barrage of cruise missiles.

How should the US approach NATO now?

The contemporary threat array facing the US and NATO is
  • Russian expansionism,
  • A hostile ISIS-Islamic Caliphate, and
  • Acts of domestic terrorism, which struck the West again this week.

What should NATO’s role be in tackling these threats? My assessment is that NATO is still germane to constraining Russia, but it is not capable of countering ISIS or domestic terrorism.

The US can regain its global leadership responsibility by using and supporting NATO, provided the NATO member states recognize, define, and implement their limited role as diplomats who are dressed in military uniforms. This is an expensive charade.

The NATO member state budget commitment is two percent of their GDP. Compare the US 3.6 percent contribution and the 2 percent commitment made by Estonia, Greece, Poland, and UK, with the other 23 states that do not meet their commitments.

NATO should stay in its lane.

America’s focus–our national interest–lies in protecting the Baltic states from Russian military aggression, providing military weapons to the Ukraine (a non-NATO member), and re-integrate Turkey into NATO.

The US can regain its global leadership position and responsibility by leading, using, and supporting NATO.

Bottom Line: Keep NATO, but consider reducing its budget by 50 percent to allay US critics who seek to terminate the alliance because it is not cost-effective.

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Richard Friedman was chair of the National Strategy Forum/Chicago. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Counselor to the American Bar Association Committee on National Security.

 

Goodbye Independent Voters. Hello Switch Hitters

Many voters say they are “independent,” not affiliated with either party.

You might think both parties would court them avidly, giving them extra weight in elections.

The reality is that they have surprisingly little political leverage.  Is there a different and more effective political leverage option?

A New Name for Independents

The replacement for independent voters may be political “switch hitters,” a term borrowed from baseball – batters who are effective from either their or right sides when they bat opposite a left- or right-throwing pitcher.

The critical difference is that an independent voter operates outside of the political stadium; the switch hitter plays every day inside of the political stadium.

Why Independent Parties Fail

There are multiple reasons why even a well-organized and funded independent party will not prevail or even have a significant effect in presidential elections.

  • The Electoral College system wherein the state winner takes all.
  • No prize for winning even 20% or more, but less than a majority, of a state’s vote.
  • Voters tend to vote for apparent winners.
  • Lack of major funding for television commercials.

The relative political power of independent voters is a myth. Try something that is politically realistic and potentially effective. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt ran for the office of president on the independent third-party Bull Moose ticket – he lost to Woodrow Wilson. In 1992, Ross Perot received 19% of the popular vote and zero Electoral College votes.

Each state decides third-party access to the presidential ballot. The US Supreme Court has made it difficult for states to prevent independent third-party access to the ballot by prohibiting virtually impossible criteria. It is now easier for an independent candidate to be on the ballot, but independents and third-party candidates remain political orphans.

The political reality: when Democrats vote for Democrats, and Republicans vote for Republicans, and independents vote for independent candidates, the long-established Democratic and Republican political parties always win.

How Do Voters become “Independent”?

A potential independent voter must leave the warm nest of either the Democratic or Republican parties established by their parents and social groups. The young generation independent voter is inculcated to be a partisan voter. Leaving one’s party affiliation traumatic, similar to leaving one’s organized-religion affiliation. It’s much easier to be an independent if one had no long-standing political affiliation in the first place.

Still, some people do change. Perhaps they are motivated by disgust with the established parties. Perhaps they are swept away by a particular candidate or issue. A few change affiliations because they change their basic political outlook.

Is there a pure independent voter?  Probably not. The independent voter is either Democrat- or Republican-leaning. There may be 5% of voters who meet most of the independent voter criteria checklist, notwithstanding the voter statistics arrayed below.

The markers used by voter research agencies are reasonably consistent:

  • Moderates, 47%; liberal, 29%; conservatives, 24%.
  • Party leaning: independent, 20%; Democrat, 45%; Republican, 33%.
  • Most recent affiliation tally: independent, 36-42%; Democrat, 32-36%; Republican, 23-26%.

Why do political polling statistics find that independents are a dominant political force? Political statistics are inconsistent, or skewed, for several reasons, from one-time shocks to ticket splitting because of particular candidates, rather than changed partisanship.

To me, this strongly suggests those who say 40% of voters are independent are vastly overestimating. Maybe Ross Perot’s 19% is the highest mark for the independent voter.

The Message to Independent Voters: Focus on Substantive Issues, Not Winning the Oval Office

The message for independents is partially good news. Don’t quit now. Abandon presidential leverage expectations, focus on substantive issues for the common good, and achieve well-defined strategic objectives by stratagem and stealth.

Independents should consider becoming political party switch hitters who can focus on beneficial, substantive issues from within either established political party. How can they leverage their votes to compel the president, and Democrats, and Republicans to question and resolve their dysfunction? Politics is not an end in itself. It is the vehicle by which government is achieved. A government that understands that the US is in peril; one that can create national good feeling, constructiveness, and competency that is based on mutual respect and stability.

The strategic objective is in the collective American gut: small and large businesses that provide jobs for those who are able and willing to work; use government regulatory power sparingly to promote love of country among classes; continue to attract and welcome qualified immigrants who enhance our productive capacity and will become US citizens; and have the capacity for global leadership that is backed by constrained military power.

How can beneficial change be implemented?

Use the electronic internet infrastructure, present and future, in place of the traditional political organization that requires many personnel and much money to operate. The key concept: do your own thing; tell your selected political party what your thing is. Aggregate substantive concepts and ideas, and array them on the Internet. Note that rescuing a dog from a well will receive more than one million hits overnight. This phenomenon can be used to auction switch hitters and their policies to the highest bidders, whether Democrat or Republican.

Political leverage is achieved by letting state and local parties know that you and your switch-hitter colleagues have a substantive agenda and that, if most of your ideas are incorporated into their agenda, your vote will be theirs.

Remember the critical concept

  • Independents play in the parking lot, outside the political stadium
  • Switch hitters come up to bat every day.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

Richard Friedman was chair of the National Strategy Forum/Chicago. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Counselor to the American Bar Association Committee on National Security.

North Korea’s Nuclear Threat: What Steps Should the US Take?

Richard Friedman

Richard Friedman was chair of the National Strategy Forum/Chicago. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Counselor to the American Bar Association Committee on National Security.

[Editor’s note: ZipDialog is delighted to include this post. The opinions are those of the author.   

Readers are invited to respond. At ZipDialog, we take dialog seriously.]

◆ North Korea’s Nuclear Threat

There are six components to the potential US/North Korea nuclear confrontation:

  1. North Korea rational
  2. North Korea irrational
  3. US rational
  4. US irrational
  5. China, and
  6. South Korea

China is the best bet for the US because they have urged US and North Korea restraint and calm.

South Korea is undergoing a government leadership crisis. They also urge calm because they would be the battleground in the event that North Korea would be provoked by the US or would be self-provoked.

China is proactive. In addition to urging calm, they have restricted their coal exports to North Korea and they have canceled their air carrier flights to Pyongyang. China’s most important leverage is its substantial food exports to North Korea.

A future North Korean Nuclear Test is Likely

It is likely that North Korea will conduct its sixth nuclear test in the near future. The appropriate US response is to do nothing, certainly no retaliation. The US should keep the Vinson First Strike Carrier Group on station within striking distance of North Korea as a show of force, with weapons muzzled for a few more weeks awaiting mutual calm, and then depart for Australia as planned. The US has proved in Syria its tactical military capability to obliterate North Korea’s nuclear weapon sites and degrade its delivery system. There is no US need to engage in media military posturing.

An indicia for calm is North Korea’s recent intermediate missile launch that failed. Speculation is that the US used its cyber Stuxnet capability to scramble the North Korea missile test code, resulting in failure.

The US frame for its North Korea objective should be: no preemptive, kinetic first strike; and reliance on its counter-incoming missile capability that can intercept and destroy 60-80 percent of North Korea’s incoming missiles to the US west coast (solace is somewhat lacking for Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington).

Etymology is part of the military force consideration array. The word “provoke” is hugely imprecise because it has different meanings for both sides. For the US, it would be North Korea’s active launch preparation of its nuclear-tipped ICBM. For North Korea, “US provocation” would be any discernible military force attack on North Korea’s targets, or their perception that a US strike is imminent.

Notwithstanding the recent perceived crisis, North Korea remains relatively stable. This could change because of the variables that are involved: removal of Kim, either by a targeted US strike followed by a North Korean military attack on South Korea.

Contemporary US history suggests that broad US domestic support for major US military action is essential – political unity and public and media support. The US administration must make a clear and persuasive argument that justifies a US military attack on North Korea. Failure to do so would portray the US as trigger-happy.

The Trump administration primary objective was to focus on domestic issues such as health care, middle class employment, tax reform, and enhancing and protecting the US critical infrastructure. Surprise! The global issues are the US priority: North Korea, Russia, Iran, Syria, and ISIS.

The potential US strategy:

America First, with the condition that addressing and partially resolving international matters is the predicate for focusing on domestic issues.

The US has recaptured global perception of its international leadership role and responsibility: fear the US, respect us, and love us, maybe.
Recent international developments suggest that the US is in the process of developing a comprehensive domestic and international strategy to be followed by tactical implementation.

The US can enhance the efficacy of its strategy by adopting a “complementary strategy” approach, wherein the US consults with other states to determine their strategic objectives, if any, and incorporate item, if possible, into overall US strategy. An example of US transformative strategy is the US/China burgeoning favorable relationship.

Overall, the current North Korea crisis is not a crisis, rather it is part of a prolonged, oscillating adversarial relationship. In this context, the North Korean threat is not its nuclear capability, rather, it is how the US manages the current North Korea non-crisis.

The opinions in this post are those of Richard Friedman. He and ZipDialog welcome your response, either here or on Facebook, where it is also posted.

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