Uncle Al Not Thinking It Through

Al Sharpton has a promo for immigrants where he says, “Unless you are native American, we all came from someplace else.” Uh, Al? Native Americans came from someplace else too. Immigration is how they got here, probably across the Bearing Sea Straits. Everybody is an immigrant and if we want to fight about who got here first, see the Jews and Palestinians on how that works out. But the rest of his point about tolerance was dead on.

American Jihadists

There was an interesting discussion yesterday about what makes an American go join ISIS. It is very disturbing to think someone raised in the West could become part of that movement. So of course we want to understand how that could happen. I mean, a nut case with an American passport willing to blow up his fellow citizens is a scary thing.

The common belief is that they are radical fundamentalist Muslims, but that does not seem to be born out by the facts. It was noted that several of them had converted to Muslim recently, and they had purchased Islam for Dummies and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Islam before they departed the United States.

So how were they radicalized? The most prevalent answer from the “experts” was that these were young men who were disenchanted with their lives and were looking for some kind of an adventure that had a purpose (other than earning money). They were looking for a cause and excitement was pretty much the answer.

I have a little problem with this answer. Who raises their children to think women are chattel to be owned, raped, and enslaved? Who thinks wanton murder of even fellow Muslims is justified in some fantasy holy state where your actions only prove that you belong back with Attila the Hun? Who thinks that dissent is a capital offense?

Oh, I will give you that America has its problems, and hypocrisy is abundant all around us. I will give you that many young people have taken shallow to a whole new shallowness of the right friends, the right cloths, selfies with celebrities. There is injustice everywhere and prejudice thrives. But you can do something about it. You can have a real purposeful life helping other people and righting wrongs.

So why do you become the epitome of injustice and intolerance? How do you throw off your sense of right and wrong, human dignity, or our one great accomplishment, tolerating diversity better than any country in the world? How does reverting to barbarism rate as an adventure and gives meaning to life?

I don’t think lacking a fulfilling life and looking for an adventure explains any of it. I think we have to look deeper. While we have our problems, the problem is not us, but them. They are horribly flawed human beings. They seem to have no moral compass or compassion for their fellow man. Something is very wrong with these young men and I don’t think we have put our finger on it yet.

Wondering if Our Constitutional System Works Anymore

“Congress is deadlocked”. Not really, Republicans refuse to govern. If you look at many issues that the majority of American people want to see resolved, and we actually have legislation that they are for, why can’t it get passed? I could mention immigration, minimum wage, equal pay for women, etc. But “Congress” is not holding these things up, Republicans are.

The Constitutional problem is that Republicans are no longer representative of the majority. This has resulted from gerrymandering in the states where more people voted for democrats that republicans in the last election, yet Republicans hold 33 more seats than Democrats.

Then there is the problem in the Senate where you get two Senators from each state with equal voting power but representing unequal populations. My vote in California has 1/50 the power of the vote of a citizen of Wyoming. Add to that, the use of the filibuster so that now it takes 60 votes, mostly controlled by a minority of our citizens to pass anything, and the Senate doesn’t work any more.

Then there is our electoral college of electing presidents that again favors small population states and can result in the popular vote being overridden by the electoral college vote. And it can be gamed. Do you let the number of electoral votes you have all go for the majority vote candidate, or do you split up the electoral votes according to the vote split? Why we don’t just let the popular vote decide is beyond me.

But today we have the ultimate example of how our constitutional government does not function. Several Congresspersons, and a bipartisan group to boot, are appealing to John Boehner to debate whether further action in Syria and Iraq should in fact be authorized by Congress. Since the Constitution in the War Powers Clause says only Congress can declare war, it would seem fitting.

The War Powers Act, passed in 1973, (which some argue might be unconstitutional) requires the President to get a resolution authorizing the use of force from Congress within 60 days of initiating hostilities with a full disclosure of facts in the process. So these few Congresspersons are saying let’s do this right.

But the conventional wisdom is that nothing will come of it. While lawmakers love to criticize the President for his actions, they refuse to stand up for what it is they would do. Remember Syria? The President asked for Congressional authority to attack Assad and it died in limbo. They won’t vote on this one either because it is easier to Monday-morning quarterback than it is to take responsibility for ones actions.

So that is what we have come to. A Congress who does not reflect the majority interests of this country, focused on their own longevity, not the good of the country, buoyed up by money in politics, eschewing science and real data, and refusing to do anything that might offend their minority base that gets them elected. And we are surprised government doesn’t work anymore? The real question is are we ever going to do anything about it.

We Don’t Need No Stink’in Health Care or EPA

Apparently Mitch McConnell, scum of the earth, was caught in a conversation with the Koch brothers on how if the Republicans win the Senate they will defund Obamacare, financial regulation, and the EPA:

Kentuckians may find themselves chagrined to learn that McConnell promised the Kochs and their friends that he would intensify gridlock if Republicans win control of the Senate. While legislation requires 60 votes, he noted, budget bills only require a simple majority, and he promised to attach “riders” defunding Obamacare, financial regulation laws and the entire Environmental Protection Agency to any spending bill — riders that President Obama would likely veto, which could trigger another government shutdown. (Salon.com)

Really Republicans? Every study we have shows Obamacare has insured millions and is reducing the cost of healthcare through competition on the exchanges and you want to kill it? Oh, and you want to return to the good old days of hazardous waste dumping, and expediting global warming and extreme weather effects? Is this who you are? Are you so ideologically driven that you will destroy America to be pure? Of course you are. Republicans are evil.

“Guns Don’t Kill, People Do”

The famous talking point from all guns rights nut jobs. Did you see the video of the young child being taught how to shoot an Uzi and loosing control of the gun and killing their instructor? Two questions: Why would a child need to know how to fire an uzi? This does not seem to lead to a good outcome. Second, wasn’t the gun who killed, not the child? Third question: When are we going to start treating our insanity about guns?

Follow on to “Obama Is About To …”

Paul Krugman was opining about European failed economic policy and never ending austerity and said the following:

I’ll try to produce a more systematic analysis later today or tomorrow; but does anyone think that the Élysée Palace has a well-thought-out vision of how ever more austerity is going to produce a French renaissance? It’s just stumbling along day by day, waiting for something to turn up — when it’s much more likely that everything will turn down instead.

“It’s just stumbling along day by day, waiting for something to turn up” sums up what most of us think is going on in this country also.

Obama Is About To …

Talk about an image problem. But maybe the image sums up the man. I have opined here that in many things it appears that President Obama lacks a there there. My definition is a gut instinct about the right thing to do that allows a leader lead. Now granted many of the problems that face him are complex and actions have unintended consequences (blow back) so careful consideration is not a bad thing. But what we get is headline after headline of him considering action:

  • President Obama is nearing a decision on authorizing airstrikes …
  • Obama wants new ISIS war plan ASAP
  • Who can forget the wavering over Syria

And that is just today. One gets this image of someone who is looking for a plan, any plan, not someone who knows what the end game should be which then defines the plan. It also paints a giant mural of someone in the reactive mode.

Now this may not be fair, but it is the reality and is 90% of why most Americans have ambivalent feelings about this President. Remember George Bush? Almost everything he was doing was crazy, but he did it with decisiveness and until the war went south, he was loved. Dick Cheney was the master of confidence and we followed him off a cliff.

Certainly our way forward in the Middle East is complex and difficult. Let’s hope that he realizes that the generals are not the best advisors of a way forward. And that in itself is an indication that he seems not to have a sense of the real underlying social makeup of the region that is going to drive the solution, not just the battles. Military strategy should be defined by our political strategy, not the other way around.

This bleeds over into his handling of the economy and pivoting from jobs to the debt when the Republicans changed the conversation. His approach on many issues is to lay out some framework of an idea, and then let Congress fill in the details (assuming Congress works). Now, again that is not a bad strategy if they hate everything you do and if it is their idea, they might support it (turns out they won’t). But again it leaves this giant image of a man who is an arbitrator, not a leader. And America yearns for a leader.

Think about it. On the right who have we seen arise (and go) as leaders. People who put up simple (sometimes moronic) solutions to problems with a sense of self confidence that soars tall buildings with a single bound. Think Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, John McCain, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz. All these people have stood up for their ideas when their ideas did not stand up to even cursory examination. But they project confidence so their ideas must be right. There is no there there in what they want to do, but there is there there in their belief we should do them.

For President Obama, I don’t think it is just an image problem, I think that is who he is. There is no way I can reconcile his stance on torture (look forward not back), secrecy, drone strikes, pursuing leakers and harassing the press, his abandonment of progressive economics to buy into the Republican’s debt fear mongering, his “grand bargain”, redacting of the Senate Torture Report, his lack of moral courage regarding the kids on the border, and his aggressive deportation policy so sooth the Republican waters so maybe they can get an immigration deal.

What is missing in all this is a grand principle that defines his policies. He reacts to problems by looking for solutions instead of standing up for a principle that defines a solution and selling it to America so we know where we are going. I guess it is really hard to be the Grand Arbitrator when one side won’t agree to agree. Then you had better have a plan based upon a vision of where we want and need to be. Seen any grand plan for America? Well, we have Paul Ryan’s vision.

Some Dumb Questions

First on my list is the claim by some black activists that there must be justice for Michael Brown and that includes charges, a trial, and a conviction.  My question is that if he is guilty, why have a trial at all?  There is something wrong in my mind of claiming justice requires the verdict you demand.  Justice requires an open and fair trial, not a guilty verdict.  But that gets me to the next question.

I am seeing the ads for GoFundMe to give to Darren Wilson’s defense fund.  Now I think everyone deserves reasonable counsel, but most of these supporters have also prejudged the whole incident and claim him innocent.  I have a hard time reconciling that with six shots at least (we don’t know how many were fired, how many missed) into a man who had no weapon and was fleeing the scene can be seen as anything but murder.  Maybe manslaughter, but how can you ignore what we do know about this to claim innocence and just doing his job?  Maybe facts don’t matter on either side.

Then there was the statement in the news around ISIS (ISIL, your choice).  The question was will rooting out ISIS in Syria bring in the U.S. military?  That is the wrong question.  It should be “should it”.  My thinking right now is that the answer is no.  That might not apply to advisors and trainers, but no direct combat.  If we enter, we become the problem as the invading infidel instead of ISIS and their butchery.  We make the war more sectarian.  So we need to do what we can do behind the scenes and support our allies, but it is their battle to fight.  Remember that if ISIS is successful and take land, military resources, then targets become much easier to discern from guerrillas hiding among the population.

I actually think if we can contain ISIS, they will fail from their own weight.  We have seen that our military intervention (boots on the ground) simply puts a lid on the problem, and eventually it blows off.  So the policy forward would be to walk our talk about freedom and liberty.  Help nations move forward, free women to vote and choose, provide humanitarian support, and only when necessary, apply air power to hold ISIS in check.  Let them stew in their own juices.  Winning territory is a different thing from holding it if you are alienating your captives.

Oh, and I think making any deal with Assad is the road to purgatory.

A Real Tax Reform Proposal

An economist I don´t usually agree with said something today I agree with. The economist was N. Gregory Mankiw. He proposed to fix the corporate tax rate (and all the companies establishing tax havens in other countries) by repealing it completely and replace it with a tax on consumption (Value Added Tax (VAT)). Companies were doing what is called tax inversions so that they can move and keep their money off shore.

Now he got part of his argument wrong, saying that companies were fleeing because of America’s sky high tax rate. The reality is none of them pay it, and pay around 12% or less and as chronicled earlier, the reason they are fleeing is because they are shipping money overseas and don’t want to pay tax on it, not because of the tax rate here.

Now Mankiw recognizes that the U.S. taxes income earned in other countries where most of the rest of the top economies use what is called a territorial corporate tax. The income is taxed in the country it is earned. The United States taxes all income, no matter where it is earned. But then he makes and interesting proposition:

So here’s a proposal: Let’s repeal the corporate income tax entirely, and scale back the personal income tax as well. We can replace them with a broad-based tax on consumption. The consumption tax could take the form of a value-added tax, which in other countries has proved to be a remarkably efficient way to raise government revenue.
Some may worry that a flat consumption tax is too easy on the rich or too hard on the poor. But there are ways to address these concerns. One possibility is to maintain a personal income tax for those with especially high incomes. Another is to use some revenue from the consumption tax to fund universal fixed rebates — sometimes called demogrants. Of course, the larger the rebate, the higher the tax rate would need to be.

Would it ever happen in a country where the vested interests including corporations actually like the present tax system . I doubt it, but it is what most of the rest of the world is doing. There must be something there.

Major Quake (6.0) in Napa

I am getting a few reports from friends who work over there that there is major wine damage (think about barrels stacked 5 high or higher). It will be interesting (and sad) to find out what the real damage is other than just buildings. But here is what you really want to be thinking about: Fire.

In Napa, firemen reported to fires started by the quake (I assume due to broken gas lines) in a trailer park and because of the broken water mains throughout the Napa area, there was not enough water pressure to fight the fires. If we get the big one in the Bay Area, fire may be the real problem. Shades of 1906. More to put into your disaster planning hat.