Monday, December 24, 2012

Taxation and Deadlock

On the night of July 14, 1789.
Louis XVI: "Why, it is a revolt."
Duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt: "No, Sire, it is a revolution."

In 1789 the French monarchy was, to put it plainly, broke. The government of the richest country in Europe had no money. The costs of helping the Americans win their independence from England had been ruinous, but the intervention had been successful. However, the treasury was empty. In 1787 Louis XVI called a meeting of the nobility called the Assembly of Notables and asked them for help in solving the financial problem. The nobles at the assembly were so shocked at the extent of the debt that they rejected any attempts to solve it. In desperation the government of Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates General, which had not met since 1614, to ask it to levy new taxes. Instead of voting by each member, the monarch allowed the Estates General to vote by Estate - the three estates being the nobility, the Church, and the lower classes. Since the Church was staffed by the younger sons of the nobility, any vote on increased taxes on the nobility, the richest class in France, would be two to one. The people of Paris, joined by the elements of the army, stormed the Bastille, a symbol of royal authority, on July 14, 1789.
I often think of this historical chain of events when I hear of the budget deadlock between the administration and the House of Representatives. We live in the richest country on Earth and yet our government cannot raise enough tax money to finance its programs. It must continually borrow. Yet attempts to raise taxes are met with unyielding resistance. The reason we have the deficit is that we didn't tax enough before 2012; the political resolve simply was not there. Now the only answer that one party will accept is cutting domestic programs antithetical to its ideology, which a majority of Americans will not agree to.
Me included.

Monday, December 17, 2012

George F. Will YET AGAIN

George F. Will - YET AGAIN

"When liberals' presidential nominees consistently fail to carry Kansas, liberals do not rush to read a book titled "What's the Matter with Liberals' Nominees?" No, the book they turned into a bestseller is titled "What's the Matter with Kansas?" Notice a pattern here?"

Perfect reasoning, George. Would you apply it to the losers of the 2012 presidential election? The lessons you will draw can be instructive.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

George F. Will AGAIN!

George F. Will AGAIN!

"In economics, rent-seeking is an attempt to obtain economic rent [for our purposes, profit. ed.] by manipulating the social and political environment in which economic activities occur, rather than by creating new wealth.

Rent-seeking implies extraction of uncompensated value from others without making any contribution to productivity.
--from Wikipedia

"The Michigan Watershed on Right to Work" by George F. Will

"By becoming the 24th right-to-work state, Michigan is belatedly becoming serious about what Daniel Boorstin, the late historian and Librarian of Congress, called entrepreneurial federalism. This is the wholesome competition among states to emulate others’ best practices and to avoid and exploit others’ follies."

Ah, that last sentence. On the surface, so reasonable, so just, so far-sighted. But then a reader must realize that what George Will is talking about is giving tax breaks, tax, incentives, tax forgiveness to companies that re-locate, the brashest, most blatant form of rent-seeking (see above). Their re-location dos not add wealth. It merely extracts value from the ordinary taxpayer to provide even more profit for the owners/stockholders ... with no addition to productivity.

Nice work, if you can get it.     

What a wonderful exemplar of capitalism is George Will.

George F. Will

Call it masochism. Yes, masochism. I can find no other explanation for reading George F. Will's columns. They are sometimes comical in their faux seriousness and simpleton logic i.e. "Most U.S. wars have been fought with military mass sustained by military might." Wow! You think? Sometimes even ribald i.e. "'Gosh!' Says Roosevelt on Death of Yamamoto." Amazing!! Maybe it's their formulaic quality: first a reference to ancient wisdom, then exercises in erudite vocabulary, then the an obvious moral conclusion. A great simplifier, this. We read quotations from Plato,Aristotle, Montaigne, Jonathan Swift, Churchill, , all in service of explaining conservative, or what passes for conservative, Republican truths: tax increases on the wealthy are always bad; government control of the economy is always bad except in the case of defense expenditures and in the case of subsidies to industry. Sometimes our armchair Feldherr even comments on our military i.e. "When you set out to take Baghdad, take Baghdad." (A paraphrase of Napoleon. No mention was ever made of what happened after Baghdad was taken.) Then the pretension to erudition - more nonsense: "although prostrate from its [the state of California] own profligacy..." Big words, small ideas. The state of California is broke not because of profligacy but because of the recession, brought on by the profligacy of banks, and an idiotic property tax law, which keeps rates, especially on commercial property, extremely low. Is it a surprise that the state treasury has no money? Only to jejune George and his cohorts. Now we come to the moralizing, the appeal to right, truth, justice and the American Way. The comment on the demise of Twinkies, "If, however, Twinkies and perhaps other Hostess brands retain value, the market will say so, and someone will produce them...Business moves to states that make them welcome." First, the appeal to sweet reason and then economic truths that only the "market" can demonstrate. Yet these arbiters of logic, the markets, do not operate unfettered unless in the service of industry and the wealthy. The recent New York Times article on state subsidies to industry...oops I meant tax rebates, tax incentives, property tax relief... is clear proof. The state of Texas alone underwrites its industries with a 19.2 billion dollar tax subsidy. Yes, markets are really not trusted to work, ah, ah, they have to have a little help from the taxpayer. And that is the subtext of George's remarks, "Business moves to states that make them welcome." Or, to put it into MBAese, "Subsidies, here we come."

Now gentle George comments ["A Case for Targeted Killing", December 9, 2012, the Washington Post] that targeted killings via drones is a valid and legal aspect of the new realities of war. He says that John Yoo, intellectual pimp of the W administration, has written a brilliant guide to targeted killings in "Assassination or Targeted Killings after 9/11." Yoo notes that these murders "further the goals of the laws of war by eliminating the enemy and reducing harm to innocent civilians." This contributes to the war effort in today's "undefined war with a limitless battlefield." Because the enemy "resembles a network, not a nation", they can hide among the civilian population and have no large and targetable command and control apparatus.

Do the above strictures apply to, say, the resistance movement in Poland in World War II? Certainly the structure of the Polish Home Army (Armia Krakowa, or AK) resembled "a network, not a nation". And it could and did hide among the civilian population while carrying out sabotage of German installations and railways. For the Nazis it was a "undefined war with a limitless battlefield" especially because they planned to annihilate 85% of the population of Poland to settle the empty land. Viewed from a German perspective the Poles were enemies; before the war even began, Hitler ordered that professors, intellectuals, church officials and other leaders be executed in order to, as Yoo notes, "demoraliz[e] the enemy, prevent...planning, sow...confusion and drain...the reservoir of experience." He wanted the Polish population to be a "leaderless mass of laborers." Sounds like Yoo to me.

Stalin also subscribed to Yoo theory for he murdered thousands of Polish officers and other Polish leaders in the Katyn Forest Massacre in 1940; thereafter the Soviet state would have little to fear from the Polish populace; their natural leaders would be dead.

("Of the total killed [22,000, est.] about 8000 were officers taken prisoner during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, another 6000 were police officers with the rest being Polish intelligentsia arrested for allegedly being 'intelligence agents. gendarmes, landowners, saboteurs, factory owners, lawyers, officials, and priests." ) - from Wikipedia.

Indeed, this massacre "demoraliz[ed] enemy, prevent[ed] planning, sow[ed] confusion and drain[ed] the reservoir of experience. Yes, all this has John Yoo justified.

While George Will addresses both the implications and results of both Yoo's article and their applications, he ducks the most essential issue, the absolute center of this question. Put simply, DOES IT WORK?

Does assassination demoralize the enemy, does it prevent planning, does it sow confusion, does it drain the reservoir of experience? To some degree all of the latter are true, but the point that Yoo misses is that this does not win a war, other leaders will emerge, the questions that began the conflict have not been resolved - targeted killings, while militarily and technologically attractive, cannot and will not bring conflict to a close. What our country wants, George and John, is not a continuing low-level conflict, but instead a resolution of struggle and achievement of peace.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Entitlements and All That Jazz

Entitlements and All That Jazz

"An entitlement is a guarantee of access to benefits based on established rights or by legislation."

--from Wikipedia

"In economics, rent-seeking is an attempt to obtain economic rent [for our purposes, profit. ed.] by manipulating the social and political environment in which economic activities occur, rather than by creating new wealth.

Rent-seeking implies extraction of uncompensated value from others without making any contribution to productivity.

--from Wikipedia

The United States of Subsidies, a New York Times state-by-state report, December 1, 2012


Wisconsin spends at least 1.53 billion per year on incentive programs, according to the most recent data available. That is, roughly: $268 per capita; 10¢ per dollar of the state budget.

Top incentives by type

1. $957 million in Sales tax refund, exemptions, and other sales tax


2. $416 million in Property tax abatement.

3. $107 million in Corporate income tax credit, rebate, or reduction.

Grants to Wisconsin Companies [Top Three of over 600. Ed.]

Mercury Marine Fond du Lac 2011 $65 million in Corporate

tax credit, rebate, or


Kohesion Fond du Lac 2012 $62.5 million in Corporate

tax credit, rebate, or


Quad Graphics Sussex 2011 $46 million in Corporate

tax credit, rebate, or


Tax credits, rebates, incentives, abatements, discounts, all sound like subsidies to me. And they fall under the definition of entitlements (see above) We have a semantics problem here. If money is given to needy individuals, it is an entitlement and thus a subsidy. Something to feared and loathed for it does not produce wealth and promotes indolence and waste. However, if money is given to corporations and companies [corporations and companies are individuals under the law, vide Supreme Court decision, 1879] through our tax system, then it is tax credit, rebate, incentive, abatement, discount, take your pick. Ahh, then do the latter produce wealth and production? Do they foster hard work, diligence, innovation? Could corporations be rent-seekers via the tax codes?

It has been argued that these tax subsidies are necessary to keep corporations and companies in a particular state, else they would move elsewhere. But then this is the crassest form of rent-seeking (see above), a blatant example of taking advantage of political arrangements to extract wealth without investment, growth, or increased production. The question needs to be asked: who is the "maker" and who is the "taker" here?

Texas, that home of Republican orthodoxy and old-fashioned free enterprise, subsidizes its corporations to the tune of 19.1 billion dollars. Capitalism in Wisconsin only costs 1.53 billion.

This problem might be addressed by making the tax credits temporary loans. Each year a tax credit from a previous tax year, ten years ago, would be forgiven. If the corporation wished to move out of state, it would have to re-pay f the subsidies for the previous ten years. If it wished to declare bankruptcy and then move, the law of limited liability would not apply.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Am I Missing Something?

Am I Missing Something?     

On December 5, 2012, Jack Shakely wrote in the L.A. Times:

       "In February 2003, 450 economists, including 10 of the 24 living Nobel laureates in economics, made a public plea to President George W. Bush not to enact the recent tax cuts passed by Congress. These tax cuts, officially called the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 but forever known as the Bush-era tax cuts, would not do what they promised, the economists argued. Instead, they said, the cuts would "worsen the budget deficit, increase inequality, decrease the ability of the U.S. government to fund essential services, while failing to produce economic growth."
        In the nearly 10 years that have elapsed since that plea, the budget deficit has ballooned, the gap between the wealthy and the middle class has expanded, and the American economy has spiraled into the greatest decline since the Depression. History has proved that the 450 economists were correct. On Dec. 31, these same Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire. This, we are told in hushed or hysterical tones, could push the American economy off a "fiscal cliff.""

After reading these paragraphs I have to ask myself: am I missing something here? Is there a hidden meaning, a subtle sub-text, an encoded message that only the chosen few, all Republicans, can successfully interpret?

I think not.

A tax policy that has failed so egregiously deserves to die.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Big Government et al

December 2, 2012

It has been about three weeks since I wrote anything in this blog. I keep thinking about topics to explore but never seem to get around to them. Well, today, a rainy, windy Sunday in early December, I decided to write.

I have noted that George F. Will and the Republican Party think that government is too big, that it stifles innovation, and taxes too much. Its very size is the problem, that is, if it shrank and left the public space it now occupies, entrepreneurs would flood in, produce wealth from their hard work and ideas, and thus increase tax revenues. However, this fear of bigness qua bigness is confined only to government. These men don't fear large corporations and large banks which would occupy the public space vacated by government. In order for these behemoths to exist, they too must stifle innovation for not all innovation is profitable. They would settle on one model which maximized profits and keep to that model - as have all large U.S. corporations and banks. As to stifling freedom, yes, governments must regulate large, populated communities and must continue to do so. We have to have restrictions on stock sales and trading as well as stop signs. Governments regulate what can and can't be sold to an unsuspecting public - we don't want batteries that blow up, tires that shred, rotted wood sold as new. But large corporations like the concept of the "market" which presumably would force shoddy merchandise off the shelves. But would it?

Besides, as John Kenneth Galbraith showed in 1967, no longer do corporate behemoths obey the buy-and-sell rules of markets. They create their own markets and pretty much set prices without regard to the public.

What I think these men want is for corporate America to run the economy, a corporate America that would protect itself first from any downturns or recessions. This means that the rhetoric about big government is really about power, who will control, who will set the rules, who will mete out justice, in our economy and in our polity.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Lack of Leadership

From a book review of The Generals by Thomas Rick in the Wall Street Journal, October 29, 2012

"It is Mr. Ricks's contention - this is a highly contentious book - that American postwar generalship has been severely sub standard not just in recent years but for much of the six decades separating Dwight Eisenhower from David Petraeus."

I agree with this contention, but extend it to the whole realm of American political leadership since, oh say, Dwight Eisenhower, who seemed to understand what the concept, president of all the people, was about. I can't say that about any subsequent president. The only one who could get things done in Washington was Lyndon Johnson, who was ridiculed, mocked and scorned, not only for his Texas rural affectations, but also for the entry into the Vietnamese civil war, which had erupted in 1946 and continued. Yet he didn't want to enter that war, documents now show. He found he could appease the Republican right wing with anything other than war. This same right wing savaged the Democratic Party in the early Fifties for "losing" China to the Communists. Lyndon Johnson, an able man. John F. Kennedy, a handsome popular leader who didn't get much done. Richard Nixon, he who was described as "complex", a euphemism for neurotic. Jimmy Carter, who tried to tell the truth many times, but the country laughed at him. In 1979 he warned about our dependence on foreign oil. Fast forward to 1012: our Middle East policy is little more than maintaining political stability in order to maintain the stable flow of oil. Ronald Reagan, the apostle of the Right, who did little except spend money without raising taxes. Our first trillion dollar budget occured on his watch along with the first negative balance of payments. George H.W. Bush, nothing need be said. Bill Clinton, articulate, glib, bright, but not a great leader. Then we have George W. Bush, a well-meaning but rather stupid man who started two wars and did not want to burden the electorate by paying for them.

These men have been our leaders since 1960. No one can claim that they were great, far-seeing, or particularly gifted. In fact the Bushes come across as less than mediocre.

Many historians, from Gregory of Tours to Edward Gibbon to Michael Grant, have speculated about why the Roman Empire, so powerful, so efficient, so rich, finally dissolved in the early fifth century. Its passing resembled the slow death of great animal, the outer parts first succumbing followed by the stopping of the heart. But a great nineteenth century German historian, Theodor Mommsen, claimed that the end of the empire came surely but slowly because of what he called the "Ausrottung des Besten", basically the extermination of the best of the Romans, those who could have provided leadership and guidance through difficult times. These sorts of leaders ceased to appear in Roman political life, and the Roman state began to be less able to handle the crises that befell it.

Perhaps this is happening in our time too.


"Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, "the American people", as in the sentence, "I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people." It's a scintillating stratagem ... The words "the American people" provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable."

Harold Pinter quoted in Rainbow Pie by Joe

Bageant. November 3, 2012

I copied this quote from Rainbow Pie by Joe Bageant. Pinter is right: politicians, presidents, and others use this incantation, for that is what it is, to justify whatever current madness or failed program they espouse. And yes, you don't need to think, the incantation is uttered to paralyse intelligence and intellection.

Secondly, I must say that for years now I've had the feeling that the U.S.A. is off course, that we careening through a deep darkness toward an unknown end, probably terrible. My question is ever: how did this come about? Joe Bageant in Deer Hunting with Jesus and Rainbow Pie has at least started to provide answers. First, the continuing erosion of American ideals such as craftmanship and hard work. Now I'm not talking about the 40-year-old guy on the next block who is getting Social Security, is still working, and has inherited his father's house and money. Yes, he is an example of the rot in our society, but where did he learn such behavior? It is clear that he only has to look at JP Morgan and Citigroup to learn the fine art of criminality, wrongdoing, and simple villainy. Has everyone already forgotten about "robosigning"? That's FRAUD. Transferring rotten mortgages from their account books to Fannie Mae, saying that the mortgagee had met all requirements? Managers simply filled in income blanks with whatever number was needed. When Fannie Mae had the mortgages, then the taxpayer, not Countrywide Financial or Wells Fargo, was responsible. That too is FRAUD. So far as I know only three or so people have been prosecuted for these offenses. But my government takes taxes from my every pay check to cover these criminal acts. So, where did the 40-year-old down the block learn to be deceitful, learn to use foul tricks, learn to manipulate? And no one has been punished. What a sweet game!

Sunday, October 28, 2012


October 28, 2012


I guess I'm just a pessimist. I don't see a rosy future for our country and our people. Our high school students know less and less and seem to be proud of that. I've lectured in a university near here and I can testify that the freshmen/sophomores are often woefully unprepared for university studies, at least so I believe. The present recession promises to hang on for at least another four years - not surprising since the Great Depression did not end in the U.S.A. until 1942. And like the aftermath of the Great Depression, our economy is changing, in what direction I know not, but it is re-aligning, reacting to the new pressures of a global economy. All this means that unemployment will remain at historic highs with the concomitant decrease in tax revenues, which means even less money for schools, roads, sewers and other infrastructure.

Yes, the future does not seem rosy.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The M-C Virus

I wrote this short letter to a friend, who was down and needed a laugh.

Dear _______, You told me that you were depressed, fatigued, and blue. I know that you watch a bit of TV so let me ask you some questions.

DO you watch "The Mentalist" and enjoy it?

DO you watch movie trailers and jot down the release dates?

DO you find yourself thinking about the "real choices in toilet paper?"

DO you walk around your house sniffing, then thinking about Glade air fresheners?

DO you spend time thinking about the best way to mop your kitchen floor?

DO you think that "Boniva" ads are cute and/or informative?

DO you believe that using Ambien ([high pitched voice] "that cute little butterfly") is a better sleep remedy than a bottle of MD 20-20?

DO you believe that NBC Nightly News with Brian Anderson represents TRUTH, RIGHT, JUSTICE, and the AMERICAN WAY?

DO you consider the contestants on "Survivor" to be a stunningly accurate cross-section of sober, earnest Americans?

DO you get up in the morning and immediately turn on the TV to get the "latest in late-breaking news?"

If you answered "yes" to ANY of the above ten questions, you have been infected with the far-feared M-C virus!

This virus, aka as the Mindless-Clueless Virus, was discovered by Dr. Prolegomeous Vagina after interviewing selected adults and high school seniors in Bumfuck, Idaho. He immediately noted the vacuity, the witless stares, the repetition of simple self-serving ideas, i.e. I hungry, I need a Coke, where are the drugs?, and what he called "general moral laxness".
The virus manifests itself around television sets and is spread by the breath expelled in useless, stupid talk. The disease vectors seem to congregate in Walmart, K-Mart and Target stores with minor outbreaks at McDonald's and Burger King. Several analysts have suggested staying away from especially dumb movies because of the frequent flare-up of the pest in their vicinity. For as yet unknown reasons people who use cell phones while driving are also at risk.

Some common strategies to avoid the M-C virus

Read a book in public (not the Bible or the Rapture series)

Spread a rumor that any medicine advertised on TV causes crotch warts.

Avoid Walmart, K-Mart, and Target stores and any fast-food outlets.

Avoid any TV show whose advertising includes the sentence, "I can't wait for the glamor."

Tell people you are no longer listening to any "batshit" crazy politicians, e.g.
Michelle Bachman, Paul Ryan, Ron Paul.

Disinfect your cell phone with a flame thrower.

And, lastly, before his commitment to the Sweet Home Medical Institute for the Benefit of the Sick, Insane, and Drooping Poor, Dr. Vagina recommended the use of fire to eradicate the virus: first,napalm; then, atomic weapons.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Short Note to George F. Will

Today I sent a short email to George F. Will at the Washington Post.  I've mailed him comments before and he hasn't replied. 

To George F. Will: 

In your column of October 5th, 2012, you stated:

"America can be the society it was when it had a spring in its step, a society in which markets — the voluntary collaboration of creative individuals — allocate opportunity."

Could you apply this statement to the defense budget of the U.S., which is an allocation of resources to defense contractors and their supporters. It does not have free markets but it does have creative individuals, not the least of which, for example, is Senator Orrin Hatch, who makes certain that taxpayer dollars flow to Thiokol in Utah. Whether or not this vast expenditure contributes to the safety and security of the U.S. is problematical, vide the unending war in Afghanistan and the truly wretched situation in Iraq. While these foreign adventures may or may not have put a spring in the step of defense contractors, it does contribute to the ever-increasing national debt (remember that?).

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Attack on Benghazi

The Attack in Benghazi

October 1, 2012

On Thursday, September 27, 2012, the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial pointing out the inadequacies of the Obama administration in dealing with the attack on the consulate of Benghazi. First, it was inadequately defended, second, U.S. intelligence organs had received clear warnings of planned attacks, third, the administration tried to cover up its mistakes... You get the picture.

But the penultimate paragraph was a revelation: basically it was one long whine about how the media, and by extension, the American people, strain to make the efforts of Obama both legitimate and appropriate, but, by implication, hold Republicans to a higher standard. It's worth quoting.

"Imagine the uproar, if, barely a month before Election Day, the Bush administration had responded to a terrorist strike - on September 11 no less - in this fashion. Obfuscating about what happened. Refusing to acknowledge that clear security warnings were apparently ignored. Then trying to shoot the messengers who bring these inconvenient truths to light in order to talk about anything but a stunning and deadly attack on U.S. sovereignty."

During the first seven months of the Bush administration, it received numerous warnings of a pending attack. It only released one of those intelligence briefings, saying the date and time of the attack were not specified. I guess the administration couldn't act unless it knew exact date and time, which the Arabs most ungratefully had not provided. This may be viewed as part of their evil, demonic natures.

"Obfuscating about what happened." Bush and his coterie then blamed the attack on Islamic fundamentalists who were envious of American virtue, justice and love of truth. To thinking persons around the world it was obvious that this was a direct consequence of America's unswerving support of Israel. Those planes, tanks, bombs, and other weapons which are used with such deadly effect on Arab populations were sent to Israel by the Americans. What is really surprising is that this attack on America, a privileged sanctuary (read: arsenal), didn't occur sooner. And this obfuscation continues.

"Refusing to acknowledge that clear security warnings were apparently ignored." One American intelligence group, frustrated by Bush's lack of attention and sense of urgency, thought about a mass resignation, dismissing the idea only after considering that there were no replacements.

"Then trying to shoot the messengers who bring these inconvenient truths to light in order to talk about anything but a stunning and deadly attack on U.S. sovereignty." The single intelligence briefing that was published was released only in 2004, only after public pressure. The Bush administration didn't want anybody, let alone messengers, to learn of its incompetence. And then, of course, remember Valerie Palme? For that "Scooter" Libby had to fall on his sword.

With this paragraph the Wall Street Journal has published a powerful indictment of President Bush and his advisers. The editors may have aimed their blow at President Obama, but it is Bush they struck.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Homeless

September 24, 2012

The Homeless

Today I drove to Santa Maria to pick up some class materials and to get a parking sticker for my car. While there, I got gas at one of those huge discount stations. At the exit toward the main street, a very tanned man with a straggly beard and unkempt hair stood. His clothes were blue, a pullover blue shirt, somewhat dirty, and a pair of blue denim pants, also dirty. He held a sign saying "Homeless, please help."

I don't know anything about this man, his problems, or how he got to his present station in life. But I do know that he was a beggar, yes, a beggar. Previous to my return to the U.S. in 2006, I had seen beggars only in India, an overpopulated, poor country. But here in the U.S., the richest country in the world by far, we now have a class of beggars. Is this someone's fault? Can they be helped? If so, how?

I thought back and the first time I saw beggars was in Portland, OR, in 1986, during the Reagan administration. At that time the government closed halfway houses and other care facilities for the mildly disturbed forcing them into the streets. Turning a corner my car was intercepted by one of these and he beat on it, mouthing obscenities.

It's gotten worse since then.

U.S.A. and Iran

September 24, 2012
U.S.A. and Iran

Pankaj Mishra, author of "From the Ruins of Empire: "The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia", wrote in the September 24th edition of the New York Times:

"There is little doubt that years of disorder lie ahead in the Middle East as different factions try to gain control. The murder of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Libya, the one American success story of the Arab Spring, is an early sign of the chaos to come; it also points to the unpredictable consequences likely to follow any Western intervention in Syria — or Iran.
As in Southeast Asia in 1975, the limits of both American firepower and diplomacy have been exposed. Financial leverage, or baksheesh, can work only up to a point with leaders struggling to control the bewilderingly diverse and ferocious energies unleashed by the Arab Spring.
Although it’s politically unpalatable to mention it during an election campaign, the case for a strategic American retreat from the Middle East and Afghanistan has rarely been more compelling. It’s especially strong as growing energy independence reduces America’s burden for policing the region, and its supposed ally, Israel, shows alarming signs of turning into a loose cannon. "

In the last 35 years American foreign policy in the Middle East seems to have revolved around two poles: stability, to keep the oil flowing unhindered; support for Israel, no matter what. But the Arab spring swept away or severely crippled the dictatorial regimes through which the Americans worked. Political change came in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, and, yes, Iraq. The political climate was especially affected by events in Egypt, long an American ally, and the cultural leader in the Arab world - most Arab movies, for example, are made in Egypt. Thus the sudden upheaval throughout the region has threatened the first pole: stability. Simply put, if democracy as such comes to the Middle East, it will mean war with Israel, whom the Arab masses hate and despise, mainly because it is viewed as a colonial power.

The second pillar of American Middle East policy, unswerving support of Israel, is undergoing transformation, if only because Netanyahu is clearly trying to influence an American presidentlal election. It must be stated here that the foreign policy goals of the United States and Israel are not, and never can be, congruent. It is not in the interest of the United States to fight in Iran. Not only would this be more destablization, but it would starkly reveal Israeli influence on U.S. actions. Basically, Netanyahu has said "Let's you and him fight." Israel does not want another nuclear power in the Middle East (It possesses an estimated 50 atomic weapons and 3 thermonuclear devices). Of course, Israeli claims that these devices would only be used in defense. But this is the precise argument that Iran makes too. And it must be noted that the U.S. does not attack opponents armed with nuclear weapons - another reason that Iran quietly cites for its pursuit of A bombs.

As Mr. Mishra states, years of disorder lie ahead in the Middle East. Keeping the peace and satisfying legitimate Arab demands for equality and justice will try the U.S. foreign policy establishment as never before.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Historical Note: the Republican Right and Its Ideas

September 19, 2012

Historical Note: the Republican Right and Its Ideas

In the NY Times of September 19, 2012, Maureen Dowd wrote:

"[Mitt Romney] seemed to have bought into the warped canard that some conservatives inside and outside of Congress have pushed: that the president and Nancy Pelosi were nefariously hooking people on unemployment benefits so they’d get addicted and vote Democratic to keep the unemployment bucks flowing like crack."

Whew! It's hard to know where to begin. But the notions above give the well-off in our society a victimhood, a narrative that can justify their meanness, their enforcement of public virtue, their sense of "us (=good)-them (=bad)", their continuance of tax privilege, their fear of dealing with equals. This attitude is but another iteration of right-wing fears. In 1935 a Republican slogan insulted President Roosevelt, his wife, black people and Jews, i.e. "You kiss the niggers, and I'll kiss the Jews, and we'll be in the White House as long as we choose." What is the above but another tired repetition of these ideas?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Social Security

September 17, 2012

Social Security

The Social Security system has changed a lot since its inception in 1935. It was originally intended to give people at 65, the age of retirement, some money to help with retirement expenses. No longer would old people be forced either to work far beyond 65 or forced into destitution. However, in the 77 years the program has changed to a catch-all social welfare system which now sends money to survivors, i.e. widows and minor children, and pays those who have suffered some permanent injury or disability that prevents them from working. The eligibility and size of the disability benefit is determined by the amount of Social Security benefits the worker has accrued. Social Security also includes Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for non-workers and children who have a permanent disability, i.e. blindness, mental problems, paralysis. SSI is means-tested, thus someone with a major disability and low income might receive the maximum benefit for the rest of their lives.

All this is funded by a tax on workers and employers based on the total wages of the worker. It is about 4%, which is shared paid equally by the worker and the employer.

Thus, this system supports a very large social welfare program, from which all society benefits, that is, our society does not have the lame, the halt and the blind begging on street corners, as was the case in the late nineteenth century. For a look at the ravages of sickness, accident, and unemployment wrought on nineteenth century socity, take a look at Wisconsin Death Trip, a compilation of newspaper clippings from Wisconsin newspapers from 1880 to 1900. It is stark and riveting.

However, the amount beyond which an individual does not have to pay FICA has been fixed at $110,100 (2012). Thus the very wealthy do not pay for the programs mentioned above; this burden is left on those below that income level. It's a very nice perk for the wealthy. They have the benefit of a functioning society that takes care of the sick and the disabled without paying for it.

Shouldn't we abolish this income requirement and tax the wealth above $110,100 to keep these program solvent?

Lastly, by a Supreme Court decision of 1879 corporations are deemed to be deathless legal persons who thus are completely protected by the Bill of Rights and all other laws pertaining to individual responsibility. They can be sued, pay fines, and sue others as any other individual. Therefore, shouldn't they have to pay Social Security taxes like anyone else?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Science and Scientific Objectivity

Our ideas about science and what it can prove or disprove have changed a lot in the last fifty years.  It is no longer that solid diamond of truth, uncovered by a nearly endless series of questions, experiments, hypotheses, comparisons and variations.  The much-vaunted scientific objectivity (cf. Max Weber) may not even exist.   The realities of nature, our mental constructs, are a great deal stranger than we have thought, or perhaps can even imagine.

“Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, and Bohr's Principle of Complementarity suggested a subtler model of truth than classical physics and Cartesian philosophy put forward. The scientific method had been premised on the clear separation of the true and the false, the observer and the observed. In these concepts, they began to blur. They suggested a model of the world in which what is seen to contingent upon where you look from, the objectivity of the spectator is undermined, observation becomes a form of involvement, and no position is detached.”
“[Heisenberg] went on to say that science is not a description of nature, but of the interaction between scientists and nature, “nature as exposed by our method of questioning.” In other words, science was a conversation whose answers depended on the questions, and the narrative, the account of the conversation, had to include the questioner. The pigeonholes which had been so central to ideals of scientific method could not encompass such a narrative.”      
Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams, pp. 140-141

Zen Proverb

Zen proverb

Possessing much knowledge is like having a thousand foot fishing line with a hook, but the fish is always an inch beyond the hook.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Kurt Eichenwald's article


September 14, 2012

Last Monday I read a short article in the New York Times by Kurt Eichwald, author of "500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars." In it he says that President Bush was amply warned of the attack of September 11th. The administration, cynically I think, only released one briefing paper, that of August 6, 2001, which stated the Bin Laden was determined to strike the United States. This was the only presidential briefing that was declassified and released. The Bush administration later claimed that it had no other information about the attack except this vague warning on August 6th, no date, no time, no place. However, that is the nature of surprise attacks: they come at a time and place no one suspected.

Eichenwald, however, cites information drawn from classified briefs and other documents: the CIA began warning the president about a surprise attack by Bin Laden in the spring of 2001. These warnings continued and continued to be ignored, despite increasing evidence that an attack was planned.. But neocons withing the administration (is he talking about Cheney?) claimed that the CIA had been fooled, that the reports were a canard planted to distract attention from Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Let it be noted that in the spring of 2001 Iraq was already on the neocon radar.

On July 24, 2001, the CIA warned that the attack had been postponed but was still on.

As we know, all these warnings were ignored.

Now it can be argued, and has been argued, that the administration was new to office and as such was deluged with plans, projections, projects, all the bureaucratic chatter that exists in large organizations. This can be overwhelming. President Bush himself was not a particulary skilled politician; his previous experience had been as governor of Texas, not a singularly difficult job. Then too, the administration was absolutely determined to "do things differently", to show the American people that great change had occurred in Washington, the hated and ineffectual Clinton years were over. The new administration was determined to go in new directions.

All of the above, in my opinion, are excuses.

Our elected leaders were put there to protect us from harm, that is their job, that is what they were elected to do. All other considerations, political or otherwise, are secondary. Bush was put there to deal with just this sort of problem.

He failed, and failed spectacularly.

Monday, September 10, 2012

I started this blog on Monday, September 10, 2012.  I just want a forum to air my opinions about contemporary affairs.  You can send brickbats and praises to