Tax and Obstruct

As immature and distorted as a tweet is likely to be, the tweets of a master can nonetheless be highly informative.

Donald Trump tweeted, “The Democrats only want to increase taxes and obstruct.” If I tweeted back, I might ask, “Which is worse – lying or deceiving by omission?” Well, the answer depends on the thoughtfulness of the reader.

Trump is absolutely correct that Democrats want to increase some taxes:

  • Democrats (at least the progressive ones) want to increase taxes on Wall St. moguls who gamble with other people’s money. When you get rich off the money of others, you should behave responsibly with it. Derivatives and all the even more risky financial instruments derived from derivatives are not exactly rational ways of investing or developing the economy.

  • Democrats want to increase taxes on socially harmful behavior: taxes are a much more effective and humane way of encouraging good behavior than jail.

  • Democrats want to increase taxes on the super-rich, who don’t even begin to compensate society for their extravagant privileges.

  • Democrats want to increase taxes on corporations that cheat on their taxes.

And we could easily propose some additional tax increases – raising taxes on war profiteers, for example.

Trump is also correct that the Democrats want to obstruct some forms of behavior:

  • Democrats want to obstruct financial corruption.

  • Democrats want to obstruct neo-Nazi, white supremacist, racist violence.

  • Democrats want to obstruct political repression of the media and attacks on responsible free speech. [Urging a mob to burn down your neighbor’s house, for example, would not be “responsible free speech.”]

  • Democrats want to obstruct divisive behavior.

  • Democrats want to obstruct efforts to undermine the independence of the judiciary.

  • Democrats want to obstruct attacks on Constitutionally mandated civil liberties.

  • Democrats want to obstruct tax policies that further enrich the super-rich at the expense of everyone else.

  • Democrats want to obstruct the twisting of the health care system into a system to coddle the rich and leave the poor behind.

  • Democrats want to obstruct war for profit.

Yes, Democrats want to increase some taxes and obstruct some nefarious plots. Democrats should thank Donald Trump for shining the spotlight on the fundamental divide separating progressive Democrats from regressive Republicans…and persist.

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Reality is of course not quite that simple. Not only are there one or two cases of Democrats still grossly beholden to Big Finance and Big Pharma and Big Oil, but shocking evidence of progressive attitudes among certain Republicans has recently come to light. Progressive Democrats would be well advised to extend their hands in friendship…

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Human Rights in the Mideast

Effective foreign policy requires convincing other regimes that you are serious. It is hard to be taken seriously if you don’t have standards, clearly expressed and fairly applied.

With the Administration’s undercutting of the Western-Iranian nuclear agreement, the current critical issue with Iran is the status of this nuclear agreement. Some have tried to confuse the issue by bringing up the state of Iranian domestic civil liberties and human rights, which should be kept completely separate from nuclear policy. If a nuclear bomb hits you, you will not be worrying any more about the human rights record of the jerk who dropped the bomb. But certainly human rights is a legitimate issue for us all to discuss, so what would be a sincere, serious approach to the problem of domestic extremism by the Iranian regime against its own people?

We might go for broke and define a human rights vision for all humanity including ourselves. Such an approach is useful, but even the U.S. refuses to support UNESCO at the moment, so–while great visions are worth evoking as goals, they tend to have limited immediate effect.

Aiming a little lower in order to make more progress in our lifetimes, define a human rights vision for the Mideast. Words are cheap–go for it.

Or, actually implement a sincere policy to promote the vision, which means treating everyone (let’s limit this to the Mideast for now) equally. The most crucial human rights crises in the Mideast at the moment include Turkish repression of its Kurds, Saudi air war in Yemen, Israeli repression of Palestinians, and Iran’s repression of all its citizens.

When Washington applies the same human rights standards to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran, then we Americans will have a foreign policy position to be proud of…an a foreign policy position that the rest of the world might actually take seriously.

Presidential Mental Decline

Given the current powers of the individual who happens to be President, national security rests on the mental capacities of that one person. The implications of gradual cognitive decline are ominous.

The 25th Amendment responded to the long overdue realization among the ruling elite that the U.S. needed a more thoughtful means of dealing with a Presidential incapacity to govern. We the People may breathe a tiny sigh of relief that this amendment is in place, but the relief it provides is more theoretical than real since the Cabinet members thereby empowered to remove a disabled President were after all selected by the President and approved rather casually by Congress.

Mental incapacity could be the instantaneous result of a stroke but is more likely to emerge gradually as brain functioning declines, with the President (like any individual) struggling both to conceal and overcome whatever decline in mental faculties he or she happens to notice. As such a decline becomes apparent to associates, their natural inclination will be to assist the President in covering up initial and perhaps arguably minor limitations. (“Do I really need even to discuss this with my doctor? I feel fine; it will go away; I can deal with it.”) And as the medical situation worsens, supporters in the know will get desperate (“The nation needs you! Don’t give up! We’ll help you!”)

It is becoming clearer every day that Congress should have considered far more carefully than it ever does whether or not the President’s top appointees have the backbone and maturity to make the decision to remove the person who personally handed them their crowning career success…simply because of mentally disturbed behavior. Traditionally, Cabinet secretarial appointments tended to be offered to people of national stature who might be expected to have the professionalism and independence to enable them to stand up to a President demonstrating mental incompetence but refusing to resign. Today, how secure would America be putting national security in the hands of the Cabinet and Vice President?

Having some understanding of the levers that a president can exercise, I worry about, frankly, you know, the access to the nuclear codes. In a fit of pique, he decides to do something about Kim Jong-un, there’s actually very little to stop him. The whole system’s built to insure rapid response if necessary. So, there’s very little in the way of controls over, you know, exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary. [James Clapper, Former Director of National Intelligence, as quoted by PBS.]

It is also becoming increasingly clear that considering the integrity of Cabinet nominees is far from sufficient: legal changes to make fundamental Presidential powers more collective are urgently needed. Presidential freedom to govern by executive order is far too open to abuse, despite a landmark effort by the Supreme Court to restrict Presidential freedom to rule by decree. Even more urgent is putting Presidential authority not just to make war (unconstitutional but now regularly used via all manner of fraudulent mechanisms giving the President personal control over a wide range of military options) but specifically to launch nuclear war. For the U.S. to be secure, the decision to launch nuclear or any other type of attack with weapons of mass destruction urgently needs to be removed from the control of a single human, since we are all inevitably susceptible to mental or physical breakdown.

In sum, we face the urgent need for implementing an imposing set of reforms:

  1. specifying some process for insuring the highest possible standards for Cabinet appointments;

  2. specifying legal restrictions on/reviews of Presidential executive orders;

  3. specifying legal measures to restrict the ability of the President unilaterally (without the consent of Congress) to engage the U.S. in military action abroad;

  4. specifying legal measures to make collective the decision to employ nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction.

Disgusting Irresponsibility

Words matter, e.g., crying fire in a crowded theater. If public personalities with particular influence over society–e.g., a CEO, a newspaperman, a politician, a government official–were knowingly to tell a lie with serious implications for justice, national security, or social stability, surely we can all agree that the guilty person should be held accountable. In the current case of alleged White House desires to enormously enhance the size of the U.S. nuclear bomb force, the danger of misinformation is equally enormous.

Congress should immediately launch a bipartisan House and Senate ethnics, intelligence, or foreign policy committee investigation to review the evidence and hold responsible anyone who lied. Be it lies about nuclear policy or efforts to censor the media, inflammatory speech by public personalities constitutes a metaphorical dropping of matches that can light real fires.

Lying

The term in office of Presidents who lie should be “challenged and, if appropriate, revoked.”

Words matter. The word of the President matters the most of all. Pay heed.

The Burden of Being in Command

You little people just don’t understand how tough it is being in command, leading a war to clean out a swamp. Obama never had so many hurricanes one after another. (“Did the Democrats do this on purpose? They couldn’t, could they?”)

When the boss has to make every decision by himself, when he cannot rely on any of his subor…(sorry) colleagues in the legislature to carry out his orders, when his employ…(sorry) Civil Servants insist upon maintaining government services that he is trying to destroy and protect liberties that his subj…(sorry) fellow citizens use to obstruct him, then that boss will be busy. He cannot do everything immediately all by himself! So have a little courtesy while the man drives his bulldozer through the Swamp.

If a hurricane imperils the lives of 3.5 million of the common people while the CE…(sorry) Great Leader is commanding a war against the NFL, well then, that is surely a shame, but a leader has to make priorities. It is totally unfair, unjust, and rude to suggest that such prioritization constitutes evidence that the man can’t manage. After all, what is more central to management than setting priorities?

And what priority could be higher than communicating, perhaps with a quick tweet readily accessible to all the commoners and carefully composed to make a point quickly and in a form sufficiently simple for all you commoners to comprehend, about the meaning of patriotism? When someone, be it a foreign thug throwing rockets around or a provincial mayor or a back-talking football player, fails to show the proper respect for the man whose very being embodies patriotism, that individual must be put in his (or her, especially her) place. Such people must not be permitted to persist.

Cut the boss some slack, already!

Dear White House…

Dear White House:

Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, addressing cadets, speaking to us all, especially you…

If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you can’t treat someone from another gender, whether that’s a man or a woman, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race or a different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.

Who Wins?

Imagine two leaders, each with the power to start a war, each grasping desperately for some way to gain domestic legitimacy despite obvious lack of leadership skills, and each terminally immature. Now, imagine that one of these bullies happens to be old and leading a status-quo superpower while the other is young and leading a tiny, poverty-stricken state focused on altering the status quo. So, the two bullies do what bullies do: they snarl at each other, dare each other, scornfully reject “talk” even though talking is exactly what they do. Neither (in this idiotic and obviously imaginary scenario) has a clue of how to implement a rational national security strategy, but each is highly skilled at winning personal battles by very loud, public talking backed up by life-long determination never, ever to let facts get in the way and never, ever backing down.

The paragraph above can be viewed as a model, highly simplified for the purpose of permitting easy analysis of the core issue. Do not read into this psychological model any implied reference to any real-life situation. Read the first paragraph again. Forget reality; just think about the facts in this little “model,” i.e., “simplification.” It is not reality. It is not meant to be reality. It is a toy, if you like that word, a scenario designed to facilitate thinking about the following question:

Who wins?”

The aged leader of a status quo superpower clinging to global supremacy puts his personal prestige on the line against the little, backwater, isolated, marginalized tough guy. Suppose they draw? Who emerges from a draw in a better position?

A “draw” in this scenario is nothing subtle. It simply means that after all the mutual mouthing-off, nothing happens…except that they each get hoarse and move on to other activities. Sound levels decline, and the world sighs in relief. So…who has won?

Phrased differently, which one can walk away smirking? The most powerful man on earth has just achieved a “draw” against some “punk.” The result is that the two bullies sneered, yelled, refused to “talk” or bow down yet neither threw a punch, and then they both stalked off.

Does the “king” now have greater international prestige? Are the citizens of the king’s country now proud of how “tough” their king is? Do they feel more secure? However they feel, in fact are they more secure?

Does the “punk” feel less personally secure in his position of leadership? Will he still be marginalized and ignored by the rest of the world after facing down the vastly more powerful “king”?

In sum, given a draw, “Who wins?”

Now, return to the model, but this time assume that war breaks out, with the predictable outcome that the weak state is crushed and surrenders. Now, who wins?

Has the “king” enhanced his reputation by provoking and winning a one-sided war that “he cannot lose?” If the “punk” lives and his state continues to exist, albeit soundly defeated, does he feel humiliated by have challenged Goliath and lost…or will he now brag that he faced down a bully, consolidate domestic power, and plan for a new confrontation?

In sum, given victory by the stronger, “Who wins?”

It hardly seems necessary to continue this analysis by considering who wins if, following a war, the weak leader manages to extract some concession despite losing.

Presidential Pardons

It is evident that the President of the U.S. can grossly misuse the power of the pardon, but beyond that, we do not seem to know much. Exactly what does this power entail?

  • Can the President pardon criminals before the normal judicial process has run its course (e.g., before they are sentenced)?

  • Can the President pardon a suspect before being tried?

  • Can the President pardon a person not yet arrested?

  • Can the President pardon a person before anyone even knows the person has committed a crime?

  • Can the President pardon someone preemptively, i.e., before they commit a crime?

  • Can the President, with a wink and a nod or by means of incendiary rhetoric, provoke someone into committing a crime and then pardon that criminal?

  • Can the President pardon himself?

  • Would that be called a “conflict of interest” with a tinge of “moral hazard”?

Harvey Was Political

The decisions to pave over the wetlands were political. The decisions to locate refineries in floodplains were political. The pretense that we are not responsible for global climate disruption is political. Politicians and corporate CEO’s arbitrarily rejected scientific understanding for personal gain. Harvey was political.

The Houston flood is political, not an act of God: it is the result of a long series of political decisions, some mistakes, many intentional efforts to place corporations ahead of people. Cities should not exist on floodplains; invaluable wetlands should not be paved over; city officials should not base flood control decisions on the incomes of the residents; chemical factories and oil refineries that flood pollutants if themselves flooded should not be built on floodplains: political decisions by politicians and corporate CEOs in smoke-filled rooms.

And for the future, politicians denying the security consequences for American society of denying global warming should be cast aside like the enemies of society that they are. And there’s more. Houston is nothing. If you really want to see the future of the world, look at Bangladesh: a country of 100 million with a third of the country under water the same week as Houston. Am I saying that the U.S. will look like Bangladesh in the near future? No, I am saying that when hundreds of millions of people around the globe face natural disasters such as Houston or Bangladesh or India or Pakistan are facing this week, then a very noticeable percentage of them will attempt by any means possible to move somewhere better. We are talking about sustained refugee floods far greater than anything out of Syria, year after year…until politicians face up to the security implications of denying global warming.

The corporate executives who made the decisions–in the face of solid scientific analysis shouted from the rooftops by experts for years—have caused incalculable harm to American society and should be held criminally responsible. Katrina provided the lesson, which was ignored for personal profit, Sandy provided a second lesson, and now Harvey: three one-in-a-thousand pieces of “bad luck” resulting from “nothing” and having “no meaning at all.” The first two lessons were immediately and completely and carefully forgotten, for the convenience of a few CEO’s and their political lackeys. Harvey too will be swept under the rug by politicians who knuckle under to corporate pressure unless we insist—right now—on holding them responsible.

With Port Arthur, Texas completely under water, a resident observed:

anybody who don’t [sic] believe that climate change is real must be living in another universe, because what we’re seeing here on the ground is land erosion. There is a beach that we used to frequent when I was a kid here, and the surf sat back maybe about a good 50 yards from where it is now. Right now, that surf sits within feet, five or six feet, of the road, and you can no longer take portions of that road into Galveston from the Sabine Pass area, because the land has completely been eroded. Our wetlands and canals are breaking apart because the water is coming in from the Gulf into the marshy areas, and it’s also having a heavy impact on the natural wildlife that is there, such as the gators and other animals that need the wetlands and not necessarily salt water. [Democracy Now.]

All you have to do is open your eyes.

Harvey would, fifty years ago, have been a “once-in-1000-years” event. That was before man-caused global climate disruption; that was before 5,000,000 people decided to live and build half the nation’s refinery capacity on floodplains that constituted the prime defensive shield against disastrous flooding. The Houston disaster is man-made, and it has been made despite well-established scientific and technical understanding for several decades of the critical importance of floodplains as nature’s flood-control system and of man-made intensification of climate disruption (i.e., the argument over the portion man-made and the portion due to some possible but as yet undiscovered natural process is a red herring).