Friday, December 31, 2004

Another Reason Our Progressive Federal Income Tax Is Right And Just

War has always been a past time, a plaything really, of the rich and wealthy; engaged in to protect or expand their estates, which nowadays are their enterprises and empires. From medieval times to today, it's generally been peasants and paupers who man the armies that protect the assets, estates and property of the rich and wealthy. When did you ever hear of peasants or laborers raising a standing army of their own, or staffing it with members of the rich/wealthy class?

So, in our time, it makes sense for the federal government to be the repository for funds needed to raise a standing army (navy, air force, marine corps, etc.), because that's the government level funded by a progressive income tax. Those who consistently pay the highest marginal tax rates are either already rich/wealthy or they'll be that way soon enough. Since they have the most assets and property to protect from harm and invasion, it seems only fair and natural that they should be taxed disproportionately at the federal level, as they are today (at least nominally). Well, how about that - this aspect of our multi-level government taxing structure actually makes some sense.

As for which lives are put at risk for this protection service, well, that's another matter entirely, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

What Presidential Leadership is Not

Leadership is NOT walking the country into a real messy situation that boxes us into a corner WITH NO GOOD OPTIONS for what to do next. Whether it's the tragic mess in Iraq or our huge and growing deficits, it makes one ask: "Hey, whose idea was this anyway?" or "What ever happened to the idea of keeping our powder dry and our options open?"

Then, when our so-called leader does choose an option from the lousy alternatives available, are we supposed to cheer patriotically and wave banners because a relatively less awful option was selected, when we NEVER should have found ourselves in the sorry mess in the first place?

Don't look to me for any cheering under these pathetic circumstances. It's called RESPONSIBILITY and ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES - something we need to be reminded of before they become totally lost concepts in our political history.

One ironic aspect of our election result is that the goons who got us into this mess are now stuck with the consequences. They've earned the miserable duty of getting us out of this mess -- but can they, or will they dig us in even deeper?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Want a War? Come Up With the People and Money

A simple declaration: It should somehow be made IMPOSSIBLE for a President to engage the country in an elective war (e.g., Iraq I or II, Bosnia/Kosovo, Haiti, etc., but not necessarily war with Japan after Pearl Harbor, nor with Afghanistan after 9/11) without simultaneously doing two things:

1) Instituting a fair draft to ensure that the threat to life and limb is widely shared and that the people are appropriately involved and engaged (that'll get their attention).

2) Establishing a special, direct funding source exclusively for the war, to ensure that it is paid for (to avoid robbing ourselves of other priorities without our avowed consent).

As it is now, wars are too freely waged with our standing armed forces. Then, once the war is underway, if it becomes necessary to extract more soldiers and money than expected at first, the people's other priorities are set aside, willy-nilly, with precious little citizen representation at the table. Whatever flag waving and parades are necessary can be arranged. All this under the rubric of national emergency: "We're at war, pal - cough up!".

Actually, my real reason for this proposal is to get the people's attention. A good whack on the head (or across the face) is what's needed sometimes (heck, probably all the time). Only by requiring definite actions by the government to provide adequate sourcing for personnel and funds, at least coincident with but preferably before, waging war, will we be sure we have the people's attention. Besides, it's just the responsible way to manage.

Will Rogers used to joke that we shouldn't be able to have a war until we've paid for the last one. I've always liked that sentiment, so let's credit old Will for the genesis of my proposal. Only this is meant as NO JOKE -- I'm deadly serious, as is this topic.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Politicians: Scumbags or Revered Leaders?

Some people are perennially upset by politicians, call them "no good corrupt scumbags", and rail against them endlessly because they seize our hard-earned money in taxes. BUT these same people stand sturdily behind the same, now suddenly revered national leaders, blindly saluting the "scumbags" whenever they call for our sons and daughters to fight and die in their bloody wars. Wars like George W's Iraq II that was engaged far more as one President's personal vendetta, for his advisers' career ambitions and for some Congressional politicians' own aggrandizement, than it was for any real security reasons. (See my earlier blog on WMD published Dec. 8, 2004: "Catching Sloganeering Gets Ink, Costs Lives").

How is it that these people are often the same ones who want us to see politicians as selfish, corrupt scumbags because they “play games with our money”, but NOT when they play games with our lives?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Silly Nonissue - Congressional Attendance

This seals it. USA Today reported (see USATODAY.com - Electronic payments surpass paper checks - Posted 12/6/2004 3:17 PM, Updated 12/7/2004 8:13 AM) that "The number of electronic payment transactions last year totaled 44.5 billion — exceeding the number of checks paid, 36.7 billion — according to Federal Reserve studies released Monday."

What does that have to do with absenteeism from Congress by our Senators and Representatives?

Come on, with 44.5 billion electronic transactions zipping around the Internet in a year, the sheer silliness of whether a US Senator was physically present to cast a vote on an issue is revealed for all to see. What a phony issue!

If we Americans can (and I certainly do) trust the "e-ether" to send our precious, hard-earned $$ to pay our bills every month, and keep ourselves out of debtors' prison, surely a workable means can be found to let lawmakers cast their votes safely and securely and, if necessary, from a distance.

Then, being physically absent from the floor of Congress would be irrelevant to casting a vote. And, much more important, our elected officials could no longer escape showing us how they voted on any issue.

You tell me: How hide-bound is our beloved Congress for not implementing something like an e-vote process long, long ago?

The Death Penalty Is UnAmerican

Advocates on all sides of the capital punishment debate often get caught up in endless arguments about how to make administration of the death penalty fair and flawless in application. A “moral certainty", to use former Illinois Governor Ryan’s phrase - so that we can feel OK about having it on the books.

This pointless debate misses a crucial point. In their genius, our founding fathers established our government with checks and balances and separation of powers because they knew that we are imperfect and that, inevitably, we will make mistakes. They set up our government so that its decisions and actions are virtually never absolutely final, permanent nor irreversible. Not only do we have three branches of national government, we also have state and local governments and most states also have two houses in their Legislative branch, not just one. U.S. Senators serve with staggered terms and many powers are allocated to state and local governments, which themselves are manifestations of the same system of checks and balances/separation of powers.

If I don't like a proposed law or other government action, I can work to change it legislatively, make it a political issue in an upcoming election, or push to have the act declared unlawful or unconstitutional. I can appeal a judicial decision I don’t agree with, impeach a judge, or a President, work hard to help vote an elected official out of office, or support a challenger into that office. In addition, all elected officials have finite terms of office, with limited powers. Even a Supreme Court justice, who serves “for life”, sits as one member on a panel of nine. And, as we have seen, membership even on this highest court can become a political issue, providing a potent reason to vote for, or against, a Presidential candidate or political party.

And on it goes. One can add countless examples. Our system is set up this way because, as a collection of imperfect beings, we will NEVER be fully free of error. That old political warhorse, Larry O'Brien, captured this essential point in the title of his 1974 book: No Final Victories. Our founders knew that the answer is not to insist that our systems work flawlessly (always a good goal to work toward), for the simple reason that they never will. Instead, our founders wisely built IMPERMANENCE and REVERSIBILITY into the system to allow for ERROR CORRECTION and RECOVERY.

Now here's the kicker: Because our government structure works so hard to facilitate disaster checking and error rectification, we are compelled to view the death penalty, by virtue of its unique and deadly permanence, as fundamentally UnAmerican. I know some states have elaborate review checkpoints and appeals built into their capital punishment system, which can last for years. And, yes, these provide a sort of check and balance, but the reasoning behind them only reinforces my point that the PERMANENT IRREVERSIBILITY of capital punishment makes it inherently UnAmerican.

No matter what safeguards we think we’ve built in, so long as the death penalty is with us, we will execute some innocent people at some unknown, but non-zero rate. This follows as surely as night follows day. And, it’s clear as a bell that our founders knew this in their bones. Why else would they have made ALL our government processes (as specified above) so IMPERMANENT and ultimately REVERSIBLE?

The inescapable conclusion: Americans who embrace the death penalty simply don't understand our basic form of government; or, if they do, they don’t agree with it.

Awash In Ignorance and Proud of It

This is not a total perspective on what happened in the election last Nov. 2 – far from it. Instead, it’s simply my contribution of some examples of how our intermediators do a lot of the little things badly, day after day after day.
(BTW: By “intermediators” I mean reporters, analysts, commentators, etc., anyone who operated on the air waves or in the press covering the campaign, holding forth on the candidates and the election. I particularly single out those who are supposed to give us, the voters, a clear view of the candidates to help us make more informed choices when we vote.)

What follows are just a few representative examples of the many, many times these intermediators did the little things badly.

1) On the subject of what his economic plans are, one intermediator (a national print reporter or analyst) actually wrote this about one of the two presidential candidates: ”… the campaign has provided no details”. This, even though in less than two minutes at that candidate’s web site, I found lots of details (LOTS OF DETAILS!), not only on that overall subject (economics), but on each of several component elements within that broad subject. There were enough details to make a grown man cry – if anything there were too many details!

This is NOT intended as a partisan complaint -- I have little doubt that the same may have been true of the other candidate and his web site, so prevalent did I find such sloppy and careless statements in my perusal of campaign coverage.

2) On the day before the election I heard another intermediator on the radio actually say that the issue of health care and rising health care costs had hardly been addressed in the campaign. “Virtually ignored” was, I think, what he said, or something to that effect. When I’d calmed down, I asked myself, how could an intermediator of any stripe make such a sweepingly wrong and ridiculous statement?

This issue happens to be the one that polls throughout the campaign had shown perhaps the clearest separation in voters’ preferences between Bush and Kerry. Had the issue actually occupied so minimal a place in the campaign, no such separation in public opinion would have existed.

3) At least I no longer have to listen to what I call the “Lou Dobbs routine” where he would say “Both candidates have not…”, or “Neither candidate has…”, and then proceed to treat both candidates as peas in a pod (a rotten pod, at that). Lou had so accustomed himself to this routine that he used it even when the candidates had outlined drastically different perspectives on an issue.

For example, what in the world does it mean to say (as Lou often did): “Neither candidate has addressed the issue of Social Security insolvency…” when one said, basically, the following (paraphrased): “Social Security actually is solvent until some specified year in the future (e.g., 2045), so what we’ll do is watch it closely and, when necessary, we’ll convene another joint effort to make needed adjustments, as was done in a bipartisan manner in the 1980’s"; while the other candidate proposed an alternative long term private (or, to avoid that loaded buzzword: an individual) investment plan that would use (divert) a portion of the income stream that’s used to make concurrent payments to retirees, without saying how those removed funds will be replaced or replenished?

Now, how on earth does it serve the voters to treat these two very different responses in the same vein, disparaging them both as if they are equally depraved? Talk about an opportunity lost to inform the voting public. Would it be too much to ask that Lou try to make a dispassionate analysis of these two perspectives, rather than sarcastically disparage them both?

4) Lesson learned: Stay away from most media comparisons of the candidates on issues. Here’s why it’s best to avoid them - because many intermediators are apparently too lazy or too uninformed to do a fair and adequate job summarizing substantive policy programs or proposals. Much of what passes for journalistic coverage of serious national issues these days is better described as pathetic palaver. Here's what we get: Short, simplistic bullet point summaries of issue positions, carefully constructed to appear fair from a visual perspective, but void of insights about the whys and wherefores behind the proposals. This is actually worse than doing nothing at all. What really scares me is that these intermediaries may be incapable of providing real insight into the whys and wherefores, so they just do what they're capable of -- superficial treatment of a serious issue.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Catchy Sloganeering Gets Ink, Costs Lives

During the run up to the War in Iraq, did the oft-heard phrase “weapons of mass destruction” ever strike you as propaganda, or sophistic sloganeering; like the catchy tag line in an overexposed advertising campaign?

Talk about over exposed, that phrase eventually became a mindless mantra, a solemn chant, a “collective cognitive imperative” that spawned a false consciousness in the body politic, dutifully midwifed by a doting press. But the fatal damage had already been done, as many prominent press personages nursed this grotesque offspring to full term, treating it as if it had earned legitimacy in the language. Thus, the Rubicon was crossed; the rest is tragic history (or, for the war’s stubborn advocates, perhaps I should say, the rest is a glorious history, a proud advance in the march for freedom).

Can it really be this simple?
“Yes.”
How?
“Just look back at the original conception and the language foreplay that preceded it. What we really have to ask ourselves is whether this impregnation was deliberate; was it the willful action of mutually consenting ‘adults’, or linguistic rape? Was the willing portion of the press that partnered this action a clueless collaborator, or a willful fornicator (a government agent, if you will), sowing its seed by deliberate design in the womb of a na├»ve but receptive host, the mainstream press?”

Who can say?

But I’ll say this much, the phrase never rang true with me, but maybe I’ve been toiling in the marketing vineyards too long. Anyone who has covered the business beat for any period of time would have known better. They’ve learned how to recognize a shallow, flimsy, “marcomm” slogan – made of whole cloth – when they see one. “Weapons of Mass Destruction”: Notice its vivid imagery, its pregnancy of meaning, its phonetic and syllabic resonance. All the earmarks are there. Can that be coincidental?

No, it was no accident, these telltale qualities are the result of deliberate phraseology – “1984” anyone?