We need different thinking for the presidency and quiet but firm resolve in foreign policy…

February 8, 2015

It seems the Republican Party might have the best chance to win the 2016 election if for no other reason than the electorate might feel it’s just time for a change of parties. That certainly was the case in the congressional elections.

But a self-described right-wing but decidedly non-Rush Limburger Cheese-like radio talker I often listen to seems to be in a quandary. He thinks Obama is ruining the country but at the same time he thinks the economy is really doing well. And while he spends a lot of time promoting the idea of putting a Republican in the White House to improve the economy, among other things, when confronted with the fact a Democrat has been in there for going on two terms and the economy is improving he shifts to the notion, well the president really has no effect anyway.

Kind of like the blowhards who talk politics and run down one side and then when confronted with the fact that their guy did the same thing or worse says: “Oh I don’t care; they’re all a bunch of liars and crooks anyway.”

(But I don’t mean the talk show host is a blowhard. Actually he comes across as intelligent and quite level headed and certainly not bombastic.)

That aside, we need some new thinking and a new approach.

Yeah, I think often economics just happens and it runs in cycles — boom and bust. But of course the government sets policies that certainly have an effect good and bad — and I think that talk show host was saying much the same thing. We can agree on that.

One problem in these economic reports, besides the fact I and most people don’t totally understand them, is that what is good for one sector is not necessarily good for another. What is good for business is not necessarily good for workers. What is good for big business is not always good for small business. What is good for energy producers is not always good for other producers. You get the picture I’m sure.

But a big problem is that we are in a major social transition. Kind of like the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century — I guess this is the post industrial revolution (although we have to have industry, so I don’t know how to square all that).

The whole way we do business and produce products and distribute wealth is going through a radical change (and I am not referring to the notion of redistribution of wealth, although our long-standing tax policies are just that).

Yeah, I wouldn’t mind going back to what seemed a simpler place and time, but we are not going to. And besides in that simpler place in time I had a heck of a time finding work. The good old days in some ways are only the good old days in memory.

But we need a restructuring in lifestyle and education and future job training. If we don’t restructure we will devolve into chaos.

President Obama has proposed free community college (free to the student not the taxpayers). But that to me seems like it just makes community colleges a continuation of high school — instead of four years of high school, six years. I wonder if high school should actually be trimmed to three years or less, but with more intensive instruction, with on emphasis on basics we all need.

And why do four-year institutions end up teaching high school level English and math?

If we are to remain competitive in the world, we need to demand more of our students and demand that they (and their parents) make decisions about their future earlier.

After high school, you either head to vocational training or academic pursuits. Yeah, it’s a free country, and you can wander the highways and byways, or kick around town, but why do the rest of us have to support you?

And these days, employment prospects may require more of a mix of academic and vocational training, so the whole structure of education may need to be changed.

(I knew a guy whose father worked his whole life in the paper mill industry, and then this guy went into that and worked many years. Then when his mill closed he applied for a job at another one in another state but flunked the application process because he did not know how to figure weights and measures in the metric system. He was not stupid, and he really should have done his homework before applying, but at the same time, he should have already had all this ground into him in high school and even grade school.)

The business, education (public and private), and governmental sectors should work together in all of this.

While we don’t want to elect someone president who has no concept or interest in foreign affairs, we do need one who can look more homeward than one who is on a mission to right all wrongs in the world.

And while we need a person who can look homeward, we also need one who is willing to stand up to the bullies of the world, not with George W. like bravado, but with quiet resolve, letting actions speak louder than words. We also need someone who is not foolish enough to draw lines in the sand, only to back off, or someone who does not telegraph our military intentions (on eventual withdrawal) to our enemies.

No one comes to mind right now.

President Obama deserves to get due appreciation. The economy by many measures is reported to be on the upswing and has been improving throughout his tenure, part of that of course due to the natural cycle of business.

And the worst thing the Republicans can seem to criticize him for is trying to provide health care for everyone in a way that does not clog emergency rooms and require those with insurance to pay so much for those without (whether Obamacare fills the bill remains to be seen).

Oh, and they don’t like his executive end run on immigration but they can’t seem to offer anything in return except to say there is an immigration problem.

And did anyone ever think maybe we just need to take another look at our immigration standards? I mean shouldn’t anyone who is healthy enough and who has the ability to get employment be eligible for citizenship, as long as he or she demonstrates commitment to the USA and is able to pass the standard citizenship tests that require more knowledge than most of our native born?

(Of course there still may need to be quotas of some sort to insure we have room for additional citizens, but we should not favor those of one country over another.)

A  jumble here I know. Just some thoughts.

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And NBC anchor Brian Williams is taking some time off. Maybe he’ll write a book. A fiction novel.

 

 

 

 


War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’…

March 19, 2013

UPDATE:

Taking a line out of a 1960s song, we might ask ourselves: “War, what is it food for?” and answer our own question, “absolutely nothin’ “.

When I first drafted this post I was not even thinking specifically that the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq was March 19 (and the tenth anniversary day is almost over now as I write this update).

And on the tenth anniversary, so as to make a point, several bombings in Iraq killed at least 65 people. The violence there, tribe against tribe, religious sect against religious sect, continues, and these days the strife-torn nation is closer to our (the U.S.) arch-enemy Iran.

It is pretty well accepted that the stated reason for going into Iraq in 2003, that is that Saddam Hussein had so-called “weapons of mass destruction” or WMDs, was bogus. Even the supporters admit that he did not have a stockpile after all. Sorry, after the loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars spent, just a little intelligence goof (or just a lie). And the term WMD itself was misleading and not precise. It was just meant to imply that he was stockpiling everything from nerve gas to atom bombs.

Had this been the case, and we knew where they were, then why didn’t we go after them specifically? And if we did not know where they were, how did we know they had them or why did we think they had them?

Now we are getting reports that chemical weapons have been used in Syria in the insurrection there. This may well be true, but I hope it is not something that gives an excuse to war hawks to send troops in. I say let the Syrians fight it out amongst themselves. Or send in the French.

I don’t take the possibility that outlaw regimes or madmen might have or get so-called WMDs or nuclear weapons lightly. Right now Iran and North Korea appear to be threats. We need to have a plan to make sure that we abolish the threats, not the nations necessarily. That is purely for our own defense.

But have we learned anything since Vietnam?

The public soon forgets. The public is apathetic. The politicians are also or they use things like the threat of WMDs from Iraq as a pretext for supporting certain foreign policies that help defense contractors and secure oil. They have not done a good job of securing oil. We gained no special hold on Iraqi oil, despite the promise we would by the war hawks who wanted us to have dominance in the region.

The decision makers in our Vietnam fiasco were operating under the premise that it would be like World War II (except much smaller and much quicker), that we would apply overwhelming force and win.

But Vietnam was a different kind of war. It was North Vietnam invading South Vietnam and a civil insurrection within South Vietnam at the same time and we got ourselves into the middle of it and found it not to be so easy after all and we were afraid to fight to win and afraid to leave and be called losers. We did not fight to win (and there may have been no way to win) and we did eventually leave as losers. (It was not the fault of our military but the politicians if anyone).

Iraq turned out to be more of a mess with total civil war breaking out when we got rid of the dictator and we were caught in the middle of it. We eventually left after being told we were not welcome anymore by the new government.

I like to blame all of this on our leaders, on the politicians. But does not the general public who is so apathetic on all of this have some responsibility?

The original post follows:

The United States needed Middle East oil so bad that eventually we gave the president unlimited power to wage a true world war, that is war all over the world, no matter what nation, against terrorists with some at least loose connection with a far-flung and hard-to-track organization usually referred to as Al Qaeda.

Besides the two more or less conventional ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president was and is authorized to order drone strikes, strikes by small stealthy unmanned aircraft, against anyone virtually anywhere in the world. Of course the drone attacks don’t just kill the target person but people around the target person, to include totally innocent people, to include women and children. But all’s fair in war (not necessarily moral though).

The virtually unlimited powers were handed over to then president George W. Bush but are retained today by president Barack Obama.

Congress handed the president the powers as a result of the 9/11 attacks more than a decade ago now. The U.S. had just been attacked, not by a nation, but by this somewhat amorphous entity called Al Qaeda. Because its leader and many of its followers were being harbored by the Taliban who controlled Afghanistan at the time, we invaded that nation.

That seemed to make sense.

But Bush was being advised by the neo-conservatives who had a think tank study that called for the U.S. gaining hegemony over the Middle East because of its strategic importance what with all of its oil. The paper in fact suggested we needed another Pearl Harbor to jolt the public out of its apathy and malaise. Conveniently (in one sense of it) 9/11, a modern-day Pearl Harbor, came along and killed about the same number of people as Pearl Harbor. In round numbers, about 3,000 deaths in both incidents.

So rather quickly we were not only at war with Afghanistan and its Taliban government who gave comfort to Al Qaeda but we invaded Iraq which had no to little direct connection with Al Qaeda but was in the Middle East and did have oil and a leader who was sympathetic to anti-American causes and who did support terrorists who struck Israel, sending the parents of suicide bombers money as a reward.

Bush was able to get a congressional authorization to fight terror in the form of a resolution called the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists”. It would be a war not against another nation or nations but a method or concept.

But make no mistake about it, all of this was about oil.

Now after a decade we have spent a trillion dollars or more and heavily indebted ourselves, so much so that we are having to or think we must cut needed programs and services for the public. And thousands of lives have been lost and thousands more negatively affected by injuries received in the Middle East wars.

And we have compromised our civil liberties and values. We have inflicted torture on American soil, kidnapped people and sent them to places in other countries for torture and have even killed American citizens (no trial or anything) for being said to be connected somehow to terrorists or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There’s even a question as to whether a drone strike could be authorized on American soil. The U.S. Attorney General has reportedly left the door open on that question.

Troublesome is the fact that local law enforcement departments have expressed interests in drones. It seems as if George Orwell’s 1984 becomes a reality.

Meanwhile, some are saying now that we are or nearly are “energy independent”, what with new oil and gas exploration and fracking (never mind environmental concerns).

We are in fact an energy exporter I read.

If we are to be an energy leader after being so dependent on Mid East oil it is probably because of price. When the price of energy got high enough it became economically viable to resume energy exploration in our own nation.

We did not need to go to war in the Middle East. And we don’t need to fight the whole world.

We of course must defend ourselves.

In the 9/11 scenario our intelligence agencies let us down for failing to heed their own information and to cooperate among themselves.

But it could have happened anyway even if everyone was doing everything right. We should have gone after the actual culprits and left it at that instead of opening the door to the dreams of neoconservative empire builders, who never shed their own blood.

(Interesting how so many of them had Vietnam deferments or otherwise skipped combat when they had their chance. Dick Cheney comes to mind.)

And we need to protect our civil liberties.

There was a saying during the Cold War among some: “Better Red than dead”. But I never bought into that. I don’t want to give up my civil liberties in the name of national security or personal security.

As for the competition for energy and the search for practical sources and means of energy and energy production: the marketplace, often augmented by government research, pretty well decides that.

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“War” (1969 song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong)


The Petraeus plot thickens, could the news have affected the election? Journalists and military make poor bedfellows

November 12, 2012

And the plot thickens:

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UPDATE: (Late Monday west coast time) I’d have to be a full-time blogger to keep up with this story. But now another general is said to be involved in the ongoing Petraeus scandal. See link to ABC: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/general-investigated-emails-petraeus-friend-17704386

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Did Gen. David H. Petraeus have a second woman on the side who the first woman on the side got jealous of? We now learn that the FBI got involved in the Petraeus matter after a woman reported getting threatening emails from the first woman. Was there a ménage a trois?

So far I have not read exactly what the connection between the general and the second woman was, except that she has said in a news story that her and her family (her and her husband) have been friends with Petraeus for five years. She worked as an unpaid military liaison between the State Department and the military. And now it has just occured to me that the second woman may have been a threat not by her affections but maybe in a role as a gatekeeper between Petraeus and his paramour. I think I heard that speculation already. Who knows? But isn’t gossip fun?

(And I don’t know really which woman was first or second, if all this is the case. And poor Mrs. Petraeus)

Well here is some info about the second woman, identified as Jill Kelley: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/11/11/jill-kelley-5-facts-about-the-petraeus-affair-s-mystery-woman.html

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And now this just in from The Daily Beast: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/11/12/exclusive-paula-broadwell-s-emails-revealed.html

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I usually think Sen. Diane Feinstein is a sharp woman but I was puzzled when she initially said that she thought Petraeus did not need to resign. Now she is quoted as saying that he should have (and he did) and that she is concerned that the FBI or whoever did not inform important lawmakers such as herself about the Petraeus investigation much earlier.

One can argue whether having a love affair or sex on the side affects someone’s job performance (think Bill Clinton), but this is not just someone, this was a man who was in charge of the USA’s intelligence operations. And here he is trading emails (and emails are not secure) with a woman who seems to have been able to elicit a whole lot of information out of him, not only for the biography she wrote (with assistance from another writer) but some sources indicate she has publicly relayed inside info on CIA operations (not really sure about that).

And this threatening email things is bizarre to say the least. Kind of reminds me of the woman astronaut who drove cross country wearing a diaper so she would not have to stop while going after a competitor for the affections of a male astronaut.

Also, heard an interesting comment on the radio last night but I forgot who said it, except the guy supposedly has inside info on how the CIA works. He said that the director if the CIA is more of a figure head because the long time career people run things and have secret operations all over the place that he (the director) does not even know about. Maybe that is just conspiracy talk, kind of like the book I have that claims rogue CIA agents killed JFK (I suppose it is possible since no one really knows how that all went down).

It has also been brought out that the president supposedly did not learn of all this until the day after the election (or was  it the day of? well something like that). One wonders what effect the news could have had on the election. I suppose not much, but??

I mean the speculation on the Benghazi, Libya incident (our ambassador and staffers being killed) somehow being connected with all this is interesting or maybe I should say disturbing. It is speculated that Petraeus’ affair might have thrown off his concentration. The CIA seems to have let the ambassador down security wise. And Broadwell also seems to possess, or claims to, inside knowledge about the Libya operations.

And now apparently Petraeus will not be testifying at congressional hearings on the Benghazi incident this week, although he might be called later. Also it is reported that the Army could prosecute Petraeus for having an affair if it was going on before he retired from the Army. Apparently it is against army regulations (gee, I wonder how often that regulation is broken). That seems quaint. Not that I am against morality. But then again people in high places are supposed to have impeccable standards and set an example (I think they often let us down).

In a kind of related matter, I have also read that when Petraeus was still running the Afghanistan military operation that he would not give the president a “peace option” and that is one reason the president went for the so-called surge. It is said that administration insiders are glad to see Petraeus go. They had been afraid that he might run for president on the Republican ticket and they also felt he stood in the way of getting the U.S. military out of the Middle East.

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The following is my initial and just previous post on all of this, posted on 11-10-12:

Some time ago I heard an interview on the radio with the woman who co-wrote a book about the now just-resigned CIA director and her praise was so glowing it seemed obvious that she had fallen head over heels with the guy, except, I admit, I did not take the next step and conclude any hanky panky was going on. The thought did cross my mind, though. And, you know? Things are often just what they seem.

I want to make some remarks about the resignation of CIA director Gen. David H. Petraeus and then I have a comment on the subject of embedding reporters with the troops.

Just like reporters were “embedded” with the troops in the Iraqi War and in Afghanistan, writer Paula Broadwell was “embedded” with Gen. David Petraeus while working on his biography. She co-authored a book with Vernon Loeb called “All In: The Education of Gen. David Petraeus”.

Well actually in her case she was literally in bed with him, or, actually I don’t know the timing of it all, whether it was during or after, but she reportedly had an affair with him — and they are both married to other people — and Petraeus, who had led the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and then had become CIA director, has turned in his resignation over the matter. It seems that the FBI, inadvertently it has been reported, came across evidence of the affair while investigating unauthorized access to the CIA director’s emails. The FBI was trying to determine whether classified information had been illegally accessed.

And come to think of it, that biography title wording about the educadtion of Gen. Petraeus was certainly apt. His education (albeit too late) was not to sleep with the enemy, that is keeping in mind that military types often consider writers or the press to be the enemy.

Was Broadwell an enemy agent? No evidence of that yet. She is an officer in the Army Reserve and a West Point graduate (Petraeus is a West Pointer as well).

I began this post last night but now some news stories indicate Petraeus himself might have been under investigation by the FBI. Not sure on that  really.

But there are questions as to whether his concentration on Libya where our ambassador and staffers were killed might have been disrupted by his affair. Also he was supposed to testify in an upcoming hearing on the Libya debacle and it is now unclear on the schedule on that.

Ironically, Petraeus had often told junior officers that a mark of leadership is doing the right thing when no one is looking.

Since Petraeus knew that the cat was going to be let out of the bag, he went ahead and resigned and admitted to an indiscretion, while not naming the other party — but the media has apparently uncovered the name of the other participant in the affair.

I just read a Washington Post story that said the Obama administration made him CIA director rather than chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, as the general would have preferred, because they wanted to thwart his move to maybe run for president as a Republican (wait a minute, that did not stop George Bush no. 1 — daddy Bush).

Can’t help but get some shadenfrueda out of this (and I’ll bet many in the military feel the same way). Maybe it is just that I don’t care for big-time military officers, well except for the heroes in the movies, and maybe the real heroes of old — we just don’t have many these days — mostly ticket punchers.

But it seems Gen. Petraeus has been a self-promoter for decades (well I mean in the sense of his own personal marketing — the Army promoted him) and did not have a wide circle of friends among other officers but did know whose boots to polish (hey this is just from a story I read).

And now it seems it has all gone down the drain. He probably won’t run for president. And it is an inglorious end to a career.

Then again, randy Bill Clinton came back to help re-elect a president (and by the way I think President Obama can thank Bill Clinton for his campaigning on his behalf and maybe just as much David Corn and Mother Jones Magazine for the uncovering of the Romney 47 percent remarks for his win), but of course this is probably not really the same kind of thing — Petraeus does not have as long of a public record and does not have as much to come back from in public life, except he was destined for bigger things.

Actually, it would seem that society would be more tolerant of high officials having their affairs these days, what with the more and more liberal approach to sexual matters and morals, but then again, once we know, we don’t want to be seen as approving, and it is bad judgment for the leader of the nation’s intelligence gathering mechanism to compromise himself. Now he can’t be blackmailed since he has admitted to the affair — but his judgment was poor, as he said himself in his resignation announcement.

And this leads me to wonder how accurate that biography of Petraeus is, with co-author Broadwell compromised herself.

And while I made a kind of joke about this “embedded” thing, I thought at the time that the idea of having journalists being embedded as part of the team might do something to compromise their effectiveness as journalists. To produce useful journalism, as opposed to flak that is nothing more than fluff and entertainment with no or little news value, one has to be a neutral observer. I think the military and war lovers felt the institution of war was damaged by Vietnam coverage, so they came up with the idea of instead of fighting the press, making them part of the team and be under their eyes where they could be controlled.

Have you noticed that we have not had much real journalism come out of our wars in the Middle East?

I’m not meaning constant reports that say we are losing or doing the wrong thing. That is what your average war hawk thinks of when he or she thinks of objective journalism, or the kind I mean. I’m talking about observing and reporting what is happening and let the chips fall where they may. Not easy for anyone to do.

Part of the problem is that those who manage the dollars in the news business have not seen war coverage as a profit center. And public apathy — we just want to have fun and buy our gadgets and get cheap oil, as possible, don’t bother us — is part of the problem too.

I was once a journalist. I was not a war correspondent. I began by working for a small town newspaper (and that is pretty much the way I ended too — not the same one). But at first I did photography and I did features, some of which were fluff, well actually I did agricultural reporting, but I did stories about farmers and those related to agriculture and most of it was how great everyone is what they are doing for the public (and I am not trying to be sarcastic). But I really wanted to cover government and I did go on to do that.

One day my old friend from the farm beat a farm adviser cornered me (and he was a big man) and shook his finger at me and said in a tone meant to appear as being light, but scolding at the same time, that I was sure writing bad things about his friend a county supervisor (called commissioner in some areas of the country). I think he was concerned that his office (that of the farm adviser) might not get the funding it needed. That man he said I criticized was a supporter of his office. In reality I just reported things said at meetings, and comments out of the meetings. Once when there was a meeting closed to the public I did listen at the door and heard that supervisor say my name and something to the effect that I was a “pest”, as in “that Tony Walther is a pest”.

Funny. That is what my sister used to call me (I being her little brother).

With all that I was just trying to make the point that journalism is not supposed to be about rooting for a team or making friends.

If you were making a decision to buy something would you just want to know the positive and none of the negative and in between?

 

P.s.

Sometimes in some contexts or situations, fluff is good and so is rooting for the team. You have to have a mix.


Brother of slain soldier is right, we do need to remember we are a nation at war (but we need to question policy too)

April 6, 2012

One can certainly understand the anguish of a man whose brother has just been killed in a war. One such man was quoted in a story over the past day as saying that Americans need to remember that we are a nation at war. I agree, but I also think that as we remember that or take note of it, we also need to decide what we are accomplishing in the decade-long effort in the Middle East, and Afghanistan in particular.

And maybe the reason people don’t act like they realize we are at war is that no outward sacrifice is being called for on the part of the general public. And although one would think our goal would be to have some kind of victory, we have already telegraphed that we eventually plan to quit. If we can quit later with no clear sign of victory, why not quit now? This is not as much a war in the conventional sense as it is a geopolitical police action. With our all-volunteer force when one signs up these days, he or she is essentially signing onto a world police force. Police are on duty forever. The American public is given little choice in the matter. If either Barack Obama wins re-election to the presidency or Mitt Romney is elected (and that seems now to be the choice) there is no clear end in sight to the war. Obama does like to talk about time tables (they are movable), Romney does not like the idea of telegraphing when you plan to quit, and that much I agree with him on. But, Romney also wants to press on, something I am not necessarily in agreement with. Somehow it seems immoral to me to ask people to put their lives on the line for something you go at half-heartedly, always ready to quit. That does not mean I think we should not quit. I think it takes as much guts to fight all-out as to admit the war cannot be won outright or is not worth it. I would not suggest admitting defeat or anything like that, rather, I would think we should re-assess.

There may be other more practical ways to keep our enemies at bay or at least off our shores. We are already in the Vietnam syndrome in that we seem to have miscalculated and would like to get out but we can’t because we must save face and not dishonor those who have died. We also have used the discredited strategy of limited war. War continues to be war and the only practical thing is to fight to win or not to fight at all. It could be that an even more drawn out war of attrition could work in our favor (although doubtful), but it does not seem to be the way we should conduct things, lest we put ourselves in a true state of endless armed conflict, a state of being and an image I don’t think is right for the United States of America.

But yes, we should remember we are a nation at war and demand our president and congress do something to resolve the issue.

(The story I referred to is at: http://news.yahoo.com/brother-ohio-soldier-nation-war-104658229.html )

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What follows is my previous post on pretty much the same subject:

I’m not sure what women not shaving under their arm pits, people drawing welfare, Occupy Wall Street, soldiers denied proper medical care once they get home (who’s to blame there?) while welfare recipients are tended to, and making it a point to thank the people in uniform all have in common but that seemed to be the elements of the conversation on my local radio station which was playing the Glenn Beck Show, being hosted by a guest host possibly. I only listened to a few words before I had to turn it off.

The message seemed to be that women who did not shave their arm pits were just part of the crowd who lives off of welfare, protests, and who shows it is against America by objecting to war and failing to thank the troops.

While listening to the ignorance and hate one should realize that those who run the local radio stations simply play the blather because it is cheap fare and it apparently brings in the revenue — never mind being part of a more civil and intelligent public discourse. But people want their own point of view to be validated or they want someone to do their thinking for them, so the talk show trash on radio is just what it is. Critical thinking and discussion does not do well in the marketplace.

And I am not saying they should be playing Amy Goodwin and Democracy Now; I’ve caught a little of that at times and it may be somewhat more civil but it is propaganda too, just from the far left of the political spectrum.

But before I turned my radio off I heard the tired old diatribe about how people don’t support our soldiers and the wars they fight. It is irritating that the idea of supporting troops (and that can mean different things in different contexts; a government –to include Republicans — who fails to treat returning reservists or National Guardsmen is not supporting the troops) has to be forever linked in the minds of those of the far-right, one-track mindset to national policy. As far as I know most people who may object to wars or military adventures/actions are not specifically or not at all criticizing individual soldiers, but the policy that puts them in harm’s way. Now in instances where there is abuse perpetrated by soldiers (such as the murder of innocents) then, yes, there might be indeed criticism. And there was a school of thought during the Vietnam War that since it turned out to be so obviously wrong and immoral, not to mention impractical, that any one who agreed to fight it (even if conscripted) was committing an immoral act (I do not necessarily agree with that). And some might argue that today (again I do not necessarily agree with that, even though it is all volunteer).

But people who dress differently than what has become the norm among what is considered the general public, or women who do not shave their arm pits, which has been the custom in Europe and even here decades and decades ago (into the past century), and people who get government assistance, and people who would dare question public policy (unless it is the far right questioning legitimate policy promoted by the middle and left) are all linked together in the minds of those incapable of critical thinking or those simply stirring up the masses for political and financial gain.

(I hate to bring Tom Sullivan into all of this. But he is a case study of someone who began as a conservative talk show host who was capable of and willing to engage in somewhat critical thinking in that he would give both sides of an issue, even though always coming down on the right. But he apparently found such was not acceptable in the world of right-wing talk, so he cut it out for the most part. I wrote that previously and he actually emailed me about my comments on that and other things to do with him and did not deny it — and he still occasionally lets his guard down, I think. He’s usually clever enough that it goes over the heads of many of his listeners, but sometimes they object. The rule on the right is to never but never present the other side of the case. That may be true on the far left too.)

I have to make sure to remember to switch the radio off or to music or something when the commercially driven-right wing propaganda is on, which is all the time.

And it is troubling that Mitt Romney, a highly intelligent man (hell he speaks fluent French) has felt he needs to pander to the ignorant masses to get his party’s nod to be GOP candidate for president.

P.s.

This endless war thing: Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are equally guilty and spend more time blaming each other for it than trying to figure out how to reform our policies so we are not constantly mired in conflicts that are so costly in human lives and to our economy.

A third party is needed and we need to indeed vote all the current slate on both sides out. Extreme yes. But we are facing extreme circumstances. But beyond that people have to pay more attention to public affairs and critical thinking is in order here.

P.s. P.s.

And part of the story or back story in all of this is that those with nothing else to do often get involved in protest movements and supposedly the poor, but working people just do what they are told and don’t question. And those who stand to gain from various policies, such as defense contractors, oil interests, and so on, would like to keep it that way.  Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are at opposite ends of the spectrum and yet in many respects have the same interests, but the Tea Partiers may consider themselves more legitimate in that they consider themselves to be part of the mainstream of working people (whether they are or not and notwithstanding that there is evidence that the original concept of the Tea Party may have been the brain child of monied and vested interests). And the Tea Party no doubt thinks the Occupy movement is nothing but anarchists and maybe socialists/communists. It’s too bad there cannot be an effective movement from the middle, or maybe that is what general elections are all about.


Armed Neighborhood Watch scares me as much as criminals…

April 2, 2012

The shooting death of a black teenager in Florida brings forth the issues of black people being suspect for just being black or racial profiling, stand your ground gun laws that give citizens wider leeway is shooting people and race relations in general, but it seems to me one of the more pressing issues is self-appointed, armed citizen cops.

The only people who really know or knew what happened in the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida are him (but he is dead) and George Zimmerman, the shooter.

There is a lot of conjecture, much based on racial prejudice and animosity on both sides.

And on the web you can find character assassinations (based on truth or not) on both characters.

The victim was a black teenager and the shooter is described as being of Peruvian and white descent, 29 years or so old.

The truth likely is that there was blame on both sides, although since Martin was reportedly unarmed, the weight falls heavily on Zimmerman. Zimmerman claims he was attacked and was acting in self defense. But some of what has come out so far makes it appear that it was not as simple as that or at least complicated by the fact he may (or not) have provoked the attack.

But what bothers me in all of this is that besides the worst thing, a teenager is shot to death walking down a street, is the idea of vigilantism — a Neighborhood Watch commander, as Zimmerman is described as being, carrying a gun and going after someone. While he claims he was attacked, I believe it has also been established that he took it upon himself to follow young Martin and bug him about what he was doing at night in the neighborhood.

Excuse me. I think Neighborhood Watch people are just supposed to observe and report things to the authorities. In fact, I heard part of a 911 tape and the person representing authority on the other end was telling Zimmerman to stay put and not follow. Zimmerman complained that “they always get away…” and did not follow that instruction.

Supposedly Young Martin was doing nothing more than carrying back snacks from a store to where he was staying. Zimmerman claimed the young man was poking around the area, which in and of itself, depending on what he meant, is not illegal (unless you’re trespassing, I guess), but at night is not a good thing to do — you might get bit by someone’s dog at the least or killed at the most (even if shooting you is not legal).

I won’t even go into the subject of a hoodie, the garment that Martin was wearing, and which some contend led Zimmerman to rightly surmise the young man was up to no good because some so-called “ganstas” wear them, except to say I wear a kind of light sweat jacket with a hood in my work (a kind of hoodie, I guess). Oh, and I am white and I am not a gangsta.

Okay, I will say something more on that. If you dress like a bad guy (or gal) you might be taken for one. But that has nothing to do with whether Zimmerman or anyone else in his position should have shot someone. Again, what bothers me is regular citizens acting like the police or for that matter self-appointed militias. I’m no more afraid of bad guys or big government than I am of so-called citizens committees (or I guess Neighborhood Watch in the Zimmerman manner) or militias.

As far as the Stand Your Ground doctrine that allows citizens to use deadly force in some jurisdictions, to include Florida, and in some situations, I think the burden has to weigh somewhat heavier on the shooter and should only hold in clear self-defense situations, if not we have a shooting free for all with a lot of innocent victims.

P.s.

But in cases where there is an intruder into or onto someone’s private domain (to include inside and outside) and such person can show that he or she logically feared for his or her life, I think that should be seriously considered in exonerating the shooter — but of course that has nothing to do with the Trayvon Martin case.


Are corporate taxes really too high in U.S.? and, you could pay lower taxes in Oklahoma, but you’d have to live in Oklahoma…

October 29, 2010

Time and time again I hear the claim from the pro-business or conservative set that corporate taxes in the U.S. are uncompetitively high and that is why the U.S. is at a competitive disadvantage and furthermore that taxes in California are sky high and that is why the Golden State is seen as unfriendly to business and therefore that is why California government is in such dire economic straits.

The notion that corporate taxes are higher in the U.S. than in other industrialized nations is virtually accepted as a truism among the conservative/pro-business set.

I really don’t feel I know the facts in this and I can find no easy way to get the answer.

At first reading, all I get from Wikipedia is that comparing corporate tax rates among nations is difficult because of the complexity of tax laws.

While I hear the constant refrain from Republicans on the radio that corporate taxes are too high and are higher here in the U.S. than other industrial nations, I just heard an admittedly left (or Democratic) – leaning “expert” claim that corporate tax rates in the U.S. are lower than many of the other industrialized nations — who to believe???

Also I just heard on the radio (well recently, now) and read an article that claims that far from business unfriendly, California has lower tax rates than even Texas, which seems to hold the claim among the conservative/business set that it is the most friendly to business state  — of course I do not know the accuracy of this article, interestingly enough, written by a chamber of commerce,  and that has to be difficult because chamber hacks must always slant articles to claim that taxes are too high, unless it is in their own territory and they are trying to attract businesses.

I also read that California offers a number of tax breaks to businesses, despite the actual tax rate. So businesses that know how to take advantage of such incentives or to game the system put themselves at an advantage.

And I also heard that despite Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s call to fire a lot of state workers to save money, California — the most populous state in the union — actually has fewer state employees per capita than many other states (but the statistics to back up this claim might be suspect — you have to realize that lobbyists, say for the public employee unions, churn out all kinds of propaganda and contact news outlets suggesting good story ideas).

Unfortunately those seeking the truth in all of this are at the mercy of those who under the guise of providing information actually provide one-sided propaganda — whose statistics do you want to believe? Objective analyses are not so easy to come by. The press has been weakened in this regard by falling profits of major old-time reliable news outlets and the pressure to produce more copy with fewer staff members and to not waste time on all that investigative stuff. Thank heavens that some outlets, such as the LA Times, are still at it, finding out such things as the inflated city manager and other top employee salaries in the city of Bell and other communities.

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Add 1:

And now  I read a news story that reminds me that not only City of Bell managerial staff were raking in the dough, so were four elected and part-time city councilmen, to the tune of $100,000 per year each. The city manager was essentially paying himself close to $800,000 per year, plus it was estimated he netted some $1.5 million from illegally created contracts. In fact city officials are charged with misappropriating $5.5 million from the city where one in six people live in poverty — all this according to an Associated Press story.

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(Belying to an extent my assertion of the lack of media watchdogs are those fact check or keeping-them-honest features you see from time to time — I hope that instant research is accurate.)

And here’s another point:

If you live and work and/or run a business in California, you might get by with cheaper taxes in, say, Oklahoma. But you would have to live and work in Oklahoma (no offense intended to Oklahoma).

Few people like taxes, but they are necessary in order to have a government and government is necessary in order to prevent chaos. While we may say some taxes are too high, we may actually be objecting to how they are being used. As long as the taxes are being used for a legitimate public purpose, it seems to me that it is wrong to simply call them unjust (although they still might be too high). But if they are really being used literally to line the pockets of public officials, such as was exposed in the Southern California community of Bell, then of course they are unjust. But other than that, the reason taxes are what they are is the result of policy made by elected representatives put into office by the vote of the people. It is not necessarily the government that is the enemy, it may be the majority of the people who indirectly gave their sanction to the policies government carries out by voting those who voted in the policies in the first place, or by being too busy, such as Meg Whitman claimed to be, to pay attention in the first place.

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Add 2:

As an afterthought, I now realize that I should have mentioned that regardless of tax rates in the U.S. we always hear those stories about various major multi-billion corporations paying zero taxes, due to tax loopholes. So really the term tax rate becomes nearly meaningless.

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 P.s.

I try not be anti-business, for even though I do not own a business, I know that most of us earn our living thanks to business. Then I hear this caller on a right-wing radio talk show say that he runs a small business in California and that he does not think taxes are the problem. What is the problem? Employees in California have too many rights. It’s a challenge for me to be pro-business — but I try.


Unemployment insurance is needed, but it can be a drag too…

July 21, 2010

As I post this, I see that it looks like the Democrats are going to be able to overcome Republican resistance to an extension in unemployment benefits — and yes I know, the conservatives claim they are not against the extension, they just want it paid for — that is what they say.

There was a time when you were out of work, when your usual occupation dried up, you went to doing something else — most anything. Of course, most anything did not necessarily pay enough to keep you and yours in the lifestyle to which you had grown accustomed — but that was the way it was. Then federal and state-run unemployment insurance came into being. You still did not make the money you made at your regular job but you did not have the expense and trouble of trying to work at something that did not pay enough and kept you from getting back into your regular line of work — and sometimes there really was, or in the present tense, really is no work.

Most of the time, a requirement to draw unemployment insurance is that you actively conduct a search for work. There are exceptions to this. Over the years it became a practice by seasonal workers to apply for unemployment benefits out of season. That, on the face of it, seems kind of strange in that one knows from the get go whether an occupation is seasonal and so should not expect to get paid for being out of work when he or she knew that would be the case.

(I need to insert here that a lot of people I have heard justify being on unemployment with the comment “I paid into it.” As far as I understand it, though, such is not the case. Employees do not pay into the government unemployment programs, but employers do.)

But in any case, unemployment officials have accepted the practice of paying out benefits to seasonal workers and not requiring them to seek employment, but instead wait till the season starts up again. This is of course amounts to a government subsidy for seasonal employment.

I don’t know all the details of unemployment insurance, but from time to time, over the years, congress has voted to give the program extensions so people on unemployment can receive payments beyond the normal time limit.

Republicans, possibly more out of politics than real concern, or maybe not, are balking at an unemployment extension, with some being so bold as to charge that it simply discourages people from looking for work. Others say they would be willing to vote for the extension if corresponding cuts can be made in other programs to offset the increased cost to avoid piling on to the already astronomical national debt with more borrowing. And that’s not a bad argument. However, one wonders if those same people thought about cutting government programs in order to justify the Bush tax cuts for the rich. A well known political tactic of the neo-conservative movement is to fight social programs by simply “starving the beast” via tax cuts, rather than risk political capital by opposing popular programs, socialist though they may be.

Personally, I wonder why we do not have a slightly less arcane system of unemployment insurance that simply pays you decent compensation, albeit not your normal salary, for a long period of time, but with the requirement that you conduct an active work search in everything and anything you may be qualified or capable of doing. In addition, it might be appropriate to allow, but not require, an employee contribution to unemployment insurance that would qualify the unemployed worker for additional coverage.

And those who insist that cuts in other areas of spending are needed for extending jobless benefits may well be correct, but they ought to have the guts to suggest where they would cut.

Unemployment insurance is needed for stability in society and the economy. I’m not at all sure that having the government subsidize seasonal employment via unemployment insurance is such a great idea, though. Seasonal workers should plan to work at something else in the off season. Many long years ago I worked for a time in a wood re- manufacturing plant and in the winter some of the log truck drivers would work in the mill. I don’t know if they were required to by the employer and/or unemployment officials.

There is a segment in the business community that has nothing but disdain for unemployment insurance, and don’t even mention minimum wage. They want to see workers have to accept whatever they are given and be happy with it. I don’t agree with that hard approach, but it does seem that it would be somewhat more practical for people to accept that there is a certain supply and demand rule going in labor and sometimes there is an over supply and an under demand and that can mean lower wages for a time. And sometimes one has to move on to something new. To some extent unemployment payments create an artificial system that seems to encourage people to be idle rather than to move on. Eventually most have to move on and the delay does not help them.

In addition it is not fair for part of society to constantly have to carry the other part, and a large idle population puts a crimp on the overall economy.

Mixed in with all of this is the supply of illegal foreign labor that depresses wages and working conditions and competes with citizens in need of work.

I don’t know if I have ever brought this up, but one of my bright ideas has been to create a government labor pool made up of those who cannot find work in the private sector. This labor pool would be available for various public works projects, such as litter cleanup, park projects, and various things that do not usually get done due to budget constraints or priorities. A labor pool would provide the unemployed with something productive to do and at the same time might be an encouragement to go out and find a better job or become an entrepreneur. Okay, I admit, that is probably basically what FDR did — maybe I just mean an updated version of something like the 1930s  CCC that might be a permanent part of the system.

To those who do not need unemployment insurance because they are skillful in something that is in demand and because they have made wise life decisions, I say go ahead and pat yourself on the back and encourage a young person to do the same, that is get skillful and make wise life decisions. At the same time, don’t be too smug — financial calamities can happen to anyone (can you say CANCER?).