Vote!

Tuesday, November 6, is Election Day in the United States.  So was Tuesday, November 8, 2016.   In the last general election about 58% of eligible voters actually voted.  This November, if prior off-year elections are any indication (Hint: They are), about 40% of eligible voters will actually vote.

Will you be one of them?

I certainly hope so, not only because it is your right, but rather, because it is your duty.

Government By the People

Most of you reading this, myself included, were granted the right to vote when we were born.  We had to wait 18 (or 21) years before we could execute that right, but basically we did nothing more – this was one of the many gifts we received merely by being lucky to have been born here.  For my non-American readers born in democracies, you too were very lucky.

According to Freedom House, about 40% of the world’s population lives in countries considered to be “Free”, where there is an elective government with citizens having a legitimate right to vote.  I’m sure that there are other creditable sources which differ in their quantification, but there can be little doubt that several billions of persons world-wide do not have this basic human right.  Among the most notable without this basic right to choose their political leaders are the Chinese, North Koreans, Russians, Cubans, and Saudis.

Without this basic right, unless someone is born into an exceedingly wealthy family or accumulates great wealth by some means, they have virtually no say in what their government does.

I consider myself lucky to have been born in the US.  I also feel that I have an obligation to contribute to maintaining the democratic freedoms given to me.  At the very least I should vote.

About voting, some people say:

“Does it really matter, I am such a minority in my district that the “other” side always wins?” 

 “Aren’t all politicians pretty much the same?”

 “What if none of the choices on the ballot really does it for me?”

  “I don’t want to vote for someone who does not support (Fill in the blank for your favorite single issue cause________).”

I have heard all of these statements before, most recently from discouraged Bernie supporters who basically said, “The hell with it.” after Hillary squeezed Bernie out of the race.  A snide version of me might ask, “How did that work out for you?”  A more civil version of me would parrot the overused, but accurate, cliché, “Elections have consequences.”

We need to vote, not just to get people into office who do what we want them to do, but even more importantly, to preserve the system that allows us to have a say in government in the first place.

Why Vote When the Other Side Always Wins?

If you live in Seattle (Washington 7thCongressional District) like I do and want to vote republican for Congress you are not going to have your candidate win.  This coming election, the republicans don’t even have anyone on the ballot for Congress. Conversely, if you live in the Idaho First District, where my cousin Dan Oster lives, and you want to vote for a democrat, you will not likely be voting for a winner.

Even if you think it is not possible for your favorite candidate to win, I submit that it is still important that you vote.  Vote, not because you think the winner will support your positions, she likely will not. Rather, you need to voluntarily vote to maintain the power of the vote, which, in turn, helps us retain a democracy.

Candidates who want to be reelected must at least consider the needs of those who oppose them if the numbers are high enough. The smaller the number of people who vote against them, the more they will shift to meet the needs of only those who did vote for them. This could be to the right or to the left depending on the district.  The result of course, is even more polarization, less compromise, and more opportunity for special interests.  Special interests who may or may not represent the needs of the population at large.

It is wise to remember that in the course of maybe 5,000 years since the Sumerians started recording history, the radical idea that “the people” should rule is only 242 years old. The idea that all “people” should vote, even women, is only about a hundred years old.   And the idea that people should choose their leaders, although it has caught on recently, is still far from universal and current trends seem to indicate it is at risk and possibly even on the wane.

If people do not exercise their right to vote, there also is much more likelihood of us foregoing democracy altogether with one side or the other going for a “strong man” who gets things done the way they want them done – human rights notwithstanding.

What if There Are No Candidates Who Take My Positions on the Issues?

This argument, like it’s cousin, “All politicians are the same”, is a threat to democracy.  Like the Rolling Stones said, “You can’t always get what you want,…”  The idea of democracy (which I define as the people actively involved in governing) was never that all people would like all of the decisions of government.  Compromise is inherent in the system.  If you don’t accept that compromise is necessary, then you must also be willing to accept an autocracy.  Wise and well meaning people see things differently.  Sometimes we have to accept what we believe is a less than perfect solution.

Sometimes you just have to choose between the lessor of two evils.  Wait patiently, your day will come.  The pendulum always swings in a democracy.

What about Voter Registration?

Perhaps the most important aspect of voting is determining who gets to vote.

There has been much written/said lately about the fact that many groups within our citizenry are not registered to vote and therefore cannot exercise their rights.

There have been efforts in several states to increase the requirements to register to vote and to “purge” voter registration lists of names of people who have not voted recently or who appear not to be eligible.  The net result of such efforts is likely that fewer people will actually vote.   Some would argue that this is necessary to ensure that people who vote are fully qualified to do so.  Others see this as a means of suppressing votes among groups less likely to vote the way they want.

My view is that there is truth in both arguments, but both sides miss the larger issue: we should be working to increase voter turnout, not decrease it.  At the same time we need to insure that only qualified persons actually cast ballots.

The fewer people who participate in the electoral process the weaker our democracy becomes.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires that states allow eligible citizens to register to vote when completing other transactions at state motor vehicle and social services agencies.  Oregon took this one step further and automatically registers everyone applying for an ID or drivers license while giving them the ability to opt out.

The Russians, and Other Bad Guys

As I write this, there is still no report out from the Special Council Robert Mueller so the issue of whether as there were any criminal acts by Americans related to the 2016 election is not yet resolved.

(Side note: Mueller was a Marine contemporary of mine who also served as a lieutenant in the Second Battalion, Fourth Marines (AKA The Magnificent Bastards) during the same time frame that I was in Vietnam, although I did not know him personally.)

Recently the Senate Intelligence Committee unequivocally upheld the conclusion of the intelligence community’s (The CIA, NSA & FBI) unanimous conclusion that Russians did in fact attempt to influence our election and they broke the law.

The Russians were able to access and create a false narrative on our social media, which, by the way, is where the majority of Americans now get their news (See my previous post titled “Truth” if you are interested in my opinion of this trend).  Like it or not, Facebook, Twitter and their counterparts do influence voters and there are foreign and domestic forces who have a vested interest in influencing our elections.

All indications are that the Russians, and others, will continue to try and disrupt our democracy.  The idea of “the people ruling” is not a comfortable concept for an autocrat.  It is clearly to the advantage of dictators internally if the democracies in the world are seen to be in a state of political disarray.

Even more importantly than their influence on social media, the Russians, more accurately GRU agents at the direction of Putin’s government, tried to access our vote counting systems, most of which rely heavily on electronic data capture and storage. Apparently they were unsuccessful in this effort in 2016.

However, it is not a question of “if” but rather “when” our electronic systems will be compromised.  If our electronic voting systems are hacked, how will we know whether a “winner” really “won”?

Why Your Vote Counts

At the time of the 2016 election there were approximately 250,056,000 persons of voting age in the U.S who could have been eligible to vote.  138,847,000 of these people actually voted with 62,984,828 (46.1%) of them voting for the winner, Donald J. Trump.

Another way to look at this is that Trump won the election by having a little over 25% of eligible voters voting for him.  Looked at still another way the 323,400,000 Americans had their president selected by about 19% of the population.  Kids don’t vote of course, but they are definitely influenced by the results of the election.

Lest you think this is an anti-Trump message, consider this:  President Obama, who got 65,915,796 (51.1% of the total) votes in 2016 with a smaller eligible population of 235,248,000 still won with only 28% of the eligible vote or about 21% of the total population of 314,000,000 in 2012.

My point here is not that Obama got more votes and a higher percentage of registered voters than Trump, but more importantly, that our presidents are chosen by a relatively small percentage of the population.

In off-year elections the key decisions about Senators and Representatives are made by an even smaller percentage of the people.  In 2014 only 36.4% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the federal election (Senate & House of Representatives).

Analysis by the Pew Research Center found that 35% of non-voters cited work or school commitments, which prevented them from voting, 34% said they were too busy, unwell, away from home or forgot to vote, 20% either didn’t like the choices, didn’t know enough or didn’t care and 10% had recently moved, missed a registration deadline or didn’t have transportation.

Some might argue that if people don’t bother to vote it is probably better that they did not. I challenge that position.

Some conservatives, knowing that their older, wealthier base is more likely to vote the way they want them to might be tempted to try to restrict voting and make it harder for poorer and younger voters to register and/or actually get to the polls.  However, any short-term gain this strategy might yield would be offset long-term by a loss of faith in the democratic system.

Conversely, some on the left might consider placing virtually no controls or checks on the voting process, basically allowing anyone who shows up to vote.  They might do this figuring that most of those who would vote this way are more likely to support liberal candidates.  Again, this strategy is shortsighted.  More might vote, but the legitimacy of the process could easily be called into question, degrading the value and legitimacy of the vote itself.

If the percentage of persons actually voting continues in a downward spiral, we will leave ourselves open to an autocratic takeover.  If we don’t bother to vote, why should politicians or the bureaocrats they select worry about our welfare? There are special interest groups that will serve up enough dark money to provide the façade of a free election.

What can we do to protect our right to vote, increase voter participation, and ensure the legitimacy of the process?

Here are my recommendations for changes to our National voting system:

  1. Adopt the Oregon “opt out” registration system. If you want an ID card/Drivers License or you want to apply for government benefits, you are automatically registered to vote. If you have religious or other qualms you can elect not to be registered by opting out.
  2. Go one step further than Oregon did: If you don’t vote in say 2 years (or at the very least just mail in an empty ballot, essentially voting “none of the above”), you can’t get a renewal of the ID card, nor can you get food stamps or other government benefits. Why should you get services and benefits from the government if you are not willing to do your absolute minimum civic duty and at the very least, register to vote?
  3. Go to paper mail-in ballots like Washington, Oregon, and Colorado now have. This mail-in system provides a number of benefits including: a. Allowing voters to take some time to think (ballots are mailed weeks before the election day) with their ballot and really make sound decisions.  Voters can check with trusted information sources and read/use the voters guide when filling out their ballots. b.   Paper ballots are “real” – in a close race they can be recounted.  They cannot easily be changed or destroyed – at least not by someone on a PC from virtually anywhere in the world.  c. There is a voting period giving maximum flexibility for persons whose work and/or caregiving or other obligations make voting during a single 12-hour time block very difficult.  d. Paper mail-in ballots eliminate the very long wait times at polling booths – some people have to work and take care of their kids.
  4. Add a thumb print to the paper ballot envelope used in the mail-in ballot states. Currently in the mail-in system used in Washington State the voter has to sign the outside of the security envelope (not the ballot itself). Adding a thumb print in addition to the signature would more positively guarantee that someone is not voting twice, and that the person is who they say they are. I envision a ballot envelope that has a place for you to place your thumb on a gel like surface under a removable cover like on a scratch pull tab. You would pull up the cover, place you thumb on the gel surface, then close the cover. The thumb print would not be on the ballot itself, but on the cover envelope which is where you now sign when using the paper ballot like Washington State does.  Yes, it would cost more.  Yes, some people don’t like giving out their thumb prints.  But it would still be worth it because it would add an extra level of assurance that people were not voting twice and would provide an excellent tool for investigators to use in cases where voter fraud was alleged.
  5. Continue to offer local polling place options. This is something that Washington State does not offer and there are some instances where I can see an advantage to actually going to a local/neighborhood polling place. An example might be a person who felt intimidated by their spouse or another person living with them.  The privacy of the polling booth would allow these individuals to vote without fear or interference by others who might be present when they were filling out their paper ballots.  There are also disabled people who require assistance to complete their ballots and this would best be provided by an election official, not a friend or family member. Again, this adds cost, but hey, democracy is not the cheaper system.

In summary:

I have stated some reasons why high voter turnout is important to a democracy and I have identified some systemic changes that could/should be made to increase voter participation, ensure that only qualified persons vote, and protect the vote count from electronic hacking.

You, however, don’t have to wait until these changes are in place.

In the meantime, just VOTE!

Taxes

In my previous blog post titled “Government” I addressed the idea of fairness and taxes.

I have a solution for federal taxes that Congress is welcome to consider/use free of charge.

My plan relies on changing how we tax the very rich but It also helps businesses become more competitive and I think it is a solution even billionaire investor Warren Buffett or the world’s richest men, my Seattle area neighbors Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos would approve.

I call it Jim’s Tax Plan.  Here are the highlights/benefits:

  • Fully funds National Defense separately from all other programs-Providing financial support and stability for the Federal government’s most important role: Providing for the Common Defense.
  • Eliminates all corporate and business taxes– Makes US businesses the most competitive in the world.
  • Eliminates inheritance taxes– no death taxes – family businesses can continue to the next generation.
  • Keeps Personal Income Taxes Revenue Neutral: No overall additional taxes on personal income. Substitute a Flat tax for rich and poor alike that will be simple to compute and easy to understand.
  • Rewards high income (high productivity) individuals & redistributes wealth, not from the rich to the poor, but from the less productive rich to the more productive rich.
  • Balances the Budget

“OK Jim, you’ve got my attention, what’s your idea?” 

If you are middle income, please read on.

If you run a business and are in the middle class, I think you will like it.

If you are reading this and are both very rich and have very high income based on your skills and hard work like Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, I think you might be surprised that Jim’s Tax Plan works OK for persons like yourself.

Rich People who work hard, generate lots of income every year, and who are real “job creators” will do fine under Jim’s Tax Plan.

If you are very rich but don’t produce much income; spend your money frivolously; accumulate wealth by basically taking it from others (legally or illegally) without delivering value; or basically just live off of inherited wealth, you are welcome to read on, but you will probably not like Jim’s Tax Plan.

Under Jim’s Tax Planthe Federal Government would replace the current income focused tax system with a two-part system:

  1. The very wealthiest Americans will pay for Providing for the Common Defense. This includes the budgets for DOD, Veterans Administration, and Homeland Security) For 2018 this totals $869.7 Billion.   This will be paid for via a Net Worth Taxon all household net worth in excess of $1 million.  Consider it a “National Defense” tax on multi-millionaires.
  2. All individuals with any income will pay for all other non-defense spending just as they do now but using a Flat Tax of 15%to generate the same amount of revenue.For 2018 non-defense spending totals $1.9 Trillion.  This is basically the same personal tax burden placed on personal income today.

“What the heck are you talking about Jim?”

What I am suggesting is that the basic premise of our current federal tax system is flawed, relying almost solely on taxing income.  We tax income twice, once when it is received by companies and then again as personal income.

We do this using a system that is so complex not even tax accountants can fully understand it.  Jim’s Tax Plan is a better way to generate the revenue needed to operate our government.

Jim’s Tax Plan shifts a large portion of the tax burden from high-income persons to those with high wealth.  Although sometimes these are the same people, often they are not. Currently we penalize those who are the most productive (as measured by income) while favoring those who have lots of wealth but who may not actually produce much (as measured by reported income and/or losses).

Jim’s Tax Plan redistributes income, not from the rich to the poor, but from the non-productive to the most productive.   It also aligns taxation more closely with the benefits received, at least at the macro level.

Jim’s Tax Plan realigns the system to obtain a large portion of the revenue needed from a tax on the net worth of the very wealthy. The top 1% of the population currently possess  32% of the $94,800,000,000 Billion (AKA $94.8 Trillion) in total Net Worth of U.S. Households. (Source: Federal Reserve, Survey of Consumer Finances and Household Total Net Worth Report – First Quarter 2017).

There are 146,713,385 Households in the US (US Census Bureau).

1,467,134 of these households (1%) hold assets of approximately $30,336,000,000,000, AKA $30.3 Trillion, or 32% of the Total of $94.8 Trillion. (Source: Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances)

If we tax that $30.3 Trillion held by the very wealth at 3% annually we can generate $909 Billion annually and completely pay for DOD, VA, & Homeland Security (Source:  2018 Budgets for DOD ($639.1 Billion), VA  ($186.5 Billion) & Homeland Security( $44.1 Billion) as published by DOD, VA and the Congressional Budget Office).

If we keep personal income taxes and other sources of revenue the same (i.e. revenue neutral) we can balance the budget.

“Why should the wealthy people pay for the defense of us all?”  

Because they benefit the most from the protection our military and homeland security provide.   The top 1% have by far the most to lose if the Federal Government does not protect their assets.  Without a military and homeland security, foreign forces would be able to take and/or destroy their wealth.  Look at this protection as a form of insurance – the more you have to lose, the more you need insurance. Like with home insurance, the more you have to protect, the more you pay.  These very few people are getting the most protection, they need to pay for it. Currently the super rich are not paying their fair share for National Defense.

It is also the case that the burden of actually providing this defense falls almost exclusively on the rest of us.  It is our sons, daughters, nephews and nieces who serve in the military.  With extremely rare exceptions, these are not from the families of the super wealthy.

It is also the case that under the current system the wealthy are paying a large portion of overall taxes anyway.  While it may seem radical, what I am proposing merely shifts the system to favor those very wealthy people who are the most productive and charges others fairly for the benefit they receive from National Defense.

WARNING – The rest of this post is for policy nerds only: 

This Blog post is long and very wonky.  The basic idea is that the current tax system based on income should be partially replaced/augmented by a net worth tax on the very rich. This net worth tax would pay for National Defense.

 What follows is a detailed explanation of how Jim’s Tax Plan could work and I have tried to supply the background information to support my assumptions and arguments.  

 I will not be responsible for any headaches caused by reading beyond this point.  However, the devil is in the details and if you are really interested in this idea, I would love for you to continue reading and to provide me with feedback. 

 I fully understand, however, if you want to bail out right now.  

You’re still here so, OK, I will try to anticipate your questions, here goes:

“Remind me Jim, what is net worth?”  

A brief recap on how to compute your net worth:

  • Add the total value of everything you own. This would include houses, cars, boats, RVs, vacation properties, investments, a small business or farm, cash and anything else that that has value.  Another way to describe this is anything of value that you would want covered by insurance or which would be held by a financial institution.
  • Subtract all outstanding debt such as mortgages, credit card balances, other loans.
  • The remainder is your Net Worth.
  • 85% of us should be able to do this by ourselves on a single sheet of paper.Rich dudes and business owners will need to hire accountants to keep track of it all, which they want to do anyway as it is kind of nice to know where you stand and what you actually own and owe.
  • For point of reference the average household net worth in 2016 was $97,225 (Source: Survey of Consumer Finances, US Federal Reserve).

“But Jim, won’t a net worth tax stymie growth?  I have heard that these really rich people are the “job creators” and that they provide the “capital investments” that benefit the rest of us.”

 Yes, many of these very rich people do innovate and create jobs and wealth for the rest of us (e.g. Bill Gates & Jeff Bezos) and others wisely apply capital to grow our economy (e.g. Warren Buffet).

Under Jim’s tax plan these “high producers” will thrive, because…

By raising $869 Billion in tax revenue via a net worth tax we can totally:

Eliminate Corporate Taxeswhich currently produce revenue of $310,000,000,000 (Source USA FACTS)

Eliminate Estate & Gift Taxeswhich currently produce revenue of  $19,300,000,000 (Source USA FACTS)

Balance the Budget

Deficit for 2018 is $484,200,000,000

What this means is that under Jim’s Tax Plan US businesses and investments will be the most competitive in the world – no taxes on corporate income. The very wealth folks who would be paying for National Defense under Jim’s Tax Plan can therefore, if the are truly wealth creatures, reap significant benefits from their investments to fully offset the new tax on their net worth.

Without having to worry about “corporate tax implications,” entrepreneurs at all levels can make business decisions based on market needs and their own individual expertise or innovations.  The Federal Government will no longer be picking winners and losers as it has been doing for ages via our focus on corporate income and loopholes.

By paying for National Defense via a Net Worth tax on the very wealth, the remaining budget needs can be made without increasing the overall need for personal income taxes.  Personal income taxes and employment taxes under Jim’s Tax Plan are revenue neutral and generate the same revenue as they do now.

With the super rich paying for National Defense via the Net Worth Tax enough revenue will be created to totally eliminate the annual budget deficit. The result would be a significant contribution to the long-term stability of the US Economy which will greatly benefit our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

“The rich are not really bad people, so why declare war on them?”

I hear you, but please bear with me, and I am not declaring “war” on the rich, just asking them to pay for the defense of their assets that they are receiving from the United States.

“But Jim, how can these rich people survive having to pay almost 3% of their net worth each year? Won’t they run out of money? Wouldn’t this just cause more homelessness down the road?”

The rich will be fine, no need to worry.  If, and this is a key to Jim’s Tax Plan, they produce and/or invest wisely.

Here is how it can work for the really rich:

  • The stock market long-term average return is in excess of 11%.
  • That means that if these very wealthy people merely buy a stock index fund and sit on it, their wealth should grow 11% a year over time. Even with a 3% Net Worth Tax, their wealth would still be growing at 7+% a year by doing no more than just basic safe investing.  But without any Corporate Income Taxes investment it is reasonable to assume even greater annual investment gains than 11%.
  • Jim’s Tax Plan is even better yet in terms of benefits for the really productive group of the super rich.  These are the innovators and the doers and shakers who have really benefited society as a whole by introducing new products and services that people want or need.  They have become rich in the process which is fine by me.
  • By freeing these high producers from corporate income taxes we will in effect be giving them even an incentive to continue to make even more money. The net worth tax the very wealthy have to pay on their accumulated wealth is easily offset by the higher return on their investments that will result from the elimination of the corporate taxes.

At this point, especially if you are very rich, you might be saying:

“Wait a minute Jim, I already paid taxes on this wealth that I have and now you want to take it away?  It is my money dammit!!!” 

If you have more than $1 Million in net worth and this sounds like you, please hear me out and I will explain why it is fair, why it would be good for the national economy, as well as why it would be good for most individual tax payers likely including you.

“How is this fair Jim?”

Life is not always fair.  People are rich for a number of reasons.  Many are “rich” because they worked for it, some inherited exceptional talents, and yet some are rich because they were born into it, were lucky, or got the money illegally.  Jim’s Tax Plan favors those wealthy people who use their God-given talents and work hard for their money.

It is also “fair” that the super rich should pay for our national defense since those who serve in the military come from the families of the other 99% who often have to pay with their blood.  Note: I would exempt anyone from having to pay a net worth tax during those years that they serve on active duty in the military.

“How would Jim’s Tax Plan work?”  

Under Jim’s Tax Plan If you have less than $1,000,000 in net worth you would only pay income tax just like you are now.  If you have a small business you would pay no business taxes, only a flat 15% on what you personally take in from the business.

For point of reference the median (half above/half below) net worth of US households is $ 97,225.55.   The net worth of the poorest group of people in the in the top 10%  (i.e. those in the 90th percentile) is $1,182,390.36 (Source:  Federal Reserve)

The above example of someone with $1.18 million in net worth would have to pay Net Worth Tax on the $182,390.36 above $1 million.  At 3%,  that would amount to an annual net worth tax of $547.

The super rich will of course pay much more, but not more than they can afford.  Under Jim’s Tax Plan it doesn’t matter where your wealth came from – they have it, so they owe their fair share to help pay for the National Defense that protects their assets.

At current levels of Government Spending on Defense, the tax bite of a Net Worth Tax on the very rich would be about 3 % per year.  (See explanation in “Big Picture Table” below.)

So, if you have $10 Million in net worth at the beginning of the year, do absolutely nothing with your wealth to generate new income/revenue for the next year, you will have a tax bill for $287,000.  This represents 3% of the $10 Million.   If you don’t produce anything with your wealth, your net worth will drop by the amount of the Net Worth Tax and whatever money you spend to live on.

If, on the other hand, you continue to work, manage a business and/or make reasonable investments, you could have significantly more wealth a year from now.

Smart, hard working rich people will do very well under Jim’s Tax Plan. Lazy and stupid rich people will see their wealth disappear over time.

Remember that there are NO corporate taxes under Jim’s Tax plan.

The net worth tax on any new income you make would effectively be taxed the following  year at the flat 15% personal income tax rate, a pretty low tax rate for a high earner. Actually it is a pretty decent rate for any earner.

If you don’t work and only have income from current wealth via investments, and just put your wealth into an index fund you should earn at the very least 6-7% long term.  This would more than cover your National Defense Net Worth tax bill while allowing you to retain most of your fortune and most likely grow it a little.

Wise investors can earn much more than 7% per year on their assets and their fortunes would continue grow.  Stupid investors would not do well, but hey, that is a consequence of being stupid.

“Why should people work hard if they know that if they are successful some of their accumulated wealth will be taxed?”

There will still be plenty of incentive for people to work hard to become rich.  The elimination of corporate and business income taxes opens the door wide for entrepreneurs.

The elimination of inheritance taxes should encourage those who want to leave a legacy (e.g. A family business or farm) to their offspring.

And, if you are already rich and also have a really good salary, say you are a starting NFL quarterback, great! Your new income from that Super Bowl Bonus check is only going to be taxed at the same low rate as the rest of your fortune.

Same goes if you win the lottery or inherit a fortune.  This is much better than a super high income tax based on your income.

As noted before, under Jim’s Tax Plan it does not matter where your wealth comes from, you still pay the same 3% rate per year.  Whether you remain wealthy is totally up to you.

“What about non-defense spending, who pays for that?

Under Jim’s Tax Plan all non-defense spending would be paid for the way it is now by a combination of personal income taxes, payroll taxes and the miscellaneous other sources of income like fees etc. We have been collecting taxes this way for the last 100 years or so.   While we could just keep the current personal income tax system in place, I prefer instituting a Flat Tax of 15% on all income across the board. The 15% figure comes from dividing the amount of revenue currently received via personal income ($1.9 Trillion) by the total US personal income ($13 Trillion).   In other words if everyone paid 15% of their income we would raise the same amount of money in personal income tax as we do under the current very complicated system.

We can’t expect the rich to pay for everything and it makes sense to me that we all owe something to live in this great country.

15% of income seems reasonable.  Across the board, no loophopes.

“What about Medicare taxes?”

 Payroll taxes that fund our Medicare system would remain the same under Jim’s Tax Plan, not because they are particularly well crafted, or even make sense, but primarily because fixing them is too difficult for me to figure out.  As long as any changes raise enough revenue to cover the costs, the budget would still balance. Note that the issue here is not really how the revenue is collected but rather the underlying costs of healthcare which are not being controlled.

The bitter truth is that unless we get costs under control we are all going to have to pay more.

This is a case where it does not make sense for us to “tax the rich” as they are not really getting any more benefit than the rest of us. This is quite different from National Defense which primarily benefits those with the most wealth.

We all need to pay for health care, one way or another.

“How is Jim’s Tax Plan good for the economy?”

Eliminating Corporate and Business taxes altogether would make our businesses much more competitive in the world market.

Businesses would also be much more efficient at home. There would be no more complicated figuring out and finagling to code expenses as “tax deductible”.  Expenses would just be expenses.  Expense decisions could be made much more logically and totally without government interference.

Despite what the Supreme Court says in Citizens United, corporations are not really people. But, all companies and corporations are owned by people.  Corporations have multiple owners who, like the owners of private businesses, would still be paying the taxes, but only when they receive the money personally and add it to their net worth.  Currently we are taxing this income twice, once on corporations and businesses, then again on personal income of the people who own them.

With Jim’s Tax Plan the tax on income would be collected one time: at the point it is received by an individual.  The rate would be the same for all Americans – at a flat 15%. Based on a number of analyses of past proposals for a Flat Tax, this approach will produce the about the same amount of revenue as our current much more complicated multiple tiered income tax.

Relieved of federal taxes, businesses and corporations would become not only more competitive internationally, but they could make wise market-driven decisions without having to consider tax policies forced on them by the Federal Government.  They would have more freedom to make more money for their shareholders and owners.

“What’s the Big Picture Jim?”

Here is what Jim’s Tax Plan would look like at the macro level:

Number of US Households                                                                 124.6 Million

Net Worth of all US Households                                                        $94.8 Trillion

Net worth of the top 1% (32% of total)                                            $30.33 Trillion

Money Needed

A – National Defense Budget (DOD/VA/HS) 2018                           $869.7 Billion                                                                                                                         (or .869 Trillion)

Plus

B – Budget for Everything else                                                          $3.22 Trillion

(2018 Fed Budget minus Defense)

Equals

C – FY 2018 Federal Budget                                                               $4.094 Trillion

(Whitehouse.gov/omb/budget)

Revenue Under Jim’s Tax Plan

D – 2018 Total Projected Revenue from Current Tax System           $3.65 Trillion

(Whitehouse.gov/omb/budget)

Minus

E – Corp Tax Revenue (Not Collected under Jim’s System)              $401 Billion

(Source: USAFacts.org)

Minus

F -2015 Estate & Gift Tax Revenue (Not Collected)                         $24.1 Billion

(Source: USA Facts.org)

Plus

E –Jim’s Tax Plan Net Worth Tax Revenue                                       $909 Billion

(3% of 30.336 Trillion)

F – Total Revenue under Jim’s Tax Plan

(Revenue Minus Corp & Estate Taxes)                                             $4.13 Trillion

 

G- Surplus                                                                                              $40 Billion

THIS IS A BALANCED BUDGET!!!

So to recap so far, under Jim’s Tax Plan we are having the multi-millionairs (as defined by net worth, not income) pay for the cost of National Defense (This includes the budgets for DOD/Veterans Administration/& Homeland Security) via a tax of their Net Worth in excess of $1 Million.   This will allow us to completely eliminate the Corporate Taxes and Estate and Gift Taxes and to balance the budget without increasing the tax burden on personal income (Revenue Neutral).

“What would this tax look like for someone who is in the top 1%?”

99 Percentile Net Worth Threshold                                                                $10,374,030

(This is the lowest net worth you can have and still be in

the top 1% – Federal Reserve Data)

Deduction                                                                                                            $1,000,000

(Everyone would get this deduction)

 

Taxable Net Worth                                                                                            $9,374,030

Projected Income/ Return on Net Worth of $ 10.374 M @11%                $1,141,143

(Long term stock market average return is 11%)

Other Income                                                                                                    $59,039

(Natl Ave. – for most high net worth individuals this would be much greater)

Total Income                                                                                                    $1,200,18

Income Tax at Flat 15%                                                                                  $180,027

Net Worth Tax Liability under Jim’s Tax Plan @ 3%                                $281,221

Total Tax Liability                                                                                           $461,248

(Net Worth Tax of 3% plus Income Tax of 15%)

Net Income (after taxes)                                                                                 $738,934

Overall tax Rate on $279,000 in income                                                         38.43%

(Total Tax Liability Divided by Total Income)

Net Worth One Year Later (After Taxes Paid)                                           $11,112,964

(Minus spending)

Growth in Net Worth                                                                                     $738,934

Percentage Growth in Net worth                                                                    7.12%

This example is for a person in the 99ththpercentile who starts the year with $10.374M in net worth.  Note that for this illustration I have only included the national average for other income which should be way below what most people in this category make each year.  For the illustration I am trying to show that the capital itself (One’s Net Worth) should easily return enough each year to pay the National Defense net worth tax under Jim’s Tax Plan.  They also should be able to modestly grow their total net worth without being overly productive.  The overall tax rate is very close to the current income tax rate for persons with this level of income, but without the loopholes and deductions that seem to permeate our current tax code.

This example is for the poorest person in the top 1%.  The formula will work at any level above this. You may not know anyone in this category, but you may know someone in the category below.

“What would this tax look like for someone who has $2 Million in net worth?”

Net Worth                                                                                                       $2,000,000

(This would put you in about the 95thPercentile)

Deduction                                                                                                       $1,000,000

(Everyone would get this deduction)

Taxable Net Worth                                                                                         $1,000,000

Projected Income/ Return on Net Worth of $ 1 M @11%                        $220,000

(Long term stock market average return is 11%)

Other Income                                                                                                  $59,039

(Natl Ave. – for most high net worth individuals this would be greater)

Total Income                                                                                                   $279,039

Income Tax at Flat 15%                                                                                  $41,856

 

Net Worth Tax Liability under Jim’s Tax Plan @ 3%                               $30,000

Total Tax Liability                                                                                          $71,856

(Net Worth Tax of 3% plus Income Tax of 15%)

Net Income (after taxes)                                                                                 $207,183

Overall tax Rate on $279,000 in income                                                         25.75%

(Total Tax Liability Divided by Total Income)

Net Worth One Year Later (After Taxes)                                                    $2, 207,183

(Minus spending)

Growth in Net Worth                                                                                     $207,183

Percentage Growth in Net worth                                                                    10%

This example is for a person in the 95thpercentile who starts the year with $2 M in Net worth.  Note here also that I have used a very conservative (i.e. low) “other income” estimate. The overall tax rate is a very reasonable 25.75 % even at this low income level.  At higher levels of income the rate will actually drop because

“What about me Jim, I don’t have a million dollars?”

Most of you reading this probably don’t have a net worth of $1,000,000.  For you what I am offering is a simplified income tax code (Flat Tax) and the opportunity to become very wealthy and still pay that same flat rate.

Under the simplest version of a Flat Tax to compute your taxes your personal income tax liability would be 15% of your income. One size fits all.  On average this is what Americans are paying right now.

Work hard, invest wisely, and you have a really affordable tax liability.  Once you reach $1,000,000 in net worth, you will have to pay more, but hey, worse things could happen to you than having $1,000,000 in net worth, which, btw you can leave to your family.  I am confident that Jim’s Tax Plan will actually be an incentive to highly productive go-getters.

“I Am Totally Confused Jim, How Can These Rich People Pay Huge Tax Bills and Still Come Out Ahead at the End of the Year?”

Try and stay with me on this.

The net worth tax and personal income taxes paid by the very wealthy are offset by a projected annual 11% gain in net worth.  I have made the assumption that this person will invest in the stock market as a simple Index Fund investor. The stock market over many years has averaged 11% return.  With the elimination of Corporate Taxes it is reasonable to assume that stocks could easily increase their return to 12-14% long term.  So a person with $10,000,000 in assets who did nothing more than sit on assets conservatively invested in the stock market index fund would increase his/her net worth annually by 10% after taxes.

Obviously most super rich persons are not that lazy and are savvy enough to get much higher returns on their assets, not to mention capital gains profits and or salaries that they earn.  This additional income is now taxed at a much lower overall marginal tax rate of 18% (15% in a flat income tax plus the additional 3% in Net worth tax that will hit the following year).  This is much lower than the current 37% marginal tax bracket for people earning over $460K.

My point being that rich people will have a really good incentive to keep producing more – they get to keep much more of it.  Additionally, they will be released from the current corporate/business taxes that bog down businesses and which put the Government in the position of picking winners and losers.  Now the winners will be able to make money the way they want to.

“Are you not telling me something Jim?”                                                                                                                                                  

Well yes, sort of.   My assumption about how this tax plan works OK for the very rich is based on the holder of these assets being smart, hard working, and wise in his/her use of their assets.   Silver spoon-in-the-mouth trust babies who merely inherit a fortune and then live a life of luxury without producing anything of value will, over time, see their fortunes dwindle as they pay their fare share for National Defense.  This will happen gradually (3% a year) so they have plenty of time to change their ways and start actually producing something of value.

The other rich folks who will not like this plan are those who are just not that smart.  Bad investments and poorly run companies will no longer be subsidized by the government. I say this because under current tax law companies can “write off” losses and thus reduce their taxes.  We are inadvertently benefiting the losers at the expense of the rest of us.  Many of these people have significant assets that we are all paying to protect with our Defense Spending but they are not paying any taxes because the did not run the company at a profit.  Essentially they are getting something (Protection) for nothing.  Jim’s Tax Plan will end these subsidies for the non-productive rich.

Criminals won’t like it either for the obvious reason that their assets will be exposed.

“What Else Have You Not Told Me Jim?”

Another consideration is that a Flat Tax would create some “winners” and some “losers.” Some of us would lose our “loopholes” like mortgage interest, but then, so would the fat cats who now have many more loopholes.  15% on all income is easy to understand and it does seem to me to be a good way to keep taxes simple and at least reasonably fair.

Overall the personal tax bite for most Americans would be about the same under a flat tax.

“Jim, I have earned every penny I have and now that I have a net worth well over $1 Million you want to take it away.   What gives?”

I have three things to say those of you who do have a net worth of over $1,000,000:

  1. You have worked hard and hopefully are enjoying the fruits of your labor.  Under Jim’s Tax Plan you could leave your entire estate to your children tax-free.
  2. I would like to remind you that you are only going to pay Jim’s Net Worth tax on the amount over $1 million and, if you are in business or have sound investments, that you should benefit significantly from the elimination of all corporate income taxes.
  3. I would also submit that you would be paying a fair share for the protection of your assets which our military provides you.

This Seems Too Good to Be True, Where Are You Getting These Numbers?”

Much/most of the Data used in developing Jim’s Tax Plan is from Steve Balmer’s USA FACTS Web site which draws exclusively from public record sources.  It is a really interesting site based on and organized along the four fundamental functions of Government described in the Constitution of the US.  Balmer created the site when he got into an argument with his wife and realized that there was not a good reliable source of data upon which to have meaningful dialog.  All of the data is from official government sources.  Balmer has just had his technical staff make it easily accessible and relatively understandable.  Here is the link: USAFacts.org  Other numbers were pulled from the Federal Budget documents.

As noted before, you are invited to challenge me on any of my facts or assumptions in my plan!

“Why not tax everyone’s net worth instead of picking on the 1%?” 

Part of the answer is, “because that is where the money is.”  A more important reason, however, is that for the really wealthy 1% they have the most to gain from a strong national defense, and likewise, the most to lose.

As I see the plan being implemented, the Net Worth tax would kick in at $1M in net worth.  Essentially we would all be liable for the tax, we would all just get a $1M deduction. The rich would also get a $1 Million deduction, however as a practical matter this tax would not impact anyone below about the 90thpercentile.  I am not enough of a mathematician to compute out the exact tables that would be needed, I just know that there is plenty of net worth available to pay for this tax just in the top 1% alone by applying a 3% per annum net worth tax.

Yet another reason not to tax the non-rich is that a net worth tax does not work for the middle class.  It would be extremely difficult to earn the high rates of return that the rich can expect with smaller net worth assets.  Most do not have enough assets to really “invest.”  If your “net worth” is tied up in a mini-van you can’t really expect a “return” like you can with larger investments.

“Is there a catch? What if the rich have a really bad year?”

As they say, “Stuff Happens.”  People like my son Jamie who is in Real Estate often have lean years followed by really good years.  Farmers are probably the most obvious in this category where annual income varies greatly and they could have high net worth if they inherited the farm.  Under Jim’s Tax Plan these people would incur a tax liability based on their net worth but would be allowed to defer payment in those years where their actual income was not sufficient to pay their liability. They would need an accountant/tax preparers to help in this case, but no more so than they do now.

Over time the farmer who inherited the farm would have to make the farm productive (as his ancestors did) or he/she will lose it.

“What about really old people Jim?” 

Well, I thought of that too.  Let’s take an elderly widow who lives in a really big mansion but whose income is now limited since her sugar daddy died.  She could defer her net worth taxes until her death.  Her sole heir, a greedy nephew, would have to pay off these unpaid taxes when he takes ownership of the Mansion, but then again he would not have any inheritance tax so will still be able to vacation in Maui with is own trophy wife.

“Jim, why does the greedy nephew of a billionaire not have to pay inheritance taxes, after all, he is pretty much a slime ball?”

 Jim’s Tax Plan eliminates inheritance taxes because once the nephew inherits the mansion and fortune his own net worth goes up.  If he is productive and wise he will take this new-found wealth and create even more wealth.  If not, well, after about 20 years of doing nothing he will have lost it all – faster if he spends foolishly.

“What about offshore wealth?” 

Same deal, same rate.  If you own property abroad you will have to pay US taxes on it because you are getting the protection of the US Government indirectly via our foreign policy and military strength.   This will encourage the rich to keep their assets in the US – currently there are incentives to take their money offshore.

“What if assets are hidden?”

Under Jim’s Tax Plan the US Government would take the position that the assets do not belong to the person hiding the asset.  If you don’t claim the asset, you don’t own it. Unclaimed assets become Government assets. 

“What about foreigners?”

Foreigners would also pay the same rate on all assets they have in the US.  This should encourage foreign investment because they can earn lots of money here and only have to pay on what they have in net worth.  Special rules would have to be written to prevent foreigners from “taking the money and running”, but I figure Congress can figure that part out.

“What if we need more money to run the government?”

If the National Defense Costs go up, the Net Worth Tax rate would also have to rise.

The exact rate of the net worth tax would be determined using a formula using the total net worth of all US households and the upcoming Fiscal Year Budgets for DOD, VA and Homeland Security.  3% of assets over $1 Million would produce enough revenue at current budget levels, but if the cost goes up faster than net worth grows, so would the net worth tax rate.

This will encourage the very wealthy to push for and support a defense budget that is realistic.   They have the most influence in Congress already.

The Flat Tax would also have to be adjusted if the non-defense spending increased.  Nothing revolutionary here – just applying the principal that Revenue must equal Expenses. That’s how states, counties, and cities manage their budgets.  That’s how I try to manage my budget and I assume most of you do as well.

“How would the government get the money?

Taxes would still be collected the same way as they are now with most people having them withheld from their paychecks or via quarterly estimated payments.  The 1040 could be simplified since you really just have to compute 15% of income.

For wealthy individuals with over $1M net worth the big difference is that on April 15 when you file, the amount you owe would be based on of your taxable income ($15%) plus a percentage (3%) of your Net Worth in excess of $1,000,000 of Dec. 31 of the previous year.  There would have to be a Net Worth Form(s) where assets and liabilities could be listed. Again, they will need accountants, but they already should have them.

Corporations would still have to do tax reporting to account for revenue and expenses and to identify who owns their stock, but they would not have to pay taxes on the revenue.   

 “Can This Plan Possibly Work?”

Yes, it could, but it would be hard to implement.  Many rich people really don’t want to pay their fair share and the current income system is so complicated that they can avoid paying anywhere near what they should.  Under the new tax law the marginal tax rate for high income persons is 37% (Over $600K Married, Filing Jointly) but few of the super rich really pay that much.  Wealthy persons with good accountants can leverage loopholes that are not available to lower income taxpayers. And the current system makes no allowance for the great benefit our very wealthy are receiving in terms of National Defense – they are not paying relative to the benefit they are receiving. Why should people who have rigged the system in their favor institute a fairer system?

“It’ll never happen Jim!”

In summary, I have floated this rough idea verbally several times but have not yet found anyone who thinks this plan is feasible “it’ll never happen Jim” is the common response.

I’m not an economist, but I challenge readers to debunk my assumptions and explain why the Jim’s Tax Plan can’t work economically and why it would not be good for the country.

My challenge:  Tell me why it can’t work, post a response to this blog.

Compromise

It has been tough times for people who compromise.

For many people it seems much easier and simpler just to pick a side/opinion/belief and stick with it, come hell or high water. “Just do it.” “My way, or the highway.” “Get ‘er done.” “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”

As I watch my two grandsons grow I am reminded how, at some point pretty early on, we all come up against the dreaded “No” word. “No” is often followed by a different option such as, “But you can play with that toy after dinner.”

While at first children probably feel that they are being held back or “lose” in such an encounter, we all soon learn that it is not always bad to do what your momma tells you. You do, after all, get to “play” after dinner just as she promised. Although unbeknownst to us at the time, we are learning to compromise. “Give a little, take a little.” “Go along to get along.” “Trade.” “Share.”

Life gets complicated quickly, however, and very soon most children learn how to tweak the system to get what they want. Kids learn how to negotiate once they find their parent’s “pressure points.” Parents find themselves bending the rules once they find that enforcing them is not always worth the effort.

Similar patterns emerge with friends, partners, and bosses. One way or another we all have to compromise to succeed.

Often the word collaborate is used to denote positive actions that are done in coordination with another party for mutual benefit. The idea here being that these transactions don’t really involve “giving up” anything, but rather just aligning efforts efficiently and effectively. Even in these cases, however, there is still an element of compromise, even if it is nothing more than having to share the limelight with someone else when the project/effort is successful.

One way or another we always have to compromise in some way if we want to be successful.

Some might argue that this does not apply to tyrants, bullies, or crime bosses who wield all the power. They don’t have to compromise.

And it is true that sometimes you can get your way without compromising. If you are in a position of power over the other party you can get away with using a version of the old mafia methodology: “Here’s the deal, you do as I say and I won’t kill you. OK?”

But for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. As in physics, this holds true for social interactions as well. Push people hard enough and they will either break or they will explode. Even if you get the other person to “break” right now, they will eventually react. As the saying goes, “What goes around, comes around.” Even if the reckoning does not come until Judgment Day, every dog has his day. Or, as we used to say in the Marines, “Payback is a Mother F****r.”

In the long run, forcing your will on others is neither as effective nor as enduring as negotiating a fair compromise.

Deals vs. Compromises

Some people describe a “Good Deal” as a win/lose transaction where one party (you in this case) gets the upper hand. A “Good deal” that is not “good” for the both party’s is not a compromise. As such, it is not as permanent. The “Deal” lasts only until such time as the losing party gains enough power to reverse it.

In writing this post I pulled up the word “compromise” on my handy on-line Webster’s dictionary and found that the word implies that a “mutual promise” has been made by the parties involved.

Compromise by definition means both sides gave up something of value that the other party wanted.

Compromises also include promises on both sides. These promises, and the resulting mutual benefits for both sides, make compromises last.

The word “promise” is especially important here. A promise includes not only a commitment to uphold your end of the bargain, but also shows that you have shared ownership in the decision. You have a dog in the fight so to speak.

Contrast compromise with seemingly more powerful words such as edict, commandment, or executive order. At first blush these “take charge” actions seem to be much stronger than “compromise.” But are they as effective long term?

I submit that these more dominant approaches, basically imposing your will, ultimately fail to deliver positive outcomes. They do, however, deliver on negative outcomes.

Compromises will fail if not kept on both sides. We see the results of broken promises all around us: divorces, bankruptcies, and civil and criminal legal actions of all kinds.

Learning how to compromise is a skill worth having.

Personal Life Balance

In our personal lives we not only need to deal with our loved ones, we also need to “compromise” with ourselves. Time spent at work is time not spent with the family. Time spent with family instead of at work can result in less money to spend. We “promise” ourselves that we will exercise, save money, eat right, and at the same time commit to taking it easy. We accept lower levels of professional performance in order to have better personal relationships. We have to compromise to thrive, and sometimes just to survive.

Note: Sometimes people talk about not wanting to compromise their values. For purposes of this post I am not considering that definition of the word. Discussion of “Values” can take us in a whole other direction. For my thoughts on Values I have included the link to my previous post on that subject below.

During his keynote graduation speech at his alma mater, The University of Western Australia, comedian/entertainer Tim Minchin presented nine lessons for life. His first lesson was “You Don’t Have to Have a Dream. Minchin provides the following alternative to following your passion or life long goals:

“Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams. Fine, if you have something that you’ve always dreamed of, like, in your heart, go for it! After all, it’s something to do with your time… chasing a dream. And if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of your life to achieve, so by the time you get to it and are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead so it won’t matter.
I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious.
Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.”

I share with Minchin his skepticism of dedicating everything to one’s “dreams” or “passion.” It is especially troublesome when I hear people using the phrase, “I’m not going to just settle.” The word “settle” being spoken with a great deal of distain so as to imply weakness or lack of dedication.

“How could anyone “settle” for anything less than the very best?”

And yet, I drive a 14-year-old mini-van with 175,000 miles on it with a big scrape on the right side. I have learned to compromise with myself.

Political Compromise

The current tragedy unfolding on our southern border has resulted in the U.S. Government forcibly separating young children from their parents. This is an example of the consequences of our political leaders not being willing to compromise.

As I pointed out previously in my 2017 Post titled “Immigration”(Link below) the long-term solution is sound immigration law. In that post I asked my two Democratic Senators in Washington State, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, to work across the aisle with Republican Senators. Four Republicans wrote/sponsored the bi-partisan legislation titled The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. This law ensured border security, protected the jobs of US citizens, and provided a fair way to deal with people who have worked hard and contributed much to our country even though they are here illegally. Under this law violators would be punished, but in an appropriate manner. This compromise legislation passed the Senate 68-32 but then died in the House, where members were not willing to compromise. This left us with antiquated piece-meal laws that do not address the current situation nor do they meet our needs. Since then neither house has passed any legislation that helps resolve the problem.

Immigration should not be managed solely by executive orders issued by the executive branch. Without a workable public law in place, this has been the case in both the Obama and Trump administrations. Congress needs to compromise to solve this problem and come up with new permanent legislation that makes sense. As I recommended to Senators Cantwell and Murray, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 would be an excellent place to start.

However, so far our elected leaders have been unwilling to compromise.

Republicans, even with a majority in both houses cannot come up with legislation. Democrats have been unwilling to cross party lines and compromise with moderate Republicans.

Compromise is seen as weakness. Both sides see immigration reform (and many other issues) as a Win/Lose situation when they should be looking for a Win/Win.”

In the meantime, nothing gets resolved.

Trump uses executive power the way he wants to, but without bi-partisan permanent legislation and resolution of the issues (i.e. a compromise), the next president could just as easily reverse all of the Trump decisions. Without bi-partisan compromise we will be in an endless loop. Permanent sensible solutions will continue to evade us.

We need for Congress to compromise.

Geo-Political Compromises

Many have criticized President Trump for compromising with Kim Jong Un, the tyrannical Korean dictator who has murdered thousands of his own people, including his own uncle. I too am somewhat jaded and skeptical about being able to compromise with such a man, but it is way too early to tell if the recent compromise that Trump is attempting with Kim was a good thing or not.

As in our personal lives, the success of a compromise of this magnitude is dependent on both sides living up to the promises that are implicit in the compromise. So far the real negotiations have not taken place leaving us with very little understanding of what those “promises” are. All that being said, I do think that in this case Trump deserves credit for being willing to compromise.

A positive historical judgment on the success of Trump’s compromise will be dependent on Kim keeping his promise and destroying his nuclear weapons. If Kim does this, Trump will have a great achievement. If not, well…

So go ahead, Compromise, and feel good about it.

FYI:

Link to Immigration Post Referenced Above: http://03cf8fa.netsolhost.com/WordPress/2017/03/19/immigration/

Link to Values Post Referenced Above:
http://03cf8fa.netsolhost.com/WordPress/2016/03/12/values/

Apocalypse

“We’re all going to die!!!”

“We’re all going to die.”

One of these two statements is always true.  This post is about the other one.  The one with the exclamation points, the warning and recognition of some impending doom.

Timing is everything.  The Sun will eventually go dark but no one is stocking up on blankets and candles in preparation.

On the other hand, as I write this post, the Kilauea volcano is burping toxic gasses and creeping with hot lava than cannot be stopped by any of man’s most powerful remedies.  The only reasonable step is to haul ass, and soon.

It seems like we are inundated with potential apocalyptic scenarios: Asteroids, bacterial or viral epidemics, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, lahar mud flows, or lightning strikes, not to mention swarms of killer bees.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot about the terrible things that evil people might do to us.

This includes actions along a sliding scale ranging from bullying up to robbery, assault, rape, slavery, torture, genocide, and nuclear annihilation.

Depending on which cable news channel you watch or which FACEBOOK meme you read, the Mara Salvatrucha international crime gang (aka MI 13) is likely going to murder me in my sleep or I’ll be fried by one of Kim Jong Un’s nukes from fired from North Korea or perhaps one of Ayatollah Khamenei’s fired from Iran.

Fortunately much of the fear mongering we are exposed to is total poppycock.

In my previous post titled Truth I discussed how I try to sift through the mountain of information we are exposed to.

However, some, perhaps many, of these potential calamities are real. So even if I am able to accurately identify the most present dangers, which is no small task, I still am stuck with the dilemma: What am I going to do about it?  What can I do about it?

The first time that I recall facing possible impending doom was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The Russians had started assembling nuclear missiles in Cuba within close range of the US. I remember being at Jimmy Breakell’s house along with maybe a half-dozen guys from our 10th grade Swarthmore HS class.  We were openly discussing the possibility of nuclear annihilation.  It all seemed very possible and imminent.

The seriousness in the group was in stark contrast to the more common discussions we had as teenage boys of that era: sports (The NY Yankees with Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle had just beaten the San Francisco Giants with Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, and Willie McCovey in a dramatic 7-game series which ended with the Giants being down 1 run in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two runners on base hitting a line drive to the Yankees second baseman thus ending the game);  rock and roll (“Sherry” by the Four Seasons was # 1 on the Billboard Charts – The Beatles were unknown in the US until the following year); cars (think Chevrolet Monza Spyder, Pontiac Gran Prix or of course, Corvette), and girls (discretion calls for no names being used here).

In 13 days in October of 1962 innocence was lost.

The terms catastrophe and apocalyse are usually reserved for mass events that impact hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Whether thousands or just one person is involved, the consequences are pretty much the same: Injured is injured, sick is sick, and dead is dead. Webster’s Dictionary aside, it is a catastrophe when it happens to me.

At this point you might be thinking: “Yikes, there are just too many bad things that could happen, just what are we supposed to do Jim?”

There are two directions we can go when faced with real potential catastrophes.

We can act or we can do nothing, go on living, and hope for the best.

Well sure Jim, but that’s not much help. When do we act?  When do we go on with our lives as normal?

What me worry?”

Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman had this simple answer to any problem.  His modern day equivalent would be the stereotypical stoner and his “Whatever.” response to almost any situation.

As derided as these respondents might be by high-achieving-take-charge types, sometimes doing nothing is the appropriate response. Worrying about huge asteroids hitting the earth or the eventual darkening of the Sun is useless, there is nothing we can do about either.  My guess is that this is the position for most of you reading this post.

Where we start to differ in our opinions and resulting actions are in those instances where the likelihood seems more imminent.

Last year an article in National Geographic clarified/consolidated the current scientific knowledge about The Big One.  The Big One is an earthquake of level 9 on the Richter Scale. This earthquake and resulting tsunami will hit all along a huge fault in the Earth’s surface called the Cascadia Subduction Zone which is about 50 miles off the west coast running from Cape Mendocino, California to Vancouver Island, BC.   The Cascadia Subduction Zone is where the Earth’s Pacific Plate is diving underneath the North American Plate as it moves westward. The pressure builds up over time and once in a while it cuts loose.

The worst-case scenario would totally destroy all buildings in Washington State west of Interstate 5. The consensus of those who know such things is that this definitely will happen again, as it has for eons before.  The last Big One was 317 years ago and they happen on average every 500 years give or take, so we are “in the window.”

Upon reading this story, my great friend Jim Richards said he changed his dream of returning to Oregon permanently because this threat is so catastrophic.  Other Eastern, Southern, and Mid-western friends, knowing that we live west of Interstate 5 in Seattle, expressed concern that we are living literally “on the edge” and recommended that we move.

As if to put an extra jolt in people’s minds, there was an exhibit in Seattle shortly after these stories came out.  The exhibit had relics from the ancient Italian city of Pompeii showing how people were frozen in time by the ash and rocks that rained down on them during an earthquake and volcano eruption in AD 62.  I left the exhibit wondering why they had been so stupid – they should never have built their city so close to the volcano!

For smaller earthquakes like the ones they have in California, the best course of action is to have three days of emergency supplies on hand. The rationale being that, should you survive the quake initially, help will be sent soon. Unfortunately, when The Big One happens there won’t be enough resources anywhere to save us. If you survive The Big One, help won’t be arriving for the vast majority of survivors.

So the only really safe option is to move.  But I am not going anywhere.

I am of course gambling on the odds that The Big One won’t happen in the next twenty years or so, after which, should I be lucky enough to still be around, it won’t really matter much, because, as noted above, we are all going to die sometime.

Sometimes we are lucky to have options to minimize our risks. Examples include not smoking, not driving impaired, and not traveling into war zones or to the “bad side of town” late at night.  In these cases there is usually a clear right/safe decision that we can take.

When considering catastrophes we often confront the thought that we can’t impact the outcome so why bother.  Here there are differences between how we interpret the facts and the odds.  In these cases the decision to act or not has less to do with the likelihood of the event happening but rather with likelihood that actions taken will impact the outcome.

The evidence that the earth is warming is pretty undeniable as are the resultant negative impacts for mankind. Some among you may feel that the major changes in climate are a result of natural forces that are going to happen no matter what we do.  Others among you believe that actions we individually and collectively take to reduce our carbon footprint will at least delay the onset of changes that will threaten human life on earth.

One’s interpretation of the odds of something happening and the odds of being able to impact the outcome will determine to a large extent whether we act or take the Alfred E. Neumann approach and say, “What, Me Worry?”

Another factor that impacts our decision to act involves our character and our basic values.

My decision to continue to stick my head in the sand, hope for the best, and not to move away from Seattle to avoid The Big One may appear to some as ill-advised.  But my decision not to move away does not directly endanger others.

Inaction to address or act in some way to avoid a catastrophe that will impact others is less defensible.  When we ignore risks in cases where we can reduce the losses to others, we are are at least partially responsible for the outcome. In those cases we should act.

This abbreviated version of The Serenity Prayer, written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, seems to be the best advice:

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And Wisdom to know the difference.”

 

 

Justice?

 

The local news in Seattle is reporting that 174 women who were recently apprehended at our southern border are being held in the SEATAC Federal Prison here. As many as half of these women were separated from their children when they tried to seek asylum in the United States.

Seeking asylum is not a crime, and yet these women are in a federal prison with dangerous and violent criminals.

I do not know any of the facts about these women individually nor do I know how many of them have legitimate claims as refugees.  Some, perhaps many, probably do not qualify for refugee status and they should be sent home if that determination is made.

Others undoubtedly are eligible for refugee status due to terrible life-threatening situations where they are coming from. There are legal steps and processes that will eventually make those determinations on a case-by-case basis.

I do know that forcibly taking children from their mothers and then sending the mothers thousands of miles away to a Federal Prison is totally uncalled for.

The thought sickens me.

Last month while we were in Gettysburg, ICE agents arrested employees of Montezuma’s Family Restaurant where Marianne and I eat regularly with friends of ours.  Among those arrested were servers who waited on us and cooks who had prepared our meals.

The circumstances are different because these men had broken the immigration law.  But my disgust is similar at the unnecessary steps our government is taking.

We are breaking up families for no good reason.

Here is the text of a letter to the editor I wrote that was published last month in the Gettysburg Times:

The recent incarceration of 11 good, decent, hard-working Adams County residents by ICE is uncalled for, stupid, and cruel.

 We are a nation of laws.  But in a just society, the punishment must be appropriate to the crime.  Yes, foreigners living in the US without a current visa are guilty of a crime.

 But what “crime” are we talking about?  We don’t need to put people in prison for what is essentially trespassing. There are better ways to enforce laws.  Why not a healthy fine? Better yet, community service? 

The long-term legal solution is sound immigration policy.  The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 is such a policy.  This law was developed by a bi-partisan group of 8 U.S. senators. It ensured border security, protected the jobs of US citizens, and provided a fair way to deal with people who have worked hard and contributed to our country. Law violators would be punished, but in an appropriate manner. The bill passed the Senate 68-32 but then died in the House, leaving us with antiquated laws that do not meet anyone’s needs. Congress needs to solve this problem and come up with new legislation that makes sense.  In the meantime, blindly enforcing antiquated laws merely to present an image of “being tough” is uncalled for.  

Why is ICE focusing on hard-working immigrants who pose no threat?  ICE should be spending their time and energy focusing on those foreign nationals who are the greatest threat to society: potential terrorists, drug dealers, or human traffickers.  Hint: These criminals are not working in Montezuma Restaurant in Gettysburg.  Spending valuable law enforcement resources to go after waiters and cooks instead of dangerous criminals is just plain stupid.

There is also a moral question that must be answered.  How can any of us who consider ourselves Christian and who support family values endorse good, decent, hard-working parents being taken away from their children?  It is crystal clear to me that Jesus would side with these hard working immigrant parents staying with their children 100% of the time.   This action by our government to separate non-dangerous parents from their children is just plain cruel.

 I say again, the incarceration of these good, decent, hard-working Adams County residents by ICE is uncalled for, stupid, and cruel.

 Jim Simpson, Gettysburg

Marines

As Citizens you have a right, and I would submit a duty, to have some understanding of what the Marine Corps is about. You are, after all, paying for it.

For my non-American readers I think you too, can benefit from exposure to this unique organization, The United States Marine Corps.

Earlier this month about 40 of us old Marines showed up for the 50th Anniversary reunion of my USMC Basic School Class. The reunion included trips/visits to Marine Corps Base Quantico, to Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, DC, and to the Museum of the Marine Corps. We were able to have a number of interactions with current active duty Marines.

I want to share my take-a ways from the visit.

While I have included a few of my Marine buddies on the notification list for this Blog Post, my assumption is that the majority of you reading this do not have much direct experience with the military, much less with the Marines.

Most of you know that I joined the Marines in 1967 and served with them in Vietnam. I assume that you know this since I only direct and promote this Blog to friends and relatives. If you don’t know me personally, I will try and give you enough of my background so that you have some idea of where I am coming from.

For you Marines, especially those of you who attended the recent reunion of The Basic School Class 7-68, please call BS on me if you think I am overstating, overlooking, or misinterpreting my take-a ways from our recent re-exposure to the Marine Corps.

Take Away # 1 – Things Have Changed

As the tour bus carrying our group of old Marines and spouses pulled in to The Basic School parking lot at Quantico there were three Marines doing physical training; pull ups, push ups, etc. One of the Marines jumped up on the big 25 foot hanging rope and quickly ascended to the top with seemingly no effort. Almost all of the old Marines and their wives saw this Marine and were impressed and nodded approvingly as she slid down the rope and ran off in step with her male counterparts.

All but two of the 250 of us who attended The Basic School together in 1968 were white men. That is who were officers in the Marine Corps at that time. Of the hundreds of Marine Officers I came in contact with during my 4 years in the Marines (1967-1971), I only remember personally meeting one African-American Marine officer and that was in Vietnam.

There were women Marine Officers who also trained at Quantico when we were there, but they were totally separated from us – I don’t remember ever meeting any. The women officers did not attend The Basic School, they had a separate course of their own somewhere else on the base. As I recall it, the women 2nd lieutenants had to salute their male counterparts of the same rank – at least while at Quantico. Although many women served as Marine officers during that era, my guess is that is was a very small percentage of the total.

Today the scene at The Basic School is quite different. The Corps is more representative of America. There are Marine officers of color and the training is fully integrated for men and women.

The Marines even recently graduated one female from the very difficult Infantry Officers Course. Very few women will likely serve as Marine Infantry Platoon Leaders, but the door is open for those exceptional women who can complete the extremely difficult physical and mental course. The reality is that many men would not make the cut in the Infantry Officer Course either and will serve in other specialties, like communications, as I did.

I didn’t take notes during the visit, but I understand that about 20% of Marine Corps Officers today are non-white. This is certainly different from our society as a whole, but it is a big change from 50 years ago.

The face of war has also changed. In 1968 lieutenants primarily made tactical decisions relating to deployment of their Marines. These were often life and death decisions.

One of the changes that I took notice of is that now Marine lieutenants and captains deployed to the middle east are still making those life or death tactical decisions. But in addition, they might well be the senior military presence in a small remote village and often have to work closely with a wide array of local military forces.

This forces junior officers into the position of having to make, in addition to tactical and leadership decisions, strategic and ethical decisions about interactions with local civilians without the benefit or help of senior officers. A lot is being asked of today’s young officers.

And of course the technology has greatly advanced. During our sit-down dinner, we had a very comprehensive review of new technology by our keynote speaker, Major General Niel Nelson, from the Marine Corps Combat Development Command. In his current role, General Nelson is the deputy commander of the organization within the Marine Corps that evaluates and procures new equipment and weapons systems for the Marine Corps.

As you might guess there are technological advances worthy of the latest super-hero or action-adventure movies, but of course these are real. This aspect did not really surprise me, nor did the cost. Again, I did not take notes, but I did hear a lot of people murmur “wow” when the General quoted the costs of the new equipment. The cold hard truth is that if you want the very best equipment, it is going to cost.

We got to see, and try out, one of the new simulated small weapons ranges while at The Basic School. This range uses real rifles, machine guns, and anti-tank weapons that have been modified to be used with a gigantic video screen simulating various combat situations. The weapons recoil and function in a manner similar to their “real” counterparts, but the “rounds” are electronic and you can see them hit (or miss) their targets on the giant screen.  I tried out one of the machine guns and found that my marksmanship skills are certainly not up to par.

The Marines still use live fire ranges of course, but this simulated range affords much more opportunity for Marines to familiarize themselves with the weapons, improve their skills at a small fraction of the cost of live ammunition. A single anti-tank round today costs about a thousand dollars so you get the idea.

I was also reminded of the lethality of the weapons that Marines carry and must be trained to use. While they still use a version of the M-16 that was used in Vietnam, today they are trained on a much wider range of modern weaponry.

During our tour of Quantico we also got to visit HMX-1, the aviation unit at Quantico which provides the Marine One helicopter that carries the President. We got to visit one of the hangers and talk with some of the pilots. On the walls were pictures of all of the Presidents back to Eisenhower boarding or un-boarding one of the Marine helicopters.

The pilots were very personable and articulate and you could tell that they took their job and responsibility very seriously. The unit also provides aviation support for other Marine operations in the DC area including training missions at Quantico.  In addition to the Marine One helicopters (there are actually several) this aviation unit flies the V22 vertical takeoff aircraft.  The V22 has become the workhorse for transporting Marines and equipment.

Another aspect that has changed is that the Marine Corps now provides additional training for those officers most likely to engage in combat, the Infantry officers, or as we used to call them, the grunts.

When we graduated from The Basic School in 1968, those assigned to the Infantry went directly to infantry platoons in Vietnam. Many were killed, often soon after arriving. I don’t know the statistics off the top of my head, but there is no doubt in my mind that the these officers had the most dangerous assignments. I certainly respected them and saw them as a few among the few. What I also believe is that they were not given enough training prior to being deployed in the nitty gritty aspects of leading an infantry platoon in combat. All of us at The Basic School were provided this training, but I know for sure I would not have been ready for those assignments.

Fortunately the Infantry officers today receive an extra 13 weeks of training at the Infantry Officers Course (The one mentioned above) at 29 Palms in California. By accounts it is one of the toughest courses in the military, on par with Army Ranger and Navy Seal training. I’ll leave that debate as to which is tougher to others, but suffice it to say it is a comprehensive exhausting course which should better prepare these officers for combat. No amount of training can make one fully ready for combat, but the Marines seem to be addressing an important need.

Times have changed indeed.

Take Away # 2 – Things Have Not Changed

On the other hand, the basic essence of being a Marine does not seem to have changed much at all.

At The Basic School we observed marshal arts training. We got a briefing by a really gung-ho retired colonel who now leads the marshal arts program there. He and his Marine demonstrators were pretty impressive. The Marines have modernized some of the terminology and now issue different color belts for achieving higher levels of proficiency, much like what civilian marshal arts instructors do.

At the end of the presentation, however, I did not see that much difference in purpose from the hand -o-hand combat and bayonet training that I received at boot camp at Parris Island as an enlisted Marine and again at OCS and The Basic School as a candidate or newly minted second lieutenant. There is still a strong emphasis on building a warrior mindset and building self-confidence. Make no mistake about it; even though these are outwardly very respectful and clean cut young men and women, these Marines are still being trained to kill if necessary.

All of the men who I served with at The Basic School in 1968 had chosen to be there. We all knew full well that we were going to Vietnam. It is also undeniably true that, since almost all officers were primarily from the middle to upper-middle class, we could have chosen an easier/safer path as did most of our non-Marine contemporaries whether they served in the Military or not.

The Marines today also know full well that they will likely be serving in combat at some time in the not too distant future. They also realize that, unlike most of their Vietnam era counterparts (Us old guys), they will probably serve multiple tours whereas most of us only did one tour in Vietnam.

The draft ended in 1973, so these Marines, like all service men and women who have served during the last 4 decades have been volunteers. Having spent the vast majority of my own 29 years of military service mostly in administrative personnel positions in the Army, I can testify that there are “volunteers”, and then there are “VOLUNTEERS.” These young Marines, like Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and Air Force Special Ops persons all fall into the later category.

They have chosen a path that is difficult and dangerous like virtually every Marine before them.

The Marines we met talked a lot about tradition. The Marines, both officers and enlisted, were respectful, articulate, well informed, and positively focused on their duty and mission.

I am not naive to the fact that the Marine Corps certainly hand picked the women and men we came in contact with during our tours of Quantico and the Marine Barracks at Eighth and Eye in DC. Nor am I blind to the fact that not all Marines are admirable. We had some bad actors in the Marine Corps in 1968 and I have no doubt that there are some today as well among the 180,000 plus on active duty around the world.

But the culture of the Marine Corps seems sound and I believe that the overwhelming majority of Marines today are more than deserving of our respect and support. Traditions of honor, character, honesty, and professionalism have endured and, I might add, seem stronger than they were at the height of the Vietnam War when I served.

While today’s Marines have much better equipment, weapons, communications and all sorts of air support available to them, the really crucial life and death decisions are still made at the squad (13 Marines) or platoon (about 44 including a Navy Corpsman) led by junior NCOs and Officers. These Marine leaders have to be women and men of character as well as being warriors.

Take Away # 3 – We Should be Grateful

I know that some among you reading this post are pacifists and don’t have much use for aggressive military action of any kind, much less war. I respect that desire for peace, and I venture to surmise most Marines share your dislike of war.

I believe, however, that humans have not yet come anywhere near the levels freedom and justice that would allow us to live safely and securely without a strong military capability. The Marines represent a major portion of that capability for the United States.

During the reunion we also got to visit the Museum of the Marine Corps. It is one of many wonderful National Museums in the greater Washington, DC area and I strongly recommend it. This was my third visit to this museum and this time we spent quite a bit of time in the WW1 exhibit which details the Battle of Belleau Wood which was fought near the Marne River in France in 1918. The exhibit brings home the gravity of the sacrifices of the Marines who fought and died there. Even 100 years later the “reasons” for WW1 are not clear.

I was saddened to think that we as a Nation could put today’s fine young men and women Marines at risk without really good reasons. It worries me that only a very few of the political leaders making decisions that could cost Marines their lives have any military service themselves. Most have no more than a cursory understanding of what these fine young men and women Marines are all about or the consequences of deploying them unnecessarily.

It is one thing to boast about how strong our military is and to threaten adversaries in a display of false bravado. It is quite a different thing to have the experience that tempers bravado with wisdom and true physical, mental, and moral strength.

As Eisenhower guided the graduating cadets at the West Point graduation in 1947, “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men. Though you follow the trade of the warrior, you do so in the spirit of Washington — not of Genghis Khan. For Americans, only threat to our way of life justifies resort to conflict.”

Fortunately we do have a number of senior leaders within the military today with combat experience who, like Eisenhower, temper the warrior spirit with wisdom and character.

There are dictators, strongmen, and tyrants in the world who daily impose their will upon their peoples for their personal gain of power and wealth. There are also zealots of many backgrounds who would impose their singular views on the rest of us using any means necessary.

We can argue about exactly who these people are and why they do what they do, but their existence is undeniable. This was true in 1918 and it is true today: There is still evil in the world.

Like it or not, we need the Marines.

But this post is not about politics, it is about the reality that we as Americans are blessed that we still have young men and women of character and courage willing to risk their lives to support our democracy.

We are very lucky to have them in today’s United States Marine Corps.

Semper Fi.

Evil

A number of years after I graduated I had an occasion to visit with my Swarthmore High School friend Jay Castle’s mom, Lela Castle, at her home in Bellevue, Washington. I can’t remember the exact conversation we were having about some recent local crime event that led to Jay’s mom’s memorable response. But I do remember her response, “Some people are just no good.”

I remember this quote, not because it is unique or original, but because of the matter-of-fact and certainty with which it was delivered. Jay’s mom was unequivocal about this and I have come to believe that she was right about this, as some people are “just no good.” I also believe, that within this group of “no good” people there is a subset that is flat out “evil.”

When I think of truly “evil” people I am referring to those for whom there is absolutely no answer to the question, “Why would someone do such a horrible thing?”

I understand why someone robs a bank, they want the money. I can even understand why they might shoot a guard in order to get away.

I cannot, however, fathom how someone could shoot first graders at point blank range as they huddle behind their teacher in a closet. There is no answer to the “why” for such an horrific act. The only sense I can make of it is that this is pure evil.

With frightening regularity we are introduced to another mass killing by one of these evil people here in the U.S. I won’t grant any of them the respect of mentioning their names, but their evil acts have come to be known by the locations of their atrocities: The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham; Columbine High School; The University of Texas Tower; the Oklahoma City Federal Building; The Twin Towers; Virginia Tech; Sandy Hook; the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston; the Orlando Pulse Nightclub; The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas; The Route 91 Harvest Music Festival, Las Vegas; and this week, Parkland High School in Florida. The really sad part is that this list is just from the top of my head, there are hundreds more that most of us are not even aware of.

What these acts all have in common is that they were perpetrated by the very worst of the evil people, those who kill indiscriminately and brutally and in horrifically large numbers.

I have come to believe that for this very small number of truly demented humans there is no other answer than that they are just evil. We will never know why, they just are. Their background or motives are irrelevant to me – their actions are what make them evil.

Good vs. Evil

The history of mankind is a long story of good vs. evil. Our religious books and ancient literature give us plenty of reason to believe that there have always been, and always will be, some evil people in the world. As Bob Dylan says in his song, “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord , But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” For some it is clearly the devil.

Fortunately for us all, the vast majority of people in the world are not evil. Even “bad actors” like burglars and thieves don’t fall into the “evil” category for me. I reserve the term “evil” for those who are seemingly incorrigible and will do unspeakable things to their fellow humans for extreme and demented reasons. These are deranged individuals.

While the truly “evil” people in the world may be vastly outnumbered, they nonetheless can cause tremendous harm. Even worse, they can create fear and hatred that magnifies their influence far beyond the horrific acts themselves. Left unchecked, they could destroy society by causing an over reaction that in turn creates even more violence by “copycats” or by groups turning against one another in a desperate attempt to “do something.”

After the recent horrific church shooting in Texas, I saw an interview of Texas Governor Greg Abbott on the CBS Morning News. When asked what we should do, the governor replied, “Pray, hug each other, and trust in God.”

Yes, that’s all well and good, but the old Marine in me says, “Bullshit, that’s not nearly enough!”

We have got to get off our collective asses and do something.

Here are six steps we can take:

Be Prepared to Kill the Evil Bastards

At the point of an attack there are only two options open to us: fight or flight. Sometimes it is true, as the National Rifle Association likes to say, that “the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” I generally despise the NRA for its valuing its industry’s profits above human life, however there is a grain of truth in this statement that should not be totally rejected.

I recently went to the new Mercedes Benz stadium in Atlanta to watch a sold out Atlanta Union soccer game with my son Jamie, daughter-in-law Keeli and my two grandsons Brady and Bryce. We had to enter the grounds through a separate security gate because we had a stroller. I could not help but notice the presence of several very heavily armed security guards in full combat gear and either AR-15 or M-16 rifles (They can look identical) standing silently and watchfully just outside the entrance. I must admit I felt a lot better seeing those “good guys with guns” there “just in case” even though it is sad that it has come to this.

Killing in self-defense is OK in my book and sometimes that is what is needed. It is therefore prudent in some situations to have armed first responders present both as a deterrent and as a means of quick response.

Unfortunately, in almost all cases the evil person has the element of surprise. In the recent attack in Texas a brave neighbor confronted, shot, and wounded the killer, thus limiting the damage. This was a textbook case of a good guy with a gun coming to the rescue. Nonetheless, 26 people died at the hands of a demented evil person before he could be stopped. The “good guy with a gun” won’t always be fast enough to stop the violence.

And although it makes sense to have armed guards at major events like the one I attended in Atlanta, it makes no sense at all for a seven-person prayer group like the one attacked in Charleston. Also, armed guards are of little use against evil people who use bombs.

Alas, “Killing the bastards” is only a very partial solution at best.

Lock ‘em Up

There is an island in the south Puget Sound called McNeil Island which I have passed by many times on the ferry en route to my sister Martha’s cottage on nearby Anderson Island. McNeil was originally a federal penitentiary but now is operated by the State of Washington where the very worst of the worst sex offenders are kept away from society permanently.

These people (All are men) won’t commit any more crimes, so locking them up for life does keep us safe. But of course they are only at McNeil Island because they got caught “after” they committed their evil acts. This is also the case with most people in regular prisons with life sentences.

I don’t think much of the now disgraced sexual predator and former Fox News personality, Bill O’Reilly, but I did hear him propose an idea that made sense to me during an interview following a mass shooting. O’Reilly suggested that anyone involved in a felony using a firearm would automatically face a long-term sentence in a Federal Penitentiary. He posited that this would both take dangerous people off of the streets and act as a deterrent to the use of firearms.

I can see that this would help with evil persons who have a criminal history and who are caught first while committing a lessor crime. I don’t know how this helps with persons who are “under the radar” until they commit their horrific acts.

The other huge problem with the “lock ‘em up” and capital punishment solutions is that many of these evil men, and yes, almost all of the ones we fear the most are men, seemingly expect to die in a singular blaze of glory. Neither jail nor death is a deterrent to them.

“Locking them up” does work in some cases, but again, it is only a partial solution. We need to do it, but it won’t undo the harm already done and it won’t stop those wanting to die themselves in the process of committing their first attack.

Cut Them Off

Evil people are still just people. Unlike Voldemort, Darth Vader, or the White Walkers, real life evil people do not have any super powers. They need tools to do the worst of their evil deeds. The ability of an evil person to do harm to others is directly proportional to the means available to them.

I would hate to be strangled, but even at 70 I would like to think I could put up a pretty good fight if someone were trying to strangle me. If the only weapon evil people have is their hands, strangulation is the only means available to them. Given the choice of facing an evil person trying to strangle me or facing one trying to shoot me, I would prefer the former. It is also very difficult to be a mass strangulation killer.

We are of course, not the only society to have “evil” people. All societies deal with evil people and limit in some way the access that people have to the tools (AKA Weapons) that evil people have available to them. Knives, bombs, poison gas, and even battery acid have been used worldwide. In the US our evil doers prefer guns.

In their 2008 landmark case “DC vs. Keller”, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of citizens to bear arms for “lawful purposes” such as self-defense in their own homes. The majority opinion, written by the late Anthony Scalia, went on to state that legislative representatives clearly have the power to restrict the access to weapons by felons and the mentally deranged. Scalia’s decision goes on to say, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

Scalia further clarified that the law can forbid carrying weapons in sensitive places such as schools or churches and can impose qualifications on the sale of arms.

People performing evil acts DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS. Laws can and must be passed to make it more difficult for mentally deranged people to obtain firearms or other weapons in the first place.

We instituted significant changes to how ammonium nitrate is distributed and secured following the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. When terrorists overcame pilots and flew planes into the Twin Towers in 2001 we tightened up airport security, developed a no-fly list, and started locking the cockpits. Laws and regulations can, and should, be changed to meet the needs of the people to remain safe as the means of doing harm change over time.

We need extreme vetting of all weapons sales to make sure that only law abiding and mentally sane adult citizens have ready easy access to deadly weapons. I would like to include some means of testing mental soundness in this extreme vetting. Without controls in place, we are giving evil people easy access to tools that provide them tremendous ability to do even more harm.

Additionally we need to continue screening for firearms and bombs at strategic entrance points at highly vulnerable “targets” such as airports, arenas and courtyards. Maybe even schools and churches will need this level of protection.

“Cutting them off” from their most deadly tools will definitely help even though it won’t stop evil people from committing evil acts altogether, especially if they have help.

Punish Their Enablers

In a country with almost as many firearms as we have citizens, it is unrealistic to pretend that we can keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of all evil people. But we sure can limit the damage they can do by holding persons who sell weapons and ammunition responsible for vetting the persons they are selling to.

Sell a gun or explosives without doing a background check: pay an extreme fine.

Sell a gun or explosives without a background check to a felon, mentally ill person, or a terrorist who subsequently commits murder: face possible prison time.

For this approach to work, we must have enhanced extreme vetting in place as a part of a background check system capable of identifying high probability evil doers. We need to identify them up front in order to keep weapons out of their hands. The National Crime Information Center database operated by the FBI needs to be fully supported (and funded) at all levels and there can be no “loopholes” like gun shows where background checks are waived. The national data base also needs to be cross referenced with other lists of known risks such as the terrorist “no fly list”, military discharge records, and other sources of information about mentally ill people like known domestic abusers.

I would rather we err on the side of occasionally having someone temporarily denied the ability to purchase a weapon than accidentally selling a weapon to someone who is mentally ill, a felon, or a potential terrorist. The first example of an error is an inconvenience that can be easily fixed, the second error is permanent and deadly.

Reputable gun dealers are already making the background checks. The problem is that the database is far from complete and does not include huge numbers of people who should not be allowed to buy weapons (e.g. persons on the terrorist “no-fly” list). The other problem is that in many states background checks are waived for gun shows. This loophole needs to be closed.

Non-reputable gun dealers (e.g. gang members selling out of the trunk of their car) need to be jailed along with their customers.

With freedoms come responsibilities. Persons who sell (or give) weapons of any kind to evil persons who should not have weapons must be punished. Deterrence will work with law-abiding people that includes the vast majority of people who sell weapons.

Yet again, “Punishing the Enablers” won’t stop all illegal sales of weapons, but it will help.

Help the Poor Bastards

It may seem illogical for me to suggest that we need to help people who I have already categorized as mentally deranged and incorrigible. Here are reasons for suggesting we need to apply mental health resources to help solve the problem:

My first reason for helping people even though they are “evil,” is that they are still human and only God or whoever is ultimately in charge can make the final judgment. Maybe these ideas of “charity” and “forgiveness” were infused in me growing up as a preacher’s kid. If I had to, I am pretty sure I could “pull the trigger” to stop an evil person “in the act”, but I would much prefer to pay a little more in taxes and do whatever is possible up front to possibly avoid the act altogether.

A more practical reason to employ mental health resources is that we may be able to identify a potential threat in advance and head it off. Mental health professionals have some tools that they can apply. Drugs might help, so might mandatory hospitalization or even permanent placement in a mental institution for those criminally insane. If a mental health professional says, “look out, this guy is dangerous,” we best listen.

Often family members or friends are the first to notice something is “wrong”. But what can they do? In Seattle in 2012 a man walked into the Cafe Racer coffee shop and killed four patrons shooting them in the head execution style with two .45 caliber pistols. He then hijacked a car and purposely ran over a woman killing her before being confronted by police and taking his own life.

This particular killing is close to me because I used to drive by Cafe Racer, which is several blocks from where my niece Rachel lives in the University District, every morning on my way to work at Safeco Insurance. The killer’s family members had tried for years to get him some help, knowing full well that he was not “right” and fearing that he would do something like this. The man’s father was on KOMO radio yesterday pleading for changes to the law that will allow family members to contact law enforcement and force a mental evaluation which could have firearms taken from persons shown to be very mentally deranged.

Ready access to mental health resources is also beneficial to persons contemplating suicide. Although not directly related to the topic of “evil” people, suicide is a significant societal problem that could be helped by increased access to mental health treatment. Providing more easily available mental health treatment has many side benefits.

As with the other suggestions I have made, this is not a total answer. Some evil people appear totally normal until they “snap” and others can manipulate and fool even the most capable mental health professional. Nonetheless, in some cases mental health treatment will prevent the loss of life. We need to increase access not only to “help the poor bastards”, but to save ourselves.

Compromise, Dammit

Pardon the extremely tasteless pun, but, there are no “silver bullets” to protecting us from truly evil persons.

We can’t eliminate all violence done by evil people. Even in countries with strict laws about weapons ownership there are still senseless murders using other means.

But we can reduce the carnage. Seat belts don’t save everybody but they are still save thousands of lives every year.

There are some compromises we need to make:

• We will have to accept that in some cases we will have to have more armed guards.

• We will have to put up with a few more hassles when buying and selling guns or other weapons in order to prove to the seller that we are not one of the “evil people” who cannot have weapons. No sane law abiding citizen need be denied any of their rights, extreme vetting and background checks are not aimed at them, they are aimed at weeding out the evil doers.

• All of us will have to pony up in more taxes for the funding that will be needed for both added security and for mental health resources which include may include mandatory placement in a mental institution for the extremely mentally ill.

Recap

Here are things we can do in the United States to better protect ourselves against truly evil people:

Be Prepared to Kill The Bastards: Accept that more armed first responders/guards may be needed

Lock ‘em Up: Invoke mandatory long federal prison sentences for felons who use weapons in crimes.

Cut Them Off: Extreme vetting to prevent the sale of all weapons sales to the mentally ill, felons, or terrorists.

Punish the Enablers: Heavy fines or prison for failure to fully vet weapons sales to the mentally ill, felons, or terrorists.

Help the Poor Bastards: Expand mental health capabilities to identify and treat the mentally ill.

Compromise: Accept “less than perfect” incremental fixes. Save as many lives as we can.

If you have any better ideas I would love to hear it, please include a comment.

Truth

Statue of the Roman goddess Veritas outside the Supreme Court in Ottawa

“Truth, justice, and the American way.” Superman

“You can’t handle the truth!”  Colonel Nathan Jessup (AKA Jack Nicholson)

“Truth or Consequences.” Bob Barker

“The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” Judge Judy’s Bailiff

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. Buddhah

… and the truth will set you free.” Jesus

“In vino veritas.”

Have you always told the truth? Do you know truth when you see it? Is truth important to you? Most of us, if we are honest, will answer “No”, “Maybe?”, and “Yes” to these three questions.

These are questions for the ages. I believe that most of us do seek the truth. I also believe that most of us fail, not only to always be truthful, but also to be able to always recognize the truth.

As a child I remember clearly the lesson George Washington taught us so well, ” I cannot tell a lie, I cut down the cherry tree.” Then there was Honest Abe.

The bar is much lower now.

Defining truth is difficult enough (See the quotes above if you doubt this) but most people, myself included, seem to accept an, “I know it when I see it,” answer.

In my personal life I rely pretty much on experience and interactions over time. This holds true for people, organizations, and things I come in contact with.

Without disparaging any of them in this forum, I can tell you that I know at least some of the “truth” about Comcast, British automobiles, and my Marine Corps Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant D.C. Curran. The more I interact, the closer I come to “the truth”.

Second hand “word of mouth” evidence fills in well for other areas: “If you are taking math next session, Mr. Henderson explains math concepts more clearly than Mr. Wertz.”; “Ishtar is a terrible movie, don’t waste your money.”; or “You should really see St. Paul and the Broken Bones, great band.” The source of this second hand knowledge and my trust in them based on past experience is of course key here. We all have “trusted” people close to us who we can rely on as well as those who we must take with a healthy “grain of salt.”

On the bigger universal issues of life, my personal experience and the word of mouth of people I know personally only helps a little. I have been around a bit, and at 70 have met and interacted with thousands of people over my life time, but the world is huge and there are 7.5 + billion people whom I have never met or even seen. My sample size is way too small to draw any conclusions that could remotely lead to the truth on universal issues based solely on my personal experiences or even those second hand sources of people I know and trust.

And yet, I do believe I have a good understanding of the truth on many issues. Here are some samples:

The earth is round. The universe is 14 billion years old. Most people are kind and good. Some people are evil. Many people are ignorant. Fewer are stupid. Smoking causes cancer. The Patriots won the Super Bowl. President Lincoln was born in Kentucky and President a O’bama was born in Hawaii.

I assume almost all of you agree with me that these are true statements, but how do I know these to be true?

Sources

We all rely on sources for most of what we know to be True. I have never been to New Zealand, but I know that it is a beautiful magical place. I know this is true from talking to friends/relatives who have been there, from reading my parents’ National Geographic magazines as a child, and from watching all three of Peter Jackson’s Trilogy of the Rings movies which were filmed there.

I also bounce what these external sources tell me against my own experiences. For example, the vast majority of the people I know are not criminals and this jives with what I read about crime statistics world-wide from a variety of sources. Therefore I consider this to be true: most people are good.

It gets trickier to identify the truth when I have no direct experience and/or when there are competing versions of the facts, the infamous “Alternative Facts”.   Not only does it get “trickier” to tell the truth when sources disagree, it also becomes critical to both my individual concepts of reality and to the freedoms I have enjoyed having been born in a democracy. Tyrants hate the truth and it is in short supply in countries they rule.

So what sources to do you rely on Jim?

I’m glad you asked, and I will provide a list for your consideration, comment, condemnation, or concurrence a little later on in this post.

But first I want to explain the criteria I use to evaluate news/information sources. I grew up as a Presbyterian preacher’s kid with two well-read and educated parents who lived the 10 Commandments (especially the one about not lying) but who were realists who also were extremely accepting of other religions and acutely aware of the foibles of humans.

I was fortunate also to have had a very good public school education at Swarthmore High School that stressed critical thinking skills. This background, along with a stint in the Marines, prepared me well for my undergraduate and graduate studies and subsequent career in advertising, marketing, and public relations.  Although I never held a job as a reporter for an independent news outlet, I learned through my work experience to greatly appreciate the role these professionals play in a democracy.

As a PR person for both the government (The Army & the VA) and corporate America (Safeco Insurance), I was paid to present information in a way that benefited the organization I was representing. Contrary to some opinions, this can (and should) be done ethically, focusing on the positive, but always being factual and truthful.

The independent press has a vital role to play in questioning the actions of anyone in power in both the private and public sectors. One can’t rely solely on PR or advertising to make purchase or voting decisions. The organization being represented may or may not be straight shooters but, even if they are “good guys”, they are only going to give you those parts of “the truth” that help them meet their organizational objectives. The press needs to ask probing questions and openly challenge statements made by organizations and especially those made by politicians.

I was taught, and believe, that news organizations must rigorously research the issues they are reporting on and include multiple sources and relevant opinions. This rigor is not always followed by some members of the press, and of course, we all make mistakes. Good news sources, however, occasionally make mistakes but then own up to them. They also hire people who have been professionally trained as journalists or who have earned their stripes by working their way up in the field. Bad news sources never admit mistakes, even when they are blatant.

Multiple sources are vital in decision making. No one source provides a well-rounded view.

Jim’s Recommendations

Even though I jump around a lot, here are news sources I trust and listen to with some regularity along with a brief synopsis of each:

Radio

NPR – Hourly News is pretty concise. Programing is varied, but tends to be a little high brow and sometimes boring. Lots of human stories/slice of America stuff.

KIRO News/Talk Radio (Seattle) – News is straight up, talk includes both progressive (Dave Ross) and conservatives (Dory Monson) and one show (Tom and Curly) that includes both a progressive and a conservative as co-hosts.

There are similar news oriented radio stations in most major markets. Stations that focus on “news” over “talk” are much more reliable sources. Most carry one of the national/international news sources such as CBS Radio News or BBC radio news for their hourly news updates.

TV

PBS – The first half hour of Newshour is really good – I miss Gwen Ifel (RIP) but Judy Woodruff is still pretty good. Shields and Brooks have thoughtful commentary on Fridays.

CBS – Best general morning news available – Today Show and Good Morning America are too much fluff. 60 Min. still worth watching, but the on air personalities are really old :-).

BBC – Good world-wide view. Very balanced, mostly straight up reporting.

NBC – Watch local and national stations in both Gettysburg (WGAL) and Seattle (KING) – Meet the Press is solid look at political issues/opinions.

ABC – For some reason I don’t usually watch this – when I have it seems pretty reliable.

CBC – I don’t watch this as much as I should. The Canadians seem to have a very balanced view of most issues.

MSNBC – Generally factual, but selects stories consistent with progressive beliefs -Sort of a mirror of FOX NEWS in that it is selective in what it covers and is more opinion than hard news. I usually agree and find them informative, but am cautiously skeptical.

FOX NEWS – Generally factual, but selects stories consistent with right leaning audience beliefs. Blurred lines between news and opinion – mostly the later. I don’t usually agree, but it is important to hear what their ideas/positions are as they have a very devoted audience that apparently listens to nothing else. Chris Wallace on Sunday morning is very fair and worth listening too.

CNN – They get carried away with sensational stories and tend to run them ad nauseum, but generally factual news reporting. CNN calls Trump out continually, but the points they make are generally questions that need to be answered. They got creamed by Trump in recent Internet wrestling match video he promoted on Twitter, but somehow the network was able to stay on the air (The “fight” is on YouTube).😀

C-Span – Unedited direct political news – I like it, but it is often boring and hard to watch for very long.

John Oliver – Political opinion cloaked as comedy based on hard news. Oliver is a comedian with very detailed and informative stories on a wide range of issues. Left leaning. Very funny and self deprecating. On HBO so limited access although clips are often on UTube.

Newspapers

WSJ – Great general news coverage – they really go into detail and are very nuanced. Editorially a little more conservative than me, but I respect their logical arguments. When in Seattle I get the “real” paper version – they provide much content to take in each day.

NYT – Deep Dive, not as much business/financial news as WSJ – Generally left leaning editorially, but they busted Hillary on the e-mail server. Marianne has an online subscription she lets me see. They have made factual errors in the past but always correct their mistakes.

USA Today – Pretty much straight up news reporting leaning to the easy-to-read. Editorials clearly identified as such and they usually provide opposing views from reputable sources.  You can keep up to date at a basic level without spending too much time reading.  Also can’t beat the price online – free.

Seattle Times – One of the few locally owned newspapers left in America (See warning signs below). I get the Sunday paper version and then they let me access the full paper online daily.

Magazines

Time – The only weekly left that is actually printed on paper, RIP Newsweek & US News and World Report. Pretty fair and balanced, traditionally more conservative than Newsweek, which still has an online presence.

The Economist – Absolutely excellent analysis with a world view. Expensive and I can only afford to subscribe periodically when I get copies via airline points or read at the library.

The Internet

Facebook – Good for entertainment and marginally OK for opinions, but I only respond to people I know personally. I don’t take anything on Facebook that is “Shared” at face value – I am much more interested in original content/ideas from people I actually know.   I view this as a form of word of mouth but much more suspect.  Reading what others find interesting is illuminating.  Keep in mind that “illumination” is what helps us see the cockroaches.

Wikipedia – I have found it to be pretty consistent and reliable. If the article is controversial they address this. And there are pretty good original source listings on most articles, and if there are not, it is well noted.

Books

I must confess, this is a weak spot for me, as I don’t read very many. Currently reading “Tyranny” by that my sister gave me for my birthday. I should do more here.

Lies and misconceptions.

If you believe anything National Enquirer or The Onion, I suggest you reconsider your rational. I find both of these are in their own way entertaining. The Onion is funny because it is classic satire. Laughing at The Enquirer brings out a darker side of me as I find myself secretly making fun of the people who believe it.

More dangerous to our democracy are the extremist views that pose as legitimate news outlets but which do not adhere to journalistic practices such as verification of sources and facts. These outlets primarily deal in conspiracy theories and rumors that are popular with their selective audiences. This includes outlets such as the Communist Party (cpusa.org) and It’s Going Down (Anarchist News) on the far left and Brietbart and Info wars on the far right. They disregard or distort the truth and disregard the traditional rigors of journalists. They exist solely to promote a set of political views. They are essentially just propaganda.

I reject the concept of fake news that President Trump uses to try to delegitimization any news outlet that questions his actions. All presidents complain about the press not being “fair.” Obama, W, and Clinton all complained about the news for focusing on what they were doing wrong or for underestimating their successes. Well, that is kind of the point of an independent press. As Truman once said, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”

The idea that “the main stream media” is in cahoots and overly liberal leaning is unsubstantiated. This assumption is based on what evidence? These main stream media outlets were extremely helpful to Trump giving him coverage well beyond that given his opponents, just ask John Kasich. All news media except NPR and PBS are for-profit businesses owned or controlled by .01% billionaires who clearly have much to gain from a more conservative agenda, especially in the area of taxes. So the idea that these media businesses are “left leaning” is bogus.

Fortunately these wealthy owners recognize that, at least up untill now, many Americans will pay to get “real news”. And there is that pesky First Amendment that so far has kept the press free to report and or express opinions that the political powers that be don’t like. Controversy sells and therefore it behoves media owners to let journalists “do their thing” and seek out politicians who are liars or crooks or who misuse their power. There are plenty to choose from in all political parties.

Do Facts = The Truth?

Clearly half truths, lies, and deceit will never lead to any “Truth” other than the truth that the person espousing them is a deceitful lier.   Using reliable sources, fact checking if you will, will help wean out the garbage but even then you can’t equate “facts” with the “truth.” The truth is much deeper and requires mastery of an almost lost art: Thinking.

Critical Thinking Works

Getting to the “truth” requires using facts within a context of values and a logical analytical system. Let me give you an example using paraphrases of some recent seemingly contradictory economic news I have read in the Wall Street Journal:

“The value of the dollar is significantly down since the beginning of the year.”

“The stock market is significantly up since the beginning of the year.”

So is the economy getting better or worse? You can’t really get to the “truth” about the economy from either of these two statements of fact. A weak dollar helps exporters and hurts consumers. A rapidly rising stock market can indicate economic strength or unwarranted speculation that can lead to a depression. An understanding of the context of the facts is essential.

The answer to the larger questions of life require a very broad understanding of history, of the interrelationships of systems, of the potential for false equivalencies or incorrect/incomplete measurements, and healthy doses of that seemingly long lost value, wisdom.

I took a course in logic once and that helps. The “if /then arguments”, “fallacies”, “assumptions”, “conclusions”, and “paradoxes’, and other tools/aspects of logical thinking all contribute to my understanding. In real life, however, many people disregard logical principles and twist them to fit their pre-conceived ideas. Aristotle must be turning over in his grave these days.

You or I will never find the truth on a bumper sticker, a tweet, a headline, a campaign slogan, a FaceBook post, a newspaper article, or in a book, not even The Bible. To find the truth we have to think long and work hard. Even then there will always be some doubt.

Doubt, however, is not all that bad as it is a really good indicator of honesty and integrity. Beware of people who have no doubt – they are not very likely to be truthful.

I will continue to seek the truth even though it is at times a fleeting concept. I trust that you will do the same.

Respect

 

I stand for the national anthem. I also remove my hat and place my hand over my heart. The flag flies proudly in front of our home in Gettysburg and from our deck in Seattle.

I do this out of respect, not for the flag or the anthem itself, but for the country which they represent. To me it is all about the underlying values and promises outlined in The Constitution of the United States. These guarantees can best be boiled down to the final six words of The Pledge of Allegiance, “…with liberty and justice for all.”

Sadly we as a people do not fully live up to the “for all” condition of our shared value statements.

Our country’s founders wisely realized that erosion of liberty and justice for all was a likely outcome. The founders knew that there would always be evil people among us who would impose their will upon others and deny others their rights under The Constitution.

The Constitution guarantees the right to speak up against injustice. This is especially important when that injustice is perpetrated by representatives of the government.

Patriotic citizens have long warned about the dangers of the government denying rights of individuals. They are absolutely right to have these concerns. Authoritarian governments hate the freedom of speech and they use their power to systematically eliminate anyone who speaks out against any of their actions.

I have tremendous respect for law enforcement. They serve in a high-risk jobs. Our society is dependent on them. We owe them our gratitude. Even the best police departments, however, may have officers who misuse the power given to them and fail to equally administer justice.

African Americans have known for years that there are some bad police officers who will literally kill them for minor infractions or misunderstandings. I would not have believed this to be so prevalent years ago, but the advent of the availability of video evidence has provided us all a glimpse into the truth of widespread police brutality against blacks and other non-white populations. It is frighteningly clear that we do not yet have equal justice for all. Changes must be made.

By taking a knee during the National Anthem, football players make a powerful statement. Taking a knee is a solemn and important statement in any context. We propose marriage taking a knee. We kneel at church. Historically men knelt before the Queen to be knighted. Football players take a knee when listening to their coaches.

It is a powerful statement for football players to use peaceful protest and the celebrity media platform that is available to them as professional athletes to speak out about racial injustice.

Unfortunately many have interpreted the act of taking the knee, bowing one’s head or sitting silently during the National Anthem differently. They see the meaning of this silent, peaceful, and respectful protest action by a black man as an affront to our military. Some believe that racial injustice does not really exist and that police are always innocent and are just doing their job.

Trump has verbalized these narrow, simplistic, and twisted assumptions about the motives of protestors. With sinister and deadly impact he as driven a huge wedge between Americans. We are divisible and Trump knows it. The white supremacists could have no stronger ally than Donald Trump. Trump’s motives are unknowable, but the consequences are sadly predictable.

By taking a knee to protest racial injustice, players do not threaten democracy, they embody it and they respect it.

The real disrespect I see right now is Trump’s assault on our fundamental freedom of speech and our right to protest. His use of the power of the presidency to try to limit the free speech of those he does not like should make conservatives and liberals alike very angry. It makes me furious. Trump is a real threat to our constitutional guarantees.

Heritage

Battle of Gettysburg – Brickyard*

In my East Coast home there are a number of souvenir shops that cater to tourists from around the country who come to visit the site of the single most important battle in US history, the Battle of Gettysburg. In three days in July of 1863 the future of this country was set on a course that impacts us today in ways we don’t even know.

The defeat of General Lee’s army on the third day of the battle was the beginning of the end of the system of slavery that was justified by the idea/belief that whites were superior to people of color.

In November of that same year Republican President Abraham Lincoln gave the famous Gettysburg Address, arguably the greatest speech ever given, to honor the thousands of soldiers who gave their lives at Gettysburg to support a country and system of government that held that all people are created equal. The speech was given at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery where most of those who gave their lives in the battle in defense of our nation are buried. It is truly hallowed ground that moves me every time I visit it.

Thousands more gave their lives at Gettysburg as enemies of the United States of America in an effort to retain the economic system of slavery. There were no speeches given on their behalf and for many years the bodies of the dead laid unmarked in piles in large holes that were quickly dug and then covered up. Years later women who had lost loved ones in the war formed an organization that recovered many of the remains and buried them in cemeteries in the South. No monuments were allowed on the battlefield to honor the confederate dead. They were, after all, traitors.

I recite this overly brief and incomplete history of the battle to get to a point that is relevant today. Lincoln’s armies ended slavery in the US, but they did not end the concept and belief in white supremacy. Sadly this idea is alive and kicking today.

In the afore mentioned souvenir shops you can buy tee shirts imprinted with the confederate flag and the phrase “Heritage not Hate.” You see many of these type of tee shirts being worn around Gettysburg. There is an assumption that the word “Heritage” explains somehow that the person wearing this shirt is really just honoring past history and some vague romantic concept of a way of life and a “lost cause” that is “Gone with the Wind”.

This is where I have to call bullshit on the idea of “Heritage” and those people who pretend that the confederate flag is not a racist symbol and that “Heritage” is not a code for white supremacy. This starts with you, Mr. President.

Many years after the battle of Gettysburg, the U.S. government allowed for the construction of monuments for the Southern fighters who lost their lives at Gettysburg. At the 75th anniversary of the battle there was a Peace Light with an eternal flame installed to help with reconciliation and healing. I think these efforts were appropriate and that these monuments help us to understand the gravity of the battle and show respect for the dead – even those traitors who fought against the United States, most of whom did not themselves own slaves and many of whom were conscripted.

Around the same time (early 20th century) many cities in the South, and a few in the border states, started erecting monuments to confederate generals and others associated with the Confederacy. They also named roads, schools, and other civic buildings after them.

I do not know the true motivation for these moves and I do accept the argument that there is some value in remembering who these people who fought and suffered in the war. It makes sense to me to have monuments and statues in a place like the battlefields of Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, or Chicamagua where my great-great-grandfather, Private Samuel K. Sayer of Company H/51st Ohio Infantry, was captured.

I don’t see the value of a statue of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, in a prominent location in a city unrelated to an historic battlefield or museum. This kind of statue makes the statement that “we were right all along and these are the people that you should look up to.” The message is subtle but clear to me as a white guy. I can only imagine how clear and intimidating this message is to people of color.

There is a huge difference between statues and symbols on battlefields and in museums and symbols in prominent civic locations near city halls and court houses. Former South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley clearly recognized this and took the wise and bold step of removing the confederate battle flag from state property. Other civic leaders have followed suit and moved to remove hate charged statues that do not represent the values of their citizens or our country.

Keep in mind that the statues almost exclusively focus on the generals and leaders of the Confederacy. They are not in tribute to the thousands of young men who fought bravely and suffered immensely nor are they solemn reminders of the horrors of war. The statues honor those who executed the war in an effort to keep slavery intact not the poor whites who actually did the fighting and who suffered the consequences.

Many of these symbols of the confederacy remain in prominent civic locations and will do so as long as people continue to honor those who believed strongly in white supremacy and were willing to fight against the United States of America to keep a system in place that enslaved millions of people.

Continued acceptance of the use of the symbols of the Confederacy emboldens and strengthens the KKK, Nazis, and other white supremacist hate groups. It is doubly important that our political and other influential leaders not condone the use of hate group symbolism. The Heritage they support is for whites only. (No Jews or LGBT either BTW.)

  • The mural depicted at the beginning of this article is on the Coster Avenue Battlefield which is only about 50 yards from our home in Gettysburg.  There was a major skirmish at the brickyard on the first day of the battle.  The Union soldiers where conducting a holding action to delay the advance of the Confederate forces.  This is an example of the use of the Confederate Flag in a public space that seems appropriate to me as it helps understand the event and is a reasonable approximation of what happened on that site.