Thursday, November 16, 2017

Now you see it, now you don't. Now you see it....

So, whatdaya' think of our new middle class tax cut?  Slick, huh?

I'll make this short and simple because I know few of you are into this boring minutiae.  Unless your name is Rockefeller or D Trump or even WJ Clinton, after the initial bone they'll toss you, you're not going to benefit from the "middle class tax cut" the US Senate is now trying to ram through before their holiday recess.

If passed, everyone would receive a tax cut in 2019.  But after that the various provisions that benefit those generally making less than $75,000 begin to expire....they're NOT permanent....and by 2027 they'll see a tax INCREASE.  Only the provisions that are likely to benefit the upper income class, and businesses, will remain in place. 

Our politicians tell us that our businesses are not competitive with much of the rest of the world because our business tax rate is DRAMATICALLY higher than anywhere else.  That's a very deceptive truth.  Our tax RATE is indeed very high, but no business pays that rate.  After they take all the deductions the tax code allows them, the EFFECTIVE tax they pay....their taxable not much out of line at all.  A modest cut to close that remaining gap is indeed justified, but nothing like what they're trying to sell us.

President Trump's Chief Economic Adviser, Gary Cohn, formerly of Goldman Sachs, was caught off-guard at a recent CEO's conference when they admitted that only a few would take their tax savings, if Congress passes new tax cut legislation, and use it to increase their "capital investment".  In other words, grow their business and create new jobs.  Truth is, they're already enjoying record high profits.  They're cash-rich already!  This is why the stock market is at an all-time high.

So what exactly are businesses doing with their record profits?  Primarily increasing their dividends and buying back their own stock.  Example:  Last year Apple, GE, Pfizer, McDonalds, Gilead Science, Microsoft, Boeing, AIG, Express Scripts, Walmart, Johnson & Johnson, Oracle, Alphabet (Google), CVS Health, Disney, Wells Fargo, Visa, JP Morgan, Citigroup, and Goldman Sachs collectively bought back $189 BILLION of their own stock.  Just 20 companies, in just one year. (Source: Standard & Poors)  

If these companies, or many thousands of others, had wanted to expand their businesses and create more jobs, they had more than enough cash available to do it.  We have no shortage of investment capital!

So what will it take to spur businesses to expand and hire?  DEMAND for their products / services. (Hello..."supply and demand".  Ever heard the term?)  If the middle class received the bulk of any tax cut, they would likely use it to buy a new TV, or a new laptop, or maybe even put it toward a new car or a new house.  When businesses see their products flying off the shelves, they'll expand and hire.  Until then, what's the point?  Unless they can SELL more of what they make, why make it?

Is this so hard to understand?  Bottom line, the promised "middle class tax cut" does virtually nothing for the middle class long term.  Provide REAL tax cuts for the working class and they'll buy more, giving business the incentive to grow in order to keep up with the new demand.

Please, send a short email to your Senators and tell them you're on to their slick shell game.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Did I know her? You mean the cute 14-year-old girl with the long legs, blonde hair, green eyes, and the overdeveloped bossom? No officer, I never saw her.

Alabama Senate candidate Judge* Roy Moore....a special kind of odd.

*Is it proper to still call someone who has been a judge twice, and been removed from his bench twice, "Judge"?

If you keep up with the news at all you'll know that "Judge" Roy Moore is the Republican candidate running to fill the unexpired seat of former Alabama Senator and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  It's said he would be by far the most conservative member of the Senate if elected, which would make him someone the Republicans could count on to vote with their bare majority on things like tax reform, health care reform, etc.  He was their darling....until it was alleged he molested a girl back in 1979, when he was 32 and she was only 14.

That girl, now all grown up, is Leigh Corfman.  She has given details of the incident, and has friends from that time who say she told them of her "relationship" with Moore, but as of now it's legally nothing more than he-said-she-said.  There is no stained "blue dress" such as the one that tripped up Bill Clinton.

Judge Moore says he didn't do it and that it's all politically motivated, asking why all this has come out now, just weeks before the special election?  Fair point.

Background:  Mr. Moore is a graduate of West Point, and went on after his military academy graduation to serve as a MP, including a tour in Vietnam.  There he was so unpopular with his men (he was a Captain by then) that he admitted sleeping on his cot surrounded by sandbags, worried they would "frag" (kill) him with a grenade while he slept.

He later went to the University of Alabama where he received his Juris Doctor degree.  He eventually worked his way into the judiciary where he was twice elected to the Alabama Supreme Court, and twice removed, for not enforcing laws he personally objected to.

In 2002 he founded the non-profit Foundation For Moral Law, and between 2007 and 2012 personally received over $1M from his foundation, which somehow exceeded the amount of revenue listed on its public tax filings.

Here we are today, with candidate Moore being accused of sexual misconduct appearing on the Sean Hannity show, defending himself.  He did a pitiful job of it.  When asked if he dated teenage girls when he was in his 30's he said it "would have been out of my customary behavior".  He went on to say, "If I did, I’m not going to dispute these things, but I don’t remember anything like that".  

Ahh, not exactly a convincing denial there, Roy, but as mentioned, there hasn't so far been any evidence presented that a court could use to convict.  That's what his supporters are basing their undying support for him on.  "Prove it" they say.  Should you vote against someone just because they've been accused of something?  

Think of it this way:  If your job required you and your family to relocate to another city, and you needed to find a new OB/Gyn for your daughter, would you send her to a doctor who had been accused of sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old girl?

With the Alabama Senate seat likely to be the one to cast the deciding vote on many crucial social issues the Republican's will put forward next year, the country needs a thoughtful civil servant.  Judge Roy doesn't seem to fit that description IMO.

Still, he could win election.  Then the issue will be whether the Republican-controlled Senate will vote to seat him (Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution says each house of Congress is the final arbiter of who it seats) or accept him and his all-important vote while gritting their teeth and keeping him at a distance from the rest of civil society....even the suggestion of sexual abuse of an underage minor is something hard to ignore.  This could get very interesting.  

The conundrum is, it's impossible to prove a can't prove you didn't do something that never happened.  But, regardless of his ideology, if you were an Alabamian, would you vote for Judge Roy Moore for the US Senate, or let Dr Roy Moore be your daughter's OB/Gyn?


Thursday, November 9, 2017

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem....

Millions of Americans across the country are demanding gun control in response to the new reality of seemingly monthly mass shootings, and just gun violence in general.  I'd like to ask those of you who agree with this sentiment to participate in a little exercise.  I'm not baiting anyone, but looking for some real (possible) answers to a real problem.

My exercise goes like this:  If you were a member of Congress and you wanted to introduce a bill relating to gun control, what would you include in your proposal?  For example, "Prohibit the future manufacture, importation, and sale of automatic / semi-automatic rifles", or "No handguns larger than ___ caliber", or "No magazines containing more than ___ rounds".  Would you address the 250-300 million guns that are already in public hands?

Question 2:  If enacted, how would you enforce it?  Would you leave it up to local / state law enforcement, or the ATF, or the FBI, or all the above?  Regardless, it would seem like they would have to take time away from other duties to enforce your new gun control law.  Do you think that's wise?  Or would you establish a new law enforcement body to police just this one thing?  Who would pay for this?  Would this be an "unfunded mandate" (requiring someone to do something, without providing them the funding to do it)?

Question 3:  What would you do with those brought in for violating your new gun control law?  Our Constitution allows everyone their day in court.  By all accounts our court system, at every level, already has a considerable backlog of cases waiting to be heard.  Would you provide for a new, single issue "Gun Violation Court"?  If so, this would require physical courtrooms and offices, clerks, bailiffs, judges, etc.  How would all those be paid for?

Question 4:  Assuming you could resolve Question 3, what would you do with those convicted?  I'm going to assume that in your new gun violation roundup you would also automatically include those you find who are already prohibited from possessing a firearm, such as previously convicted felons.  I would also assume you would go after black market sellers, too.  Do we have enough state and / or federal prisons & jailers to handle them all?  I've heard it costs tens-of-thousands of dollars to incarcerate one prisoner for just one year.  How would these costs be funded?

One final rule:  You can't just say, "I don't know how they'd do it, but they'd just have to find a way", or "I dunno, they're smart guys up there in Washington.  Let them figure it out."  Put on the table some concrete ideas that real lawmakers could build on.  Even if you can only contribute a little, you'll be light years ahead of those who are just perpetual whiners.

Now, independent of this exercise, tell me....what do you think the odds are a real bill similar to what you've suggested would have of garnering the votes of 50% +1 in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and be signed by the President?  (Forget for a second the NRA exists.)  

Thanks for participating.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Misconceptions about guns

Once again guns are in the news in a big, and sad, way.  The news media is full of new gun control proposals, and are also reporting a lot of things that are simply untrue.  I'm not going to say they are necessarily being deceptive, but are simply misinformed.  Let me give you some facts:

First of all, gun makers...Glock, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, not sell guns to the public.  They don't have any factory outlets.  They sell only to Federal Firearms License holders.  Broadly speaking these are your gun stores.  To get a FFL these retailers must go through an extensive background check themselves and pay a substantial yearly fee. They are also regularly and thoroughly audited.  Every gun they get in, and every gun that goes out, must be properly documented.  If the FFL holders aren't responsible, blame the government who improperly vetted them, not the gun makers.

Anyone buying a gun from a FFL dealer must have either a current state "License To Carry" a gun (which itself requires substantial vetting) or get approval from the Federal database that says they are not convicted felons, "wanted" for any reason, have never been committed to a mental institution for treatment, have no restraining orders against them, have never denounced their citizenship, have never been dishonorably discharged from the military, and a few other things, too.  Failure to properly submit gun buyers for a background check can result in a major fine to the FFL dealer, or even the revocation of their FFL.

You can NOT just buy a gun on the internet, give them your credit card number, and have it mailed to you. You can buy one from an out of area FFL dealer and they will ship it to a FFL dealer in your area who will then process your background paperwork, and if you pass, deliver it to you.  The local dealer will generally charge about $50 for his paperwork service. 

Roughly 60% of all gun sales are handled through FFL dealers and are documented.  The problem with this gun purchase database, known as the Federal Instant Criminal Background System, or NICS is that it won't work if all the courts around the country, both civilian and military, don't report all their convictions, restraining orders, etc.  If those aren't reported, the NICS will have no reason to deny a gun purchaser.  This is what happened with the Texas church murderer. 

The problem is with the other 40% of gun sales.  Federal gun law allows individuals to sell their personal guns to anyone they wish.  This was meant to allow sales to friends, neighbors, relatives, etc, but it is sometimes abused by people who buy guns from any source they can, legal or illegal, claim them as their personal gun collection, and then resell them without background checks.  All sales are off the books, there are no receipts given, and I doubt any taxes are paid by these sellers on their lucrative underground business.

Why would someone buy a gun this way?  First of all used guns, like used cars, are generally less expensive.  But there are also a surprising number of people who simply don't want the government to know they have guns.  THEY DON'T TRUST THEIR GOVERNMENT.  They fear that some day there will be a knock at their door, where federal agents will come in and rummage through their residence and confiscate their weapons.  This fear is what sustains many "militias" dedicated to the preservation of the Second Amendment.  Rational or not, it's a real fear.

Finally, and this is the REAL bugaboo in the firearms controversy, there is a thriving black market in stolen, untraceable guns.  There is a forcible home burglary approx every 14 seconds somewhere in America, netting crooks 1,000,000 guns a year.  When a burglar has a choice between stealing your TV, your laptop, your jewelry, or your guns, he'll choose your guns every time.  That's because there is a vast underground criminal network that caters to those who can't pass a NICS background check.  Think gang-bangers, convicted felons, criminals who consider a gun a "tool of their trade", etc.  All these lowlifes know each other, and know any gun they can imagine is available for the right amount of green cash money, no questions asked.  It's surprisingly easy to buy this way.  (I'm told.  I buy my guns the legal way.)

This last subset is responsible more than all others by a wide margin for our reported gun violence.  The other loopholes can be addressed to some degree, but if that happens it will just drive more people to this criminal underground to buy their guns. 

"But other countries have strict gun laws and their incidence of gun violence is minuscule compared to ours."  True, but they don't already have 300,000,000+/- guns floating around their country.  They don't have a 250 year history of private firearms ownership or a Second Amendment.  Old habits die hard.  Genies don't go back in bottles.

So what CAN we do?  Concentrate on this last subset.  When a convicted felon is stopped by the police for anything, search them, and their car.  If they're found in possession of a gun, off to jail they go.  Our cost to incarcerate will go up dramatically, but it will cut down on gun violence.  How bad do we want it?  The same goes for those who have been dishonorably discharged from the military.  They should be treated the same as felons when it comes to  gun possession.  

The mentally ill need to be identified AND HELPED.  Take away the stigma of mental illness, enabling those who need help to step forward and ask for it.  Our societal cost to treat mental illness and provide mental health facilities and hospital beds will go up dramatically, but it will cut down on gun violence.  How bad do we want it?

There ARE things we can do to address gun violence, but they will cost money, and no politician is going to advocate raising taxes to pay for them.  The taxpayers want to have their cake and eat it too.   Life doesn't work like that.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Are we really this inept? (correct answer: yes we are)

Instead of showing the face of the murderer who killed 26 people using an AR-15 in a small town church in Texas yesterday, I'd rather show the photo of this good, brave citizen, Stephen Williford, who retrieved his AR-15 and returned fire, by all accounts saving many other lives.

The evil shooter was an Air Force veteran who was given a "Bad Conduct" discharge after receiving a Court Martial and spending a year in the brig (prison) for abusing his wife and child.  Also, in 2014 the evil shooter was arrested for misdemeanor animal cruelty in Colorado and given a differed probationary sentence.  

Now we learn the Air Force failed to notify the FBI of his court martial for spousal abuse.  Why?  Did Colorado notify the FBI of his recent misdemeanor conviction?  Apparently not.  Are we really this inept?  Either would have prevented him passing a background check and buying a gun through normal, legal channels.

Meanwhile the Texas Department of Public Safety (our State Police), during their standard vetting process, learned something and refused to issue him a license to legally carry a weapon.  What did the Texas DPS learn, and how did they learn it?  (Kudos DPS.  This is why our Texas firearm license holders have such an exemplary record of responsible gun ownership.)

The Federal Instant Criminal Background Check System won't work if felonies and recent misdemeanor convictions (and a few other disqualifiers) aren't reported.

But even if he had been legally disqualified from buying a gun, with an estimated 1,000,000 guns stolen every year, there is a thriving black market in cash-and-carry firearms transactions, and this is where most bad guys get their guns.  The system is full of holes that let bad people obtain guns.  "Black markets" pay no attention to laws....never have, never will. 

There are no more blatant examples of people who should NOT have guns than this Texas church shooter.  Those convicted of family violence, and anyone who would cruelly harm an animal, IMO don't deserve a second chance to prove they can handle something as deadly as a gun.   

Meanwhile we need to see to it that good people like Mr. Williford get the recognition they deserve for stepping up and confronting active shooters and saving lives.  This is a classic example of guns in the hands of good people doing good things. 


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Welcome to America! *conditions apply

Immigrants waiting to be processed at Ellis Island, circa "long time ago".

Once again immigration is front and center in the news.  This time it arrived there after an immigrant from Uzbekistan, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, rented a truck and mowed down numerous cyclists in NYC, killing 8.  The extended controversy is that he was admitted to America on some sort of a lottery based on "diversity", meant to allow people from places who seldom immigrate here have a chance for a better life.

President Trump is dead-set against such diversity immigrants, citing numerous grievances, most of them bogus.  (The flood doors were not just opened allowing anyone access.  There was still vetting to make sure the newcomers weren't dangerous felons, etc.)  Instead he wants to limit new immigrants to those who can bring skills and talents America needs.  He calls it "merit based" admission.

This contrasts markedly with our history of welcoming the world's "tired, poor, and huddled masses, yearning to breath free."  In the 19th and early 20th Century boats docked weekly with immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Poland, Hungry, Lithuania, and elsewhere who brought with them few advanced skills.  They were, however, used to hard work, and that's how they made a place for themselves in America.  Agricultural labor, assembly line workers, and general unskilled labor were always needed.

Times have changed.  Today we have all the agricultural laborers we need available from Mexico, if only our guvment would get their shit together and establish some reasonable rules for their legal employment.  Manufacturing is moving as fast as they can to more mechanization, where one technician at a console can oversee a dozen robots doing the work that many humans used to.  And we have far too many high school dropouts as it is whose lot in life will likely be as unskilled labor forever.  In short, I doubt we need any more unskilled, general labor, which is too often what new immigrants are when they arrive here.

While I am anything but a fan of Prez Trump and the Tea Party, I find it hard to fault the idea that new immigrants need to bring with them skills and talents that will benefit both them and America.  I don't mean to suggest they all need to be doctors or IT professionals.  They can be mechanics, plumbers, electricians, construction equipment operators....we need people with those blue-collar job skills.  And to be compassionate, we could encourage businesses via tax incentives for example, or any other social non-profits/churches, to sponsor and agree to train unskilled immigrants who are willing to work hard and learn.  That would be the best possible win-win.

My head says this is reasonable, yet my heart says it's wrong to just ignore the millions of people who are stuck in lives of utter despair overseas.  We're better people than that.  What I'd like to do and what I realistically can do are not the same.  This is a serious conundrum.

What I do know is that we can't just keep kicking the can down the road.  We need a real immigration policy that is good for America, and helps as many people as possible move here and improve their lives, too.  Meanwhile Congress is being pulled in various directions by special interests who benefit from us not having a coherent immigration policy.  These Beltway puppets are the ones we need to export ASAP, if we could only find countries dumb enough to take them.


Friday, October 27, 2017

The media should put me on retainer....I'm quite the soothsayer!

It seems the news media has somehow discovered there is something fishy smelling at best, and maybe illegal at worst, about the sale of a uranium mining company to Russia after the Clinton Foundation, a philanthropy run by her husband, William Jefferson Clinton (aka POTUS 42), received "contributions" from Russians close to the uranium deal. 


Well put me in for a Pulitzer Prize!

I wrote about this very sort of sleaze in this blog back on June 9, 2016.  The Clinton's IMO set up a pretty sweet scheme whereby "contributions" were made to the pure-as-the-driven-snow Clinton Foundation, then Senator and later Sec of State Hillary Clinton blessed a transaction favored by the same contributors. I doubt they'll find any paper trail on the subject as a casual comment and an understanding nod over dinner between husband and wife sealed the deal.

This is what our politicians do...."one for me, and one for the country".  They go in with a modest net worth, and leave public service filthy rich.  Coincidence?  Methinks not.

To save you from scouring my blog archive (in the column on the right), below is what I wrote 16 months ago.  As Yogi Berra would have said, "It's deja vu all over again."



So why won't I vote for her [Hillary Clinton]?  It's all about trust, or lack there of.  For starts, it's hard for me to separate the activities of the Clinton Foundation run by her husband and her duties as a Senator or Secretary of State.  There is no clear demarcation. 

Under federal law, foreign governments seeking State Department clearance to buy American-made arms are barred from making campaign contributions, a prohibition aimed at preventing foreign interests from using cash to influence national security policy.  But nothing prevents them from contributing to a "philanthropic foundation" controlled by policymakers.  (A tidy little loophole, wouldn't you say?)

Admittedly the philanthropic Clinton Foundation has done a lot of good for a lot of worthy causes.  But mixed in with its good deeds are lots of highly suspicious "coincidences".  While it was perfectly legal for anyone to give to the non-profit Clinton Foundation while Hillary was a sitting US Senator and a cabinet official during the Obama administration, the potential for abuse was off the chart.  As an aspiring public servant, she should never have let herself be put in such a compromising position.  It was simply a bad decision of the highest order.

Consider this:  In 2011 while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, the State Department approved a $29 billion dollar sale of American-built fighter planes to Saudi Arabia, despite the pleas of many that a deal that large would upset the delicate balance of power in the region.  The deal was even considered a "top priority" for Ms. Clinton personally.  Is it just a coincidence that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia contributed $10 million dollars to the Clinton Foundation, and Boeing contributed $900,000 just months before the sale was given official approval?  

In fact, in just three years (2011-2013) under Hillary Clinton's leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion dollars worth of arms sales to 20 nations who had given contributions to the Clinton Foundation.  This number is over twice as much as was approved by the State Department in the same time frame during the last term of George W. Bush. 

*sniff*....What's that smell?

And does this seem odd?....Hillary Clinton switched from opposing an American free trade agreement with Colombia to supporting it after a Canadian energy and mining magnate with interests in that South American country contributed to the Clinton Foundation.  

In fact, 13 companies lobbying the State Department paid Bill Clinton $2.5 million in speaking fees while Hillary Clinton headed the agency.  Even if it was a coincidence, just the appearance of impropriety is staggering!

And then we get to her (likely) coziness with Wall Street.  In that regard she seems more like an old-school Republican.  Doesn't it seem suspicious that she was paid $1.8 million dollars to make just eight speeches in less than two years to big banks?  And just this election cycle, based on their campaign contributions to date, she is far and away their favorite candidate.

Do you think they sought her out as a speaker because of her good looks and personality, or could it have something to do with the fact that maybe, just maybe, they felt their relationship might soon pay big dividends if she were to become President of the United States?  Whether true or not, the opportunity to personally gain from her official position and her relationship with Bill's Clinton Foundation is just too tempting.  She sleeps with the guy, for crying out loud!

Spend just a few minutes on Google and see all this and much more documented for yourself.   

Yes, I know...."They all do it."  But they aren't ALL running for President.  We've been giving such shenanigans a blind eye for too many years now, and IMHO it has resulted in the mess we're in today.  We can't afford to put someone in the White House who could with the stoke of a pen put a fast buck ahead of our national interests.