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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

As 2017 comes to an end, looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly



The Good:

We will start 2018 with strong economic performance numbers from 2017. Looking at some key economic factors, we find the following:

The stock market - The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up over 32 percent since November 2016. On November 30 this year, the Dow closed at over 24,000 points for the first time, and has continued to rise in December, closing at 24,726.65 on December 20. The Dow has achieved dozens of new closing highs in 2017. And for the first time in its 121-year history, the Dow gained 5,000 points in a single year.

Unemployment – Standing at 4.8 percent in January, the U-3 unemployment rate of 4.1 percent on December 1 is at a low not seen in years, and the Federal Reserve is expecting that number to drop below 4 percent in 2018. The more dependable U-6 seasonally adjusted rate has dropped from 9.3 percent in November of 2016 to 8.0 percent last month.

Gross Domestic Product – GDP in the first quarter of 2017 was a paltry 1.2 percent, but grew in the second quarter to 3.1 percent and to 3.2 percent in the third quarter.

Retail Sales - The economic forecasters at the Commerce Department had predicted that November’s retail sales would increase by 0.3 percent, but were embarrassed at the actual increase of 0.8 percent, a miss that amounts to three-quarters of a billion dollars of economic activity.

Tax cuts - The new tax rates passed by Congress will give individuals, families and businesses more money to spend.

Welch & Forbes, LLC in its December “Economic Outlook,” had this to say: “The news on the economy had previously been good, but it just got better. … Consumer confidence is at a 17-year high, unemployment is at a 17-year low and businesses are flush with cash amid improving profits. Banks and other financial companies are doing especially well as they have accounted for two-thirds of the increase in third-quarter U.S. corporate profits.”

The Bad:

North Korea - The North Korean despot and his continued effort at developing nuclear weapons and rockets that can reach the USA and many of its allies raises tensions around the world.

Israel - Formal recognition by the United States of the ages-old reality that Jerusalem is indeed the capital of Israel has been met by objections, and violent demonstrations against the U.S.

Russian interference investigation - The investigation into supposed Russian “collusion” in the election has generated a year of Congressional investigation, and now months of a special counsel investigation that have come up empty. The only charges so far have had nothing to do with the Russians, the reason for a special counsel being appointed, and have already cost millions. This is a harmful distraction to the administration.

These events and activities do not bode well for positive effects on the country.

The Ugly:

Some FBI agents and Department of Justice employees appear to allow political concerns to affect their sworn duty to the American people, apparently believing that their idea of who ought to be president is more important than the decision American citizens made at the polls.

Two FBI agents, Peter Strzok and his mistress Lisa Page, who were assigned to the special counsel’s team investigating Russia, had texted with each other during the 2016 campaign about protecting the country against Trump.

Interestingly, Strzok, had also led the FBI’s Clinton email investigation, and softened language in documents that had accused Hillary Clinton of criminal behavior.

In August of 2016, Strzok referred to an idea that appears to be intended to thwart Trump’s election during a meeting in FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s office. “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk,” he texted to Page. In the August 15, 2016 text, he said, “It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”

Earlier that month, on August 6, Page had texted Strzok: “Maybe you’re meant to stay where you are because you’re meant to protect the country from that menace.” He responded, “I can protect our country at many levels.”

And, there are more such texts.

Strzok was demoted or transferred to Human Resources from the special counsel’s investigative team.

Each of us has the right to their opinions, so this may be evidence of criminal intent, or may not be. However, even the most enthusiastic Democrat and/or liberal ought to understand and agree that this is not what the work that employees of the federal government, especially the FBI, are hired for.

There is also the question of whether the fake Trump dossier – the research for which was partly funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, according to The Washington Post - was used to persuade the FISA court to issue wiretapping warrants against certain members of the Trump campaign and/or transition team.

Just how deep does this misbehavior of federal officials go?

All things considered, next year might be a very good one, or not.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Yet another misguided effort to destroy our country’s history



It’s been more than a year since the movement to cleanse America’s past began, as the idea of erasing unpleasant, unpopular aspects of our history is now the way some try to make things better, and includes removing statues and memorials of America’s Founders and notable personalities of the War Between the States.

The reaction to America’s period of slavery is the prime impetus for this mania to destroy history. But as manias often are, this one is ill advised and will do great harm to future generations.

One of the most important of the Founders, Thomas Jefferson, is a target of the movement to cleanse the past by removing statues and other reminders of those days. Jefferson is recognized by the crowd bearing the cleansing equipment for one thing only: he was a slave owner, and therefore unqualified for any attention or actual appreciation.

But like nearly all of them, Jefferson had many positive things to his credit, among them intelligence and wisdom. And his ideas of the value of history are right on the mark and deserve consideration.

Regarding history, Jefferson wrote in “Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 14,” in 1781, "History by apprising [citizens] of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views."

Calling it “one of the most racist, pro-slavery, anti-black songs in the American lexicon,” The California NAACP now backs a movement to have Francis Scott Key’s anthem “The Star Spangled Banner” removed as America’s National Anthem. 

This furor arose from three lines in the third verse of Key’s 1814 poem that he wrote about the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. How many could recite any of the other verses, or even knew the song has more than one verse? And if you are looking for “the most racist, pro-slavery, anti-black” song in the country, would three short lines in the third of four verses that hardly anyone knew existed really be the worst, or be worth all this hoo-hah?

At first glance, however, one might believe those three lines in the verse are racist. But, as with many controversies, a first glance is far less than is required.

Here is the text of the third verse, with those lines forming the basis of the objection highlighted in italics:

“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

However, american-historama.org informs what those lines really meant to the author at the time they were written.
Francis Scott Key describes the British as arrogant and boastful in the lyrics “that band who so vauntingly swore.”
He is venting his anger at the British with the "foul footsteps' pollution" lyrics inferring that the British poisoned the ground on which they walked.
But the poison and corruption had been washed away by the blood of the British.
The lyrics "the hireling" refers to the British use of Mercenaries (German Hessians) in the American War of Independence.
The lyrics "...and slave" is a direct reference to the British practice of Impressment (kidnapping American seamen and forcing them into service on British man-of-war ships). This was an important cause of the War of 1812.
Francis Scott Key then describes the Star Spangled Banner as a symbol of triumph over all adversity.

This is why context is important. Things do not always mean what someone thinks they mean, and by doing just a little research, the true meaning could have been discovered, and this particular tempest in a teapot could have been avoided.

The NAACP misinterpreted these lyrics, and assigned a completely false meaning to them. And therefore, its reaction is not appropriate, and there is no reason to seriously consider removing The Star Spangled Banner as the National Anthem on that basis.

However, even if the premise had been correct and the Anthem did contain racist language, America’s era of slavery, which began in the Colonies, ended a century and a half ago. Further, its lyrics represent a valid and beneficial historical record of a battle in an important event in America’s history.

“But history does matter. It has been said that he who controls the past controls the future,” as David Crabtree wrote in the articleThe Importance of History” on the Gutenberg College Website. “Our view of history shapes the way we view the present, and therefore it dictates what answers we offer for existing problems.”

This is why we must preserve history, and learn from it, rather than destroy it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

When the rights of one person conflict with the rights of another


“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” So reads, in part, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The amendment forbids government from acting to promote or establish any religion, and from acting to discourage or ban religious behavior. In essence, government should have a hands-off policy where the practice of religious activities, or abstinence from them is concerned.

No constitutionally guaranteed right is absolute, however, and practitioners of a religion who commit felonies – such as assault, robbery, homicide, rape, kidnapping, etc. – or misdemeanors because of their beliefs will suffer the same consequences as other law breakers.

When religious beliefs come up against other rights, however, problems may arise. One such issue is whether a religious person can be, or should be, forced to do something that is against his or her religious beliefs when not doing so would result in the violation of the rights of another person or other persons.

The United States Supreme Court is currently dealing with just such a case. The Court has before it the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The Court must decide how the religious rights of the baker stack up against the couple’s right to equal treatment under the law.

But should someone have his or her rights denied because they are in conflict with someone else’s rights? It is a sticky issue.

A gay couple that has previously been a customer of Mary’s Delights bakery asks her to bake a cake for their wedding, but Mary says that homosexuality goes against the beliefs of her religion and therefore she cannot participate in this wedding by baking the cake. Mary suggests they find another baker for the cake. Perhaps Bob’s bakery? Bob has baked cakes for gay weddings before, she said.

But the couple feels their rights have been violated. Gay marriage is legal and they believe that by refusing to participate in their marriage, Mary has discriminated against them, so they take action against Mary.

However, discrimination is a common and natural part of living; people discriminate against things and people everyday. They choose to buy an SUV instead of a pickup. Or vice versa. We order seafood instead of a steak. We decide to order a cake from Mary’s Delights instead of Joe’s Bakery.

Do we not occasionally see a sign on the entrance to a commercial establishment that reads: “No shirt. No shoes. No service?” Isn’t that discrimination against shirtless or unshod people?

All of these are matters of discrimination, which is merely a matter of making conscious choices of one thing over other things. It is a question of degree, and even then not every act constitutes actionable discrimination.

Years ago, businesses not infrequently had signs on their doors or windows reading: “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” The right of the proprietor to control their business was unquestioned. If they wanted to serve only black people, or only white people, or only Christians or Muslims or atheists, why is that wrong? Or if they want to not serve blue-eyed blondes, or short men, why is that wrong?

As long as services are available to everyone through some provider, why is it necessary that every provider be required to serve everyone?

Carried to its illogical extreme, the owner of a French restaurant could be accused of discrimination by people whose heritage is from another country because the restaurant doesn’t serve German, Scottish, Italian or Mexican food.

America is founded on principles of freedom and guaranteed rights. We have the right to vote for whomever we choose, and to not vote for other candidates. We have the right to associate with whomever we like and to not associate with those with whom we choose not to associate.

People have the right to invest thousands of dollars in their businesses, but if they are religious, they can be forced to violate the tenets of their religion, and their right to religious freedom can be denied, in this case only because someone wants to force them to acquiesce to their wishes rather than go find another baker.

It is no accident that the First Amendment guarantees the right to religion, free speech, a free press, to peaceably assemble, and to petition for a governmental redress of grievances. It is because these were thought to be most important of those basic rights by the Founders. And, it is no accident that first among those items in the first of the amendments is religion.

The American character has been such that when things don’t go the way we want or expect, we work around the problem, whenever possible. So when one service provider is unable or unwilling to accommodate our wishes, we simply find another one who will fill the order. A baker with a religious objection to supporting a gay wedding should not be a problem for anyone. And it should not be a matter to be decided by the United States Supreme Court. Or of any U.S. court.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

High crimes and misdemeanors? No. But some very odd courtroom occurrences


Last week was certainly interesting. With a high profile guilty plea, and a surprising not guilty verdict, among other things, it was quite a week.

Michael Flynn, who served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Obama administration, then briefly as President-elect Donald Trump’s national security advisor, on Friday followed predictions that he would plead guilty to one count of making false statements to the FBI about conversations he had with Russian officials during Trump’s period of transition to the presidency.

This has gotten the Russia-obsessed left all excited in its so-far frustrated grand hopes of showing that Trump should be impeached for interfering in the election. This incident, however, will not satisfy those desires.

As a transition team member, Flynn’s talking to representatives of foreign governments is not illegal, and in fact is routinely done. Sorry, Trump haters, it is not evidence of collusion in the election.

Given all of that, why did Flynn lie about what he discussed with the Russian ambassador? Who knows? He hadn’t done anything illegal, and could simply have declined to talk with the FBI. It’s a mystery. A report in National Review, in fact, says that Flynn’s lies were so small and insignificant a crime that the FBI didn’t think it would prosecute him. And then, the FBI already had transcripts of Flynn’s discussion with the Russian ambassador, so why question him? Could it be they did it in hopes of trapping him in a lie?

A source close to Flynn said that said the investigation has taken a toll on his family’s financial condition and has been emotionally draining, and that he pled guilty to end the process, according to a Fox News story. Following the guilty plea Flynn agreed to cooperate with the FBI’s continuing investigation.

The news of the plea spawned an ABC News story that Flynn would be testifying that he was directed by then-candidate Donald Trump to reach out to Russia during the campaign. As you can imagine, this story created some crazy reactions. The Dow Jones Industrials took a 300-plus point drop. And, Trump-hater Joy Behar on ABC’s “The View” delightedly told the TV audience that, “ABC News’ Brian Ross is reporting Michael Flynn offered full cooperation to the Mueller team and is prepared to testify that as a candidate, Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians! Yes!” Her excited announcement drew enthusiastic responses from her co-hosts and the studio audience.

Unfortunately for all those Trump haters, it was “fake news.” Ross’ report was incorrect, which ABC finally acknowledged after eight hours, and later suspended Ross for his incompetence.

Moving from that fake news to an incomprehensible jury verdict in a tragic death: on a pleasant San Francisco evening a couple and their 32 year-old daughter walked leisurely on Pier 14, when the daughter fell to the ground. Seriously injured, she begged her father, “Dad, help me!” as he held her in his arms. He couldn’t help her and shortly thereafter Kate Steinle was declared dead of a gunshot wound.

At the time the gun went off, it was in the possession of an illegal alien who had been previously deported five times, and had seven felony convictions. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate’s answers to police questions had at least two very different accounts of what happened, but he said the shooting was an accident. One account held that he simply found the gun, which had been stolen from a federal law enforcement officer’s car a week earlier, under a bench wrapped in a tee shirt, and that the weapon accidentally discharged. Another account claimed the gun accidentally discharged. Three times. Another had him shooting at seals in the ocean. The shot, or one of the three shots, ricocheted off the ground and hit Steinle.

CBS News reported “Garcia Zarate had been deported five times and was homeless in San Francisco when he shot Steinle. He had recently completed a prison sentence for illegal re-entry to the U.S. when he was transferred to the San Francisco County jail to face a 20-year-old marijuana charge. 

“Prosecutors dropped that charge,” the CBS report continued, “and the San Francisco sheriff released Zarate from jail despite a federal immigration request to detain him for at least two more days for deportation. The sheriff's department said it was following the city's sanctuary policy of limited cooperation with federal immigration authorities.”

Zarate was charged and tried for first-degree murder, second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, assault with a semi-automatic weapon, and possession of a firearm by a felon. He was found not guilty of all but the possession charge.

A person who was in the country illegally for the sixth time and had seven felony convictions was breaking the law by handling a weapon, during which time that weapon (accidentally?) discharged and killed an innocent person.  That is pretty much the definition of involuntary manslaughter.

Many people bear some responsibility for this tragedy. First, Zarate; then, in no particular order, the sheriff; those operating and supporting sanctuary jurisdictions; and the defense attorneys, who put saving their client from his just rewards above their duty to achieve justice.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Political differences keep intruding on badly needed reforms

This year President Donald Trump’s administration and the Republican majority in Congress identified areas of government needing reform. The tax code is huge, complicated and full of negative elements. The health insurance marketplace is collapsing, thanks to the (so-called) Affordable Care Act, under which insurers dropped out of the market and prices continue to grow beyond the ability of millions of Americans to afford them. And the nation’s border security and immigration systems are so bad as to be dangerous.

Efforts to fix the tax code and health insurance ran into political problems, and the immigration and border problem most likely will, too. But we have an opportunity for reform, and we need it.

In our sharply divided society, the political right and left have very different ideas about immigration. One side takes a dim view of controlled immigration, while the other side prefers a strong immigration system.

Generally speaking, why should America not apply the same common sense rules to immigration as its citizens do regarding whom they allow into their homes?
  ** How many of us would leave our doors and windows unlocked all the time?
  ** If one or a few people knock on our front door and say, “I really like your house, and want to live here,” how many of us would invite them in, just because they want to come in?
  ** How many of us, if we found a small group of strangers living in our garage, basement or spare bedroom would merely ask them to leave, instead of calling the police and having them arrested?
  ** How many of us would happily feed and clothe those intruders and allow them to stay without knowing whether they are violent or can be trusted?
  ** How many would allow one of their family members to hide and protect the intruders?

These situations actually exist in our immigration system today.

Most of us insist that we decide if anyone comes into our home, who we allow in and under what circumstances we allow them to come in. But somehow, many Americans don’t see the need to apply the same logical and strict standards to who enters our country.

America has porous borders that have allowed millions of people to come into the country illegally, and it has policies that make life pretty easy for illegal aliens.

But the country is under no obligation to allow immigration, and depending upon several factors, immigration may sometimes not be desirable. We frequently hear people say that immigrants built America, and that is true. But America has already been built; so that factor all by itself does not make the case for more immigration.

No one has a right to come into our country. We get to decide whether to allow immigration, or not; it is our choice. The government has the right and the duty to decide if people come in, and under what circumstances. And we need to choose those immigrants by what the country needs and desires; we do not allow immigration just because people want to come here.

We should choose to allow only those to immigrate that can contribute positively to the country, and keep out those who have little or nothing positive to contribute. We must make sure that those we permit to immigrate understand and agree to assimilate into the existing culture, and bar those who do not agree to assimilate, or who want to change our culture.

Our problems with immigration and border security are many. Despite a federal Border Patrol force determined to prevent illegal entry, the borders are insufficiently protected to accomplish that goal. Trump famously supports a “wall,” which actually means erecting and utilizing many different elements to stop illegal border crossings, not just a huge wall along the southern border.

Certain jurisdictions in the country, known as “sanctuary” jurisdictions, refuse to follow the law and alert federal officials to the presence of illegal aliens so federal authorities can deal with them. Efforts by the Trump administration to “encourage” these sanctuaries to obey the law by withholding federal funding have been thwarted by a federal judge, who ruled Trump cannot change how money approved by Congress is used. So these sanctuary jurisdictions can continue their lawless behavior with this judge’s blessing.

When illegals are caught, they are deported. However, many return and are deported again, repeatedly, and without penalty, other than deportation. Some of them commit criminal acts, often in sanctuaries.

Whether it’s called “political correctness,” or “foolishness,” the fact remains that our country is not being protected from illegal entry and the costs, pain and harm to citizens resulting from illegal entry.

The border must be secured, illegal aliens must be gotten under control, and deported, or perhaps in some cases put on a path to citizenship that includes assimilation or deportation if they do not satisfactorily assimilate, and jailing those who commit crimes.

If America is going to allow immigration, immigrants need to come here for the right reasons: to respect and honor our country and its culture; to possess desirable skills and intentions; and to become honest and productive citizens.

Nothing less is acceptable.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Passing laws is not always the best solution to our problems


The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, addresses rights that are secured in the body of the Constitution, but in general, less specific terms. The Bill of Rights came to be because the rights it detailed were considered so important that they should be specifically acknowledged, so that there will be no doubt as to their importance, and to make it crystal clear those rights are guaranteed to the people.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution solidifies the right of the people to own firearms. Today, this is the most controversial of the ten. There is an on-going effort to pass more restrictive gun control laws, and every time a gun is used in a crime the loud protests crank up again.

Emotions or bad reasoning, and sometimes-ill motives, are behind this movement. Somehow, many or most of the anti-gunners blame not the shooter’s evil intent and illegal acts, but the gun. They not only disbelieve, but ridicule the oft-used expression, “a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun,” which gives a strong clue to their actual intention: to rid the country of all guns. Given the laws that already exist that make killing illegal, just like the laws against illegal drug use that are routinely ignored, more gun laws will fail to achieve their goal.

The NRA and its members are the favored boogeymen. These folks are often blamed for the actual gun violence as well as for opposing more stringent gun restrictions, despite the fact that none of them have ever actually been the ones responsible for any of these atrocities.

It is not irrelevant that in the case of the evil cretin who killed and injured some 50 church goers recently, was not an NRA member, but it is important that it was a former NRA instructor that intervened after the attack, shooting and disabling the killer, and likely saving a few lives. A good guy with a gun DID stop a bad guy with a gun.

The real problem that we have is not that the Second Amendment needs to be rewritten, reinterpreted or repealed, but that the impulse to attack, maim and kill be controlled.

Similar problems exist with the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.

There are some restrictions on free speech. For example, you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, as the age-old saying goes. And some speech is illegal because it harms individuals. Libel is one: a published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation; a written defamation. Slander is another: making a false spoken statement damaging to a person's reputation. And inciting violence is illegal, and so-called “fighting words” may be illegal.

The First Amendment protects most speech, especially unpopular speech. So-called “hate speech” is not illegal, unless it incites violence. Political comments challenging the government or government officials is also protected speech.

And it protects freedom of the press, which is a long-standing and important function of the First Amendment. It is crucial that news media be free to provide important information to the people so that they can be well informed and prepared to make knowledgeable decisions. It is particularly important that the press be free to publish factual information about government and those who serve the people in government, no matter how much they may dislike it.

But that protection presupposes the media will discharge its critical duty honestly, following the principles of accuracy, fair play and impartiality.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, but does it also guarantee that the people and organizations that provide the news will behave themselves? Unfortunately, as does the Second Amendment, it assumes honest and upright behavior, but it cannot guarantee that people will do the right thing.

What about those episodes when media organizations and their employees fail in their duty to the people and instead produce distortions, exaggerations, and errors that are not adequately corrected, as well as sometimes providing outright false information? The First Amendment protects the people who commit these wrongs, unlike those private individuals who commit libel and slander? But there is a reason for that.

Both the First Amendment and the Second Amendment represent our Founders recognition of principles of freedom. We are bound to honor the Constitution, making changes very infrequently, and only in response to a great need that does not weaken the founding principles. Changes must not be made merely to achieve some supposed current need that may fade away in a few years.

We can pass laws against guns to keep them out of the hands of bad guys, and at the same time keep them out of the hands of good guys who won’t kill anyone, but will use them for legal purposes, including self-defense.

And we can pass laws to punish news people who abandon ethical standards, but will also cast a pall on the dissemination of important information, as news folk carefully walk a thin line.

More laws will not correct the character flaws of killers and incompetent news people, so let’s focus on that problem.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The knee-jerk and bandwagon are two things America can do without


Things have really gotten strange lately. Much of this is traceable to reactions to the 2016 election, and a lot of it is a response to things that individuals simply disagree with, but take their dislike to a too-high level.

President Donald Trump’s enemies think their dissatisfaction with him is more important than his work as president.

They rise in Congress to express hopefulness that Trump will be impeached before Christmas for his imagined collusion (collusion, by the way, is not a crime) with Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton. Yet after a year of complaining about it and investigating it, and six months of investigation by a Special Counsel, so far three indictments for alleged crimes that occurred years ago is all that has been found, none of which have much if anything to do with Donald Trump.

Clinton supporters screamed at the sky in observance of the first anniversary of Trump’s election, just like they screamed when Clinton lost the election that she was guaranteed to win and felt she was entitled to, on that dark night of November 8, 2016.

They regard the recent Democrat victories for governor in two blue states as a sign that America now rejects Trump. However, not only was Trump not on the ballot this year, but these two blue states did not vote for him for president last year, so this is an argument without supporting evidence, and they ought to be embarrassed by it.

In every line of work, some practitioners are better at it than others. News journalism has always had some who did not always, or ever, follow ethical standards, but these days, the latter type seems to dominate the field. The Japanese Fish Food Fiasco provides a recent example of either journalistic incompetence or agenda journalism.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Trump were shown standing at the edge of a Koi pond, ready to feed the fish. Abe and Trump use a spoon to sprinkle the food from a box, at first, then Abe dumps the contents of his box in the pond. Having seen his host dump his food, Trump dumps his food, too.

Here are some examples of what passes for news these days:
* New York Magazine: “Trump Under Fire for Improper Fish-Feeding Technique”
* CNN’s headline said, “Trump feeds fish, winds up pouring entire box of food into koi pond,” while showing an edited video of the event.
* A tweet by Justin Sink of Bloomberg said Abe and Trump were “spooning fish food into the pond” when Trump “decided to just dump the whole box in for the fish.”
* “Trump and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe were scheduled to feed koi spoonfuls of food. Until Trump poured his entire box of fish food into the pond,” tweeted CNBC’s Christina Wilkie, who then later deleted the tweet.

If many in the media feel led to falsify something so insignificant as feeding fish to make the president look bad, imagine how they might handle really important news items.

And then there are the numerous allegations of sexual criminal behavior from years ago involving Hollywood personalities and others. What is surprising about this is the eagerness with which these allegations frequently are accepted as truth. Yes, they all may be completely true. Or possibly, some are true and some are not.

Anyone can allege anything against anyone else at any time. An allegation is only an allegation, and in America people are innocent until proved guilty. These allegations may be cases of she-said/he-said, with no evidentiary support. This situation is not made easier when the complaints are years or decades old.

It is under these circumstances that Alabama Republican Roy Moore, candidate for the U.S. Senate, has been accused of unspeakable things from 30+ years ago. They may be true, but they are at this point only allegations. Yet the timing and the over-eager belief of these allegations may doom a candidate before any proof is offered.

People want to remove/destroy statues of Confederates and residents of the south, without knowing anything more about them than that they owned slaves, or perhaps just lived at the wrong time. They also want to do away with the Star Spangled Banner as the National Anthem because the word “slave” appears in the third verse, a verse many or most people have never heard of before.

University of Michigan musicologist Marc Clague, who is board chairman of the Star Spangled Music Foundation, offers this: “The social context of the song comes from the age of slavery, but the song itself isn’t about slavery, and it doesn’t treat whites differently from blacks.”

“The reference to slaves is about the use, and in some sense the manipulation, of black Americans to fight for the British, with the promise of freedom,” he said. “The American forces included African-Americans as well as whites. The term ‘freemen,’ whose heroism is celebrated in the fourth stanza, would have encompassed both.”

Our country is weakened when people react too quickly and without due consideration of things, even horrible things like sexual assault. The atmosphere becomes needlessly controversial and even dangerous. Restraint and thoughtfulness are hereby recommended.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Tax plan provides needed reform and increased economic activity


President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans have a tax plan up for consideration. Tax relief is badly needed, as is a budgetary overhaul that addresses and works to reduce the annual deficits and the insane national debt.

Analysts say that many good things are proposed but, of course, it is not – and cannot be – perfect, or even acceptable, for everyone.

The following three takeaways come from an analysis by the Heritage Foundation:

1. Simplification - The proposed plan would vastly simplify the tax code by eliminating a host of unnecessary and inefficient provisions designed to benefit special interests; would also simplify the process of tax filing by doubling the size of the standard deduction, which would cut in half the number of taxpayers who need to itemize their deductions; collapses seven different tax rates into four and simplifies the tax code.

2. Lower Rates - The proposed plan would drastically lower tax rates for lower-to-moderate-income individuals and families, small businesses, and corporations. The new 20 percent corporate tax rate would help make the U.S. competitive with the rest of the world, and the top 25 percent small business or pass-through tax rate would go a long way toward stimulating entrepreneurship, job creation, and income growth across all income groups in America.

3. Business Taxes - The combination of business tax reforms — including five years’ worth of full expensing, and a modernized international tax system — would provide a huge boost to the U.S. economy and its workers; have the potential to bring trillions of dollars back into the United States and to significantly boost economic output, jobs, and incomes within the U.S.

Heritage notes an area that is popular with liberals, but that is an economic negative: “By maintaining the top marginal tax rate on individuals, however, the plan would fail to achieve optimal economic growth, as it leaves a significant portion of economic activity subject to a 39.6 percent federal tax rate (43.4 percent including the Obamacare surtax).”

In this crazed Congressional atmosphere, the special interests and fact-twisters will interfere with the tax plan’s efforts at reforming the current tax system from the chaotic monster that it has become into a simplified and manageable one. This environment means progress will be slow, but we must take what we can get.

Naturally, those pro and con are putting forth their assessments to rally the troops, and the truth often gets trampled beneath the stomping feet of the partisans.

"The more people find out about it, the less they'll like," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said. "This bill is like a dead fish. The more it's in sunlight, the more it stinks, and that's what's going to happen." Thanks for the graphic description, Senator, and for providing no details.

Not to be outdone, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, "The American people deserve real, bipartisan tax reform that puts the middle class first. This Republican plan doesn't do any of that. In fact, it's a giveaway to corporations and the wealthiest." More blather that slings general concepts, but provides no substance, and is at odds with reality.

The idea of America’s Founders was a limited government, one that didn’t overly intrude on the lives of its citizens, and therefore would ideally be relatively small, relatively inexpensive and quite efficient. Obviously, through the decades our elected officials have been unfaithful to that design.

Over time government has grown in virtually every way that it should not have. The power of the IRS and the bulk and complexity of the tax code are good examples. The U.S. Tax Code consists of 82,000 pages. It contains a long list of taxes, including one that taxes people for the privilege of dying. Change is unarguably needed.

A major criticism is that the Republican plan will add to deficits and the national debt. But this depends upon which scoring analysis you use.

Simply put, static scoring considers that tax cuts reduce tax revenue, and raise the deficit. Dynamic scoring, on the other hand, takes other factors into account, such as the economic boost from tax cuts and reduced regulatory restraints on economic activity.

Tax cuts and regulation reduction are the mother’s milk of economic growth. Businesses respond to them like plants do to sunshine, rain and fertilizer; they grow, producing jobs and raising tax collections.

Tax cuts obviously put more money at play, as people buy more of the things they want and need, and businesses then must increase the available supplies of the things people are buying in greater quantities, and grow to meet the demand.

Everyone benefits from measures that drive economy activity. While it is unlikely that the economic activity produced by the plan will completely erase the deficit created by tax cuts, it will erase some of it, and it produces other benefits that cannot be ignored. And needed spending restraint will make up the difference.

A perfect bill, one that everyone in Congress likes, is virtually impossible. However, this plan is a good start on needed improvement, and it must be viewed for the good it accomplishes rather than for the few less-than-perfect elements it contains.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Should we sanitize America’s history, or not? That is the question

Reacting to the fairly new and growing trend to remove monuments and other reminders of certain famous Americans from the time of the American Revolution when our nation was born, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice appeared on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” one morning last May to take issue with that movement. Newsmax.com reported that she said it is a “bad thing.”

She was asked about her recent book, "Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom," and about how she sees herself as a black woman in today’s United States.

Co-host Brian Kilmeade asked: "When we look at nine of our first 12 presidents as slave owners, should we start taking their statues down, saying we're embarrassed by you?" She answered that, no, we shouldn’t. "I'm a firm believer in keeping your history before you."

"I don't actually want to rename things that were named for slave owners," Rice continued. "I want us to look at the names and recognize what they did and be able to tell our kids what they did and for them to have a sense of their own history. When you start wiping out history, sanitizing history to make you feel better, it's a bad thing." History, properly told, presents the good, the bad and the ugly.

Providing an illuminating lesson about our history she noted that the Constitution originally counted black slaves as "three-fifths of a man," and then gave examples of how America has evolved since. "In 1952, my father had trouble registering to vote in Birmingham, Alabama," she said. "In 2005, I stood in the Ben Franklin room, [named after] one of our founders, and I took an oath of office to that same Constitution and it was administered by a Jewish woman Supreme Court justice. That is the story of America."

"They were the people of their times," Rice said, alluding to the fact that few if any alive at our country’s birth had ever lived at a time, or in a place that slavery was not reality. As bad as that was, it was the way things were.

In fact, Anthony Johnson, a black Angolan who achieved freedom in the early 17th-century Colony of Virginia after serving his term of indenture, became a property owner, and was one of the first slave owners in Virginia.

"I wish [all the Founders] had been like John Adams, who did not believe in slavery,” Rice continued. Another Founder who was not a slavery supporter was Benjamin Franklin, who in 1787 began serving as President of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.

“I wish they had been like Alexander Hamilton, who was an immigrant by the way, a child of questionable parentage from the Caribbean. I wish all of them had been like that, Jefferson in particular. There were a lot of contradictions in Jefferson ... we should celebrate the Jeffersons, Washingtons, slave owners. Look where we are now."

America’s path from slavery, to freeing the slaves, to today’s circumstances has been long and often troubled. But today, we see people like Condi Rice who have risen to the heights of our country. America’s history of slavery and the long, difficult struggle to finally end it 150 years ago is also her history, and the history of most black Americans. The list of black Americans who have achieved great things is long, indeed, and includes people in government, such as Barack Obama, Loretta Lynch, Eric Holder, Ben Carson, Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, and more than 30 current members of Congress elected by their constituents to represent them.

In addition, there are also hundreds of black professional athletes – including those who feel led to take a knee in protest – as well as musicians, actors, entertainers, television personalities, and those in the professions.

Rice also noted that owning slaves was only one part of the lives of the Founders. So many things that these former slave owners did that were positive and contributed so much to our country are overlooked by their critics. Perhaps it’s because they are not aware of these beneficial acts, or maybe they simply believe no positive aspect of their lives is sufficient to overcome their involvement in slavery.

Today, people want to remove monuments recognizing our Founders, and sometimes take illegal, destructive actions against them, all because they owned slaves more than 200 years ago. Nothing else about them matters.

What needs to be done is to not tear down reminders of America’s history of slavery – which at the time existed not just in America, but all over the globe – but instead to learn about and celebrate America’s progress since that time.

Slavery is thousands of years old. Athenians had slaves as long ago as the sixth century BC. And it exists still. According to an article on BBC.com, “there are, shockingly, more people in slavery today than at any time in human history - but campaigners think the world is close to a tipping point and that slavery may be eradicated in the next 30 years.”

Wouldn’t a more productive use of these anti-slavery sentiments be to focus on ending slavery around the world?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Draining the swamp: restoring proper operation to federal agencies


It is a difficult task trying to determine which federal agency has done the most damage to the country and its citizens. A very strong candidate for this dishonor, if not a shoo-in for it, is the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA.

The EPA’s sins run from declaring mud puddles on private property to be under federal control through the Waters of the United States rule to picking winners and losers and deciding to shut down an entire industry based upon a manic fear of CO2, a compound that is essential for animal and plant life.

A good rule for all of us to remember is, “all things in moderation.” If that is a good rule for CO2, as the EPA asserts, it is also a necessary rule for regulations. Too many regulations really gum things up, stunt our economy, punish taxpayers and businesses, create uncertainty, and the EPA may well be the king in that regard, although the IRS is a strong contender.

President Donald Trump’s EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been charged with corralling that agency, and he sat down with The Heritage Foundation’s Rob Bluey at Heritage’s President’s Club meeting to discuss that process.

First up, the topic of “sue and settle” and how that process amounts to backdoor rulemaking.  An article on Forbes online describes the process as follows: “’Sue and Settle’ practices, sometimes referred to as ‘friendly lawsuits,’ are cozy deals through which far-left radical environmental groups file lawsuits against federal agencies wherein court-ordered ‘consent decrees’ are issued based upon a prearranged settlement agreement they collaboratively craft together in advance behind closed doors.” Read that again, carefully.

“Then, rather than allowing the entire process to play out, the agency being sued settles the lawsuit by agreeing to move forward with the requested action they and the litigants both want.”

Pruitt noted an additional irregularity. “But then here’s the kicker: They (the agency) would pay attorneys fees to the group that sued them.” So the group is effectively making “comfortable” rules and the government pays for their lawyers.

Acknowledging the fraudulent nature and duplicity of this process, Pruitt said, “My job is to enforce the laws as passed by whom? Congress. They give me my authority. That’s the jurisdictional responsibilities that I have, and when litigation is used to regulate … that’s abusive. That’s wrong.”

A bit later Bluey asked about the Waters of the United States rule. “[P]eople all over the country have no idea today where federal jurisdiction begins and ends under that 2015 rule,” Pruitt responded. He was in Salt Lake City with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and an Army Corps of Engineers representative about two months ago when the representative pointed to a thermal drainage ditch and said, “Scott, that is a water of the United States.”

“It’s not going to be anymore,” Pruitt said. “That’s really the challenge here—that you had so much confusion and uncertainty about what waters were in [and] what waters were out.”

Next, Bluey turned to the Clean Power Plan, asking Pruitt where he sees the EPA going with this regulation.

“It’s not the job of the EPA to say to the utility company in any state of the country, you should choose renewables over natural gas or coal,” he answered. “We need fuel diversity in the general electricity. We need more choices, not less.”

And then the common sense answer that has been absent for eight or more years: “No agency at the federal level should use their coercive power to force business utility companies to take those fuel sources away. They should be making it on cost, stability, and I would say resiliency of the grid.”

Hallelujah!

Turning to the day-to-day operation of the agency, Pruitt talked about the advisory bodies that provide input into decisions and policy. “The scientists who make up these bodies, and there are dozens and dozens of these folks, over the years those individuals as they’ve served those capacities, guess what has also happened? They’ve received moneys through grants, and sometimes substantial moneys through grants,” he said.

“I think what’s most important at the agencies,” he continued, “is to have scientific advisers who are objective, independent minded, providing transparent recommendations to me as the administrator and to our office on the decisions that we’re making on the efficacy of rules that we’re passing to address environmental issues.

“If we have individuals that are on those boards that are receiving money from the agency, sometimes going back years and years to the tune of literally tens of millions of dollars, over time,” he said, “that to me causes questions on the independence and the veracity of the transparency of the recommendations that are coming our way.”

This pro-Constitution, commonsense rule of law perspective is one that all heads of federal agencies ought to share, and what the concept of constitutional government demands.

After many years of bureaucratic excesses, frequently spurred by political bias, it is refreshing and it inspires confidence to see Scott Pruitt and other administration officials at last focusing on proper management of the government we pay for, but which has so often gone off the rails into ideological self-service.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Do Republicans realize that this is a pivotal time for America?

 
One thing most of us likely can agree on is that this has been a season of tragedy in the United States, most recently with the California wine country wild fires, and before that the Las Vegas shooting, and the hurricanes. Where disagreement thrives is on how we should respond to them.

During the presidency of Barack Obama our government took a sharp turn to the left, a dramatic increase in the much more gentle leftward drift it has been in for a long time. The election of Donald Trump was in large measure a backlash against Obama’s socialistic ideas, the Democrats’ abandonment of many of the values normal Americans observe, and the prospect of more of the same from Hillary Clinton.

So the voter’s said a loud “No!” to continuing the leftist governance of the Democrats by electing a Republican president and giving the GOP control of both houses of Congress. Unfortunately, what should have been a concentrated effort to start restoring Constitutional government has been put on hold by an obstinate faction of Republicans, some of whom have fallen victim to their own liberal impulses, and others who have let their egos overpower their sense of duty to their constituents, and have given in to hurt feelings in reaction to Donald Trump’s tweeting addiction, which too often gets personal.

If there is good news in this scenario for traditional Americans it is that the Trump presidency is not quite a year old, and there is time for both Trump and many Congressional Republicans to put these personal feelings behind them and get important things done.

But a sense of urgency about the Republican failures is certainly justified. A recent poll shows that a disturbing percentage of millennials would support an openly socialist candidate who follows in the misguided footsteps of Obama and company, precisely the opposite of what our country needs. If their voter participation rate increases, they could add significant support for socialist government, so Republicans had better get busy undoing the socialist initiatives and returning our government to its traditional, constitutional orientation.

Perhaps a lesson in what happens to good people when they are forced to live under the leftist, socialist prescription for governance will help, and there is probably no better example than that of Venezuela.

“As with all socialist systems, present-day Venezuela is marked by vicious poverty and a parasitical yet gilded ruling class,” wrote the President of The Mises Institute, Jeff Deist. In “The Austrian,” the Institute’s bi-monthly periodical, he wrote, “Sold to gullible Westerners as egalitarianism and concern for average people, socialism always makes ordinary citizens far worse off while destroying any hope for upward mobility. It is truly the ideology of the 1 percent.”

Economist and philosopher Ludwig von Mises, after whom the Institute is named, said this about socialism in his treatise “Human Action”: “In a socialist economy it is only the government’s value judgments that count, and the people are deprived of any means of making their own value judgments prevail.”

Raphael A. Acevedo and Luis B. Cirocco are Venezuelans who participated in this year’s Mises University at the Institute as presenters on the subject of socialism’s impact on the lives of their country’s citizens. They wrote an account of Venezuela’s slide from relative freedom to a socialist hellhole for the current issue of “The Austrian.”

A hundred years ago the country began a lucrative period when it entered the international oil race, Acevedo and Cirocco write, and things were pretty good for a while, with not much government control of economic interests. It even overthrew a dictator and became a democracy in 1958.

However, the first democratically elected president, Romulo Betancourt, was a communist-turned-social democrat, and “he started destroying the economic institutions we had by implementing price controls, rent controls and other regulations we hadn’t had before,” they said, and then he created a new constitution hostile to private property.

Betancourt’s successors continued his socialist tendencies, and then in 1998 Hugo Chavez won election, promising to replace the country’s light socialism with more radical socialism. After Chavez’s death in 2013, Nicholas Maduro followed, and introduced a new constitution, which almost totally abolished private property.

“So, socialism is the cause of the Venezuelan misery,” Acevedo and Cirocco write. “Venezuelans are starving, eating garbage, losing weight. Children are malnourished. Anyone in Venezuela would be happy to eat out of America’s trashcans. It would be considered gourmet.”

And their summary of the country’s downfall: “As Venezuelans, our poor understanding of the importance of freedom and free markets has created our current disaster.”

We Americans have lost much of our freedom to government over the decades, and that increased substantially during the tragic Obama years.

Today we find that heavy federal intrusions in the area of healthcare through regulation and Obamacare raise prices and reduce access; the EPA’s regulatory over-reach aimed at killing the coal industry put thousands out of work; abundant welfare programs dampen the normal tendency of people to take care of themselves; the federal government controls much of K-12 education through financial “incentives” and Common Core requirements.

Republicans can and must address and reverse these trends. So get busy.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Left jumps the gun discussing gun control after Las Vegas


From his position in the Mandalay Bay Resort 32 floors above the concert venue, the shooter in Las Vegas fired away with what sounded like an automatic weapon.

Authorities initially believed there was a lone shooter in the horrifying murder of 59 people and injuries to roughly 500 others. Since then, some wild and crazy ideas have been offered, as usual, as well as other possibilities that are more reasonable. In short, there is much still to learn.

In addition to why he wanted to kill so many innocent people, other questions need answers. New information has been coming regularly since the attack, and more will certainly be learned. If only the gun control faction would wait for more and better information before cranking up the scare machinery.

Was there just one shooter? Some present during the attack claim there was more than one, and Clark County, Nevada, Sheriff Joseph Lombardo acknowledged that the shooter probably didn’t act alone. One video shows what appears to be gunfire coming from a room on the 4th floor.

Why did the gunman have so many weapons in his suite? After the shooter killed himself police found 23 weapons in the hotel suite, along with intricate calculations about how to do the most damage. Police also found 19 more weapons, lots of ammunition and some explosives in the shooter’s home. Some weapons were reportedly acquired legally.

What was the plan for the fifty pounds of an explosive compound that were found in the shooter’s car at the hotel?

Then there is the question of how he ended up in that particular suite, perfectly suited to his evil, cowardly mission, a few days before the attack. How did he manage to get all those weapons into the suite without arousing suspicion?

Did ISIS have anything to do with this, as it has claimed? Reuters reports the following statement from ISIS: “‘The Las Vegas attack was carried out by a soldier of the Islamic State and he carried it out in response to calls to target states of the coalition,’ the group’s news agency Amaq said in reference to the U.S.-led coalition fighting the group in the Middle East.” Did he convert to Islam recently, as ISIS has claimed?

The suspect is described as a white, retired, multimillionaire real estate investor and reclusive gambler with two homes and his own plane. This is an unusual profile for a mass killer. His actions have dumbfounded authorities.  Why did he target the country music concert, and how could he have accomplished all of that by himself?

Never being ones to let a crisis slip away unused, anti-gun advocates use tragedies like this to scare up support for their mission for more regulations and gun bans. But it really doesn’t help when demands for gun bans and more restrictions are so quickly thrown into the mix, confusing the issue, when so many important questions haven’t been answered.

While the Left works overtime to impose restrictions on the legal ownership of firearms that will punish law abiding citizens, one person who once was pro-gun control has studied gun deaths and found that her ideas were essentially baseless.

Leah Libresco is a statistician and former news writer at FiveThirtyEight, a data journalism site.  “Before I started researching gun deaths, gun-control policy used to frustrate me,” she wrote in a column in The Washington Post. “I wished the National Rifle Association would stop blocking common-sense gun-control reforms such as banning assault weapons, restricting silencers, shrinking magazine sizes and all the other measures that could make guns less deadly.

“Then, my colleagues and I at FiveThirtyEight spent three months analyzing all 33,000 lives ended by guns each year in the United States, and I wound up frustrated in a whole new way,” Libresco said. 

They found that of the 33,000 gun deaths in the U.S., two-thirds of them are suicides and one-fifth come from young men aged 15-34 being killed in homicides, mostly resulting from gang and street violence and domestic violence.

She asked, “Shouldn’t we try to solve the two types of deaths by gun in the U.S. that account for over 85 percent of gun deaths annually?” Her conclusion was that few of the popularly floated gun control policies would address these deaths, which are the greatest problem.

One thing that does make sense is to ban “bump stocks,” devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to operate like fully-automatic weapons, and were found in the shooter’s hotel room. Fully-automatic weapons are virtually illegal, and bump stocks should also be, too.

But perspective is important, too. A Facebook meme says this: “When a sociopath used a truck to murder 85 people and injure 458 others in 2016, it wasn’t a ‘truck problem.’” It concludes: “but when sociopaths use a gun to murder people, why do Democrats always label it a ‘gun problem?’”

An assistant professor at UNLV told her history class when discussing the Las Vegas murders that President Donald Trump’s “rhetorical powers” encourage violence. If that sort of influence is indeed a factor, what about the violence-laden movies that the gun control advocates in Hollywood produce, even as they scream for gun bans?