Category Archives: Politics

Flat Tax is Progressive and Insufficient

Obviously, a flat tax based on a percentage of income is already a progressive tax.  Assuming a 10% flat tax, the Trumps making 30 million a year are paying 1,000 times the amount in taxes as the Browns making $30,000.  However, this is still insufficiently progressive and makes me think about a passage from the Bible.

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses (emphasis added) and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:38-44, NIV)

What I take from this example is that the cent we might tax from the widow is worth more to her than $1,000 from the Browns, which is worth more to them than $10 million from the Trumps.   If we tax the widow, she starves.  If we tax the Browns making $30,000 a year very much at all, it makes it entirely likely that the daughter cannot take piano lessons, the son cannot go to college, they cannot afford to have a vacation that year, and perhaps the father cannot start a business.  For the Trumps at $30 million a year, even taxing them at a rate of %90 would not threaten their ability enjoy any of these opportunities, and they certainly would not starve.  They would still have $3 million a year; dad can start a business, son can attend the ivy league, and the daughter can take lessons from Vladimir Ashkenazy if they want.

I am also reminded of this dynamic as I live in Sri Lanka.  For example, a typical taxi fare in a Tuk Tuk is 50 rupees per kilometer, which is the same as $0.62 per mile.  A 15 minute trip can cost $1 and people can haggle for 10 minutes over 25 cents.  Clearly, not all 25 cents are equal.  It depends on where it comes from.

In the Great Leap Forward, Mao Tse Tung quite famously required his people to fill quotas for mining iron, with the result that many peasants simply had to bring in their pots, pans, and plows to be melted down.  Obviously, this is an extreme example, but the point remains: if our tax policy and economic system threatens the Browns’ opportunity for education, advancement, of building up savings, of pursuing dreams, we will certainly have more iron ore, but at great expense.

The deficit does not care who pays it—a dollar from the Browns is no better than from the Trumps.  Perhaps we should consider, among other important considerations, using the least costly money whenever possible.

Mr. Darcy & American Aristocracy

So apparently Romney pays around 13% a year in taxes on an income of over 20 million dollars.  Paul Ryan paid 20% on $323,000 in 2011.  And many of the most wealthy people in the United States, billionaires even, are paying less than 10% (CNN).

This is because wealthy individuals gain most of their income through return on investments, quite often in the form of capital gains which is taxed at a lower rate.  This is because not all real income is real income.  Some of it cannot be spent on whatever the new owner of fake income wants to buy.  And much of it cannot be deposited in a savings account because it can spontaneously combust.

Lately I have had a strong sense that I live in an immoral society—tt assails me like a stiff wind—not because everything about America is awful, indeed I love my country, but because we are thoroughly corrupt in at least this respect: as a society we have decided to favor, and to create, an upper-class.

Until quite recently, the English aristocracy was alive and well, and dominated English society.  I love Victorian movies and books (I’m still a hardass though!) and recently my curiosity was piqued by the constant discussion of income, “Mr. Darcy has 20,000 pounds a year!”  Do they mean wages, capital gains, or what?

I looked into it, and it turns out that to be an English aristocrat you usually had to make over $3 mil. a year (adjusted for inflation).  They did not acquire this income through business ventures, mercantilism, wages, or through any great talent on their part really.  It came from speculation, investments (most often chosen by others), and rents from large estates and tracts of land — it came from pre-owned wealth.   The Duke of Marlborough, one of the richest aristocrats of the time, pulled in $52.5 mil annually.  To put that in perspective, Warren Buffet pulled in $62 mil. last year, also from pre-owned wealth (admittedly cleverly invested wealth, likely more cleverly I imagine than the Duke of Marlborough).

But Victorians considered the Duke’s income as real income while we pretend it is not, at least not as real as income made from wages.  Indeed, wages, the money received based on time, skill, expertise, and effort, should be taxed heavily.  That stuff simply should not be incentivized.  Don’t these people know they should already have wealth to invest?  Rather, aristocrats sitting on pots of gold and passing it down to their children…that is the stuff civilizational dreams are made of.

So if you love this American economy
Than vote for Mitt Romney
And I won’t forget the men who died
So I could make money,
And I’ll gladly stand up
For freedom
To speculate at low tax rates
Cause their ain’t no doubt I love this land
God bless the USA

(Based on the chorus of Proud to be An American)

Courageous Ryan Pick Mystifies Me

Does the Ryan pick make Romney a political Jedi Master?

I have combed through dozens of articles, by conservatives and liberals, but I cannot get away from this fact: Ryan was known only for his ‘Ryan Budget.’  Without it he is just 1 of 435 House members.  And I do not know why Romney wants to make the Ryan Plan central to his campaign.  Regardless of whether you like it or not, the Ryan Plan is objectively quite unpopular.

I feel like only a couple of years ago, most everybody, Republican and Democrat, appreciated and respected Ryan, but saw him as politically toxic because of his entitlement reform plans.  In fact, he was never seen as having a chance at President or Vice President, or any greater ambition really.  His was an important voice that deserved applause but not an embrace.  While the Republican party might have changed recently, I do not see his views as any less offensive to moderates and independents.   Romney’s embrace of Ryan also reinforces the narrative that “rich Romney loves tax breaks for the rich” (the Ryan Plan calls for tax cuts for the wealthy paid for by spending cuts in entitlements that come into effect a decade or so later).

This choice also undercuts Romney’s talk about how governorship and business experience (executive experience) is what America needs right now.  As I argue in Boardwalk, Park Place, & Veepstakes, he should have put all his chips into one argument:  America, hire the uber-competent team of Mr. Fix-Its.   There was a degree of magic in a Pawlenty pick.  Though a bit boring, that would have been in fact a strength: it would have made the campaign about Obama’s record instead of an extremely unpopular budget proposal.  (And it looks like the Obama high command was very afraid of a Pawlenty pick too.  But Ryan is great to run against.)  In contrast, Paul Ryan has DC legislative experience only and has “never run anything”–not a business, city, or state–much like criticism someone else received  in 2008 (his name rhymes with Osama).

Maybe Romney picked Ryan to show that he is capable of making tough choices?  This choice certainly makes Romney appear substantive.  Ryan is bold, smart, and offers specific policies, but I’m not sure the substance is something they can win on.  However, this is the one of the best arguments I have read.  Romney needs to look like less of a sleazy hair-do.

Maybe Romney picked Ryan to get Wisconsin?  But Ryan has not campaigned statewide; most Wisconsonians have never heard of him.  And even if picking Ryan does get him Wisconsin, that is only 10 electoral votes.  Florida, with 29 electoral votes, is almost certainly lost because Ryan’s entitlement reforms don’t play well with older populations, and the Ryan pick will drag down the vote in older populations everywhere else in the country.  In contrast, picking Rubio would have helped Romney win Florida (Rubio was a Senator), and help with latino turnout in ever single state with latino populations, including important swing states like Nevada and New Mexico.

Maybe Romney did it to keep the focus on the economy and domestic policy, compared to foreign policy where Obama has a comparative advantage?  But that did not need to be done; the conversation was already going to be about the economy and domestic policy.

Maybe Romney did it because he wanted to leave the party with a legacy of thoughtful articulate conservatism?  He did not want to elevate a Sarah Palin.  Laudable, but I feel that Romney wants to win now.

But Romney is smart and savvy, s0 here I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Until then, this VP pick looks like courageous political suicide.  I am kind of impressed actually.

Romney, we hardly knew you. 

Boardwalk, Park Place, & Veepstakes

According to Politco’s swing state map, if the general election was held today, Obama would win a whopping 332 to 206 in the electoral college.  If somehow Obama loses all the states where he is currently winning by 4.5 or less points (Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, and New Hampshire) he would still win 271 to 267.  So I do not understand all the hubbub about Obama being super weak.

Of course, while everything can change, some changes are less likely than they might usually be.  For example, it is unlikely that some damaging piece of Obama’s bio comes out.  And though we cannot rule out a major disaster, those unite the country behind its president as often as not.  Also, a series of major gaffes by a typically disciplined Obama is not likely either.

So the economy, already a major factor no matter what, is likely the whole ball game, and we simply do not know what it will do.  Also, as I argued earlier in Political Jedi Master, the economy is the only leverage point with which anyone can beat Obama, and Romney, despite obvious flaws, is best suited to maximize that leverage.

So, with his back up against the electoral wall, what running mate should Romney pick?

I grew up playing monopoly and probably kept playing past the age when normal people stop.  One of the strategies adult-Jer learned seems relevant:

When it is down to the final two players, when you have hardly have any money left and your opponent has the majority of properties with plenty of houses and hotels, it is tempting to slowly sell houses evenly and keep enough money so that you can withstand a hit or two.  Of course, when it is neck and neck, this strategy makes sense: avoid unnecessary risks.  But, when your back is up against the wall, playing it safe will lead slowly, but inevitably, to defeat.  Instead, sell and mortgage everything, even if you do not immediately need to, except for Boardwalk and Park Place and put all your money into building hotels.  Even if you get lucky on your own rolls, if your opponent does not land on Boardwalk or Park Place, you will lose; if your opponent lands on them, but they are not super expensive, you will also lose.  The only way you win is if you get some luck and you were ready to capitalize on it by making Boardwalk and Park Place a mortal hit.

(I won using this strategy several times.  My brother would complain that it was dumb luck.  I would say it was luck…and clever cleverness.)

Romney’s Boardwalk and Park place is the economy; in order for him to win he has to get lucky (the economy has to decline) and he has capitalize on it when it does.  Rounding himself out by picking Condeleeza Rice for foreign policy, African Americans, and women, or Marco Rubio for the Latino vote, Florida, and a compelling biography, is like hedging his bets by keeping houses or hotels on other properties.  Instead, he needs to commit to the only winning strategy that exists for him: the economy is in decline and though he might not have an incredible personal story, snazzy oratorical skills, or middle-class roots, he is supremely competent.  He is Mr. Fix-it #1 and captain of the the Varsity Mr. Fix-it team.

For that reason, I think Romney should pick a former governor (executive experience) with a job creation record, a business record, and a Washington outsider, and they must have a persona of no frills, getting things done; they must exude competence like crazy.  I am thinking Tim Pawlenty or someone similar (Jon Huntsman cannot because “I’m a Mormon from Utah too!”).  I am sure there are other good names out there.  Maybe perusing through their bios and picking one will be another post.

Also, unlike Mccains pick of Palin, Romney needs to make a pick that reflects his main argument against Obama, “Obama is not uber-competent on the economy like me.”  (Mccain picked Palin under the banner, “Country First.”  No matter what you think of Palin, you have to admit that there were other candidates much more qualified to be President, and Mccain did not reinforce his case with his VP pick.)

So I am excited to see who Romney picks as VP.  Maybe it will make my list of brilliant political plays and Romney will prove himself  the ultimate political Jedi Master…or maybe he will not pass go and not collect 200.

Either way, I can’t wait!  This is history happening in front of our faces!

Incredible discussion going on regarding gun control.  I will post more on that soon.  Thanks for your comments!

My Gun Control Position Solidifies

We have another shooting: two days ago in Wisconsin a white neo-nazi named Wade Page killed 6 and critically wounded three, including a police officer who was shot 9 times.  Page used a legally purchased 9 mm handgun and had five pistol permits he got in North Carolina in 2008.  It sounds like he was a racist, but still fairly mild-mannered.  This sort of violence was not obvious from his background.

My thinking on gun control continues to evolve since I wrote Mass Murder’s Bright Future, in no small part thanks to the comments of some of my conservative friends.  I have never had a position on this issue, but my thinking seems to be leading me to somewhat solid ground.

First, guns have a unique psychological draw; they make you feel powerful and invincible, even sexy.  This draw affects the mentally unstable—and me.  As a kid, I certainly felt that way walking around my house with a nerf gun, or a cheap-plastic western-style revolver, randomly pulling it out and pointing it at things while striking dramatic poses.   If I were to go insane and felt like my life was careening out of control, I can imagine a scenario in which I might be attracted to that boyhood fancy.

Certainly a lot of combat troops in the USA all-volunteer army likes guns, and plenty of cops do as well, and that inclination played a role in many early career decisions (and almost did in my own).  I know my military friends would agree.  Perhaps this personal perspective is anecdotal, but perhaps insanity would result in less violence if gun violence specifically was not so damn attractive.

Second, I hate regulations that create black markets.  I personally experienced how bans on drugs and prostitution supported gangs, blight, and economic ruin in inner city USA.  In fact, I would go so far as saying we should legalize prostitution, allow sex-workers working rights, protections by the courts, a measure of workplace safety. etc.  We should tax it and pay for job training to transition them into other fields, etc.  (Alicia recently converted to this position!)  I also think most narcotics should be legal.  All this is to say, I am sensitive to the notion that banning can create a black markets and can be counterproductive.  However, banning guns seems different than drugs, prostitution or even alcohol.  Unlike prohibition, banning guns could work:

  • Alcohol is easily distilled, says all of my beer-making friends.  Prohibition proved that you cannot ban alcohol, because it is simply too easy to make.  Guns are not as easy to make.  But it’s harder to create make-shift guns: you can’t go to your local hardware store and easily assemble a gun. Sure it’s possible, but it’s harder, and that is a significant difference.  You aren’t going to supply a criminal underground with creatively conjured handmade guns.
  • It’s harder to manufacture illegal guns en masse as they are complex manufactured goods that require lots of parts from lots of places.  The parts of a pencil, for instance, are taken from all over the world.  Hundreds of companies are usually involved, while drugs require only one source and one preparation site.  Marijuana and other drugs can be grown/prepared in basements and whiskey stills are small and can be operated in a small hidden spaces.
  • Prostitution is simpler than drugs or alcohol; you just need another person and a few minutes.  Women throughout the country are willing to be paid for sex, and men, also ubiquitous it seems, are even more likely to be willing to pay for it.  I don’t think we are going to ban either gender soon, or separate them, in massive male or female only cities.  Also, what about same-sex prostitutes?  Banning guns certainly makes more sense than banning the exchange of currency for sexual pleasure.
  • Guns need to be resupplied; they need ammunition.  Even if people can get guns, we can make it increasingly difficult to get compatible ammunition.  While you would have to ban potatoes if you want to ban vodka, or corn if you want to ban whiskey, ammunition is not a basic food.
  • It’s harder to smuggle guns than drugs: guns cannot be shoved up your ass so you can carry them on a plane.
  • Finally, we all know gun bans work, right?  Countries around the world are already banning guns and quite effectively keeping them out of public hands.  Why not the US too?

Of course their are obstacles, but they all seem surmountable:

  • There are already tons of guns that are out there (400 million?).  We would have to find a way to get them back.  Maybe we could offer a period of a few months where the government would buy them back before they become illegal.  I’m sure there are better ideas out there…
  • We would have to amend the constitution.
  • We would have to, I believe, continue to allow hunting.  Maybe the government can encourage more bow hunting.  Maybe single shot rifles should be allowed.  After all, that was the firearm technology that the 2nd amendment was talking about.

So I guess I have to admit it: I think a comprehensive gun ban would be good.  I might allow single shot hunting rifles (any shot after the first are usually misses anyway), but I could be persuaded to lose them too.  Of course, cops and and military people would still need guns, and perhaps Alaskans in Zodiak country.

Maybe I’ll hear some good arguments and change my mind tomorrow.  Truthfully, even though my position has solidified, I still think this is a relatively unimportant issue compared to, for instance, the worldwide food sovereignty movement and prison reform. But still, there it is.

Note: I made up these lists off the top of my head.  It is complete fancy and could be misguided, but I find them interesting.  I mention this because a few times lately I have been accused of regurgitating democratic talking points.  I am fine being wrong, changing my mind based on argument, and laughing at jokes regarding my idiocy or large nose; I do that all the time.  But please know that my arguments and reflections are always mine.  I am honestly compelled or intrigued by them and would like your help making them better. The implication that I am unquestionably regurgitating lines from politicians is likely the quickest way to piss me off.  Anyone who knows me knows that I guard my intellectual independence jealously, perhaps even too much.  

Political Jedi Master: Bush Tax Cuts & Romney’s Returns

Politics is intellectual football.  Here are two recent and brilliant Obama plays.

#1 Extending the Bush Tax Cuts in 2010

I was pretty upset in 2010 when Obama let the Bush tax cuts be extended without much of a fight, but it was genius.  Not only did it coax a little more stimulus out of the Republicans for an insipid economy, money he could not have gotten for anything but tax cuts, but Obama timed the new expiry date for the extension perfectly.  Right before the 2012 election the Republicans were going to publicly position themselves against the middle class: “if we can’t cut taxes for the wealthy, than nobody gets a tax cut.”  And here we are!

Early on Obama’s team had to know, as all political operatives do, that re-election prospects would most likely be tied to how quickly the economy recovers, and how good the Republican candidate would likely be on economic issues and  related experience.  Even if the economy did poorly, an economy-deaf candidate like Mccain would likely mean an Obama victory.  If the economy did well, Obama’s broad like-ability would mean an Obama victory too.  Foreseeably, the only possible way that Obama could lose a 2nd term is if the economy continued to stagnate and an economic “can-do” Republican was nominated (I think this is why Herman Cain ran).  So, in 2009, what economic “can-do” guys were out for the Obama team to worry about?

In 2008, it was obvious to everyone Romney was that man and that he was going to run again.  In fact, I told people at back then, not because I am brilliant but because it was blindingly obvious, that Romney is likely the only Republican candidate who could seriously have a chance at beating Obama, because he could win on Obama’s only serious weak point.  Afghanistan was not likely to become a big enough problem.  ObamaCare riles Republicans, but not many others.  Pro-life or anti-gay issues?  No way.  That is a losing demographic battle.  Obama’s team was only worried about a Republican economic guru; and a guru happened to be the frontrunner at the time.

So how do you neutralize Romney’s economic bonafides?  Simple: by making him and his party look more like robber barons than Mr. Fix-It.

So, in addition to timing the debate, the 2010  Bush tax cut extensions was a brilliant move by Obama for another reason: while Republican Party holds middle-class tax cuts hostage to upper-class tax cuts, but the standard-bearer for the party, Mitt himself, is one of those wealthy individuals for whom his party is sacrificing the middle-class.  Do you think this debate would be as big of a deal if Rick Santorum was the nominee? If anything, a middle-income standard bearer would give this fight for the wealthy some integrity (though a middle-income standard bearer also would probably not have experience in the economy making millions of dollars).

Finally, while health care was a major campaign issue in 2008, Obama needed a new issue to excite his base.  The obvious alliance between the Republicans and wealth was ripe for political exploitation.

Well-played sir…well-played.

#2 Having Harry Reid Accuse Romney of a Decade of Tax Evasion

According to Harry Reid, a Bain investor called his office and told him that Romney has not paid taxes in 10 years.  Reid then said as much in an interview last week with the Huffington Post and then in a speech on the floor of the United States Senate.  Republicans have gone postal, demanding “dirty Harry” take it back, and have attacked the Obama Team for not denouncing this unsubstantiated claim.

But the Obama team has played it super cool and asked, why doesn’t Romney take 10 seconds, reach into his filing cabinet, and cough up some tax returns to the nearest reporter.  He could prove Reid a liar in seconds; why would he not want to so easily discredit the 2nd most powerful Democrat in the country?

If Romney does not release his taxes, then he, the richest man ever to be a major party nominee, as his party fights for his tax cuts, is seen as hiding something (especially because, between the precedent set by his dad and Nixon, and every presidential candidate for the past 50 years of releasing 8 or so years of returns, he already looks like he is hiding something).  But, if he does release his tax returns, then the media gets to tell lots of stories about how rich he is and how he got his wealth.  (He did not create a conventional business from the bottom up, like Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford.  Instead he bought and sold businesses themselves, often after lay-offs, re-organizing, and ‘stripping them for parts,’ though admittedly it is more complex than that.)

Now, I have no evidence for this, but I find it hard to beleive that Reid, an early supporter of Obama who initially encouraged the man to run for President in 2007 when everyone thought Hillary had the nomination locked up, who depended on Obama for his own re-election campaign in Nevada, who is Obama’s staunch ally, would get this phone call from a Bain investor and unilaterally take it straight to the Huffington Post and put it in a speech.  Assuming he got the call at all, he probably g-chated Obama immediately and asked,

Harry_#1Senator:          What should I do?”

Ice.cold.Obama:            Do what you think is best ; )

Well-played sir…well-played.

…just some comments on gun control

A gun-owning friend of mine who read Mass Murder’s Bright Future had this to say:

One of the things that I think warps peoples view is not understanding people who are avid hunters and shooters. I have read time and time again about people who had a cache of weapons or ammo only to find out the person had a couple of handguns and a few hundred rounds of ammo. To a person who doesn’t shoot 200 or even 500 rounds of ammo may seem like a lot to an avid shooter that is an hour or two at the range on a Saturday morning. For some owning dozens of guns is a pretty normal thing. I hope this doesn’t make you think less of me but I have ordered A LOT of ammunition through the internet.

The reality is gun ownership is on the rise in the country and violent crime is on the decline. There is not much political will to really change gun laws. The assault weapons ban ended and while there was a prediction of blood in the streets crime rates still went down. Politicians know there is nothing to win and quite a bit to loose. It seems to only play well with progressives I know a LOT of liberals who are pro-gun or at least agnostic to them.

The reality is that laws only effect those who follow them ask me some time about the ridiculous hoops one has to jump through. It defies logic. The criminals don’t jump though the hoops. The mentally ill don’t either.

The world isn’t safe it is a fact but I personally am not willing to give up any freedom for the perception of safety.”

This exchange about gun rights interested me:

“This was an otherwise law-abiding person who snapped. This wasn’t a case of a known criminal or known wacko getting guns when he shouldn’t have. Its the risk associated with living in a free, armed society. Yes, incidents like this are tragic, but i’m not going to give up more of my rights just because a couple people died in a random act of violence.”

Response:  “maybe if it wasn’t so easy for these law abiding people who can potentially snap to have guns, or if there wasn’t a culture of paranoia making people believe they need guns to be safe, this wouldn’t have happened. You are being stubborn about what you perceive to be an essential right, while people continue to die in these “random tragic acts of violence”, and other countries who have stricter gun controls laugh at you. This is not the Revolutionary war, or the zombie apocalypse, or any of these scenarios you secretly hope happen so you can justify your ownership of firearms. You’ll never use your gun for anything useful, you’ll never be the hero in your own Rambo fantasy where you save the neighborhood. Sorry to shatter your dreams.”

I love that rant about Rambo!  I think it is unfair, but also not completely untrue either.  Here’s another one about the incredible disconnect between gun owners and others:

“If I had been there, he would have been neutralized within seconds. I do not go to the movies because my legal gun is not welcome. Sure, take away more rights. That will solve everything.”

Response: “You are scary.”

I’m glad to see Obama has started talking about guns.  Discussion is good.

Mass Murder’s Bright Future

Grief, mourning…blah blah.  I’m trying my best not to cry because tears seem so hypocritical: what about Darfur?  What about the Congo where this happens regularly?  But I can relate to movie theaters and Americans!  And I really do, my heart reaches out to them.

Also, James Holme’s theater shooting is actually kinda unique.  Most killers, even the crazed Joseph Kony, is still trying to get something.  Jihadists are sincerely trying to punish the infidel at least.  James Holmes, he’s just crazy evil.  Doing it for no damn reason because he’s totaly evil.  Right?  Shit…yeah he was a counselor at a summer camp for needy children in 2008, attended UC Riverside as a scholarship student and graduated with highest honors.  “Academically, he was at the top of the top,” Chancellor Timothy P. White said.  Campus police had no run-ins with him.  Niether did the police at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.  It looks like the only problem he’s had with the police was a speeding ticket in 2011 (CNN).  He actually seemed to be doing fine before he dropped out of school about a month ago.  Still, he enjoyed a cold one recently with a friend, which can’t make him too nuts:

“Jackie Mitchell, who lives close to Holmes, had a beer with him on Tuesday.  Mitchell was stunned at news of Holmes’ alleged involvement in the attack.  “You would never guess he was a violent guy,” Mitchell said, describing Holmes as “nerdish” and “a book-smart type guy.” (CNN)

But of course, there was something wrong with him.  Apparently he called himself “the Joker” when he got arrested, had dyed his hair red, and his voicemail was described as a creepy batman-themed fiasco with “evil” laughter.  And also he shot 70 people in a crowded movie theater wearing .

On the first airing of the Factor with Bill O’Reilly, which I watch because I love Bill, “nothing can be done about this; the guy was just evil” maybe four or five times.  I hear this sentiment echoed in the news, and most experts seem to agree, nothing can be done about this.  What can be done about pure evil?

Really?  Ok.  First off, the guy was obviously not totally evil.

Also, it seems that we can do something about this if we wanted.  The guy bought $6,000 of ammo on the internet.  Large volumes of tactical gear was shipped to his house and work in the mail (CNN).  From whom you might ask?  “Chad Weinman, CEO of of Chesterfield, Missouri, told CNN earlier that his company had a receipt matching Holmes’ name and his Aurora address.”   The receipt showed $306.22 spent on a bullet-proof vest, magazines, 100 round ammo clips, and a big knife.  CNN reports:

“Holmes paid for a two-day air delivery when he placed the order on July 2, which would seem to indicate he wanted the materials in a hurry, Weinman said.”

The firm sells equipment to military and police personnel — as well as weekend warriors, Weinman said.

The gear that the firm believes it sold to Holmes is manufactured by a company called Blackhawk Company, a “popular brand in tactical circles,” Weinman said.

“We were pretty shocked to have discovered it,” Weinman said.

“Oh, my God, we couldn’t believe it” was how one of the company’s owners reacted, Weinman said.

The AR-15, one of Holmes four weapons, was inherited as a family heirloom from his father’s father father, who bought it from a local fur-trapper and fought with it in the Civil War.  Sometimes he uses it to hunt deer.

Purchasing a 100-round magazine for an AR-15 is unusual, weapons experts said. The AR-15 is designed for easy reloading. “Even without the grand-sized mags, many people who are practiced can reload in 1½ to 2 seconds,” said Steven Howard, a Michigan attorney and security and firearms expert.”

James had recently bought the AR-15, as well as 3,000 rounds for it.  CBS News says that he went to a Fed Ex to pick up 150 lbs of ammo he bought at once.  A UPS driver says Holmes had 90 packages delivered to his workplace on the University of Colorado medical campus.  He bought the guns at Gander Mountain Guns and a Bass Pro shop in May.  He had tear gas.  He had smoke bombs.  While shooting people, the police cheif said he wore  a helmet, vest, leggings, throat protector and groin protector (source).   All in all, Holmes spent at least $15,000 in the last few month or so on guns, chemicals, explosives, and ammunition. (CBS)

My point, I guess, is that this guy was obviously prepping for something and had radically changed his life recently for no clear reason.  Why can’t background checks for buying guns and such large amounts of ammo include a short investigation into recent mental health?  Is that too onerous?  Maybe there are better ideas out there.

Now, I am not a big gun control guy, and some 2nd Amendment people make some sense, but obviously everyone, NRA fans and not, are taking crazy pills.  The truth seems fairly simple: James Holmes was not evil, but he did go nuts.  Americans, like all people, have a tendency to go nuts.  But Americans can buy guns, thousands rounds of ammo, combat gear, whenever they want, no questions asked, and go nuts with style.
  1. In 1949, Howard Unruh killed 13 of his neighbors and was committed to mental institution.
  2. In 1966, Charles Whitman kills his wife and baby in the morning and then shoots 46 people, killing 16.
  3. In 1982, 40 year-old prison guard George Banks kills 13 people, including 5 of his own kids.
  4. In 1984, James Huberty kills 21 adults and kids at a local McDonalds before being shot by a policeman an hour later.
  5. Cho Seung-Hui, the VA Tech shooter, looking altogether sane as he calmly describes his rationale for killing random strangers: “I’m getting back at rich fucks” (paraphrase).

    In 1991, 35 year old George Hennard crashes his pickup truck  through a wall, shoots and kills 23 people, and then shoots himself.

  6. In 1999, in Colombine, two students kill 13 and wound 23 others before killing themselves.
  7. In 2007, 23 year old Seung-Hui Cho kills 32 people and wounds many others.  Before killing himself, he sent in a tape laced with profanity citing the need for revenge on the wealthy.
  8. In 2009, 28 year old Michael McLendon shoots 10 people, including his mother, grandparents, aunt and uncle, and then himself.
  9. In 2009, a man named Wong shoots 13 people at an immigrant community center, and then kills himself.
  10. In 2009, at Ft. Hood, Nidal Hasan, age 39, kills 13 people and shoots 32 others.  (Source is CNN)
So, how can we still be shocked?  How can the guy who sells tactical gear over the internet be shocked?  How can Bass Pro be shocked?  How can I be shocked?  But I am.  It is shocking how shocked America is.  Shootings like these have been happening for a long time and will keep happening as long as people become mentally ill and have access to guns.  If they had access to can openers, they would use that.  If they had access to nuclear warheads, they would use that.  Frankly, I am surprised it does not happen more, considering US rates of suicide and depression.
So, what is the solution?  Maybe we should ban guns entirely.  Maybe.  Or maybe we start with just asking some more questions when someone buys an AR-15 with a 100-round magazine.  That is, of course, if it is not too inconvenient.
I’m with Bloomberg.  I want to hear Romney and Obama talk about their position on gun control.

Adams vs. Jefferson Repeat in 2012

In 1800, John Adams was accused of being an out of touch, arrogant, elitist while his opponent, Jefferson, won with the image of a real American, a man of the people, and a champion of liberty.  For example, in a well-publicized national discussion, when the new republic was trying to decide what to call the president, Jefferson pushed for the title “Mr. President” while John Adams was willing to call him “His Excellency” or something that lent the position more gravitas.  Adams, spending years abroad in England and France, was viewed as having been poisoned by aristocratic and foreign sensibilities and communism was to Joe McCarthy’s USA as monarchy was to Jefferson’s.  As part of the Federalist Party, albeit a reluctant member, Adams wanted to consolidate government power while Jefferson, of the people, by the people, and for the people, had spent his whole life in America and was the people’s man.  He wanted their freedom and saw the small-holding farmer, as opposed to industry, as central to American life.

But biography is ironic.  Jefferson was the son of a rich plantation owner.  At age 21, he inherited 5,000 acres (20 km2) of land, 52 slaves, livestock, his father’s notable library, and a gristmill.  In 1768, he used his slaves to construct a neoclassical mansion known as Monticello.  In 1773, the year after Jefferson married a young widow, her father died. She and Jefferson inherited his estate, including 11,000 acres and 135 slaves.  With these additional slaves, Jefferson became the second largest slaveholder in Albermarle County with one of the biggest estates. The number of slaves from this time forward would fluctuate around 200.

Jefferson enjoyed an enormous income for his entire life, yet was almost always deeply in debt.  He spent lavishly and was constantly remodeling Monticello for no particular or practical purpose.  He spent great sums of money while abroad, especially in France, where he enjoyed the French aristocracy and their way of life.  He loved fine wine, expensive furnishings, and speculation, and died 1-2 million in debt.

Adams, on the other hand, was raised by a farmer who farmed the land himself.  Young Adams loved farming and he ran a farm his entire life, which he worked whenever possible, shoveling manure and plowing fields without the aid of slaves.  (Adams thought the only sensible investment was in land.)  As a boston lawyer, he had trouble making ends meet, and had to farm.  He hated taking cases without merit.  In fact, he took the case defending the British soldiers at the Boston Massacre, the case that launched his public career, in part because he was having trouble finding work.

Throughout his public career, Adams was frugal with his modest income, especially while serving abroad in the company of high socieity, which, unlike Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, he hated.  He could not stand the theatrics, the sleaziness, the politics, the make-up, the decadence, or the rich food; it disgusted him and he never fit in.  In fact, Franklin had the Continental Congress recall Adams against his will because he was too blunt and impolite; he was a “bull in a china cabinet.”

Nonetheless, for decades, no matter what he did, Adams could not shake the public image of an elitist snob who had been poisoned by foreigners, and Jefferson won the 1800 election.

Barack Obama has also been called an out of touch, arrogant elitist.  I hear it daily.  Indeed, he has given some fodder for this charge.  During his 2008 campaign, he mentioned that rural Americans can “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”  He called the economy “fine” a few weeks ago.  He spent some parts of his life in foreign countries.  Maybe he is out of touch with real America?

But Obama, we must remember, was raised by a single mom who worked for non-profits.  Mitt Romney’s dad, George Romney, was a successful businessman, a multi-millionaire, Governor of Michigan, Sec. of HUD, and ran for President against Nixon.

Obama finished paying off his school debt in 2004 and, though he is a millionaire now, only became one from book sales after his 2008 campaign picked up.  Romney, on the other hand, is worth over $250 million, making him the richest man ever to run for president — he always has been the 1%.

Obama was a community organizer working closely with underserved populations in Chicago before he became a lawyer, professor, state senator, Senator, and then President.  Mitt Romney worked as a Mormon missionary in France, a high-powered business consultant, a wildly successful venture capitalist executive for 14 years with an initial $37 million, chaired the 2002 Winter Olympics, became governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007, and has been running for President ever since.

Ultimately, I’m not sure what “out of touch” is supposed to mean.  Everyone is “in touch” with something.  As for me, I like Obama because he, like me, is multi-cultural and has been exposed to poverty.  Like me, he knows what it is like to worry about school debt and making ends meet since the majority of his life he paid close attention to electricity bills, travel expenses, and food prices.  He understands why they are important.  Romney seems like a good guy, but he has been enormously wealthy nearly his entire life.  Romney is Wall Street to Obama’s Main Street.

Did you hear about the $12 million expansion to his Ocean Front property in San Diego?  It includes a car elevator.  But car elevators can be super cool right?  Romney could be just a rich guy having everyman fun, like Obama when he enjoys the perks of bringing the musicians he loves to perform in the White house, or flying up to NYC for a dinner and a show with Michelle.  But surely all excess does not signal everyday humanity.  Maybe some excess is just excessive, such as the time and ink spent on this whole discussion of who is more ‘out of touch.’

So, vote for Obama?  It’s not really my point.  Instead, let’s just all try mightily not be as out of touch as the electorate in 1800.

I Was Wrong…

…the American Civil War was not about states’ rights, but about the South’s desire to keep slaves.

As you may be aware, I take a bit of pride in my knowledge of U.S. history, especially in knowing more than most ‘real’ Americans.  Getting a perfect score on my AP US History exam in high school, and my Mother teaching me thirty or so American songs like the Caisson Song, Goober Peas, and all 6 verses of When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, guaranteed me deep insight and a place in respectable society.

Seriously, before a week ago I thought that the Civil War is more aptly called the War of Northern Aggression and that, instead of slavery, it was really about states’ rights.  My Uncle, a retired Virginia State trooper, explains that throughout our history, the United States has generally encouraged the liberation of peoples rebelling in favor of self-rule, but only when they rebel in other countries.  Good point.  And, after all, as my friends and old neighbors in Atlanta, Georgia might point out, the South did not invade the North; they would have been happy to leave the North alone.  The North were invaders and then occupiers.  They could not stomach peaceful secession.

Also, I thought that slavery, rather than being the reason for war, was merely the catalyst for it; it could have been any number of other issues that would have challenged the Constitution’s lack of clarity on whether or not a state was allowed to secede from the Union.  The incidental issue of abolition, though morally upright, happened to be what the North was trying to ram down southern throats.

So I have held my nose up at those simple-minded people who read today’s morality into the motivation of the North—who don’t really know history.  Most Unionists were as racist as most Southerners, and still are.  Yet, while I still think there is good reason to call the Civil War “the War of Northern Aggression,” I no longer think the war was really about states’ rights for three reasons.

First, in the compromise of 1850, the North sought and passed a provision guaranteeing that the North would help return slaves discovered in its territories.  This amounted to free states, that had passed laws banning slavery, who thought slavery was wrong, being forced to abide by the rules of another State that they strongly disagreed with.

(This also had the effect of generating a backlash of anti-slavery sentiment among Northerners who, though racist and quite willing to allow the institution of slavery to exist if out of sight, were not comfortable with the immorality that was being paraded in front of them.  I see striking similarities to the spread of pro-LGBT laws in America, which could cause a backlash if imposed on populations not yet ready it.)

Secondly, the South was unwilling to allow new states to decide for themselves, when entering the Union, whether they would be slave or free.  Because of the even balance of power in the Senate, slave states pushed the United States to mandate some territories to become slave states, even if they did not necessarily want to be.  At the time, the South argued that this did not violate states’ rights because a territory is not yet a state, but that is misguided for two reasons.  First, after a territory becomes a state, it would then need to acquire the rights of a state, which should include the power to decide whether it wants to change to a slave or free state.  Secondly, at the core of the ideology of states’ rights is the principle of self-rule—it should not matter if the area is a territory or a state, they still should have the right to self-determination.  This was violated in many ways.

In the Missouri Compromise, all land below the 36°30’ parallel (southern border of Missouri) was guaranteed to become slave states.  Because of this, efforts were made to annex foreign land and make them slave states.  Unsuccessful plans included annexing Cuba & Nicaragua.  Successful plans include the Mexican War, which was fought in large part by James K. Polk as a land-grab, not just for the United States, but for the slave-holding South.  Finally, the South wanted Kansas, when it joined the Union, to become a slave state, though in main its people did not want slavery.  Eventually it would become a free-state, but only after wrangling in Congress, bloodshed (150 killed or injured), and a raft of Missourians coming over the state line to vote illegally for pro-slavery constitutions.  Of course, this also broke the South’s compromise with the North: Kansas was above the 36° 30’ parallel.

What drives this point home for me, that the South was not really interested in States’ Rights, is that the Democrats, the only truly national political party at the time, with deep roots in the South and pro-slavery policies, tried desperately to hold together a national coalition by appealing to self-determinination: a middle ground which guaranteed the rights of states and territories to decide for themselves.  Stephen A. Douglas, the Democratic nominee in 1860, was fighting for states’ rights.  But the South would not have it.  So, while 14 out of 15 slave states had voted Democrat in 1856, Douglas only got one in 1860.  Instead, Southerners opted for John C. Breckenridge, a pro-slavery candidate, who won 11 out of 15 slave states.  But Lincoln swept the North and became president.

The final reason why the Civil War was not really about states’ rights has to do with the South’s reaction to Lincoln’s victory.  What must be understood is that, since George Washington, only moderate and pro-slavery presidents had been elected. In fact, of the 15 presidents before Lincoln, five did not own slaves and 10 did, most of them Virginians and southerners.  Of those 10, eight owned slaves while they served as president.  Of the five who never owned slaves, two were John Adams, a practical moderate, and his son, John Quincy, who was powerless.  The other three directly preceded Lincoln: Buchanan (Dem), Fillmore (Dem), and Pierce (Whig).  They were picked in large part because of their acceptance of slavery.  (Source cited by is here.)

In other words, for years, abolitionists had been losing elections and accepting them anyway.  This, after all, is the essence of democracy.  But, when the abolitionists had won, the South could not accept the outcome.  They did not wait for their cherished states’ rights to actually get trampled on.  Seven states seceded before Lincoln even took office.

Ironically, Lincoln was a clear-eyed pragmatist who would have probably been quite reasonable and measured in his policies.  His Emancipation Proclamation is rightly understood as a war measure, meant to weaken the economy of states that were in rebellion, and to muzzle any possibility of France or England, both having already abolished slavery, coming to the aid of the confederacy.  Also, the Proclamation did not free slaves in Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, and Delaware, and specifically excluded numerous counties in some other states.  Lincoln did this so as to not push border states to join the Confederate cause.  As a result, some of these states did not ban slavery until they ratified the 13th amendment over three years later—6 months after the war was over.  This points to the likelihood that while Abraham would have certainly applied pressure with an aim to end slavery, he was not prone towards ideological or drastic measures.  But the south took their marbles and went home, before their states’ rights were even infringed on, but after it was clear that their power in the federal government to protect the institution of slavery was waning.

After listening to about 30 lectures detailing the first 80 years of American History (6 part Heritage Series), it is difficult for me to see this era as being dominated by a burgeoning crisis of states’ rights—of the majority of states forcing their will on the few.  Rather, we are witnessing, primarily in the South, increased racism, increased dependence on slavery, and increased fear that necessitated the preservation of their power so that they could continue and spread the institution of slavery.

But of course, “the American Civil War was about the South’s desire to keep slaves” is a sweeping historical statement.  There were many other factors involved, economic and otherwise.  In the end, it is probably only mostly true—I’d say about three fifths.