Beyond the Media Hype: Lebanon

Lebanon’s location bordering Syria made it a trading hub between the Mediterranean and Arab worlds and resulted in it becoming the most religiously diverse country in the Middle East.  Its mountains isolated religious and ethnic groups from each other.

Lebanon Simple Map

Lebanon is north-south alternating strips of lowland and highland–a coastal plain, a mountain range, a central plateau, then more mountains.  Its shoreline is regular, rocky and has no deep harbor.   The Beqaa Valley between the mountain ranges is the main agricultural area but fruit and vegetables grow well on the very narrow maritime plain.

Lebanon Topography

The CIA estimates the population to be 40% Christian, 27% Shia, 27% Sunni, and 5% quasi-Shia Druze.  The Lebanese Information Center estimates 34% Christians while Statistics Lebanon estimates 46% Christian.  The 34% to 46% range for Christians is matched by a 27% to 40% range for Shia.

There are several Christian groups.  Maronite Catholics make up 21% of the overall population, Greek Orthodox 8%, Greek Catholic 5%, Protestant 1% and 6% other denominations.  When the last census was taken in 1932, Christians were 53% of the total.  It was about the same in 1956 but more Christians than Muslims have emigrated since then and the Muslim population has a higher birth rate.

Lebanon has over thousands of years been part of many empires.  It became an orthodox Christian center under the Romans.  They persecuted an ascetic Christian tradition established near Mount Lebanon in the late 4th century by a hermit named Maron.  Most of Lebanon was ruled as a Christian Crusader State from 1109 to 1289.

Most eastern Mediterranean Christian communities swore allegiance to the head of Eastern Christianity in Constantinople, but the Maronites aligned with the Pope in Rome, which led to centuries of support from France and Italy even after Lebanon became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1516.

In 1842, fighting between Maronites and the Druze led to the Mount Lebanon area being separated into a Christian district in the north and a Druze one in the south, both of which reported to the governor of the Sidon district in Beirut.  France got the northern district separated entirely from Muslim Syria in 1861 to protect Mount Lebanon’s 80% Christian population

Lebanon Religion Map

In 1920, after the Ottoman Empire fell, the League of Nations gave Syria and Lebanon to France, and Palestine and Iraq to Britain.  France was welcomed by Christians around Mount Lebanon and vehemently rejected by Muslims in Syria.  It took until 1923 for France to gain full control.

France added Tripoli, north of which is primarily Sunni, to the former Ottoman district of Mount Lebanon, along with Sidon, south of which is chiefly Shia, and the Bekaa Valley, which has a mix of Muslims, Christians and Druze, and established it in 1926 as the democratic republic of Lebanon.

A political system was established that shares power based on religious communities.  There is an unwritten agreement that the president will be Maronite Christian, the speaker of the parliament Shia, the prime minister Sunni and the Deputy Speaker of Parliament and the Deputy Prime Minister Greek Orthodox.  The Shia have considered themselves marginalized ever since.  They as well as the Maronites were persecuted by the Ottomans.

Lebanon Detail Map

When France’s puppet government during WW2 allowed Germans through Syria to attack British forces in Iraq, Britain invaded Syria and Lebanon.  France then said Lebanon would become independent with France’s ongoing support.  But when the newly elected Lebanese government abolished France’s mandate in 1943, France imprisoned them.  France was then forced by international pressure to recognize Lebanon as fully independent.  France withdrew its troops in 1946.

In 1958, Muslim demands for reunification with Syria led to the brink of civil war and US military intervention when Muslims wanted Lebanon to join the newly formed Egyptian-Syrian United Arab Republic.  Tension with Egypt had been growing since 1956 when Lebanon’s Christian president did not break with Israel and the Western powers that attacked Egypt to regain control of the Suez Canal.

Internal tensions continued to grow.  In 1975, civil war broke out between a Christian coalition and an alliance of Druze and Muslims with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).  Syria sent troops, allegedly for peace-keeping, that remained in Lebanon until 2005, long after the end of the war.

The PLO leaders had set up new headquarters in Beirut after they lost the 1970-71 civil war with the Sunni monarchy for control of Jordan.  The PLO was founded in 1964 in Jordan where Palestinian refugees from Israel had become the majority population.

Thousands of Palestinian fighters fled to Lebanon after the Syrian civil war, preceded by refugees from Israel and followed by more from Jordan.  There are 450,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon now, primarily in the south.

In 1978, Israel invaded southern Lebanon to push PLO forces away from the border.

In 1982, PLO attacks led to a second Israeli invasion through Shia southern Lebanon and a siege of Shia Beirut.  The militant Shia political party Hezbollah came into being in the next few years to expel Israel forever and end Shia marginalization.

Lebanon_sectors_map

The civil war ended in 1990 with an agreement to disband all non-governmental Lebanese militias and deploy the Lebanese army on the border with Israel.  But Syria’s Shia government, which controlled Lebanon then, with fundamentalist Shia Iran’s support, allowed Hezbollah to continue fighting a guerrilla war against Israel and the South Lebanon Army in Shia areas occupied by Israel until 2000.    Many see Hezbollah as a proxy of Syria and Iran.

Hezbollah has continued fighting with reduced intensity since then to liberate Shebaa Farms in the Golan Heights, territory occupied by Israel since 1967.  The UN considers Shebaa Farms Syrian territory.  Both Syria and Lebanon consider it part of Lebanon.  UN resolutions in any case require Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories.

In 2005, a former Prime Minister who worked to end Syrian dominance of Lebanon was assassinated, for which some accused Syria, others Israel.  Demonstrators supported by the West demanded the end of what some consider military occupation by Syria and its undue influence on Lebanon’s government.  A 1991 treaty made Syria responsible for Lebanon’s protection.

In 2006, Hezbollah launched rocket attacks and raids into Israel.  They responded by invading southern Lebanon, and with airstrikes throughout the country that destroyed bridges, ports, power stations, water and sewage treatment plants, schools, hospitals and homes.

Lebanon locations bombed 2006

The latest threat to Lebanon’s stability is the Syrian civil war.  Of Lebanon’s total 5,883,600 population, 450,000 are Palestinian refugees and 1,200,000 are recent Syrian refugees.  Refugees make up almost 30% of the population and 20% are very recent arrivals.

Diverse populations are not easily governed even in a democracy.

Most nations in the Middle East are autocracies–Sunni in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Shia in Iran and Syria, first Sunni now Shia in Iraq.  Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic a quarter or more of whose population is either Christian, Shia or Sunni citizens, or refugees from Palestine, Jordan and Syria, most them Sunni.  That’s a formidable challenge.

And Lebanon’s government was dominated by Syria from 1975 to 2005, while southern Lebanon still is dominated by PLO and Hezbollah forces, which makes it a battle ground with Israel in the quest for a Palestinian nation state.

Lebanon’s future is inextricably tied with Syria, which is in turmoil, Palestine which does not exist as a nation state, and Israel.  It seems to have been a mistake to have established Lebanon as an independent nation state and/or not to establish Palestine as one at the same time.

Beyond the Media Hype: Saudi Arabia

Where next to combat my ignorance about the Middle East?  Here.  We Americans fear and loathe Arabs in general but we imagine Saudis to be our friends.

Saudi Arabia is mostly inhospitable desert that covers 80% of the Arabian Peninsula.  The prophet Muhammed united nomadic tribes here in the early 7th century and established an Islamic state that his followers rapidly expanded.   The center of the Muslim world soon moved to better lands and most of what is now Saudi Arabia reverted to tribal rule.

In the 16th century, Ottoman rulers of Turkey north of Iraq added the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula to their empire.  Their control of the area varied over the next four centuries.  In 1916, tribal leaders encouraged by Britain mounted a failed revolt then the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of WW I.  Ibn Saud, who founded today’s Saudi Arabia and avoided the revolt, continued his three decades long campaign against his regional rivals.

He established the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932 as an absolute monarchy governed under a puritanical form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabi that is practiced by 85–90% of Saudis.  The other 10-15%, who face systematic discrimination, are Shi’a.   No faith other than Islam is permitted, conversion by Muslims to other religions is outlawed and so is proselytizing by non-Muslims.

The royal family controls all the kingdom’s important posts.  Around 200 of more than 7,000 princes occupy the  key ministries and regional governorships.  The country in effect belongs to the Ibn Saud family.

Saudi Arabia is bordered by Jordan and Iraq to the north with Egypt, Israel and Palestine to Jordan’s west.  Syria is in the northwest and Iran is a few miles east over the Persian Gulf.  These borders were drawn up by the British and French at the end of WW I with little regard for tribal, religious or ethnic realities.

Saudi_Arabia_map(Map created by Norman Einstein, February 10, 2006)

Saudi Arabia is interesting to two communities.  Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammed and the site of his first revelation of the Quran, is Islam’s holiest city.  Non-Muslims are prohibited from it and a pilgrimage to it is mandatory for Muslims.  That Saudi Arabia is the world’s dominant oil producer and exporter and has the world’s second largest proved petroleum reserves motivates our interest.

Oil was struck in Pennsylvania in 1859, Russia found it in the Caucasus in 1873, then the British found it in Iraq in 1903.  They promptly declared they would “regard the establishment of a naval base or a fortified port in the Persian Gulf by any other power as a very grave menace to British interests, and we should certainly resist it with all the means at our disposal.”  Five years later, they struck oil in Iran.

Three years after that, the British began converting their navy from coal, of which they had ample supplies, to oil, of which they had none.  They landed forces in Iraq in 1914, captured Baghdad and began projecting power from there.  More oil was found in the Persian Gulf, starting in Bahrain in 1931 and followed by Kuwait and Qatar.  Then in 1933, Americans found oil in Saudi Arabia.

American businessmen were cautiously welcomed by the Saudi king as less threatening than Britain or other colonial powers.  He negotiated well with Aramco executives, the business established to export the oil, and later with the US government, trading oil for infrastructure development that transformed Saudi Arabia in a very short time from a medieval fiefdom to a 20th century one that became leader of the petroleum exporters, OPEC.

Oil_Reserves_Top_5_Countries

Saudi Arabia gained control of 20% of Aramco in 1972, full control in 1980 and was by 1976 the largest oil producer in the world.  In 1973, Saudi Arabia led an oil boycott against Western countries that supported Israel in its war against Egypt and Syria.

The Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 led Saudi Arabia’s king to fear rebellion by the Shi’a minority in the east where the oil is located, and in the same year protesters against laxity and corruption in his government seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca.  These events led to enforcement of much stricter religious observance and a greater role in government for Muslim legal scholars.

The royal family’s relations had been primarily with Aramco leaders until the reign of King Khalid starting in 1975.  After 1975 was when Saudi and US foreign policy grew closely aligned.

Saudi Arabia provided $25B to Iraq in its 1980-88 war against Iran, which we supported.  It condemned Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and allowed US and coalition troops to be stationed in Saudi Arabia.  But it did not support or participate in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.  The US by then no longer seemed a dependable ally.

There is significant opposition in Saudi Arabia both to US influence, and to the absolute monarchy.  The strongest opposition comes from Sunni religious leaders who want a stricter form of Islamic rule.  Others want the opposite.  The Saudi government was rated the 5th most authoritarian government out of 167 in 2012.  Women have almost no rights, it’s the only country in the world that bans them from driving.  There is also opposition from the Shi’a minority as well as tribal and regional opponents.

The Saudi royal family’s greatest fear, however, until the recent rise of the Islamic State whose stated goal is leadership of an Islamic world, has been Iran’s growing influence.  They are more alarmed now the US and Iran seem to be inching closer to a rapprochement.

So the Saudi royal family needs US military support but is at odds with us among other reasons because, like every other nation in the Middle East, they opposed the creation of Israel and are supportive of the Palestinians.  They have condemned the Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, but the Saudi royal family is Sunni and Hezbollah are Shi’a.

The royal family must also deal with anti-American feeling among the Saudi people.   Osama Bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and it is widely believed, in former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s words, that: “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

Very recently, the king criminalized “participating in hostilities outside the kingdom” fearing that Saudis taking part in Syria’s civil war will return knowing how to overthrow a monarchy.  Syria now defines terrorism as “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”  One of the groups they have named as a terrorist organization is the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fear of its neighbors motivates Saudi Arabia to spend more than 10% of its GDP on its military, among the highest percentage of military expenditure in the world.  The kingdom has a long standing military relationship with Pakistan.  Some believe it funded Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and could purchase such weapons from them for itself.

A good representative of what the Saudi government fears is Safar al-Hawali, a scholar who was a leader of the 1991 movement opposing the presence of US troops on the Arabian peninsula and a leader of a 1993 group that was the first to openly challenge the monarchy.

No surprise that al-Hawali is also a critic of the US government.

In 2005, al-Hawali wrote in An Open Letter to President Bush “the Roman Empire claimed to be the symbol of freedom and civilized values, just as you referred to America in your first statement after the incidents of September 11.  It was the greatest world power of its day, the heir of Greek civilization.  It had a Senate and a façade of democracy.  The Roman citizen had freedom of religion and personal behavior.  All this made it superior to other Empires throughout the world, and yet history does not speak well of this Empire because of the repulsive crime with which it stained its reputation: the persecution of the Christians.”

Elsewhere, al-Halawi wrote: “Since World War II, America has not been a democratic republic: it has become a military empire after the Roman model … the American way can be discerned and defined in one word: war.  America unhesitatingly enters into war anywhere in the world … Thus we notice that America is always seeking an enemy, and if it does not find one it creates one and inflates it using its terrible media to persuade its people’s conscience that the war it has declared is necessary and for a just cause.”  (“Inside the Mirage” Thomas A. Lippman, p. 328)

We imagine Saudi Arabia is our friend, but our thirst for oil provokes their memories of colonial powers.  Saudis and others in the Middle East don’t understand our unquestioning support for Israel.  Their Muslim leaders are as suspicious of American Christians as we are of them.  Inside Saudi Arabia the Shi’a minority is oppressed by their Sunni rulers, Wahhabi fundamentalists battle progressives, and nobody except the royal family can have a role in government.

Preconceptions like the ones we and Saudis hold about each other are not a dependable basis for friendship.  Instead, they fuel hatred.

Our Sacrosanct Jobs Program

A news article this week brought to mind something British politician Tony Benn said, “I remember setting sail to South Africa for training [as a WW2 RAF pilot] and being part of a war aims meeting.  It was the most brilliant political meeting I ever attended.  One man spoke of the mass unemployment of the 1930s and said that if we could attain full employment by killing Germans, we could have full employment by building houses, schools and hospitals.”

The article is about a $643M contract with Bath Iron Works (BIW) for which Maine Senators Collins, a Republican, and King, an independent, got funding.  They say it will “allow the Navy to send another DDG-51 to sea when the Navy’s fleet needs to preserve important combat capabilities in support of our national defense.”  Democratic Representative Pingree said, “this is excellent news for the families who earn their living at BIW.”  A shop steward who represents BIW workers said, “the contract brings more stability to the company, which employs about 5,400 people.”

So, my representatives in Washington, the BIW workers and their families, local business owners, everyone around here is happy we’re going to build more of these ships that were “originally designed to defend against Soviet aircraft, cruise missiles and nuclear attack submarines.”

What struck me is, although we don’t think of Defense that way, it has grown into an enormous jobs program.  What’s more it’s a program whose rationale and scope we do not question.

President Reagan’s budget director David Stockman has points to make, however.  In The Ukraine, The War Party and the Pentagon’s Swamp of Waste he writes, “the $625 billion allocated to DOD this year amounts to a colossal destruction of economic resources for no benefit whatsoever to the safety and security of the American people.”

Stockman is angry, perhaps because “About three decades ago I called the Pentagon a “swamp of waste” during an off-the-record interview that ended-up on the evening news. Presently I ended-up in President Reagan’s woodshed–explaining that, well, yes, I did say that because it was in fact true.”   His article is excellent background reading.

I don’t feel emotional about this but I am equally determined to do what I can so we do question how we want to spend that $625B of tax revenue.  The current program does have some benefit — it provides a lot of jobs — but as Tony Benn realized, some of them could be different jobs.  Some could be jobs without the risk of being killed or maimed.

Defense spending has huge support.  There was a bi-partisan agreement to cut (sequester) federal spending this year.  Stockman notes that “Had every dime of the $55 billion sequester been implemented, this year’s DOD budget would have been roughly $600 billion … in 1989, the DOD budget was about $475 billion in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars.”   Even though DOD spending would have been up 25% from 25 years earlier, when the time came to make the cuts, Congressman Paul Ryan and others said making them would be tantamount to surrender.  So the cuts were not made.

What provoked Stockman’s article is, “Contrary to the bombast, jingoism, and shrill moralizing flowing from Washington and the mainstream media, America has no interest in the current spat between Putin and the mobs of Kiev.”

Echoing President Eisenhower’s famous warning when he left office sixty years ago, he says,  “The source of the current calamity-howling about Russia is the Warfare State–that is, the existence of vast machinery of military, diplomatic and economic maneuver that is ever on the prowl for missions and mandates and that can mobilize a massive propaganda campaign on the slightest excitement.”

Stockman is outraged that we believe the propaganda and by our hypocrisy: “We have invaded every country to our South–from the Dominican Republic to Guatemala and Panama and assassinated or overthrown dozens of  their leaders–all within the 60 year span since Nikita Khrushchev gifted Crimea to his minions in Kiev. So precisely which nearby borders are so sacrosanct and exactly who has done the more egregious violating?”

I’ve written before about our defense spending and military strategy over which “we the people” have no control.  President Reagan greatly accelerated spending on what was in fact a spurious rationale, it dropped and stabilized in the next decade, then it was driven to extraordinary new heights by President Bush based on a new spurious rationale.  The numbers below show our total defense spending, not just what is presented in the US budget defense line item but also the spending on “overseas contingency operations” i.e., the wars President Bush started in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Trends in US Military Spending

We might be encouraged by Congress’ refusal to approve President Obama’s recent desire to take military action in Syria except that (A) Congress is currently of a mind to refuse everything he proposes and (B) everyone in Congress always wants more military spending in their district.

Important as it is to make rational changes to our defense spending and decide what kind and size jobs program we want to fund, however, we first need a government that functions, one that could debate such questions, arrive at decisions and take action.

I’m still absorbing research about how we could get such a government and, following a break where I’m hoping for sun and heat, I will report back next month.

Protecting the Opulent Against the Majority

A few days ago, billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins wrote that the way progressives are starting to treat the super rich reminds him of how the Nazis treated the Jews.  Soon after his letter was published in multi-billionaire Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, he had to apologize for his politically incorrect phrasing.   He would have done better to quote James Madison, “Father of the Constitution” and author of the Bill of Rights.

When the Federal Convention of 1787 turned to the question “whether the republican form shall be the basis of our government,” Madison pointed out: “In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure.  An agrarian law would soon take place.” 

The implication, he continued, is:  “If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation.  Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other.  They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”  (emphasis added)

A widely held belief has developed that the US Constitution offers protection for all minorities.  That was not its intent.  Madison’s much more limited aim was to protect the wealthy minority.  Whether or not we like the result, we should recognize that our Constitution is working as intended.

How does it work?  A republic is where power is held by elected representatives whose actions are bound by a Constitution.  People in a republic vote for candidates who promise changes they like.  The risk is that a small majority could make changes with unacceptable negative impact on the rest of the population.  That’s why a Constitution is necessary, to prevent such changes by defining ‘unacceptable.’

I’m thinking about this because I’m reading Noam Chomsky.  His diagnosis of why our government acts as it does, regardless which party is in power, feels spot on.  He shows example after example of actions by our government that benefit the opulent minority and work against the interests of the majority here and throughout the world.

But Chomsky’s proposed solution is misguided.  His central beliefs are that power corrupts and capitalism concentrates wealth, which, based on long first-hand experience and close study of history, are truths I hold to be self-evident.  The question is, would his solution, anarcho-syndicalism, be better?  Could it even work?

Anarcho-syndicalists are socialist libertarians.  Like capitalist libertarians who enjoy President Reagan’s signature joke: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help'” they oppose central power.  The difference is anarcho-syndicalists say the inevitable concentration of wealth by capitalism exploits the majority.

Attractive increases in freedom are promised by both kinds of libertarians.  In real life, however, the system does not scale.  A libertarian (i.e., unregulated) society cannot protect shared resources or universal needs: local societies often manage local resources (e.g., forests) sustainably but resources managed by non-locals are polluted and/or depleted.  And small societies cannot retain freedom: they cannot defend themselves against more powerful exploiters.

It is true that a fundamental problem for large scale enterprises is that central planning cannot work: there’s too much change to comprehend at the center.  An ingenious programmer I once hired was directed to model how many tractors Soviet factories should plan to build.  He tried combinations of many, many factors without success before at last seeing how to produce results that pleased the planners.  How?  By plugging the number of tractors that were going to be built, anyway.

Big businesses fail for the same reason – they lose contact with changes in their market.

Another problem is many things that start small seem destined to grow big but central planners too often fail to identify which are worth the investment.  Small societies with property managed at the local level would make better choices but they lack the necessary resources.  Today’s semiconductor and internet infrastructure, medical technology and etc required enormous investment.

So history tells us that democracies with a constitution tend to be better for people than autocracies, that market-based economies tend to deliver better results than centrally planned ones, and that capitalism seems essential to generate disruptive technology and deploy it on a large scale.

Speaking in Parliament in 1947, not so long after he lost the election following WW2, Winston Churchill famously said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”  The same looks to be true of capitalism in the economic sphere and nation states in the sphere of sovereign entities.  They do all tend to concentrate power and wealth but the alternatives are worse.

So, “if these observations be just,” how can the non-opulent minorities who make up the majority get protection?  Curtailing the inevitable abuses of power is achieved by incremental legislative changes that adapt Constitutional definitions to changes in society.

Because the fundamental structure of the system results in the wealth and power of the opulent minority always nudging the law’s evolution in their favor, other minorities must speak more loudly.

It is healthy that voices are now speaking loudly enough about too-high and rising inequality to be heard by Perkins and others.  It indicates that our system is working as it should.

Chemical Weapons and the Law

Syria is subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which makes the recent use of chemical weapons there a crime.  UN Weapons investigators analyzing evidence collected in Syria need about another week to establish if the weapons were used by Syrian government forces, if Syria’s leader authorized their use or was informed later, if they were instead used by rebel forces, or if more evidence is required to make a judgment.

President Obama says Syria’s leader is responsible for the crime and proposes unilateral retaliatory military action.  Congress is debating whether to authorize that.  Its vote is scheduled for two days hence, before the UN team completes its analysis.  President Obama says he has the authority to take military action even if Congress votes no.

Unfortunately, US governments always have placed their faith exclusively in military power and refused to accept the rule of international law.  President Bush’s UN representative formally excluded the USA from ICC jurisdiction.  President Obama, despite his law degree and Nobel Peace Prize, is acting the same way.

Banning chemical weapons has been a long and tortuous challenge.  The first attempt was the 1925 Geneva Protocol following the use of poison gas in WW1.  Another attempt was initiated following the WW2 Holocaust but was stymied by the Cold War.  In 1962 the US and USSR proposed elimination of all such weapons to the UN but between then and 1971 the US sprayed nearly 20 million gallons of chemical weapons in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia which resulted, according to the Vietnam Red Cross, in as many as 400,000 people killed or maimed, and half a million children with birth defects.

We knew Iraqi troops were routinely using chemical weapons against Iran in the early 1980s, and supplied them with a couple of batches each of anthrax and botulism bacteria in 1986.  The Senate unanimously passed the Prevention of Genocide Act in 1988, which would have banned any military assistance to Iraq and import of Iraqi oil, but it did not pass in the House.  We continued to supply Iraq with equipment we knew was for use in their chemical and nuclear weapons programs until Saddam Hussein misjudged our friendliness and invaded Kuwait.

In 1993, the UN called for destruction of all existing chemical weapons, no more manufacture, and an inspection body.  Congress reluctantly ratified that statute in 1997 but then passed legislation so we could refuse inspections.

At last, the genocide in Yugoslavia and Rwanda sparked the UN in 1998 to initiate creation of an International Criminal Court, an enforcement mechanism.  The court’s independence and jurisdiction were major issues.  Could it be prevented from launching a prosecution by a veto from the US, Russia, China, the UK or France?  Would it require approval to prosecute from the country where a crime was committed?  Could it prosecute if there was already a court proceeding in that nation?   Could it prosecute crimes committed in civil wars?  Could it prosecute crimes committed before it was established?

We said we supported the ICC.  In fact, we worked hard to emasculate it.  We demanded that no US citizen could be indicted without our approval.  We required veto power over any indictment.  We insisted that the ICC could prosecute crimes only in nations that are a party to the ICC Convention.  We said the ICC could have jurisdiction only if national courts failed to act.  We demanded that national security and/or a superior’s orders must be accepted as grounds for defense.

Even though those severe constraints were reluctantly accepted, we voted against creation of the court.  The vote was 120 in favor, 7 opposed and 21 abstentions.  The court would become effective when ratified by the 60th nation.  We worked hard to prevent that.  In 2001, the Senate passed an act that would have prohibited us from cooperating with the ICC in any way, barred military aid to any country supporting the ICC and required us to use any means to release US citizens held by the court.

When in 2002 the 60th nation ratified the ICC and it came into force, we notified the UN that we refused to be a party to the treaty.

At this time 122 nations have ratified the ICC and 31 more, including Russia, have signed but not ratified the Statute, 3 of which, Israel, Sudan and the US, have withdrawn their signatures.  41 other UN member nations have not signed the Statute, including China and India.

Governments of nations that have refused ICC jurisdiction tend to be engaged in activities the ICC might well prosecute, e.g., Israel’s settlements, India and Pakistan’s activities in Kashmir, China’s in Tibet and Xinjiang, ours in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and etc.

The ICC has so far opened investigations only into 8 situations in Africa.  It has indicted 30 people, issued arrest warrants for 21 and has 5 in custody.  The atrocities being committed in Syria should be prosecuted by the ICC and we should be insisting that it do so.  We should consider other options only if the ICC is barred, e.g., by a veto from Russia, from that investigation.

We should stop telling the world we are its judge and executioner and start supporting the international rule of law.

 

Traveling In A Dangerous World

I emigrated from the UK to the USA, I’ve traveled on business in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the USA and more, I’ve traveled to learn in Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet, I’ve traveled for pleasure in – well, I’ve moved around a lot.  Here’s what I learned: almost all travel just confirms our preconceptions.  We go someplace new, we see something new, we fit that into the concepts we brought with us.

Only by spending long enough in an unfamiliar world with senses and mind truly open can we notice enough detailed differences and similarities to learn from travel.

Senator King (I-ME) recently visited Syria.  He’s a good man who was of course horrified by the suffering he saw at first hand.  He returned wanting us to end that suffering by intervening militarily in Syria’s civil war.  The suffering he saw reinforced the concept he took to Syria.  Better he had not gone because military intervention is the wrong concept.

When I came to the USA, we were intervening militarily in Vietnam.  One of those who was there long enough to learn, Colin Powell, was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1990/1 war in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.  His doctrine, successfully applied in that war was: (1) Clear objectives, (2) Sufficient Force, (3) Exit Strategy, (4) Plan for unintended consequences.

The Powell doctrine was not applied in President Bush’s war in Iraq or President Obama’s in Afghanistan.  It was partially applied in Libya where in addition to the objective of killing the nation’s leader there was an exit strategy, just stop, but no plan for the unintended consequence of civil war fought with the ex-government’s weapons that spread into neighboring Mali.

Senator King is right about many things, not about warfare.  Here’s something he’s right about:  On Facebook today, he links to his press release entitled: “The most serious threat to national security is the United States Congress – Senator King reiterates need for Congress to pass a budget to replace sequestration”.

A nation without a government is on an inevitable path to failure, the people we elected are not governing just arguing.  As Senator King says, it’s as if they’re saying:  “Have you noticed it’s raining?  Yes, you’re right, it is raining” but nobody puts up an umbrella or goes inside.

So far so good.  In the 7 minute video linked to from the press release, his sincerity is obvious.  He went to Washington to try to get our government working.  He’s questioning a defense analyst from the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.  They agree health care is the greatest challenge to our national budget.  They disagree about tax strategy.  The Heritage Foundation is committed to cutting the deficit by spending cuts.  Senator King believes there must also be tax increases, chiefly by capping deductions on high incomes.

The press release says:  “Senator King, a member of both the Budget and Armed Services Committees, worked with his colleagues earlier this year to develop and pass a FY 2014 Budget Resolution that would not only replace sequestration, but would also pave a credible path toward fiscal stability by promoting economic growth and job creation while responsibly addressing the country’s debt and deficits.”  It continues: “Republican objections have stalled the budget process, however, by preventing the appointment of members to a Conference Committee that would be tasked with reconciling the Senate budget with that passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. On May 8th, Senator King called on his colleagues to proceed with the Federal budget process. 122 days have passed the Senate passed its budget.”

Here’s an article on how the budget process is meant to work and what is happening instead:  “stalemates in the budget process … predictably result in bad policy outcomes … we are currently stuck with sequestration … a policy designed to be so awful that Congress was expected to go to the lengths necessary avoid it.”   The Executive branch, the House and the Senate have all produced budgets but there has been no move toward agreement and little prospect of any this year.

That means sequestration will continue to force cuts in spending while those who signed Grover Norquist’s pledge will continue to block any increase in revenue.  Senator King is right about all that.

Here’s where he goes wrong, what he focuses on in his press release is the effect on defense spending:  “Sequestration has already resulted in a $37 billion cut in defense spending for Fiscal Year 2013.  In Fiscal Year 2014 the Department of Defense is projected to face a $52 billion budget cut due to sequestration, and many high ranking officials, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, have stated that the shortfall will severely compromise national security by reducing military readiness and limiting the capacity to respond to crises.”

Senator King’s press release makes no mention of what in the video he correctly identifies as our greatest budget challenge, healthcare spending.  He ends his questioning with the following prepared statement, which he also posts to Facebook:  “Our country is paying a heavy national security price because of sequestration. We live in the most complex and dangerous world that any of our military and intelligence experts have seen, and at the same time, we are gutting our military and hollowing out our readiness. Like I said at a committee hearing today, I think that’s a tragedy.”

We are not gutting our military.  We are not hollowing out our readiness.  There is no successor to Soviet Russia that could threaten us today.

We are are also not setting a military strategy.  All we’re doing is telling the heads of our defense forces to cut spending to an extent they cannot predict because it is governed by no policy.

I will soon return to the topic of these posts, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and More, Evaluation of War on Terror Strategy and Military Operations Strategy.  We have by an enormous margin the world’s greatest defense force, we have by far the world’s greatest warfare industry, and we have since the start of this century had Executive Branch  leaders who increased demand for our warfare industry’s products and services with cripplingly expensive wars without clear objectives or exit strategy , and by encouraging ever greater weapons exports, e.g., 84 F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia.

We have not one but three great threats to our national security, only two of which Senator King has identified:  Congress, healthcare spending and the military/industrial complex.

Campaign Finance and Free Speech

Because only bad government is possible until we reform campaign finance, I recently signed a petition supporting House Judiciary Resolution 29 (H.J.Res.29).  I asked others to join me or point me to a better approach.  It will be a while before I can do the necessary research to find a better approach – if there is one – so in the meantime this is an anchor for comments thus far.

H.J.Res.29 is a proposed Constitutional amendment that would make the rights extended by the Constitution apply only to natural persons and provides a basis for fundamental campaign finance reform.  It was introduced in the House of Representatives on February 14, 2013 and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.  It reads:

    `Section 1. The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.  Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.  The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.
    `Section 2. Federal, State and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, for the purpose of influencing in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.  Federal, State and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.  The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.
    `Section 3. Nothing contained in this amendment shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.’.

The intent of Section 1 is to establish that artificial entities such as corporations do not have constitutional rights.  The intent of Section 2. is to establish that money is not free speech.

My overall view is:

(1) Our government today is unacceptably bad so we must make a substantial change

(2) A more effective form of democracy is possible, e.g., using social media technologies, that was unimaginable 250 years ago but we’re not going to change the current system

(3) Any legislative change will have negative as well as positive effects so we should make the best change we can, then make more based on future results

Estate Tax and Fairness

What components must a tax and budget management system have to achieve the results we want?   I’ll start with a result and a candidate that illustrate a few large issues.

It seems to me now that what I said was my biggest surprise in this post, Qualities of an Excellent Tax System, should not have been a surprise at all.  The American Dream is that our freedom includes equal opportunities for all of us to achieve prosperity and success.  In that case, it makes sense that nine out of ten of us would say we want a relatively equal distribution of wealth.  What we mean is, we want relatively equal opportunities to become wealthy.

So, the system needs to to, “lead toward the distribution of wealth we democratically choose”.   By “lead toward” I mean propel the wealth distribution on average and over time, and by “democratically choose” I mean the distribution we want could change but it should at all times be in some way explicitly approved by the electorate.

Among the indicated requirements is to diminish, “unfair opportunity based on parental wealth”.  Estate taxes are a potential mechanism.  How much support might there be for them, and how effectively would they support the objective?

Estate taxes would not be popular at all.  The compendium of public opinion research I used for this post about our tax system shows on page 21 the results of a March 2009 Harris poll about the perceived fairness of various kinds of federal and state/local taxes.  Federal estate taxes are considered the least fair of all.  Two in five respondents (42%) consider them “not at all fair”.  Fully two thirds (67%) consider them “somewhat or not at all fair”.

Before exploring if estate taxes could nevertheless be effective, it’s instructive to set their unpopularity in context.  Every form of  tax has high “somewhat or not at all fair” ratings.

At the federal level, the combined “somewhat or not at all fair” ratings for each type of tax are:  estate taxes 67%, gas taxes 63%, personal income taxes 48%, corporate income taxes 42%, social security payroll taxes 40%, and cigarette, beer and wine taxes 36%.  At the state/local level they are: gas taxes 62%, local property taxes 50%, motor vehicle taxes 47%, state income taxes 44%, cigarette, beer and wine taxes 38%, and retail sales taxes 37%.

I’ll come back to those statistics in future posts.  One thing to consider is the seeming paradox that while gas taxes are almost as unpopular as estate taxes, retail sales taxes, which are also levied at point of sale and unlike gas taxes are shown separately and so are more visible, are considered the least unfair of taxes along with those on cigarettes, beer and wine.  I’ll also address why property and motor vehicle taxes, personal and corporate income taxes, and social security payroll taxes are all considered “somewhat or not at all fair” by 40% to 50% of us.  The overall message from these statistics is:

Large issue 1:  While everyone wants government services, many or most of us consider every way of funding them to be “somewhat or not at all fair”.  It will not be enough to establish a way of collecting revenue that is reasonably fair.  We must also routinely measure its fairness, publish the results and measure public opinion about that.  The long term result, if the system truly is fair, will be a steep bell curve of survey results toward the middle of the range from “Very fair” to “Not at all fair”.  I’ll explore this in a future post.

Meanwhile, why are estate taxes considered most unfair of all?  Because they’re associated with death.  That’s why opponents call them the “death tax”.  We’re pretty much terrified of death and we don’t like any taxes, anyway.  Also, opponents tell us it’s double taxation:  “First, they took your hard-earned money in income tax, then they want estate taxes on what’s left?!”  And while in theory we want equal opportunity for all to become wealthy, we probably in reality want our kids to have a better than equal chance.  The message from this statistic is:

Large issue 2:  We are vulnerable to powerful fears and desires that distort our judgment about government and taxes which cannot be soothed from within the tax system.  We would be happier and kinder if we accepted that we will die.  It would be better to prepare our kids to work for what they most want.  The tax system is powerless to help us accept and act upon such truths.

Would estate taxes nonetheless be an effective way to diminish the unfair advantage of parental wealth?  The answer is again, in normal circumstances, no.  Estate taxes are in reality levied on only a tiny fraction of US estates and they are easy to avoid altogether with trusts and provisions in your will.  If, that is, you act on the fact that you will die.

More importantly, revenue from estate taxes fluctuates because people with equal wealth do not die at the same rate every year. That means estate taxes are unsuitable for supporting ongoing levels of spending.   There is also:

Large issue 3:  Wealthy people can relocate their assets.  Not all US states levy estate or inheritance taxes and those that do, have different rates and thresholds.  You can become a resident of a different state if you expect to leave or inherit a large estate.  The same issue exists for state income taxes as this link suggests.  And if you want to avoid US taxes altogether, you can renounce your citizenship and move offshore.  This means tax systems must be appropriate to their competitive environment, state-wise and nation-wise.

There are, however, a couple of situations where estate taxes are effective.  One is when there is a widely accepted temporary need for exceptionally high government spending.  By the end of WW2, for example, the top marginal estate-tax rate, referred to as “equality of sacrifice”, was 75% in the UK and 77% in the US.  In WW1 when UK men were being conscripted, very high estate taxes were termed “conscription of wealth”. The other situation is when the domination of a wealthy hereditary aristocracy is overturned.  The sacrifice made necessary by WW1 gave UK social reformers that opportunity.

We should work diligently and hard to avoid the need and opportunity for such a remedy in our own society.

Qualities of an Excellent Tax System

Noting at the start of this project that our tax system has no defined goal and grows ever more bewildering – the Federal tax code alone grew in the past 10 years from 1.4M to 3.8M words – I asked: “What if we had a tax goal and a budget management plan?”  The posts summarized below explore results of the current system to identify what should change.

What We Tax shows how much of what kinds of tax is collected at each level of government.  Federal revenue is chiefly from income and social insurance taxes.  State and Local governments rely mainly on property, sales and inheritance taxes.  Total tax revenue grew steadily as a % of GDP to a peak in 2000 and has since dropped very sharply on two occasions although government spending has not.  Federal taxes are half the total.  Personal income tax is 30% of the total and social insurance 20%.

Who We Tax shows how much tax is paid by each income group.  The lowest fifth whose income averages $12,400 pays 16% of that in sales and other such taxes.  They do not earn enough to pay income tax.  The middle 20% who average about $33,400 pay 25% in taxes overall.  The topmost 1% who average $1.3 million pay 31%.  Tax paid relative to income is similar for all income groups – the top fifth gets 59% of all income and pays 64% of all taxes, the bottom fifth gets 3.5% of all income and pays 2% of all taxes.

The Dept of Health and Human Services judging who has “insufficient income to provide the food, shelter and clothing needed to preserve health” determines that the entire bottom fifth has insufficient income, as does a family of four in the next fifth, and even a family of five in the middle income group.  The bottom fifth, after subtracting the 16% they pay in taxes has $10,400 to support themselves.

What We Do Not Tax examines why our system is so complicated.  Nobody fully understands all the provisions that exclude some income from taxation.  These deductions and payments made via the tax system total almost a third of overall Federal spending, more than $800B in 2012.  That is more than our spending on our three most costly programs, Social Security, defense, and Medicare.

Tax exemptions are popular with politicians because they are less visible than spending programs and generally do not need annual funding decisions.  All the big exceptions have a lot of support with the possible exception of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which benefits only the bottom fifth.  Although the other exemptions are imagined to benefit society in general, they primarily benefit the top 20% and some disproportionately benefit the top 1% income group.

Business Tax explores how our taxes on corporate and other businesses compare to other nations.   Although our top corporate tax rate is among the world’s highest, many of our largest corporations use tax exemptions to pay much lower rates.  GE paid none at all in 2010.  Multinationals manage their accounts to show profits in tax haven countries to avoid US taxes.  All large ones have the advantage of tax deductible debt financing.  What our corporations pay is half the OECD average.

An exceptionally high percentage of our businesses that together produce half of all business net income is not incorporated, which blurs the distinction between business and personal taxes and facilitates legal tax avoidance.

Purpose and Performance of Our Tax System examines its effectiveness, overhead, fairness and clarity.  The system is ineffective, failing by a wide margin to fully fund government activities and allowing illegal evasion on almost a fifth of taxable income.  Its overhead at 30% on income tax is much too high.  It is unfair, only two of five considering it even moderately fair.  Finally, it fails utterly on clarity.

Our current tax and budget management system allows 61% of us to believe the federal deficit can be cut substantially without raising taxes while at the same time opposing cuts to programs that account for 62% of all spending.   Social security cuts are opposed by 79%, Medicare by 76% and defense by 58%.  While opposing cuts to any programs with significant costs, three in four believes almost half of government spending is wasted and imagines cutting programs with relatively tiny costs would be a solution.

That huge compendium of public opinion research confirms in more detail what we in fact already know: we hate taxes, we love benefits.   Home owners hate property taxes but love the mortgage interest deduction.  Almost everyone hates inheritance taxes although hardly anyone has to pay any.  And so on.  What this means is a better tax system will be impossible unless we first agree how we want the tax revenue to be spent.  We will get nowhere considering changes in isolation and make progress only by assessing the impact of potential changes on the outcome we want.

Taxes, Wealth and Fairness explores the outcome we want.  The previous post explored public opinion about fairness and noted, for example, that 66% of us believes “everyone should pay some minimum amount of tax to help fund government”, the implication being that some do not, e.g., the 47% Romney noted who pay no income tax, although as we saw above, the bottom fifth in fact pays 16% of their income in taxes.  This post turns from exploring mechanisms to results, what we mean by saying our tax system should have a fair outcome.

Nine out of ten Americans want a society with a relatively equal distribution of wealth.  The average of our opinions is that the top fifth should have 32% of the total wealth.  What we think they have is close to twice that percentage (59%).  In fact, they have 25% more even than we imagine, a full 84% of our society’s total wealth, and their share is growing fast at the expense of every other group.  Despite great disagreements over policies that affect wealth distribution, e.g., tax and welfare, a great majority of us appears to believe that wealth should be distributed far more equally than we imagine it is, and we imagine it to be distributed much more equally than the reality.

In the next post I will begin exploring different tax approaches to get the system we appear to want, a system that:

  • Fully funds all authorized government activities, not necessarily every year, but on average
  • Makes it easy to understand the impact of proposed tax and spending changes
  • Leads toward the distribution of wealth we democratically choose
  • Has a low collection cost and allows minimal illegal evasion
  • Does not disadvantage US business in the global economy

My biggest surprise from the research is the relatively equal distribution of wealth nine out of ten of us appear to want.  I interpret that to mean we want relatively equal opportunities to become wealthy, which would include relatively equal access to high quality education and health care, for example, as well as relatively little unfair opportunity based on parental wealth.

I began this research because year after year we keep borrowing, not to fund investments for our future, but to keep consuming, and that’s unsustainable.  Better we work our way out of this downward spiral than be forced to when it is more painful.  That motive is the origin of the first bullet point above.  But I now see the deeper problem.  The tax and budget management system we have is not at all what we want.  That’s the origin of the remaining bullet points.

It will be extremely hard to get the tax system nine out of ten of us appears to want.  Inequality as extreme and fast growing as we have (net worth of the wealthiest 7% grew 28% in the past three years while the lower 93% lost an additional 4%) results only when political power based on wealth is shaping government policy.  When we see our tax system’s enormous and confusing volume of laws, we imagine its apparent chaos to have grown randomly.  It can be no accident, however, that it results in wealth flowing always and only to the top.

I will be grateful for any comments about the research, analysis and conclusions so far.  Have I failed to research anything essential, made any flawed analyses, or come to any unwarranted conclusions?

Barbarous Legislation, Dysfunctional Governments and What to Do

Truck Driver’s Insurance in Nepal explains why a Nepali truck driver who injures someone goes on to kill them.  Sasi Kala commented: “This is one of the most barbaric insurances I’ve ever known” and asked: “Can we do something to change this madness?”  That led me to answer a bigger question; why should Americans be interested?

In 2006 when the civil war ended, the monarchy fell and several long visits had given me a sense of Nepal’s economic situation, I thought: “I have decades of experience in enterprise strategy as a consultant and executive, I studied it at Harvard Business School, I should be able to see a strategy for Nepal”.   I wasn’t expecting it to be helpful but if I came up with something compelling I’d presumably have tried to get it heard.  What happened is, I realized I was trying to answer the wrong question.  It’s not just that there’s so little to build on in Nepal, it now has neither government nor leader.

Distressingly little has changed in the months since I last posted about Nepal’s political situation, or even in the seven years since 2006.  The “movers and shakers who never move and rarely shake” continue only to fulminate.  The Constituent Assembly elected to draft a new Constitution within two years that failed to finish in four still has not been replaced so there is still no progress on the Constitution, and no government or leader.

An alliance of 33 parties is protesting against a proposed election to be held in November.  They say they will not participate.  Party leaders who say they will participate are resisting setting an election date until they have their alliances nailed down.  The caretaker government headed by the Chief Justice is not empowered to do anything, which suits the politicians all too well.  Meanwhile, daily life gets steadily worse for most everyone else.

The truck driver’s insurance is just one manifestation of a much greater madness.  There’s little we can do until that’s healed.  We can’t expedite the election to complete the Constitution, or its drafting, or the eventual election of a government.  All we can do in the meantime is, if we have contacts there, help them understand what should be in the new Constitution and what legislation the new government should establish.  That’s worth doing.

The existing truck driver insurance seems normal to Nepalis because it’s always been that way.   Justice always has been subordinate to the Executive in Nepal so its government officials always have been above the law and that, too, seems normal.  We’ve lived over two centuries with the Constitution of a secular republic and a democratically elected government, so we can more easily see some things Nepalis should change.

But what if we have no contacts in Nepal?  Why should we be interested in Nepalis’ situation, anyway?  Because it illustrates where we’re heading.

Nepal has dramatically inadequate infrastructure of every kind because it has no government.  That’s a fundamental problem.  If there’s no electricity 14 hours a day, there can be no wealth-producing enterprises with jobs for educated people.  Fully a quarter of Nepal’s GDP is money sent home by Nepalis doing manual work overseas.  “What’s the point of educating our children if there are no jobs for them?” one of my Nepali friends asks: “They’ll either leave us behind or make another war.”

Because the US government used to be effective, we have electricity, road and rail networks, school systems and the other services necessary for a strong society.  It’s easy to start a business here and grow it quickly to any size.  But our infrastructure that makes such things possible is now, day by day and year by year growing weaker.  Why?  Because our government no longer invests effectively for the future of our economy and society.

Why do we behave as if that’s OK?  Because the results are accumulating at a pace we don’t notice.  It’s like not changing the oil in a truck.  The wise trucker does that and other maintenance and at the appropriate time gets a new and better truck.  He doesn’t just drive the one he inherited into the ground.  Like Nepalis, we’re accustomed to what our government is failing to do.

We say government should get out of the way of business.  Nepal shows business is impossible without government.  It’s not just that you can’t operate a business without electricity and you can’t access markets if there’s no railroad or highways.  It’s not even worth trying if there’s no legal protection.  Over the last few years I’ve explored with Nepali friends half a dozen business ideas that could have produced worthwhile products, profits and employment.  They’d all be easy to do here.  Not one is viable there.  There’s so much missing and what is present is undependable.

I like business.  I had fun and satisfaction doing it for forty years.  But I have no experience in government and little understanding of how it works.  That’s a problem.  We all have biases about how much of what kinds of things government should do.  Bias is unavoidable but ignorance is not.  We all should form not just opinions but educated and actionable ideas about government, test them against ones that don’t match our biases, think them through, then work to get them established.

The goal of my original blog and this one was at first just to help me identify and define what would be better and worse.  That is necessary but it no longer feels sufficient.  We must stop our government and future from getting worse, and have our government do what it must for a better future.