Sunday, December 30, 2012

Scorched Earth

I consider the “fiscal cliff” scenario as merely a dress rehearsal for the big drama over the debt ceiling which, unlike a nuclear threat, lacks the deterrent of mutually assured destruction. The preceding is the first part of a short letter I sent to the N.Y. Times. It's pertinent to the following narrative that begins with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s declaration that his party’s first priority was to make Barack Obama a one term president. While he should be applauded for candor so scarce these days, particularly among Republicans, on balance I see the statement as having been detrimental to his party’s interests.

The damage came from saying out loud, in as many words that he, as a Republican, would rather the nation suffer than his party lose in the next election. Yes, I’m certain that there have been Democrats who shared this sort of thinking under Republican presidents. But no high ranking official that I know of has ever put the thought so bluntly and, in my opinion tactlessly.

The election’s smoke has cleared and McConnell’s party lost big time. The economy is making a modest but tangible recovery, which exacerbates Republican woes that are being continually increased by attrition. Some of the benefits of the much maligned “Obamacare” will be felt for the first time in 2014 where he GOP had relegated them with the expectation of their newly elected president overseeing the law’s repeal.

The economy is not the only consideration in our politics. But to the extent that it improves Republicans prospects decline, so what incentive do they have to pass laws that benefit the nation? Since more of the public now blames them for our current problems they are likely to receive the onus for normal misfortunes in the near future.

Under these circumstances Republican brass may feel the need for a humdinger of a disaster. The complete collapse of our financial system as a consequence of national default would be just that. In all likelihood the consequences would dwarf those of the Great Depression. My concern over this possibility was expressed in the last part of my letter to the Times. People of influence are involved whose efforts are based on the expectation that they will lead to a lesser America of which they will own a greater part.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Turning Worm

A reply from a recipient of my letter on gun violence reads as follows:

“I’ve been flummoxed by the argument that this is the fault of evil people, not a gun issue. Do all these massacres then mean the U.S. has more evil people than other countries? Because if it isn’t the guns that make the difference, that’s the only alternative.”

My answer, in the current fashion of avoiding the words yes and no, was that this is the apparent conclusion of the gun people. But I think this missed the heart of the question which is whether our homicide rate is as high as it is because Americans are more disposed to killing each other or because our regulations on lethal weapons and their possession are too lenient. The answer has to be one or, as I believe, some of both.

Are we more prone than other developed nations to self genocide? Our love of guns suggests that we are. While it can be argued that the hoarding of lethal weapons is just a natural consequence of a greater need for them, this rejoinder by itself only supports the premise.

Our lack of proper control of these weapons and their scope is so obvious that an adult should not have to explain it to other adults, maybe to children. We regulate cars and drivers that can kill unintentionally more closely than guns that are designed specifically for that purpose. Being able to fire a hundred rounds without reloading is not necessary to protect one’s home from a brigand or two, only from regiments.

And some of them may be thinking in terms of regiments, considering the way they’re accumulating ammunition. With every mass murder, sales of guns take off. These types hate government, not all government, just the government they didn’t vote for. We’ve always had sore losers. But they’re more dangerous armed to the teeth. Some of those who didn’t vote for this government are even threatening secession by their states.* Lots of luck guys. This business was deep sixed some time ago at a place called Appomattox.

I don’t mean to imply that all of these people are know-nothings, subversives or gun manufacturers. Many are from the “the next thing you know” school. On its face such thinking is wrong. The next thing you know should not be at issue. On the other hand, as a practical matter even if they lower the clip capacity from 100 to 30 rounds which I favor, I for one would still be all for lowering it further.

Many gun people might agree with much of what’s been written here. They may just think that these considerations are outweighed by the sanctity of the Second Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court. They are wrong, but so were isolationists before World War II and that didn’t make them all fascists. Most of them recanted on December 7, 1941. There’s just a chance that Newtown will be something of a Twenty First Century Pearl Harbor.

*If at first you don’t secede…………….

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Sure! The mass murderer of the month might have strangled all those kids if the adults stayed out of it and the kids waited their turn. Enough has been said since Friday about the need for stricter gun control, with which I concur, so I’ll try to keep the argument simple. We have insufficient regulation of who should be allowed to possess lethal weapons and that no one, other than authorized individuals, has a legitimate need for guns that fire multiple rounds of ammunition without having to reload.

I take issue with the core of the opposing argument by those of NRA mentality who claim that the nation would be safer if more people were armed. They argue that the killer in Newtown could have been stopped if the teacher had a gun handy, preferably in a holster I assume. This logic would require a proficiency in marksmanship that would disqualify a number of otherwise capable teachers. After all, a slight miss could result in the death of a student. Even experienced shooters need to exercise judgment in these situations. Pistols are not very accurate at longer distances.

I’ve had one experience that might have theoretically justified having a gun when my wife and I were robbed at gunpoint at our house in St. Maarten. If there had been one in the house I don’t think excusing myself to use the bathroom would have worked. I wouldn’t even have wanted one in my hand because I’ve seen too many movies with gunfights in which somebody gets killed and in real life it could have been me. Considering the material goods at stake I didn’t like the odds. My chance of winning might have been fifty-fifty were it not for a lack of experience at this sort of thing. Then there’s always the possibility of both of us losing.

We should know by now that, in addition to run of the mill thieves, the world has an abundance of demented people and America has its share of both. Granted, that even the strictest controls will not prevent access of every one of them to weapons for purposes other than hunting. But if “per capita” is a valid form of measurement, we are first or last, depending on one’s perspective, among other industrialized nations with their stricter controls.

I’m more hopeful than ever that enough Americans will see the light on the use of guns to make a difference. Until now we’ve shown ourselves to be slow
learners. More people were killed at Virginia Tech than Newtown, yet the slaughter of college age students apparently didn’t hit home as hard as what happened to young children on Friday. The names of the children killed will never make history books. But with a little luck their tragedy would put proper perspective on the intent of the Second Amendment.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Etched In Stone

The possible return from the Bush tax cuts to the Clinton rates for affluent Americans is the most talked about domestic item of the day. I’ve already had something to say on the subject, but there’s more. Let’s start by understanding a rule of the game which most people who’ll read this know, but some otherwise informed people to whom I‘ve spoken don’t. If the higher marginal rate starts at $250,000 only the income over that is taxed at a rate 4.9% higher. OK let’s call it five. If our “small businessman” makes $260,000 profit he pays $490 more in tax, only on the extra ten Gs

I’d like to make a point demonstrated by my father during his tenure as President of Paramount Pictures from 1936 t0 1964.* In the early 1950s he was so angered by what he considered a confiscatory rate on top personal income, something over 90%, that one year he returned a major portion of his salary to Paramount. During this whole period he maintained a life style that most people would consider luxurious. He evidently got by as usual on the income taxed at a lower rate plus what hadn’t been returned to the company.

I seriously doubt that he would have protested a top rate of 39.6%. But this is incidental to the fact that the tax at issue was then, as it is today, based on personal income, not on corporate profits. He didn’t decide that Paramount would make fewer pictures and in the process hire fewer people. He lacked the personal financial incentive, and most important the ethical prerogative. Yet here are the movers of big business claiming that if their personal taxes go up a trifle their corporate enterprises will be forced to reduce production and presumably profits.

This is not only disproportionate and dishonest, but a violation of their obligation to shareholders. Because higher ups are peeved at the government taking a little more of their personal wealth, it would mean  that working stiffs with a few shares of the corporation’s stock, many of them forty seven percenters with 401 Ks, would also have to get by with less. A corporate executive is an amployee To even threaten such action is at best questionable.

Only a minority of Republican voters participate in this charade. Still it’s this minority who benefit at the bank from all the votes, regardless of motive. This is today’s quintessential Republican Party at work. Us card carrying Democrats have been saying this for years. But no one could have stated our case more convincingly than Mitt Romney. I believe that a significant number of once unaligned voters will remember that the man who specified the 47% was a Republican long after they’ve forgotten that he was a stiff bumbling candidate. This is one sketch that’s etched in stone.

* To keep his job in perspective, this was a time when what are now called CEOs received a salary about forty times their average employee. Today the number is four hundred.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Welcome Stranger

Since reaching voting age in 1952 I have seen a few elections that left no doubt as to which party was the winner, in Congress and the presidency when both were at stake. One of them took place that year. Riding Ike’s coattails Republicans took the whole ball of wax, with the exception of losing Henry Cabot Lodge’s Senate seat to a young fellow named John Kennedy. The next watershed year was 1964 when Lyndon Johnson was elected by the largest percentage in history and carried with him enough Congressional votes to pass Medicare and Civil rights legislation. 1980 brought us Ronald Reagan, a Republican Senate and a casino mentality to the economy that persists to this day. “The Gipper” left his party armed with the image of a “welfare queen” and “strapping young buck,” helping Gingrich in his 1994 “contract with America” that regained much of the lost ground Bill Clinton had recovered. The intervals between these four elections were twelve, sixteen and twelve years respectively.

For those who haven’t noticed, every election since 2006 has been of this sea change variety, with major Democratic gains in 2006, 2008 and this year, interrupted by the Tea Party conquest in 2010. It has clearly been a more volatile electorate for the past six years than the preceding fifty four. I don’t know what this augurs, but as a registered Democrat I’m of course pleased that we are three for four, particularly so about the fourth.

I think we can expect a more liberal approach to immigration by Republicans. The restrictive policies that the honchos allowed in the party platform this year were a sop to the Tea Party which cost them dearly. This issue was not a party favorite to begin with. It was none other than W who advocated easing immigration restrictions, either out of “compassionate conservatism” or a fondness for cheap labor, take your pick. In either case this is a mistake the establishment won’t make again. Remember Romney in a debate accusing Texas Governor Perry of being lax on immigration? As a personification of things Republican the man was lying through his teeth.

There may be much to be read into the recent election about the long term place of the Republican Party in American politics. But I’ll abstain for the time being because I’m a bit gun shy about making forecasts. When I confidently predicted that the party establishment would force Todd Akin out of the Missouri Senate race my crystal ball was in the repair shop. But you should eventually anticipate hearing from me on this subject because I’m expecting it back any year now.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Deep Throat Redux

By now I think most of us, including those too young to have lived through Watergate, know that “Deep Throat” was the appellation given by Woodward and Bernstein to the then anonymous source of the multiple scandals surrounding the “third rate burglary” that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation. This was a secret held by these journalists for more than thirty years until Mark Felt, a man lower on the totem pole than most of us suspected, revealed his role. This has been confirmed by Woodward and Bernstein.

We now have a Twenty First Century parallel in the person who recorded the famous 47% speech to a group of fifty grand a plate guests at a campaign dinner in Boca Raton, Fla. Ironically both Romney and Nixon were done in by electronics. We know that the recording was unearthed by James Earl Carter III, grandson of the former president, in what I consider a textbook example of poetic justice, and made public by David Corn, a reporter for Mother Jones Magazine. The identity of the person who installed the recording device is not known.

Obviously this person was not one of the guests and probably an employee at the establishment where the speech was made who didn’t see eye to eye with the assemblage. It’s a good bet that he, assuming the perpetrator was male, was one of the “minority” Romney said would never vote for him.

I can think of at least for one reason why Mark Felt kept his Deep Throat identity a secret until he was ninety one and I bet you can too. The same circumstances apply to our new super patriot. Where Deep Throat laid a trail directing others to Nixon’s hideout, this guy led us by the hand directly to Romney himself. There he is, talking to his gang and saying that he is “not concerned” with nearly half the people he is asking to elect him president.

Romney has been fairly accused of taking opposing positions, occasionally in the same day. But I say there is a real Mitt and you heard him in Boca Raton talking to the hoity toity, not posing as a “moderate” governor speaking to the hoi polloi of Massachusetts. When people, particularly politicians, say conflicting things to friends and the public you know which one to believe.

We may never know who our hero is. Like Mr. Felt he may have cause to feel constrained from coming out until he’s old enough not to give a damn. What a shame not to be able to honor him in some way. At least Felt could take pride in hearing the mention of Deep Throat. I think it fitting and proper that we give this guy a moniker as long as he chooses anonymity. The best I can come up with is “Deep Mike.” But I suppose in keeping with tradition of Woodward and Bernstein the choice should be left to the person most likely to know his identity and a hero in his own right, James Earl Carter III.