Americans are proud of their heritage of separation of church and state enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This amendment provides a foundation for pluralism and the equal protection under the law of all citizens. There was a practical reason for this Amendment; many of the states were settled by people of different religions. Puritans and Congregationalists in New England, Dutch Reformed in New York, Catholics in Maryland, Anglicans in Virginia, and Quakers in Pennsylvania. People in one of these states would not endorse a government in which the religion of another state was the official religion of the land. Continue reading →
Party names on ballots transform a government of the people into a government by groups. Most of the time voters will vote for a group they identify with rather than an individual candidate. After the election, it is those groups that control the corridors of power and the government. The government becomes a plutocracy in which the primary financial funders of the political parties control the legislation. This is one reason the United States today is neither the Democracy democrats talk about, nor the Republican form of representative government the U.S. Founders sought to create.
Group Names on Ballots Make Representatives Accountable to Groups, not Individual Citizens
The Republican Tax Bill Makes some changes to the tax code that will help promote jobs and economic growth and reduce taxes on the middle class. However, it fails to address serious loopholes and flaws that serve wealthier people and investors. It also fails to balance the budget. These are things the middle class will need to elect Democrats to do in a future session.
Weaknesses in the U.S. political system have allowed special interests behind both political parties to serve themselves at the expense of the middle classes. The Trump election was a signal that the middle classes could not continue to bear the bulk of the tax burden at the expense of the rich and the poor. Continue reading →
Principled Approaches to Displaying Public Monuments
The Charlottesville riots are the result of a poor decision process by the Charlottesville City Council. The right-wing protestors, the left-wing counter-protesters, and the statements by the Mayor, President Trump, and many news reporters were reactions to a decision that did not reflect the consent of the governed. It is not a mayor’s job, the media’s job, or a political party’s job, not the president’s job, to tell a people what they should believe, do, or say. The people living in a town or city should have a right to choose monuments for themselves. What does this statue mean to the citizens of Charlottesville? Slavery?—Maybe. Heroism?—Maybe. Group identity?—Maybe. Democracy?—Maybe. It means all of these things to some people and some of these things to others.
The purpose of this article is to offer a principled and non-violent approach to determining the display of public monuments. Consistent with the principles of “the will of the people,” and “consent of the governed” a large majority of the people of a territory should approve the erection or removal of public art. A 51% majority is insufficient to qualify as “the will of the people,” and a minimum of 2/3 and perhaps 80% more properly represents the will of the people. Failing to achieve that amount of support public land should remain empty or we can expect the possibility of violence. Continue reading →
A few days ago my dermatologist recommended an over-the-counter powder and a prescription cream for athletes’ foot. I bought the powder for about $5 at a local store, then went to the pharmacy who said that 48g of the cream, Alcortin A, would cost $8,000. It seemed unbelievable, but it was not a mistake. Like the nationwide scandals regarding Mylan’s EpiPens, and a $1,100 pill for Hepatitis C,Alcortin A, is an example of price gouging.
At $8,000 for 48g, this 2g sample pack would sell for $333.33
These drugs do not cost this much to make. While over-the-counter creams cost $5 to $20, Alcortin A’s inventor was selling the product for $189 before Novum Pharma acquired the patent and raised the price to astronomical heights, because insurance companies could be charged for it. This price gouging is possible because of a perfect storm of patent law and health insurance regulations. The patent holder has a monopoly on the product, and lack of flexible health insurance plans, usually paid for by third parties, forces buyers to pay the inflated price. While all these systemic problems should be addressed, this article proposes a patent law reform that would both (1) enable the patent holder to profit, and (2) return competitive market prices to the drugs. Continue reading →
Trump tweets, like Tarot cards, stimulate imagination
President Donald Trump’s tweets and “Trumpisms” have confused many people in both political parties and the media because they are not conventional modes of political or rational discourse. Rather, they tend to be unexpected short emotional concepts or outbursts, that generate a lot of reactions, positive and negative, as well as a lot of creative ideas.
Many people credit Trump’s victory to the emotional resonance that many middle-class citizens have with phrases like “drain the swamp,” “build the wall,” and “provide affordable health care,” even though there were very few well-articulated plans or policies yet developed to transform these ideas into reality.
Tarot cards, when used by a constructive Tarot reader, or the ancient Chinese Yi Jing (I Ching), work similarly to stimulate creative thoughts about problems people face. For example, a good Tarot reader who throws down the card “Death,” does not say “you are going to die,” but “you could die if you don’t alter your path.” And, other cards laid down in a spread convey other forces at work that can help you think about ideas for changes you could make.
Security services missed five opportunities to stop the Manchester bomber
The Homeland Security News Wire report that “U.K. Security Services missed several opportunities to stop Manchester suicide bomber” is eerily reminiscent of the failure of the FBI in the U.S. to respond to opportunities to stop the 9/11 attackers. Readers may remember that before the 9/11 attacks, FBI agent Colleen Rowley warned that Zacarias Moussaoui might be a terror suspect, but the report went unheeded and the September 11 attack killed over 3,000 Americans. These recurring problems indicate that these security agencies are not optimally structured to respond to security warnings.
Current appointment and hiring practices for government agencies, including security services, is an important reason that agencies’ priorities are misplaced, and not adequately responsive to citizen concerns. Continue reading →
The bitter partisan politics reflected in the invocation of the “nuclear option” in the ratification of the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court by Donald Trump reflects the unraveling of machinery of U.S. governance with political parties embedded in the present system. The same fundamental problem existed when the Republicans refused to affirm Merrick Garland. The underlying problem is that these two appointments became partisan appointments as soon as they became a topic for debate in the Senate, whether or not they were proposed by Presidents Obama and Trump for partisan reasons. This is a structural problem.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently chosen by a partisan political process
Over the last few decades the Supreme Court, which the founders did not intend to become a partisan body, has also become increasingly politicized with many decisions being brought and decided roughly along party lines. The consequences of the two political parties effectively hijacking the U.S. political system is becoming increasingly apparent, and checks and balances need to be either instituted or reinstituted to prevent this from happening.
The U.S. Tax system is a tangled web of laws and regulations. Some serve US citizens, while others increasingly serve the selfish interests of powerful groups and government officials at the expense of a growing economy and thriving Middle Class. In January 2016, when numerous candidates were running for the presidency, I published a list of the best policies of some of the major candidates. For Donald Trump, I said that his best point was middle class tax reform, specifically reducing the income tax on corporations that was causing corporations to flee, outsource jobs, and keep money overseas. Now that he has been elected president, and has a Republican Congress, it is time to look at the possibilities for shaping a new tax policy that stimulates jobs and the economy, without harming the middle class, as U.S. tax policies often do.
Core Trump Tax Proposals in January 2016
When Trump was campaigning his website included the following tax proposals that would help the middle class: reduce corporation taxes to 15%, eliminate the need to file income taxes if you earn less than $50,000, a graduated tax that is moderately progressive based on four or five tax brackets. These proposals would help the Middle Classes and society as a whole: Continue reading →
Not-for-profit corporations have long been used as a vehicle to evade taxes rather than to primarily serve as a charity or a public service. From TV evangelists and hospital directors building lavishly furnished buildings to the wealthy establishing non-profits to hire their children, and the IRS politicizing tax-exempt applications of the Tea Party, not-for-profit status has been frequently misused and under scrutiny.
Limit Non-Profit Salaries to the Median Income
Recent news reports say that Secretary of State John Kerry funneled over $9 million to a non-profit which pays his daughter $140,000 per year for 30 hours work per week. Family wealth has long been protected by establishing non-profit foundations and then hiring family members to run them. Originally, non-profits were largely voluntary organizations run by priests, nuns, and other voluntary social servants who lived a subsistence life, many taking personal vows of poverty. Using a non-profit as a funnel for self-enrichment does violence to the spirit for which non-profit status was created.
One way to limit some of the corruption is to limit the amount individuals can personally get paid from a not-for-profit corporation. Continue reading →