Monday, April 30, 2018

Those Who Learn Of History, Do They Learn From It?

A civic issue has entered upon a venue of my past, so the issue has a context that is not simply one of abstract opinion but resonates with actual experience. The civic issue is: What is the socially correct policy for public buildings, areas or artifacts that are named after an historic personage with an association to a behavior, belief or set of values that by today’s standards would be intolerable or illegal? It’s an issue because there isn’t a consensus on what the policy is or should be.

This isn’t a new societal issue, objecting to what something is named after has been around before and I have every expectation that it will be around again. It turns out that my high-school (Washington & Lee) is embroiled in the controversy over having a public facility named after individuals who had owned or supported slavery. This puts my high-school in the cross-hairs of the issue for both the Founding Fathers era (G. Washington) and the Confederacy (R. E. Lee); both were slave owners.

So, there is an effort to rename the school because its namesakes were slaveholders. This of course is the core of the issue given there are those who support renaming and those who do not. What makes matters quite difficult is that there really isn’t a correct answer. Neither side can prove their position, they can only present their reasoning and opinions. While I am sure their positions are known to be ‘right’ to themselves, this is not a scientific or mathematical right; it is a right set in their own viewpoints. In these circumstances the question that must be confronted is what the basis for each sides’ principles, values and judgements is? Comparing where ‘they’ versus ‘us’ are coming from may provide some insight into what might logically follows from either.

A central aspect of the issue is a consideration of what constitutes whether historic individuals should be judged or assessed by today’s standards or by the ‘Standards of Their Times’. To make this determination, we also must interject the question of who gets to decide today’s standards. While slavery is hopefully a settled societal violation, not all factors are necessarily as clearly agreed to and decided as a value, let alone as a legal imperative.

How does the Standards of Their Times versus today’s weigh in whether the individual is a person who can be respected or honored for the totality of their lives? Since in the case of my high-school there are two individuals from two different eras in which they lived, we have a three-way case to examine. This perspective may clarify if this is an ‘all or none’ issue or if there are at least several different degrees or levels to the question. This same perspective can be extended to additional time-periods if there is any sense that just within these three even one salient point is meaningfully different.

 We might as well strike straight at the question: Do the Standards of someone’s own time not matter in how we judge them by our own Standards of today? As with the nature of the original issue, there is no absolute and indisputably correct answer; there is only an answer that has some compelling justification to people’s values who live today. Oddly that doesn’t mean that today’s Standards set the bar.

Let’s use a current Standard (and legal precedent) that you can’t be prosecuted for violation of a law that was legislated and enacted after the fact. Now vile and inhumane as we view slavery today, this wasn’t the case in the Standards of Their Times. There certainly were mixed attitudes and opinions on slavery in both eras; but it wasn’t settled in either, in fact it had major consequences in both. It would seem inconsistent with one of our values that people have the right to views and actions that are not illegal. We can condemn the views from our privileged position of today, but is that the same as condemning the people themselves for how society was in their time?

Now you may accept that we should not condemn, but that doesn’t mean that we should honor them?

Again, we can look at the three different eras for context and comparison. What justifies whether an individual can be honored by today’s society? The current proposition of renaming the high-school is that G. Washington and R. E. Lee are not deserving of being honor (because they were slaveholders). It seems odd to consider that George Washington wouldn’t have a decent claim for being a figure that we should remember and admire, even despite the fact that he was a slaveholder. He wasn’t alone among our Founding Fathers to be a slaveholder nor was he a diehard advocate for slavery. He struggled with slavery as an institution but only had his slaves freed after his and his wife’s death. Note: his wife freed their slaves before her death. By the Standards of his times, he failed to make it to our Standards but he moved the issue forward if ever so slightly. Washington isn’t honored because he was a slaveholder. He isn’t honored because he advocated for its preservation. He’s honored for other actions and values. We can view him as a flawed individual (by today’s Standards) and he would probably agree with that. So, if he deserves some recognition for those attributes and accomplishments then what Standard of today would we cite for denying him that honor? Do we apply the same denial to Jefferson, Franklin, and other founders who in their time acted against a Standard we set beyond their graves?

Robert E. Lee, in a different era that still permitted slavery during most of his life, represents a very different case. He inherited his slaveholder status from his wife’s father and apparently didn’t question the situation other than acting as the executor and was charged with settling the estate including the slaves. He then returned to his military career. Before the Civil War, Lee was as well-respected and promising officer. When the South seceded from the Union, he chose siding with his home state over the nation though he purportedly ‘desired’ the preservation of the nation. In his era, state/regional affiliations were much more important than that are today. And even today regional identity is salient factor in people’s attitudes. He soon took charge of the Confederacy’s main army and was quite successful in most of his battles against larger Union forces. By the time of his surrender to Grant, Lee commanded all Union forces. His surrender ended the war.

 After the war, Lee sought reconciliation of the North and South; but equality of the races was not known to be a view he ascribed to. What then is Lee being honored for that coincides with values and principles that we would consider consistent with not just our time but also his own? It certainly wasn’t upholding slavery which even in his own time was doubtful as being presented as a virtue or social value. He was a notable American military officer and subsequently a successful Confederate general. His ties, loyalty and allegiance to Virginia is perhaps understandable for the times but was it a virtue in the context of his oath to serve and protect the nation? Had he and others not been paroled by Grant at Lincoln’s instruction, it is likely that Lee would have been charged with treason. Even by the Standards of his times, it’s not clear why from an American perspective Lee would be honored as an American icon; and as an icon of the Confederacy what is being honored? He may not deserve to be reviled by the Standards of his day but defining what exceptional qualities and values he possessed that we would extoll isn’t obvious. Perhaps the most benefit that would come from preserving his name for the school would be having to explicitly explain to its current and future students that he was a major figure in the nation’s and Virginia’s history on the wrong side of the slavery issue and who deserted the Union when it might have benefited most from his talents. Lee’s significance may be that he was an exceptional man for his times, sadly a product of those times, and a tragic and flawed person who can be a lesson for the future by remembering the errors of our past.

Now our history with slavery is a big issue in American. It has affected that history from before we were a nation. I raise this point because the Standards of those times: Pre-America, Revolutionary America, Civil War American, and today are more complex than we think that hard about. As despicable as slavery is it existed in several forms. This is not intended to diminish the extent or heinous aspect of the slavery imposed upon the Afro-Americans but to provide some context for what was common in the treatment of other people at the time. Native Americans were also enslaved during these periods. America was also a location for the British to “transport” penal colonists, even though American colonies tried to have it stopped. These convicts were sentenced to seven or fourteen years of labor after which they could ‘return’ to Britain. There was also a class of people who were ‘indentured servants’. Indentured servitude was essentially a contract binding the person to service for a period of time (4 to 7 years) in return for passage, room, and board. The indentured servant worked for the individual holding the contract.

What can one learn about the attitudes of the American societies that existed during these times? One thing is clear, the treatment of other human beings was not even remotely anti-enslavement or for that matter viewed all people as even worthy of being inherently free, let alone as an equal. Judging the past from the present is an exercise in misdirection, it neither changes that history nor demonstrates that we are learning from it. Again, there is no ‘right’ answer; although there is maybe a ‘good’ question: What is the proper way to recognize the good and the bad facets of our historic personages?

If there’s truth to the idea that “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”, it would be advantageous for our society to present our history honestly and accurately. This would include not whitewashing or omitting aspects of individuals that we do not admire or accept as values and standards of our society. Realistically we should know from the start that no historic figure is or was perfect even for their own times, that our own standards are not faithfully adhered to, and that our national standards and values will evolve with society itself.

What then to do about the name: Washington-Lee High School? It’s simple. Define the rules and reasons that determine what disqualifies a person’s name from being used. This would include specifying the scope and nature of what the rules apply to. I suppose it’s not all that simple after all. Consider which of the following would be included in the defining the rules:

  • ·         What are the Standards that establish a reason to justify a name change?

o   Slavery:  a slaveholder, slave trader, family member of slaveholder, member of Confederacy, person/entity employing an enslaved individual, …
o   Slavery of: any person, Afro-American, Native American, Oriental American, …
o   Indentured servant: contract holder, paid for use of servant, …
o   Robber Baron: capitalist who used exploitive business practices
o   Polygamy
o   Adultery
o   Avowed racist
o   Sex-offender
o   Murder
o   Drug trafficker
o   Other offenses
  • ·         What items would be subject to the rules?

o   monuments
o   buildings,
o   public areas
o   city names
o   state’s name
o   name of nation’s capital
o   private buildings
o   Art work
o   other thing?
  • ·         Who gets to decide?

o   Local government
o   State government
o   Federal government
o   Voters
o   A filed complaint against a specific item
o   Alumni (or individual who has a relationship with the item under consideration)
  • ·         How is the process administered?

The name of my high school isn’t particularly important to me. It’s just a place and in the scope of its import it has little weight to me. I recognize however that it is more meaningful to others. So, I find myself once again with a ‘there is no right answer’ attitude. So, if you want to change the name, I think you must make the case for the larger society and get their agreement. Define why it should change and establish a general process to be applied not just to this one case but as a universal principle. Personally, I would recommend that we agree to identify the current social value that the named individual did not possess.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Calculus of 21st Century War: As Illustrated in Syria’s Civil & Regional War

With the 2nd US military action against Syria in responding to its use of chemical weapons against its own citizens, the US and its allies have demonstrated another in a long line of examples of what constitutes a rationale and justification for engaging in a war-situation. You would think that we would know why nations go to war, and what the causes are that required it, and the objectives of ending the war are. If only it were that simple and that clear. Even an understanding of what defines being in a war is not something we understand.

When for example was the US last in a war? If you’re referring to a declared war, then it was World War II. This must seem not just incorrect but impossible given the events that have transpired in your own lives since then. But it was the term ‘declared’ that tripped you up. Instead of being at war as ‘declared’ by Congress, the US has been engaged in ‘military engagements’ that were authorized by Congress (Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq) or by the United Nations (e.g., Korean, Persian Gulf, Bosnian). So, the US’s engagement in Syria is an ‘Authorization for Use of Military Force’, it’s not a war; well, not to us. So, this is one conceptual change that has taken place over the last sixty years. Wars are now the big threat to be denied even while we invest the lives of our military and civil servants, our national treasury, and our values in ‘military engagements’.  Now if you want to know why we do this, it’s primarily because of politics. The US can’t get involved in declared wars without Congressional approval, so Presidents have navigated our way into conflicts via alternate techniques. Congresses have likewise sought ways to curtail/limit the power (and concurrently the risk) of allowing the President in engaging in ‘wars’ while recognizing that there are situations that demand an ability to make decisions that cannot await a Congressional process.

So, whether we are at war or not, the US is absolutely engaged in armed conflicts. Syria is one such conflict. But the purpose in being in a conflict also has to be based on some rationale that serves the overall interests of the nation. In the case of Syria, the US’s involvement was targeted at the elimination of the ISIS caliphate in support of the War on Terror (it’s ok to use the term ‘War’ even for ‘engagements’). The objective was to prevent the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate lead by terrorists and to help resolve the Syria Civil War. Now the war to eliminate ISIS was another effort to protect American interests; the tangential goal to resolve the Syria Civil War may not have been a significant factor in that decision.

Now the missile attacks on Syria forces would seem inconsistent with both the ISIS and the Civil War objectives, in that it doesn’t have a readily available rationale for how those attacks apply. The prevalent reason given for the attacks is independent of those goals and is explained as required because of the illegal use of chemical weapons. This would seem to be a sound and reasoned justification, except for a couple of things.

First, if the use of chemical weapons requires a response then as there have been numerous chemical attacks and not just the two, it would seem the use of chemical weapons doesn’t require a response but can be used to justify one. Perhaps it’s because when chemical weapons are used they indiscriminately kill civilians.

Second, if indiscriminately killing non-combatants provides the basis for attacking the perpetrator then the US doesn’t appear to have a problem with members of the Syria coalition violating that condition. The use of random bombing and targeting by area is clearly killing many civilians without any apparent consideration of who is dying. So maybe it’s a simple ratio that must be violated; like 1 terrorist killed can justify 10 civilian deaths. There hasn’t been any disclosure of such a metric but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one although I would doubt politicians and military leaders would be stupid enough to use such a rule. Any time there will be both terrorist and civilian deaths, I suspect that there are assessments about how to minimize civilian deaths (at least by US forces).

Third, is the use of chemical weapons as a justification for such missile attacks consistent with concurrently allowing civilian deaths in other forms logically sound and reasoned? If more civilians are killed with conventional weapons then it isn’t the death of civilians that matters, it just the means used. This leads to a conclusion that other nations don’t care about the civilians dying, but the danger to themselves that allowing a chemical attach to go un-responded to. This is not a humane justification, but a self-interest rationale. One can argue that it makes sense to get international agreement that use of indiscriminate chemical weapons places the offending nation(s) under retaliatory penalties, but you can’t and should claim the penalty was because of the civilians who died. It even makes more sense to justify the attacks on the basis of ‘you use them, the world punishes you’.

So, if the US cares about the death of civilians by chemical weapons because it’s inhumane and cannot be tolerated then why is their death by other means humane? Do the civilians who die by other means not suffer, or is it that they only suffer less? Down this road is insanity, deciding what is ok and what is not when it comes to kill people indiscriminately provides a path to mass murder that is safe.

What then is the responsibility of the US in the Syrian Civil War? It comes down to what the US has determined its goals to be, why those goals are relevant to the nation and it’s interests, and what attaining those goals will require. The clarity of our policy is dubious or at least our actions are not clearly aligned with a policy that would seem reasoned.

Are we at War? Yes. Do we have a national policy for it? Unclear. Is the public informed and willing to support the War? No. And this leaves the US vulnerable to not having a policy, strategy or the will to serve the nation’s interests and values.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Why Are You Upset About Politics? It May Be Just Normal Behavior

It’s not surprising that America’s politics is partisan. After all the very essence of a two-party system is a two-sided contest pitting one group against the other. The evolution of our political parties hasn’t been constant or rational but it’s unquestionably highly driven by basic human motivations. We can hardly be shocked that a social enterprise is influenced, if not dictated by, the factors that control so much of what individuals do. You may want to believe that our politics and our political parties reflect the contest between different ideas for how to move society forward and fulfill the social contract that established our nation. So, does this mean that the public is inevitably doomed to being divided and opposed to the ‘other’ side? While that is what appears to be the case today, it isn’t necessary nor is it clearly true even today.

Now in establishing our nation, it should be noted that there were not two political parties as we would think of them today but there were two-perspectives on a variety of issues that fought over the structure, design and implementation of government. In the end, there were compromises on how to accommodate and reconcile the different views. This was done however without any definitive political party-based organizations or allegiances to ideologies blessed by those non-existent parties.
Regardless the seeds for parties were sown and quickly grew. This was as much due to how government was structured and required to operate as it was to basic human-nature. If you consider the idea of having three separate branches of government than getting anything done is going to necessitate getting a cohort of individuals to coalesce on agreeing to take an action. With the requirement to team-up you are going to join with a group that helps you, that you don’t have fundamental conflicts with, and that gives you a sense of belonging. Add to this that as a group you have more power and resources that can enable you to win small and big contests then a ‘party’ is created. A consequence of Party was the ‘them’ versus ‘us’ phenomenon; nothing new in human politics but initiating an evolutionary force shaping American politics.

Along with a ‘them versus us’ narrative were the emotional levers that politicians and political parties choose to employ.  If you’re unfamiliar with the emotional levers used in politics, I am sure you are aware of them in general. Politicians play on our emotions constantly, and they have done so from the beginning. Included in the emotional repertoire that politics will seek to exploit are: fear, hate, anger, greed, envy, desire, pride, vanity, revenge, popularity/belonging, sex/gender/appeal, and status/image; just to name a few. These are all basic human experiences that direct, motivate and guide a huge amount of our thinking, decisions and actions. It is for that reason that politicians use them, they work. That is, they work on you; that doesn’t mean that they work for you and your interests only on your behavior.

You may have learned in school that our Founding Fathers used some of these in their campaigns for themselves or against their opponents. You are probably more personally aware of some of these factors being used during elections that you have witnessed or participated in. You will surely experience them in upcoming elections. Why? Because the work! They even work again and again, from one generation to the next. Consider how long the ‘communism’ threat has been around, played by politicians and dictating the direction of campaigns, politicians and voters. This is hardly a rare example of emotional messaging being used to achieve a political advantage. America has lived through the politics of: communism/democracy, nationalism/globalism, climate change/not, environment/industry, racism/equality, sexism/equality, welfare/safety net/personal responsibility, universal healthcare/pay-as-you-go healthcare, gun-rights/gun-violence/gun-control, tax system: flat/progressive/corporate/individual/this way/that way, national security/immigration, trade: domestic/international/global, and …

If these issues, problems or societal questions need to be answered, and they do; then given that a partisan government and political process is intimately involved, the politicians must choose how to gain support for their position(s) and sufficient voters to elect them over their opponents. One dimension of that choice is how to present the issue to those voters you need to win over, or more easily to choose to adopt the views your voters will respond to emotionally and have that determine your positions.  And this is where the emotional factors come it. They are easy to use, and emotions are effective if you can connect them to the public’s (your voters’) general situation, concerns and local social views. Conveniently, you can use different emotional levers on separate issues with unique voter groups.

The ‘emotional’ voter could be considered an unused term for the ‘one-issue’ voters. By appealing to those aspects of their lives that evoke an emotional response, the politicians don’t have to do the heavy-lifting of informing or explaining their policies and positions. If the politician gets a connecting emotional response they have the voter. So, if I tell you that you’re being robbed by the ‘government’ to give your hard-earned money to people that didn’t earn it and that evokes some anger, hate, fear, or other emotion and as a politician you ‘promise’ to stop it, you have that voter on your side. You don’t have to prove your claim if the response comes first.

Now every voter isn’t an emotional voter, but you don’t need every voter to be. You just need enough to tip the scales. Add to this that some voters are ‘emotional’ regarding their political party itself. They have always been a member of the “Party”, their father and grandfather were, their brothers and sisters are, their neighbors and friends are, and they are a ‘loyal’ supporter of the “Party’s” ideological principles. This could as easily be an emotional determinant as a reasoned determinant. Being a member of the tribe, the community, the family is important and it may even be necessary to be able to succeed in the local environment.

So, is it any wonder that our Political Parties spend huge sums on negative campaign ads? The negative focus is nothing more than using the emotional dimension of an issue or situation to gain your support, because it’s easy. It’s certainly easier than providing a sound, reasoned, and fact-based explanation of what an issue is, what it’s underlying causal factors are, what your policies for addressing the issue are, and why those are the right policies and ones that will work. Even stating what you need to do instead of an emotional ad is more difficult than saying play to their ‘emotions’: fear, hate, anger, …

This describes the virulent and volatile divide that we see in our politics; playing to the crowd. Oddly, it doesn’t explain the closeness of the partisan divide; unless that divide is basically just random, that is each voter is little more than a chip drawn from a pool which is statistically 50 / 50. There’s a better explanation than that but you’ll have to await the “What Does the Divisive Polarized Partisan Divide Mean? Perhaps Not What You Think” article to come.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Intelligence Committee’s Republican Memo: A Test of Intelligence – Intelligence Test.

The Republicans have released their memo on the abuse by the DOJ/FBI and other intelligence agencies regarding their investigations into Russian activities and possible interference in US elections and policies. The Democrats are attempting to get their memo’s release approved which is not a given. This trust in our DOJ/FBI is an important issue in regard to our national government and democratic system. Of course, the question is: What is the salient issue or issues? Now that’s an interesting question because the memo / report / claims have become an independent issue of their own. How exciting to be able to assess the reasoning and judgement that we might expect of our elected officials. Of course, we ‘might’ become unease with how the issue is understood and what follows from examining the question of how the operation of the Intelligence Committee occurred.
Well, in a democracy it’s each of our responsibilities to question whether our elected officials are serving the public or other interests. In this test, the questions will indicate the path you want taken. So, if you have a preference for some ideology that differs from often stated American values then you should be willing to accept the consequence that such differences might cause.
If you find an intelligence test about our Congressional Intelligence Committees (House and Senate) amusing or disturbing, it’s just an intellectual exercise in building trust or distrust in our political parties and process. WARNING: Trust must be hard earned; though it is easily lost.
Question A:   What is Congress’s responsibility regarding the Dept. of Justice and associated entities?
Select those that apply.
(1). Funding
(2). Provide direction of their work
(3). Oversight
(4). Pass legislation authorizing DOJ/entities programs
(5). None of above
Question B:   The Intelligence Committees (IC) have responsibilities to:
Select those that apply.
(1). Oversee Intelligence entities
(2). Advise Department and agencies on legality of work
(3). Budget
(4). Being notified regarding covert actions
(5). Insure operations are consistent with laws
(6). Investigates agencies when accused of wrong-doing
(7). Propose legislation to Senate Committee regarding Intelligence community and operations
Question C:   To whom does Intelligence Committee(s) report any violations of the law within the DOJ or entities?
Select those that apply.
(1). President
(2). Vice-President
(3). Senate Majority Leader
(4). Speaker of House
(5). Attorney General
(6). Inspector General
(7). House and Senate
Question D:   By whom would a violation by an entity within the DOJ be Investigated (I), Prosecuted (P) and Resolved (R)?
Indicate which entity would perform a task with an I , P , or R.
(1). Intelligence Committee(s)
(2). Attorney General’s office
(3). Supreme Court
(4). Inspector General’s office
(5). An appointed Special Prosecutor
(6). Deputy Attorney General
(7). Federal Circuit Court
(8). Federal Bureau of Investigation
Question E:    Who would decide if a violation within an DOJ entity occurred?
(1). Intelligence Committee(s)
(2). Attorney General’s office
(3). Inspector General’s office
(4). An appointed Special Prosecutor
(5). Federal Circuit Court
(6). Deputy Attorney General
(7). President
(8). Congress
Question F:    Are the Intelligence Committees competent to make an assessment of abuse?
(1). Yes
(2). No
Question G:   What would a finding that the claims made by either/both Intelligence Committees are unfounded, false or politically motivated cause?
Select all that apply.
(1). Nothing
(2). A report would be issued
(3). It would become a political issue
(4). Someone of no import would have to resign
Question H:   If you didn’t trust Congress, didn’t trust the FBI/DOJ, and didn’t trust the Administration; who would you trust to determine if there was a violation of the law that an Intelligence Committee’s report indicates may have happened?
Select those that apply.
(1). No one
(2). Independent Special Prosecutor
(3). STEM-oriented leadership investigation team
(4). Intelligence officials retired prior to ‘issue’
(5). Joint Congressional, DOJ, and Judicial lead team
(6). Triumvirate of Legal Scholars (preferably not Party aligned)

Answer - A:  1, 3, 4
Rationale - A:      Because Congress authorizes all funding for the federal government’s activities, Item 1 is a given. It’s would not be important in this issue unless Congress were going to restrict funding or resources to deny the DOJ and entities the ability to do their work.

Congress gave themselves an oversight role (Item 2) on the DOJ to help insure that the DOJ didn’t operate outside their authorized arena and to investigate corruption and abuse. So, we have a group of untrustworthy individuals monitoring our law enforcement entities. Nothing dangerous there.

When and where Congress finds a need to alter the scope of the DOJ, Congress would be the authorizing body. To the extent that Congress passes such legislation (Item 4), it becomes the DOJ’s responsibility to execute the law. This would not include Congress directing the work; they would only oversee that it is done properly.
Answer - B:  1, 4, 5, 7
Rationale - B:      Item 1 is affected through the Committee. Items 4 and 5 are part of the process of oversight. Item 7 is how Congress carries out any changing and adapting the DOJ’s functions and operations as they determine are needed.

Item 6 isn’t directly the responsibility of the IC, they can decide for themselves that they will investigate; however, the Inspector General’s office is the more appropriate place to conduct misconduct, corruption or abuse within a DOJ entity.

Item 2 is not an IC role since that was done by Congress in passing legislation. Item 3 is a Congress role (Question A).
Answer - C:  5, 6, 1
Rationale - C:      First, let’s premise the following with a proviso that the person or entity that is suspected or determined to have violated the law would not be informed by the IC. So, if the violation included the Attorney General, the IC would not notify the Attorney General (AG) of their office.

The AG would be the logical place for being notified first. The AG would then direct the Inspector General (Item 6) to initiate an investigation, which is the entity that would pursue such charges.

Notification of other offices, like the President, would rest with the AG and that office’s determination that there was a substantive reason for notifying additional entities that would not compromise the investigation and/or was required because of those entities’ responsibilities in other areas.
Answer - D:  4 = I, 2 = P, 7 = R
Rationale - D:      Inspector General (Item 4) would investigate unless it was a violation by this office, which would revert to AG assuming investigation responsibility.

Prosecution would be by AG (Item 2, unless violation was AG itself).

Resolution would be via the Federal Circuit Court (Item 7) in which the case’s jurisdiction would appropriately belong.

Answer - E:  1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8
Rationale - E:      Since a violation might occur in any number of different entities of the DOJ and related to many different situations, this isn’t a particularly answerable question. However, in cases where a perceived violation surfaces it could come from activities that are a normal part of all the listed entities (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8).

The missing Items 5 and 7 are just not involved in activities that would surface a violation or that wouldn’t already involve one of the other entities on the list.
Answer - F:  2 – No
Rationale - F:      The IC gets reports and briefings to keep them appraised on what programs and activities are taking place. If some event occurs that raises questions within the IC they may try to get information, but they are largely not analyst, or skilled in investigative work, and they will not be doing the work anyway. So, no they are not competent to make an assessment. That’s what other bodies are for and are delineated to do, e.g., Inspector General’s office.

Answer - G:  1 - Nothing
Rationale - G:     The IC(s) would state that they worked with the relevant parts of government to determine that nothing was found or could be proven to be a violation of the law; and so, they would say they did their job. Of course, if they didn’t have substantive evidence upon which to make a claim there would have been no need to demonstrate that it was false.

There would certainly be a report issued about the issue, but it would not be particularly meaningful.

It is likely that it would be a political issue since there is no reason in politics to be concerned about truth, integrity or intelligence.

Answer - H:  3, 6, 2, 4 (ordered by precedence)

Rationale - H:      If you selected 1 – No one, I can appreciate your distrust of our political officials, but in a democracy, you have to determine who you will accept to make a fair and appropriate decision. It’s good to question those elected or who are part of our government, but at some level you have to decide on what basis you accept or reject what they say and do.

Item 3 – A STEM-oriented leadership team operating based on reasoning, logic and problem-solving approaches (and wasn’t politically aligned) would arrive at an assessment that reflects the information assembled and conclusions that could be traced back to that information.

Item 6 – A Triumvirate of Legal Scholars that follows the law would represent a group that offers some basis for granting some credibility in an investigation’s outcome. The trio would have to be recognized as unbiased, unpartisan and honorable.

Item 2 – An Independent Special Council while the most likely to be the recommended approach presents the partisan politics problem in choosing someone to lead it and in what entities’ resources are involved.

Item 4 – Retired Intelligence officials, retired prior to issue, may be acceptable to public if they are not viewed as overly partisan or identified to a particularly ideology; but they will easily fall to political attacks that reduce the trust that the decision they reach would have.

Monday, December 4, 2017

American Intelligence Test: You’ll Know Tax Reform By Its Fruits

Tax Reform is in the offing with the Senate’s passage of its version of the House’s “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” bill. The title is not an unimportant or irrelevant set of words, particularly the word ‘Jobs’. Embedded in the justification for Tax Reform is the objective, goal, ‘Promise’ of Jobs. The reason this is salient is that there must be underlying reasons that the Tax System needs to be changed, else why is it important to change it? With Republican control of the government, they are positioned to accomplish what their ideology and policies are founded upon. So, it can be expected that the new Tax System will align with, support and deliver upon those principles; and the reasons that Republicans promised will come forth as the “Fruits of their labor”.
Conveniently, the nation can and should take this opportunity to test and validate the reasons and results promised by the Republicans, the ‘Cause and Effect’ of their ideology, judgement and intelligence. Now to derive the value from this opportunity it is essential that we know what it is that can be expected from the Republican tax plan. This may not be obvious to everyone, or even most people, but if you don’t know what to expect then you won’t know if you achieved it. This doesn’t mean that everyone will agree on what to expect or how it should be measured; but without attempting to define it, we relinquish our dignity and the honor we would rightfully claim from fulfilling our duty to our American values.
What then are the outcomes, the results and expectations that are to be delivered by the Tax Reform effort? Since the House and Senate have passed their versions of the bill, it should be very easy to know what to expect. There may be some variations in the absolute values from some facets of the bills until they are reconciled and ultimately passed and signed into law; but there should be little room for misunderstanding of what direction and types of outcomes will come.
Shall we see how well you do in defining these, and how aligned you and your Congress are in the world to come? This may be the most important test you ever take. Choose wisely.
 Question A:   What are reasons it’s important to pass tax bill? Select all that apply.
(1). Reduce size of government
(2). Reduce taxes on lower income wage earners
(3). Increase wages
(4). Reduce taxes on middle income wage earners
(5). Increase tax revenues
(6). Reduce taxed on higher income wage earners
(7). Increase corporate investments in domestic production
(8). Recover tax revenues from overseas profits of US corporations
(9). Increase domestic employment
(10). Reduce National Debt
(11). Grow Small Businesses
(12). Increase portion of overall wealth held by lower and middle-class families
(13). Improve American competitiveness
(14). Increase the US’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) level
(15). All the above

Question B:   Which reasons for tax bill can be quantified and measured? Select all that apply.
(1). Use Items from Question A as Choices for this question.

Question C:   How would you know Jobs improved because of Tax Reform?
(1). There would be more jobs
(2). Total taxable wages from jobs would be higher
(3). The rate of jobs growth would increase for a sustained interval
(4). Employment level would be higher
(5). Average wages in each tax bracket would increase

Question D:   Will your personal taxes and individual economic situation improve?
(1). Yes
(2). No
(3). Yes at first, but then No
(4). Not at first, but then Yes
(5). I don’t know

Question E:    Who benefits under new Tax Code?
(1). Everyone
(2). Wage earners under $50K
(3). Wage earners under $100K
(4). Wage Earners under $500K
(5). Wage Earners under $1M
(6). Wage Earners over $1M
(7). Corporations
(8). Small Businesses
(9). Non-wage incomes under $100K
(10). Non-wage incomes under $1M
(11). Non-wage incomes over $1M
(12). Estates under $11M
(13). Estates over $11M
(14). No One

Question F:    How would you know wages improved because of Tax Reform?           
(1). Your paystub would be higher
(2). Your level of personal debt would be lower
(3). Your cost-of-living would be lower
(4). Wages would increase above average rates that have occurred over last 5 years in each tax bracket

Question G:   Would your personal wealth increase because of Tax Reform?
(1). Decrease
(2). Increase
(3). Stay the same
(4). I don’t know

Question H:   How would you know the Economy improved because of Tax Reform?
(1). Gross Domestic Product would be higher
(2). National Debt would be lower
(3). Inflation stays below 3%
(4). Gross Domestic Product increases at a higher rate than last 8 years
(5). Wages are higher
(6). Trade Deficits are declining

Question I:      How would the distribution of wealth change in US under Tax Reform?
(1). Increase
(2). Decrease
(3). Stay the same
(4). Greater percentage of wealth is held by upper 1%
(5). Lower percentage of wealth is held by lower 99%
(6). There is no way to measure this

Question J:    Will the Nation’s Debt be higher or lower after 4 years, 8 years, 10 years? Assign each term to a category. Answer for each year range.
(1). Higher
(2). Lower
(3). Stay roughly the same

Question K:   Will Corporate investments require Government Infrastructure investments?
(1). Yes
(2). No

Question L:    If wages don’t meaningfully increase, employment rate doesn’t increase, wealth ownership for lower and middle-class doesn’t increase, and national debt doesn’t decrease will the Tax Reform bill have delivered on its “Promises”?
(1). Yes
(2). No

Question M:   How would you define “Failure” for the Tax Reform bill? Select all items that you would include.
(1). Wages versus Cost-of-Living is at or below where I am now (in 2017 dollars)
(2). Employment level is less than it is now
(3). National Debt is higher
(4). Average wages grew slower than Inflation
(5). Upper 1% control more of nation’s wealth
(6). Average personal taxes are higher as percent of income in each tax bracket except top

Now that the test is done, you may find solace in advice from the past.
Quote: My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure. – Abraham Lincoln

Answer - A:  Items 2 through 11, and 13, 14
Rationale - A:      These items are expectations, claims or promises that have been made about the results from the tax bill. It is by delivering upon these items that the nation will be better off under this governmental funding process. The needs of government will be funded as it is today via taxes. The Tax Reform is just changing how that will occur, and what must happen within the US’s economy for it to work.

This doesn’t mean that Item 1 won’t be required under the bill, but it isn’t directly cited as a reason to undertake the reform.

As to Item 12 – wealth distribution, it isn’t discussed or accounted for. This doesn’t mean that the new tax policy won’t have an impact, only that it is not a stated objective or goal against which to measure or assess the results.

Answer - B:  Items 2 through 11, and 13.   Note: 1, 12 and 14 are also measurable.
Rationale - B:      Every item in Question 1 can be measured in one or more ways, including those that aren’t implicitly claimed by proponents of Tax Reform bill. The ability to measure them should be properly understood as not inherently demonstrating a causal improvement from the tax bill without having a proper reference for what are normal rates of change in those factors. If for example GDP were to increase going forward, to assess the causal impact of the tax bill you must know how it has been changing previously to say the ‘rate of change’ changed.

Answer - C:  3
Rationale - C:      Since jobs have been increasing for over 8 years, just the fact that there are more in the future isn’t attributable to the tax reform bill. Likewise, if there are more jobs there ought to be more taxable wages going forward. This is why Item 3 is the right answer. Tax Reform to have an impact has to demonstrate a change in direction or amount relative to the run-rate that has been delivered for the past 8 years.

The above explains why Item 4 need not be caused by the Tax Reform unless it is a meaningful change above what has been already occurring in the economy. Likewise, Item 5 needs a quantifiable gain above the ‘norm’ or it’s just more ‘business as usual’ and not caused by the tax bill.

Answer - D:  5 - In the context of this test, the most informed (or uninformed) answer is 5.
Rationale - D:      I have no idea what the new tax code will do to or for you personally; hence the ‘uninformed’ qualifier in the answer above.

You probably have your own view of what the outcome will be; but it’s more a hope or expectation than a known quantity. If the answer were considered in the context of the whole nation, where that perspective is important in the total impact relative to everyone then you surely can’t know but only hope. Other questions in this test offer insight into how you would define the conditions that ought to be a basis for making that determination.

Answer - E:  Some of the people in Items 2 through 13 for at least some period of time.
Rationale - E:      That some will benefit in the initial year or two of the plan is assured if for no other reason than even politicians can’t find a way to insure only those they need to benefit will benefit. Now as to what happens over time, that will depend upon many things. The new tax code doesn’t and can’t insure anything unless the underlying factors that determine the results to the economy, the public and the nation are delivered in ways that accomplish those ‘promises’, expectations and beliefs. Such results rely upon the laws of physics, principles of economic, societal reactions to those outcomes, and unfortunately decisions made by politicians.

Answer - F:  4
Rationale - F:      Your wages only increase if valued against a measure to places your wages in the proper comparative context. If your wages double but everyone else’s triples, I doubt you would find your wages actually increased.

So, just more money in your pay isn’t necessary an improvement; nor is lower personal debt necessarily tied to better wages (you may have had to file for bankruptcy). As to whether your wages are higher if the cost-of-living is lower is an item for discussion. It may be lower cost-of-living does equate to a higher wage equivalent, but you may or may not agree.

Answer - G:  4 - You might be able to answer this for yourself, but for the majority of tax-payers it depends upon how it works out over time.
Rationale - G:     For example, if you are wealthier off in the first four years by $X dollars, but are worse off in the last 6 years by $Y dollars the it will depend upon how X compares to Y.

This will be true for Corporations and Small Businesses just as much as it does for individuals. The lower Corporate tax rate doesn’t guarantee that a company will be better off; that depends upon the impact that the new Tax Code has across the entire economy. If it screws up the consumer markets it may really hurt Corporations that are directly dependent upon consumers. It will be easier for a company to make a profit with a lower rate but that doesn’t’ mean the company will.

Answer - H:  2, 4, 6
Rationale - H:      For the options given 2, 4 and 6 would be positive indicators of an improving Economy. There are conditions where a declining 2 - National Debt may not be, but that requires some severe circumstances so should that happen our National Debt is probably the least of our problems. A lower National Debt would generally be economically good news.

Items 4 and 6 are fairly good and reliable measures of economic growth, so as a measure they should be expected. Now how much they change depends upon what is normal and thus if Tax Reform has an impact then it has to increase more than that normal level of change at least over some time. It would also be expected to retain the increased level of normal improvement once any effect of the Tax-Reform effect ceased.

Answer - I:  4 – The rich will get richer (by rich, it’s the very rich {top 0.1%} that will get richer).
Rationale - I:        There’s nothing in the Tax Reform Act that is oriented to address the question or issue of wealth distribution within the nation. Add to this the changes which will occur will do little to nothing to alter the current dynamics that drive the manner in which wealth is accumulated differentially over the population.

This does raise the question of how the middle-class’s improvement is defined within the ideology behind the new Tax System.

Answer - J:  4-Years: 1,  8-Years: 1,  10-Years:  1
Rationale - J:       The general assessment is that it will be higher. Now that in and of itself doesn’t tell you directly whether that is an improvement of, an erosion of, or no real difference to the nation’s economy. However, unless there is an unrealistically drastic increase in the broad measures of the economy higher national debt will not be good for the Economy.

Answer - K:  Yes
Rationale - K:      Given the degraded nature of much of the nation’s infrastructure, the expectation that Corporations and businesses will invest in their own infrastructure will necessitate some public investment in public infrastructure. Inadequate public infrastructure will present a risk and in many locations a barrier to corporate investment. So there is an unstated, but hopefully not unrecognized, imperative for government spending that will coincide with the private sector’s investments. This alone could be jeopardy to the expectations and the assessment of the to be delivered benefits from the Tax Reform Act.

Answer - L:  No
Rationale - L:      While you may want to argue that not all these items have to be delivered for the national economy to improve because of the tax bill, it’s highly improbable that it can do so without most improving and maybe one not losing ground. It is unlikely that the benefits required to justify the Tax Reform bill can be achieved without these measurable items being part of the outcome.

Answer - M:  1, 2, 4, 5, 6
Rationale - M:     All the items except 3 would indicators that the Tax Reform bill has failed. As noted in Questions H and J more debt is highly likely to be an economic sign of failed policy, but there can be conditions where it would be neutral to positive even if unlikely.

As for the other items, they reflect contradictory conditions which the Tax Reform was to deliver. So, if these items were to be improved under the bill and they didn’t or declined then a rational description of the outcome is ‘failure’.