Thursday, November 1, 2018

Birthright Citizenship

The current hot-button domestic issue is something called 'Birthright Citizenship'.  It is the doctrine that anyone born in the United States (with a few exceptions) is automatically a citizen of the United States.  The argument centers around children of illegal aliens: a pregnant woman crosses the border illegally, births her child, and then demands to stay because her child is a citizen and she can't leave her child, can she?  The child is called 'an anchor baby'.

The problem arises because the 14th amendment says (right up front):

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

This is pretty plain-spoken and can be misinterpreted only in the presence of a serious Jones to do so.  Those who wish to misinterpret it will explain, slowly and carefully so you catch all the words, that this was phrased this way in order to enfranchise slaves who had previously not been considered 'persons' and that no one had anticipated people coming here just so their offspring could be natural-born citizens.

That position is probably correct, but the wording of the 14th amendment sits there staring back at us.  That may have been what they meant, but that's not what they wrote.  They wrote "all persons" and "subject to the jurisdiction" and "are citizens".  If this ever goes before SCOTUS and they rule that anchor babies are not really citizens, they will be 'legislating from the bench', something the GOP hates when Democrats do it, and the Democrats hate when the GOP does it.

Further, the whole debate dances around the real issue, carefully ignoring it — because if we can ignore it long enough, no one will notice that it's there — we hope.  The real issue is that we have turned the United States into a stereotypical welfare state.  Can't afford food?  Yes, you can have food stamps.  Can't afford rent?  Yes, you can have an AFDC supplement.  Don't worry about school; it's free.  Arrested and can't afford an attorney to defend you in court?  Miranda!

The people worrying about 'anchor babies' and 'illegal aliens' are really worried that somebody will arrive on our doorstep and demand a piece of cake that should justly be reserved for Real Americans™.  They will deny it, of course, but it has to be true.  We are in a job-surplus position at the moment — too many jobs and not enough people to fill them — so if Real Americans™ were worried them Messicans were going to take our jobs...  which jobs?  The ones there aren't enough workers to fill?  The only thing 'adding more workers' to the mix would do is bump the GDP up a notch or two.  Horrors!

We don't have 'an illegal alien problem'.  We have 'a welfare state problem'.  Fix the 'welfare state problem', and the illegal alien problem will evaporate like dew on a Summer morning.

Arab Culture and Other Myths

Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post reporter critical of the Saudi regime. strolls into his local Saudi embassy and is never seen again.  Turkey claims that he was killed by strangulation seconds after entering the building, dismembered, and the body parts spirited away, although how they might know this is anybody's guess.

Two sisters, Saudis, go missing in Virginia and are only found when their lifeless bodies, bound back-to-back waist and ankles with duct tape, wash up on the shores of the Hudson River.  They had applied to the United States for political asylum.  The cause of death is unknown, but a preliminary autopsy reveals that they were alive when they went into the water.  'Drowning' is not, apparently, within the coroner's vocabulary.  Their family has been ordered by the Saudi government to return home immediately.

In Pakistan, a Christian woman must have said something she shouldn't have.  She was arrested for blasphemy, a capital offense there, tried, and convicted.  This week, an appeals court overturned her death sentence and now one of Pakistan's political parties is calling for the death of the judges who deprived them of the joy of seeing her head lopped off by a scimitar.

President Trump, Mike Pompeo, and scores of others are trying to make nice with the Saudis for reasons that are not at all clear.  It may have something to do with the $1.3 billion they're planning to spend at Northrop-Grumman, Lockheed-Martin, and a clutch of other military equipment suppliers.  The American people may be starting to notice that we're supplying one of the most murderous regimes on Earth with equipment they may one day turn on their former friends (us), just as they are now doing in Syria.

There are two kinds of Muslim.  The first kind wants to kill all the unbelievers.  The second kind wants somebody else to kill all the unbelievers.

Selling these people things they can kill with is an absolutely insane foreign policy.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Representation Without Taxation

One of the issues over which we Americans fought our Revolutionary War was "taxation without representation".  We were being taxed by the Crown (King George III) and denied the ability to choose our own representatives in Parliament.  There were other issues, of course, but that was one of the biggies that could get those unruly colonists to rise up in revolt.

Our Constitution is written to, among other things, guarantee that every taxed American is represented — mostly.  The Territory of Puerto Rico, for example, has no representative in Congress, and therefore Puerto Ricans do not have to pay income taxes to the federal government.  They have their own local government and pay local taxes to support that.  The same is generally true of Guam and other territories:  if you can't vote for a Congressional representative, you don't get taxed.  (This is not 100% true 100% of the time, but it's 'close enough for government work'.)

There is, however, another side to that coin.  Some people pay no taxes but still get to vote.  They have 'representation without taxation'.  It may turn out that your income is so small and your tax credits and authorized deductions are large enough that your 'taxable income' is zero and your tax is also zero.  People in this situation are incentivized to vote a certain way because the result of their vote will cost them nothing — there's no penalty for voting this way as opposed to that way.

This may explain why our country is in the condition it's in.  When the number of tax filers who actually pay no tax crosses a certain threshold, the controls that would normally act to correct fiscal irresponsibility disappear.  If you know you won't be taxed for that new road, there's no reason for you to vote against it, is there?

The same sort of analysis applies to those who receive stipends from the government.  'Social Security' is a fine example.  For people who are retired and whose income consists of pensions and social security payments, it is very likely that the 'tax due' line on one's 1040 will be smaller than the total received from taxes paid by others, even if that number is not zero.  That is, there are two categories of 'tax filers': those who pay taxes, and those who consume taxes.

Without the ability to put the brakes on out-of-control spending, bankruptcy looms.  It's inevitable.  It may be that our next revolution will be fueled by the issue of 'representation without taxation'.  At some point in the future, one's W-2s and 1099s that report the core of one's income may show income in two categories: income derived from taxes, and income not derived from taxes.  It will make for an interesting new world when, as must eventually happen, the franchise is restricted to those whose tax contribution exceeds their tax consumption.

Under such a system, Congressmen will vote, but only when they're at work.  They can all stay home on Election Day because their salary is all derived (it damned well better be) from taxes; they are 'tax consumers'.  Policemen and firemen will not vote, along with FBI agents and (uh-oh...) soldiers, although volunteer firemen will vote because they actually have income producing jobs beyond volunteering.  Public school teachers won't vote, but private school teachers will.  The kid who delivers sandwiches from Quizno's will get to vote, but the clerk at DMV who issued his driver's license won't.  It's very likely that SS recipients will no longer vote unless the income from their 401Ks is so large that the tax on the proceeds exceeds their SS checks — in which case they probably don't care, either.

But as long as our electoral system allows people to vote who do not actually 'pay the bill', we will see the wrong kind of politicians elected over and over and over.  It's a recipe for disaster that is just now becoming clear.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Around The World In 79 Days

Norene and I are toying with the idea of a trans-Pacific cruise next year, Seattle to Australia/New Zealand.  If we go, we will cross both the Equator and the International Date Line and this got me to thinking — always a dangerous situation.

In Jules Verne's Around The World In 80 Days, the plot twist hinges on the fact that Phileas Fogg travels eastward from London.  As a result, each day's sunset is a little earlier than yesterday's.  In the days before time zones, local time was established by local noon, and it was customary for travelers to set their timepieces to that local standard.  When in Rome...

Because each of Fogg's 'days' was shorter than the canonical 24-hours, he actually arrives back in London a full day ahead of his deadline — but doesn't realize it because he has seen 80 sunsets (in 79 days), although, realistically, when he got to San Francisco, he must certainly have wondered why Thursday's newspaper was being published on Friday...

(Aside: the phenomenon is said to have been discovered by the 17th-century Norwegian explorer, Andersrag, who named it after himself: the Alex Andersrag Time Band...)

In the modern world, we accept that crossing the International Date Line west-to-east involves crossing into yesterday, and crossing east-to-west into tomorrow.  Why should this be so?  Let's perform a little thought-experiment:

We start with two observers in London at 8am on a Tuesday, both with clocks set to GMT and we send both on a high-speed trip (able to cross vast distances in the wink of an eye), one westward to American Samoa, and the other eastward to Tonga.  They are instructed to change their clocks backward or forward as appropriate for the time zone they're currently in.  The one traveling eastward to Tonga will constantly set the clock forward from 8am to 9am to 10am until arriving at Tonga 12 time zones later at 8pm Tuesday.  The other travels west to American Samoa inching his clock backward to 7am and 6am until arriving in American Samoa 11 time zones later at 9pm Monday.  At this point, the two observers are a (reasonably) short flight from each other and their clocks say different days.  One of them must be wrong, right?  No, they're both right.

They're both right because neither has crossed the date line.  If the observer in American Samoa travels to meet his partner at Tonga, he will be forced (by convention) to adjust his clock from 'Monday' to 'Tuesday'.  If the observer at Tonga travels to American Samoa, he will be forced to adjust his clock from 'Tuesday' to 'Monday'.  This is what Phileas Fogg didn't realize: at some point during the trip, convention says he stepped across the line from Tuesday into Monday.  Of course, we all know how that worked out: he realizes his error just in time to complete the trip according to the wager he made 80 days prior.

(If we go on that cruise, we will 'lose' a day just after leaving American Samoa — then gain it back and lose it again as the ship weaves back and forth across the line — and not get it back until we return to the U.S. at the end of the cruise.)

Friday, September 7, 2018

The (longed-for) 28th Amendment

There's a chunk of text making the rounds — has made the rounds, in fact, for quite some time — calling for a 28th amendment.  The (proposed, longed-for) 28th amendment would say

Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to Senators and Representatives, and Congress shall make no law that applies to Senators and Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.
or some variation thereto.

I think I may have started this a long time ago.  At least, I have a text file dated 11/11/2000 at 9:40a that reads

The 28th Amendment
Restoring Sanity to The Law

1. Congress may not exempt itself or its agents from compliance, in whole or in part, with any Federal law or regulation, nor allow regulations which do so, nor shall it encourage state or local jurisdictions to exempt it from compliance with their laws.

2. Any existing Federal law or regulation which exempts Congress from compliance with its provisions, in whole or in part, is hereby rescinded in its entirety.

There's a big difference between the two.  Did you notice?  The one I wrote 17 years ago undoes all the historical damage caused by its absence by automatically revoking all laws currently in existence that violate it.  Leaving that part out is really very 'conservative':  it freezes the current situation in place.  I suppose that makes my version 'regressive' although I personally think of it as 'progress'.

There are many now calling for a con-con, a constitutional convention, to remedy what they see as myriad ills plaguing our nation.  I truly believe most of those ills would evaporate if we were merely to prohibit past, present, and future acts of discrimination by our Congress.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 26, 2018


In the old days, an author had to rely on traditional publishers to see their book made available to the public.  An author would submit a manuscript to several publishers in hopes that one, at least, would find it attractive enough to spend money editing, proof-reading, typesetting, and printing in order to produce the first edition.  This cost could be several thousand dollars.  The publisher would typically call for a first print run of 10,000 copies as a bare minimum, and it would be the publisher's task to get them sold as a way to recoup the initial cost that sometimes included an advance-on-royalties made to the author.  As a result, publishers were very picky about which books they would publish.  Aspiring authors from that era all had tales of 'papering their walls with rejection letters'.

Within the past half-century or so, 'vanity presses' have appeared on the scene.  These are businesses that will publish your work for a fee — sometimes an exorbitant fee.  As a rule, they care not whether your work is good or bad because you are paying the up-front costs and handling the job of selling your work.  In the early days of vanity presses, a contract might deliver 1,000 copies of the first edition — usually the only edition — and what the author did with them was the author's business — literally.

Since the computer revolution the entire face of publishing has undergone a sea change.  Word processing has made it possible for very many people who would not otherwise have gone to the effort to produce a text and to have it published by either a vanity press or a new arrival on the scene, the independent publisher.

Both 'vanities' and 'indies' are able to print-on-demand (as are the traditional publishing houses), and this has reduced the cost of getting a book to market so substantially that the number of published works has exploded due to the drastic lessening of the financial risk.  The same thing happened when Gutenberg introduced the printing press to Europe in the 1500s.

"Print-on-demand" means that a largely-computerized publisher has the ability to access the formatted text of a book along with its cover, among other things.  When a buyer orders a copy of the book, a transaction is sent electronically to the printer that causes the production of a fully-formed book.  The inside text (usually black-ink-on-white-paper) is printed on one printer, the cover (usually color and on a heavier stock) on another, and the shipping label on a third.  At the end of the production line, automated binding equipment gathers the pages, wraps them in the cover, slips the finished product into a shipping box, and affixes the shipping label.  The completed package is handed over to the local postal service or an overnight shipper and is in the hands of the buyer in a few days.

The era of having 10,000 copies of a book printed and held in storage pending the arrival of orders from retailers or wholesalers has largely ended.  Only ink, paper, and cardboard shipping boxes are kept in inventory and can be reordered as needed.  When a retailer such as Barnes & Noble decides they want 200 copies of a work in stock, the only difference in the processing is that only a single shipping label is printed.

Ingram, headquartered in La Vergne TN, is probably the world's largest printer-on-demand and can have a book printed — right now — in any of several countries on several continents.  They are not alone.

As a result, any aspiring author who wishes to put in the effort can become a published author for what would have been considered 'peanuts' in an earlier age.  Amazon, for instance, will convert your Microsoft Word document or Adobe PDF to a Kindle-formatted version free.  You just have to agree to sell it via Amazon.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


In old Germanic law (pre-Roman) there was a concept known as "Sippenhaftung", 'kin responsibility'.  Certain crimes were serious enough that the criminal's family or clan was considered to be as responsible for the crime as was the actual criminal.  It even survives today in (especially) classrooms where, as one example, one student's misbehavior can cause the class outing to be cancelled.  In operation, it effectively outsources law enforcement by giving people an incentive to enforce proper behavior among their family.

We generally shy away from such collective punishment because it offends our modern sense of justice, but there may be situations where Sippenhaftung is actually the only way to prevent certain crimes.  I refer, of course, to 'terrorism'.  Terrorists often commit their acts of terror fully expecting that they themselves will not survive to be arrested, tried, convicted, and punished.  Especially if their families applaud their deaths as some act of religious faith or political protest, the terrorists know that they will be honored in their deaths.  Our reaction to such things is to shake our heads in disbelief.  What if our reaction were something else?

What if our reaction to a terrorist incident is to immediately deport the parents, siblings, spouse and offspring of an identfied terrorist, whether those deportees were citizens or not?  What if our reaction is to order them gone in 10 days or 'wanted dead or alive'?

I have the feeling families would be much more likely to report a relative as soon as they are suspected of plotting terror rather than face the possibility of having to uproot the entire family and flee for their lives.  Terrorists themselves might become less enthralled with the whole notion because a family they (presumably) love would be put in danger — would, in fact, become the lawful targets of terrorism-in-return.

Further, it may be that some deportees may not be able to find a country that will take them in at all.  A mere one or two such families could spell the end of terrorist acts in our lifetime as potential terrorists contemplate making their families homeless, stateless refugees.