Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Who are the Free Syrian Army?

Right now, as we speak, attack bombers of the Syrian air force are massacring civilians all over Syria. Just over the hill, on the other side of the Golan Heights, is a powerful and sophisticated air force that could blow the Syrian air force out of the air in hours - the IAF, the Israel Air Force. One can imagine that in return for a guarantee of a peace treaty and normalization of relations, that Israel would be glad to help the FSA, the Free Syrian Army, unseat Assad.

The fact that no such thing has happened nor will happen, in and of itself shows who the Free Syrian Army are and what they are fighting for. The fact that the regime they are fighting is despicable does not make them the good guys by any stretch of the imagination. 

Most of what we have read about the FSA is that they are fighting the Assad regime for two reasons - that it is secular and that it is run by Alawite Shi'ites, not Sunnis. Neither reason has anything to do with the freedom and democracy they tell Western media they are fighting for.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Class warfare hidden in plain sight on the California ballot

Daniel Shays - leader of Shays' Rebellion 1787

Proposition 30 and Proposition 38 both raise the rates of the California State Income Tax to cover the current state budget shortfalls.  Please stay with me during the numbers to see what they mean politically.

Here is the Prop 30 income tax increase table from page 13 of the Official Voter Guide -  

Joint filers                Additional Prop 30 tax                  
$0 - $500,000                       0%

$500,000 - $600,000            1%
$600,000 - $1,000,00           2%
over $1,000,000                   3%

This is clearly a soak-the-rich plan.  The rich pay 1% or 2%.  The filthy rich pay 3%.  Nobody else pays.

Here is the Prop 38 income tax increase table from page 59 of the Official Voter Guide -  -

Joint filers                Additional Prop 38 tax     Difference from Prop 30
           $0 - $14,600                       0%                         same

$14,600 - $34,600             0.4%                        pay more
$34,600 - $54,700             0.7%                        California median $53,367
$54,700 - $76,000             1.1%                        pay more
$76,000 - $96,000             1.4%                        pay more
$96,000 - $200,000           1.6%                        pay more
$200,000 - $500,000         1.8%                        pay more
$500,000 - $1,000,000      1.9%                        pay more

$1,000,000 - $2,000,000   2.0%                        pay less
$2,000,000 - $5,000,000   2.1%                        pay less
over $5,000,000                2.2%                        pay less

This is what class warfare looks like - columns of figures.

But the numbers come out to this - under Proposition 38 everyone pays more up to incomes of $1,000,000.  Incomes above $1,000,000 pay less.  Proposition 30 will tax the rich and only the rich.  Proposition 38 will tax people with household incomes of $14,700 more in order to tax households with incomes over $1,000,000 less.

The only way that such a regressive tax could even be considered would be if those who wrote it were reasonably sure that you would not find your way through the tables of numbers.

If both 30 and 38 pass the one with the greater number of 'yes' votes becomes law.  So it is important not only to vote 'yes' on 30 but also to vote 'no' on 38.

What is especially interesting about this divide is that it shows how the rich and powerful define themselves.  One would have thought that an income of $500,000 to $1,000,000 would qualify.  It doesn't.  

The authors of Proposition 38 wrote it in favor of those with incomes of a million and more and adversely to everyone with less.  To them, those with incomes of half a million are the working poor.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Trial of Osama bin Laden

The current issue of 'Vanity Fair' magazine has an article titled, "The Hunt for Geronimo" about the White House process leading up to the killing of Osama bin Laden.  The article is adapted by Mark Bowden from his book of the same title.  Bowden personally interviewed most of the participants, including President Obama.

On page 190 Bowden writes, "In the unlikely event that Bin Laden surrendered, Obama saw the opportunity to resurrect the idea of a criminal trial.  He was ready to bring him back and put  him on trial in a federal court."

Then follows a direct quote which Bowden attributes to President Obama in double quotes on page 190.
We worked though the legal and political issues that would have been involved, and Congress and the desire to send him to Guantanamo and to not try him and Article III [of the Constitution].  I mean, we had worked through a whole bunch of those scenarios,  But, frankly, my belief was, if we had captured him, that I would be in a pretty strong position politically, here, to argue that displaying due process and the rule of law would be our best weapon against al-Qaeda, in preventing him from appearing as a martyr.
Whether one supports President Obama's re-election or not, this remark should give one pause.  It is astonishingly naive to think that the message the Muslim world would take away from a public trial of Osama bin Laden in an American court would be to respect us for due process and the rule of law.   That the President could be so wildly wrong cannot help but make one question his judgment.  This is not a partisan issue, it is a matter of simple competence.

A much lesser note is that it illuminates the 2009 fuss when we were told that Attorney-General Eric Holder wanted to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was immediately responsible for planning 9/11, in federal court in Manhattan.  Pretty much every single person in New York thought that was a bad idea and said so.  The plan was withdrawn and Holder wound up with egg on his face for having proposed it.

The President's remark suggests that trial in Manhattan was only one of several option Holder presented to the President and was the one President Obama chose.  It appears to me that when it blew up in their faces, the Attorney-General fell on his sword as ordered, and the President could semi-truthfully claim that Holder had suggested the idea to him.  Taking the hit to deflect flak from the boss is to be expected, so that in itself does not reflect badly on either man. Indeed, it reflects well on Holder.

Two years later, in May 2011 President Obama, unchastened, thought trying Osama bin Laden, a vastly bigger fish than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in federal court was a good idea.  We have just seen how the faithful in the Muslim world reacted to a two-bit Youtube video.  Four of our people died in that.  Imagine what the reaction would have been to a lengthy public trial of the charismatic central figure of the Salafist movement.  Or even just the reaction to the inevitable sermons and exhortations to revenge for his coming death that bin Laden would have delivered in Arabic from the dock and had broadcast around the world.  Not a US embassy, consulate, school, or other American institution anywhere in the Muslim world (the 57 countries in the OIC, the Organization of Islamic Countries) would have survived.

Sure, I have the advantage of hindsight but I do not have the advantages of the resources of the entire federal government and all day every day to think about these things and every smart person in the country to ask advice of.  In any case, President Obama also had the advantage of hindsight.

That. two years after the Holder-Khalid fiasco, President Obama still thought trying Osama bin Laden in federal court was a good idea makes me wonder about his judgment.  It might make you wonder too.