Thursday, December 21, 2017

If You Really Mean It

One idea behind the reduction of the corporate tax rate to 21% and the 20% deduction for income earned through “pass-through” businesses (like sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S corporations) is that businesses will use the extra money to add jobs and pay better wages. This argument is countered with the assertion that they probably won’t.

Your humble servant will leave off predicting the future for now, and simply make the observation that there is no logical necessity between business tax cuts and enhancing the position of the employee class. Moreover, it should be plain to any onlooker of average wit that the connection between selfish economic interests and the consequent benefit to the economy as a whole has been overstated.

There are ways of ensuring that we get the outcomes that we want, but it requires the insertion of machinery into the social edifice. Some decry such efforts with emanations of stupidity like “picking winners and losers,” as if any system was immune from doing so. The system we implant will indeed pick winners and losers, but, with any luck, it will pick the winners we believe ought to be victorious.

Now the ostensible goal of the aforementioned tax cuts is to create more and better employment. Only a thoroughgoing nihilist will object to the goal, which is why the defenders of the plan will try to cast the debate as being over the desirability of that outcome. On that score, the future that is soon to become history will be instructive. 

We are letting plutocrats and companies keep more of their money in the hope that they will dispose of same for socially beneficial purposes. Given that this is so, it becomes irresistible to wonder whether it might be prudent to make such beneficial disposition mandatory rather than optional. Rather than legislating tax cuts in the hope that that businesses will hire more people or raise wages, shouldn’t we be making tax cuts contingent upon such activities? For example, we could tie a company’s tax rate to the ratio between the amounts it pays in compensation to its CEO and its lowest paid employee; the wider the disparity, the greater the tax would be. 

Is there a sincere desire to improve the lot of everyone through tax cuts? The reaction to a proposal to make tax cuts contingent on that basis would be a test of guile.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Jerusalem and the One-State Solution

The results of President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel have included a clash between Palestinian protestors and Israeli troops, with two Palestinian deaths [1]; a statement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas saying that the United States is no longer qualified to sponsor the Israeli-Palestinian peace process [2]; and a rebuke from 14 members of the United Nations Security Council. [3]

Now the Israelis have been treating Jerusalem as their capital for some time now. It is where their Knesset and Supreme Court sit. [4] Up until now, everyone else has been pretending that it’s not really their capital due to historical considerations.

“When the United Nations voted to divide British Mandatory Palestine in 1948, it intended two states to emerge: Israel and an Arab-Palestinian state. Jerusalem – with its mixed, Jewish-Arab population and an essential place in the history and belief systems of Christians, Muslims and Jews the world over – was not to belong to either state. Rather, the UN proposed that the city be administered by an international regime, until the time when Israelis and Palestinians could agree on an equitable and permanent arrangement for sharing it.” [5] That was the idea, anyway. Alas, the Israelis and the Palestinians haven’t been able to agree on much of anything.

Complicating matters is the fact that the Palestinians want Jerusalem to be the capital of their own country, once one emerges. Former “Palestinian Authority minister Ziad AbuZayyad” has “explained…that ‘without Jerusalem as its capital, there won’t be a Palestinian state and there won’t be a two-state solution.’” And Palestinian negotiator and spokesperson Saeb Erekat has made it clear that “’there will be no Palestinian state without Jerusalem and its capital.’”

And there we have presented before us the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute: the Palestinian irresistible force keeps running into the Israeli immovable object, and nothing ever gets resolved. The more you talk to both sides, the more you come away with the feeling that they both want everything. So, the only solution is to give it to them.

A nation that allows freedom of religion for all, with equal protection and due process for all, shouldn’t sound like such a radical idea. But somehow all sorts of apple carts tip over when you bring it up in connection with the Israel-Palestine controversy. Instead, the operating paradigm is what is called a “two-state solution,” the borders of which cannot be agreed on, with the representatives of both states demanding the same city for their capital; and no serious progress is ever made. So unless we’re going to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, in accordance with the proverb, we are going to have to try something different: a one-state solution.

Under this plan the idea of dividing up historic Palestine would be abandoned. All of Israel and the occupied territories would be recognized as belonging to the single nation, and everyone living within its borders, Israelis or Palestinians, or members of any other group, would be citizens with equal rights and the right to vote. Naturally, there would be complete freedom of religion. Then Jerusalem could be the capital, and no one would complain. 

It really seems like such an obvious idea that one wonders what would be the arguments against it.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Yes He Can, No He Can't: the President and Obstruction of Justice

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, has opined that it is impossible for the President of the United States to obstruct justice. [1] Superficially considered, and depending on what one means by “obstruction of justice,” that idea isn’t as far out as it may sound.

The operative constitutional provision is Section 3 of Article II, which in pertinent part provides that the president is to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed…,” [2] making him the top law enforcement officer of the United States. But he’s more than just your local chief of police writ large. He is, all by himself, a co-equal branch of government, along with Congress and the Supreme Court. So he is not only in charge of enforcing the laws of the United States, he is in charge of how he goes about it. He has no supervisor.

Now let’s suppose he has a discussion with the FBI director, let’s call him “James Comey,” wherein he tells Mr. Comey to be lenient in his investigation of a criminal suspect, whom we will refer to as “then-national security adviser Michael Flynn.” Your humble servant will concede mystification on how one goes about being lenient in an investigation, but we will assume that the president’s request made sense. Investigating crime is part of executing the laws, exactly the sort of thing the president is in charge of. And since he is in charge of it, he gets to decide how to do it, even if his instructions will leave native English speakers scratching their heads.

But that doesn’t mean that it is impossible for the president to commit the crime of obstruction of justice. Yes, the president may direct criminal investigations when he’s not busy insulting the North Korean dictator on Twitter, but he may not violate the criminal statutes of the United States.

For example, the president may not intimidate someone in order to keep him from telling a federal judge about a crime, a course of action whereby he could win for himself up to 20 years in prison. (18 U.S. Code, §1512(b)(3)) [3] The president may not destroy documents so that they won’t be available in official proceedings (18 U.S. Code §1512(c)(1)), another 20 year offense. And there are many such things that a president may not do.

So when the president’s lawyer says that a president cannot commit obstruction of justice, it is easy to see what he means. But it is also clear that he didn’t think his position through very carefully.