Sense from Seattle

Common sense thoughts on life and current affairs by a Seattle area sexagenarian, drawing on personal experience, years of learning as a counselor to thousands of families and an innate passion for informed knowledge, to uniquely express sensible, thoughtful, honest and independent views.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

It's Over

Britain in correct. It is time to declare the job done and start ebbing the troops out of Iraq. The Brits are going to send Prince Harry over so he can get his toes wet and claim some combat experience. We should not mock Harry though, especially compared to what our would be Prince George did to avoid going to Vietnam.

Other than the sheer numbers, the main difference between what the British face in South Iraq and what the US troops face in the middle of the country is Shia and Sunni violence against each other. But refereeing that almost 1400 year old dispute never was part of our commitment in invading Iraq. The WMD did not exist, nor was there a Saddam al Qaeda connection. The brutal dictator has been overthrown and executed.

Granted we may have reignited the Sunni-Shia conflict with our inept occupation and granted there are al Qaeda types now among the multitude of insurgents and criminals operating in Iraq, but we cannot put out the Sunni-Shia fire we stirred up. That is up to them to do themselves, with the help of their neighbors in the region and other Muslim nations outside the region. The al Qaeda leaders that enabled the 9/11 attacks are in Pakistan and Afghanistan. If we want them, we need to try harder in those nations. And if our leaving from Iraq were to result in bin Laden setting up camp there, he should be a lot easier to catch in the desert that in the mountains where he is currently hiding.

Scooter and the Jury

Scooter Libby’s case has gone to the jury. There is a good probability he will be convicted of perjury and maybe a lesser chance of an obstruction conviction. But regardless of whether he is convicted on any counts, it is not likely Scooter will do jail time, because a Presidential pardon can prevent that and may have already been negotiated in a deal that kept Dick Cheney from having to take the stand.

For the public, this trial confirmed some facts people have already figured out about the Bush administration. The administration wanted to invade Iraq and was willing to distort and fabricate supposed evidence to justify invasion. When Joe Wilson shot down the false story about Iraq seeking uranium in Africa, the goal became to punish Wilson and deter any other critics. Dick Cheney made it his personal mission, because an implication had been made that Wilson was sent by Cheney’s office [possibly specifically to hide the fact that Wilson’s wife had recommended him for the job and she was a clandestine CIA agent working on nuclear issues]. In pursuing the destruction mission, Cheney facilitated the outing of a CIA agent, secretly declassified selective information in order to authorize what would have been a criminal act and established an administration campaign to lie to the American people, the media, the FBI and the Grand Jury about the campaign.

In his recent press conference, Bush asserted that the presence of Iranian weapons in Iraq is the responsibility of the President of Iran, regardless of whether he in fact knew about the program. So will Bush accept responsibility for the dangerously ruthless campaign to punish Wilson? At the press conference he avoided the question, supposedly because the matter was in trial. I suspect that his answer will eventually come in the form of a Presidential pardon.


Hurray for Renton! The Seahawks are moving their training facility here and now the Oklahoma owners of the Sonics are eyeing Renton for a new arena. Taxpayers enabled the building of new stadia for the Mariners and the Seahawks, under the pretense of stimulating the economy and are now being asked to do the same for the maybe soon to be Oklahoma Sonics. But while the sports focus is on Renton, I say we should not ignore the microsports world. Let’s build the best darn Tiddlywinks facility in the world, right here in little old Renton. If we hurry, we might have the facility completed by 2008, the 120th anniversary of the creation of this very exciting game.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Pie Shop

Tom was still rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he opened the door of the pie shop before sunrise. Bakers have to start work so early, but Tom had learned to appreciate the stillness of the morning and the miracle of turning diverse ingredients into irresistible pies. When the eyes of his best customer, Peter, sparkled at the sight of his favorite pumpkin pie fresh from the oven, Tom took pride in his accomplishment and was delighted to be making the day a happier one for Peter.

One of the least favorite parts of the day for Tom was after the noon rush when the shop owner, Simon, came by to check up on things, give Tom his pay for the day and empty the till to take home the balance. Tom appreciated the fact that Simon owned the Legree Pie Shop and that he worked for Simon, but Tom had not had a pay raise for almost ten years, in spite of the fact that Simon had raised the price of the pies several times. Simon pointed out he had to raise the pie prices because the cost of everything else was always going up. But when Tom would point out that the cost of everything was also going up for him and because his pay was staying the same, he was actually going backwards, Simon continually turned a deaf ear.

Tom and Simon were actually distantly related, through an ancient uncle, still living, named Sam. Sam was the family patriarch and several generations ago he had resolved this very same problem by requiring pie shop owners to pay a minimum wage to bakers, enough at least to live on. As the cost of living increased, Uncle Sam would make changes to keep the minimum realistic, but it had been almost ten years since the last adjustment. Sam received a salary, paid by a tax on all family members, and he had raised his own salary several times during those ten years. Simon made a good profit on the pie shop and was always sure to contribute some of it to Sam to help him maintain his patriarch status. Tom, who was almost unable to support his family on his stagnant wage, had nothing left to contribute to Sam.

Now Tom had finally been able to arrange another sit down with Simon and Sam. This came about because one day Tom and Peter got to talking and Peter was sincerely concerned that the baker who brought him the wonderful pumpkin pie was so lowly paid. Peter said he would definitely be willing to pay more for the pie in order to enable Tom to earn more. In fact, Peter said he always put extra money in the tip cup, in appreciation not only of the pie but also of the friendly service with which Tom served it. Peter was quite surprised to learn from Tom that the tips did not go to him, but rather to Simon, and that a security camera was in place to police that.

At the sit down Simon protested loudly that he could not give Tom a raise unless Sam also reduced Simon’s tax obligation to the family. The fact that Sam had already reduced Simon’s tax several times in the last ten years was ignored. Nor was there any discussion of just how much money Simon was making on the shop, or on any of the other shops he owned, or on the passive investments he made with some of the shop profits (on which Sam had also reduced the tax liability still further in recent years). Simon always argued that as a shop owner, he provided jobs and so should be the most important member of the family and be stimulated by reduced taxes and protected from being forced to pay Tom exorbitant wages. Tom pointed out that without bakers, pies cannot be made, so he was at least equally important as Simon. Sam listened to all this as he had so many times before, knowing he was in fact the most important person because he was the one who decided such arguments and kept peace in the family by regularly giving tax breaks to Simon, his primary contributor, and then eventually raising the minimum wage when Peter became concerned enough to begin wondering whether it was about time to replace Sam.

Sometimes Tom thought that maybe if he just baked the pies at home and sold them directly to Peter, he would make more money and would not need Simon. Maybe eventually he could open his own pie shop and hire help. He vowed that if he did so, he would pay a decent wage and not become a new Simon.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Two links I recently received, prompt this article to spring forward from the back burner. Reiko linked me to an article on Washington State proposed Initiative I-957, to require married couples to have children timely or else get divorced, and Chris referred me to a Stranger article on the hypocrisy of Mary Cheney wanting her privacy when she has always supported public political attacks on homosexuals.

In the first year of law school criminal law class we learned about the five year old Wolfenden Report from Britain, addressing the issue of criminalizing prostitution and homosexual conduct. The essence of the report as I have remembered it through the years was that consensual sexual conduct should not be criminal. Legal consent should require sufficient age, mental capacity and free will, and once those conditions are all met, then private sexual activity should not be a concern of the criminal law.

Moralizers and politicians, sincerely or otherwise, continue to advocate legal interference in private sexual matters, especially those of homosexuals. Gay coupling, the hot button issue here in the US, has two aspects, which the politicians have fairly accurately labeled a gay marriage and civil union. Only a few are for gay marriage, more are for civil union, granting gays the rights that come to married couples without allowing them to get married.

All marriages have civil law aspects, bringing legal rights and responsibilities. Religious marriage ceremonies may bring in doctrinal aspects of that particular religion, and are properly left to the individuals and their church. But the civil law rights and responsibilities that attach to a marriage could by law also attach to any other relationship between two people that the people choose to designate as significant and the law chooses to recognize. This could be a gay couple, a man and woman who are unmarried, two siblings, parent and adult child, long time friends or whatever. Allowing and encouraging everybody to have somebody significant in their life is healthy and worthwhile. But our society has two problems with this idea, one sexual and the other economic.

The sexual problem society has with coupling outside marriage is a concern with what the sexual activity would be. Within the recommendations of Wolfenden, that activity should be a private matter. The argument that marriage is for procreation is irrelevant to unmarried couples. Many babies have been born outside marriage. Society is very experienced in dealing with issues of parental rights and responsibilities, regardless of the marital status of the parents. If society allowed civil union rights, then maybe marriage could be returned to the religious realm where it belongs.

Society also, more quietly, resists civil unions on economic grounds. Unmarried couple lose out on many economic rights that married couples have. Society does not mind saving that money. But a thorough economic analysis would probably show that allowing civil union economic rights would not be costly to society, when all aspects are considered. For example, if two gay men live together into retirement years, one being a long term worker and the other having been a stay at home person, when the retired worker dies society does not have to pay the stay at home companion the social security of the decedent, whereas if the stay at home was a wife they would have to pay her. But, if the unmarried gay worker has no such companion and requires long term nursing home care, society could be stuck with the bill, whereas a male companion with civil union rights might continue to care for the partner at home and save society the cost.

It is most interesting to hear how politicians answer when asked if they think people are born gay or become gay later in life. George W. Bush answers that he is still studying the issue and then he quickly changes the subject with his interrogator. Bush’s perpetual campaign pitch makes it clear that he really doesn’t care about the answer to that question, he is just hapy there are gay people he can bash to get homophobic votes. Recently on Meet the Press Tim Russert asked professed Baptist John Edwards that question, pointing out the Baptists believe gays are made, not born. When Edwards tried to get away with an “I just don’t know for sure” answer, Russert pressed him and got Edwards to say he believes they are more likely born that way. The fact that our candidates for President either are so uninformed on the scientific facts of human sexuality or think they have to pretend they are still in the process of informing themselves is a sad commentary.

Now for the meaning of the title to this article. The satire of I-957 is similar to something I have had in mind for a few years. HUMP is an acronym for an organization I think should be started, “Humans United for the Missionary Position”, which could sponsor an initiative making it illegal for couples, including married heterosexuals, to have sex in any other position. HUMP could show a clip from the movie “Quest for Fire”, where a caveman first suggests to a cave woman that they have sex face to face rather than with him behind, and she is somewhat shocked, but they both decide the new position is an improvement in their relationship. Unfortunately, religious HUMPers would probably oppose using the clip, since the couple in the movie were unmarried.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Budget This

The new proposed Bush budget takes a three prong approach: increase military spending, reduce spending for all other programs, and make sure rich people pay as little taxes as possible while the national debt grows. This budgetary farce actually pretends the debt will be reduced, but the pretense is smoke and mirrors.

Governmental budgeting is strange, because it is always approached politically, with all the chicanery, posturing, turf protecting and then finally negotiation and compromise that politics entails. Advice on how to make a personal budget is largely consistent and straightforward. Start with your monthly income after taxes, deduct fixed expenses such as housing and loan repayments, then deduct for established investment goals (such as emergency, retirement, education and savings funds), and apply what is left to variable expenses, cutting back and tightening in this last area as needed to achieve balance.

It would be better if governmental budgeting was administered by non-political experts, such as is done with the Federal Reserve supervising monetary policy. The Congress and President would still make the final decisions, but the experts would advise and guide the process to gradually reduce the impact of politics and increase the sense of long range commitment and planning. The experts would indicate what fundamental decisions need to be made and honored for the long term, such as under what circumstances the budget should be allowed to be in deficit and what should be done when a surplus is achieved. One simple way to handle the matter of a deficit is to adjust the next budget down accordingly and include an installment payment to make up the deficit. Whenever there is a surplus, it should be applied to building up the emergency fund and repaying any debt that is excessive.

Fundamental philosophical questions need to be resolved and national goals established as inviolable principles. Once established, anyone who advocates violating them should be considered an eccentric or a political charlatan. Below are some of my nominees for goals and principles.

Income should be overwhelmingly derived from a progressive rate income tax. Those at or below a minimum wage type income would pay no tax. Brackets would be based on multiples of the minimum wage, with the tax rate increasing in equal increments up to a top bracket of 50% for income more than ten times the minimum threshold.

Fixed expense should include first making payments to timely discharge debt. Defense, diplomacy, health care and other vital government services would come next and, except for health care professionals, be provided as much as possible by government employees rather than private contractors.

Goals would include building funds for emergencies, education assistance through college or vocational school, providing for additional retirement security needs and savings for occasional enhancement of other programs.

Variable expenses would be funded from what is left over, subject to cost-benefit analysis and auditing of results by the experts. One possible approach would be to have individual States submit prioritized grant requests and to have some formula for apportioning the Federal funds among the States based on the income tax each State generates, with the poorest State being guaranteed a minimum and the better off States sharing on a reverse graduation basis from the minimum.

The word “entitlement” would be banned from any discussion of these matters, except to mean that all Americans are entitled to know that their government will tax them and everyone else fairly, will meet its obligations to repay debt and avoid unnecessary debt, will enable the education, health care and retirement security of all Americans, will wisely invest in the future and will sensibly use any remainder of tax money collected.