IMAGINE: A QR Code to Reveal the Birth of Things

A QR code

IMAGINE:  The Elephant Party and the Donkey Party have split and broken up.  The new Goat Party has won a landslide victory and I, its standard bearer, am installed in the White House.  Following my speeches on Korea and the Mideast, I turned to domestic policy issues. After announcing a New American Spring, I took up the subject of income taxes. Before moving on to related issues, I was invited to give a guest keynote at the big consumer electronics show.  Here is a transcript.  

Some time ago I read an article about city kids who did not know that milk came from cows, or that apples grew on trees in the countryside. If they thought about it at all, they assumed that these things were made by machines.

We shake our heads at these examples of ignorance about where things come from. Yet all of us here live in a comparable state of darkness about many of the products we use every day. Do we have any idea how or where and by whom a common pencil is made? What about the shirt we’re wearing? The phone we use?  The car we drive?

Economic theory since Adam Smith has rested on the assumption that market participants such as consumers have full information about the commodities that producers put on sale. Yet you’ve only to ask a few basic questions to realize that much of the time, maybe almost all the time, consumers haven’t a clue about where, how, and by whose effort the thing they are eyeballing came into existence. For all we can tell, the thing just dropped from the sky, as if the stork brought it.    

In Adam Smith’s day, and until very recently, providing the consumer with anything like the full birth story of a commodity ran into insurmountable transaction costs. The origin story of a simple pencil would have required at least a pamphlet. Anything more complex might need a book, or a multi-volume encyclopedia. Luckily, that’s history. Wikipedia replaced volumes. Google gets us instant answers to questions that might take hours in a library. YouTube holds billions of videos.  Facebook connects billions of people worldwide.

Yet very little of this immense capability is invested in providing transparency about the birth story of the items that crowd the marketplaces.

Here’s a proposal to fix that.  Every product on a shelf or a sales floor will carry a new QR code.  I, the consumer, hold my phone to the code, and up comes a page with videos and links that show how, where, when, and by whom the thing was put together. And I’m not talking here about a company promo.

  • I want to see and listen to the actual voices of the men and women who made the thing, up and down the line. I want to see how they live.
  • Hyperlinks will take me to related stories about the raw materials embodied in the product, and the people who dug them out and processed them.
  • Other links take me to the machines used to make the product, and the pictures and voices of the men and women who built the machines, and the points of engineering and design that went into the machines, with the pictures and voices of the engineers and designers.
  • Where sales and promotion are important to getting the product to market, videos will describe the sales and promotion effort, and show the faces and voices of the people who did that.
  • Always included will be videos about the transportation chain, with images of the ships, planes, trains, trucks, warehouses, and the faces and voices of the people who did the work. .
  • The narrative will have a page of links where I can email the various people who made the thing and have a conversation with them, if I should so desire.  
  • A separate track takes me to a spreadsheet that shows the costs in labor and materials at each stage of production, including the profits realized, if any, at a given final sales price.

If I want to know, for example, the origin of a toaster, up pops a Google Earth map with pins showing each location were the item and its parts were made and sourced, right down to the tungsten used in the heating elements and the petrochemicals used in the plastic handle.  At each pin, a click brings up videos and spreadsheets showing who and how and how much.

As I follow the links and watch the videos, the vague notion that this item just dropped from the sky gives way to a vivid, three-dimensional understanding that people in many places made it for me.  Well, they didn’t have me in mind, specifically, but they had a vague idea of somebody somewhere using it.  And then I have the opportunity to email some of the makers, and replace their vague picture with a vivid image of a real person using the thing that they made. The Adam Smith ideal of producers and consumers connected by perfect mutual knowledge — the basic assumption of a free market economy — will finally come somewhere near to reality.  

All of this is perfectly doable with today’s technology. There are scores of examples of documentary footage and literature that traces the origin of a commodity. For a very special product, the Steinway piano, there is a lengthy documentary where you meet the people who make the thing. For more ordinary industrial objects, the photographer Edward Burtynsky provided exemplary studies in his movie, Manufactured Landscapes.  This film deserves credit also for attention to the other end of the product cycle, the end of its useful life and its disposition. Just as things don’t drop from the sky when we get them, they don’t “go away” when we discard them.  There is a massive educational project remaining to be done on the death of commodities, as on their birth. .  

We can do all of this. We have the technology. It isn’t being done now largely because the privately owned operations in every field prefer to run behind a veil of commercial privacy. The preservation of genuine trade secrets has a legitimate but very small part in this concealment.  The larger motive is shame  The captains of industry are convinced that the optics of their production, if revealed, would be bad PR. To the extent that is true, the case for product QR codes, and for the revelations to which they are a gateway, becomes more compelling.

It will be immediately obvious that implementing the new commodity QR code will require some changes.  To begin with, we’ll need a small army of video reporters and editors.  They’ll go into every place of work and interview everybody on video.  There’ll have to be rules. Companies will have the right to make a case to protect trade secrets.  Individual workers will have a right to opt out for privacy reasons.  There’ll have to be a way to screen out self-serving company videos, to allow room for alternative statements, to prevent retaliation for critical comments, and other issues. Companies will get incentives for placing QR codes with compliant documentation chains on their products, and disincentives for failing to do so. All this will take time to work out.  But it will be worth it.  

There are greater benefits to a transparent industrial environment than the basic educational goal that kids should know that milk comes from cows and apples grow on trees. When we click on the QR code on the milk carton or on the bag of apples, we realize that we only knew half the story.  Actually, milk comes from the people who work on dairy farms, and apples come from farmworkers. Seeing the faces and hearing the voices of the people who make the things we rely on brings us closer to them and helps us see them as distant friends we rely on.  

Knowledge can also be a game changer.  Sunlight is an effective cure for rotten working conditions. Fewer people will buy a product that is made by child labor, in a poisonous environment, for slave wages, or otherwise tainted by unacceptable practices.  More people will buy products with a clean bill of manufacture. That’s how competition is supposed to benefit the better producer. That’s how a free market is supposed to work.


Imagine: A Different Tax Idea

IMAGINE:  The Elephant Party and the Donkey Party have split and broken up.  The new Goat Party has won a landslide victory and I, its standard bearer, am installed in the White House.  Following my speeches on Korea, and the Mideast, I have turned to domestic policy issues. After announcing a New American Spring, I now take up the subject of personal income taxes.

My fellow Americans,

We have much work to do to bring our country up to par in the areas of roads, bridges, sewers, grids, rails, housing, environment, healthcare, education, science and the arts, among other areas.  We’ve fallen far behind. We need to catch up and move ahead to a leading position in the world.  To do that is going to take a great deal of dedicated, passionate work by many, many people.  And it is going to take money.  Lots of it. Where are we going to get it?

As I pointed out the last time I spoke, in my talk on the New American Spring, we are winning significant amounts of money by seizing the ill-gotten gains of the corrupt coterie of elite billionaires and mega-millionaires who have been looting the nation’s wealth. We are also saving major amounts of money by ending two dead wars and by moving toward peaceful resolution of world hotspots. But that won’t be enough.

Fortunately, there is an enormous pool of money sitting idle and unused in our country’s banks, and abroad.  So much that some banks are charging the depositors rent for storing their money, instead of paying interest on the deposits. The total sum sitting idle is estimated at north of 10 trillion dollars.  Even more sits concealed in banks abroad, but we know where it is.  This money consists mostly of corporation profits that the corporations do not know what to do with. They have armies of advisors constantly hunting for opportunities to invest this money at a juicy profit, but few such exist, outside of speculation, mergers, and acquisitions, and so the money sits idle.

Idle money, especially in large amounts, is a luxury our country can ill afford. Idle money means idle investors not creating jobs and it means idle workers. Idle money is a vice worse than sin, an illness worse than addiction, a rot on the body worse than gangrene.  Corporate profit is the fruit of many people’s labor, and in a healthy economy it is constantly reinvested to create jobs and build projects. It flows and circulates. But we do not have a healthy economy.  With us, the money sits and festers and swells up like a gigantic boil. We need to lance that boil and restore a healthy circulation.  Toward that end, we are going to impose, effective immediately, the Idle Profits Excise Tax.

The Idle Profits Excise Tax, In a nutshell, will tax away liquid assets sitting for longer than twelve months without being invested in new plant, equipment, or other productive facilities that will create jobs. The rich men who control these idle dollars frankly don’t know what to do with them, but we do.  We will invest in roads, bridges, sewers, grids, rails, housing, environment, healthcare, education, science and the arts, among other areas. We will set millions of people to work doing useful things and making good money. We can do that.  The IPET, along with other measures to be announced, will make it possible.

The IPET is only one part of a comprehensive tax reform package that my administration is moving forward. The second part is called the Back to Prosperity income tax schedule.  It draws its inspiration from the years when American prosperity and American productivity were at all-time highs, namely the closing years of World War II and the postwar boom.

The income tax rates of that period were a matter of bipartisan consensus.  President Truman, the Democrat, and President Eisenhower, the Republican, signed the necessary legislation.  The personal income tax rate on high incomes in 1944 was 94 percent; it was 91 and 92 percent in 1951-1954.  This was a period of unparalleled growth not only for business, but also for the average wages and incomes of working people. Those high rates enabled us to win a world war and then to build a massive interstate highway system and other projects of great public importance.

America started to go downhill just about the time that the tax rate on high incomes was lowered. We’re going to correct that and return to the prosperous times. We are now moving forward on a new tax bill that will bring the tax on high income earners to 90 percent for individual incomes of more than $100,000, and 100 per cent for incomes over $500,000.  We see no public purpose being served by individuals taking home more than half a million dollars a year.

This measure will clear the deck for the third element of our tax reform package, namely the elimination of all taxes on individual incomes below $100,000.  If you earn less than $100,000, you will receive an email, a text, or a postcard from the IRS asking you to verify that, in truth, you made less than this ceiling.  If true, you will answer “true.”  With that, your tax obligation is finished. There is no withholding, no payroll tax, nothing else to file. You owe nothing.  Done.

We sometimes hear the objection that low income people who don’t pay much in taxes are not contributing to society, that they’re parasites, and similar terms of contempt.  This is not a well informed argument. Our Gross National Product is the product of working people. Its value is currently around $20 trillion per year. Yet the share that these same working people get in the form of wages and salaries comes to a fraction of the value they produce.

More than half, on the average, is taken away. In some industries, such as mining, technology, and some others, and also in most low wage occupations, around eighty percent of the value that working people produce goes into hands other than theirs. We don’t call this a tax for the technical reason that the people who collect it are private owners and not the government.  But what really is the difference?

It is perverse to ask the working people to pay a tax to the government on top of the enormous de facto tax that they already pay to the people who own the means of production. So if we are going to speak of parasites, we need to look first and foremost at the people who do no work but amass wealth in the many millions and billions.  That is where the tax burden must fall.

In conclusion, my fellow Americans, these are the three main points of the individual tax package that is moving forward as we speak:  the Idle Profits Excise Tax or IPET, the Back to Prosperity tax rates on high income, and the abolition of all taxes on incomes less than $100,000. These are modest and prudent measures, with a strong moral content and ample precedent in our history.  In a future address, I’ll talk about the measures we will undertake to get our economy moving again.

He Had Gays Torn to Pieces by Dogs and We Name Schools After Him

Is Vasco Núñez de Balboa a role model for our children?

An SF school and street are named after a slave-trading conquistador who helped wipe out a native population

The movement to remove the names of slave owners from positions of honor has taken down individuals both famous and obscure, from Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s statutes in the South to Berkeley’s LeConte Elementary School, until recently named for the University of California’s first geology professor – who was also a slave owner and Confederate Army munitions supplier.

The name of a slave trader who had gay people killed by dogs is on a San Francisco high school

And yet there’s one category that seems to slip through the cracks — the conquistadors, like Balboa. San Franciscans may actually find it hard to believe that anyone could have escaped scrutiny in all of this, given that just last year the city’s School Board president floated the idea of renaming the high school named after George Washington, since the enslavement of Africans has quite rightly come to be recognized as a sort of national “original sin” and, as is widely known, the nation’s first president was also a slave owner. But there was another American original sin that has not yet received the same attention in the naming debates –- the extermination of the nation’s native population.

This issue was actually lightly touched upon in the San Francisco discussion, as one observer suggested the “need to remove the names Serra, Balboa, Ulloa, and Noriega from our schools.” The four all date from the Spanish colonial era, a period that understandably tends to draw less scrutiny because it is not strictly speaking a part of U.S. history. Antonio de Ulloa and José Antonio de la Guerra y Noriega, quite obscure names today, were once big wheels in the colonial world; Ulloa, the first Spanish governor of Louisiana and Noriega a military officer who later owned a half million acres of California.

Opinion is mixed on the much more prominent Junipero Serra, the Franciscan priest who founded the first nine of the California missions. He is literally a saint to some –- the Roman Catholic Church canonized him in 2015– while others decry his role in taking the state away from its rightful owners.

On the other hand, the most famous of the four, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who even has a crater on the moon named after him, was an archetypical conquistador –- and no one considers him a saint. Once known as the discoverer of the Pacific Ocean, in the same way that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, Balboa is today more appropriately described as the first European to look upon that ocean’s eastern shore. But there’s a lot more to his story.

The Encyclopedia Britannica tells us he “organized .. slave-hunting expeditions” and had an “Indian policy” included “the use of … every kind of force, including torture.” And in case you thought the “dogs of war” might just be an expression, the encyclopedia explains that the “Spanish arsenal included their terrible war dogs, sometimes used by Balboa as executioners to tear Indian victims to pieces.”

An incident described by Peter Martyr d’Anghiera in his 1530 account of Spanish exploration and conquest, On the New World, would seem to have particular resonance in San Francisco: “Vasco [Balboa] discovered that the village of Quarequa was stained by the foulest vice. The king’s brother and a number of other courtiers were dressed as women, and according to the accounts of the neighbours shared the same passion. Vasco ordered forty of them to be torn to pieces by dogs.”

And with this, d’Anghiera tells us, “the Christians” — as he routinely referred to the Spaniards –- actually found local favor: “When the natives learned how severely Vasco had treated those shameless men, they pressed about him as though he were Hercules, and spitting upon those whom they suspected to be guilty of this vice, they begged him to exterminate them, for the contagion was confined to the courtiers and had not yet spread to the people. Raising their eyes and their hands to heaven, they gave it to be understood that God held this sin in horror, punishing it by sending lightning and thunder, and frequent inundations which destroyed the crops. It was like wise the cause of famine and sickness.”

Things ultimately did not turn out well for Balboa either, though. Subsequently charged by political opponents with a list of crimes that included the mistreatment of Indians, he was beheaded following what the Britannica describes as a “farcical trial.” His head remained on public display for several days thereafter.

Is this a name that belongs on a San Francisco school?

Reposted by permission of the author

The Sexism Spectrum

The Sexism Spectrum

By Toni Mester
Why do women have to be groped or raped before male dominance is recognized as systematic oppression? Because sexism spans a wide spectrum of behaviors, many of which are commonly tolerated as human nature or accepted cultural norms. As a result, many men don’t recognize or understand their own aggression, rationalize and defend misconduct, and let other men get away with it. Too often women are shamed into accepting or excusing aggressions, micro or worse. Think Melania Trump and “locker room talk”.

Rather than separate male aggression into discreet categories that fit the criminal code, perhaps we should think of sexism as a mental disorder that spans a spectrum, ranging from rudeness to murder, which sprouts from a common root: disrespect for women and inability to treat us as equals.

The Me Too Moment

On October 5, The New York Times published an article on allegations of sexual misconduct by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein that started an avalanche of accusations. Men of all stripes have fallen like dominoes: Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Israel Horowitz, John Conyers, Hamilton Fish, Mark Halperin, and the beat goes on. Women and male victims are speaking out, sometimes about hurts from long ago. I’ve even begun to tell people that I’m a rape survivor, breaking decades of silence; the moment seems to have given me permission to do so.

Sexual harassment and assault accusations are a minefield for men, potentially ruining reputations and careers. Many such allegations cannot be proven, since the offense often occurs in a private setting. But when women come forward in numbers with similar stories, they create credibility. Everybody knows this stuff happens. The victims are not only getting even but getting rid of oppressors in positions of power and shedding self-blame, a burden that can also ruin a life.

Now that the floodgates have opened, The Great Misogynist in the Oval House has entered the crosshairs; his victims recounting unwanted advances from long ago, making America grope again. It’s a sweet moment to savor, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that airing old grudges is going to save us from nuclear war with North Korea, climate change, homelessness, loss of medical care, racist violence, threat of deportation, and myriad other cruelties aggravated by this administration. However, allegations of past sexual misconduct just helped to get Democrat Doug Jones elected Senator in Alabama. Attention must be paid.

Most women who experience sexism on an almost daily basis will never formally accuse a man of assault in a court of law or public opinion and will put up with a whole bunch of bull just because it’s not worth the time and effort to try to raise consciousness among the obtuse. When I encounter sexism in my old age, I’m inclined to just to walk away, but this historical moment has rekindled feminism among veterans of the 1970’s women’s movement.

The Arc of Female Life

Women’s oppression starts in the family where girls are treated as second-class, their talents thwarted and their choices limited. Even in the best of families, girls learn lowered expectations. When I graduated from high school in 1965, acceptable careers for girls were secretary, nurse, or teacher in that order of status and intellectual challenge. Few of us imagined ourselves as doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, architects, business people, or politicians. It took the “second wave” of feminism to unlock the professions, where gender equality is still an upward battle. Most of us didn’t even know that there had been a first wave other than reading Susan B. Anthony’s name in a history book.

In the worst of families, girls have been sexually abused at a horrific rate that continues unabated today. While exact statistics are hard to determine because this crime often goes unreported, it is estimated that 20 to 33% of girls are molested. The long-term effects of child and adolescent sexual abuse include higher levels of depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and social problems. According to the Center for Disease Control, boys also suffer sexual abuse before the age of 18, about 1 in 6, but for girls, the frequency is higher.

Talented young ladies who are fortunate to emerge unscathed or sufficiently recovered from adolescence to enter the academic community need to continually watch their backs on campus. Nationwide, a recent comprehensive study sponsored by the Association of American Universities found that more than 20% of over 150,000 female undergraduates surveyed had experienced unwanted sexual advances. Living in a university town, we are all too aware of misconduct at UC, which has seen more than its share of scandal, the administration settling major sexual harassment suits against professors and undergraduate women filing reports of rape at fraternity parties. Cal police reported 16 rapes in 2016, up from 9 the year before.

With higher education on their resumes and hopefully their self-esteem intact, female job seekers enter the workforce looking for opportunities to prove themselves and earn enough to afford the ever-increasing cost of living. From 1975 to 2000, the number of workingwomen rose dramatically but has leveled off to about 57%, even while public acceptance for women working outside the home has grown, according to Gallup. Wage equity has increased slightly with women now earning 83¢ to the male dollar.

A UC San Diego study on the persistence of male dominance in the professions found that women are underrepresented in law, medicine, science and technology. “They are rarest in the most powerful sectors and at the highest level. Women make up only 21% of scientists and engineers employed in business and industry. In science-related university departments, women hold 36% of adjunct and temporary faculty positions, but only 28% of tenure-track and 16% of full professor positions. In the medical profession, women are only 34% of physicians, while they are 91% of registered nurses. In law firms, although women make up 45% of associates, they are only 15% of equity partners.”

Almost every professional niche has a tale to tell of gender oppression. Women in the military (15% of active duty forces) and veterans face some of the toughest hurdles, including higher rates of PTSD, unemployment, and homelessness. MSN surveyed the twenty jobs with the biggest gender wage gap; sales and financial services topped the list. But these are not the worst paying jobs that include food preparation, restaurant work, retail cashiers, ticket takers, farm workers, personal home aids, and other exhausting and badly paid labor. Over 23 million Americans work at such jobs, and two-thirds are women, earning 15% less than men, and the gap is even larger for women of color according to the Women’s Law Center.

There’s a statistical upside. Women are far less apt to become homicide victims, and we live longer, probably due to genetics. Old age is not for sissies because longevity is likely to be impoverished or “economically insecure” says The National Council on Aging. Elderly women live on smaller social security payments because of their lower lifetime earnings. One in seven seniors lives in poverty, according to the AARP, and the numbers will increase as the baby boomers age.

From Insult to Injury

That’s gender inequality as seen over the life span, but there’s also a spectrum of intensity in the enforcement, the weapons by which male dominance is exercised in the daily life of women, the up close and personal methods of squelching the ambition of girls, the power of women in the prime of life, the options of mothers, and the spirit of little old ladies.

We need psychologists to explain sexism; maybe the need to dominate is correlated to an infantile syndrome characterized by lack of impulse control. It’s a mystery. Men are competitive by nature and nurture, learning all kinds of obnoxious behaviors from A to Z. It’s our fate to push back. There’s a library of books on every facet of male dominance from linguistics to war; every woman faces different challenges when confronting insensitivity, injustice, abuse, and brutality in private and public spheres. A female architect of my acquaintance once told me that it was her duty to make sure there were enough accessible toilets for women in public buildings. Every woman’s struggle is different but connected. The personal is still political.

The second wave of feminism saved my life, and I will always be grateful to the collective of Plexus: Bay Area Women’s Newspaper for the sisterhood, support and encouragement that helped me forty years ago. The women’s movement of the 1970’s challenged the basic dynamics of American society; today we must join with other political struggles to save Mother Earth from the powers of hatred, greed, and ignorance. Science applied for the good of humanity is the greatest liberation movement of all: the triumph of knowledge over stupidity.

The persistence and extent of women’s oppression can be depressing, especially given the current climate. But we would be fools to give up. It’s always darkest before the dawn. My neighbor Alicia just knit me a pink pussycat hat in honor of that great march, almost a year ago, when women and male allies took to the streets of D.C. after Trump’s victory. Everywhere women are staying strong. Don’t let the jerks get you down. Light a candle for the unfinished business of women’s liberation, and happy holidays.

Toni Mester is a resident of Berkeley.  She writes the “Squeaky Wheel” column for the Berkeley Daily Planet, where this piece appeared on December 16.  Reposted here by permission of the author.  

IMAGINE: A New American Spring

IMAGINE:  The Elephant Party and the Donkey Party have split and broken up.  The new Goat Party has won a landslide victory and I, its standard bearer, am installed in the White House.  Following my speeches on Korea, and the Mideast, I now turn to urgent domestic policy issues.



My fellow citizens and guests:

A wise man once said that we must learn from the people we disagree with.  In my previous talk on the Mideast, I had some severe words of criticism about Saudi Arabia. Today it is my duty and my pleasure to admit that the Saudi leadership has taken a bold step that was long overdue in their country, and is long overdue in ours — a step that we are emulating.  .

No less an expert than the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman has written that the measures taken by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have brought a new Arab Spring to his country. In that same spirit, I have this week launched a new American Spring.

Following the example set by the Saudi leader, I have this morning formed an Anti-Corruption Committee, and during the afternoon we have arrested more than 200 of the biggest billionaires and mega-millionaires in this country. The Kochs, Adelson, the Mercers, Icahn and other well known names are among them.  As luck would have it most of them were attending a luncheon banquet of the former Elephant Party at the former Trump Hotel here in the capital. We have simply evacuated the other guests, locked the doors, posted guards, and shut down communications. Some others who were not at the hotel have been arrested at their homes or offices and brought to the facility. I will give my personal guarantee to their friends and families that no harm will come to them if they cooperate.

For far too long, this relative handful of men and a few women have conducted themselves as an elite above the law.  They have shown contempt for the best interests of this country.  Their sole passion has been to enrich themselves. They have corrupted venal politicians to pass tax laws that steal from the average person to line their own pockets.  They have put their profits above the nation’s clean air, its clean water, its lands and the creatures upon it.  They have boosted emissions of greenhouse gases that imperil the earth’s climate. They have made promises to working people and promptly betrayed every one of them. They have sabotaged what vestiges of public health care remained, and driven untold women, men, children, and seniors to untimely deaths. They have protected and promoted pederasty, rape, and sexual harassment of all kinds. They have stirred and fueled hatred and violence against different ethnic, national, sexual, and religious groups. They have curtailed the right to vote and manipulated voting boundaries to promote their holds on government. By these means and others they have concentrated an unconscionably huge fraction of the nation’s wealth in their hands. If I were to give a complete list of all their crimes, this would be a very long talk. All these abuses of their position are instances of corruption; these are crimes.

The cooperation we are expecting from the detained parties is a sincere display of remorse. A display of remorse will begin by disgorgement of their ill-gotten gains.  We have frozen all of their domestic accounts. For some time we have been researching their overseas accounts and we have taken steps to block those as well.  Online capital transfers in the name of these individuals and their agents and surrogates are shut down. All airports, including private facilities, are guarded to prevent additional individuals of interest from fleeing the country.

Some have objected that seizing private assets without compensation is against the law. But firstly, we are quite sure that most of our detainees will sign over their assets voluntarily in a spirit of cooperation. Those who refuse may join the architects of the Iraq and Afghan wars in Guantanamo while awaiting an eventual full and fair trial of the matter. Under the law of civil asset forfeiture, which previous administrations staunchly upheld, federal, state, and local authorities have seized billions of dollars in assets from private citizens who were never formally charged.  We are merely applying a broad reading of this law to a set of persons who previously were considered untouchable.  No more!

We seek, quite simply, to put an end to the looting of this country’s resources by this self-appointed moneyed elite.  My advisers estimate that the amount of ill-gotten wealth that the US Treasury will recover is in the trillions of dollars. This is money that we urgently need to bring up our beloved country’s standard of living. On almost every measure of well-being and happiness, under the previous administrations, our country has fallen low among the advanced countries, and is sliding lower. Transportation, roads, bridges, sewers, grids, housing, education, healthcare, science, research, the arts, and many other areas desperately need public investment — investment that we could not make because the money required was in the pockets of the kleptocrats. That’s over.

Our detention of these individuals is not directed against their persons.  We will leave them with enough personal wealth to lead a comfortable life. We seek above all an end to the systems by which this looting took place.  We will no longer tolerate the appointment of lobbyists and inside men to regulatory bodies — vultures to head the blood bank. We will put a stop to the buying of elections and to the bad joke that money is speech or corporations are persons. We will profoundly reform our tax policy. I will have more to say on this subject in a later message.

When the Saudi crown prince announced that he was jailing hundreds of his country’s wealthiest men, there were voices who expressed concern with the legal framework for the operation. But, as Mr. Friedman reported from the scene, not a single person “expressed anything other than effusive support.”  The mood among the ordinary citizens he spoke with was “‘Just turn them all upside down, shake the money out of their pockets and don’t stop shaking them until it’s all out.’”  And, as you all know, my predecessor in this office expressed wholehearted support for the operation, stating that the crown prince “knew exactly what he was doing.”

I conclude, therefore, in full confidence that the average American will likewise express great excitement and enthusiasm for today’s initiative.  For years we all have known that the only practical solution to the evils that our modern robber barons have inflicted on this country is to “lock them up.”  Today, we have done just that. We have learned a valuable lesson from a Muslim crown prince — imagine that! — and we have launched a new season, a bright new spring, in the life of our beloved America.

Thank you.


Imagine: American Policy in the Mideast

IMAGINE:  The Elephant Party and the Donkey Party have split and broken up.  The new Goat Party has won a landslide victory and I, its standard bearer,  am installed in the White House.  Following my speech on Korea, I deliver a foreign policy address on the Mideast.

America is in a deep hole in the Mideast.  We lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve landed on the losing side in Syria, we’re responsible for an awful disaster in Yemen, and we’re farther than ever from solving the Israel/Palestine conflict. Outside some very isolated opinion in a few countries, no one in the region thinks kindly of the American position, far from it, and this deep hostility has cost American lives and opened the door to regional advances by Russia.

One of the things I learned in my recovery from addiction to alcohol and drugs is that if you want to climb out of a hole, the first step is to stop digging. Toward that end, I would begin by inviting the head of state of Israel to Washington for a celebration of victory.  Seventy years ago, I would say, few gave the State of Israel much chance for survival.  Today, Israel is strong and prosperous.  Congratulations on your victory.  Accordingly, there is no longer a need for American aid. None will be forthcoming, except possibly humanitarian aid in the event of a natural disaster.  

But if the state of Israel wishes to apply for further American foreign aid, we will set up a trust fund for distressed Mideast states administered by the United Nations, and we invite Israel to make application to that body. Of course, the UN may require compliance with the world body’s resolutions regarding return of occupied territories, prohibition of settlements, and similar issues. That’s life. I would instruct our UN ambassador to urge an accommodating policy on settlements already built in occupied territories provided they are offered as homes to Palestinian families forcibly expelled in prior years and wishing to return.  

This initiative should stimulate some deep rethinking of policy in Israel. To help things along, I would offer an emergency economic aid package to Gaza, where the infrastructure is all but destroyed and people live in an ongoing humanitarian crisis. At the same time, companies doing business in Israeli-occupied territories would be barred from the U.S. market. Residents wishing to emigrate from Israel will receive favored immigration treatment under U.S. laws.  

We would also look favorably on a proposal to elevate Jerusalem to the status of an independent city-state jointly administered by authorities of the three major religions who revere its historic sites.  

Given these initiatives, within a relatively short period, people of good will on both sides will come together and find a way to achieve a historic compromise that leaves both sides slightly dissatisfied but deeply relieved that the conflict is over.  With peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the whole atmosphere in the Mideast and beyond will turn strongly positive for the United States, and the other problems in the area will become much more amenable.  

Moving to those issues, I would convene an international commission on Islamic terrorism, meaning terrorism committed in the name of the Islamic religion. Among the main topics would be Saudi Arabia, whose role in the 9/11 attacks has never been examined in depth. Saudi Arabia is the major funder of Islamic terrorist groups in the Mideast and finances an international network of mosques teaching a narrow jihadist version of Islam. The United States no longer relies on Saudi petroleum and has no need to kowtow to the Saudi princes to maintain energy security. It’s high time that the Saudi role in exporting terrorism is brought into daylight, along with that of other states; and we should not hesitate to label Saudi Arabia a terrorist state and impose appropriate sanctions.  

Even before that commission completes its work, we need to stop the ongoing devastation in Yemen.  As a first step, the United States will impose a no-fly zone over Yemen. Neither Saudi Arabia nor any other state will be permitted to attack Yemeni territory from the air.  The combatant parties will be restricted to their ground game. A naval embargo will permit passage of humanitarian aid and the entry of medical personnel but block weapons shipments and military units. These measures will not stop the hostilities, which have their local roots, but will limit the toll that foreign interference has imposed on the civilian population. The United States can develop good relations with whoever eventually wins the ground battle in Yemen.

The situation in Iraq is another instance where previous US administrations have dug a very deep hole. The invasion of Iraq was a war of choice founded on lies.  To have done it at all was criminal.  Then, the way it was done was stupid beyond belief. Because Saddam had his primary base of support among the Sunni population, the US treated the Sunni like it treated American Negroes during the Jim Crow era, and threw its weight blindly behind the Shia. Nobody in the US occupation authorities seemed to have realized until it was too late that oppressing the Sunnis, who had held state power and staffed a modern army, led inevitably to the birth of a powerful resistance, which took the form of the Islamic State. Furthermore, empowering the Shia handed over the country’s government for all practical purposes to neighboring Iran. Today, American air power has leveled the cities and towns where the Islamic State ruled. The civilian toll is inestimable. The Islamic State, as a state, is dead. But air power does not create stable governments. The United States is in a deeper hole than ever, having fostered a central government in Baghdad that is virtually a puppet of Tehran, and created an ungovernable region of devastation in the Sunni areas. As a result, American leverage in Iraq, to achieve aims other than leveling inhabited places to the ground, is very small.

What to do?  As a first and symbolic step, the American politicians and military leaders who created this mess should be locked up in a special section of Guantanamo where they are made to wear dunce caps. Then we need to launch a Marshall Plan to jumpstart the reconstruction of the cities and towns we destroyed.  Along with that, we need to use whatever leverage we have left in Baghdad to start a process of national amnesty and reconciliation. That underway, there needs to be a serious effort at national elections, with care to achieve roughly proportional representation for all religious and tribal communities. Just maybe, Iraq can be restored to life as a viable nation state.

Joining the architects of the Iraq mission in Guantanamo with dunce caps will be the makers of the Afghanistan mess. Here too we have deliberately wrecked a country and now find ourselves relying on a government of political whores and parasites who would not last three weeks in our absence. Americans are dying to sustain this charade. No previous administration has had the political courage to state the obvious and do what’s required, namely get out, completely, and immediately. Not one more life, not one more dollar. True, Afghanistan will end up governed by the Taliban, but they’ve emerged recently as a relatively moderate force compared to the branch of the Islamic State that’s begun to penetrate their country. The Taliban are the lesser evil. We must not forget the lesson of Vietnam. The ones who took over after we left, we painted them worse than Satan incarnate, but twenty years later we’re wearing shirts and shoes made in Vietnam, going to international conferences in Ho Chi MInh City, and seeing a brisk tourist business. It will be the same with an Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban, and at a minimum the world will be rid of the curse of the Afghan opium crop.  

Let me say a concluding word about the Middle East. Almost everyone among the tens of millions of people who live in this region adheres to Islam. Almost everything the United States has done under past administrations in this region has looked like hostility to the Islamic religion. This is another dunce cap mistake. The United States is not ever going to get rid of Islam.  Islam is one of the world’s major religions, and it will easily survive any attacks we might launch against it, either with bombs or with sermons. Forget about ridding the world of Islam; that will never happen.   

The most important thing we need to do about Islam is to relax about it.  When we get paranoid about Islam and label all Muslims as terrorists, we push peaceable Muslims closer to the terrorists and we drive a few more individuals into the terrorists’ fatal embrace. That is what the terrorists want. When we attack Muslims in general, it also becomes harder for us to win the cooperation of Muslims in tracking and exposing the terrorist fringe. So, we need to accept that Islam is here to stay, and deal with it.  Ninety-nine per cent of Muslims present no threat and are valuable contributors to society. We just need to get used to the different looks of some people’s garments and hair styles, and we can very well do this just as we got used to the severe habits of Catholic nuns and the hairstyles and hats of Orthodox Jews. Who really cares that much about clothes and hairstyles?

We also urgently need to stop the evil practice of promoting Islamic sectarianism. In Iraq before the invasion, Sunni and Shia had frictions, but largely lived as neighbors in peace, and many families intermarried.  American policy deliberately instigated violence by Sunni v. Shia and Shia v. Sunni so as to divide and weaken the country. The region is still reaping the evil consequences of this manipulation. Within Christianity, we had the Thirty Years’ War where Protestant slew Catholic and vice versa, with eight million dead. Previous American administrations have been trying to recreate such a family slaughter by encouraging Sunni Saudi Arabia to make war on Shia Iran, and by aggravating sectarian divisions in other countries. This must stop. Sunni and Shia have their differences over the succession from the Prophet in the seventh century, but absent outside interference they have been able for centuries to agree to disagree and to live peaceably as neighbors, just as Catholics and Lutherans manage to do in our time.  

In the long term, once we relax about Islam, Islam will mellow out internally. Jihadist voices will find no echo, and the younger generation will gradually become more secular, just as has happened with Christianity and Judaism in the West.  This will upset the elders, as it always does, but such is life.

Foreign policy debate in the US has traditionally gravitated around the poles of interventionism vs isolationism. Favoring the end of military intervention in Mideast affairs, as I do, my administration will be accused of isolationism. There is some truth to that charge. Previous administrations have spent almost uncountable treasure on military interventions in the Mideast, pouring it all down a black hole and leaving America’s standing in the world in tatters. While we have been laying waste to other countries, our own quality of life has deteriorated dangerously. We need to bring those billions of dollars back home. We need to retrain our combatants as carpenters, ironworkers, electricians, and all the other useful trades, and rebuild our homeland.  I’ll talk about that in more detail another time.

As far as our relations with other countries go, we need to be actively engaged with all of them.  We need to engage not generally as an invading, bombing, and annihilating force, but as friends and partners in their prosperity and development. This will require a State Department filled with bright young minds with facility in many languages, cultures, and skill sets. It will take some time to remold the image of America in the world. We have been the Ugly American.  We can and will become the Good and Beautiful American. We have it within us. We just need to let it out.  


A Poem From Within

This Is a Poem About What Causes Poems Like This to Be Written

By Jesse J.

Before I begin this poem …
I’d like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence …
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon
On September 11th 2001 …

I’d also like to ask you to offer up a moment of silence …

For all those who’ve been harassed, imprisoned, disappeared, tortured, raped or killed in retaliation for those strikes … for the victims in Afghanistan, Iraq, in the U.S. and throughout the world …

And if I could add just one more thing …

A day of silence.

For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who died at the hands of U.S.-backed Israeli forces over decades of occupation.

Six months of silence …

For the million and a half Iraqi people … mostly children … who died of malnourishment or starvation as a result of a twelve-year U.S. embargo against that country … before the war ever began … and now … the drums of war beat again …

Before I begin this poem …

Nine months of silence
For the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer
Of concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors
Well they went on as if they were alive …

One year of silence …

For the millions dead in Vietnam … a people … not a war … for those who know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel — their relatives’ bones buried in it — their babies born of it …

Two months of silence …

For the decade of dead in Colombia … whose names … like the corpses they once represented … have piled up and slipped off our tongues …

Before I begin this poem …

Seven days of silence … for El Salvador
A day of silence … for Nicaragua
Five days of silence … for the Guatemalans
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years …

1,955 miles of silence …
For every desperate body that burns in the desert sun
Drowned in swollen rivers at the pearly gates to the empire’s underbelly
A gaping wound sutured shut by razor and corrugated steel …

Twenty-five years of silence …
For the millions of Africans who found their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky
For those who were strung and swung from the height of sycamore trees
In the South
The North
The East
The West
There will no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains …

100 years of silence …
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous people from this half of right now
Whose land and lives were stolen
In postcard-perfect plots like
Pine Ridge
Wounded Knee
Sand Creek
Fallen Timbers
Or the Trail of Tears
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry
On the refrigerator of our consciousness …

From the somewhere within the pillars of power …
You open your mouth to invoke a moment of silence …
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut

A moment of silence …
And the poets are laid to rest
The drums disintegrated to dust …

Before I begin this poem.

You want a moment of silence …
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
While the rest of us hope to hell that it won’t be
Not like it always has been
Because you see
This isn’t a 9/11 poem
This is a 9/10 poem!
A 9/9 poem!
A 9/8 poem!
A 9/7 poem!
This is a 1619 poem!
A 1492 poem!
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written
But if it is a 9/11 poem
It’s a September 11, 1973 poem for the people of Chile
It’s a September 12, 1977 poem for the Steven Biko of South Africa
It’s a September 13, 1971 poem for the brothers at Attica prison in New York
It’s a September 14, 1992 poem for the people of Somalia
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground
Amidst the ashes of amnesia
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history uprooted from its textbooks
The 100 stories that CNN, ABC, The New York Times and Newsweek ignored
This is a poem to interrupt their programs
This is not a peace poem
Not some poem of forgiveness
This is a justice poem
A poem for never forgetting
This is a poem to remind us
That all that glitters
Might just be
Broken glass
And still you want a moment of silence for the dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empties;
The unmarked graves
Lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children.

Before I begin this poem …

We could be silent forever …
Or just long enough to hunger for the dust to bury us
And would you still ask us for more of our silence …

Well if you want a moment of silence …
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines
The televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights
Delete the emails and instant messages
Derail the trains and ground the planes

If you want a moment of silence …
Put a brick through the window of Taco Bell
And pay the workers for wages lost …

Tear down the Liquor stores
The Townhouses
The Penthouses
The Jail houses
And the White Houses

If you want a moment of silence …
Then take it now!
Before this poem begins
Here’s your silence
Take it!
Take it all!
But don’t cut in line
Let your silence begin
At the beginning of crime …


Jesse J, 52, is currently in the San Francisco County Jail for a probation violation. He has spent the better part of the last 35 years in and out of the criminal justice system.

Reprinted by permission from The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth, which was founded by David Inocencio in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed.