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27 March 2023   3 comments

Repeal the 2nd Amendment

The United States has experienced yet another mass shooting, this time in Nashville, Tennessee at a religious school. Six people died and the killer carried two assault-style weapons and a handgun. As always, the nation will go through another period of impotent “thoughts and prayers” as its citizens will debate the meaning of the 2nd Amendment.

The 2nd Amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” It is a poorly written amendment, subject to all sorts of weird interpretations. When it was being debated in 1789, its intent was clear. The citizens at the time were tremendously suspicious of a standing army since their experience as colonial subjects proved to them that standing armies, maintained by a powerful state, represented a threat to liberty. The writers of the constitution therefore wanted the common defense to be maintained by state militias in order to fragment centralized military control and assumed that militias would only be called upon when there was a specific threat to be addressed. The Massachusetts Declaration of Rights adopted in 1780 gives a rough idea of what the concerns were: “The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence. And as, in time of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature; and the military power shall always be held in an exact subordination to the civil authority, and be governed by it.”

The most important dimension of this concern was the fear of a powerful state. To that end, the states were not expected to arm the militias. Instead, every citizen was expected to bring their own weapons when the militia was called upon. The “original intent” of the 2nd Amendment was to assure that states never developed their own weapons-producing capabilities.

This meaning of the 2nd Amendment has been lost and its tortured language is currently interpreted by the US Supreme Court as a right of individuals to possess weapons even though the states now buy weapons for their militias (in the US, the National Guard) and the Federal Government regularly purchases weapons to arm the various branches of the US military. Indeed, soldiers in the US military are not allowed to use personal weapons when they are officially deployed in combat. The reasoning behind this prohibition is obvious: massed armies require standardized equipment so that it is easier to provide the necessary training, ammunition, and maintenance of weaponry. And very few citizens could afford to buy their own modern weapons.

The Militia Act of 1792 makes it clear that citizens were expected to provide their own weapons:

“That every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good How to be musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a armed and ac- knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball: or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder”

This interpretation of the 2nd Amendment was washed away in the Supreme Court’s decision, District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008. The decision was 5-4 and the Majority Opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. That Opinion was summarized as follows:

“To read the Amendment as limiting the right to bear arms only to those in a governed military force would be to create exactly the type of state-sponsored force against which the Amendment was meant to protect people. Because the text of the Amendment should be read in the manner that gives greatest effect to the plain meaning it would have had at the time it was written, the operative clause should be read to ‘guarantee an individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.’ This reading is also in line with legal writing of the time and subsequent scholarship. Therefore, banning handguns, an entire class of arms that is commonly used for protection purposes, and prohibiting firearms from being kept functional in the home, the area traditionally in need of protection, violates the Second Amendment.”

The Supreme Court went even further in its decision New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen in 2022 and the Majority Opinion was written by Justice Clarence Thomas. In that opinion , Justice Thomas argued that all gun control legislation needed to be assessed in a manner “consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” I personally have no idea what that phrase means. What is the “historical tradition” relevant to an AR-15? It only became widely available in 1963 when the Colt Manufacturing Company sold it to civilians.

The interpretations of Heller and Bruen are hypertrophic and have no logical connection whatsoever with the original intent of the 2nd Amendment. To equate the right to carry an automatic or semi-automatic weapon in a public place to the right to speak freely or to assemble peaceably is dishonest nonsense. Indeed, the right to speak freely is itself limited to speech that does not incite violence. And the invocation of “original” intent is itself nonsense. The “original intent” of the Constitution was to codify and normalize the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of people. The “original intent” of the Constitution was to deny women the right to vote. Fortunately, the people of the United States decided that slavery was completely inconsistent with the true aspirations of the Constitution and that the voices of women in governance was essential to a well-functioning democracy. One would be hard-pressed to argue that the slaughter of innocents was consistent with the ideals of “domestic tranquility“.

We should repeal the 2nd Amendment since its current interpretation apparently only allows “thoughts and prayers” for those who are mindlessly killed and for those who have lost loved ones. And we should examine seriously the health of a society which holds that children should be protected only by participating in “active shooting drills”. That advice resonates strongly with me as I remember huddling under my wooden desk in 3rd grade as adults tried to persuade me that it was an effective defense against a nuclear blast.

The repeal of the 2nd Amendment would leave a vacuum with respect to gun policy. Much would have to be done to fill that vacuum, but I only offer one suggestion on the issue of automatic and semi-automatic weapons. I want to avoid the inevitable controversy over the possible “confiscation” of guns. That policy would never work and would simply aggravate the untenable situation in which we find ourselves. Instead, I suggest a Federal law along the following lines;

  1. The sale of any weapon with an automatic or semi-automatic firing mechanism will be prohibited.
  2. Citizens can possess such weapons but they can only be held on the property of the primary residence of a citizen.
  3. The carrying of an automatic or semi-automatic weapon in a public space will be prohibited and any such weapons found in a public space shall be confiscated and destroyed.

We can debate background checks or the mental health requirements on all other weapons at a future point. But there is no reason why the burden of proving an acceptable solution to gun violence should be borne exclusively by those who want the weapons to be controlled. The burden should more appropriately be borne by those who insist that they have a “right” to possess military-grade weapons. They should be forced to defend that right in the face of all the horror and instability that society faces every day and with stunning regularity.

Posted March 27, 2023 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

17 March 2023   Leave a comment

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova. They stand accused of Crimes Against humanity, specifically for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. The International Criminal Court in The Hague was created in 2002 and has the authority to prosecute war criminals only for “crimes committed on the territory of a state which has ratified the treaty; or by a citizen of such a state; or when the United Nations Security Council refers a case to it.” According to the New York Times:

“Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February, Russian authorities have announced with patriotic fanfare the transfer of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia to be adopted and become citizens. On state-run television, officials offer teddy bears to new arrivals, who are portrayed as abandoned children being rescued from war.

“In fact, this mass transfer of children is a potential war crime, regardless of whether they were orphans. And while many of the children did come from orphanages and group homes, the authorities also took children whose relatives or guardians want them back, according to interviews with children and families on both sides of the border.”

Last February the Yale School of Public Health released a report that estimated that about 6,000 children had been abducted and brought into Russia where some of them have been adopted by Russian citizens. That report pointed out:

“The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed UNSC Resolution 1261 in 1999, which details six grave violations against children during armed conflict. These six grave violations are derived from accepted instruments and bedrock principles of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and international juris prudence, including the Four Geneva
Conventions and their additional protocols, the Rome Statute, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Grave violation 5 is the abduction of children by either state or non-state actors during both interstate and intrastate warfare. The United Nations’ 2013 edition of its working paper on the legal foundation of the six grave violations explains why child abduction during armed conflict constitutes a grave violation:

“Abducting or seizing children against their will or the will of their adult guardians either temporarily or permanently and without due cause, is illegal under international law. It may constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and in some circumstances amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The immediate effect of the arrest warrants is negligible. Russia signed the Rome Treaty establishing the ICC in 2002, but never ratified the treaty and withdrew its signature in 2016 after criticisms over its takeover of Crimea in 2014 and for its actions in the Syrian civil war. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a Twitter statement likening the arrest warrant to toilet paper. But the Court has tried two former leaders of states–Muammar Gaddaffi of Libya and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. It is unlikely that anyone will arrest Putin anytime soon. But Putin is now constrained from traveling to any state which might have an interest in arresting him which may limit his standing in the international arena. Moreover, Russian allies may find it harder to embrace Russian policies in Ukraine as along as the warrant is outstanding.

Posted March 17, 2023 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

16 March 2023   Leave a comment

EGMONT

A Tragedy In Five Acts

By Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Translated by Anna Swanwick

Posted March 16, 2023 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

5 March 2023   Leave a comment

I am becoming increasingly concerned that Israel is thinking more seriously about attacking the nuclear facilities in Iran in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. In late February, Iran acknowledged that a report from international inspectors that Iran had purified Uranium to 84% purity, very close to the threshold level for weapons-grade Uranium. Since that time, there have been many high-level meetings among Israeli defense officials. According to Al-Monitor:

“Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant agreed on Wednesday night on a multiyear defense budget, a large portion of which will be dedicated to preparations for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear program.

“Indeed, reports confirm that Israel is stepping up its preparations to attack Iran’s military nuclear infrastructure. Since Netanyahu returned to power in late December, this possibility is being discussed on a practical level, reflecting the coveted goal of his career. As things look now, the question is not really whether Israel will attack Iran, but when it will do so and whether it will go it alone or with US logistical, political and perhaps even ‘kinetic’ backing.

“Israel’s top security brass took part this week in the Defense Ministry’s 2023 annual work plan conference, among them Gallant, Ministry Director General Maj. Gen. (Res.) Eyal Zamir and the head of the Ministry’s Political-Security Division, Brig. Gen. (Res.) Dror Shalom. Addressing the participants, all three agreed that a real war was being waged between Israel and Iran. Shalom, the most outspoken of the three, said Israel must shift gears and realize that it is already engaged in a war of varying intensity with Iran.”

Moreover, “Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has held a meeting with Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley in Tel Aviv to discuss the regional security and the importance of international cooperation aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons”. The US has had a contingency plan, code-named “Support Sentry”, for a military operation against Iran since 2018 under the Trump Administration (such plans are not alarming in and of themselves–the US likely has many contingency plans to invade Canada). But the plans have increased urgency given recent events: “Support Sentry is one example of the U.S. military’s growing comfort with — and support for — Israel’s aggressive stance toward Iran. As U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides’ bluntly put it last week, ‘Israel can and should do whatever they need to deal with [Iran] and we’ve got their back.'”

The new Israeli military budget has allocated additional funds for capabilities specifically targeted toward Iranian nuclear facilities. Specifically Israel has requested enough money to purchase the GBU-72 bomb from the US which is designed to destroy underground facilities such as those being used by the Iranian nuclear program. The Middle East Monitor notes:

“Israel’s cabinet has approved a multi-year draft general budget which, amongst other things, grants an increase by approximately $2.8 billion for a potential strike on Iran and its nuclear program.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant agreed on Wednesday night on a multi-year defence budget which will reportedly largely be used to prepare for a potential strike on Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.

“According to media reports, Israel is planning to request the United States to sell to it its new GBU-72 bomb, which weighs 5,000 pounds (2,267.9 kilograms) and has the capability to strike underground sites or bunkers.

“The planned purchase had initially been considered in 2021 when that year’s budget allocated $1.5 billion to the Israeli military for the purpose of attaining arms for a potential conflict with Iran. The military continued that aim this year, but requested an additional $3 billion, of which $2.8 was granted….

“The resumption of the plan to purchase the GBU-72 bomb comes particularly at a time when Israel has been openly considering taking preventative military action against Iran’s nuclear program, with Netanyahu seeking to bomb sites and underground facilities in a repeat of Israel’s striking of Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear facilities in 1981 and 2007.”

Attitudes toward Iran have become sharply more negative since the death of Mahsa Amini on 16 September 2022. Amini died in the custody of the Iranian morality police for not wearing an appropriate head covering and the country was rocked by serious protests for several months. According to Ellen Ioanes writing for Vox:

“Amini’s death became the catalyzing event to unleash pent-up fury at the government; political opposition is basically nonexistent, with Iran’s Reform Party suggesting gradual fixes in the face of protesters’ demands for radical change. Ordinary Iranians have little political representation, particularly after the election of the hard-line current President Ebrahim Raisi, Khamenei’s preferred candidate in the 2021 elections who has a record of grievous human rights abuses. Many Iranians refused to vote in those most recent elections, both as the only feasible way to show disgust with the system, and because many understood the vote to be rigged in Raisi’s favor.….

“To date, at least 517 people have been killed during the protests, though the actual number is unknown since the regime does not release data on those killed, arrested, or executed for participating in the uprising. That number includes roughly 50 children under 18, the New York Times’ Farnaz Fassihi previously reported. But casualties and arrests — the latter of which the HRANA activist news agency puts at around 19,200 — are difficult to track; social media and internet access are severely curtailed, and foreign reporters can’t access the country.”

Those attitudes have only hardened with the reports of the poisoning of Iranian schoolgirls, ostensibly to send messages to Iranian women to end the protests. But little is known at this time about those poisonings, other than many of the girls have been sent to the hospital.

My heightened concerns about an Israeli attack on Iran arises because of the domestic turmoil within Israel as the Netanyahu government seeks to change the authority of the Israeli Supreme Court so that its decisions can be overridden by the Knesset. The change would also likely undermine the ability of the Israeli justice system to prosecute him for alleged crimes of bribery and corruption. Additionally, the settler movement is feeling empowered by the Netanyahu government to take stronger steps to annex the entire West Bank at the expense of all the Palestinians who live there. An attack on Iran would probably stimulate stronger nationalist feelings within Israel and put the concerns of many Israelis about the future of Israeli democracy on the back burner. It seems to be a ripe time for Netanyahu to change the political climate within Israel in his favor.

Posted March 5, 2023 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

5 February 2023   Leave a comment

It is so nice to see something so graceful, powerful, and moving. Human beings are, for all their faults, truly extraordinary.

Posted February 5, 2023 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

29 January 2023   Leave a comment

There have been explosions near a military factory in Iran and there are suspicions that Israel was behind what appear to be drone attacks. The possibility has raised tensions, not only in the Middle East, but also in other areas of the world. Iran has supplied Russia with drones in the Russian war against Ukraine and that support has alienated (further) relations between Iran and the West. But it also comes as a very right-wing government in Israel has come to power that is dedicated to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The Guardian reports:

“There was no immediate confirmation about who was responsible, but the attacks appear to fit a pattern of strikes against strategic sites across Iran that have been attributed to Israel in recent years. A fire erupted at a fuel refinery in the north-west of Iran at about the same time as explosions were heard in Isfahan, at 11.30pm local time.

“Drones have played an increasing role in a shadow war being fought between Iran and Israel over the skies of Iraq and Syria, in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and even the eastern Mediterranean, where tankers have been set ablaze by both sides since early 2019.

“However, the stakes have been highest in Iran itself, where Iran’s nuclear programme has been the target of repeated sabotage attempts. The country’s top scientist was assassinated in 2020 and the Natanz nuclear facility was struck one year later by a blast that damaged its centrifuges. The Karaj facility was struck the same year. An attack in 2022 damaged a drone facility, destroying at least 120 craft.”

Iran is already facing widespread domestic discontent triggered by the death of a woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Iranian authorities on a charge of not wearing proper headcoverings. Suzanne Kianpour notes the significance of the protests which have been going on for the last three months:

“But what’s happening in Iran is not a political movement as much as it is a civil rights movement. Women don’t have basic human rights. In many parts of their existence, a man must make decisions for them, according to the law. And yet they are highly educated. The slogan of the revolution — “zan, zendegi, azadi” or “woman, life, liberty” — is not about politics but about equality.

“In the early days of the protests fueled by Mahsa Amini’s death, I was speaking with a U.S. intelligence official who said the regime would crack down on the protesters and they’d dissipate as in the past. But everyone I spoke with inside Iran said this time is different”

In addition, violence has been breaking out in Israel as well as the Israeli government has been responding to internal pressures to allow greater control to settlers in the Occupied Territories. The Israeli military conducted a raid on a refugee camp near the city of Jenin which resulted in the deaths of nine Palestinians on 26 January. That attack was followed by Palestinian attacks on Israelis leaving a synagogue which resulted in the deaths of seven Israelis.

There have also been large protests in Israel against the government’s plans to restrict the authority of the Israeli judiciary. Yesterday, nearly 100,000 Israelis protested against these plans. According to CBS News:

“To secure his sixth term as Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has formed a coalition with extremist political parties that support the introduction of more severe anti-Palestinian legislation, including banning the Palestinian flag in public spaces and expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank that are illegal under international law. Some coalition members also support amendments to Israeli laws that protect the rights of women, LGBTQ people and other minority groups…

“Netanyahu’s government has also proposed reforms to the country’s supreme court that could undermine the independence of the nation’s judiciary, allowing politicians to potentially overrule court decisions. That, critics say, is a direct threat to Israel’s democratic system of checks and balances and could benefit Netanyahu himself as he faces an ongoing trial over alleged corruption.”

The overall situation is incredibly volatile and we need to keep an eye on how these things develop. The US, moreover, needs to pay close attention to how the new Israeli government actually implements its policies, many of which contradict long-standing US concerns in the region. The Israeli government is taking actions which threaten its staus as a democracy as well as the possibility of some agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Posted January 29, 2023 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

23 January 2023   4 comments

My wife, Priscilla, told me about a National Public Radio broadcast on the movie, Casablanca. She knows that that movie is my all-time favorite. The broadcast provided an insight into the movie about which I was unaware: that some of the most memorable characters in the film were themselves refugees from Nazi Europe.

“But Casablanca is more than just a love story. It is a film about, and stocked with, the waves of refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe during wartime. And many of the actors playing those roles were, in fact, refugees.

“‘When people speak here, the accents are real,’ says Leslie Epstein, the son and nephew of screenwriters Philip and Julius Epstein‘That gives it a kind of authenticity. In a sense, they’re playing themselves.'”

Virtually every scene in the movie is brilliant, and my heart aches when the camera focuses on Ingrid Bergman’s face as Sam begins to play “As Time Goes By”–for almost a full minute Bergman’s face says everything one needs to know about her and Rick (Humphrey Bogart) without needing to utter a single word.

And there are few scenes in cinematic history that convey the power of nationalism than the singing contest between the Germans and the French.

But the final scene always make me choke up. I understand that there were discussions about how to end the movie right up until the end of filming, with some arguing that Rick and Ilsa should stay together (something which would have never worked in the social climate of the mid-1940s). To my mind, the conclusion is perfect.

Posted January 23, 2023 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

16 January 2023   2 comments

Oxfam has published its annual global economic report, entitled “Survival of the Richest: How we must tax the super-rich now to fight inequality”. It is a depressing read. It documents the ongoing process of extreme concentrations of wealth in the global economy, a process thats began in the 1980s and has accelerated in recent years. The summary is damning:

  • Since 2020, the richest 1% have captured almost two-thirds of all new wealth – nearly twice as much
    money as the bottom 99% of the world’s population.
  • Billionaire fortunes are increasing by $2.7bn a day, even as inflation outpaces the wages of at least
    1.7 billion workers, more than the population of India.
  • Food and energy companies more than doubled their profits in 2022, paying out $257bn to wealthy
    shareholders, while over 800 million people went to bed hungry.
  • Only 4 cents in every dollar of tax revenue comes from wealth taxes, and half the world’s billionaires
    live in countries with no inheritance tax on money they give to their children.
  • A tax of up to 5% on the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires could raise $1.7 trillion a year,
    enough to lift 2 billion people out of poverty, and fund a global plan to end hunger.

The concentration of wealth is simply staggering:

  • The richest 1% hold 45.6% of global wealth, while the poorest half of the world have just 0.75%.
  • 81 Billionaires hold more wealth than 50% of the world combined.
  • 10 billionaires own more than 200 million African women combined.

More importantly, the process is not simply a natural consequence of market capitalism–it is a process that has been facilitated by the political power associated with great wealth. Specifically, the tax systems of most countries in the world are structured to provide significant tax relief to the rich through loopholes, tax havens, and lax tax enforcement. Evan Osnos has written an essay for the New Yorker which outlines the ways the Getty family has evaded taxes through the creation of trusts. Osnos begins by highlighting how rich families have increased their wealth in recent years:

“And yet, in recent times, the fortunes of many prominent American clans have soared. Between 1983 and 2020, the net worth of the Kochs, who prospered in fossil fuels and became right-wing mega-donors, grew twenty-five-fold, from $3.9 billion to $100 billion. The Mars-family fortune, which began in the candy business, grew by a factor of thirty-six, to $94 billion. The Waltons, of Walmart, expanded their fortune forty-four-fold, to $247 billion. The financial triumph of such clans helps explain how the imbalance of wealth in the United States has risen to levels unseen in a century. In 1978, the top 0.1 per cent of Americans owned about seven per cent of the nation’s wealth; today, according to the World Inequality Database, it owns eighteen per cent.”

Osnos points out how the tax system has favored the rich: “According to Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, economists at the University of California, Berkeley, the average tax rate on the top 0.01 per cent has fallen by more than half, to about thirty per cent, while rates for the bottom ninety per cent have climbed slightly, to an average of twenty-five per cent.” He goes on to an important conclusion:

“Scholars of wealth and taxes say that the golden age of élite tax avoidance has contributed to the turbulence in American politics, by hardening social stratification; reducing public resources for education, health, and infrastructure; and eroding trust in America’s mythologies of fairness and opportunity. Edward McCaffery, a tax professor at the U.S.C. Gould School of Law, said, ‘Tax, which is supposed to be a cure, is in fact one of the problems. This is a pattern that recurs throughout history. Capital keeps getting more and more unequal, until there’s a crash.’”

The Institute for Policy Studies provides an informative list of the ways the tax system is manipulated in the US:

  • The U.S. is host to an estimated $5.6 trillion in trust assets. Much of these assets belong to the uber-wealthy — both international and domestic — and are held in trust in states subservient to the trust industry. The concept of the “offshore” tax haven has very much washed ashore.
  • U.S. trust-subservient states enable illicit wealth hiding and tax avoidance. As the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ Pandora Papers investigation revealed, some U.S. states have aided international kleptocrats to avoid accountability at home and hide their ill-gotten wealth abroad. These states also enable wealthy Americans to avoid federal taxation, cheating the U.S. out of revenue with which it could combat poverty or invest in infrastructure. Trusts, therefore, affect every U.S. citizen and resident.
  • Three key ingredients — low or no taxes, secrecy, and trust longevity — make certain U.S. states particularly attractive to wealth defenders. These states pass laws to cut or abolish taxes or hide trust records from prying eyes. More than two thirds of states allow trusts to last for at least 150 years or forever. Additionally, more than a third of states allow trusts to be established by the person benefiting from the trust, shielding their assets from creditors and tax authorities.
  • There is a significant correlation between regressive state taxation systems, which hurt the poorest residents, and trust-subservient state laws. Of the 13 states captured by the trust industry we have profiled here, eight are among the 15 most regressive tax states in the country. These states often cut taxes for the wealthiest residents and instead rely on the low and middle class, who pay a disproportionate amount of their income in taxes.
  • The trust industry says it simply helps its clients obey laws — but in reality it often writes the laws. As our report shows, the trust industry is the driving force for trust deregulation. Trust and estate lawyers regularly lobby state legislatures and sometimes work in official capacities with states to write legislation favorable to the industry. In small states with part-time or “citizen” legislatures, there is no countervailing power that matches the clout of the financial services industry. And this trust deregulation is often bipartisan.
  • The trust industry offers little benefit to states. Contrary to what trust and estate lawyers may claim about increased economic development and boosted state revenue, states largely do not benefit from trusts. Though billions may be held in trust in a state, state coffers — and the public — will never see it. States charge only small fees to trust companies; the trust industry creates very few jobs; and trust owners have no reason to physically move to or even visit the states where they have established trusts.
  • States are engaged in a rapid race to the bottom, so federal action is needed. States may see a few jobs created by the trust industry and determine that is worth the detrimental effect of trusts on the rest of the country. It is in the federal government’s interest, therefore, to curb state laws that enable illicit wealth hiding and tax avoidance.

This process cannot end well. The consequences of the concentration of wealth after the financial crisis in 2008-09 was a series of elections that led to populist and nationalist leaders such as Donald Trump in the US and Boris Johnson in Great Britain. We are now in the second phase of this political process–more violent political expressions such as the riots in the US on 6 January 2021, the protests in China against the Covid restrictions, and the violence in Brazil most recently. These violent protests were not well-organized and the third phase of the protests against the concentration of wealth will likely see the emergence of political parties dedicated to more radical redistributions of wealth.

Posted January 16, 2023 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

12 January 2023   4 comments

Science published a very interesting paper on how the scientists at Exxon/Mobil accurately anticipated climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels as early as 1977. Researchers reviewed “32 internal documents produced in-house by ExxonMobil scientists and managers between 1977 and 2002, and 72 peer-reviewed scientific publications authored or coauthored by ExxonMobil scientists between 1982 and 2014.” The researchers found that Exxon/Mobil scientists were remarkably prescient about the consequences of using fossil fuels:

“In summary, climate projections reported by ExxonMobil scientists between 1977 and 2003 were accurate and skillful in predicting subsequent global warming. Some projections suggested slightly too much warming and others not quite enough, but most (63 to 83%, depending on the metric used) were statistically consistent with subsequently observed temperatures, particularly after accounting for discrepancies between projected and observed changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. ExxonMobil’s projections were also consistent with, and as skillful as, those of academic and government scientists. All told, ExxonMobil was aware of contemporary climate science, contributed to that science, and predicted future global warming correctly. These findings corroborate and add quantitative precision to assertions by scholars, journalists, lawyers, politicians, and others that ExxonMobil accurately foresaw the threat of human-caused global warming, both prior and parallel to orchestrating lobbying and propaganda campaigns to delay climate action, and refute claims by ExxonMobil Corp and its defenders that these assertions are incorrect.”

The scientific conclusions, however, were at variance with the interests of Exxon/Mobil as a profit-seeking enterprise and the researchers analyze the public statements of the company thast either denied or downplayed the conclusions of the science:

“ExxonMobil has often specifically claimed or suggested in public that climate models are ‘unreliable’. In 1999, for example, ExxonMobil Corp’s chief executive officer (CEO) Lee Raymond said future climate ‘projections are based on completely unproven climate models, or, more often, sheer speculation.’ In 2013, his successor, Rex Tillerson, called climate models ‘not competent’. In 2015, he stated: ‘We do not really know what the climate effects of 600 ppm versus 450 ppm will be because the models simply are not that good’. The company’s own modeling contradicts such statements”

The discrepancy between what Exxon/Mobil knew to be true and what it professed to be true is striking. Professor Suban of Harvard points out: “We now have airtight, unimpeachable evidence that ExxonMobil accurately predicted global warming years before it turned around and publicly attacked climate science and scientists. Our findings show that ExxonMobil’s public denial of climate science contradicted its own scientists’ data.” And it is painful to recognize that nearly 50 years of possible alternatives to climate change were lost because of the climate denying strategy, not only by Exxon/Mobil but by virtually every major corporation involved in the selling of coal, oil, and natural gas.

Posted January 12, 2023 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

21 December 2022   2 comments

After months of negotiations, it appears as if a ruling coalition has been achieved in Israel. It has been a very difficult period of time in Israeli politics: there have been five elections in the last four years, and none of them has achieved political stability. The newest coalition consists of six parties and they have agreed that Benjamin Netanyahu should serve as Prime Minister, just 18 months after he left the position under a cloud of suspicion. He is currently on trial on “charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust”.

The BBC characterizes the new coalition as “the most right-wing in Israel’s history”:

“Mr Netanyahu’s coalition partners reject the idea of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict – the internationally backed formula for peace which envisages an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank alongside Israel, with Jerusalem as their shared capital.

“The leader of the Religious Zionism party, which in alliance with two other far-right parties won the third largest number of seats in the knesset (parliament), wants to see Israel annex the West Bank and has been given wide powers over its activities there….

“Israeli opposition politicians, as well as its attorney general, have warned that reforms planned by the incoming government – including giving MPs the right to overrule Supreme Court decisions – threaten to undermine Israeli democracy.

“Coalition partners have also proposed legal reforms which could end Mr Netanyahu’s ongoing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Mr Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

“Israeli opposition and civil rights groups have expressed particular alarm at the inclusion of the far-right in the new government.

“Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir is known for his anti-Arab comments and has called for the relaxation of rules on when security forces can open fire in the face of threats. Once convicted of incitement to racism and supporting a terror organisation, he is set to become national security minister with authority over the police in Israel and the West Bank.

“The other far-right partner in government, Avi Maoz of the anti-LGBT Noam party, has called for Jerusalem’s Gay Pride event to be banned, disapproves of equal opportunities for women in the military, and wants to limit immigration to Israel to Jews according to strict interpretation of Jewish law.”

The news has received mixed responses, but some US Jews have expressed concern over the rightward swing that violates many precepts of liberal democracy. The New York Times outlines the concerns over one member of the new coalition, Itamar Ben-Givr:

“Future ministers in Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet also include several far-right Jewish settlers who have a history of homophobia, antagonism toward Israel’s Arab minority and opposition to secular aspects of public life.

“One, Itamar Ben-Gvir, was barred from serving in the Israeli Army because he was considered too extremist. He admires a hard-line rabbi who wanted to strip Arab Israelis of their citizenship, and for years, he displayed a portrait in his home of an extremist Jewish settler who shot dead 29 Palestinians in 1994 in a mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron.

“Despite criminal convictions for incitement to racism and support for a terrorist group, Mr. Ben-Gvir is set to be minister for national security, overseeing the police.”

The new coalition signals little intention to revive the moribund peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The Biden Administration has been reticent to express strong concerns about the coalition, and it appears as if the US will wait to see how the coalition actually governs. But we should all be concerned about the future of Israeli liberal democracy.

Posted December 21, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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