This from presidential candidate Marco Rubio this week -
"If you think about it, we are at the water's edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech. Because today we've reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage, you are labeled a homophobe and a hater".
"After they are done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech and there's a real and present danger".
Well apparently the start of the general election season has officially started. Like some form of a hunting season, you know it when candidates perch themselves up in a metaphorical tree and start hunting Christian voters.
What makes all of this ridiculous, is Christians are supposed to have read the New Testament, and Jesus's teachings.
Jesus was a non-violent advocate of tolerance and economic equality.
If Jesus was walking around today, he probably would be called a Communist from the very Christians who pray to him.
It seems the only person that gets that - from a position of power - is Pope Francis. And he is going to be very inconvenient to a lot of Christians when he visits the US.
Mainstream Christianity? That must be a dog whistle implying that Christians have officially white-washed the Jesus of the New Testament.
Hate speech from Catholicism? Another inconvenient misinterpretation. There is nothing in the canon of Catholicism that remotely talks about homosexuality. Pope Francis is on record as saying that a good Catholic that is gay is better than a straight person who is a sinner.
My children have attended a cumulative 25 years of Catholic education. Many of their classmates come from same-sex couples. And many are not even Catholic but Muslim or Hindu.
Jesus, Pope Francis and Catholic schools all preach universal tolerance. They don't speak of hate but of love for their fellow human beings.
And then there is the law of the land. Putting aside Catholic/Christian tolerance; same-sex marriage is legal in 37 of 50 states either by court order, legislative action or popular vote. Alabama's decision to ban same-sex marriage was struck down by the Supreme Court.
It's perfectly fine if Christians/Catholic believe homosexuality is wrong. That is a deeply personal choice. But to say a whole religious group is under attack? That's a gigantic generalization that isn't based on reality.
May 28, 2015
US defense secretary Ash Carter offered a withering critique of the will of Iraqi defense forces in the fall of Ramadi to Islamic State on Sunday.
The most striking sentence was -
“The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” Mr. Carter said. “They were not outnumbered. In fact they vastly outnumbered the opposing force and yet they failed to fight and withdrew from the site...We can give them training, we can give them equipment. We obviously can’t give them the will to fight.”
It seems that the Obama administration has to change its tactics in response to sharp criticism of their approach in combating extremist groups there.
I am not one for tactical change. I think tactics simply try to soften core problems. And the core problem is the same problem before the Iraqi invasion, after the invasion and the rise of ISIL.
Iraq is an artificial country formed after World War I during the haste to redraw the borders of the German-allied Ottoman Empire during the Treaty of Versailles.
Fixing this core problem is the only real strategy left. Specifically splitting up Iraq into three countries: on that is Kurd, one that is Sunni and a one that is Shia.
The Kurds have been fairly autonomous since the Gulf War and ISIL hasn't had any luck in fighting them. The fighting has been mostly left to a Shia dominated military that doesn't really care about Sunni territories.
If Iraq is split up into three different countries along ethnic/religious borders; their respective territories and armies have everything to gain by fighting ISIL. And everything to lose.
If this strategy works and ISIL is defeated, Obama can define his legacy in Iraq. And in doing so, history will remember the Iraq invasion - not as a failure - but the first act of reversing the failures committed by the Treaty of Versailles.
May 25, 2015
First century Judea was occupied by the Romans. Furthermore, first century Judea was a based on agrarian commercialization; a fancy word for taking peasants land, building profits based on scale and selling it back to the peasants at a higher price.
Judean Jews were doubly harmed. Their economic lives were negatively impacted; and as Jews - where land only comes from God and thus shouldn't be sold - the Romans were committing blasphemy.
The Jewish historian Josephus, in the second century, tells us the tapestry of tactics of the oppressed Judeans in the first century.
You had the Essenes who simply fled. You had Jews who corroborated with the Romans as Josephus did. You had acts of urban killing of Romans and corroborating Jews. And you had non-violent protest. One of which was the "Jesus Movement".
Throughout history, oppressed people, have continued to use these same basic tactics. They are not so much Jewish in nature, but more human in nature.
For example, 1960's African-Americans, used all of the tapestry of tactics of the oppressed. Like the Essenes, some simply fled to the conclaves of the inner city. Some complied by sitting in the back of the bus. Some took to early Malcolm X and later Black Panthers violent resistance. And then you had MLK and non-violent protest.
From the Jesus Movement to Gandhi to MLK; non-violent protest was effective.
Today, the minorities in our inner cities, are oppressed by gangs of their own race. And they and law enforcement are equally victims.
I live in a city - Chicago - that is one of the worst affected. In other cities like Ferguson and Baltimore more good has come from non-violent protest than violent protest. In Chicago, nothing has occurred. Chicago seems to be Essenes-like in nature.
African-Americans may have gained the right to vote and the inherent rights from anti-racial discrimination laws. But for the majority. their lives have nonetheless become worse not better.
It isn't going to get better unless they take action. And the action of choice should be inspired by the success of non-violent protest. But doing nothing? A zero percent chance things will get better and a 100% chance things will get worse.
May 24, 2015
I am sure you will be fed everything you want to hear in the 2016 presidential election campaign. But it will not resemble reality nor anything all encompassing.
Here are our nation's greatest assets -
Now here are our nation's greatest liabilities -
Any view of the future requires maximizing opportunities and mitigating threats. The following actions are the real game changers for America's future -
1. Smart immigration and building the world's best infrastructure. The US has enough land mass to support a trebling (3X) of its population. A smart immigration policy would demand citizenship to enter and matriculate from our nation's universities. This would not only make our country skew more smarter; but also reverse our aging demographics. In order to support a greater use of land and more diversity of location of dwelling and jobs; a building of the world best high speed rail would be required. And that would create jobs.
2. Term limits. This nation was always intended to be governed by citizen-politicians; not professional-politicians. In Washington, a presidential and congressional term should be one-term for six years in staggered elections. This would incent citizen-politicians to serve the country instead of the other way around. Six years is enough time to come up to speed on legislating and the incentive would be to do bigger things instead of less-risky things in order to be re-elected. Legacy trumps job protection.
3. Making our cities safe. There are really only two ways to make our cities safe. More law enforcement or getting out of the legislating of morality. Either way we have to pick one. I would vote for the latter. Why? Its more cost-effective and gets at the root of gun violence.
Retailers (the US economy is a consumption-based economy) have a systemic problem that Wall Street has yet to factor in. Aging demographics means an economy of older people that don't shop and not enough new consumers to take their place. Smart immigration isn't a radical idea; it's a life raft for the future of the US economy.
High speed rail is not only a requirement to effectively house more Americans; but a jobs bridge to the future.
Making cities safe is not just a moral obligation, but it helps the future of the US economy and entrepreneurship in our inner cities.
None of this is possible without bold action. And bold action simply is impossible without term limits.
All of this will not be debated in 2016. But it should. Because these fundamental asset/liabilities will not be addressed; maximizing opportunities and mitigating threats will fail to be proposed.
May 23, 2015
Whether it is Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq; one thing is certain: US troops facing an indigenous enemy have one weakness that is systemic: we can't stay forever and the latter will stay forever.
(A) invading Iraq in retrospect was a disastrous decision, (b) the surge worked but (c) the surge couldn't be maintained forever.
Now every 2016 presidential candidate is going to be asked the same question: should US troops go back and defeat ISIS?
Can we do it? Yes. Will it be a standard war of beginning and an end? No.
It would have to be a infinite surge.
This past weekend, the strategic city of Ramadi—capital of Anbar Province—fell to ISIS terrorists. Reports from the region indicate as many as 500 soldiers were slaughtered in the once prosperous city of 850,000. As many as 20 U.S. military vehicles were seized along with caches of arms provided by our government to the Iraqi soldiers who fled in retreat.
Since the Iraqi invasion, Iraq has remained a failed state. The US-led surge was successful; but we had to do all the fighting, dying, wounding and spending. Iraq is like a wayward child; the more you help, the more they don't do anything for themselves, and the worse they become.
If Iraqi soldiers continue to run away ... either Iraq has to be an institutional child for the rest of their lives - with the US as the institution and the financial benefactor - or other Middle East states have to step in and deal with ISIS and Iraq, because it puts their own countries in danger.
I don't see how any 2016 presidential candidate can answer the question of US troops going back into Iraq without the need to sound more hawkish than the last answer.
Meaning it is more likely than not, the next dumbest war will commence after Obama leaves office in 2017. And future historians will be left to try and explain why America kept making the same mistake from the 1960s through what looks to be at least the first half of the 21st century.
May 20, 2015
You may have heard of companies like Apple - who already make a ton of money and has tons of cash - issuing debt at historical low rates, increasing their dividend (by a larger rate) and using that to increase their stock price.
In case that was confusing. Let's say Apple issues corporate bonds for X%. That's debt. But it's AAA debt and very cheap because the amount of the corporate bond is a fraction of Apple's total cash. But a lot of the value of mature companies is dividends. So as long as Apple's marginal increase in dividend % is greater than the marginal amount of debt %, Apples stock goes up. And team Apple's stock options become more valuable.
Actually in this low interest environment, new issuances of corporate debt are very high, regardless of a bond's rating.
But here is the disconnect. Large banks - post 2008 - are now longer (allowed or don't want to depending on the source) willing to be a market maker in the bond market.
A market maker is like a bookie or a horse racing track. They manage a "book" or ledger of bets. It's a self regulating system. Quotes to bet include a 1/2 % fee (spread). The odds eventually reach stability at the end of the betting window. That because all the bets are balanced so that the bookie or the horse racing track is ensured of 1/2% of all the total amount of bets placed.
A market maker in the bond market is an intermediary, who is willing to buy post-issued bonds, hold them, and waits for a buyer using the before mentioned "spread". The pro - sans dangerous speculation (making bets on where the market is going) a bond market maker can make the same 1/2% on an amount of money a bookie or horse racing track could only dream of. The con? If there isn't enough trading - there is no such thing as the horse race or a game - the spread gets beyond the market maker's control.
The con is what rules today in 2015. There isn't a liquid market to trade corporate bonds or what is called a secondary market. What's left is a primary market of bond holders (think less you and I and more big pension/401K funds) trading with each other.
The result? Tremendous volatility in bond prices. Remember bond prices move inversely with yield. Yield can be over a long period of time. Holding it always works. But if you want to sell it? Without a secondary market, a buyer may want a large - say a 1% increase in yield because the buyer thinks interest rates are going up - which means a tremendous change in the bond price, which means the selling bond holder loses a lot of money.
Last year more than 1/2 trillion of investment grade bonds were issued. Up almost 10%.
So here is the disconnect. People are buying historically low yield corporate bonds and there isn't much way the yields can move lower in the future. So either you are left holding a low yield bond you wished you didn't buy OR when you try to sell it there is nothing waiting for you but a huge financial loss (from selling your bond's face value for a loss).
May 19, 2015
I grew up between two rival gangs. So when I write about organized crime or gangs; it's not totally an academic subject for me. My last two blogs have been about this subject and starving them of their economic oxygen.
I assume the reader has read about the deadly shootout in Waco of rival biker gangs.
I have also met biker gangs. They are more scary them any street gang. I can tell you that for a fact. And I am not talking about "Sons of Anarchy" here.
What makes them so scary? A lot of things. For one, they are older and and once they have been "patched in" their tenure is measured not in years, but in decades. This makes their gang much more emotional than just violent.
The second is ... well ... they are mobile by definition. They do not "own" inner city blocks; they "own" cities, counties, and states. Not as retailers, like street gangs, but more as a supply chain. They use their bikes in numbers to mule illicit drugs and weapons for street gangs.
There are exponentially more legal biker club (MCs) than illegal ones. For in instance I know of an MC of lawmen and ex-lawmen. But if they want to ride and show their colors and cross state boundaries, they have to first get permission from illegal MCs.
Which brings me back to Len Bias and cocaine. Illegal MCs make their money by muling cocaine and other drugs from the Mexican border to our inner cities. All of the states that border Mexico are their ports of call, including Texas. And they are always packing guns and automatic rifles.
These MCs are so scary because they are more sophisticated, more emotionally attached to their colors, more organized, more "accepted/respected/scared" by local law enforcement and better armed.
But of course they don't operate in a vacuum. Different MCs may have agreements on competition; but they are fiercely loyal to their patch.
Hence, when drinking (they don't use drugs), bar fights can descend into greater violence because they are gunned up. And that's when you get what happens in Waco.
If drugs were legal, illicit MCs would have no economic means to survive. What about muling guns and automatic rifles to street gangs? No street gangs can exit with legalized drugs. Hence no need for street gangs to consume firearms.
Again, we continue to ignore cause and effect. Do you know why cowboys were gun fighters and why cowboys only lasted for a few years? Cowboys were the supply chain for cattle to the intercontinental railroad. They competed for the business and stealing the business. Once trains were connected to the intercontinental railroad? Cowboys and their gun play were eliminated.
Then of course, there was the lesson of Prohibition.
So now add Waco to the list of the "that's so tragic" fatalistic narrative of violence and the need for more law enforcement. Local law enforcement wants more paramilitary equipment - even tanks - to fight this War on Drugs. What's next? Drones and nuclear bombs?
This isn't a noble war in a foreign country. This is an arbitrary war within one country. And we all have to ask: is it really worth it?
May 18, 2015
Yesterday, I broke one of the cardinal rules of journalism: I buried the headline!
It should have been -
"The Causal Relationship Between The War On Drugs And The Deterioration Of Our Inner Cities, Minority Nuclear Families And Relations Between Minorities And Law Enforcement"
There are only a few things I think we need from the federal government: national security, fair business-competitive laws, racial and gender equality, economic stabilization and infrastructure come to mind.
Two of the worst things the federal government has done in my lifetime is enacting welfare and the War on Drugs. Both have destroyed families and disproportionately minority families.
As the latter, nothing good comes about from legislating morality. You would think the federal government would have learned that from Prohibition.
When you criminalize things that can hurt people - drugs and not alcohol/smoking - all you do is to ensure that a violent black market fills the vacuum.
And you ensure that the police are overworked trying to maintain law and order where violence is the main competitive currency. More violence and more police doesn't work. The taxpayer can't keep up with law enforcement funding; while street gangs have unlimited resources.
Leaving the police and innocent citizens, EQUALLY victims in a "fog of war".
Is gambling a good idea? No. Is it a regressive tax? Yes? But people are going to do it. When's the last time someone said they were not going to Vegas because it is too violent? When's the last time someone was killed buying a lottery ticket?
Picture a world where morality isn't legislated. Organized crime and street gangs lose all their power. There still maybe violence from say drunks in a bar or domestic violence. But you go from not having enough cops to less. The only thing that would require a bridge to a "non-legislated society" is more doctors, health care professionals and addiction counselors. And the latter are already needed in the first place.
After our cities are made safer, the next step is to remake the minority nuclear family. That requires the human satisfaction of working for a paycheck, eliminating the alternative path of young males joining organized crime/gangs and not having husbands in incarceration.
Call me a white libertarian. Frankly I am not in a position to advocate social change. All of the protestors of Florida, Ferguson, Baltimore and others to come; should turn their attention to marching for real change. Systemic change.
Otherwise everyone is just wasting their time and we might as well build "Iraqi-like Green Zones" until that eventually doesn't work.
May 17, 2015
The US incarceration rate is the largest in the world.
While the US has 4.4% of the world's population, it houses 22 percent of the world's prisoners.
There are a number of factors including privatization ($5.1 billion for-profit industry), and harsh sentencing laws.
But the biggest contributor - and you can see it in the chart above - is the "War on Drugs".
And Bias was a key contributor. Not racial bias, although African Americans do disproportionally make up the US prison population. But a basketball player named Len Bias.
Len Bias, who came from a strong nuclear family, went from being a gangly marginal high school player to the Boston Celtics second round pick out of the University of Maryland.
Two days later he died of a cocaine overdose. Bias was a first-time user of the drug. And Bias was so popular - equally with all races of the country - that the country couldn't accept his death without action.
His death lead to congressional action at the same speed as the Patriot Act after 9/11. Leading to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. 41,000 people went to jail for drugs in 1985. That swelled to 500,000 by 2010.
The irony of racial bias leading to such a large systemic problem, coming from a racially universal beloved basketball player named Bias, is a story for the ages.
Of course I don't condone people taking drugs. It's dangerous. But so is drinking alcohol. 300 people die from cocaine a year. 88,000 from alcohol.
The latter is splashed over the television and available around the clock within a block or two of where people live. The former (if someone put a gun to my head and said "find me some cocaine" I would just say "just go ahead an pull the trigger) is hard to get and lands you into jail for a mandatory 5 years.
The War on Drugs has been a failure. It's also ironic that the president of the US has admitted to using it when he was young (I have friends who took it well into their 30's and were wealthy), is African American and he hasn't made a dent in this war, while he has had the guts to end other foreign wars.
The Len Bias African-American nuclear family continues to deteriorate. Legislating against non-alcohol drugs - regardless of its potential ill affects - raises its prices, leads to gangs and has decimated our cities disproportionately.
All of the protesting of minorities from members of their community being shot by police - non-violent and violent - doesn't address the core problem. The police and minorities are equally victims from the nature of illegal drugs that have made our inner cities war zones.
You would think after Prohibition - which lead to so much violence - that we would have been able to solve cause and effect problem and end the War On Drugs. But we haven't.
And sadly, we have probably reached the point, where its effects will take years and decades to be reversed. But from Trayvon Martin in Florida, to Ferguson, and to Baltimore; this cycle will not end until we attack the underlying problem.
May 16, 2015
I wrote the blog above almost 4 years ago. My youngest daughter had graduated from eighth grade and you can see her picture while she is staring up into the sky in London.
The blog was really about creativity and how my daughter hadn't peaked.
Well, yesterday was her last day of high school. She is carrying her art project (Tower of London). She is standing in our front yard. It was the last day, a child of ours, will be wearing a Catholic school uniform. Ending a streak of 25 years of sending children to Catholic schools (uniforms and all).
And what of that daughter of 4 years ago? My youngest? The one that was creative and hadn't peaked?
She will graduate this weekend. She was B student for the first two years who went on to become a straight-A student in her last two years.
And she got a scholarship to go to Art school.
Pretty much everything I thought would happen four years ago.
I must admit to feeling mixed emotions writing this today. On one hand, I have tried so hard to mentally block out, that my youngest wouldn't stay forever young.
But that feeling is eclipsed with nothing but pride. This is a child who doesn't act like the youngest of four. She is self-confident. She has never given us one iota of trouble. She gets up every morning at 6AM (you can set a clock to it), goes to school, does her homework, paints/draws/writes and goes to bed.
We now have her for the rest of the summer. She will be leaving home in August. And I hope for a long and infinite summer.
She was the most unlikely princess. But so were my other two daughters.
But believing in having creative, unique and moldable children? That's the real lesson and one that is infinitely important.
May 14, 2015