Saturday, January 23, 2016

Wealth and Income Gap

In response to a Krugman column about wealth and inequality this came pouring out in a Facebook  comment before I could stop. This is the money quote from Krugman's column...
But the real question, in any case, is whether we can redistribute some of the income currently going to the elite few to other purposes without crippling economic progress.
He then tries to soften the impact of the r-word to calm the libertarian crowd, but his reassurance comes across as thin gruel to those for whom redistribution is among the deadliest of sins.

The challenge of inequality has been with mankind so long that every epoch has had to find a different way to accommodate the reality. Even in biblical times there were Old Testament injunctions to take care of widows and orphans, farmers were expected to leave enough grain behind during the harvest so that the famous "gleaners" would have something to glean. There was a scheduled Year of Jubilee during which debts would be forgiven and again, injunctions not to deliberately run up debts in anticipation of that adjustment.

Since forever there was a symbiotic relationship between the powers that protected everybody and the lower classes (peasants, vassals, etc.) without whom the whole structure of society could not hold together. The lower classes not only did the main work of feeding not only themselves but the landowners for whom they toiled, not to mention furnishing cannon fodder for the wars that everybody presumed were as much a part of life as taxes and the seasons of the year.

The industrial revolution upset those old systems based on land ownership, replacing them with production, processing and distribution systems not necessarily land-based. Marx noticed that the landlord class morphed into the owners of production, which thanks also to more elaborate monetary and accounting systems put them into something like a symbiotic relationship with workers, but this new model made cooperation less important than productivity. At the same time distribution systems meant competition, a new wrinkle in the scheme of things. Colonialism put trade and commerce on steroids and workers became "labor" -- another journal entry for accountants and lawyers to manage instead of an assembly of living people -- no longer bound by any symbiotic relationship with the employers for whom they worked.

Notice how *cooperation* morphed into *corporation*.

This is getting wordy so I will cut to the chase. Thanks to technology, work by humans is rapidly becoming obsolete. Beginning with those early inventions -- sewing machine, steam engine, cotton gin, erc. -- every elementary school student knows the drill -- little by little the need for human labor began to diminish. The pace of progress has been exponentially faster with the passing of time and progress, and mankind will soon reach a point where a new symbiosis is no longer optional. The best (and perhaps only) alternative we have found is what is condescendingly called a social safety net.

Some way must be found and employed to support and protect members of society who for whatever reason do not meet the performance demands of what we so proudly proclaim to be a meritocracy. We use the word to make competition for a pool of resources seem like an admirable quality, but the pool is shrinking in relation to the number of competitors and the rewards are few and far between, with few exceptions, even for those who manage to rise to the top.

I don't believe taxing individuals is the answer. We must find ways to tax the system instead. Europe's VAT (value added tax), excise and "sin" taxes, user fees and other consumption models will have to be part of the solution. Bernie's transaction fees, which some have called the Robin Hood tax, would be a huge revenue source. I'm sure other people smarter than I can devise better ways to make an openly competitive economy find ways to support those who cannot support themselves without resorting to the kind of state-managed models of China, Russia and other totalitarian systems.

Google search suggestions...
A couple of Scandinavian countries have recently begun experimenting with a guaranteed basic income [40,000+ links], simply passing out enough money to every citizen enough to feed, clothe and house them -- and without means testing. It's a tentative experiment, limited in time and distribution, but it is at least one imaginative response to the yawning and growing inequality to which Krugman refers.

What I'm proposing is a middle way that does not penalize material success. And not mentioned in most schemes, is the importance of not erasing intergenerational wealth accumulation too much.

As the founders noticed, we don't want an aristocrat class (though that is precisely what we are producing), but that does not mean eliminating the intergenerational transfers of wealth (especially property and economic security). That, unfortunately, was the lesson of slavery -- a despicable crime against an entire class of Americans who contributed more to America's economic success in the world than those who enslaved them. So no, we do not want to do away with inheritance altogether. That adjustment may be, in fact, the very place where some economic course corrections should be considered.

Sorry for the long comment. I got started and couldn't stop...
~~~~
Human work is rapidly becoming obsolete.
I noticed years ago when I was watching the stock market that labor reductions often triggered an increase in the value of a company stock. It seems counterintuitive because layoffs typically signal hard times. But it makes sense when you realize that one of the most costly expenses of any organization is it's people. Wages and benefits are a heavy price to pay compared with the value of the output, whether it be a product or a service. The most valuable employees are those who can operate or manage operations in ways that reduce the number of other people, and in many cases eliminate them altogether.  Mergers and acquisitions are perhaps the quickest way that expenses can be reduced. The same support staffs responsible for payroll, accounting, personnel and legal services for a company with two hundred employees can manage twice or three times as much with very little additional staff.  I was in the cafeteria business, and staffing is very much like a kitchen. A cook who opens five gallons of beans for lunch can just as easily put twice as much on the range, serving twice as many customers, with virtually the same time and effort. 

And speaking of the obsolescence of work, I observed it for years as technology and efficiency eliminated jobs in the cafeteria business. Thirty-five or forty years ago it was a little food factory. We did everything "from scratch."  Breads, cakes, pie shells and fillings and toppings -- all were made at each location in a bakery which employed two or three bakers in the morning and two more for the evening shift. A full-time butcher prepared ground beef, cutlets, steaks and bone stock from hanging beef. The salad department and the central kitchen both had the same recipe for mayonnaise made from scratch so they wouldn't steal from each other -- the salad department used mayo in many of their salads and dressings, and the kitchen made tartare sauce in ten-gallon batches for tartar sauce, chopping the pickles and parsley.  I don't need to describe what happened as factory-made products replaced these labor-intensive methods, and as it happened jobs vanished.

What happened to the cafeteria business is but one small part of what happens every time another technological advancement takes place. Ironically the new products are even better, more reliable, less expensive, safer and more consistent than the labor-intensive ones they replace. More often than not they are also disposable. It's quicker and less expensive to replace a broken coffee maker or microwave than get the old one repaired. Times have changed since my parents' old frigidaire bought before I was in grade school was still operating after I left for college, replaced by one that was bigger, more efficient and lasted even longer.

The price we pay for technological progress rarely takes into account the number of hourly jobs which are eliminated along the way. The arithmetic of a company is straightforward. Fewer employees means more money for the profit line. But I never see any analysis of what happens to the people whose jobs have been eliminated. This, the steady loss of hourly jobs, results in a race to the bottom of the economy as more people compete for the lowest-paying jobs. The result is that employers have no incentive to increase wages in an increasingly competitive business environment. This feedback loop started with the industrial revolution and continues with a velocity that is increasing every year.

Additional links:

Giving poor people cash makes them happier — and their cashless neighbors miserable
Updated by Dylan Matthews 
January 23, 2016
There's a large empirical literature on cash transfer now, andthe results are very positive, with various studies finding that just handing out money increases consumption, encourages investments in important assets like metal roofs, encourages more people to start working, boosts earnings, and doesn't lead to more spending on things like alcohol or tobacco. 
This had led to a quiet cash revolution in development circles, as aid agencies, nonprofits, and the like have become considerably more sympathetic to cash as an intervention, and new charities devoted to cash grants, likeGiveDirectly, have gained ground.
Cash transfer programmes empower poor people in developing countries to take control over their own lives. 
Development in Action blogger Hannah Loryman explores why they’re so successful
August, 2013
Over the past 15 years there has been a “quiet revolution” in development. Not in the form of ground breaking technological advancements or complicated new theories. Instead, the idea is simple: give money directly to the people who need it, through cash transfers. These are a key component of social protection: policies to protect the poor which include non-contributory pensions, health insurance and other benefits. Originally these were mainly implemented in middle income countries; however, low income countries are increasingly introducing programmes of their own (although they are often donor funded). Successful programmes across Latin America, Asia and Africa have demonstrated the potential of cash transfers to reduce poverty and vulnerability.
[More at the link...]

All about the Robin Hood Tax
Numerous FAQ, inclulding this:
In recent years there has been an explosion in high frequency trading – thousands of transactions happen every second via computer algorithms. There has also been a huge increase in derivatives, making the volume of financial transactions increase to more than 70 times the size of the world economy. Many serious commentators believe this volume is dangerously large and destabilizing, and that many of these transactions are socially useless. 
Many of the most speculative, risky and socially useless transactions are based on very small profit margins, meaning that even at the very low tax rates we propose, a Robin hood Tax would shrink the size of the market by reducing the profitability of the most risky transactions. 
These are among the reasons why more than a 1,000 economists, including a number of Nobel laureates, support the Robin Hood Tax. 
At the Robin Hood Tax Campaign we are principally supportive of an FTT because of the money it will raise to help repair the U.S. and global economies. However, if it also acts to reduce risky gambling and make the world economy safer that can only be a good thing. 
Minimum wage for microcephalic babies
[Google translation...]
The INSS agencies should receive in the coming weeks a flurry of requests of the Continuous Cash Benefit (BPC) for babies with microcephaly. Worth a minimum wage (R $ 880), the bag is already supplied to around 4 million people who have from 65 years or disability, provided they meet the requirements. The main one is that household income per capita (per person) or up to R $ 220. The federal budget for payment of the benefit this year was R $ 48.3 billion. That amount should increase as the Ministry of Health reported 4100 newborns with malformation. Number expected to reach 16,000 by December, according to estimates from Fiocruz. The INSS should set up a task force to to expedite the assessment of cases of children with malformation. The possibility of receiving a minimum salary encouraged some families from Pernambuco. In Gabriel's house, three months, who lives in Glory Goitá in North Forest, 75 km from Recife, the money would come in handy to support the trips you need to do up to three times a week to the capital and also in feed.  
[snip] 
To qualify for the benefit babies have to undergo medical expertise. What should generate even greater queues that today, as the strike by medical experts INSS, that after five months came to an end last Monday, left 400,000 calls retained in the country - 40,000 in the state. A technical representative of the INSS Social Service in the Northeast, Teresa Vital de Souza, said that so far the demand of benefit to microcephalic babies was not felt. Of the 1,373 babies reported in the state, only four came to do the scheduling.

Why a bunch of Silicon Valley investors are suddenly interested in universal basic income
Updated by Dylan Matthews 

January 28, 2016
Basic income is having a moment. First Finland announced it would launch an ambitious experiment to see if it would work to give everyone in a given area is given a set amount of cash every year from the government, no strings attached. Now the Silicon Valley seed investment firm Y Combinator has announced it wants to fund a basic income experiment in the US.
[snip]
Y Combinator — a startup incubator that counts Dropbox, Airbnb, and Reddit among its alumni — seems mostly interested in basic income as a response to technological unemployment. In the future, the reasoning goes, enough work will be automated that demand for all but the highest skilled labor will collapse, leaving a small group of programmers and capitalists with all the coconuts and most people with nothing.
Moving right along, there's this via Bloomberg Business...

Goldman Sachs Says It May Be Forced to Fundamentally Question How Capitalism Is Working
The profit margins debate could lead to an unsettling conclusion
Joe Weisenthal
February 3, 2016
One of the most heated debates among investors is the question of whether corporate profit margins can maintain their elevated level, or whether they will inevitably revert to mean 
A new note from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts led by Sumana Manohar looks at the bull and bear arguments for the profit margins debate. 
Manohar argued that profit margins have expanded, thanks to four key trends: strong commodities prices, emerging market cost arbitrage (companies making things more cheaply in emerging markets), demand growth from emerging markets, and improved corporate efficiency driven by the use of new technology. Continuing one of its major analytical themes of recent months, Goldman also noted that the market has rewarded companies that have undertaken mergers and share buybacks, as opposed to companies that have invested internally, further bolstering margins. 
So will profit margins inevitably roll over?Goldman went through both sides of the argument. On the bull side, the bank said that ongoing consolidation in industries, cost deflation, and tighter purse strings help keep a floor under margins. Ultimately though, it found that the above trends, coupled with weak demand and general industrial overcapacity, mean that margins are likely to come down. 
But what if margins stay elevated? That too is possible, and its implications could be unsettling.Goldman wrote: "We are always wary of guiding for mean reversion. But, if we are wrong and high margins manage to endure for the next few years (particularly when global demand growth is below trend), there are broader questions to be asked about the efficacy of capitalism." 
In other words, profit margins should naturally mean-revert and oscillate. The existence of fat margins should encourage new competitors and pricing cycles that cause those margins to erode; conversely, at the bottom of the cycle, low margins should lead to weaker players exiting the business and giving stronger companies more breathing space. If that cycle doesn't continue, something strange is taking place 
Needless to say, it's not every day you see a major investment bank say it might have to start asking broader questions about capitalism itself.
Here's a quick look at S&P 500-stock index profit margins, for example,
going back more than 25 years. They remain high by historical standards.
~~~~
The reader might like to visit this two-year-old piece by Kevin Drum in Mother Jones (May, 2014). That was about the time Thomas Piketty first made a splash proclaiming "r > g."
Heads have been spinning ever since.
I like the "best comment" of the 250 left by readers:
DoctorJay 2 years ago  I think the counter argument is that when there is a glut of capital (which more than a few people think we are in now) there is a reduction in r but there is also a reduction in g. That's pretty much where we are right now - reduced returns to capital and reduced growth rate.Honestly, that's what the people that hold capital want - If their personal wealth does not grow faster than the economy in general, then everyone else is catching up. And I think that human beings act more out of status motivation than profit-maximizing motivation.    
ReplySteve Roth to  DoctorJay  @DoctorJay: run don't walk to read Steve Randy Waldman's brilliant post on money as insurance on the Titanic: http://www.interfluidity.com/v... 
Or: "I don't have to outrun the bear, I only have to outrun you."

Friday, January 22, 2016

Obama and the Arrests of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladić

This appeared at my old blog seven and a half years ago. In light of events now current it continues to be prescient. To put it into context, this was during the presidential campaign of 2008. After a long contest, Hillary Clinton conceded the nomination to Barack Obama June 7, a few weeks prior to this post.
~~~~~
[This post is quite long but it could be the best work I did in 2008. The reader is asked to be patient as the parts of a surreal sequence of events is described. Skip the afterthoughts if you wish (I tend to get off track sometimes) Until then the content is convoluted but coherent.]

Radovan Karadzic, arrested yesterday as a war criminal, is one of many such criminals hiding in plain sight around the world. (BBC, H/T View from Iran)

Was his arrest brought about by a tipping point in public opinion in that part of Europe? And if so, is that shift in public opinion a spinoff of anything done or said by Barack Obama?

It is clear that the impact of his image and the mere promise of an Obama presidency in America, is bringing about about changes in public opinion abroad. Look what appeared last week in Sofia Echo, a Bulgarian weekly: [Link goes to the paper but the article is no longer on line.]
US Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama has congratulated Serbian president Boris Tadic and prime minister Mirko Cvetkovic on the formation of the country’s new government.
In a statement on his website, Obama said that he wished the new government in Belgrade “success in tackling the problems that have for too long kept Serbia from achieving its great potential”. 
Late on July 7, Serbia got a cabinet after two months of hard coalition bargaining. A total of 127 members of parliament of the 250-seat Serbian assembly approved the government composition that Cvetkovic had proposed earlier in the day along with the cabinet programme, after which the new ministers were sworn in. 
In the statement, issued on July 8, Obama said that “Serbs have moved through several painful chapters in their long and proud history”.
Citizens of Serbia are eager for progress, democratic development and economic growth, Obama said. 
“In May, voters expressed their desire for a European future, a vision that has been confirmed by the Serbian political leadership through the formation of a government that shares these aspirations. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union provides the foundation upon which the new government can build. A Serbian government that devotes its energies to this hopeful vision can count on my full support.” 
Obama said that “real progress of course requires positive and responsible relationships with all of Serbia's neighbours, including Kosovo. Relegating inflammatory rhetoric and provocative actions to the past is essential to achieving this. An Obama administration together with our European partners, will work to ensure that all regional actors adhere to such standards”. 
“All Serbs in the region, no matter where they reside, can see their lives improve by active participation in legitimate political institutions at all levels. 
“Rest assured that, as President, I will work with all international and local actors in Kosovo to realise the full array of protections for Serbs there, including enhanced competencies for Serb municipalities, unfettered and undisturbed access and operation of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and the right of return and restoration of property for all refugees and displaced persons.” 
Obama said that building a better future also required honouring obligations from the past. 
“The recent arrest of Stojan Zupljanin was an important step in this direction. I call on the new government in Belgrade to exert maximum efforts to apprehend the remaining fugitives wanted for war crimes, including General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.” 
Obama said that Serbia and the United States traditionally had enjoyed warm relations as partners and allies. 
“It is time for our countries to return to the shared values and mutual respect that served us so well in the past. My administration will look for a vibrant partner in Belgrade with which we can together cultivate our relationship,” Obama said.
This piece is dated July 13.

Obama is quoted as calling specifically for the arrests of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.
Karadzic was taken into custody yesterday, a week later. And this morning NPR suggests that Mladic may not be far behind.  
~~~~~~~
--> It turns out Ratko Mladić remained at large nearly nine more years. But now, January, 2016, he is finally in custody. I may be the only person to notice, but I count this as another notch on Barack Obama's belt. As this post documents, he called for it years ago.
~~~~~~~
(Since the end of open hostilities following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, these men have moved about unmolested because apprehending them creates problems for the authorities. Security is already tight because their supporters are not famous for patience or tolerance.)

This story is low-hanging fruit for whatever ambitious young journalist wants to pick it. As I've said before, I'm just an old guy blogging, and if I can see it, anyone can.

Here's some garnish for the salad:
[The following links now go to OFA which apparently continues to maintain contact with the writers. Fortunately I copied the following contents for later reference.]
From the Obama website, a harvest of three thousand plus links that mention "serbia:"
Milojko's Blog: March 2
Serbian students addressing Barrack Obama in order to support his new policy towards dialogue and tolerance has imposed a nonviolent action in Belgrade, Less than ten days since US embassy in Belgrade is stormed, another face of Serbia has addressed to US public - supporting Barrack Obama. Kosovo instability in Serbia is widely recognized as Clinton Dynasty failure, by most of the Serbs, bringing unrest, riots and instability in Balkans, the region which has developed towards democracy in last 8 years, after a series of Civil wars, and NATO military intervention, led by Bill` Clinton`s administration in 1999. Spatial envoy for Balkans at troubled 90ties was Richard Holbrook, widely recognized as "arrogant cowboy", Serbian immigrants in US, settled largely in Chicago IL are very supportive of Barrack Obama, including few superdelegates. Only seven days after mobsters has burned US embassy in Belgrade, with 1 protester dead, young Serbs has put the Obama next to Kennedy, widely recognized as friend of this part of the world. Young Serbian Student Leader Simon Simonovic has stated to media covering this public action that "after announcing new political course, including new policy Towards Cuba, Barack Obama gives hope to Serbs that US will treat us with more common sense and less arrogance" . We think that Obama should be aware of this support, and thinking about the re-building friendship with Serbia!

Post from More Peace Corps - Less Defence Dept:
Serbia arrested one of the most notorious war criminal yesterday. He was indicted twice by the U.N. tribunal on genocide charges stemming from his alleged crimes against Bosnia's Muslims and Croats. Former high ranking US State Department official, Richard Holbrooke estimated that Radavan Karadzic is responsible for the deaths of 300,000 people in former Yugoslavia. Without him there probably would not have been a war or genocide in Bosnia. He is in custody now, leaving only about 5 indictees, including Ratko Mladic remaining at large.  
[This EOL link, like the one above, no longer has the content on line.] http://news.aol.com/article/top-war-crimes-suspect-captured/92904?icid=100214839x1206002457x1200314734
The EU presidency (currently held by France) was quick to comment that this arrest is "an important step on the path to the rapprochement of Serbia with the European Union".
Reconstruction in all of former Yugoslavian countries that were most affected by the 1992-95 war (Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia) has been slowly poking along. This arrest may prove quite helpful to Serbia to push along reconstruction efforts. Bosnia and Serbia are definitely countries that could use Peace Corps Volunteers that have a business profile and background. There are tons of jobs for American entrepreneurs.

At last !By Nesic Mladjan - Jan 7th, 2008 
This comment from the writer came eight months later. 
We belive in you Obama. Because Serbia and America have a great democratic future, if you winn. We pray for you, and we need support of your country. We still believe that our country is able to survive. Please, help us Obama. America is our new hope !!!Everybody are talking about Europe, but i would say there is a new era, a new hope for living in peace. Just a little more understanding needed Obama.Just a little more help to democratic Serbia.Democratic Serbia need your support.We are giving you all our heart to winn. God bless America, God bless Barack Obama and his family. 
From a group called Serbs4Obama This group is to facilitate interaction among anybody interested, all around the World, to support Senator Barack Obama to become next President of USA. It's formed with only ONE goal, to make this country and this World a better place with more hope and compassion. It is time to think about health, education, environment, integrity, help for ones in need - not only about $. Thank you everyone for your time and dedication and donation, let's help make this happen.
I haven't taken the time to sift through this amazing collection of cyber-flotsam. But the little I have seen gives me a flashback to a day in New York, October, 2002, just a few weeks after the World Trade Center tragedy.

As I stood at a chain-link fence shrouding what they called "Ground Zero" I saw endless notes and messages fastened to that fence from people all over the country. There were prayers, poems, messages of condolence and hope, some in pen, some typed, many from children in crayon... but I couldn't allow myself to read them. One or two at a time was all I could manage because my eyes filled with tears. Even now the memory of that moment returns and that same emotion swells in me. Just knowing that so many other people shared the grief was a powerful realization.

Nesic Mladjan's link above, composed back in January, with its awkward English and the innocent, bright-eyed hope that only shines from the faces of young people, gives me the same feeling I had six years ago in New York. In the aftermath of the unfinished business of the military conflict that tore his part of the world (like the misbegotten adventure in Iraq) which cost the lives of so many, both military and civilian, the image and message of Barack Obama does, in fact, bring hope -- audacious hope, if you will -- that the future can bring about change (there's that word again) for the better.

And that's why I think Barack Obama had something to do with the arrest of Radovan Karadjic. How can anyone question this man's acuity in foreign policy? What kind of "experience" trumps this?

~~~~~~~

Afterthoughts...

One reason this item jumped out at me was that I followed closely the collapse of Yugoslavia at the time it was happening. Targets on the backs of people in Sarajevo, complicated maps of the ethnic and religious mixture of the region, history and all that... I also discovered Misha Glenny, a BBC journalist who seemed to be the best informed source of information and author of the most current book available at the time.

This BBC report puts yesterday's arrest into perspective.
[This link is still active, with a video.]

The next year refugees began coming to America and I hired two to work in the cafeteria. They were surprised to find that I knew something of the events that led them there (most Americans did not... nor do they to this day) and they were model employees until they were hired away to other jobs with higher pay.

(This is normal for many people working at or near the minimum wage. I never imagined that a newly hired employee serving on a cafeteria line, cleaning tables or washing dishes was making a career move. What most companies derisively refer to as "turnover" is nothing more than the normal workings of the lower edge of the economy. It is also why I have no problems with increases in the federal minimum wage. But I digress...)

Having filled out any number of I-9's validating "green cards," I was surprised when I saw different identification. It was the only time I saw something like a brown shipping tag with a stamp (no photo) from the State Department, not the INS, identifying them as refugees. They also had new Social Security cards and permission to work. They were sponsored by a local church group which is why they were in the Atlanta area instead of one of the places where others might be found who spoke the language.

Which reminds me of religion. One of these ladies was Christian and her friend was Muslim. They didn't know each other before they arrived but their common origin was more important than their religious identity.

So-called religious conflicts seem to be an opportunity for tyrants and extremists to bring out the worst in others. What happened in Serbia and the rest of the Balkans is not very different from what is happening in the Middle East or Africa. The names change, the races change, the confessional identities change, but the theme remains the same.

There, but for the grace of God, go we.

Monday, January 18, 2016

MLK Day -- Personal Remembrances

For the King holiday here are some personal memories of Martin Luther King, Jr. not likely found elsewhere.  I started collecting them in 2007 and have added mention of times I was on duty at the Cumberland Mall Piccadilly Cafeteria (now closed) when we served members of the King family.

A few years ago NPR's All Things Considered (2007) Michael Rose, director of the Atlanta History Center spoke with Michele Norris about having seen Dr. King in Miami in 1965...
I was with my friend, Gary Herwald. We and a bunch of high school buddies had come down from the North for out last Spring Vacation (it wasn't yet called "spring break") before going off to college. 
Gary and I were standing in a little shopping concourse at the hotel just wandering around. There was a man looking in a window of one of the stores. Among all the people in casual resort wear, he was the only person wearing a business suit. He also was the only African-American.

Gary said to me, "Is that who I think it is?"
I said I thought so. And so we walked over. 
Gary was the one who worked up the nerve to ask him, "Excuse me, sir. Are you Martin Luther King?" 
And Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that yes, he was. He wasn't that hard to spot. He was coming off a pretty good year. He had started 1964 on the cover of Time Magazine as Man of the Year. He had ended 1964 by being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On this day in the Florida hotel he was thirty-six years old.

He was alone. Gary and I were the only people to approach him. Gary said, "I just want to tell you how much we admire you." 
Dr. King, smiling and making a small joke, said "You boys aren't from Florida, are you?" 
We talked for a few minutes. Nothing earth-shattering. And there was no way to know, of course, that three Springs later he would be dead....
This little eight-minute clip is worth that much of your time. It illustrates how deeply just a momentary encounter can effect someone for a lifetime. There must have been some connection between this encounter and Michael Rose's job at the Atlanta History Center.

The connection between Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi needs no explanation, so here is another story from Mort Reichek, retired journalist blogging at The Octogenarian. This snip is from his story but there are more details at the link.
I recall walking on Chowringhee one day in the fall of 1944 when the atmosphere was anything but tranquil. As I passed the Maidan I encountered an enormous mob of people crowded into the park. The noise was overwhelming. The following day, the local newspapers estimated that at least a million people had been crammed into the Maidan. 
I cautiously approached the crowd to find out what has happening. I quickly learned that a thousand or more yards in front of us, the legendary Mahatma Gandhi was standing on a raised platform and making a speech. Gandhi, the major political and spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement, had been released from a British prison several months earlier. He rarely visited Calcutta, and his scheduled appearance that day had produced the enormous audience that I saw. 
Scores of loudspeakers had been installed across theMaidan's grounds so that the crowds far removed from Gandhi's platform might hear him speak. I assume that he was speaking in Bengali or Hindi. But I doubt whether the locals packed in at the edge of the park near me could possibly hear Gandhi's words. Nor was it even possible for any of them to clearly see "the Mahatma" so far off in the distance. (Gandhi's first name was actually Mohandas, but he was popularly called Mahatma--meaning "great soul"--a fitting title for a man who was worshipped by India's masses as a living saint.) 
A man standing next to me offered me the use of his binoculars so that I might catch a glimpse of Gandhi, who was standing on the platform so far away. At 5'10" I was taller than most of the people crowded around me. I was therefore able to see this great man in person, although the view was not exactly well focused. 
Gandhi was famed for preaching the doctrine of non-violence as the means of gaining India's freedom from British rule. (I am writing this as the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which seems so appropriate since Gandhi was the inspiration for Dr. King's own political philosophy.) 
Indeed, the next day's newspapers reported that Gandhi's speech called for the Indian people to avoid violent action in their struggle for independence. Ironically, his message meant nothing to the young Hindu fanatic who assassinated the 79-year old Gandhi four years later because of the Mahatma's conciliatory attitude towards India's Muslim minority.
As in the case of Michael Rose's encounter with Dr. King, this other equally famous man was to be assassinated four years later. These two stories, though from very different origins, seem to have striking similarities. And in the Cotton Patch tradition I offer them to my readers as Living Epistles about Saints that walk among us. Mort passed away four years later but his stories were always part of my reading diet until then. Speaking of saints, Mort had a story entitled MEMOIR: How my Dad downed a Nazi dirigible and became a "saint." It's not about MLK but it's a great read for those who have time to learn about the Jewish tradition of lamed-vavnik.

The Octogenarian mentioned in passing Mother Teresa and her work in Calcutta. When I worked with a senior community I had the privilege of knowing a delightful woman who had served in India many years before as a medical missionary. She told me that when Mother Teresa began her ministry she had to learn, among other things, how to do hypodermic injections and it was to the medical missionaries she came to learn that skill. You don't have to go far to find a saint. You just have to pay attention and look for clues.When I am tempted to abandon principles the rest of the world dismisses as unrealistic, I remind myself that in an evil world good still sometimes prevails.

My own personal recollections are not about MLK but his family. Three or four times during my training with Piccadilly in 1976-77 the family came to eat at the cafeteria where I was manager on duty, always mid-afternoon on Sunday. They ate together in the part of the dining room with long tables, partly to accommodate five or six people, but also for relative privacy. King's mother, Alberta King, had been killed a couple years earlier but Daddy King, as he was called, was usually along. The first time they came Daddy King sent for the manager on duty. He wanted me to know who he was, that he planned to pay for their meals by personal check and he didn't want to have any trouble as they left. He was polite but firm, a man who knew how to avoid problems. I never engaged them in conversation and considered it my duty to insure they enjoyed their meals without being bothered or even identified.  Also, we lived in downtown Atlanta at that time and our oldest daughter attended C.W.Hill Elementary School. One of her classmates was a member of the King family (I'm not sure who) and we were honored when she was invited once to go to a birthday party for him.

~~~~~

Daddy King had good reason to be cautious when they went to Cumberland Mall. He and his party were well aware that Cobb County was known to be one of Atlanta's emphatically white Northern suburbs. When MARTA (Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) was being formed, Cobb county voters made it clear they wanted nothing to do with it, so none of those busses (and later trains) were routed into Cobb. That changed later, beginning with a few express connections, but even at this writing CCT (Cobb County Transit) remains separate from MARTA.

Our cafeteria patrons included a couple of notable black leaders, Andy Young and Julian Bond, but conservative whites outnumber blacks by a wide margin. Congressman Larry McDonald (later killed when KAL 007 was shot down by Russian interceptors) and his family dined there when he was in town, and his parents ate dinner with us several times a week.  J.B. Stoner, a famous segregationist later convicted of bombing black churches, came in a few times. He walked with a conspicuous limp and ate in the back of the dining room, preferring to stay as much alone as possible in a public place. Lester Maddox and his wife Virginia were regular customers, and I remember him handing out flyers on the MLK holiday reminding people of the birthday of Robert E. Lee. (January 19). He remained an unrepentant segregationist the rest of his life, traveling out of his way to eat in my cafeteria in Smyrna, I suspect because so many of my customers knew him from his days at his restaurant in Atlanta, the Pickrick.

I regret amending these anecdotes to my MLK Day recollections, but they are an important piece of the history of segregation that made his movement necessary. And they must not be forgotten.



Friday, January 15, 2016

Leila Abu-Saba, 1962-2009

Leila Abu-Saba aka The Dove, was among my most treasured links when I started blogging in 2004. It was a couple of years before I came across her posts and she was taken by cancer soon afterward, but her gentleness and insights never faded. I was honored to be included among her "blog buddies."
Here is how she described herself:
The Dove's father is a Lebanese Christian immigrant, with relatives spread out from Lebanon to Australia. Her mother is a Southern WASP whose family lives in Virginia, Texas and other parts. The Dove's father's Christian Lebanese village is right next door to a Muslim Palestinian refugee camp, built on what was once our family farmland. The Dove is married to a wonderful man who does bear a Scottish surname but is halachically Jewish, via his lovely mother, who has a large and supportive family. The Dove herself grew up in the Midwest and South, but spent many long summers and one school year in Lebanon as a child; also lived in Cairo, Egypt for a junior year in college. Full disclosure: a 4 year marriage to a Muslim Egyptian in her 20s gave her an inside view into upper class Cairene families, and an appreciation for secular modern Muslims and their relationship to Islam.
The following two essays are especially good.

~~~~~

Hello Kind World

I just wrote a post at Daily Kos in response to somebody else's "Goodbye Cruel World" Diary. The diarist was facing loss of job and house, and said she might not be able to go online any longer; hence "goodbye cruel world" of Daily Kos. I called my response Hello Kind World.

There's always hope. Let me tell you that I am living with metastatic breast cancer. When they found it last year, it had spread throughout my liver, a 1/2 inch tumor in my lung, and onto rib and spine. I am now 46 with two young sons and a loving husband.

I just finished eleven months of chemotherapy in which I got infusion every week, three weeks on, one week off. 33 infusions. Took the starch out of me (as well as all my hair down to the eyelashes). Pet CT Scan shows the lung nodule is gone - no trace of it; the bone lesions are sclerotic i.e. healing, not spreading; and the liver lesions are inert, back to scar tissue. Nothing "lights up", i.e. nothing is active and cancerous. My blood counts are now "stone cold normal" according to my oncologist. So I am off chemo and I get to go on about my life, under close supervision and taking oral medication.

Today I listened to my friend's feedback on the 260-page draft of my first novel, which I had finished writing during chemo. I'm ready to get to work on the next draft! Then I picked up my kids from daycare, fed them, checked homework, read to them and put them to bed, all by myself. (Hubby was at a work-related dinner). First time I've had them on my own in over a year. I handled it! I even enjoyed it, which means my energy level is good. This is a blessing and a reprieve.

Now let me back up and tell you about a family tragedy. 23 years ago my uncles and cousins in Lebanon were chased from their homes during a bad patch of the civil war. They all fled with what they could put in their cars. My 83-year-old grandmother refused to leave her house - hit my uncle with her stick when he tried to evacuate her. She was killed during a mob attack on the houses of our village. A Muslim friend (we're Christians) went in and found her the next day and buried her for us. Meanwhile my two uncles, their wives and three teenaged kids per couple were living out of their automobiles in South Lebanon. They got plane tickets and visas to the USA and arrived with suitcases and $3,000 cash per family.

My Lebanese-American father and American mother, state employees in NC, took out a lien on their house to help stake my uncles to small businesses. My uncles and their families shared a tiny rental home that belonged to another uncle. Ten people lived in a 3 BR house with one bathroom, after living all their lives in big spacious houses with gardens. My dad gave them $500 a month cash for groceries, and in 1985 that was serious money; he was still putting my brother through private college at the time.

My uncles lost everything. They had to start over in America where people saw them as foreign, alien. They had prestige in their traditional society but in America they were middle-aged refugees, nobodies. All of them - uncles and wives - buckled down to work.

In ten years they built successful businesses - a grocery store and a gas station - bought beautiful homes, and of course repaid all loans from my dad and others. All of them had to do manual labor: flip burgers, pump gas, sweep floors, make change for customers. They had been middle class, teachers and bank managers in Lebanon. They had to work hard with their hands and they did so. Their kids got educated and moved into the world as Americans, most of them with professional degrees and positions.

The sadness of my grandmother's violent death hung over us for long years, and yet I always feel she chose how she wanted to die. I think she understood what she was facing. She preferred to die on her farm than be an elderly refugee.

Friend, you are facing great loss, but you have so much. You have your health (I hope). You have your daughter. You have parents with the resources to take you in.

Last month I flew to Lebanon, not for the first time since the end of the civil war. I visited with those same uncles and aunts, now returned to their homes. They made plenty of money pumping gas and selling Wonder Bread in the USA, and have turned the wrecked shells of their war-scarred houses into mini-palaces. Their quality of life is fabulous. They miss their kids who all live in the States, but they are survivors. They enjoy the olive harvest and the friendship and community of our ancestral village. I saw people I had not seen in thirty years of war, dislocation, disease, family tragedy and more. I was so grateful that I got to make this trip - that I survived advanced cancer well enough to fly half way around the world to see my family.

This spring when my fingernails were oozing and I couldn't get out of bed from chemo side effects, when the liver counts stayed elevated and I fended off all talk of survival rates for metastatic patients, I held on to hope. I just knew I was going to get better. I can't worry about whether I'll live 20 years... I am living today, and for today there is always hope.

So please, friend, bless what you have and let go of fear for the future. Today is the only day you have got. You are breathing. Enjoy your breath. You are alive. Enjoy your life. You have a daughter and parents. Love them. Bless everybody who comes across your path. And the work? Whatever. Bless your work, too. Bless your town, your bills, your possessions. You are lucky to be here for all of it. If some of it gets taken away, well fine, something else will take its place. You are an amazing confluence of billions of variables and nobody else is having your life right this minute.

Enjoy! And don't worry about hope. Just breathe and appreciate your breath. Everything arises from that.

Forgiveness

How do you forgive a wrong? and why bother? someone asked in the previous post. Herewith an essay, an attempt, at describing why and how I go about practicing forgiveness.

Forgive:
1. To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon.
2. To renounce anger or resentment against.
3. To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example).


If someone has done something you think is absolutely wrong, and you harbor anger and resentment, your feelings will cause you harm. Does repressed resentment cause illness? I don't have scientific data for it, but resentment causes all kinds of emotional problems, and those can cause illness. People in physical crisis are often asked to practice forgiving old angers and resentments as part of gaining peace of mind, which contributes to healing.

You could try to forgive your enemies out of a sense of duty or moral righteousness: "to be a good person, I must forgive this criminal." But many of us might question why? Why bother with this charade?

If you only forgive in order to feel that you are doing the right thing, you won't get the benefit of forgiveness. It will be a kind of performance, a fake, an act in the sense of doing something that is not felt sincerely, in order to please or entertain others.

In forgiving, you renounce anger or resentment against someone else. The act of forgiveness, genuine forgiveness, causes a change in the forgiver. Try it. Personally, I have felt a physical release from practicing forgiveness. I also feel emotional relief.

Judy in comments below asks how are we to forgive (for instance) Israelis who cause such suffering to Palestinians in Gaza today? Perhaps an Israeli suffering from the aftereffects of a bombing may ask the same - how to forgive Palestinians who cause his neighbors pain?

This question matters a great deal to me, because I am struggling with metastatic cancer to my liver, and believe that forgiving my enemies will help me heal. My father died in September of 2006, just after the Israeli attack on Lebanon. This war seemed to accelerate his final illness, which proceeded with terrifying rapidity.

The barrage of cluster bombs Israel left upon the fields and mountainsides of South Lebanon has felt like an unforgivable sin to me. Somehow the seeding of the land of Lebanon with a million pellets of death has appeared the most insurmountable obstacle to forgiving and moving on. I associate it with the whole horror of that war and my father's sudden decline and death. The land of Lebanon was poisoned, my father died of poison/cancer, and now here I am fighting innumerable tiny lesions in my liver, like mirrors of the cluster bombs embedded into my organs. Some things feel unforgivable; for me, this is one.

Here is how I can forgive. First of all, it's not me alone. My ego wants to be right. I will not truly forgive of my own unaided will, so I ask that some larger force - whatever you want to call it - help me forgive.

Second, I consider that the persons who ordered and carried out the attacks on Lebanon act out of fear and error. They possess a constellation of ideas about conflict, and about Lebanon and its people, that are simply in error. Those erroneous ideas lead them to harbor fears for their own destruction and that of their people (the Israelis). So, driven by fear and error, these military and political leaders ordered this action which I find so terrible.

Have I ever acted rashly, driven by my own fear and mistaken ideas? Yes. I have never caused so much harm (I hope). I have never killed anyone or caused such destruction. But it's only a matter of degree. I have harbored terrible fears, terrible prejudices, enormous mistakes in judgment or perception that have driven me to irrational behavior. I can forgive myself for such errors (with difficulty). I know I am only human.

Next, I observe people around me, some of whom I love dearly, who also harbor fears that lead them to say or condone actions I cannot accept. Let's give the example of a hypothetical relative (nobody in real life, I assure you), who harbors fears and resentments left over from a terrible mugging on a city street. That person may say things against ethnic or social groups that I cannot accept. I do not accept that person's words or ideas; however I can see how their ideas are shaped by their fears and their history. So I let it go. I forgive them their mistakes. (This example is entirely fictional by the way)

It is not too far to move from forgiving a beloved relative or friend for her/his failings, to forgiving a stranger. If I think I cannot do it, then I imagine my small child. If he is seized with a terrifying fear of some teacher, and expresses hatred for that teacher, and the desire to spear her with his Star Wars light saber, I don't reject my child for this. I try to understand what is driving his fears; at the same time I attempt not to cater to the emotional storm. Let it pass. I can forgive my child for his unskillful reaction to his fear of a teacher.

In forgiving the stranger who has caused so much harm, I also have to stop arguing with myself: but they SHOULD know better. They SHOULD NOT be so fearful, violent, willing to kill for retribution, and so forth.

My job is to give up anger and resentment. I can only do this when I can see the other for the flawed, frightened human being he is - my alter ego.

My enemy is my mirror. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." I trespass against others and need forgiveness. So must I forgive others for their trespasses. It all goes around and around. The cycle of forgiveness is the only way to break the cycle of violence.

And by the way, it never helps me to say "but he needs to say he's sorry first." Or, "he has to change before I can forgive him." This makes my power to forgive conditional upon somebody else's behavior. I always have the power to forgive. The other party has no power to keep me from forgiveness.

Now if I am trying to forgive somebody who continues to do things that harm me, I don't continue to put myself in the way of that harm. I take what measures I can to protect myself, or remove myself from that person's orbit. Forgiveness does not mean allowing myself to be beaten if I can help it.

"Resist not evil" is a kind of Zen concept. Make yourself like water and flow around and away. Fighting evil directly just gives it power. It doesn't really have power. Let it dissolve in your indifference, move around and away from the appearance of evil as if you are a running stream flowing around a rock and down to the sea. The rock will wear away one day; meanwhile you can keep flowing.

Ted Cruz Links

As Ted Cruz emerges as the only GOP primary candidate in a clutch of a dozen or so with the nerve to challenge The Donald, the media is bursting with a sting of vignettes from his backstory. Too many to count, I'm collecting them here.

When Ted Cruz Argued at SCOTUS
He has argued nine cases before the high court, defending the death penalty and butting heads with a Republican president.

Sam Baker
@SAM_BAKER
March 23, 2015
Cruz, who on Monday be­came the first of­fi­cial can­did­ate of 2016, has ar­gued nine cases be­fore the high court. And those ar­gu­ments have a lot in com­mon with his time in elec­ted of­fice””namely, ag­gress­ively con­ser­vat­ive po­s­i­tions, some­times chal­len­ging the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, with de­cidedly un­even res­ults.
[snip]
 
Cruz spent most of his time be­fore the Su­preme Court de­fend­ing tough crim­in­al sen­tences, in­clud­ing the death pen­alty (not too sur­pris­ing, for the Texas so­li­cit­or gen­er­al).
The death pen­alty was the cent­ral is­sue in Cruz’s last case as so­li­cit­or gen­er­al, in which he and oth­er at­tor­neys on his side missed a crit­ic­al fact that might have swung the case their way.
 
Cruz jumped in­to a 2008 case over a Louisi­ana law that sen­tenced child rap­ists to death. The Court ul­ti­mately ruled that the sen­tence was un­con­sti­tu­tion­al, re­ly­ing in part on the fact that only a small hand­ful of states al­lowed it. 
Dur­ing or­al ar­gu­ments, Cruz urged the justices to de­fer to those states, and said that more jur­is­dic­tions might ad­opt pen­al­ties sim­il­ar to Louisi­ana’s. 
“What we are ad­voc­at­ing is that there is an evolving un­der­stand­ing of the enorm­ous, unique, ir­re­par­able harms to chil­dren, and it’s elec­ted le­gis­latures that can sit and listen to those ad­voc­ates from the groups, listen to the em­pir­ic­al data, con­sider the de­terrence ef­fect””con­sider all of these and de­cide one way or the oth­er,” Cruz said. “I would fully ex­pect, in time, some states would act to es­tab­lish cap­it­al pun­ish­ment and oth­ers would not. And that that’s pre­cisely how the labor­at­or­ies of demo­cracy should op­er­ate.” 
But the law­yers ar­guing in fa­vor of the death pen­alty missed a po­ten­tially im­port­ant fact: The U.S. mil­it­ary had changed its code to al­low cap­it­al pun­ish­ment for child rape. The fact that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment had ac­cep­ted the pen­alty might have un­der­cut Kennedy’s ar­gu­ment that it fell out­side the “evolving stand­ards of de­cency” by which cap­it­al pun­ish­ment is judged. 
Cruz told The New York Times after the rul­ing that the change in mil­it­ary rules had “eluded every­one’s re­search,” and that he didn’t think the Court would change its un­der­ly­ing de­cision, even if the over­sight was cor­rec­ted.
Every voter needs to know this about Ted Cruz
By Ian Reifowitz
Tuesday Jan 12, 2016 

Given how closely I follow politics and the news, I can’t believe this is the first time I’m hearing this story about Ted Cruz. Kudos to David Brooks for bringing it to light:[article below]  
During the Supreme Court hearing, Justice Anthony Kennedy—left incredulous by Cruz’s position—asked him: “Is there some rule that you can't confess error in your state?” 
Brooks’s article is titled “The Brutalism of Ted Cruz.” An apt description indeed. 
Would hearing this story undercut Cruz’s support among Republican primary voters? I really don’t know. I do know that a person who would fight such a case all the way to the Supreme Court is lacking something very basic—something important not only for Christians, but for any of us, and certainly for anyone seeking to become the most powerful individual in the world. That thing is judgment.
The Brutalism of Ted Cruz
David Brooks 
JAN. 12, 2016
In 1997, Michael Wayne Haley was arrested after stealing a calculator from Walmart. This was a crime that merited a maximum two-year prison term. But prosecutors incorrectly applied a habitual offender law. Neither the judge nor the defense lawyer caught the error and Haley was sentenced to 16 years. 
Eventually, the mistake came to light and Haley tried to fix it. Ted Cruz was solicitor general of Texas at the time. Instead of just letting Haley go for time served, Cruz took the case to the Supreme Court to keep Haley in prison for the full 16 years.
Some justices were skeptical. “Is there some rule that you can’t confess error in your state?” Justice Anthony Kennedy asked. The court system did finally let Haley out of prison, after six years
 
The case reveals something interesting about Cruz’s character. Ted Cruz is now running strongly among evangelical voters, especially in Iowa. But in his career and public presentation Cruz is a stranger to most of what would generally be considered the Christian virtues: humility, mercy, compassion and grace. Cruz’s behavior in the Haley case is almost the dictionary definition of pharisaism: an overzealous application of the letter of the law in a way that violates the spirit of the law, as well as fairness and mercy. 
Traditionally, candidates who have attracted strong evangelical support have in part emphasized the need to lend a helping hand to the economically stressed and the least fortunate among us. Such candidates include George W. Bush, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. 
But Cruz’s speeches are marked by what you might call pagan brutalism. There is not a hint of compassion, gentleness and mercy. Instead, his speeches are marked by a long list of enemies, and vows to crush, shred, destroy, bomb them. When he is speaking in a church the contrast between the setting and the emotional tone he sets is jarring. 
[snip] 
Evangelicals and other conservatives have had their best influence on American politics when they have proceeded in a spirit of personalism — when they have answered hostility with service and emphasized the infinite dignity of each person. They have won elections as happy and hopeful warriors. Ted Cruz’s brutal, fear-driven, apocalypse-based approach is the antithesis of that.
[For the sake of balance here is a link to a WSJ rejoinder from James Taranto taking Brooks to task for "Borking" Cruz. I would call this a journalistic double-technicality whiplash, beginning with Cruz enabling a miscarriage of justice on a technicality, then getting a pass himself (with Brooks' criticism) thanks to another technicality concocted by Taranto. But that's just my biased opinion.

Mr. Taranto seeks to keep his hands clean with the "I report -- you decide" dodge (see below). I'm familiar with that ploy having used it myself on occasion. But in this case it reveals as much about the writer as the subject he seeks to salvage. Sorry, I'm not buying it.]

Brooks Borks Cruz
A deceptive attack on the former solicitor general.
JAMES TARANTO
Jan. 12, 2016
Yesterday we had a mischievous thought: What if Donald Trump, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, were to announce (or merely suggest) that if elected, he would nominate Ted Cruz to the next vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court? Such a move would give some Cruz supporters a reason to switch while reassuring other conservatives nervous about the soundness of a President Trump’s judicial nominees. 
Trump could even use the occasion to reinforce his current Cruz-directed mischief. After all, nobody can claim that Cruz’s Canadian birth would pose an obstacle to a Supreme Court appointment. Several early justices were born in England and vicinity; Justice Felix Frankfurter was a naturalized immigrant from Vienna; and Justice David Brewer was born as far away as Turkey.
Is David Brooks thinking along similar lines? We ask because his New York Times column today looks an awful lot like a pre-emptive borking. 
[snip] 
...what led us to think Brooks probably wasn’t shooting straight here—is his unexplained segue from the skepticism of “some justices,” including Kennedy, to Haley’s release thanks to “the court system.” We inferred that Cruz had won the case, and we inferred correctly. The vote was 6-3, with Kennedy among the dissenters. The majority opinion was written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and joined by, among others, Clinton appointees Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. 
If arguing against Haley’s legal position “reveals something interesting about Cruz’s character,” what does deciding against it reveal about the character of O’Connor, Ginsburg, Breyer and the others in the majority? Don’t worry, there won’t be a test. The answer is nada; the question is rhetorical and demonstrates the falsity of Brooks’s premise. 
That is not the limit of Brooks’s deception, which begins in the very first paragraph with the assertion that “prosecutors incorrectly applied a habitual offender law.” We naturally read that to mean Haley was doing time for a crime he didn’t commit—that he was harshly sentenced under a “three strikes” law but had been convicted for only one prior felony (or none). 
In fact, Haley did have the requisite two prior felony convictions. From the syllabus: “As it turned out, the evidence presented at the penalty phase showed that respondent [Haley] had committed his second offense three days before his first conviction became final, meaning that he was not eligible for the habitual offender enhancement.”

Thus the error here was procedural, not substantive: Haley had been duly convicted of three felonies, but because of an accident of timing, the second one should not have counted under Texas law. He was, in other words, trying to get off on a technicality.
That is not to say he should not have. The law is the law, and there was no dispute that Texas officials erred. They too were pleading a technicality: “that respondent had procedurally defaulted his sufficiency of the evidence claim.” The question before the court was whether “the actual innocence exception applies to noncapital sentencing procedures involving career offenders and habitual felony offenders.”

This columnist does not have a firm opinion as to whether three-strikes laws are prudent or just (a policy question), much less on the legal question whether the actual innocence exception applies to noncapital sentencing procedures involving career offenders and habitual felony offenders. (A layman’s simplification of the court’s answer to the latter question: Maybe, but not in this case.) 
Cruz’s successful appeal in Haley tells us nothing about him except that he was a competent solicitor general. His job was to make legal arguments, not moral judgments about crime and punishment or personal ones about particular criminal defendants. If Brooks thinks Haley’s punishment was unjust—and there is nothing to suggest he has an informed view of the matter at all—he can fault the legislators who passed the three-strikes law, the prosecutors who applied (and misapplied) it, and the trial judge who imposed the sentence. 
Brooks means to denounce Cruz, not to vindicate Haley. Criticizing politicians, even denouncing them, is part of the job of an opinion columnist. But Brooks’s treatment of this case is either deliberately deceptive or recklessly ignorant. It may raise questions of character, but not Ted Cruz’s.
~~~
The famous birther question is once again rearing it's ugly Constitutional head. My opinion is that it's a remnant of our colonial past that needs to be tossed aside. But that is not going to happen. In the meantime it is being used yet again to malign a candidate for a reason having zero to do with his eligibility to be president of the United States. I don't even like Ted Cruz as this collection of links makes clear, but the birther issue, in my opinion, is thin gruel indeed. And this is not a new issue in the history of presidential elections, it seems. Wikipedia has one of those shaggy-dog endless articles about the subject. I learned that Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona Territory before it was made a state!

My own opinion is that it's time to toss that requirement with a corrective amendment. Birthright citizenship is no guarantee of anything, and we have a couple centuries of evidence as proof. As for the constitution, it was that document that produced our first president via the electoral college, at a time when only male white property owners could vote. No poor people. No slaves. No freedmen of color. No women. No newcomers. We have come a long way since then, and we still have a way to go.

As for Ted Cruz, he is one of the most dangerous people ever to run for president. His birthright as the offspring of am extreme right-wing Bircher is far more troubling than where he might have been born. He's a manipulative, power-hungry, sneaky little man with the markings of a Uriah Heep. It was said of Hillary Clinton that she doesn't lie but she handles the truth very carefully. But Cruz puts her management of the truth look amateurish by comparison. He doesn't lie, but he handles the truth like a deck of cards in the hands of a gifted magician. Cruz and a few others display an artful use of rhetoric that has not been heard for years.

Moving right along...
~~~
Ted Cruz’s birther problem grows as more constitutional law scholars say he can’t be president
NEWSWEEK
14 JAN 2016

A growing number of constitutional law scholars are arguing that Ted Cruz’s birth in Canada makes him ineligible to become president. Their argument could prove a thorn in the side of the senator, who is a zealous originalist on most constitutional questions—with what seems like a notable exception. 
The issue has moved to the center of the presidential campaign, with Cruz’s rise in the polls and Donald Trump claiming that Cruz needs to prove he’s eligible to run by getting a declaratory judgment in federal court. 
There is some ambiguity in the question of eligibility. The Constitution sets down three requirements to assume the nation's highest office: one must be at least 35 years old, have been a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years (though whether those years must be consecutive or can be cumulative is a question up for debate) and must be a "natural-born citizen" of the United States. But the founders did not explicitly define "natural-born citizen," leaving room for doubt and debate. 
While Cruz has told reporters his eligibility to become president is "settled law" because his mother was an American citizen when he was born and never renounced her American citizenship while she was a Canadian resident. Many constitutional theorists agree with Cruz that it's not really up for debate. 
But it’s hardly unanimous. An increasing number of high-profile constitutional law professors, including one of Cruz's own professors from Harvard Law School, have in recent days argued publicly that Cruz's birth disqualifies him.
More details at the link. The reader is welcome to go down that rabbit hole without further encouragement from me.


How Ted Cruz’s best friend drew him into Jamaican politics and business
By Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger 
January 22
Kingston, Jamaica — The ambitious young men sat for hours at a restaurant here to map out plans for a business venture that could make them millions.
In a group that included three Jamaican entrepreneurs, one participant seemed out of place — a 27-year-old former U.S. Supreme Court law clerk of Cuban descent who was visiting from Washington. 
Ted Cruz had been invited by his roommate from Princeton and Harvard Law, David Panton, who was eager for the group to win the rights to manage a new Caribbean-focused investment enterprise launched by one of the island’s most prominent executives. 
The idea was modeled after U.S. private equity companies that made fortunes by using investor dollars to remake underperforming companies. The Caribbean concept came with a twist — the investor dollars would be drawn in part from governments, including from the United States, leveraging funds intended to boost the developing world. 
It was an odd fit for Cruz, who as early as high school and college expressed a strong belief in limited government. But the plan held potential for big profits. And Cruz was welcomed by Panton’s fellow Jamaican partners as a skilled negotiator well suited to help hone their pitch for managing the new firm. 
“A good devil’s advocate,” said Jeffrey Hall, one of the partners at the meeting.
With Cruz’s help, they won the right to control what they hoped would be a $150 million fund. The firm, founded in 1998, lost its contract within five years, in part because of a dispute over an investment decision, and was soon shuttered. 
Nevertheless, it provided a tidy sum for Cruz. He initially pitched in $6,000 for start-up costs and exited the partnership shortly before it disintegrated with a payout of $25,000, plus a promise of an additional $75,000 to come later, according to Panton.
The episode is one part of an unusual chapter in Cruz’s life — a foray into Jamaican society and politics amid his otherwise straightforward rise from the Ivy League to coveted clerkships to the U.S. Senate and, now, the top tier of the Republican presidential field. 
Ted and David
At the heart of it all was Cruz’s long and enduring bond with Panton. The two college buddies had each been destined for high-profile success, the Canadian-born Cruz as a constitutional lawyer in the United States and Panton, son of prominent Jamaican parents, as a potential prime minister of his native country. 
When their business dissolved in 2003, Panton seemed to stumble — through a very public divorce from a former Miss World and a romance with a former Miss Universe that provided tabloid fodder across the Caribbean. Panton has said that Cruz provided emotional support through some of those difficult times. 
Cruz’s loyalty over many years to Panton, who he has said is “like a brother,” shows a different side of a politician who has developed a reputation for being abrasive, even unlikable. Panton, in turn, has been one of Cruz’s most enthusiastic political supporters, helping launch the first super PAC backing the senator’s White House bid. 
Cruz declined to be interviewed for this article, and a campaign spokesman did not respond to detailed written questions. Panton agreed to answer questions only via email.
[More at the link. The reader can take it from here.]
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Here are a few links regarding Rafael Cruz, the father of Ted Cruz.  The headlines speak for themselves and the contents are easy to grasp. 

Ted Cruz’s dad is even more frightening than Ted Cruz
The wingnut didn't fall far from the tree. We followed Pastor Rafael Cruz to Iowa and heard some full-on crazy

Robert Leonard
Sept. 26, 2015

Why Ted Cruz’s father could become a campaign liability
03/23/15 -- UPDATED 03/24/15

By Adam Howard

Rafael Cruz Right Wing Watch Posts Archive

Ted Cruz Out To Reflect God’s Love, Punish Supreme Court for Marriage Equality Ruling
SUBMITTED BY Peter Montgomery on Friday, 1/29/2016
Ted Cruz, his father Rafael, and supporters like Glenn Beck and David Barton all believe that Cruz is on a divine mission to save America. As we have been reporting, Cruz’s campaign has been celebrating near-dailyendorsements from some of the most extreme characters in the Religious Right. Just before yesterday’s Republican presidential debate, the Focus on the Family-affiliated group CitizenLink released audio clips of conference calls the group has been holding with conservative candidates. The clips of Ted Cruz’s remarks include repeats of much of his standard campaign rhetoric, with a particular focus on the religious rhetoric Cruz has made central to his campaign. He said, for example, that a president who does not begin each day on his knees in prayer is not fit to be commander-in-chief 
On the CitizenLink call, Cruz reiterated his campaign’s foundational premise that he can win the White House not by appealing to some mushy middle but by promoting conservative values with a “joyful spirit” that will energize the right-wing base. “There are more of us than there are of them and if we simply stand up and vote our values we can turn this country around.” Cruz said his prayer for his campaign was not “God help us win,” but that “God’s love will be reflected and seen in how we conducted this campaign.”
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I almost forgot about this collection of responses Senator Cruz received at his Facebook page when he said a few respectful words about Nelson Mandela when he died in 2013. I collected them at a blog post in case they were later deleted, but as of this writing over two years later they remain part of the record.

This brief, respectful, almost perfunctory statement from a US Senator borders on bland to the point of being disrespectful. Read for yourself. Then go to the link and see the avalanche of outrage it received -- apparently from the Senator's constituents and followers.
Nelson Mandela will live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe. He stood firm for decades on the principle that until all South Africans enjoyed equal liberties he would not leave prison himself, declaring in his autobiography, 'Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me.' Because of his epic fight against injustice, an entire nation is now free. 
We mourn his loss and offer our condolences to his family and the people of South Africa.
At this writing (2/6/16) Senator Cruz' Facebook page cites 1.4k comments.
First three top comments are...
This is the reason you sir, will never be elected President. Your base is made up of a bunch of racist, uninformed idiots who know nothing about basic history. Reading these comments make me shocked at how many people in this country are so hateful and just outright stupid (550 likes) 
As a South African, I just want to say that our country is a much better place for the existence of Mr Mandela. On nearly every indicator, South Africa and its people are better off than in 1994. Mandela was flawed, as are we all, but he was a great man, and ensured that South Africa became a democracy and a place where all its people can live in peace. I feel sorry for the many bigots that have posted on this page. Their intolerance and racism is a horrible thing to see. (616 likes) 
These are exactly the comments I would expect from supporters of Ted Cruz. Dimwit, hateful, ignorant comments. (378 likes)
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Here is a snip from the New Hampshire Republican Debate  (2/6/16) indicating Senator Cruz has no reservations about waterboarding. He's riffing here on something said earlier by Trump who had said "I would bring back waterboarding and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding."