Volume 4, Number 111
15 November 2004

Note:  The content of this letter began to take shape in my mind while I was on a cruise around Hawaii just before the election. However, Robin (my wife) had three heart episodes on that cruise, and we spent much time in hospitals on shore. She has just been in Boulder Community Hospital for two more stents (three total) and is home now, feeling fine but tired.

In the meantime, I am exhausted, and that is why this Letter is so late. I had an echocardiogram today, to test whether my shortness of breath is related to heart. I will have cataract surgery on November 29. Right now I cannot easily read the newspaper or even see this computer screen. But long ago, I learned to type, so I will bull on. — Jack

Me for President!

To the American people:

Thank you all for writing in my name as candidate for president. That is, thanks to the zero of you who did.  I will now answer questions:

Q. What general philosophy would you bring to Washington if you are elected?

A. My general philosophy is one of peace and responsibility. For peace, I would withdraw military forces everywhere, letting it be known that America is a peaceful country. But we would participate heavily in negotiations and diplomacy to resolve international problems.

Now for responsibility. The government is assuming responsibility for decisions the people should make ourselves. It treats us as if we were identical children. Many of us (not me) enjoy being treated like children but not like identical ones. Usually some would like some amounts of welfare goodies, and others different amounts. I would privatize all that, so consumers might choose how much social security, insurance, etc. they want.

Q. Would not the people suffer if they did not have government-sponsored Medicare, social security, housing, assistance against terrorists, disaster insurance, and other welfare coverage?

A. No. We are a compassionate country, so I would ask Congress to pass a "negative income tax." Thus people with income above a certain amount would pay taxes, while those with lower incomes would receive money from the government. Then the poor would have enough to live on and to insure against disaster expenses. The government would save a lot of money by not having to give welfare to the rich. There would be no subsidies for agriculture or corporations.

Q. What would be the cut-off point of the negative income tax, and how much would those below it receive?

A. I don't know. That should be decided by Congress, and as President I would send the item back for reconsideration if it were too little or too much. With the negative income tax, the poor would have enough to pay for their health insurance, social security, or other welfare. just like the rest of us.

Q. What if they would not? Would you let a person with a heart attack die on the sidewalk if he or she didn't have health insurance?

A. No. I would require by law that all persons buy private insurance against this and other tragedies.

Q. What if an insurance company should fail?

A. We live in a world of uncertainty, and we have to make wise choices and live with them. I think it more likely that the government will not pay the social insurance it has promised, or it will inflate the currency until payments are worthless. I know of many governments (such as Argentina) that have defaulted on their debts. Private insurance will be more reliable.

Q. Is it not better to guarantee social security by the government?

A. In the first place, it is never guaranteed. The president and Congress could end it completely, if they so desire. In the second place, if the alternative is government bankruptcy, which do you think they will do? Social security causes the real government debt (of some trillions) to be enlarged more than we will admit. Morally, the government owes to  potential retirees the present value, at current interest rates, of their social security payments. ("Present value" is the lump-sum cost of an annuity equal to the amount of social security expected.) Actually, it doesn't legally owe social security's value, because that is not guaranteed. My suggestion would be that the government go even more into debt in order to pay potential social security recipients the present value of their promised annuities. This would cause a monstrous inflation, just like the cost of the war in Iraq, but that is the fairest way we can do it.

Q. Do not agricultural subsidies help create a small-farm economy, and is this not a good thing for America?

A. No. Almost all agricultural subsidies go to rich farmers, not poor ones. Besides, while we have given millions of dollars in foreign aid, our farm subsidies out-compete poor-country farmers and help keep them poor.

Q. How do you feel about abortion, single-sex marriage, and other sexual questions?

A. In keeping with my general philosophy, individuals should be sovereign over these decisions. The government should not interfere.

Q. What is your strategy for exit from Iraq?

A. Easy. As soon as possible, I would sent enough airplanes to the Baghdad (or other) airport and bring all our soldiers home,  Afterwards we would fly all remaining US citizens, if they so desired, to Jordan  or other nearby safe place and let them or their employers find other passage home (or elsewhere).

Q. Wouldn't your exit plan leave the possibility for civil war in Iraq?

A. More likely, it would reduce the probability of civil war. Civil war is already being waged in Iraq, and it will increase if we delay exiting. Again, we live in an uncertain world, and it should be left to the Iraqis to decide if they want to fight or not.

Q. What about the Arab-Israeli dispute?

A. The same as for exit in Iraq. All American troops should be withdrawn, and we would stop subsidizing both sides. This is not the isolationist policy that our founding fathers debated. We would continue to show our interest, attend conferences, and use whatever peaceful means are necessary. The use of military means promotes war.

Q. What would be your attitude toward terrorism?

A. I would try to get the whole world to agree that all terrorism – meaning attack on civilian populations – is unacceptable, and its perpetrators should be kidnapped and sent to the Hague for trial alongside Milosevic. Our present approach is that we are against terrorism by certain people, support it by others, and commit it ourselves. Guess what? My policy might bring Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush to trial for terrorism.

I believe that our present policy toward terrorism increases it rather than reduces it. The idea of terror (including beheading) against Americans is spread as others copy terrorism. It is not reduced.  We will never conquer terrorism by practicing it ourselves.

Q. What kind of tax laws would you pass?

A. I believe taxes should be reduced when we have a no-war country. Mr. Bush's tax policies would be reasonable if there were no war.  The more heavily we tax people and enterprises, the more we damage the economy and put people out of work. However, so long as we do have a war, we should pay for it, just as previous generations have. The people should feel the cost of a war.

Q. Do you believe these policies will get you elected?

A. Of course not. Too many people in the United States want revenge for 9/11. They want to be taken care of by government or employers, or at least by someone other than themselves. But, to paraphrase Harry Truman, I would rather tell the truth than be president.

My big question to you is: how many Quakers would favor this policy? Please let me know how you feel about it.

Sincerely yours,

Jack Powelson.

Readers' Comments:

I like much of what you say; however, I think a quick exit from Iraq would not serve the interests of world peace. We have created the chaos there and attracted the extremists of the world to come and fight for "their God." We must stabilize that country before we say "OK, it's yours." The problem of Hussein should have been approached with international support. Now we need to admit we were hasty, short-sighted and arrogant. We need to ask for international support to end the quagmire we have made worse by our unilateral intervention with brute force. No hope of that while we enjoy four more years. I fear there is no direction but down. I pray I am wrong.

— Jack Page (location and affiliation undisclosed).

I am cheered to respond to #111. I have been somewhat despondent since the election. It is hard to accept that the Rove plan — ignore the failures in every area for four years and concentrate all attention on the personal aspects of Kerry, on Bush's resolute consistency to ignore facts and keep on doing wrong (killing a lot of Iraqis and a few Americans) — actually worked. Still, I agree with almost everything you wrote, and I hope your surgeries work out. I was at Spence's memorial services in Cornwall Conn. and a lot of young people remembered wise things he had told them — and lived by his views. I hope a few of us hang in there until the 65th — that is 2006 and unfortunately Bush will still be on our payroll!

— Dick Wolf, Coral Gables, FL

Note: Dick is a college classmate, referring to one of the more than 50% of our classmates who have died. Time marches on!!! — Jack

You said "The use of military means promotes war" which is just another way of repeating ancient wisdoms. But historically it seems also true that a viable alternative to military means to secure peace hasn't been found. How would you secure a global peace in the world we live in? What would be your roadmap to get there? What would be the biggest risks along the way?

— Sergio Lemaitre, Christian / no affiliation, Milwaukee, WI

I believe in minimal government, which, to me means government undertaking only those activities that are socially needed and which private enterprise or civilian charities are not willing to undertake. Minimal government naturally leads to a minimal national tax burden but within that burden I would certainly agree with a negative income tax paid out to needy individuals so that they can reasonably be expected to provide for themselves through insurance etc; compliance being enforced through legislation where necessary.

— Rory Short [Johannesburg Monthly Meeting, South Africa]

I continue to put out your booklet at my meeting, but I believe I overheard someone who didn't realize it is me objecting to that. There are only a few copies left and I may put them in a less conspicuous place. For this reason, I will not give Meeting ID. On Iraq, US military presence, I agree with you and others with one caveat: the Kurds. It sickens me to think of them being cracked like a nut between Shiites and Sunnis. It will be like the massacre of the Armenians by Turks in 1915. A mini-holocaust. How could we live with ourselves in such an event knowing we let it happen?

— Maurice B.

Note: Thanks anyway, Maurice. I won't mention your last name or Meeting. BUT, my writings have been distributed at many Friends' Meetings. This is the first complaint I have heard. I myself believe that all literature is OK, from all sides, but no proselytizing. — Jack

This, like so many of your e-mails, is a wonderful piece.

— Tom Selldorff, Weston, MA.

I don't agree with everything -- I think you are too sanguine about insurance companies; the problem is not so much in stability as in rapaciousness. And with your minimum income, social security ISN"T NEEDED!!!! So that whole liability could just be ditched. But whatever my disagreements, the package is by far the best one on offer; I'd vote for it in a heartbeat.

— Bruce Hawkins, Northampton (MA) Meeting.

Bruce: Suppose you put $2,000 a year in the savings bank yearly for fifty years, expecting to use it for retirement. Suddenly, the bank announces that because Congress has passed the negative income tax (which doesn't affect you at all) it has decided to cancel your savings. How would you feel? — Jack

Your views are frequently much more conservative than I'm comfortable with. However, the platform you describe in #111 is so clear, transparent, and consistent with moral principles I value, that I wish I'd had a chance to vote for them.

— Gladys Tiffany, Fayetteville AR

In TQE #111 Jack says, "as long as we have war, we should pay for it." Perhaps he could help readers understand the sense in which the cost of war is deferred. We are giving up what the soldiers would have produced in civilian employment; tanks and guns and ammunition are using up current resources which could have been used to build refrigerators, toys, and schools. We are clearly paying something now. What is being deferred?

— Bill Shropshire, Central Congregaional Church, Atlanta, GA

Note: Bill is an economist (he once hired me to teach for a semester at his university), and he is right, nothing is deferred. BUT, did I say "deferred?" (I don't remember it.) He is right about the real goods we are giving up to pay for the war. But also, treasury bondholders are lending to the government the financial equivalent of those real goods. In the future, either the government will default, or deflate the currency, and in either case the bondholders will pay for the war. Otherwise taxes will reimburse the bondholders, so the taxable public pays. — Jack

It is a pleasure to see demonstrated that one can be a Quaker and a Libertarian at the same time.

— Chris Henson, Wilton (CT) Meeting

As president of the USA, you would have sworn (or affirmed) an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. Were you to urge the Congress to send you a bill requiring citizens to purchase private health insurance, you would not only be unfaithful to your own oath, but you would be urging Congressmen to dishonor their sworn oath to support and defend the Constitution, as well. Karl Marx would be smiling in his grave at your (as President) proposal to ask Congress to send you a bill setting up the :negative income tax."

— Bob Pardee, neighbor in Jack's retirement home, Boulder CO.

Note: For every good idea, there is a way. For example, the Constitution can be amended, if necessary. — Jack

It seems to me that America's presence along with Britain and others has become the problem. The situation would be grave if they withdrew, of course, but it is by no means certain it would be any worse than if the "coalition of the willing" remains. It would be best I think if America and Britain admitted they acted wrongly — state their willingness to withdraw and state also their willingness to fund any other nation brave enough to want to attempt to salvage the situation. But this is not going to happen, of course.

— Paul Buttle, Keswick, England - attender.

With regard to the divisive call for immediate US withdrawal from Iraq, Friends here would do well to read the work referred to on the Quaker list, from the New York Review of Books, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17630 and ponder the evil done in the lands upon which we are raining bloody hell, and the building blind fury turning our way from those subjected to our unkind attentions. We can leave Iraq now of our own free will, or we can find ourselves in a few years reaping the whirlwinds of violence at home and abroad. Staying will not prevent civil war. Staying will only result in more death and destruction, as our weaponry so outpowers that available to any other party, it is as the sun to the moon. No matter how many car bombs are planted, or how many attacks on new police are carried out, a few US incursions into cities, like the one on Falujah, will kill, maim, uproot and psychologically scar thousands more. And the people we have carrying this out will bring their emotional wounds home to us, where there is no salve, no bandage, no real understanding for what we will have put them through. What is the cost to a person o! f being "a good killer?"

— Warren Hoskins, Miami (FL) Friends Meeting


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Publisher and Editorial Board

Publisher: Russ Nelson, St. Lawrence Valley (NY) Friends Meeting

Editorial Board:

  • Chuck Fager, Director, Quaker House, Fayetteville, NC
  • Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting
  • Valerie Ireland, Boulder (CO) Friends Meeting.
  • Asa Janney, Herndon (VA) Meeting.
  • Jack Powelson, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends, Principal Editor
  • Norval Reece, Newtown (PA) Friends Meeting.
  • J.D. von Pischke, a Friend from Reston, VA.
  • John Spears, Princeton (NJ) Friends Meeting
  • Geoffrey Williams, Attender at New York Fifteenth Street Meeting.

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Copyright © 2004 by John P. Powelson. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for non-commercial reproduction.

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