Hilary Clinton: A little improvement over making America break again

HIllary ClintonMany of us have experienced loss in our lives, and we get hit with the cruel irony that we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone.  We Americans like complaining.  To be sure there is plenty to complain about.  You have your own list; I won’t write one for you. But things can get a lot worse for Americans than they are.

Donald Trump looks up to President Putin and envies China, because he sees an uncontested leader and hunger to win, regardless of rules, respectively.  But that doesn’t mean we want to live in those countries, where people are subject to arrest without cause, where one cannot say what wants to say.  These are countries that operate by the rule of man (and I do mean “man”)  and not the rule of law, where might makes right, and where the ends justify the means.  Putin took the Crimea because he could.  He imprisoned and poisoned his opposition because he could.  He has interfered with an American election because he could.  China violates intellectual property rules and builds islands in the Pacific because they can.  These are the ones Trump looks up to.

The American ideal is different.  We don’t believe in kings, and we surely do not believe in thugs.  We like our freedom, where government acts on the will of the People and not the will of an individual, and where it is constrained not only by the People, but by those who we elect through their oaths to uphold the Constitution, a document that guarantees freedom and fairness, that a person won’t be treated different because of  sex, race, or religion.  Our ideal extends the Constitution to cover other innate characteristics, such as sexual orientation.  Fairness is something we hold dear.

I do not believe that Donald Trump understands any of this.  He has spent his life cheating people out of money.  To him, the ends will always justify the means.  To him, the art of the deal is a matter of deceit, and knowing when to violate its terms.  And he does so as long as he can get away with it.  An agreement to him only binds him until he finds it inconvenient.  Donald Trump will never deliver on his promises, and we know this because of all the broken promises of his past.  He is vindictive, and spews hatred towards others.  He does not know how to delegate responsibility, and he does not know how to accept responsibility for his mistakes.  According to Trump, he’s never made a mistake.

Hillary Clinton lacks the charisma of her husband.  She is not a visionary like Bernie Sanders.  She is an incrementalist.  She is a policy wonk, and she’s a bit nerdish.  She will be challenged by a vociferous and resentful opposition.  Under a President Hillary Clinton we will not see a Democratic House of Representatives.  That will never be her mission.  What we will see is steady leadership.  Mostly status quo.  Status quo means that we get mostly what we have.

And we have quite a lot.  We have freedom.  We have a functioning, if imperfect, support infrastructure.  We have an innovative society.  We have democracy.  We have checks and balances.  We have the right to practice whatever religion we want, so long as we don’t hurt others.  Under a President Clinton we would have humility in leadership, and someone who is serious about trying to take a great America and make it better; not by a lot, but at least in the right direction.  She is the type that will work to fix the potholes and leaks in the roofs.  And she won’t promise more.

She will also deal honestly and ably with what crises hit her.  No president is defined by his or her campaign platform, but rather how they react to the problems that are thrown at them.  Hillary Clinton will do that will a cool head.  We cannot say the same about Trump.

Image Courtesy: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, USA – Hillary Clinton, CC BY-SA 2.0

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More Airline nonsense!

Yes the airlines are at it again.  This time, according to the Wall Street Journal, they are complaining about the idea that you might actually want to get off of a plane after some number of hours of sitting on a tarmac.  The pendulum has swung so far to the side of the airlines that they think that they can simply bully the FAA into backing off on the meager regulations they’ve proposed.  I have another idea.

With the airlines threatening to cancel flights at the first hint of trouble, I propose that the FAA institute one additional rule: when a flight is canceled, the airline responsible must rebook a passenger for a flight to his or her destination on that same day, or allow the passenger to book the next available flight to his or her destination on any airline.  Just for spice, we might add something about allowing that booking to be in a higher class of service if it is the only available manner to get a passenger moving.

Still think we don’t need a real Passenger’s Bill of Rights?

Should Congress pass a Passengers' Bill of Rights to curb airline abuse?

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Taxation and Representation

Janet Flanner, Expatriate in ParisMany people have asked me what it’s like living in Switzerland, and how life differs from that of outside the United States. Some of the big differences are how one interacts with the U.S. government itself, and with the States. Let’s discuss two examples over the next few days and whether or not they are fair, the first one being everyone’s favorite subject, taxes.

Here’s one way things don’t change: no matter where you live in the world, if you are a U.S. citizen who receives any sort of income above a very minimal amount, you have to file a tax return. U.S. stands alone in this nearly unique way among other governments. In most other cases you only file taxes (if required at all) in the country in which you reside. However, just because one has to fill out paperwork doesn’t mean one ends up paying the same taxes one would pay as a resident.

The U.S. philosophy is basically this: if you’re paying taxes somewhere else, and you’re not actually working in America, then you can reduce your tax burden by the amount paid. That means that if you never travel to America and the tax rate is higher than what you would pay as a U.S. resident, you pay nothing. On the other hand, if you do visit and work during that visit, then that money is subject to tax. And if the American tax rate is higher than the country in which you reside, you end up paying the difference. It’s more complicated than that (there are housing credits, limits on those credits, an income exclusion, etc), but that’s the jist.

Is any of this easy? No. The amount of paperwork expatriates often have to complete for taxes can measure into the kilograms, just for simple returns. In addition, different tax systems may cause substantial amounts of confusion due to when obligations occur, and when tax bills are finalized, requiring substantial revision over time. And don’t even get me started if you have a more complex situation, like say stock options, whose value has to be accounted for between the time they were granted and the amount of time you’ve spent in the states.

Is this fair? It says that as a U.S. citizen you still have a societal obligation no matter where you live. If you are a citizen and have never lived in the U.S., it may seem unfair. But the government is supposed to be there to protect you if you get into trouble; and you also get to vote for your senator, congressman, and in the presidential race. Certainly to me this seems fair. Citizenship has its responsibilities. In Switzerland, for instance, male citizens must serve in the armed service. It would be unfair if expatriates had to pay a higher rate than other citizens. Depending on your point of view, that has in part taken place, but not to the point that it has impacted me personally.

The IRS has attempted to simplify things somewhat, and you can see their attempt here.

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