|July 23, 2012||The Agitator #34||12 comments|
|July 16, 2012||The Agitator #33||1 comments|
|July 09, 2012||The Agitator #32||2 comments|
|July 02, 2012||The Agitator||4 comments|
|June 25, 2012||4 comments|
|June 18, 2012||1 comments|
|June 11, 2012||1 comments|
|June 04, 2012||4 comments|
|May 28, 2012||2 comments|
|May 21, 2012||3 comments|
Much has been said and a lot of arguments made for and against Mitt Romney to disclose his tax returns for more than two years. I have absolutely no reason to believe that Romney has committed tax fraud. In fact, I believe that he has almost certainly complied to the letter with our tax laws. Count me on the side of disclosure, though, because the issue isn’t about breaking the law. Anyone running for public office gives up an awful lot of privacy, and the higher up the office, the less privacy a candidate has. A presidential candidate pretty much has no personal privacy left in his life by the time his opponents and the media gets through raking over every last detail from birth to the present. How much detail is relevant is a separate debate.
Disclosing tax returns, in my opinion, is a very relevant issue for the voters. Tax returns can reveal where and how a person made his money, how many tax credits and deductions the candidate took, what esoteric tax laws allowed the candidate to avoid paying taxes, and other information. And this is where the returns become important. The voters should know what tax loopholes were available, in this instance, to a candidate that made millions of dollars but only paid fourteen percent in taxes in 2010. This is a matter of public policy that should be debated. I think most Republican and Democratic voters agree that we need tax reform in a major way. But most major legislative changes occur only when there is either a crisis or strong movement. Perhaps Romney was fortunate enough not to have paid any taxes for a period of years---legally. Shouldn’t the American people know that? Maybe many voters would be outraged, and maybe not. But if there is outrage it can be expressed to our elected representatives and serve as the impetus for tax reform.
Some may argue that Romney paid far more of his income to charity, a good thing, which allowed him to take a sizable tax deduction. What is troubling about that is that rather than pay taxes that fund a myriad of costs that benefit all Americans, to include the armed forces, he gets to choose where his money goes and puts nothing into the national pot. There is not a single tax paying American that supports all the government spending. Many wouldn’t have given a dime to pay for the Iraq war. Others wouldn’t choose to fund various welfare programs. But only those at the very top of the income ladder have options.
I want to stress that I support making money and achieving a high level of prosperity. I also want to be clear again that I honestly believe that Romney has complied with all tax laws. I just would like for all voters and tax payers to know from a presidential candidate’s tax returns what laws were applied to minimize or avoid paying taxes so that this can become a public policy issue to be debated and argued in the media and the deliberative bodies of the Congress. Recall that there was very little controversy over the draft in the 1950s and early 1960s. When the Vietnam war heated up that all changed. And that ultimately resulted in the public debate that led the Congress to eliminate the draft and turn to a volunteer military.
Last month the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Stolen Valor Act (SVA) in a six to three decision. Chief Justice Roberts was in the majority. The SVA was a worthwhile attempt to deal with the phonies who falsely claim military service and medals. It is amazing how many fakes are out there that suffer from what I call Ego Deficit Disorder (EDD). Over the years I have met any number of individuals who were self-proclaimed war heroes. Since I am more familiar with the Vietnam era, it is easier to spot them. The first question I ask someone that has given me a feeling that their service might be bogus is which corps they were assigned to in Vietnam. All Vietnam veterans can instantly answer this simple inquiry. When the “veteran” stumbles with his own questions such as “what do you mean by that”, “I served all over”, or one of my favorites, “it’s classified”, that’s a clue that they guy is a fraud. Further probing usually results in an abrupt end to the conversation along the lines of having too many bad memories, changing the subject, or that they can’t talk about it. Another common denominator is that they will never ask if you had Vietnam service or anything about it if they know that you did.
I received a number of calls from friends and associates who were troubled by the Supreme Court’s decision. I replied that I believe the high court made the right call that protects not just those that might be offended by the imposters, but all Americans. If the First Amendment is to mean anything all speech has to be protected with the very few exceptions that the Court has recognized over decades, such as disclosing military/ship movements in time of war, and shouting fire in a crowded theater---just two obvious examples. Protecting just popular speech is no protection at all; it is unpopular speech that needs to be protected. Sure, people might be offended, but who gets to decide what is offensive and should be banned? I prefer not to live in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Communist China, and other totalitarian states where irritating the wrong person can land you in jail. The dissemination of ideas, good or bad, in a democracy is one of our greatest strengths.
All of that said, it is important to know that it is one thing to boast about military service and medals that are mythical; it is another to do it on an employment application where veterans points might be awarded, on a form for some kind of government benefits, or anywhere else that could result in financial gain of some sort or a job promotion. Federal law bans the intentional making of false statements for such purposes, and there are state law counterparts. It would also be a crime to falsely claim to be a police officer if the person pretended to act under the color of law to exert his authority.
It is worth the price to live in a free society to put up with braggadocios and fakes that are looking for no more than attention. Otherwise we would have a line drawing problem about what should be prosecuted. The support employee that served behind the lines in a war zone but exaggerates his service to include front line combat is just one example. How about the numbers out there that claim to have played college or major league sports? It may not equate with military service fakery, but there still will be people offended by it. I say that the Walter Mittys that seek no more than ego gratification and to impress the people next to them in a bar should be laughed at for what they are, or perhaps they deserve our sympathy for being pathetic individuals. But the Court was right in recognizing that in our great country we don’t put people in jail for it.
Tammy Duckworth lost both legs and use of one arm in Iraq when the helicopter she piloted was shot down. She retired as an army lieutenant colonel and later served with distinction in the Veterans Administration. Duckworth is currently running as a Democrat for congress in the Chicago area. Her opponent is the incumbent freshman Republican, Joe Walsh. Walsh has a long record of running for public office and never won any of them until two years ago. This is a hotly contested seat and Walsh, while having no military experience of his own, has demonstrated that he can be very combative.
Last week he derided Duckworth for always talking about her military service. He added that that was all she talked about. Walsh went on to point out that John McCain was always humble about his military service and refused to talk about it. I liked McCain and thought that he would have been a better president than George Bush. One of the more prominent considerations in reaching that conclusion was his honorable naval service and having survived the brutality of being a POW. Knowing those things and being reminded of it helped to reinforce in my mind that McCain was a tough guy, a leader, and someone who made service to his country a priority. He and Duckworth both volunteered for pilot training, which is very rigorous, knowing that they would likely see combat. And what did Joe Walsh give back to the country that allowed him achieve what he has? I wonder if Walsh would have made the same statement about Ulysses S. Grant’s and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s military records and accomplishments. By any measure their records of military service would have been very relevant factors in a presidential or any other race for public office. Even as a young boy when Ike ran for president I knew that he was a war hero. It sent him to the White House.
But what is really interesting is that Walsh is angry with Duckworh for what she is touting about herself, not for what she has said about him. And she has some pretty good feed material. Walsh had a condo foreclosed, he owed back taxes to the IRS, he was a deadbeat dad owing child support to his first wife, and was a defendant in a lawsuit over a claim of money that he owed. What Walsh’s defenses are is not important to the point that Duckworth could be spending a lot more of her time pounding him about his alleged shortcomings to contradict Walsh’s position on the importance of individual responsibility.
Each day I get any number of emails talking about the “lame stream” or “liberal” media not reporting this or that. I also get emails that ask why Obama didn’t blast someone in his own party for an untoward remark. And now is a good time to ask where Romney’s voice has been, where the “Doctor of Truth”, Rush Limbaugh’s voice, and many other prominent conservative politicians and radio talk show hosts have been to defend Tammy Duckworth or to reprimand Joe Walsh? Retired Lt. Col. and freshman Congressman Allen West has also been noticeably quiet despite not having a penchant for taking a back seat to controversy. I leave myself open to each of them and many more that they did speak up and I just didn’t hear or read about it, but for now only the voice of silence is what I have heard. And that’s pretty sorry.
Two years ago Rush Limbaugh declared to his listening audience that if Obamacare was upheld by the Supreme Court, he would leave the country for Costa Rica. To that I say goodbye, good luck, and good riddance---although I’m not sure if Costa Rica might not have some kind of government run health insurance. I’m also not sure if Limbaugh isn’t self-insured, considering his vast wealth. Now, this is a man who has truly succeeded in the land of opportunity despite having a limited education and other limitations. What he doesn’t lack for, though, are strong opinions and a large followings. Just ask Congressman Phil Gingrey who a few years ago went up against El Rushbo before he groveled at his feet to beg forgiveness for some “unfortunate” remarks. Fortunately for Gingrey, the Doctor of Truth “graciously” accepted Gingrey’s apology.
The scare talk surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) reminds me of Newt Gingrich when he predicted a depression if President Clinton’s tax increase were to pass. We all know how that turned out. Mitt Romney continues to blast ACA while trying to ignore the fact that it was modeled on Romney Care in Massachusetts. The other day a defender of Romney and his health care solution as governor said that there was a big difference between the two programs. The defender argued that ACA is a single payer plan and Romney’s was not. Actually, this uninformed gentleman couldn’t have been more incorrect. And standing next to him was another Romney defender who is on Medicare. I asked him how he liked his single payer plan, and he sheepishly admitted that he liked it a lot. Oh, let’s not forget that it was Newt who only a few years ago proposed mandatory health insurance for all Americans.
The rhetoric against Chief Justice John Roberts says a lot. So many of his new critics only like the rule of law when the rules are somehow interpreted in their favor. Congressman Gingrey said in a radio interview last week when asked if he would like to have a beer with the chief, that he would prefer to pour one over his head. Nice talk from an elected representative. But Limbaugh and Gingrey have some things in common. In particular, neither ever gave anything back to America for what America provided them. (I don’t count Limbaugh’s contributions to charities. To be able to give as he can is a gift in itself---to him.) Do you think Limbaugh would be where he is in Somalia, Russia, China, and most other countries? Gingrey got a tax supported education at Georgia Tech that was practically free back then. Afterwards, with draft deferments in hand he attended the Medical College of Georgia, another tax supported institution that allowed him to practice medicine and achieve financial and professional success. But when the war tocsin of Vietnam sounded, Dr. Gingrey didn’t volunteer to give back and offer his service to the military that desperately needed doctors. And Limbaugh also took advantage of deferments and some unspecified medical exemption to avoid military service. Try to ask him about it on his show as some have and watch how sensitive he is to it.
The ACA can be debated forever, but for now it has been affirmed. In time the bugs will be worked out, and I suspect that more Americans will find that there is more good than bad about it.
Immigration reform is probably not going to occur in the foreseeable future. It has been a push button topic for years, and both political parties seem to be dug into uncompromising positions. Recently, Obama fanned the flames when he issued an executive order allowing a certain class of young illegals to stay in the country, finish school, and meet other criteria. The airwaves exploded with invective.
I am not offering an opinion on Obama’s decision or any suggestions for a meaningful immigration bill that would satisfy most Americans. It was some of the commentary from the reactionary talk show hosts that got my attention. Several said that they thought it would be okay to allow illegals a path to U.S. citizenship if they served honorably in the armed forces of our country. I find this very troubling. Admittedly, when it comes to military service my views are probably out of sync with current thinking. I believe that it was a mistake to go to a voluntary military. All Americans who are mentally and physically sound, and otherwise qualified, should have skin in the game and provide some public or military service for a couple of years. Educational and other benefits could be offered in different amounts and scales depending on which route the individual chose to take. What doesn’t make sense to me is for the United States to have a military service that resembles the French Foreign Legion. To outsource our military to illegal aliens is wrong. We could probably fill all branches with enough foreigners if we advertised worldwide, and no American would have to ever wear the uniform again. But is this right? Shouldn’t we as Americans be willing to defend our property, our way of life? What does it say for us as a nation if we call on others to do what we should do for ourselves? I think it is also interesting that the MDJ recently editorialized that the illegals that Obama granted waivers will be taking jobs away from Americans. Yet it seems that there are plenty of jobs for them in the military.
To be clear, I am not talking about resident aliens that are in the United States lawfully and on track to become U.S. citizens once they meet all the criteria and qualifications. They have a stake in our country and may want to suit up. To that I say, welcome aboard. (I also salute and praise those who served and died in Iraq and Afghanistan who were not documented but sought a way to becoming full fledged Americans.) But I find it disturbing that a number of the talk show hosts were of age to be drafted or volunteer during the Vietnam era, the same ones who never hesitate to give advice to presidents about going to war, turned their backs on service when the war tocsin sounded. Perhaps that’s why they have no problem with granting illegals citizenship in return for some of their blood; perhaps this somehow assuages their consciences.
The Defense Department is going to have to downsize because of the bi-partisan sequestration agreement reached last year that tried to address the growing deficits and national debt. Let me clear at the outset that I want a military second to none. Period. The U.S. Army devolved into the 18th largest in the world---after Portugal and Sweden among others---after World War I. The lessons of the next war taught us that we can never afford to allow that to happen again. But that lesson does not mean that we can never cut defense spending. We should always have the weapons we need for today and tomorrow, and an armed force that can meet current and projected needs. We should always keep in mind that the greatest powers in the world---Great Britain, Holland, Spain, Portugal, the Soviet Union---among others, collapsed to a great extend because they were over extended militarily. Where and how we spend our money to protect our country and national interests has to be a large part of the equation when discussing defense.
When there was a push to increase our military presence in Afghanistan shortly after Obama became president, he asked the Secretary of Defense and all the joint chiefs, individually, if they could accomplish their mission with 30,000 troops. Each said yes. To those who suggest that they agreed out of fear for their careers, I can only ask if this is a moral failure, a failure of leadership. Considering the lives and costs at stake, it is incomprehensible to me that if there were reservations concerning too few or too many troops, these four star, flag rank officers were duty bound to speak up. I also have to believe that the unofficial pipeline would have been exploited to voice to disagreement with Obama: retired generals and admirals who have no hesitation to speak out to the media.
Now there are some who object to our withdrawing from Afghanistan on the schedule that Obama promised. They argue that it just tells the enemy when they can return. The counter to that is more persuasive in my opinion: the longer we stay the less incentive the Afghans have to take over the responsibility for their own defense. Meanwhile, a President Romney promises to increase defense spending, and our elected representatives all across the country object to closing bases and shutting down expensive weapons systems that the Pentagon says they don’t want or need. That raises the question of whether the unneeded bases and weapons are actually government funded job programs to get our spendthrift officials elected. If so, they are not doing anyone any favors, only burying us deeper in debt, and hiding that sad fact by wrapping themselves in the flag. A jobs program to buy weapons is no different than one to fix our infrastructure, something we do desperately need. But let’s be honest about what we call this spending, whether you agree with it or not.
The AJC reported on Saturday, June 09 that Pam Davidson, a Republican candidate for the Public Service Commission (PSC) fabricated her education. She claimed to have a Bachelors and Masters degrees from the University of San Francisco, neither of which the university could verify. Davidson’s defense, according to the article, was that she had enough credits for her undergraduate degree, but hasn’t been awarded it because of a university “glitch.” The graduate degree was somehow erroneously listed by a company where she did some consulting work. Davidson described the whole matter as “minor”, and called it “bullying.” On top of all this, Davidson failed to report federal and state tax liens on her financial disclosures---until this past Tuesday when she filed an amended disclosure. And there is more. Davidson, until filing the amendment, also did not report unpaid credit card debts and a student loan. But her student loan is her former husband’s responsibility for reasons we don’t know---at least that is what she said.
I think that many people, myself included, can sympathize with anyone behind in their loans in today’s economy, especially if they have lost their job, gone through a divorce, are unemployed or underemployed, or dealing with other legitimate personal and/or financial stresses. But Davidson seems to have a pattern of blaming others for her personal shortcomings. How many people who have earned a degree would not badger the college until they got the diploma? It defies logic and reason to think that something this important would just end up on the back burner. Wouldn’t it also be the right thing to do to correct someone else’s mistake that lists information that is inaccurate rather than to let it lie and then say you had nothing to do with it when challenged? Leaving very specific information off of the disclosures is not an oversight. Carrying the debt Davidson does, surely weighs on her mind. If it doesn’t, she is an aberration, and that alone should raise serious questions about her qualifications.
One can only wonder what kind of PSC commissioner Davidson would make. At best, assuming that everything she says is true about the foregoing issues, she is not qualified or is incompetent. Her inattention to detail in a post that requires a lot of detailed attention would be a harbinger of what to expect. At worst, Davidson is disingenuous or dishonest and not worthy of holding public office.
It was sad to read about the personal misfortunes that led a former Gwinnett County Commissioner to take bribes, to sell her office in return for cold, hard cash. Her son, also implicated, made recorded statements to an undercover FBI agent that indicated he had a lot of experience and no qualms in betraying the public trust if it personally benefited him. What we don’t know, at least not yet, is if he learned from his mother, if the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, or if he developed the criminal skills on his own. What we do know is that what they did is among the most egregious of crimes. Any instances of bribery undermine the public trust at all levels of government. The consequences of citizens not believing that they will be treated fairly by the police, prosecutors, judges, representatives, and others acting on their behalf, can be catastrophic for a civilized society. Just imagine that you have a contract dispute that you take to court in the good faith belief that you will get a fair hearing, only to find out that the judge was paid to swing the outcome. Or a prosecutor paid to affect whether a case will be indicted or the charges that will brought to bear. And on and on.
In this instance Gwinnett Commissioner Shirley Lassiter took a bribe for her vote to affect a real estate development. Another former Gwinnett County commissioner is under local indictment for taking bribes to influence the county’s purchase price of land from a developer seeking to maximize his price. Their crimes may have impacted much more than the parties to the illegal transactions, and that is where it becomes much more serious. Artificially inflated land values cause other properties to also go up contributing toward the making of a bubble. A development that should not be approved for legitimate reasons ends up as abandoned property. Homeowners who believed the false representations of their developer are left holding the bag of amenities not built, the development not completed, and much more.
Anarchy to greater and lesser degrees is what happens when people no longer believe they have honest government. Cheating on taxes, bribery and extortion by government officials to get any kind of service becomes the norm, and it becomes the equivalent of a nuclear arms race as to who becomes the highest bidder to get the myriad of government services we rely on, services that allow us to sleep peacefully at night. If anyone doubts the effects of corruption, I suggest visiting some of the poorer countries of the world, some of the former Soviet bloc countries (although they have made a lot of progress).
In addition to the raw, naked corruption of Shirley Lassiter, there is the legal version of it. Thankfully, the Tea Party has taken on this issue and is demanding that our elected representatives no longer be allowed to receive unlimited lobbyist largess. To suggest, as House Speaker David Ralston has, that honest politicians aren’t influenced by money and gifts from interested parties, defies human nature and is an insult to Georgia citizens. Angela Speir used to be an elected representative on the Georgia Public Service Commission. She had a policy of taking no meals or gifts from lobbyists. Lobbyists were free to have lunch with her in her office, each bringing their own baloney sandwiches. Reportedly, not many chose to discuss issues with Speir. I wonder why. Could it be that she couldn’t be influenced by anything but facts, logic, reason and evidence?
I am grateful to the FBI and United States Attorney Sally Yates for making corruption busting a top priority. Well done. And may you have much more success in ferreting out this form of evil. The public stands with you.
A well intended radio talk show host wished her listeners a happy Memorial Day. This got me to thinking about how things change with the passing of generations. I am at the very front end of the baby boomers, and those similarly situated were affected by World War II in their own personal ways. There probably aren’t many who didn’t have a parent, relative and/or someone they knew that didn’t serve in the war. Memorial Day parades and events were much more somber, perhaps because events were so recent, and because veterans and families that lost members in the war were so prominent.
It was almost a rite of passage for the early baby boomers and those born during the war to enlist after high school. Others didn’t mind being drafted. And still others went on to college preparing to serve as officers. Vietnam began to change that mindset. Veterans of that war came home and quietly blended back into the society that didn’t appreciate their service and went on with their lives. It wasn’t until Ronald Reagan publicly thanked them for their service that we saw a shift into how Vietnam Veterans were treated. But that war also led to the creation of the voluntary military and did away with one of the greatest levelers that American society ever experienced: the draft.
Today’s fighting men and women are respected, receive accolades almost wherever they go, receptions wait for them at airports, and there are legions of stories of Americans committing random acts of kindness for individual service members. All as it should be. But there is another side to all of this that is largely unspoken, and it is a dark side. Few today even know anyone personally that has worn the uniform in recent years or served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Large numbers, though, proudly display bumper stickers that say, “Support our troops” or some other patriotic slogan. Be sure that I am not critical of those who do this or go out of their way to put up the American Flag on holidays. Each of us has our own reasons and ways of demonstrating our love for this great country. What is troubling, though, is that because so few Americans have a personal stake in today’s wars, there is no commitment from our elected officials in Washington to support paying our troops what they are worth while they serve, too few dollars appropriated for our wounded who will carry the scars of war to the end, and no interest in providing a meaningful GI Bill that would make it easier for veterans to get a decent education. When have you heard of a jobs program for veterans that actually has teeth and not lip service from our politicians? And the reason for this is that there is no real outcry, no movement from the citizens to demand this of our officials, and that’s because too few are personally affected by military service. Could it be because our citizenry doesn’t want to pay for the costs of war? Would not a war tax be appropriate that would fund any war our country committed to, which would provide the quality medical care that the wounded deserve, many needing it for life?
May Memorial Day be a day of fun, family and friends. But may it also be one that we reflect not only on those who never came home from our nation’s wars, but a day that we think about the cost of war, and that each of us owes a contribution toward that debt.
Eduardo Saverin, a co-founder of Facebook and a billionare at age 30, has publicly renounced his U.S. citizenship to move to Singapore. He was born in Brazil and became an American citizen as a teenager. Saverin denies that he is giving up his citizenship because of Singapore being a more favorable tax haven, and while we can’t get into his head, there is plenty of evidence to believe that the different tax laws probably drove his decision.
Now that we know a little bit of Saverin’s background, I wonder what he has ever given back to the country that allowed him to succeed, that gave him every opportunity to use the talents bestowed upon him at birth. Countless millions of people all around the world would give anything to become American citizens. Countless millions would also give up a lot to attend a good American university. I’m sure motivating factors don’t include our tax structure. Some who so badly desired to become Americans joined the armed forces to gain citizenship but died serving their adopted country before achieving it. Saverin also received other blessings of liberty like being able to live in a stable democracy, and federal, state and local governments that have low levels of corruption compared to most other countries. I’m sure Saverin knew that calling 911 almost anywhere in the United States would get an immediate police, fire or emergency services response. He knew that he could have one of his contracts enforced or defended in an American court. And he could sleep well at night knowing that the best military the world has ever known protected him and his interests. These, among so many things we often take for granted as Americans, are things that Saverin considers less important than how much he will ultimately pay in taxes despite already being wealthy beyond imagination. And again I ask, other than to pay his taxes (and surely taking advantage of every lawful loophole), what did Saverin ever give back to the country that gave him so much?
I think back to the invasion of Singapore and the other Asian countries that the Japanese invaded and occupied during World War II. And I wonder how much it would have been worth to be an American citizen when U.S. Navy warships were rescuing fleeing Americans. I wonder how much money it would have been worth to Saverin to be one of the rescued. Good bye and good luck, Mr. Saverin. May the United States fill your void with other industrious people who want the opportunities you had, people who will give back because they know the meaning of gratitude and want to make America better in return for what they were provided to succeed.