|October 31, 2012||The Agitator #48||2 comments|
|October 24, 2012||The Agitator #47||6 comments|
|October 15, 2012||The Agitator #46||6 comments|
|October 08, 2012||The Agitator #45||5 comments|
|September 28, 2012||The Agitator #44||1 comments|
|September 21, 2012||The Agitator #43||4 comments|
|September 17, 2012||The Agitator #42||2 comments|
|September 10, 2012||The Agitator #41||10 comments|
|September 04, 2012||The Agitator #40||1 comments|
|August 27, 2012||The Agitator #39||1 comments|
Donald Trump has made a lot of money from commercial real estate ventures. I applaud him for it. That he is the son of a wealthy real estate developer who gave him a leg up should not be overlooked, and while that does not undermine Trump’s success, it rounds out an understanding of an important component of how he achieved it. And with his success and vast wealth he has been able to acquire a media audience for his political views. Amazingly, Trump was even taken seriously for a while as a presidential candidate. It didn’t last long the more he talked, and even respectable Republicans got chills every time he got in front of a microphone.
Last week, after much touting in the media, Trump delivered a major announcement. I thought that it was going to be something so monumental that all TV and radio broadcasts would be interrupted for it. It turns out that that The Donald wanted to put $5 million on the table for President Obama to direct to the charity(s) of his choice if he would make available his Columbia University and Harvard Law School grades, the sources of his tuition, and his State Department passport file. There was one caveat, though: all the documents would have to meet with Trump’s personal satisfaction. When Obama released his long form birth certificate, Trump seemed satisfied, but then the reactionaries went to work with all sorts of unfounded assertions, and Trump withdrew his acceptance of the birth certificate. I guess anyone with a big checkbook could make similar offers to any public official they have their sights on, which would accomplish nothing.
Now if Trump was really fair and balanced he would make a similar charitable offer to Romney. It would include Romney’s Selective Service records, his tax returns, undergraduate and law school grades, and documentation of who paid for his tuition. So a fair question to Trump is why the information he seeks from Obama really matters? Is it because he is trying to show that Obama is a beneficiary of affirmative action? That Obama was given his grades and admitted to the Harvard Law Review, not on merit, but because of his race? Is he suggesting that Obama’s tuition was paid for by a clandestine foreign power that had a crystal ball to know that one day he would run for president of the United States? How far does this nonsense go? I wonder where Trump was to challenge Clarence Thomas’ qualifications since Thomas admits that he was a product of affirmative action. I don’t recall Trump asking for Thomas’ grades, source of his tuition, or proof of his very heartfelt story of growing up in poverty in Pin Point, GA. Could it be that Thomas’ ideology lines up with Trump’s so it wasn’t important?
Trump is a graduate of New York Military Academy, but despite being in the draft mix during Vietnam he never served his country in uniform. I would ask him to produce his Selective Service records to see what deferments he took advantage of. But a bigger and more important question of this great benefactor is this: why don’t you just donate the $5 million, chump change to you, to the Sheppard Spinal Center’s program in treating severe head and spinal injuries of wounded veterans? This generous contribution would fund the program for five years. That at least would do some immediate good and perhaps assuage his conscience, if he has one, for ducking military service during Vietnam. Until I see his Selective Service records I have no reason to believe that he was nothing but a loud mouth, self-serving patriot who somehow bought his way out of service. I don’t need any more proof for that statement than he seems to need for his.
The MDJ published an editorial from The Macon Telegraph on Tuesday, October 23, 2012, about “Renewing Licenses…and the law of unintended consequences.” The day before I received in the mail my annual business license renewal form. The new Georgia Immigration Reform Act requires that anyone holding a professional license must prove that they are an American citizen each time the license is renewed. I say again---not once---but each time the license comes up for renewal. And that also includes the required annual county business license. Needless to say, this has resulted in a huge backlog in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, where professional licenses are processed. Considering that the governor has ordered each state agency to cut their budgets and personnel, this has caused a lot of people some heartburn. What used to take a matter of days to a week or so can now take months. In the meanwhile new applicants cannot practice their profession, whether it is to cut hair, massage therapy, or any one of a long list of occupations that the state licenses. This really helps the economy. The Cobb County business license renewal paperwork has to be submitted this year by November 22nd to ensure that it will be processed in time to get your license by January 1, 2013. In past years you could complete the process in a matter of days before the end of the year with no problem.
We’ve heard from Republicans on the national and state level for years proclaim that excess regulation is killing small businesses. I’m not sure what regulations they are referring to because they never really say. If it’s the burden of the tax code, I wonder when they plan to do more than talk about it and actually pull together and pass serious tax reform legislation. Perhaps they should consider this immigration law as an example of the wasted time, which means money, that will be spent after proving once that you are legally here in the U.S. What is the logic behind this requirement? I asked two of our elected officials last year who voted for the law, both Republicans, the “why” question. You’ll never guess what they said, and you can’t make this stuff up: they hadn’t read the bill in the detail that might have alerted them to it. I suspect that there will be any number of current small business people and those about to go into business for themselves that will operate under the radar rather than comply with this unnecessary nuisance.
As a final point related to this topic, does anyone remember that the Cobb County commission quietly passed an increase in the business license fees last year? I never saw a word about it in the MDJ. I found out when I got my bill. And I thought that Republicans also supported no tax hikes because it hurt small businesses. My point is that the Democrats (I am not a Democrat) get bashed for tax hikes and increased regulation, but here are two egregious examples of Republicans talking out of both sides of their mouths.
During the vice presidential debate “Jumpin’ Joe” Biden said that neither he nor the White House knew that the consulate in Benghazi had requested increased security. The State Department did not notify the top chief executives of the request for reasons that we don’t know. I won’t second guess the State Department because I don’t know what they knew. What we do know is that the State Department had requested upwards of $300 million for increased security for its embassies. The Republican congress said no, a vote that included Paul Ryan’s. I am going to wait out the results of the several investigations looking into what occurred before concluding that the State Department’s security section got it wrong in how they prioritized which embassies and consulates got what. As for not notifying the White House of the request for a security augmentation, I can only wonder how many “emergency” requests are submitted daily from the Defense Department, Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and other agencies that deal directly with national security, and what the protocols are for kicking them up to the president. Limited budgets cause organizations to do triage, something that shouldn’t happen but does in these times of tight money, and where a large segment of our population doesn’t want to pay for the services that they want and expect.
I agree with Obama’s critics that the first reports about Benghazi concerning the video were wrong. But after that I go in a different direction. Intelligence gathering is both an art and science. We all know some of the incredible technology that our spy agencies use, but sorting through the voluminous information takes people and time. And we also know that HUMINT (human intelligence) is still as important as all the gadgetry. That too takes time to gather and process. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, a lot of moving parts.
I think it is fair to put the Benghazi intelligence failure in perspective. Intelligence failures in the this country are historic ranging from completely missing the North Korean attack on South Korea on June 25, 1950, to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Considering the untold dollar amount that is poured into intelligence gathering and spy craft, it’s hard to believe that things like this could happen, but they did and still do. How about the information that was known before 9/11/2001 that some of the terrorists were taking flying lessons but only wanted training in takeoffs? The schools reported this well before that black day, but somehow it fell through the cracks. The Tet offensive caught us by surprise. Anyone recall the great intelligence failure that led to the Iraq war? The two human sources in that fiasco, Ahmed Chalabi and the German source, Curveball, were both frauds and suspected of lying well before the March 2003 invasion. Our spy satellites, which had completely saturated the land mass of Iraq didn’t pick up any evidence of nuclear weapons or their transfer to another country. President Bush later admitted that there was no WMD---this after a few thousand American lives were lost, many more permanently injured, and countless Iraqis killed.
I am not making light of what happened in Benghazi. I am making light of much of the politicized attacks on Obama for it, especially when you put it in perspective of far more serious intelligence failures that have had much larger consequences. I can only wonder if a Romney-Ryan administration would have done things differently with the same budgetary constraints, if they would have been more prescient and able to avoid what happened. Perhaps so, but the historical record of intelligence failures certainly makes it a fair, non-partisan question.
Something has changed over the past few presidencies. The current occupier of the White House seems to be held to a higher standard geared toward a militant response when it comes to foreign policy. This despite Obama being the only candidate in 2008 who said that he would violate the sovereignty of other countries to pursue terrorists wherever they can be tracked down and killed. His record of achieving by far and away more kills in four years than his predecessor is beyond dispute. It is also well known that Ronald Reagan did absolutely nothing when terrorists killed 240 marines in Lebanon. Nothing. Then there is the USS COLE. This U.S. Navy warship was badly damaged with concomitant loss of life by terrorists on October 12, 2000. Clinton was still president at the time, but it wasn’t until late December that the CIA tentatively identified al-Qaeda as the author of the bombing. More conclusive evidence came in shortly after Bush was sworn in as president on January 20, 2001. In June 2001, Osama Bin Laden released a tape bragging that he was behind the attack. I am unaware of one single response that the Bush administration took against al Qaeda or OBL between his inauguration and shortly after 911. And I don’t recall Bush facing the harsh criticism that Obama has met with concerning the embassy attacks. I gave Bush the benefit of the doubt at the time thinking that maybe he was doing something behind the scenes. If he was it is still a very well kept secret. Times change.
Then there was last week’s remark by Mitt Romney about the 47 percenters who receive government benefits. It has been fun to watch all the explanations on talk radio defending what Romney “really meant”, as though they could take his words and divine from them an intent that wasn’t articulated. Romney would have been a little bit more honest if he had included other forms of government largess that would probably bump up the percentage considerably. Government loan guarantees given to banks where heads they win and tales you lose, are common. For starters they include FHA, VA, and SBA loans. Let’s not leave out government subsidized flood insurance and farm subsidies. Then, of course, are the tax loopholes that allow the wealthy to take advantage of code provisions that their friendly Washington representatives vote into law for them. Would I be cynical if I suggested that their whopping contributions and PAC money didn’t have any effect on these representatives? One letter writer and blogger attacked Obama for the 360% increase in Tricare, which benefits military families and retirees. What she left out is that the annual cost for Tricare for a family was set in 1995 at $460/year. It will go up on October 1, 2012 to $538.56/year. That doesn’t include deductables and co-pays, which everyone pays, including Medicare recipients. The cost will continue to escalate on a scale with the cost of living. It is also worth noting that the increased cost was pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act, which was passed by both houses and signed into law by the president. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pushed for the law stating that the medical costs for retirees was taking up much larger portions of the defense budget to the detriment of our fighting capabilities. Gates is a Republican. In a time of deep recession where everyone has to have an oar in the water, Gates got it right.
And speaking of our elected representatives in Washington, many readers have seen the internet claim that they receive lifetime pensions, lifetime healthcare, and other benefits after serving just one term. This is false. They don’t. But here is some of the rest of the story. Our representatives/senators created the current federal employee retirement law in 1984. It allows for a representative to receive a retirement annuity and subsidized healthcare based on years of total government service. But, and here is the big but, our representatives voted to include themselves in the much better retirement plan afforded to federal law enforcement officers. Federal law enforcement officers are provided a larger annuity because they must retire no later than age 57, and because of the special demands and nature of the job. I guess our representatives concluded that facing constituents who may have tough questions is the functional equivalent of what federal law enforcement officers face. I wonder if Romney included them in his 47 %.
This was a difficult week for the United States in the Middle East, North Africa, and other parts of the world. It’s too early to know what lies ahead. And it’s too early to form hasty opinions about President Obama’s foreign policies. Yet that hasn’t stopped the armchair pundits and those who think that some sort of military solution is always the answer to any overseas problem. Candidate Mitt Romney thought he saw an opening to call Obama weak and inexperienced; if anything, it was Romney who proved to be tough on talk and inexperienced. We only hear generalities and sound bytes about Obama being in over his head, but Romney won’t share with us what he would do differently that would make the world a nice place to live, work and play together. It’s kind of like Nixon’s 1968 campaign promise of trusting him to end the war in Vietnam with his secret plan that he wouldn’t disclose. Turned out his secret plan only prolonged the war for the U.S. for another four years.
Romney was asked in 2008 if he would violate the sovereignty of other countries to pursue terrorists. He said no. Obama was asked the same question; he said yes. Promise made, promise kept. Contrary to all the right wing radio propaganda and Romney’s ratification of same that Obama has apologized to other countries for past U.S. policies or actions, it is not true. Obama has acknowledged that the U.S. has been wrong at times, but that is hardly an apology. It is merely an acknowledgement that we are human too, that we make mistakes. This is not unlike admitting to someone, perhaps a loved one, that you may have used bad judgment in a given situation, but that falls far short of an apology---it is pleading guilty with an explanation. And what is wrong with admitting when you are wrong? Where was the outcry when George Bush apologized, yes apologized, for Abu Ghraib? Bush did the right thing, and from the silence on the Right at the time, I suspect that they approved of the apology. Amazing how many on the Right will argue that we are a Christian nation, but when it comes to practicing Christian values, especially when it involves people who live somewhere else and are different from us, that it is okay to choose which values to suspend. Apologizing or admitting you are wrong when you are is to demonstrate moral virtue, confidence, and strength. And it does not undermine our strength as a country; I would argue that it makes us stronger and more respected. (I am not talking about apologizing to terrorists yesterday, today, tomorrow, or forever---eliminating them is the right generic policy; how we do it is a different matter.)
It is absurd to think that Obama’s pulling the plug on Hosni Mubarak has somehow weakened our hand in the Middle East. Mubarak was the poster child for corruption. The unemployment rate for the young working force and disparity of income, things Mubarak had a lot to do with, is what drove the populace to rebel. If we had supported Mubarak against the tidal wave of his own people’s anger, I think a case can be made that things would be even worse. Recall too that most Republicans wanted the United States to actively support the rebels in Libya. We did and our involvement proved decisive. But terrorist attacks against the U.S. can happen anywhere including Europe and right in our own backyard.
The MDJ recently opined that the Left is suddenly eager to jettison the First Amendment protections of those who do not share their politics, with reference to the moviemaker who may have been responsible for the turmoil in the Middle East and elsewhere. Yet the Right condemned the Supreme Court for upholding the fringe Christian group that peacefully protested military funerals with their hate filled rants. I am glad to live in America where one can make despicable political or religious statements, and where others can just as justifiably respond in kind. More speech is always better to the alternative of violence.
I recall that the Right was all about unity during the very divisive Iraq war. Anyone who disagreed with our policies there was labeled with every treasonous slogan imaginable. But it’s okay when we need to stand as one nation to combat terrorism and stand behind our commander-in-Chief, to undermine his efforts with bitter calumnies as though the defamers have the silver bullet solution. If Romney has the silver bullet to create world peace and to create 12 million jobs, it’s time to tell the American people and make his case. To quote Ronald Reagan, “Trust, but verify.”
The presidential nominating conventions are over, and from what one political pundit has said, there are only about 967,000 votes up for grabs that are spread out in about a half dozen swing states. There is a great divide between the two parties that makes this election much easier to choose from. It is interesting to see how the Republican Party has evolved since Eisenhower was president. I doubt that any modern day conservative Republican would vote for IKE in a primary today. And if Ronald Reagan ran for president today under a different name but exactly the same political history and record, he wouldn’t have much chance either. Eisenhower understood power, and he understood the abuses and dangers of power. That included his caution in not using nuclear weapons in Korea, not expanding the war there, not getting involved in Vietnam beyond a handful of advisers, and not triggering a war with the Soviets over Hungary. Eisenhower also advocated for an open skies policy with the Soviets where we would have mutual reconnaissance flyovers to ensure compliance with an arms limitation treaty. He had a long term vision that in the end I doubt few would dispute that we were better off for his hand at the helm for eight years.
Ronald Reagan raised taxes numerous times as governor of California. Before Roe vs. Wade he signed into law the most liberal abortion law in the country. As president he is remembered for lowering taxes and forgotten for his tax hikes. He is also largely forgotten for creating the largest deficits up until Bush II and Obama. Some economists believe that Reagan’s deficit spending was a big reason for getting us out of the recession that he inherited, that his deficits contributed to lowering unemployment. Reagan also did nothing when over 240 marines were killed in a terrorist attack in Lebanon. How much of that would fly in today’s Republican Party?
Obviously this forum is not the place for a detailed record analysis of either president. In my opinion both were very good presidents, and I voted for Reagan both times. But considering the total allegiance to the Republican Party’s platform today that is commanded of all Republican candidates for office, it makes sense why Romney and Ryan have tacked so hard to the right, why they publicly ignore where they have strayed from the platform in the past. At one time I was pretty confident that Romney would win the November election. Today, barring the unforeseen and all things being equal, I wouldn’t bet on it. Rather than post blogs challenging me on this, I would suggest that we wait until after the election to do a post mortem. I maintain that Eisenhower and Reagan had it right, that they had the pulse of the American people, and in Reagan’s case, the reality of his presidency is very different from the mythological one. And in spite of the reality he had a successful tenure in the White House.
On a totally different note, I would like to recognize the passing of Otis Brumby. I don’t claim to have known him well, but I am honored that I had several private meetings with him in his office, phone conversations, and other communications. I was very honored and touched when he introduced me as his friend to John McCain in 2007. It is probably fair to say, though, that we had less in common politically, but on some of the important issues in our community we often found common ground. The man was unfailingly gracious in person. Some years ago when we had very strong disagreement on a matter of local public interest, he allowed me to meet with him to argue my side and to present evidence to support it. Afterwards, I asked him if I could have 500 words to respond to his past editorials on the subject. He replied that I should take a thousand words. Facts, logic, reason, and evidence could persuade him---not always, but often enough to convince me that he tried to get it right, that he was intellectually honest. I will miss his closing words after each conversation, “Come by anytime and let’s have a cup of coffee. You are always welcome.” Otis Brumby could leave this world secure in the knowledge that he made a positive difference in the community he lived and served, and made it better than when he arrived a long time ago.
It’s remarkable that Obama has been attacked for almost four years for making a number of promises that anyone should understand were aspirational and dependent on Congress or other factors to be fulfilled. The Republicans have had a field day with Obama’s promise of “Hope and Change.” I guess they think that it has a very definite meaning, that there is only one measure that determines if we have experienced it. If the voters decide that Romney’s promises of creating 12 million jobs and balancing the budget by 2020 is realistic, they should vote for him. (Ryan’s budget plan calls for a much longer period of time to get it into balance.) Romney has also promised to increase defense spending, restore the Bush tax cuts and add his own, and cut a myriad of regulations. Absent from all these promises is any roadmap that a voter can examine to determine if these plans will lead to prosperity or take us over the cliff. But believing on faith is very powerful. I wonder if Romney has factored into his calculations the costs that Obama inherited from Bush, and which Romney would inherit in turn from Obama: two unfunded wars, VA care for the next 60 plus years that will exceed twelve figures, and Medicare Part D. The CBO says Medicare Part D will cost more over ten years than ObamaCare, TARP, and the stimulus package combined. But not a peep from the Republicans to repeal Medicare D. Maybe it’s because they gave birth to it.
Another issue that Romney would have to face is how to pay for his promised increases to the Defense Department while cutting taxes. Of interest is that DOD requested another BRAC (Base Realignment and Closing) commission earlier this year. It was defeated in both Houses by Republicans and Democrats. The reason is that they fear the number of jobs that would be lost in the communities that the elected officials represent. The Democrats have not shied away from arguing that the government needs to spend more to create jobs, while the Republicans have countered that these are nothing more than a giveaway programs with taxpayer money. I won’t argue with the Republican logic, but it is an argument papered in obfuscation. DOD has expressed the need to close bases to save money, and that if it can’t close the bases, the money that goes to support them will be taken from needed research and development and other programs directly related to our national defense. But the Republicans defend their position with disingenuous claims while wrapped in the red, white and blue. When Obama pleaded for approval of his jobs bill to rebuild infrastructure, something we need and which would employ countless engineers, architects, construction workers, and a myriad of other skilled and unskilled laborers, that was called a welfare program. I stand with the people who probably know what’s best: Leon Panetta and the joint chiefs. I also stand with Obama and his jobs bill that would put money into the economy, ensure that technical skills are maintained, and put money back into the economy, which would create taxpayers and new jobs.
The subject of patriotism, who is a real American or what makes someone a real American, has been much more topical since 911 and the two wars that followed. For some this is a push button issue that can get one’s back up in a New York minute, which is very fast. There have been times in our country’s history when people have been more divided than currently, but that’s not to say that we aren’t divided right now. With unemployment high, the GDP down, the middle class shrinking, tax inequity becoming more manifest, and a nasty presidential election coming up, people have very different ideas about who we are as Americans and where they would like to see the next president take our country.
My own ideas about patriotism start with the notion that displaying the American flag and sporting a “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker, and proclamations of love of country, by themselves, mean very little. All that does is remind me of the passage in the Book of James which says that faith without works is dead. I think just about all Americans can agree on what we want for our country, things like a strong defense, full employment with good jobs that have upward mobility, a growing economy, excellent schools, safe streets and neighborhoods, low crime, good highways, a fair tax system, available and quality healthcare, and more. The differences that Americans have is how to get to the end zone where these things are accomplished. It wasn’t until the war in Iraq that I cared about my generation’s participation in the military during Vietnam. When I saw all the politicians that supported that war, politicians that were gung ho about our participation in Vietnam but never suited up, I changed my whole viewpoint on the topic. Romney is only one example among many who took advantage of several deferments to avoid service while at the same time he marched in favor of the war. When asked during the 2008 campaign about whether his sons have served in the military, Romney responded that one of the ways they were serving their country was by supporting his presidential campaign.
I have come around to the belief that there are different ways to demonstrate patriotism. Serving in the military is one of them. Some kind of civilian service to our nation for a couple of years as an alternative to the military, would be another. There are a lot of very worthwhile projects and needs that could use the talents of our young men and women, and not only would our country benefit, they too would benefit from the experience. I also believe that patriotism includes the unbridled willingness to pay for the costs of war to ensure that our fighters have the very best equipment that money can buy. I believe that patriotism demands that we willingly pay whatever tax hikes it would take to care for the lifetime care of our wounded veterans so that they receive the best medical treatment for the rest of their lives. It is unconscionable that many organizations that treat severely injured veterans have to raise the money through private sources. All Americans that call themselves patriots should be willing to pony up and not rely on charity. It is a disingenuous argument to suggest that we should not have a tax hike to pay for our wars and our wounded until we cut other spending. Our elected officials can cut spending if they decided (I’m not getting into who’s at fault here), but in the meanwhile they can show real patriotism and do the right thing.