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.
In just one week another example of free market hypocrisy has surfaced. In the May 13th edition of the AJC, there is a full page story about big developers seeking a debt bailout. Last week it was a story about the owners of the Atlanta Falcons seeking public monies to pay for a new stadium. With the Republicans occupying both houses in the General Assembly and the governor’s office, it would seem to be a no-brainer to summarily dismiss these two requests. Developers thrived during the good times, and they deserved to reap the rewards of their risk taking and hard work. The banks also deserved to prosper in turn for lending the money. Presumably the developers did their homework and studied the demographics, among other things, before deciding where to build and how much to invest in a project. The banks should also be presumed to have done their due diligence that the projects were credit worthy and would return a healthy profit to the shareholders. Capitalism at its best.
Then came the housing bubble and the collapse of the financial markets. Real estate development projects suddenly became worthless. Borrowers couldn’t repay the loans. Unfortunately for developers, the banks often require them to sign a personal guarantee that a loan will be paid back in full. I have to believe that anyone signing such a guarantee understands completely the risks of signing this promise. Two prominent Georgia public officials also signed such guarantees: Congressman Tom Graves, and Senate Majority Leader, Chip Rogers. Graves’ and Rogers’ project, in the end, failed. And then they sought to get off the guarantee provision. The last we heard is that they reached a sealed agreement with the trustee of the now defunct bank. Now the developers want to be taken off their promissory notes too. Somehow it seems wrong to them that if a bank sells their loans to a third party at a substantial discount, the third party should not be permitted to collect the full balance. What a strange notion for those of us who believe in free markets, keeping promises, standing by your financial commitments. I wonder if the same developers, if they held the mortgage of a homeowner who defaulted, would be as sympathetic to the pleas of the borrower about hard times, losing their job, uncompensated medical bills, or whatever.
The AJC article pointed out that both the bankers and developers had hired lobbyists to fight for their respective positions. Perhaps that’s why no action has been taken. This is another example of the need for campaign finance reform. What should be a screamingly obvious decision by our Republican lawmakers has been clouded by the one commodity that reigns when it rains: cash.
In the May 6th edition, the AJC published three opinion pieces about the merits of building a new stadium for the Falcons. It looks like it is heading toward a done deal since the Republican general assembly and Republican governor already set aside the money to purchase the land on which the stadium would be built. They also approved an extension of the hotel/motel/car rental tax until 2050 to cover some of the costs. All that’s left is the PR campaign to convince the public of the good deal they are going to get, how it will bring in the Super bowl, possibly attract a professional soccer team, host the World Cup, and many more things. And of course, I almost left out, it will be the stadium for the Falcons to play eight or nine days a year.
As it stands right now, if the stadium is built, it will be a public-private venture. The good news, so we are being told repeatedly, is that it won’t really cost the taxpayers a dime. Nope. The tax money that will be raised will be paid for by the out-of-town visitors. They get to pay for our dome. Aren’t we lucky. But not so fast, or at least as fast as the PR machine and supporters want to get this past you. First, many business people who live and work in Atlanta host conventions and conferences at local hotels. Also, consider that this has become the equivalent of a nuclear arms race where every major city has implemented similar taxes to attract or keep a professional team. So if you don’t pay the tax in Atlanta, you will pay it in Tampa, where their fortunate citizens have been sold the same bill of goods---that any new stadium won’t cost them a dime because out-of-towners from Atlanta will pay for it.
Since the Republicans are the ones that are in power in Georgia today, it seems fair to ask what ever happened to the Republican philosophy, the Republican mantra, “No new taxes!” What about the other side of the same Republican coin that says let the markets work, no government regulation, no government involvement. I keep hearing Ronald Reagan’s name invoked about the need for less government, yet it was Reagan who said that, “Government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them.” Does anyone really believe that if tax money is used on land paid for by the taxpayers that there won’t be a lot of new regulations governing the use and operation of the dome? And won’t it be the detestable bureaucrats the Republicans loathe that will implement those regulations?
Those who hate President Obama call him a socialist and even a Marxist, never mind the lack of real evidence for it. Yet despite all the touting of capitalism and free markets by the Republicans, they want it both ways. How is it that if a new stadium at a billion dollars is such a good deal there aren’t flocks of business people lining up to invest in it? I thought that if there was money to be made, especially the whopping sums the stadium is supposed to bring in, you wouldn’t need any taxpayer support. With upwards of $3 trillion sitting in the bank of American businesses today, surely some of these successful entrepreneurs would want to shake loose some of it to reap the substantial rewards. But it hasn’t happened and almost certainly won’t. What do these captains of industry know that our politicians don’t know? For one, they know that they aren’t going to waste their money on a pipedream while our elected officials prove once again that if it’s not their money, who cares. This is not the Republican Party of Eisenhower.
This past Thursday two gentlemen from the Shepherd Center in Atlanta put on a presentation to the Marietta Kiwanis about SHARE (Shaping Hope and Recovery Excellence). The privately funded program began in 2008, and provides individual treatment to wounded combatants with spinal cord and traumatic brain injury. To date SHARE has treated approximately 200 warriors. The cost is $100,000 per month, or $1.2 million per year. The majority of our wounded from the two wars of this century have been from blast injuries that have resulted in spine and brain trauma.
The presenters at Kiwanis had a PowerPoint that showed a very impressive number of rehabilitation facilities and a temporary residence for families at the Shepherd Center. I was convinced, as I think were all of my fellow Kiwanians, that this is a very worthwhile program that produces qualitative results. That’s the good news. The bad news is that SHARE has to beg for money---and a lot of it. This is not only disgraceeful, distasteful, and unconscionable, it is immoral. If our government is going to send Americans to war it is not enough to just outfit them with the best equipment and technology. The other half of the equation is to appropriately care for those who will probably never lead the normal lives of those who stayed home. The taxpayers owe these fighting men and women the best care that money can buy. There doesn’t seem to be any opposition by our congressional delegation and two U.S. senators to purchasing as many F-22 Stealth Fighters at $140 million each, but for some reason there is always a “budget” problem when it comes to treating our veterans. I wonder how many SHARE facilities could be opened around the country for the price of just one F-22.
I am astonished that there isn’t more anger out there against our elected officials who will tout the wonders of SHARE, who will tour the facilities and proclaim what a great program it is, who will say all the right things about trying to get government money for it, have their pictures taken for some campaign photo ops, and after they leave---silence. I can recall more statements than can be counted from the same delegation about the need to buy more Lockheed planes, but compare all their efforts for Lockheed with what they are doing for the veterans. Congressman Phil Gingrey avoided military service during the Vietnam War by deferments to attend college and medical school. Considering that he is a well known conservative who gives rousing speeches at veterans lunches and gatherings, I have often wondered why he didn’t give back to this country by volunteering his medical skills to the armed forces. Perhaps now he can show true leadership and not only sponsor a war tax that would pay the true costs for our veterans, but get out front and shame others in congress to support such a bill. That would be the right thing to do even if it goes against his and his Party’s mantra of no new taxes.
Every American should have skin in the game when we go to war. A war tax is a very small price to pay.