|January 29, 2015||The Agitator #153: Citizens "Divided"||no comments|
|January 21, 2015||The Agitator #152: Human rights hypocrisy||1 comments|
|January 15, 2015||The Agitator #151: Character assassination of Ben Carson?||1 comments|
|January 08, 2015||The Agitator #150: The Second American Revolution||3 comments|
|December 31, 2014||The Agitator #149: A president for all?||no comments|
|December 22, 2014||The Agitator #148: The Cuba decision||1 comments|
|December 18, 2014||The Agitator #147: We need to deregulate||no comments|
|December 11, 2014||The Agitator #146: Divided we stand||2 comments|
|December 04, 2014||The Agitator #145: E pluribus unum||6 comments|
|November 26, 2014||The Agitator #144: Mr. Lee and Benghazi||no comments|
This is shaping up to be an unusual presidential campaign. We are at the end of January of the year preceding the first primary election, and not one candidate of either party has announced their intention to run. The explanation can be found by following the money, which all too often explains a lot of things, not usually for the better. In this instance potential candidates are lining up financial support from wealthy benefactors, who in turn will then pour money into their choices through various organizations that cannot collaborate with a campaign once an official announcement to run is made. All the strategic planning will be completed before the announcement, and the campaigns and super-PACS will no longer have any “connection.”
A lot changed with Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission (2010), the Supreme Court decision that overturned settled law banning corporations and unions from spending money in federal elections without limitation. This activist decision by the conservative majority ignored congressional intent and declared that money and speech are part and parcel of the First Amendment despite no language in the amendment to support it.
All this is relevant as we head into 2016. In April, Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson held tryouts for Republican presidential candidates. Some of the most likely contenders met with Adelson one on one to try and secure his blessing and all the money that will flow if successful. This past weekend David and Charles Koch hosted their winter donor retreat at Palm Springs, CA where they committed to spend upwards of $900 million dollars in the presidential race. Some 300 major donors attended this very exclusive retreat, and also in attendance were many of the same big name candidates who met with Adelson. This vast sum of money is more than the Republican National Committee spent in the 2012.
Is anyone so naïve as to think that these tycoons have no agenda other than trying to accomplish what is “best for America?” Adelson strongly opposes internet gambling, and whoever gets his support can be counted on to be a strong voice on Adelson’s behalf. The Koch brothers have any number of financial and business interests. Do you think that their handpicked horse just might carry the Koch water?
Citizens United made it clear that buying access is not a crime as long as there is no quid pro quo. Despite the findings of Congress and a number of state legislatures that had placed limits on money in campaigns because of the inherent corruption, Justice Anthony Kennedy took it upon himself to disagree. According to Kennedy, disclosure of the names of contributors and amounts of money serve as a safeguard against corruption because the people can decide for themselves if there is anything nefarious.
The Citizens United case should be retitled Citizens Divided, because that is exactly what has happened. Those with cash get access. The have-nots get form letters and campaign blather---or ignored. The tax code is the best example of how access gets the special interests the tax breaks that the less fortunate can only dream of. Defenders of this system use the most sophistic and disingenuous arguments to preserve their exalted status to the exclusion of the powerless.
Unless and until we have meaningful campaign finance reform, the ordinary voter will go to the polls to choose the candidates that have already been bought and paid for. All legal of course. And the ones who make the laws are the very ones that are most affected by them. The current Supreme Court will probably lift all caps on campaign financing once a case comes before it. If the average Joe thinks his representatives really care about his concerns, he’s out of touch. We are becoming an increasingly divided nation based on the growing disparity of wealth, income and power. I am not optimistic about our nation’s political future.
Most people have never heard the name Raif Badawi. That’s too bad. The media have covered his plight but probably not with the attention it deserves. Badawi is a Saudi Arabian national. He happens to have the misfortune of living in a country that doesn’t believe in freedom of conscience, which is encapsulated in our First Amendment and which we all too often take for granted.
Badawi, a blogger, created a website that satirized Muslim icons, something that would normally find him with his head removed from his body, the execution method used by ISIS. In this instance the Saudi government showed mercy: He was sentenced to ten years imprisonment and 1,000 lashes. In another act of benevolence the court has allowed the caning to be parceled out in 50 increments over 20 weeks.
Saudi Arabia is one of our closest Middle East allies. They provide us with oil, oppose Iran, have flooded the oil market to depress prices in order to help wreck the Russian economy, and are providing the Egyptian government with lots of cash to help prop it up. It is also the same country that produced the bulk of the 9/11 terrorists. When they generously allowed the U.S. to build air bases after Saddam became a regional threat, our service members were prohibited from practicing their faith unless it happened to be that of the only one permitted. And, of course, they are no friend of Israel. The Saudi government opposes al Qaida and ISIS, two terrorist organizations that seek to overthrow them and perpetrate even more violence.
Despite egregious human rights abuses, I have yet to see one prominent conservative speak out against the Saudi government, against our continued foreign aid, which is mostly in the form of military hardware and training. Yet Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) took the lead in blasting Obama for reestablishing relations with Cuba because of Cuba’s ongoing violations of human rights. To be fair, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), has aligned himself with Rubio on this issue. And Menendez’ voice hasn’t been heard, either, against Saudi Arabia’s numerous human rights violations.
The U.S. State Department has protested on Badawi’s behalf, but it has fallen on deaf ears. Amnesty International, a liberal organization, has also injected itself into this fray. After the Paris shootings by Islamic terrorists and all the criticism from the right that Obama hasn’t done enough to fight these people, the voice of silence from the same people concerning Saudi Arabia is deafening.
This should not be a political issue. In this instance we are not talking about extremist groups that are directly linked to a government. We are talking about the government itself that acts in the extreme by today’s international standards. Crimes against humanity were codified into international law after Nuremburg, and we as a nation should do everything possible to highlight Saudi Arabia’s barbaric laws and justice system. If conservatives who oppose anything with Obama’s fingerprints want to prove themselves credible, perhaps they might consider that human rights isn’t just a Cuban problem. Let freedom ring from all corners of the political spectrum.
In May 2012, I heard Dr. Ben Carson deliver the commencement address at Emory University. I told any number of people afterwards that it was the best and most memorable graduation speech I had ever heard. In addition to narrating his storybook rise from poverty to becoming a world renown surgeon, he also talked about the need for our elected officials to work together to accomplish worthwhile things. An analogy he used was how the fuselage of a plane needs two wings to make it fly, the wings representing both political parties.
Since that time Carson has expressed interest in running for president, and he has indicated that he will decide by May. He has many supporters who find him the antithesis of Obama, and who like his very conservative views on social issues. That he lacks experience holding office at any level is irrelevant because he is saying all the right things that overcome being a political neophyte. Unfortunately, many a silk tongued orator has been elected to high office despite lacking real substance. Again, many think Obama fits that description perfectly.
Republicans are especially fond of talking about character, how it is one of the most paramount traits a president has to have. I won’t disagree. Where I have trouble, though, is that all too often the importance of character is minimized when it is one of their horses that seems to lack it. By now I am used to hearing that Democrats are tax and spend liberals, the party that is indifferent to character as exemplified by Bill Clinton. So that among other things leads me to believe that Republicans are better and that I can expect better from them. No excuses, no apologies, unlike Democrats.
Actually, all too many Republicans have character issues. But when they openly seek God’s forgiveness, Republicans are eager to demonstrate that they are forgiving people. Examples include, but are hardly limited to former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, since elected to congress, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, and our own Newt Gingrich. (Interestingly, Republicans are less forgiving when they have a large majority and can afford to cut someone loose. Staten Island Representative Michael Grimm comes to mind. They were much more supportive of Senator Larry Craig when a Democratic governor would have appointed Craig’s replacement.) There is no point in providing examples of Democrats who have had similar problems, because one should not expect much from them.
That takes us back to Dr. Ben Carson. Recently it was discovered that he plagiarized significant portions of his 2012 book, “America the Beautiful.” For some reason the “lame stream” media decided that this story wasn’t worth much attention, which it wouldn’t deserve but for the man being a very potential presidential candidate. If it was reported in our two local newspapers, each with a different political bent, I honestly missed seeing it.
Carson plagiarized from at least five different sources, not including the internet. One very conservative source said that he didn’t mind that Carson used his material without attribution, although in that one instance Carson did write a broad thank you to that author for his assistance. What is an eye-popping opener is that in Carson’s book he discussed how naïve he was in college, that he had lifted material without proper sourcing for a paper, and how it almost got him expelled. A sympathetic professor had to explain to Carson that plagiarism was wrong. Yet decades later he did it again, and convincingly to some, explains it all away by claiming that they were inadvertent mistakes.
Vice President Joe Biden is only one among other high profile people who have also committed plagiarism. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is another recent example. Biden did his damage several decades ago, but it always comes up and will haunt him again if he runs for president in 2016. He’s a Democrat, though, so I don’t expect much. As for Paul, my guess is that almost no one has read about his plagiarism. Ex-parte forgiveness.
I like Ben Carson even if I have strong disagreements with a lot of his beliefs. He is a gentleman, and his brilliance and accomplishments certainly overshadow this latest event. I also like Obama, and I wonder if his upbringing was as it is, had become a Republican, whether those who despise him would have accused him of not being a native born American, a closet Muslim, a communist, a hater of America, having no experience, and much more. For sure Carson has no political experience, something Eisenhower discovered was a lot different than commanding an army. It appears that one’s party affiliation is much more important than character and experience . And if you are a sinner and lack experience, but say all the right things, the Party of Forgiveness will take you in with open arms.
At our last Saturday’s coffee gathering one of my conservative friends asked what I thought would bring on the Second American Revolution. In a New York minute, which is very fast, I responded that the growing gap in wealth and income would likely be the spark. I am not suggesting that this is something that is going to happen any time soon, but I do believe that we have to reverse this trend if we have any hope of maintaining a strong middle class, the backbone of a stable country.
The conservatives I know claim that what is destroying America are the government handouts such as food stamps, Section 8 housing, and other welfare payments. Food stamps are probably the largest cost of them all. The argument continues that there is so much waste and fraud in these various programs. I don’t dispute that there is waste and fraud, but how much I don’t know, and I doubt many of the advocates of eliminating these programs know either. I also don’t know how much waste and fraud there is in government contracts, especially in the defense industry, but I think it’s fair to say that it is substantial. The F-35 fighter plane is a good example.
Currently, one percent of Americans own forty percent of all the wealth. Factoring in inflation, the average middle and lower class workers have seen their wages diminish over the past 30 years or so while the earnings of those in the top tier has sizably increased. In the Reagan years, a C-level executive’s pay was approximately 40:1 with his workers. Today that gap is closer to 300:1 and growing. Golden parachutes are given to failed managers, such as the one that almost drove Belk’s into bankruptcy. The other trend is for more of a company’s profits to go to the shareholders than to reward the workers who made the business profitable.
Some naysayers will accuse me of being a socialist or supporting redistribution of wealth. Well, if they haven’t noticed, we have been experiencing redistribution for years. The special interests that get tax breaks that others don’t get have to be made up by someone. Churches that pay no property taxes that go for police and fire protection, and the roads leading to their churches, also transfer their burden to people like me. Countless other examples abound that I’ve written about before.
How can the problem be fixed? Among the suggestions I would put out for debate begin with campaign finance reform. The activist Supreme Court that we have has decided two cases in the past six years that have dramatically altered limits on how much an individual and corporation can spend on candidates. I foresee in the near future this court lifting all caps on contributions. It is amusing when I see postings on Facebook from people who are upset that s/he didn’t get a response from their representative about a particular matter. Yet if billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who lives in Las Vegas, called anyone of our Georgia representatives, he would get through or have the call returned the same day.
With meaningful campaign finance reform comes a new tax code. Our elected officials would no longer be beholden to special interests, and a rewrite of the tax code could do away with all the provisions that have been bought and paid for with special interest money. One example is the cap on certain investment income at about 15% that benefits the owners of hedge funds. Just maybe the middle class would find themselves paying a lot less than they are today because others would finally pay their fair share. And it would be possible to tighten up on laws that incentivize businesses to locate in other countries.
The NYT recently published a story about mall closings. Some of the big stores that attract middle class shoppers are leaving, which leaves the smaller retailers foundering. Upscale malls are apparently doing well. Those who think it’s okay to pay a worker less than a living wage should consider how that impacts all the businesses that depend on that worker to spend money.
We can do better by closely examining the causes of this problem and making a serious attempt to fix it. For those who see no moral or societal issue, in time they can anticipate living in gated communities and leave only in armed vehicles. And under those circumstances, everybody loses.
Columnists and radio talking heads are increasing the volume on who will/should be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. (Until Hillary Clinton decides whether to run, speculation on the Democratic candidate is pretty much on hold.) The New York Times recently ran a story that NJ Governor Chris Christie has lost a great deal of popularity at home because of his presidential aspirations. Michelle Malkin opined this week that Jeb Bush would be an awful candidate because he is too moderate. And so it goes.
Obama may go down as one of the most disliked presidents in history. Based on my conversations with people who don’t like the president, something not hard to do in Cobb County, and the assaults on him by opinionators of all stripes, to include a weekly columnist in the MDJ, my sense of impression is that most don’t like Obama based more on emotional arguments than facts and evidence.
My question is whether the Republicans can choose a candidate from the primaries that will be able to govern, i.e. do more than just say all the right things concerning social issues, jobs, the economy, taxes, defense, and trashing Obama. Considering Senator Mitch McConnell’s 2008 statement that his number one priority was to defeat Obama in 2012, that Rush Limbaugh said in 2008 that he was out to destroy Obama---and other like-minded comments from the echo chamber---what will the 2016 candidate look like? Will he be the one that billionaires Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers find acceptable to the exclusion of most other Americans?
The NYT article on Christie pointed out that Christie is attempting to appeal to a much wider audience than his NJ constituents. He has traveled to states that support the Keystone pipeline, something that New Jersey residents could care less about. He also vetoed a popular bill that would have protected pigs but would have alienated many farm state voters. Christie has been a union basher, especially of public sector workers, but he did sign into law a contract that provided for state funding of their pensions under a new agreement, an agreement that he has since broken claiming that the state can no longer afford the payments. NJ is largely a Democratic state, so his reneging on the deal should appeal to states with little or no union presence.
Jeb Bush has staked out positions such as supporting Common Core and a pathway to citizenship, two issues alone that inflame conservatives. Senator Marco Rubio, another potential candidate, is defending a minority viewpoint of opposing Obama’s recognition of Cuba knowing that Florida is a key state in any presidential race.
My point in all of this discussion is that no one can appeal to everyone. For some, if a candidate is on the “wrong side” of the abortion issue, it’s a deal breaker despite anything else about him. Same for so many other issues. New Yorkers aren’t exactly enthused about agricultural subsidies, and Iowans aren’t excited to see their tax dollars go to subsidizing NYC subways. Southerners care more about military bases, where there are many, than other regions of the country whose economies don’t depend so much on them. No relationship, whether it be a strong friendship or marriage, ever finds one-hundred percent agreement, but if there is commonality on the core issues, the relationship will remain strong. Same for candidates.
A good governor or senator may have been successful because of the local common interests of the voters. Any presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican, has to figure out which issues will alienate the fewest. If the Republicans nominate someone that meets all the conservative litmus tests, a candidate that will pursue an agenda of no compromise or concern for those who might see a different roadmap to get to the same place, they will have squandered their 2014 victory.
Our two party system works despite the rough and tumble and nastiness. The best ideas are distilled from debate and argument. If one party dominates, creativity dissipates. Our representatives take the voters for granted when they have no opposition; they no longer have to work for your support on Election Day. This is not good for America. One of my wishes for 2016 is that the Republicans will nominate a candidate that understands that if America is really exceptional, it is for reasons that include our two party system.
From the polls I’ve seen, most Americans support President Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. This includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I fall into that camp and only wish that it had been done as far back as the Reagan presidency. Florida Senator Marco Rubio is proof that that there is still a lot of controversy in the Cuban community, especially in south Florida where there is a heavy concentration of Cuban-Americans.
Fidel Castro is not a nice guy, and his regime caused a lot of countries in the world a lot of agita for a number of years. But with the passage of time, especially the collapse of its benefactor, the Soviet Union, Cuba has become irrelevant on the world stage. They have a failed economy, and only a small number of countries look to them as a role model, countries that are also only bit players on the world stage.
The younger generation of Cuban-Americans only know of Cuba’s past from studying history or family lore. We have never had a quarrel with the Cuban people themselves. Whatever Castro inflicted on those who fled the country, especially in the early days of his dictatorship, the 1960s, it’s time to move on. We restored relations with Germany and Japan shortly after the most horrific war in history, a war that cost a lot of American lives. We restored relations with China in the early 1970s, only about 20 years after the Korean War where thousands of Americans died on the battlefield. And we have diplomatic relations with Vietnam where 58,000 troops never came home.
China and Vietnam remain communist countries, but they also have developed market economies. Vietnam actually feels more comfortable with the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet patrolling the Pacific because of China’s growing militancy and territorial disputes between the two countries. Our warships are welcome in Vietnamese ports. One of the advantages of having a diplomatic presence in a country is the ability to enhance our intelligence capabilities, especially human intelligence.
The other obvious big benefit for both countries is the opening of trade. Cuba’s manufacturing capabilities are virtually non-existent. With the various international loans that would be available to Cuba, our telecommunications industry could rebuild the country’s network. That translates into American jobs, especially the technical jobs that pay well. The transportation infrastructure needs a complete do-over. Food commodities that the U.S. specializes in growing and exporting will have a huge new market.
The Castro brothers won’t be around much longer. Once the Cuban people experience a substantial increase in their lifestyles it will be difficult for the government to continue operating with tight reigns. It’s a win-win for the U.S. and Cuba. FDR reportedly said that one way to prove to the Soviet Union the supremacy of the capitalist system would be to bomb it with Sears Roebuck catalogs. (John Steel Gordon, “An Empire of Wealth”)
Marco Rubio belongs with one of the dinosaurs I heard call in to a conservative radio show the other day. The caller said that Cuban intelligence officers worked with the North Vietnamese to interrogate and torture our POWs. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Even if it is, it’s time to move on. Our country recruited German scientists after WW II because we needed them---and that was immediately after the German surrender. The Vietnam POWs have been home for almost 42 years.
Remarkably, a number of professed Roman Catholics are upset with Pope Francis for his role in normalizing relations. Many claim that he is acting outside of his religious authority. Yet for those believers it would seem that the Vicar of Christ may very well be acting on divine authority. Is the Pope only right when he agrees with a follower? I would also add that many Vietnam Veterans have returned to Vietnam, met some of their battlefield foes, and have come home with a sense of peace.
One thing for sure is that if Rubio and Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) are successful in impeding relations with Cuba, other western countries will be glad to fill the gap. There’s too much money to be made. It would be unconscionable for a handful of Republicans and a few Democrats to continue living in the past. Could their atavistic rhetoric have more to do with staying in office or even seeking higher office?
I went to the East Cobb government office this week to pay my annual business license fee. I’m not sure how the public benefits from a one man operation having to comply with this law, especially since I am already registered with the Secretary of State both as a corporation and professional license, but it’s another of those money grabs that you just suck up. Each requires proof of citizenship at renewal time even though, again, you are in the system.
What is somewhat galling, though, is that ever since the Republicans at the state capitol passed an immigration law some three or four years ago, every business has to abide by new regulations to ensure that no undocumented aliens are working. This includes the forgoing proof of citizenship requirement. I get a letter from the county each November containing the forms that have to be completed, so one would think that the first time I proved I was a citizen would suffice for the future. Not so.
In addition to having to provide a photo copy of your driver’s license or other acceptable ID, you have to sign an affidavit that you are a citizen and then have it notarized. Unlike years past where you could complete the forms in a few minutes, write a check and mail it in, now you have to find a notary. Some may not think it’s a big deal, but it’s just one more thing on top of one more thing. Reminds me of the old Manhattan phone book. Each page was microscopically thin, but when added up it became a few inches thick.
Republicans, including our delegation from Georgia, are always talking about cutting regulations and taxes to help the middle class. Where’s the evidence? Actually, they can point to attempts to eliminate two departments that are their favorite punching bags: the EPA and Department of Education. Presidential candidate Rick Perry wants to cut a third department but just can’t remember which one. When the recent spending bill was passed by both Houses, it included some regulation cuts of the Dodd-Frank Bill. Unfortunately for the middle class that our reps want to help so badly, those cuts only affect the big banks, the very ones who drafted the repealing legislation to benefit them.
In the 1980s Ronald Reagan signed into law regulatory cuts to benefit the Savings and Loan industry. It was supposed to untie all the red tape that prevented lenders from putting out cash where it could benefit small businesses, home buyers, and the middle class. For those too young to remember what happened, it was catastrophic. The bad loans that were made ended up costing the taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. Had it not been for the FDIC/FSLIC insurance put in place in the 1930s, we might have seen a run on banks that could have led to another Great Depression. You would have thought that we learned something from the recession that began in 2007, especially with regard to the junk paper that Wall St. manufactured, packaged and sold to investors.
But as the saying goes, you gotta have priorities. And our legislators prioritize the interests of those that keep them in office. The rest of us get happy talk bromides that are supposed make us feel like our reps are really working for us.
Once again the power of political campaign money from the special interests holds the power. Lots of folks like to make New Year’s predictions. Here are a couple of mine. Despite all the rhetoric from the Republican Party about tax reform, throwing out the current code, we will not see any meaningful tax reform during this term of congress. The middle class will get no tax breaks that amount to more than the price of a pizza each week. What we will get are more tax breaks to the favored, more pages added to the IRS Code and regulations, and lots of hot air speeches from our representatives that they are looking out for the average guy. And when you get a form letter back from your representative telling you how hard s/he is working for you, take those promises to the bank, the same ones that got a Christmas present eliminating Dodd-Frank protections for the taxpayers.
This week’s commentary is a companion piece to last week’s Agitator #145: E pluribus unum. I hadn’t expected to write it until I saw a posting on Facebook earlier this week that became the impetus for it. This is the quote from the writer. “Did anyone see the shot of NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio standing behind Al Sharpton? It sure reminded me of an organ grinder and his monkey! Anyone else who saw it get the same impression?”
I know the author of this comment, a former public official, and we’ve had many email exchanges over the years that were about our different world views and what we perceive America to be all about. The last count that I did showed eight “Likes” to the comment. One of them is from a Cobb elected official.
I am no apologist for Al Sharpton and others who never fail to know the conclusions of a potential racial incident before the facts and evidence have been adduced. Sharpton has made a lot of money from his self-promotion and high profile, and the NYT recently reported that he owes $4.5 million in back taxes to the federal government and New York State. That said, whatever attacks on him should be on the merits of a good argument, not directed at his skin color.
It never ceases to amaze me how mostly conservative media and many well-intentioned whites think that Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and others are the “black leaders”, and that these so-called leaders should act more responsibly. Yet I’ve never been able to identify the white leaders. Is it Donald Trump? Sarah Palin? Ted Cruz? Rush Limbaugh? Sean Hannity?
How in the world can we ever hope to resolve racial differences when educated people, people who hold office, make and agree with racist comments like the aforementioned? How can a black person sit in a room with a politician that s/he knows to have agreed with a statement referring to Sharpton as a monkey? Would it be racist of the black person to just maybe believe that s/he won’t get a fair shake from the white official?
We will never get passed our past if we can’t talk to each other. It’s bad enough that racism and other hatreds and fears of different groups permeate our society. Witness some of the citizen comments from Kennesaw concerning the request by a Muslim group for approval of a prayer room in an almost vacant shopping center. But when a public official engages in that sort of behavior, there is a loss of confidence not only in that person, but in the government that that person is part of.
From the conservatives we hear that America has proven it has put racism behind it by electing a black president, a black senator in South Carolina, a black congresswoman in Utah, and many more. We are told repeatedly from conservative “leaders” that it’s about ideology, not race. Maybe so. But then again when two white public officials, one still holding office, both educated, can “like” a comment that is racist to the core, I suspect that they are not alone.
For sure our country has come a long way since the 1960s. But we have more distance to travel. Perhaps our unofficial motto should be, “Divided We Stand” until we somehow learn to live with each other. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we should be able to at least be civil and not resort to base insults that are a remnant of some of our uglier history.
I recently read an opinion piece in the Washington Post from a man named Frank Schaeffer. Schaeffer writes novels for a living, lives in Boston, and never served in the military. His son, after graduating from a private high school, joined the marines. Schaeffer readily admits that he never really thought about those who defended our country. He was never part of that establishment, and none of the people he associates with have connections to the military.
Schaeffer (I am paraphrasing) goes on to talk about the indifference of so many, especially the privileged, to those Americans who suit up, who put their lives on the line. Schaeffer asks, “…have we just gotten used to having somebody else defend us? What is the future of our democracy when the sons and daughters of the janitors at our elite universities are far more likely to be put in harm's way than are any of the students whose dorms their parents clean?”
I remember well during Vietnam, and before, that Americans still experienced one of the two great levelers of our society: a public school education and military service, many of whom were drafted. Young men from all over, from different races, ethnicities, religions, cultures, financial means, regions, educational backgrounds---all got their heads shaved, wore the same uniform, performed the same demeaning tasks, learned to pull together, and ultimately became a fighting force where none of the foregoing differences mattered. Anyone who underwent that experience will tell you that it lasts a lifetime. And America was better for it.
Today is different. Except perhaps for the officer corps among the branches of service, the large majority of those signing up for military service are those who need jobs, have no real hope of upward mobility because of their limited education, and are looking for a way out of their predicament. For them the armed forces offer training opportunities second to none, but the real question, as I see it, is whether as a nation we should have to depend on the less fortunate to protect our country. Shouldn’t every American have skin in this?
When I got back from Vietnam I was not spit on or cursed at. I don’t know any Vietnam veteran personally that was. But what I did experience, as did many of my fellow veterans, was the question of why I served in the first place. Wasn’t I able to get a deferment, teach school, or become a clergyman until I passed the draft age? Some jokingly (or maybe seriously) wondered about my IQ. It never bothered me to respond that I had my own reasons for committing to three and one half years of active duty, for volunteering for Vietnam.
Today, most draft age Vietnam era men at some point will have to answer the question(s) from their kids and grandkids: Were you in military? Were you in the war? For those who opposed the war for their own moral reasons, I think their answer is easy to live with. For those who have staked out a lifetime of conservative political values, who have always been gung ho about our military involvements (to include any number of prominent politicians), it might be harder to explain without failing the red face test. Patriotism is more commonly expressed with bumper stickers and flag lapel pins while the unemployment rate for veterans remains higher than for most Americans.
We have lost something as a nation where the younger generation is more frequently isolated through attending private schools, homogenous neighborhoods, no interest in serving in the military, and from all the technology that has undermined real conversation that used to be so common in coffee shops, civic clubs, and other gathering groups. I am not the first to suggest that some kind of national service should be required, whether military or civilian. It might be the first step toward lowering barriers with people who are different from us.
From the inception of our country’s birth our motto has been E pluribus unum, out of many, one. It magnificently captures what makes the United States of America unique. We are the lesser for having lost the ethos of those three Latin words.
In the past week there was a confluence of two major events. The House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Mike Rogers (R-MI) and with a majority of Republican members, found no conspiracies or wrongdoing by White House, State Department or Pentagon officials in connection with the Benghazi tragedy. In the second event the Cobb Ethics Board ended its probe into allegations of wrongdoing by Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee after the complainant, Tom Cheek agreed to dismiss his complaint. Lee took this as being cleared, which to my way of thinking isn’t exactly the case.
The House Intelligence Committee conducted a very thorough investigation. They reviewed countless thousands of documents, examined many witnesses under oath, and sifted through other information before they reached their conclusion. I don’t know how much that investigation cost, but the remaining Special Investigation ordered by House Speaker John Boehner, and chaired by Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), reportedly has budgeted about $3 million. The Gowdy team will certainly review the House Intelligence Committee report, and in all likelihood, will duplicate a lot of the Intelligence Committee’s work.
There are a small number of naysayers who don’t put any credence into the House Intelligence Committee report. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is leading that charge, and has called the findings “garbage” and “crap.” Graham had previously staked out a position that there was all sorts of misconduct, misfeasance, malfeasance, what have you, associated with the deaths at Benghazi, how it all could have been prevented, and that very high level people tried to cover up their crimes. I’m not sure what it would take to convince Graham that many of his own fellow Republicans just might be honest and fair. Graham reminds me of those that demand(ed) a grand jury indictment in Ferguson and Staten Island when none has heard one piece of evidence. This doesn’t say much for Graham as a lawyer.
Meanwhile, closer to home, after Tom Cheek chose to dismiss his complaint, Lee and his supporters rejoiced proclaiming that he had never done anything wrong in the first place. What we know, though, is that no investigative body (that we know of) ever looked into Cheek’s allegations, never questioned key witnesses, never obtained records that would require a subpoena. One has to wonder what lawyer Dan McRae might say about what he and Tim Lee discussed, which would include questions concerning circumventing the Open Records Act to confirm their attorney/client relationship. It would also encompass questions about whether McRae and his law firm, Seyfarth Shaw, were told that they could expect to get the $4 million bond contract for their uncompensated work in preparing the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) that was the basis for the county commission approving the Braves deal. And that is just the start for a comprehensive investigation. My guess is that there will be more to come only because there are too many obvious unanswered questions that deserve answers.
The Braves’ move to Cobb County is the largest business deal ever if it lives up to its hype and potential. Four hundred million dollars of public money has been committed to make it happen. I don’t question for a millisecond that secrecy surrounding acquiring the land for the stadium was paramount and a normal occurrence in such transactions. I do question how it was done, though, and like Benghazi, the citizens of Cobb County deserve to know the truth concerning the issues that have surfaced since all the happy talk was packaged and delivered to the public. The last of the ethics complaints has gone away. But that may prove to be just the beginning.