|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|
|August 20, 2012||The Agitator #38||5 comments|
|August 13, 2012||The Agitator #37||no comments|
|August 06, 2012||The Agitator #36||3 comments|
|July 30, 2012||The Agitator #35||5 comments|
|July 23, 2012||The Agitator #34||12 comments|
|July 16, 2012||The Agitator #33||1 comments|
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.
For the first time ever it appears that Super Pac money will exceed the contributions that each candidate will directly receive directly into their campaigns. This is the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. There are those who believe that somehow this private money from sources that don’t have to be revealed is a counter balance to the mainstream media, perceived by some as the liberal media or “lamestream” media. I wonder if you tally up all the listeners to conservative talk radio---Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, Dennis Prager, Glen Beck, Laura Ingraham, Michael Gallagher, Dennis Miller---and many more---would they somehow offset the numbers that get their news from the mainstream media? And remember, these are very partisan talkmeisters who push their agenda openly with no ambiguity. Since Air America is long gone there are only a handful of liberal talk shows that mostly can be found on satellite radio, and which contain relatively small listening audiences. Citizens United didn’t level the playing field in the political arena; it tilted it and overturned a long history of banning these kinds of contributions that our state representatives thought fostered corruption of the election process. And when those without any money tried to unite and get attention that couldn’t be had without money, the Occupy Wall Street movement was condemned because of the handful of extremists that latched onto the movement and gave it a bad name.
Mitt Romney denounced the Bush TARP program that saved the auto industry and countless jobs, but was okay with the Wall Street bailouts. Then Paul Ryan blamed Obama for the 2008 closing of a GM plant in his district even though it was Bush who occupied the White House at the time. Ryan was okay with TARP as long as it protected an industry that encompassed voters that could reelect him. Yet this same guy hates government spending unless it’s for defense, talks about the need for the marketplace to work without government interference, unless of course it affects his political future. We haven’t heard the Romney-Ryan plan yet to pay for the staggering costs of our seriously wounded veterans that will need care for the next sixty to seventy years. And that doesn’t take into account future wars and veterans costs.
Romney complains that Obama has defamed him with allegations concerning his role at Bain Capital, and he takes a very strong defense posture at releasing his tax returns beyond two years. Romney has even demanded apologies from Obama, which seems really odd for someone who presumably needs a thick skin to be president, and who should know how to fight back if he’s going to be dealing with some of the worst bullies in the world, both domestic and foreign. But the same Romney, when asked if he thought Obama was an American citizen answered with the glibness he learned at Harvard Law School, that he had no reason to think Obama wasn’t. That response is a long way from John McCain who responded to a woman that accused Obama of being a Muslim. McCain answered directly, firmly, and left no doubt that he was sincere. Perhaps the difference between Romney and McCain is that McCain learned something about leadership when served this country in uniform, while Romney took advantage of whatever deferments he could get during Vietnam and talking tough at the same time in support of the war. Maybe it’s about time for Romney to let the American people see his Selective Service records to learn what his priorities were to avoid service during the time of the draft.
Much has been said and a lot of arguments made for and against Mitt Romney to disclose his tax returns for more than two years. I have absolutely no reason to believe that Romney has committed tax fraud. In fact, I believe that he has almost certainly complied to the letter with our tax laws. Count me on the side of disclosure, though, because the issue isn’t about breaking the law. Anyone running for public office gives up an awful lot of privacy, and the higher up the office, the less privacy a candidate has. A presidential candidate pretty much has no personal privacy left in his life by the time his opponents and the media gets through raking over every last detail from birth to the present. How much detail is relevant is a separate debate.
Disclosing tax returns, in my opinion, is a very relevant issue for the voters. Tax returns can reveal where and how a person made his money, how many tax credits and deductions the candidate took, what esoteric tax laws allowed the candidate to avoid paying taxes, and other information. And this is where the returns become important. The voters should know what tax loopholes were available, in this instance, to a candidate that made millions of dollars but only paid fourteen percent in taxes in 2010. This is a matter of public policy that should be debated. I think most Republican and Democratic voters agree that we need tax reform in a major way. But most major legislative changes occur only when there is either a crisis or strong movement. Perhaps Romney was fortunate enough not to have paid any taxes for a period of years---legally. Shouldn’t the American people know that? Maybe many voters would be outraged, and maybe not. But if there is outrage it can be expressed to our elected representatives and serve as the impetus for tax reform.
Some may argue that Romney paid far more of his income to charity, a good thing, which allowed him to take a sizable tax deduction. What is troubling about that is that rather than pay taxes that fund a myriad of costs that benefit all Americans, to include the armed forces, he gets to choose where his money goes and puts nothing into the national pot. There is not a single tax paying American that supports all the government spending. Many wouldn’t have given a dime to pay for the Iraq war. Others wouldn’t choose to fund various welfare programs. But only those at the very top of the income ladder have options.
I want to stress that I support making money and achieving a high level of prosperity. I also want to be clear again that I honestly believe that Romney has complied with all tax laws. I just would like for all voters and tax payers to know from a presidential candidate’s tax returns what laws were applied to minimize or avoid paying taxes so that this can become a public policy issue to be debated and argued in the media and the deliberative bodies of the Congress. Recall that there was very little controversy over the draft in the 1950s and early 1960s. When the Vietnam war heated up that all changed. And that ultimately resulted in the public debate that led the Congress to eliminate the draft and turn to a volunteer military.
Last month the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Stolen Valor Act (SVA) in a six to three decision. Chief Justice Roberts was in the majority. The SVA was a worthwhile attempt to deal with the phonies who falsely claim military service and medals. It is amazing how many fakes are out there that suffer from what I call Ego Deficit Disorder (EDD). Over the years I have met any number of individuals who were self-proclaimed war heroes. Since I am more familiar with the Vietnam era, it is easier to spot them. The first question I ask someone that has given me a feeling that their service might be bogus is which corps they were assigned to in Vietnam. All Vietnam veterans can instantly answer this simple inquiry. When the “veteran” stumbles with his own questions such as “what do you mean by that”, “I served all over”, or one of my favorites, “it’s classified”, that’s a clue that they guy is a fraud. Further probing usually results in an abrupt end to the conversation along the lines of having too many bad memories, changing the subject, or that they can’t talk about it. Another common denominator is that they will never ask if you had Vietnam service or anything about it if they know that you did.
I received a number of calls from friends and associates who were troubled by the Supreme Court’s decision. I replied that I believe the high court made the right call that protects not just those that might be offended by the imposters, but all Americans. If the First Amendment is to mean anything all speech has to be protected with the very few exceptions that the Court has recognized over decades, such as disclosing military/ship movements in time of war, and shouting fire in a crowded theater---just two obvious examples. Protecting just popular speech is no protection at all; it is unpopular speech that needs to be protected. Sure, people might be offended, but who gets to decide what is offensive and should be banned? I prefer not to live in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Communist China, and other totalitarian states where irritating the wrong person can land you in jail. The dissemination of ideas, good or bad, in a democracy is one of our greatest strengths.
All of that said, it is important to know that it is one thing to boast about military service and medals that are mythical; it is another to do it on an employment application where veterans points might be awarded, on a form for some kind of government benefits, or anywhere else that could result in financial gain of some sort or a job promotion. Federal law bans the intentional making of false statements for such purposes, and there are state law counterparts. It would also be a crime to falsely claim to be a police officer if the person pretended to act under the color of law to exert his authority.
It is worth the price to live in a free society to put up with braggadocios and fakes that are looking for no more than attention. Otherwise we would have a line drawing problem about what should be prosecuted. The support employee that served behind the lines in a war zone but exaggerates his service to include front line combat is just one example. How about the numbers out there that claim to have played college or major league sports? It may not equate with military service fakery, but there still will be people offended by it. I say that the Walter Mittys that seek no more than ego gratification and to impress the people next to them in a bar should be laughed at for what they are, or perhaps they deserve our sympathy for being pathetic individuals. But the Court was right in recognizing that in our great country we don’t put people in jail for it.