|June 05, 2014||The Agitator #119: More what ifs...||1 comments|
|May 29, 2014||The Agitator #118: Two sides of the same coin||no comments|
|May 22, 2014||The Agitator #117: Obama even hates veterans||no comments|
|May 15, 2014||The Agitator #116: The Republican Democrats||1 comments|
|May 08, 2014||The Agitator #115: Insiders and outsiders||2 comments|
|May 01, 2014||The Agitator #114: It pays to have the right friends||no comments|
|April 24, 2014||The Agitator #113: We're falling and can't get up||no comments|
|April 17, 2014||The Agitator #112: Freedom and responsibility||no comments|
|April 10, 2014||The Agitator #111: Ozzie was right||5 comments|
|April 02, 2014||The Agitator #110: Men of principles||1 comments|
Pat Buchanan, the conservative columnist, had an excellent commentary published in the MDJ on Wednesday, June 04, 2001. I commend it to those trying to sort through the details of the prisoner swap of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for the five high level Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo. In it Buchanan recounts a long history going back to the Korean War where we negotiated with our enemies. That said, whether this was a deal that will imperil our national security, endanger our military forces overseas, put American civilians at risk of being kidnapped in foreign countries, I honestly don’t know and neither does anyone else. Well, perhaps there is a group that monitors all sorts of electronic communications that might know more than the rest of us, but they aren’t saying. This deal was not done in isolation. You can be sure that the Joint Chiefs, CIA, and other intelligence organizations had major roles in advising the president.
I would like to add just a couple of additional uninformed thoughts to this debate. First, to clear any doubts about Bergdahl’s status as either a real POW or deserter, the army should conduct a thorough investigation. If the facts support his desertion, Bergdahl should be prosecuted. Putting his fellow soldiers in unnecessary harm’s way should not be taken lightly. Some question whether Bergdahl should even have been traded at all, especially because of evidence that he did walk off his post.
I stand with those that say we bring our own home and never leave anyone behind. Recall the case of Marine Private Robert Garwood who disappeared in Vietnam in 1965. There were questionable circumstances about what occurred, and after all POWs were returned as part of an exchange, Garwood was alleged to have declined to come home. He finally came back in 1979, and the Marines conducted an investigation that led to Garwood’s court martial. Garwood was convicted of being a deserter and collaborator, dishonorably discharged, and forfeited all pay and VA benefits.
That is how due process works. Save the parades and accolades, if any are due, until after all the facts are in about Bergdahl, facts and evidence that should be obtained by trained investigators and thoroughly analyzed by competent military lawyers. Let the Constitution and its safeguards work their magic. I am confident that the truth will come out.
The other issue surrounds the five hard core Taliban. Considering that the likes of Lindsay Graham and a few other outspoken representatives and senators are in difficult reelection contests, I have qualms about taking their rhetoric seriously. It is fair to ask why the five Taliban, if we know they are so dangerous, haven’t been tried either by a military or civilian court. With the winding down of the Afghanistan war, under international law that we recognize concerning POWs, all our Guantanamo prisoners will probably have to be turned back over. These five have been locked up for a good number of years, and it’s likely that their replacements who are today’s leaders would not be willing to hand back over the keys of power to them. It’s more likely that if these five tried, there would be a very ugly power struggle.
And here’s where I go out on a limb. What if just one of the five Taliban has been coopted by our intelligence services? Years of playing on the mind could have a powerful effect. This would hardly be the first war where something like that has happened. If one of these five has become an intelligence asset for us, it’s hard to deny the high value that he would have. At a minimum, when these five find their way back home, even if they remain hard core Jihadists, the intelligence on the other side will likely be concerned about this same issue. No telling what seeds of dissension they might sow in their former ranks. Again, I’m not inventing the wheel here. And it’s just as worthy to consider these possibilities as all the others that are being thrown out there with an equal amount of evidence.
This year in Georgia, Election Day and Memorial Day occurred within a one week period. The conjunction served as a reminder of how the two events are related. Interestingly enough, not one person wished me a Happy Election Day, and I did not see a single posting on Facebook with the same good cheer. Yet there were countless numbers of people who wished one another a Happy Memorial Day with similar numbers doing the same on Facebook.
Election Day is a holiday in some states. It was a day off from school in New York when I grew up because the vast majority of voting precincts were in public schools. We were taught each year the importance of that day, and we were reminded of those left behind in other places in other times who did their part to ensure that there would always be a day to vote. While Election Day was never known as an occasion to cook out, spend time at the beach or on the lake, it was nonetheless a day to quietly celebrate and honor a sacred right.
I sense that both Election Day and Memorial Day have evolved into something different. Each has lost some of their meaning. Just under twenty percent of Georgia voters turned out to cast ballots on May 20th. In Iraq and India the percentages were upwards of eighty percent or more in their recent elections. We have come to take the sacrifices for granted of those who answered the final roll call and rest eternally in cemeteries far and near. The Georgia Primary election provided for choices of representatives at almost all levels of government with many very significant issues affecting us. By way of example, teachers have been the object of budget cuts and furloughs for several years. You wouldn’t know that they were angry about it except for the LTEs and blogs, because as a voting bloc to send a message their voice was silent. Many accuse this, that or another group of voting as a bloc to win an election. Teachers could have done the same thing and sent a message to the governor on May 20th, but too many of them stayed home. I suspect that they have lost a lot of clout when the subject of budget cuts come up again next January. It’s easier to complain than to vote.
Those well-meaning people who wish others a Happy Memorial Day probably haven’t given it much thought. To me it is not a day of celebration even if we gather with families and friends to light up the barbeque and lift a glass or two. I am all for families and friends mixing it up on what should be a solemn day of reflection. I am just saddened that so many don’t really know the meaning of Memorial Day. I can’t imagine a greeting to have a Happy Holocaust Remembrance Day, a Happy 911 Day, or other such day calling for solemnity.
One rejoinder I heard was that wishing someone a Happy Memorial Day really was to say that they wished the person to experience happiness for the blessings of liberty provided by the war dead. That is certainly one person’s honest opinion, but when we wish people a Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy New Year, Happy Fourth of July, etc., there is a common understanding of what that means. The same can’t be said about Memorial Day.
Times change. Without a draft fewer people have a genuine appreciation for sailing in harm’s way. It’s easier to sport “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers and to talk about one’s patriotism. Elections have become an inconvenience, and Memorial Day is just another holiday. It wasn’t always that way.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has traditionally been underfunded and the target of politicians. During and after the Vietnam War, veterans were shamefully treated, and some of the facilities that were called hospitals more closely resembled what one would find in third world countries. In 1970 I had to be treated at a VA clinic in Manhattan and recall how surprised I was at the dreariness, dirty floors, unpainted and scarred walls, etc. I will refrain from describing what the treating doctor told me about how bad it really was because it could ruin your appetite.
Things have gotten better over the years, but there is room for a lot more improvement. Just maybe there isn’t enough money being appropriated by the congress to adequately treat veterans, so it’s fair to ask why the VA seems to always fall short of getting what it needs to provide the necessary care veterans rightfully expect and deserve. What our gung ho chicken hawk representatives and other tough talking conservatives fail to address when they seem anxious to engage in one conflict or another, is the lengthy tail of costs for veterans care arising from each war. There are still some beneficiaries receiving survivors benefits from the Civil War, Spanish American War, and World War I. The uniformed men and women of the 911 era will be seeking benefits into the next century. The cost is in the trillions, but when do you hear a discussion of this by our elected officials.
Even worse is how our representatives give rah rah speeches on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but try pinning them down on appropriations for the VA. Like supporting tax reform, these same politicians mouth support for veterans that doesn’t measure up to their needs. Great rhetoric in both instances, just short on delivery. They also support private funding of various veterans treatment projects that should be the burden of the taxpayers. No veteran should ever be at the mercy of the largess of the private sector for what his country asked him to do.
This leads to the issue of whether the Secretary of the VA, General Eric Shinseki, should be forced out. My own opinion is that barring evidence of his knowing, or having reason to know of egregious misconduct by subordinates in Phoenix, Chicago, and Albuquerque, Shinseki should be allowed to continue on. It is inconceivable at this point that Shinseki would have tolerated for a millisecond the falsifying of patient appointment records. There are a few thousand veteran treatment facilities to include hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and rehab centers. I’ve seen no evidence that this latest scandal is widespread and systemic. I do see a system that continues to be underfunded, a system that proves that you get what you pay for. It is also a system notorious for fraudulent claims, and unfortunately the reaction has been to make the application process so cumbersome that it hurts those with legitimate injuries.
I heard Rush Limbaugh, a Vietnam chicken hawk, making fun of Obama because Obama was described as being “madder than hell” at the latest wrongdoing in the VA. From the safety of his Palm Beach microphone where he pontificates on actual and perceived shortcomings of the president and Democrats, Limbaugh suggests that Obama should have known about the VA scandal, and that Shinseki should be fired. If every official were to be canned for every misdeed committed under him, whether he had no way of knowing about it, there would be no government. When Limbaugh can tell his listeners what he has done for his country, what deferments he took advantage of during Vietnam, what organizations he has led, he might gain a scintilla of credibility.
General Eric Shinseki left part of his foot in Vietnam where he was awarded the Purple Heart among other decorations. He was Army Chief of Staff under Bush who was forced to retire when his projections for troop levels in Iraq following the war were at odds with the chicken hawks in the Pentagon and Dick Chaney, Chief Chicken Hawk. No one from the White House or ranking Pentagon official attended Shinseki’s retirement dinner. Obama called him out of retirement to be the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Since then, among other things, Shinseki has cleaned up the backlog of Agent Orange claims and streamlined the process for those with related disabilities. Obama put the right man in this job. He should be allowed to finish it even if with only the limited resources at his disposal.
This has been a maddening primary season. With all the different races I’m sure many can share at least one frustration in common: the endless robo calls both day and evening, cluttered mailboxes, countless emails, and some interruptions at the front door. But I am glad that we live in a country where all of these means are available for candidates to get out their messages.
It is the messages, though, from the Republican candidates that are puzzling unless you are cynical enough to realize that party affiliation has become only a label, and the Republican label happens to be the one that gets you elected in Georgia today. (Since the Democratic primary is all but meaningless, I am avoiding mention of it.) The senate race is probably the best example of what I am talking about. With only one moderate who no one has ever heard of, each of the candidates is doing everything possible to highlight their conservative credentials. Phil Gingrey brags about being the most conservative member of congress, but his opponents counter that he voted in support of some things that strayed from someone’s version of being a true conservative. I have yet to see one definition of a “true conservative “with an itemized list that all conservatives could agree to and that even Ronald Reagan could pass.
David Perdue has had mixed success in business. Jack Kingston is exploiting Perdue’s leveraged buyout of a company that made him millions while laying off hundreds of factory workers. Karen Handel and Kingston both attack Perdue as the millionaire who lives in the gated community and trying to buy the election. Paul Broun is targeted for being too far to the right---if that’s possible---and having no legislative accomplishments. Actually, Broun sounds like a version of Ted Cruz who knows how to go after his enemies but is totally ineffective at governing.
Only Broun served this country in uniform. That doesn’t make him qualified by itself to be a congressman or senator, but it does say that he walks the talk on giving back to his country. How could I pass up an opportunity to once again point out that the “most conservative member of congress”, Phil Gingry, not only took advantage of a tax paid education at Georgia Tech and the Medical College of Georgia, but then didn’t think it worth his time to give back and serve in the Medical Corps of one of the military branches during Vietnam. For all of his tough talk on Iraq and defense, Gingrey’s personal decision to avoid serving his country when his medical skills were needed should be enough for voters to reject him.
The strangest irony of all will come after May 20th. The losing Republicans will line up behind the eventual winner of the June runoff. Then all of a sudden the internecine arguments about class warfare, being too rich, not strong enough on defense, supporting taxes, etc. will be turned on the Democrats. One of my favorites is the Republican mantra of cutting spending and no more stimulus packages to help create jobs. Yet the Republicans have their own stimulus for jobs called by another name: unneeded defense spending to keep obsolete bases open, and to build weapons systems that the Pentagon says we don’t need. If you follow the money into the campaign coffers, you can figure out what’s going on, and the national interest isn’t exactly the first priority.
Today’s Democrats don’t resemble those of the 60s or 70s any more than today’s Republicans resemble those of the same period. Sure, there are ideological differences, as there should be in a two party system, but the primaries of the past few years have really highlighted some craziness. For the Republicans to attack each other like their opponent(s) is a Democrat, then later rally around that winning opponent against the opposition Democrat using the same arguments from the primary, should reveal a lot about whether the Republicans really have a sincere ideology.
One platform no Republican has run on is campaign finance reform, to include a constitutional amendment if necessary to end the money wars for influence. Only with a level playing field in politics will the middle class have a meaningful voice. Until then apathy will reign, and only about ten percent of the voters will turn out for this important primary (even fewer in the runoffs). If my personal survey of the electorate is any indication, the vast majority could not name more than one or two candidates for the senate race, who Governor Deal’s primary opponents are, and have no knowledge at all of who’s running in the many local races. Something is very wrong with our current system.
The Supreme Court just decided that Christian prayers are constitutionally permissible at local government gatherings and meetings. The case began when a Jew and an atheist in Greece, NY objected. There is an old axiom that hard cases make bad law, and in my opinion, this conflict did not prove the exception.
Contrary to what many are taught and falsely believe, the United States is not a Christian nation. It is a nation that is composed of a majority that profess to be Christian, but that is not the same thing. In fact, the Constitution is a secular document, makes no mention of Jesus or God, and provides that in taking an oath to tell the truth, one can affirm instead of swear.
For the religious I have never been able to understand why Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 aren’t taken seriously. In the relevant passage, He commands his followers to pray in private, to not be like the hypocrites who like to be seen by others in public. Jesus continues that the Father already knows what the invocators seek. In light of these words, I have to wonder why true believers have no problem ignoring them, and then do exactly what Jesus explicitly admonishes against.
No one can ever stop prayer. What is wrong with government entities calling for a moment of silence where all in attendance can choose to pray to their individual deities or contemplate something else? All too many Christians fail to understand what it is like to be marginalized by those in power. Our country, and all countries to greater and lesser degrees, have suffered various forms of religious discrimination. George H.W. Bush was quoted as saying that he didn’t think atheists could be considered citizens or patriots. I’m sure he’s not alone in that belief, so imagine someone coming before a local government body where all or most are Christians, and the supplicant asks for something like a zoning variance. S/he might wonder if it is possible to get a fair hearing, especially if the result later goes against him.
Why should anyone who pays taxes be forced to hear prayers at government functions that make them uncomfortable? One justice suggested that the person can walk out of the room. I’m sure that that won’t have any effect on the decision makers when he returns. The Bill of Rights was written to protect minorities, not majorities, contrary to a lot of misinformation about that. Many of the same people who believe that majorities should always prevail in America, to include constitutional rights, somehow fail to follow the same line of thinking when the Second Amendment is involved. Even if only a minority of Americans support gun rights, unless and until the Second Amendment is nullified by the people, it is still a right.
For those who are less than sympathetic to my arguments, who believe that majorities should hold sway, that there is no harm to listening to Christian prayers, I can only respond by warning of the curse of the Greek gods. Your wish may have come true because of a 5-4 decision. But if you wake up one morning in a Muslim (by example only) community that holds the majority in government and population, and their prayers are recited at every government gathering, it would be interesting to observe just how understanding and patient the minority would be. Perhaps then people would understand the importance of neutrality in religious affairs that governments at all levels should abide by, and that our Founding Fathers understood this despite all the lame arguments to the contrary.
An outsider to the inner-workings of Georgia politics might think that Georgia is vying to gain the reputation as the toughest, no nonsense, God fearing state in the country. They might be right. Certainly the new gun law demonstrates that it would be wise to curb your thoughts to strangers, watch how you drive, and otherwise be more cautious in your daily interaction with people. Someone packing might have had a bad day…. Time will determine the wisdom of this law, so no point in engaging in academic arguments for or against it.
Another law that Governor Nathan Deal just signed requires certain individuals applying for food stamps or welfare to be tested for drugs. There is also a move afoot at the capitol to include those who apply for unemployment. Unlike some other states that have testing programs, if the applicant in Georgia passes the drug test, s/he still has to pay for the cost of it. It’s not like these people’s backs aren’t up against the wall already, and requiring those who have a clean test to pay for it doesn’t seem right.
Some may argue, and fairly, that taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidize someone’s illegal drug habit. But Deal didn’t address that point. What the governor said was, …”drug use is the thing that causes people to lose their jobs many times, it causes people not to be able to get a job because they can’t pass the initial screening. Unless we confront that and require them to confront that, we will continue to cycle people through the system---whether it be food stamps, whether it be unemployment benefits. You name it.”
What Deal did not address was the number of people who receive public benefits that are addicted to alcohol. That too prevents people from getting hired or to get fired, and it causes many of the same problems on the job that drug addicts cause. Why single out just drugs? Is the weekend marihuana user any more a siphon to the public treasury than a chronic alcoholic? Perhaps including alcohol in the testing requirement might hit too close to home for too many people who “serve” our interests at the state capitol. Considering that other states that do drug testing for public benefits have found only a very small number of violators, it would seem that if saving money is the issue there are better places to look. And that leads to my next point.
Some believe that our “liberal” centers of higher education are teaching their students that capitalism is bad, that it is evil. Certainly there are things that are bad about it, and that’s why a couple of hundred years of experience has demonstrated the need for some regulation to make the markets safer, more efficient and competitive. But what does it say about the so called defenders of free markets when they seek government handouts for themselves? We have two new stadiums being built in the Atlanta area, and both will be heavily subsidized by the taxpayer. If these were such good deals, where are all the investors who stand to make a lot of money? The cost of buying a ticket to a professional football game has become so high that most people can’t afford it, yet they are being forced to subsidize through taxes the very entity that has priced them out.
Then there is Gulfstream that just got a nice tax break that will cost the state and local governments $29 million to $40 million a year. The politicians that vote for these gimmees defend them by saying that companies like Gulfstream create jobs. Well, we all do when we spend money. If you can afford a private jet, then you should be able to pay your share of taxes that go with your good fortune.
This is another Three Card Monte game that our elected officials are playing with our money. Trash the people who are down and out, and catch a handful of fraudsters that you can publicly shame. When there is a shortage of money, though, for schools and other municipal services---police and fire for example--- perhaps we would be wiser to look elsewhere and focus our attention on the real thieves. But as long as campaign coffers are filled by the recipients of a different kind of welfare, those controlling the Three Card Monte game will always win.
The middle class in America is on a steady decline, which is not a good thing for social stability. Manhattan has been a microcosm of this for a long time, and has become a place for the very wealthy and the poor. Middle class people can’t afford a decent lifestyle there because it is out of reach, so they have moved further and further out along with their long commutes. This is not good.
The New York Times recently did an analysis of the U.S., Canada and Europe that shows us falling in rankings as the country with the most people per capita in the middle class. Canada has passed the United States in the number of people with more after tax income. Most of the European countries are also trending in the direction of Canada. While the United States is still the richest country in the world, the distribution of that wealth is what should concern us.
This is not an argument for redistribution of wealth; we already have that through the tax system that takes from each of us and applies various sums to causes and programs that we can all find disagreement. But something is very wrong when the backbone of this great nation is weakening because wages are not keeping up with costs, and more money is going to the top 1% than at any time in perhaps a hundred years. While companies are making big profits and sitting on upwards of $3 trillion, most of the profits are going to the C level executives and shareholders, not the workers who put in the sweat equity.
There was a time when things were different. Henry Ford paid his people on the assembly line enough money that they could realistically expect to own a Ford product. Today you have companies that will do anything to cut employee costs, because employees are expendable in tough times. Many of those employees have to sign up for food stamps and other government benefits. In other words, the taxpayers are subsidizing the private sector and corporate profits. This should be troubling to more people than it seems to be. George Romney, president of American Motors, chose to cap his salary at lower multiples of what he was offered because he thought that the workers should be paid a decent wage. What has changed?
Another analysis that I recently read reported that no couple that survived on the income of a minimum wage worker could afford to rent a place to live in any county in the U.S. Considering that the couple would be living on $15,000/52 week year before taxes, and that even those too poor to pay income taxes still pay FICA, sales tax, commuting costs, groceries, clothing, and out of pocket medical and dental costs if there is any money left, this analysis makes sense. Remarkably the annual COLA given to Social Security recipients, those with veterans benefits, civil service retirements, and pay increases provided for those in the private sector (lucky enough to get one) don’t cause inflationary concerns with most. Yet a small bump in the minimum wage scares the daylights out of the same people.
Today’s workers are expected to produce more for less remuneration. It’s the modern day version of the outlawed assembly line speedup. If union bashers think that unions are the cause of all the problems, the numbers don’t support it. Union membership is a fraction of what it was even thirty years ago. Foreign auto plants in the U.S. don’t pay anywhere near what their American counterparts pay. The uprising in Egypt a few years ago was the result of rampant corruption and an unemployment rate of forty percent among college graduates. There was no hope of things getting better. We aren’t there, but we should be paying attention and working to fix the things that can be fixed in order to return to a much more equitable society that the U.S. experienced in the 1950s and 1960s.
If anyone doubts the seriousness of the growing disparity of wealth and income in America, they are making a big mistake. Fewer people with disposable income means our consumer based economy is going to slow down even more than it has. In my former travels to Eastern Europe, I discovered that many of these countries had declining birth rates. I frequently asked why, and the response was always the same, that people didn’t have enough money to raise children. They also said that there was little hope of upward mobility in their jobs or a chance to enjoy what we once took for granted here---the ready availability of a good middle class life.
Our country can do better. Reforming the tax code would be a start. Anything to stimulate the economy, especially hiring private businesses to rebuild so much of our decaying infrastructure would also go a long way. There are a lot of good ideas out there, but unfortunately all we hear are partisan attacks by both sides and no meaningful dialogue. We should keep that in mind on May 20th and November 4th.
I’m not sure of the whole story behind all the different versions of what has been reported concerning Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose cattle were seized by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for a million dollars in unpaid grazing fees. Bundy admits that he owes $300,000, but disputes the remainder. Who knows what the truth is since this case had been demagogued by everyone with their own agenda.
Some have argued that the Obama administration, the most evil presidency, or tyranny if you prefer, since Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, et al, has victimized an innocent cattle farmer just trying to live the American dream and way of life that he and his family have enjoyed for over a hundred years. Somewhere along the way, though, the federal government decided to charge a grazing fee on government land, land that belongs to all the people of the United States. One unverified account I read says that it was Ronald Reagan who issued an executive order imposing the fee. Either way, it is still the law.
I don’t like the heavy hand of the government any more than those who advocate for less government, fewer laws, and fewer regulations. Having been subject to the abusive power of the IRS, I know what it’s like to have your back against the wall. (I ultimately prevailed.) I also believe that the Constitution is a worthless piece of paper with no meaning if everyone can decide for themselves that they are a “Constitutionalist”, that he’s right, you’re wrong, that he knows what the Founding Fathers intended, you don’t. Amazing how so many who subscribe to this belief don’t know just how divisive the constitutional convention was, and just how close it came to not being ratified. There was no unanimity when the delegates left Philadelphia more than 200 years ago.
We as a nation either accept the rule of law or we end up like other countries with dictatorship, or corruption so endemic that you might as well not have a government and instead rely on neighborhood vigilante groups to decide disputes and mete out “justice.” Our current system is anything but perfect, but however imperfectly, it works pretty well. That includes accepting the dictates of the Supreme Court, many of which I think are wrong for a lot of reasons. If the Constitution was so simple and so clear, we would only need one justice on the court, not nine. If we don’t like the laws our representatives make, then we can change horses and elect those who better reflect what we want for ourselves, our regions, our states and our country. Until then, if we are to remain a peaceful nation that lives under the law, we have to accept the laws that are handed down.
Whatever Cliven Bundy’s differences are with the U.S. government, as an American he owes an allegiance to the Constitution to play by the same rules that we all tacitly agree to as part of our social contract that gives the Constitution any meaning. There are courts available to him. Since he has a lot of supporters, I’m sure some are wealthy benefactors that have access to legislators and other powerful people in Washington to try and work through this problem or help with his legal fees. Fomenting potential violence by supporting militia groups armed to the teeth is, in my opinion, about as un-American as it gets. Again, I don’t know all the facts in this case, and neither do most people who have opinions about it, so I don’t know why the BLM chose to seize Bundy’s cattle instead of pursuing other options to collect their money. But to all the critics who attack Obama for not enforcing all the laws equally, I would ask what makes Bundy’s case any different? Perhaps it illustrates that in fact the government does selectively prosecute cases, some like this one because of the deterrence impact it will have on other ranchers who might look to skirt paying fees.
This is not an easy case for sure, and I don’t know who is on the right side of the underlying issues. But I do think that if we don’t all agree to abide by the social contract of obeying laws, like them or not, we are headed for a lot more trouble. And any politician that supports armed confrontation against the government isn’t worthy of holding any public office.
On August 22, 1979, Philadelphia Congressman Ozzie Myers took an envelope with $50,000 from an undercover FBI agent. He was filmed stuffing the envelope into the inside of his suit coat pocket, and while doing so he was heard to say, “Money talks and bull----walks.” It’s highly unlikely that Myers was the originator of that expression, but he certainly popularized it.
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a 5-4 opinion that any American has a First Amendment free speech right to give as much cash to as many candidates (within the limitations of each individual candidate) as he chooses, perhaps Myers’ words take on an expanded meaning. Somehow this conservative decision smacks of the very judicial activism that Republicans love to lay on liberal judges. The congress passed a law after much debate and deliberation that set limits on how much any one individual can contribute in an election cycle. They did this because of the obvious corrupting influence of money, and that a handful of very wealthy individuals could potentially swing the outcome of an election and which party would be in the majority. Yet the five conservative justices overrode that of the will of the people.
The justices equate spending money with free speech, but if you read the First Amendment there isn’t a single mention of money. Since strict constructionists like to argue that we need to “go back to the Constitution”, how had this “unconstitutional” law undermined anyone’s right to speak? Laws should not be overturned unless they clearly violate the Constitution. Otherwise the high court becomes an unelected super-legislature. The Constitution has to be interpreted because most of it doesn’t, and can’t possibly, define every situation. For example, there is nothing in the First Amendment that says a person can’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. But we all agree that the courts have it right that this is not protected speech. The question then is what is protected?
The Court ruled that the current limits of how much an individual can contribute to each candidate remains in force. But why? If money is the same as speech, why should there be any caps under any circumstance? What is the reasoning behind upholding this part of the law but overturning the other? Draw your own conclusion as I have drawn mine, but it should be pretty clear.
Chief Justice Roberts suggested that the ruling does not create a corruption issue. In the very strict sense of the law I would have to agree with him. In other words, trying to prove that someone’s contribution was a quid pro quo, an element of proof in a bribery case, is very difficult. But if you’ve ever tried to get a call returned from your elected representative in Washington, or a letter that is directly responsive to yours, it won’t happen unless you are a major player. Just a week ago a stream of potential Republican presidential candidates met with multi-billionaire Sheldon Adelson one on one in Las Vegas so that Adelson could determine who would be the recipient of his campaign largess. Is there a doubt that Adelson can get a call returned from any Republican representative anywhere in the USA? Anyone doubt that if Adelson has some concerns to discuss about tax laws, for example, that he will be heard and likely get some support for his special issue?
The very wealthy will sneer at those who exercise their freedom of assembly, a First Amendment protection, when they “occupy Wall Street.” These protestors, with no power, no voice, but with legitimate issues about the unfairness of so many things in government, can only be heard if they rally in unison. But then the right wing media trashes them for being communists, nare-do-wells, lazy, people just looking for handouts and government welfare---and many more pejoratives. Those seeking corporate welfare can pay to do it in private.
Ozzie Myers, a convicted crook, proved to be a sage with his immortal words. He just didn’t know at the time of his gift of prophecy.
Last week the Republican candidates to replace Saxby Chambliss in the senate met for a debate in Savannah. It is interesting to observe how the experts that identify less than doctrinaire Republicans (RINOs) would have classified the various candidates. I was left wondering who in the bunch was the real Republican. Republicans love to accuse Obama of class warfare, yet here was Jack Kingston saying that “no gate separates your house from my house.” This was in reference to the big money candidate David Perdue who made his money in the private sector as a successful businessman. Sounds like Kingston is trying to create a divide between those who choose to spend their wealth however they decide in a free society, which makes me ask whether underneath Kingston’s professed conservatism he is really a RINO.
Then Kingston, who is polling number two behind Perdue, acknowledged having voted in the House to cap federal flood insurance premiums. Kingston defended the tax subsidy, which affects a disproportionate number of one percenters who own mansions and palaces on beaches, rivers and lakefronts. One would think if you profess to believe in free markets, then these folks should buy their insurance from the private sector---except that Kingston pointed out that the private sector won’t handle coastal property. Jeez, then maybe if the marketplace worked like Republicans claim it should, these “poor” homeowners shouldn’t live where they can’t get insurance. Could it be that insurance companies have sized up the risk and figured out that they can’t make a profit because the premiums might dissuade people from living on the coast or in flood plains? To the experts who “out” RINOs, Kingston is sounding more like one all the time.
Karen Handel, who abandoned the two elective offices that she has held in order to run for higher office---and lose---denounced the federal flood insurance program, but when pressed wouldn’t say how she would have voted. Now that’s bold leadership, yet she touts her leadership skills and how as a U.S. Senator from Georgia she will lead the charge to balance the budget, rid us of Obamacare, and create good jobs just because she says she can.
Meanwhile, all of the aforementioned candidates pay glancing lip service to tax reform. But not one has publicly supported Republican Representative Dave Camp from Michigan who a few weeks ago proposed a substantial revision to the tax code. In fact, House Speaker John Boehner, when asked by a reporter about the plan, replied “blah, blah, blah.” The low hanging fruit, at least for now, remains the promise to repeal Obamacare, something highly unlikely to happen. Senate candidate and current congressman Phil Gingrey has promised not to run for reelection in six years if he isn’t successful in repealing the law. There are people who are not happy with Obamacare, but there are also many who are, and time will allow some tinkering to work out the bugs. But speaking for me and most of the people I associate with, there is more anger at the tax code, the complexity of it, the unfairness---especially to the middle class---and the bigger bite it takes from working stiffs than those at the top of the economic ladder.
The senate race is another one of those three card monte games. They want you to focus all of your attention on Obama and anything to divert your attention from issues that affect your daily life. How many reading this column get a tax break for trying to put their kid(s) through college? Recently Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an editorial about tax breaks that most don’t know about. They include write-offs for owners of private jets; mortgage deductions for second homes and yachts; lower tax rate for hedge fund operators; loan guarantees for banks; and tax breaks given to corporations that relocate to certain areas. Then there are the property tax exemptions for churches. Make no mistake, whatever argument one wants to make to defend these tax breaks, in the end it is the rest of us who make up the shortfall.
Robo calls by the candidates has already begun. They are annoying to start with, but after you hear what they say, and what they don’t say, it should be pretty clear: not one offers a specific plan to do something to help the middle class or the small business owner. If attacking Obama makes you feel good, then vote for the one who makes the most noise. But once the election is over, one thing will not have changed: the middle class and small business owner will continue to take shaft.