|October 02, 2014||The Agitator #136: This passes for better?||1 comments|
|September 25, 2014||The Agitator #135: Whose definition of voter fraud?||3 comments|
|September 18, 2014||The Agitator #134: We have to choose||no comments|
|September 11, 2014||The Agitator #133: Bravery in suits & behind mikes||1 comments|
|September 04, 2014||The Agitator #132: An unsung heroine||3 comments|
|August 28, 2014||The Agitator #131: Deadly cocktail||no comments|
|August 21, 2014||The Agitator #130: RINO good; DINO bad||1 comments|
|August 14, 2014||The Agitator #129: Lives of quiet desperation||3 comments|
|August 07, 2014||The Agitator #128: Soap that leaves you feeling dirtier||2 comments|
|July 31, 2014||The Agitator #127: Patriots and taxes||1 comments|
Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District representative, Tom Price, spoke last week to the Cobb County Republican Women’s Club, a very receptive audience. Price warned of the consequences of not winning both houses of congress in the November election. What was noteworthy about the MDJ article that reported on Price’s speech, was that Price didn’t lay out his party’s proposals or provide a roadmap for “taking this country back”, a favorite expression of Republicans.
I think it fair to ask why, when the Republicans had majorities just a few years ago in both houses, and a president in the White House, there was no immigration reform, tax reform, or budget deficit reductions---and more . Following up on that question, why should we believe Price now when he says that Republicans will act on all of these issues? The article didn’t mention that Price still supports the elimination of Obamacare. We know, though, that he has submitted a plan to replace the Affordable Healthcare Act, yet for some reason his fellow Republicans have never even given it a hearing. The Republican House has voted more than 40 times to eliminate the ACA knowing full and well that it wouldn’t happen. We also know that Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, a Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, submitted a tax plan that even had Democratic support, but John Boehner said that it was dead on arrival. Yet we are to believe Price that we can expect big change if only we give Republicans another chance to lead.
As for Obamacare, the voters are no longer hearing much about it from the politicians. Ask Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun, et al, how that worked for them in the Republican primary for the senate. Price talks about tax reform being good for the economy. On that we can agree. But it won’t happen. At least not in a way that the middle class will benefit. A very large percentage of Price’s campaign money has traditionally come from the medical community. They want favors just like all special interests, and those special interests are the ones who influence the tax breaks that their representatives write. Expect a lot of lip service from Republicans about how we need tax reform, then remember Dave Camp who had a real plan, and you can see where it will land: the box for bills dead on arrival.
Price blasted Obama for not supporting the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009. According to Price, all we had to do was say, “You go. You go. We’re behind you. We believe in your freedom. We believe in the dream that you have to turn your nation around and overthrow that regime”. Perhaps the good congressman forgot that we did something like that with the Kurds when the first Bush was president. Recall that Saddam gassed and slaughtered them. A little farther back, in 1956, we told the Hungarians that we were behind their revolutionaries who wanted to overthrow the Russians. That led to Soviet tanks and infantry invading the country.
Price then ripped Obama for wanting to support Syrian rebels against the IS. Actually, I think that is a fair debate to have. But Price may have gone off the reservation with this comment in light of John McCain’s and Lindsay Graham’s statements that they would arm and train rebels. He also might have checked to discover that there are any number of other Republicans and Democrats on both sides of this controversy. In other words, Price doesn’t speak for the Republican Party when it comes to how to fight IS, especially his reluctance to put troops on the ground. His only plan is to say that the military should decide how to fight IS because they have the expertise.
Yet Price would hold back a commitment to introduce infantry, artillery, and whatever else the Pentagon might think it needs. And that passes for giving our military free rein, for a strategy? Does anyone really think that Price is the best that the Sixth Congressional District has to offer? According to the MDJ article, one cheerleader in the audience shouted an emphatic yes.
Dinesh D’Souza, prominent political commentator, author, very successful film maker of conservative documentaries (two that have the title “America” in them), and Christian apologist, pled guilty to campaign fraud (a felony) in federal court in May 2014. He admitted to knowingly soliciting money from contributors with the promise of reimbursing them, money for the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in New York. On September 23rd, he received a fairly lenient sentence requiring no prison time.
D’Souza has a fixation on President Obama and has weaved this fixation into his books and movies to provide pop psychological explanations for what motivates Obama. In 2010, D’Souza was appointed president of King’s College, a small Christian school in Manhattan. It lasted only two years and ended when he was caught spending the night with a woman other than his wife. Admittedly, he was separated from his wife, but the other woman was still married.
This guy could be the poster child for hypocrisy. He openly displays and touts his Christian faith, all the while living a double standard. But he has strong defenders that you will find on reactionary radio. One talkmeister that I heard explained away the campaign fraud by saying that he was targeted by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder because of his Obama bashing. Of course, no facts or evidence were adduced by his accusers to support this allegation. Holder also prosecuted a prominent businessman for campaign fraud involving Hillary Clinton, but I didn’t hear Holder get criticized at the time from any of the reactionary bloviators.
In effect, D’Souza tried to defraud the voters by using illegal means to raise money to help swing an election. Closer to home our Georgia Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, is going after voter registration fraud. He has gotten huge headlines doing it, and this is probably his first shot at name recognition for his likely 2018 run for governor. Problem is that the fraud he has identified so far has amounted to a fraction of one percent of the registrants. The real voter fraud, the kind that has been identified and prosecuted in Georgia, lies with the absentee ballot, but tightening it up is never considered by Republicans.
Then there is the latest controversy surrounding DeKalb and a few other counties wanting to open the polls on Sunday. Republicans oppose this, but they haven’t articulated a reason that could pass the red face test. I am assuming that their fears lie with church-goers who might be bussed to the polls in large numbers after services, and we all know the demographics in DeKalb.
How can any red-blooded American not support making it easier for more citizens to vote? Expanding voting to Sundays during the election season should be encouraged. If you connect the dots, though, you will also notice that there are efforts underway here and in other states to curtail early voting by shortening the time period before Election Day, and curtailing hours. This affects working class people who punch a clock, people who have little to no flexibility with their hours. And these are the same people who probably vote more often for Democratic candidates.
From all of this I am left shaking my head. All too many Republicans from what I have read have no problem minimizing D’Souza’s fraud. Most profess to be strict constructionists of the Constitution, yet somehow they see in the First Amendment money equated with speech even if it doesn’t even hint at such. But if you are the political party with the cash resources, then it’s okay. And it is equally okay to obstruct by every means possible, increasing the number of voters without resources. Welcome to Dinesh D’Souza’s “America.”
The war drums continue to beat for a much more serious U.S. presence in Syria and Iraq, at least by any number of conservative politicians and radio reactionaries who make up the echo chamber. I think Obama’s policy of enlisting other Middle Eastern and European countries participation to destroy IS makes sense and will work. It is in our mutual interests to work together, to share the costs, to help stabilize Syria and Iraq. IS unwittingly has done more to unite so many countries and religious factions than anyone could have imagined.
While we ramp up our military might to fight IS, the American people, I trust, will understand and appreciate that it doesn’t come for free. No question that we have the capability to take out a lot of high value targets from the air. That includes the trucking of oil to black market sources willing to buy from IS, oil being one of the main sources of revenue for this outlaw state. Military engagement in this instance is in our national interest, and Obama’s handling of it seems to be measured and considered.
The reality is that we have no choice but to confront and crush IS regardless of how they came to be such a potent force. This comes at a time when the military is scaling down to levels not seen in many decades. Technology has obviated the need for as many troops, but the cost for advanced weaponry in the air, on the sea, under the ocean, and on the ground is staggering. Despite what most economists report concerning the recession, ask any small business how it is doing and they will tell you that it is a struggle. Income in today’s dollars is actually lower for most middle class workers than thirty years ago. Fewer dollars in the hands of consumers means less spending, a drag on the economy. Employment may be up, but so is underemployment.
All of this means less money to pay for government services, which includes the Pentagon. Something’s got to give. It’s easy to go after the low hanging fruit of welfare and food stamp recipients, the people with no meaningful political voice. But one should compare the costs of these programs with the number of high dollar government subsidies to private businesses, to include commercial farmers, banks, flood insurance, housing industry, special tax breaks, and more. If we are going to keep the most powerful military in the world, we will have to figure out where some real cuts need to come from or raise taxes.
Our military strength is tied to our industrial might and always has been. But we can’t just keep shoveling money into new weapons without figuring out what kind of wars they will be used in. We’ve been fighting asymmetrical wars now for 50 years, which is a contradiction in terms of supporting a government while trying to kill the people who seek to destroy it, all within the same geographic boundaries. It’s pretty hard to unconditionally bomb everything on the ground in this type of war and not create new enemies. We still haven’t figured out cost effective and new ways to fight these wars.
Meanwhile, those who continue to sound warnings about our failing infrastructure, are ignored. Highways and roads everywhere are overcrowded because we haven’t seriously undertaken other public transportation options. How about all the potholes? Few probably remember that only a few years ago a bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. Our rail service is antiquated compared to other first world countries. What incentive is there to use it? It would cost a lot of money to begin to fix these and so many other problems. But cranking up our industrial might, like we did successfully in WW II, would create millions of good jobs, stimulate innovation, and solve a lot of problems. We either get serious and begin to fund these projects or a lot of professionals, businesses and workers will lose their skills and add to the unemployment/underemployment rolls.
The American people will have to choose between the lobbyists for the military-industrial complex and fixing the rot of our aging infrastructure, much of it built during the Depression with tax dollars. Both cost a lot of money. But there should be no mistake in understanding that making our infrastructure a priority will also generate a lot of tax revenue from all the new workers, from purchasing high dollar equipment made in the USA, and the ripple effect of this spending. And that additional money will also continue to meet the needs of our armed forces. General Douglas MacArthur said that the history of the failure of war can be summed up in two words: too late. I think those words could apply to deciding our priorities.
There has been a lot of loose talk about how Obama should address the IS situation in Iraq and Syria. If you listen and react to reactionary radio where almost every “expert” never served in uniform, you would either prepare for war on the home front or head for the hills to defend what remains of the USA. Add a few elected representatives to pour gas on the fire of fear, no telling what will happen. My best guess, though, that instead of reasoned solutions, we will continue to get knee-jerk wisdom from these know-it-alls. Recall that certain White House pundits told us that if we didn’t take out Sadam, we could expect New York and other U.S. cities to undergo nuclear attacks.
There are some who blame Obama for withdrawing our troops from Iraq even though neither he nor Bush were able to get the Iraqi government to agree on a Status of Forces Agreement. In reviewing this mess, (without going back to how we ever got into this war) consider that upwards of a trillion dollars later, providing the Iraqi army with the best training and equipment in the world, they couldn’t hold against a much inferior force. Like so many intelligence catastrophes over the decades, this colossal failure should be investigated thoroughly to determine how it happened.
Some of the talkmeister experts, and those in suits and ties who represent us (Senator Lindsay Graham comes to mind), seem to think that we should just bomb IS into oblivion and all will be solved. According to the Pentagon, though, it’s not quite so simple. We aren’t facing an army in uniform from a country with a capital. It’s another asymmetrical war. Sure, taking out tanks and vehicles that you know belong to IS should be relatively easy. But what about all the IS terrorists that mix and mingle with the populace? Do we just take out thousands at a time? A guest on one radio show I listened to said that collateral damage is essentially okay as long as it kills bunch of terrorists.
What I have a hard time understanding is how you win a war if you don’t win over the people. The Civil War and WW II were wars of unconditional surrender against countries that we were at war. The generous terms of surrender that Ulysses S. Grant granted to Robert E. Lee probably saved this country from a Vietnam type insurgency that could have gone on indefinitely. Same for rebuilding Germany and Japan. But in wars where we support the government (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan), how do you strengthen the government, win the hearts and minds of the people---which go together--- if we are indifferent to the very populations we want to convince? John Steinbeck’s 1942 novel, “The Moon is Down”, comes to mind, and his metaphor of the flies conquering the flypaper to describe how the natives will ultimately conquer their oppressors.
IS will have more than its hands full trying to hold the territory it has conquered. Who will resupply them once the American weapons they seized run out of ammo or are destroyed? What countries will trade with this caliphate? Right now it appears that all the Middle Eastern countries recognize how dangerous IS is to their own security and are on board with some kind of action. I have to believe that between our own highly trained commandos, the Air Force, and cooperation on multi-levels with other Middle Eastern and European countries, IS will be defeated.
Keeping perspective and a cool head is important in any war. This one is no different. Consider that the hotheads in our country have yet to call for attacks on North Korea, the one country that has the bomb and has repeatedly not only threatened to use it against us and our ally, South Korea, but has also committed any number of terrorist acts and atrocities. There is wisdom behind our current policy, for now North Korea is contained, and in time they will implode.
In no way do I suggest we minimize the IS threat. Not even a little bit. I am only suggesting that there are different ways to defeat an enemy, and one size doesn’t fit all. Let the real experts in the Pentagon and elsewhere prevail. Correct mistakes as they occur, change course as necessary, keeping in mind that it is easier to escalate than to deescalate.
Lastly, we should also be concerned about the domestic terrorist groups in our own country. More cops by far have been killed, more murders have occurred by home grown, anti-government terrorists. They are a growing threat for a variety of reasons, and they openly live among us. Let’s not lose perspective.
(Note: I wrote this column before Obama’s speech. Some things may have changed since, but my premises remain.)
Little attention was paid to the passing of Lillian Gobitis on August 22nd, at the age of 90, in Fayetteville, GA. Almost no one would know her name or have a clue that this woman had a role in framing First Amendment law that we take for granted. What happened to her a long time ago is very relevant today.
Times were very different in 1940. World War II had begun a year earlier, and the United States was gearing up for its inevitable participation. Minersville, PA was no different than a lot of school districts that passed a requirement for school children to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The small town was made up largely of Roman Catholics, and the Gobitis family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Back then Jehovah’s Witnesses were especially unpopular, not only for their beliefs, but also because of what some might consider heavy-handed proselytizing.
At their parents’ direction, Lillian and her younger brother Billy refused to salute the flag or say the pledge, because their faith considers it a form of idolatry. As a result, they experienced horrible insults, violent clashes, the local Catholic Church boycotted the family store, and ultimately the children were expelled from school. A lawsuit followed, and a federal district court in Philadelphia held that the school district had violated their free exercise of belief. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court decision.
In an 8-1 opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court, the majority overturned the Court of Appeals. (Skipping the esoteric legalism), Justice Felix Frankfurter declared that the school district policy was a legitimate secular policy to promote patriotism and to unify the country. The atrocities that resulted from this case are too numerous and too graphic to list. Beatings, arson, castration, and other acts of brutal violence were committed against Jehovah’s Witnesses around the country with some 1,500 reported victims. In effect, the Supreme Court had legitimized forced acts of patriotism, and this gave the self-proclaimed patriots excuses to rid their communities of people who were “un-American.”
Following the Gobitis decision, the state of West Virginian enacted a law empowering school districts to mandate reciting the pledge and saluting the flag. A very similar fact pattern developed with the Barnette family, also Jehovah’s Witnesses, when they refused to obey the law. The justices on the Supreme Court were well aware of the violence that ensued from Gobitis. On Flag Day, June 14, 1943, in the case of West Virginia vs. Barnette, the high court overturned its decision from three years earlier. Justice Robert H. Jackson summed it up with these words, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”
As for me, I don’t like it when I see people sit during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, or not participating in the Pledge of Allegiance. But as an American, I respect the right of free expression provided it doesn’t violate time, place and manner limitations as defined over the years by the Supreme Court. Protecting their rights protects mine. Lots of speech is offensive, whether verbal or symbolic, but I would much prefer to live with it than to live in a country that suppressed “unpopular” speech or beliefs. Compulsory flag saluting is a first cousin of banning religious faith, which communist and other countries tried, and which we see today in the Middle East, not only with IS, but even in “friendly” countries like Saudi Arabia.
Lillian Gobitis and her brother led the way to affirming freedom of conscience embodied in the First Amendment. And that freedom, the most paramount of all, defines us uniquely as Americans. May each of us pay the debt forward that Lillian and Billy paid in 1940, to promote liberty wherever it is challenged.
The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed several times in recent years that money and politics are okay as long as there is no quid pro quo. They have even opined that campaign contributions that, in effect pay for access, are okay. And I recall a justice stating that there is no evidence that money necessarily corrupts. That last comment was in connection with a Montana case where the state’s legislature passed a law limiting contributions based on their findings that money can have a corrupting influence. An activist conservative Supreme Court overturned the Montana law despite the will of the people of that state.
Where does one start when it comes to corrupt public officials that have made the news just in the last 12 months alone? I have already written in this space about former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, currently on trial on multiple counts of taking money and gifts from a businessman seeking the governor’s support to promote his product. Following that trial has been like watching a movie. A seemingly decent man and his wife couldn’t resist the largess their new friend bestowed on them, largess that amounted to $177,000. In fact, the governor claims that he thought they were friends even though they met for the first time during the governor’s campaign when the businessman offered the use of his private jet with “no strings attached.” Nary a red flag was raised in McDonnell’s mind. Just a nice guy wanting to be helpful. And don’t forget that McDonnell cloaked much of his governing style under the self-professed guise of being a good Christian.
I don’t think that McDonnell is an evil man. He better fits the pattern of someone living beyond his means, someone with a certain sense of entitlement to a lifestyle that he couldn’t afford. He has admitted to receiving the money and gifts, but has been trying to assure the triers of his fate that he didn’t give the businessman anything for it. In following this case very closely, I am very dubious that the jury is going to be persuaded by that argument. At least I hope not.
Closer to home, former DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer has waived being indicted on corruption charges and will plead guilty to an information. U.S. Attorney Sally Yates has stated emphatically that there will be no deal that doesn’t include a prison sentence. I never doubted for a New York minute that Yates would submit to lawyer blandishments of why incarceration was not appropriate. She has never wavered in her 25 years as a federal prosecutor from seeking harsh penalties for those who put their public positions up for sale.
Boyer was as bad as they come. She egregiously misused the government credit card provided to her, and she created a scheme in which a self-professed “man of the cloth” became a consultant for her, but in fact provided no services, and then kicked back close to a hundred thousand dollars to her. Sadly, Boyer and her husband had come upon hard times, but to assuage the pressures she was under, she used taxpayer money to pay for expensive hotels, ski trips, her cell phone, and so much more. Cold cash compresses at the public’s expense made her a better commissioner---at least in her own mind. To compound her venality, she touted herself as the taxpayer’s advocate in cutting spending. She has brought new meaning to the word hypocrisy.
Corruption cases are very difficult to make and to prove. There are rarely smoking guns. Deals are cut in secret, and almost always both parties to any agreement are happy with the arrangements since each is getting some kind of benefit. Investigations, like the two I cited above, often begin because things are out of the ordinary, and facts and circumstances create a reasonable suspicion that something doesn’t seem quite right. There is no proof of wrongdoing at that point, but in connecting the few factual dots that are available, there could be enough information to warrant an investigation to probe deeper, to flesh out additional details---or not---to determine if any laws were broken.
The Braves stadium deal, in my opinion, deserves to be analyzed more closely. It would take an investigative body with subpoena power to do it any justice. There are any number of records that should be reviewed to examine and compare key dates, phone records, emails and texts, calendars, memoranda, letters, and more. There is no attorney/client privilege between Commission Chairman Tim Lee and Dan McRae, who Lee has acknowledged was merely an advisor or consultant and not his or the county’s attorney. Each could testify and provide a narrative of events.
I support the Braves coming to Cobb County. Like many other Cobb taxpayers, though, I have questions about how the deal was done. Why not put these concerns to rest for once and for all? Perhaps a good place to start would be the State Ethics Board, a civil body. If their findings lead to something more, they have the power to refer them to another appropriate body. If I was Tim Lee, I would welcome such investigation to remove all the controversy for once and for all. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and it would restore confidence in our local government.
Ever since the Republican Party evolved to where today it is far more conservative than it even was during the Reagan years, it has become popular to refer to a Republicans who strays from the new orthodoxy as a RINO (Republican in Name Only). The hard part for me is trying to figure out who is the appointed chieftain(s) that gets to decide whether one is the real deal Republican or not, and how was this head knocker coroneted.
It was like watching a movie listening to the candidates for the U.S. Senate in the Republican Primary tear each other up, the common theme being that one or the other was too liberal on one issue or another. You would have thought that the object of their invective was Democrat Michelle Nunn. Now that David Perdue is the candidate, all of a sudden the others have rallied behind him to oppose Nunn, declaring that she is all the things that fellow Republicans once said about Perdue---and each other. I ask again, how can a voter know what he is getting with a Republican candidate these days?
I think it is fair for any Republican to question the bona fides of someone else who claims to be a Republican but in fact supports mostly Democratic positions. So why is it that Zell Miller, a lifelong Democrat, is a hero among Republicans? This is a man who became governor and senator because of the connections he made in the Democratic Party (recall that it was Governor Roy Barnes who appointed him to the vacant senate seat), who brought him up in the party, who promoted him, and did everything to help advance his career. Then, as a Democrat, in 2004, Miller gave the keynote address at the Republican National Convention that nominated George Bush for his second term.
Miller has used the trite expression that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the party left him. The big difference between him and Ronald Reagan, though, is that Reagan at least changed parties. Miller has not only not changed parties, he maintains that he is still a Democrat and always will be.
A week ago Miller decided to prove his Democratic loyalties by endorsing Michelle Nunn. At the same time he endorsed Republican Nathan Deal for a second term as governor. Miller did one good thing for Georgia that I can think of, and that is the one thing he will always and forever be remembered for, the one thing that will always be said whenever his name is spoken, and that is to create the HOPE Scholarship. I applaud him for that. As for Nunn, I would try to distance myself from this duplicitous politician as gracefully as possible.
I find it puzzling that Republicans hold Miller in such high esteem. He is a traitor within his own party. What about that makes him a hero? What about that makes him a man of high moral character? The best analogy that I can come up with is to imagine that Miller’s wife worked to put him through school, waited patiently at home while he was serving in the Marine Corps, and gave up her career to raise their children. Then Miller acquires a mistress, but he doesn’t have the decency to at least be discreet. No, he flaunts his mistress in his wife’s face on national TV and public gatherings, all the while poking a finger in his wife’s eye for the whole world to observe. That is how I perceive Miller, a man who was an adroit politician, a man who abandoned his family (Democratic Party), a man who has played Republicans, a man who has no credibility remaining, a man who personifies the word treachery, a man who deserves to be remembered for the HOPE, and a man who should know that it’s time to fade away.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote about the mass of men who lead lives of quiet desperation. The sad death of actor Robin Williams on Monday reminded me of that quotation, how so few words capture so well what goes on unnoticed by all of us concerning our family, friends, co-workers, and other associates. Little do we know of their daily struggles, whether it be financial difficulty, business failure, health issues, addiction and substance abuse, and so much more.
Based on my own inquiries, most people don’t know that three times more people commit suicide than murder. That is a staggering number. This is something that became personal to me when my father abruptly ended his life in 1966; in his own mind he could not outrun the demons that chased him from the Third Reich. Suicide of a close relative or friend never leaves you. Many believe that it is an extreme act of selfishness, that the person cared more about himself than his family, friends, and others affected by his death. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
I have known personally way too many people who have committed suicide. And I’ve learned a lot about the subject over a lifetime. One thing I am absolutely convinced of is this: The person choosing to end it all, most of the time, is in extreme, incomprehensible pain---mental or physical. They have a laser beam focus on escape, and that focus is so narrow that they don’t see anything whatsoever on either side of the beam. The target at the end of that beam is relief.
I am reminded of the 1964 Bobby Goldsboro song, “See That Funny Little Clown.” Everyone thinks he’s happy because on the outside he’s laughing, not knowing that on the inside he’s dying. I’m sure many people who knew Robin Williams would not have known that he was in mental extremis, that whatever tormented him was about to do him in. How many people do we know who could be a Robin Williams?
One observation frequently made by those left behind is that the person seemed calm, like nothing was wrong, that up to the end everything was normal. Little do they know that many of these victims have already made their decision, that it’s a done deal. The only things remaining might be the date, place, and method. It is the finality of that decision that provides the person a sense of peace.
The single greatest presumption we make in this world is that life is worth living. No one has crossed the great divide and come back to say that that presumption is wrong---or not. We take it on faith that we are fortunate to have been born and lived. What each of us can do is to try and make everyone’s life just a little more meaningful. A smile to a stranger having a tough day can work wonders. Generosity where it can really help could save someone’s day. A kind word at the right time can be uplifting. As Maya Angelou said so eloquently, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Perhaps being our neighbor’s keeper, committing random acts of kindness in small ways, could save lives that we will never know about, lives that can’t be statistically measured.
There is a soap opera playing out right now and estimated to last for another month. It is the bribery trial of former Republican Governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell, and his wife, Maureen. The two are right out of central casting. He wears his Christian faith on the outside by profession, although not apparently by deed. The governor was a litmus test conservative who once made it to the top tier of potential vice-presidential candidates. How hard the mighty fall.
Jonnie Williams, the star witness, met the governor during the 2009 campaign. Williams offered McDonnell use of his private jet, which was the beginning of their relationship. Williams is fabulously wealthy, and was trying to promote a non-prescription dietary supplement that had the potential to make him and his company enormous profits. Having the governor speak well of the product and suggest to key figures at the University of Virginia medical school, and other state agencies dealing with health issues, that they should look favorably on the supplement, was a part of Williams’ strategy. For this, Williams gave the governor and his wife things like a Rolex watch, use of his Ferrari, expensive golf outings, a shopping spree for Maureen at upscale Manhattan stores, paying a chunk for their daughter’s wedding---and much, much more. In other words, the governor is charged with accepting multiples of six figures worth of largess in return for official acts on behalf of Williams.
McDonnell has a strong pedigree that includes having served as an army officer, lawyer, state attorney general, and then governor. Amazingly, he didn’t seem to have any common sense to ask himself key questions about his “friend” Jonnie Williams: Why does he want to be my friend? What does he want from me? Does he expect me to use my influence in ways that would be wrong?
I knew some New York mobsters that had a strict policy of not dealing with anyone that they didn’t know since kindergarten. Sad to say, but McDonnell missed learning some real basic street knowledge that could have served him and the people of Virginia very well. Perhaps McDonnell and his wife were just two low life greedy persons, pretenders who wore high dollar suits and mink coats. The two were way overextended on their credit cards and leveraged to the hilt. Yet this governor had no problem talking about fiscal responsibility and propagating it as one of the key issues of the Republican Party.
The people of Virginia are fortunate to have a U.S. Attorney’s Office aggressive enough to pursue this case. Supreme Court rulings have made proving bribery and related cases much more difficult. This case isn’t over yet, and I am not going to predict the outcome. Juries can do anything. For sure, whether McDonnell and the First Lady are convicted, it has been an eye-opener to the sleaze that emanated from the Governor’s Mansion. Interesting too is that McDonnell was offered a face-saving plea deal that did not include a charge related to corruption. The government also agreed not to prosecute his wife. Instead, he rejected the offer, and his trial strategy is to suggest that his marriage was in trouble, that his wife conspired with Williams to do all the dastardly things without his knowledge. McDonnell is the new poster child for a standup guy while Maureen gets tossed over the cliff.
We are seeing a different variety of moral and ethical lapses at the same level in our own state. The previous governor took advantage of retroactive tax breaks that he promoted and that involved personal land deals. He also owned land next to a huge undeveloped forest and made governmental decisions concerning it that inured to his financial benefit. And more. None of it stopped Sonny Perdue from being reelected, and Nathan Deal is still the odds on favorite despite all the revelations of serious ethical lapses and what the polls currently show.
Corruption destroys faith in government. It tears away at our social contract of having a legal system that works for everyone equally. When that happens people resort to extra-judicial means to get justice, to level the playing field, and that leads to anarchy and violence. I hope that Governor McDonnell and his wife have the benefit of setting an example of what happens when you cross lines that are so obvious, that from prison they will write blogs to educate those whose moral and ethical compasses need degaussing.
I don’t like paying taxes any more than most people, but in times like today with all the turmoil in the Middle East and the Ukraine, by way of example, not limitation, I am happy to know that a good chunk of my money keeps America the stable country that it is. It’s not only defense, but our criminal and civil justice system, police and fire protection, highways and infrastructure, public schools, and so much more, that we take for granted and don’t consciously think about and what it all costs. I’ve worked with governments in countries where the police are corrupt, where a businessman has no hope of getting a contract enforced, where a truck has a hopeless time trying to navigate roads not worthy of being called a road, and where the armed forces are a façade. Iraq, Afghanistan, the Ukraine, and so much of the rest of the world typify these problems.
As I’ve written many times in this space, I consider the current tax code morally bankrupt. Others can disagree, but I think to tax the labor of a person at a higher rate than one who makes a living on investments is wrong. I don’t have any original ideas on how to change the code, but I do know that there are people a lot smarter and more experienced about money than I who continue to come up with great tax revision ideas. But don’t look for any of them to be acted on by our Congress.
The latest gimmick that works for the powerful, not the W-2 guy, is a tax scheme called Inversion. It allows for a company to legally claim that it is owned by a foreign subsidiary, thereby shifting profits to a country with a lower tax rate. According to the economist Paul Krugman, the company doesn’t actually move anything overseas. So Walgreen won’t be moving its drugstores and employees to Zurich; only a paper transaction will occur. Adding up the cost of companies taking advantage of this tax dodge will cost the U.S. Treasury many billions of dollars. Krugman states that corporate taxes provide ten percent of the tax revenue to our treasury. If the 2014 budget in rounded numbers is $3.5 trillion, corporations pay $350 billion, about half the cost of defense.
For years it’s been argued that our corporate tax is the highest in the world. But this tax also provides for a myriad of deductions. GE is only one of any number of corporations that have paid no taxes in given years. Yet GE has made a ton of money from the tax payers for selling all sorts of products to the government. Also, again according to Krugman, the higher corporate tax rate offsets the favored treatment given investment income. When all the calculating is done and the revenue from various corporate tax dodges is added up, someone has to make up the shortfall. Invariably, the ones picking up the slack are the powerless, those with no “cash voices” to persuade their representatives that we need change.
I wonder if supporters of tax inversion would feel the same way if it could theoretically be done on a local level. Imagine if companies like Home Depot headquartered in Cobb County could do the same thing by taking advantage of having their property taxes shifted to a county or state where the rates are much lower. The impact on our schools, public safety, roads, courts, etc., would be catastrophic. You could be sure, though, that HD would expect the same quality police, fire and other services. Reducing this issue to where it hits home more directly I think puts it in perspective.
Lastly, I find it troubling that those with the most to gain, and lose, because of the things I’ve mentioned, find it okay to rely on our military to protect their interests, domestic and foreign, if they were to come under attack. They also rely on our federal courts to freeze the assets of countries that have not played nice, that have nationalized American businesses. Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Russia are just a few that come to mind. For these protections, for operating in a country that has an educated workforce, for our various infrastructure, it costs money, and in my opinion, in this instance, patriots are honorable people and entities that know not only the price of everything, but also the value---and are willing to pay for it.