|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|
|July 24, 2014||The Agitator #126: No Plan B||7 comments|
|July 17, 2014||The Agitator #125: The Potemkin Village economy||no comments|
|July 10, 2014||The Agitator #124: Don't we want a business leader?||1 comments|
|July 03, 2014||The Agitator #123: Full employment bill for lawyers||1 comments|
|June 26, 2014||The Agitator #122: Selective due process||3 comments|
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.
This week, just hours apart, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a key provision in the Affordable Care Act. The language stated that federal subsidies were only available to insureds in states that had set up their own insurance exchanges. In a precise reading of the statute the subsidies would not apply in states with no state exchanges and where the federal government filled in to provide the exchange.
The congressional drafters of the legislation wrote their obvious intent imprecisely, and the D.C. Court of Appeals held their feet to the fire and interpreted the language exactly as it read, i.e. to exclude subsidies where a state did not set up an insurance exchange. The Fourth Circuit, in reviewing the congressional record, interpreted their intent by reviewing the entire ACA law, and held that the provision was also applicable to the federal exchange. Both ways of analyzing the statutory language are legitimate, but the high court could be the ultimate decider of which will prevail. Unless the D.C. Circuit overturns their decision on review, the likelihood is that the issue will go before the Supreme Court.
Conservatives rejoiced when the D.C. Court’s decision was announced a few hours before the Fourth Circuit’s. To them it was another nail in the ACA coffin. They want to kill Obamacare so badly they can taste it. Yet in the recent primary election and runoff, most of those who ran on the promise of repealing the ACA didn’t do too well at the polls. It’s one thing to continually tear down someone else’s ideas, but it’s another when you have none of your own.
As most readers know, the ACA, under different names, was supported by Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, the conservative Heritage Foundation, and other conservatives and groups. As evidence that it’s really about Obama more than the law, consider that the Republican House has yet to come up with one meaningful healthcare proposal of its own. Sure, Congressman Tom Price touts his plan that would supersede the ACA and “work so much better”, but it’s fair to ask why it hasn’t even gotten a committee hearing. The Republicans had six years under George W. Bush where they also had both houses of congress, and yet the only healthcare reform the American people got was the unwanted Medicare Part D, which is more costly to the taxpayers than the ACA according to the nonpartisan Government Accounting Office. I think it’s fair to ask why they didn’t address the health insurance problem when they had a chance. Same for tax and immigration reform. We got nothing.
It’s too early to know how the latest court rulings will turn out. But if the high court ultimately upholds the D.C. Court’s interpretation, the ACA could be substantially weakened, especially if the Republican House refuses to pass a revised provision that clarifies the original intent of the then Democratic congress. That would mean a lot of people would no longer be able to afford to purchase insurance. And that in turn would result in a proliferation of ER visits by indigents, something the ACA (and RomneyCare) was intended to get under control. That begs the question: Do the Republicans have a Plan B for those who could lose their insurance?
The ACA includes specific wellness provisions. This is a good thing, and healthy workers add to the productivity of our economy, which in turns increases the GDP. Sick people are a drain. It makes sense for people to have health insurance, work, and pay taxes that reduce the amount of the health insurance subsidies. To go back to where we were before the ACA, where insurers could rescind policies for a variety of reasons, deny medical procedures and drugs because they were costly, not because a doctor said they were needed, would be a big mistake. The focus should be on tinkering with the ACA to make it better each and every day, not to tear it down and rejoice when a court strikes a key provision. I’ve always liked the man in the arena better than the critic who has no sweat equity in the fight. Right now our representatives act more like spectators than the players we elected them to be.
For years my Republican friends and right wing news outlets have been hollering for a businessman to occupy the White House. On the state and local levels we’ve heard the same plaint. The argument has an appealing ring to it. Business leaders know how to balance budgets; they aren’t afraid to cut costs and personnel where necessary; they are concerned with spending, especially money they don’t have. And much more.
I am hardly a supporter of David Perdue, but I think the guy deserves better than he’s getting from a lot of conservative Republicans. He’s actually been the CEO or president of several companies. He understands money and has made a lot of it for himself, something that presumably should be admired.
Republicans have also condemned career politicians for years. In the 1994 Contract with America, authored by Newt Gingrich and signed by all House Republican candidates, one of the provisions was that they would only serve six terms. For a number of disingenuous reasons, it never happened. Yet we’ve heard the mantra for years to get rid of the politicians that have been in Washington too long, how they’ve lost touch with their base, and that it’s time to elect business leaders who will turn things around.
The Perdue versus Jack Kingston senate race would have been an ideal one to prove that Republicans are serious. But looking at the endorsements, most if not all of the Georgia Republican congressional delegation are backing Kingston, a ten-termer in Congress who signed the term limits agreement in 1994. Kingston worked in the private sector before he became one of the people he once condemned, but he never came close to Perdue’s experience. Oddly, Kingston has even blasted Perdue for living in a gated community, something once considered “making it” in Republican circles. Times change.
Putting aside Kingston’s ethical issues concerning one campaign donor in particular (a big deal in my mind), he may at least understand that political leadership is a lot different than that of running a business or an army. President Eisenhower once said that he had more power to get things done as General of the Army than being president. As a general he could give an order and move an army across an ocean. As president he had to win over 535 representatives and senators, each with his own voting constituency, each with regional differences at odds and in conflict with other districts and states. I also wonder about people, to include Perdue, who seem to have no understanding of macroeconomics, and think that the government can operate like a household. With that kind of thinking we never would have gotten very far in building the mightiest war machine in the history of the world during WW II.
Perhaps many Republicans fear that if Perdue is serious about cutting waste, Georgia will pay a price. After all, Kingston was once known as the King of Earmarks, a man who knows how to get money into the federal budget for the home team. So the voters are left to decide if they really do want to cut unnecessary spending, if they really do want a guy with budget experience running big companies, or if they want the other guy who has supported countless spending bills that have added to the deficits. Which candidate is serious about cutting the tax loopholes and tariffs that the special interests pay for? Will they support cutting wasteful defense spending, or will it be billed as “being strong on defense” while in actuality being jobs programs?
We already know that Democrats are tagged as the party of taxes and spending. Are Perdue and Kingston different? I seriously doubt it. My guess is that spending is good as long as it benefits special interests and the voters, and bad if benefits someone else. And Kingston is a known commodity who has delivered the pork. In other words, the Republican Party label is a false brand when it comes to budgets, deficits, jobs programs, and special interests.
Are corporations people? Mitt Romney famously declared to a heckler that they were. Yet corporations don’t go to prison for their crimes, they don’t pay individual tax rates, they don’t attend church, they don’t go door to door to campaign, and they have no corporeal body. It’s been said that the corporation was one of the single greatest business inventions ever devised. Perhaps so, and I certainly wouldn’t argue the point. To state the obvious, it allowed for people to gather together, create a business, and protect themselves individually from being personally bankrupted. One could argue that this alone has stimulated more new businesses than any other single cause.
In very recent years the current Supreme Court has given additional meaning to the definition of a corporation. They are now people with First Amendment rights that can contribute to campaigns. Even though Congress had said otherwise, this “non-activist” conservative high court said that Congress was wrong. In 1976, the high court said that money counts as speech. Combine corporations and money as people exercising their free speech rights, and you have a whole new chemical solution, one that I don’t think is for the better.
There are those who are rejoicing in the Hobby Lobby decision that said closely held, for profit corporations may ignore a statue providing for birth control under the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) if it violates their religious beliefs. Considering that this was a 5-4 opinion, it is clear that there was and is a lot of division on this issue. The Obama Administration had already conceded that organizations which exist strictly for religious purposes, such as houses of worship, were exempt from the ACA. Then came the challenge from Hobby Lobby, a privately held corporation with more than 700 stores nationwide. The Green family, which owns the bulk of the privately held shares, believed that it violated their religious freedom to have to provide for certain contraceptives. It didn’t matter that the many thousands of employees of Hobby Lobby weren’t hired based on their religious beliefs, that the workers were paid only for their labor and to make money for the company. It also doesn’t matter to the Green family that more than ninety percent of their merchandise comes from Communist China, a country that freely performs and encourages abortions.
Justice Alito, who wrote the Hobby Lobby opinion, stated that the court’s ruling would not affect laws that deal with mandatory immunizations, blood transfusions, and various forms of discrimination. I read that comment to be dicta, or his own opinion that doesn’t go to the actual holding of the case. So there is no guarantee that there won’t be lawsuits claiming that one’s religious faith is violated if forced to comply with the forgoing laws. In fact, I suspect that there will be many new cases claiming First Amendment protections. I wonder if on a local level, if I objected to paying school taxes because I considered it blasphemous for any student of a certain faith to sit with others of different faiths, could I claim a tax exemption, particularly if it was my child?
The trend of the Republican Five on the current Supreme Court is to separate Americans into different groups. Those with deep pockets can spend their money in ways that can literally buy elections. Now a law of general application, the ACA, has had an important component overturned based on the faith of a profit making owner of a large company that sells extensively in interstate commerce. Our national motto, the one that goes back to the founding of our nation was, “E Pluribus Unum”, Out of Many, One. Those are magnificent words that once gave meaning to The United States of America.
When we are all subject to the same laws of general application no one points fingers at someone getting a special break. People would have no reason to say that they would/would not shop at Hobby Lobby because of their religious exemptions. I grew up in NYC surrounded by more religious faiths and ethnicities than probably anywhere in the country. Neither got in the way of friendships or commerce. I see that changing with personal religious convictions evolving from being a private matter to becoming more public. The Hobby Lobby and recent prayer case illustrate my point.
All is not lost. There will be lawyers who prosper from the proliferation of lawsuits to challenge what they perceive to be violations of someone’s First Amendment freedoms. And that puts money into the economy. Here’s hoping that some of it will trickle down to a few of us.
There are certain names of individuals or entities that can rile up the masses faster and more furiously than others. One individual is President Obama, and one entity is the IRS. Put the two together and only the chemists can tell you how toxic the mix is, real or imagined.
This week there were congressional hearings concerning the loss of the IRS emails between the embattled Lois Lerner, the White House, and other potential conspirators who allegedly targeted tea party groups for unfavorable tax review. I saw one video clip of South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy working over IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Gowdy is a former federal prosecutor, and conservatives seemed to enjoy the pounding that he delivered to the witness. It all made for great theater, and perhaps Gowdy is hoping to become the next Attorney General in a Republican administration.
What Gowdy did, though, either was completely disingenuous on his part, or he is fooling a lot of people that he is knowledgeable in Constitutional and evidentiary law. He accused Koskinen of destroying evidence and then condescendingly lectured him on how a jury can infer that the lost emails contained negative inferences to the IRS and co-conspirators. What Gowdy never said was when the IRS was subpoenaed to turn over the emails, or alternatively, when the IRS was put on notice to preserve all emails pending the congressional investigation.
My point is that the emails did not become evidence until the IRS was notified by subpoena or other communication that they were to be preserved. All government agencies, including the FBI, have file destruction programs. For the sake of argument only, if the emails were destroyed pursuant to a regulation before notice of the hearings was provided, there would be no wrongdoing. Gowdy continued to interrupt and badger the commissioner, so we really don’t know what the commissioner might have said. No judge in America would have allowed Gowdy to get away with his antics in a courtroom. But this is only Gowdy’s initial appearance at self-promotion and grandstanding. One can only imagine how the Benghazi hearings will be conducted under his leadership.
I have no more love for the IRS than does any American, but they are a necessary component to our government. Our elected representatives treat the IRS as their favorite punching bag in order to win votes, but they do absolutely nothing about changing the tax system. The congress has the power to defund the IRS or any of their branches, so why don’t they do it? Why are no current congressional or senatorial candidates talking about tax reform with specific ideas on how to change the code? Could it be that the special interests that get special tax breaks also fund the campaigns, and the last thing they want is a code that eliminates their favored treatment?
Last week the Cobb County police charged Justin Harris with the murder of his 22 month old son who died when he was left in Harris’ car. At first the public was outraged that a distraught, loving father, could be twice a victim. How could the police and District Attorney be so insensitive? I readily admit to being a partisan when it comes to DA Vic Reynolds and the Cobb PD, so my first inclination was that there must be more to this story if they chose to charge Harris with murder instead of something very minor. As the story continues to unfold it appears that the police did their job and have let the facts and evidence do the talking. That is due process, and in my opinion we are fortunate to have such a qualified District Attorney and competent police force.
It is all too easy to draw conclusions about subject matters that are very personal to us. The IRS hearings, Justin Harris, and soldier Bowe Bergdahl are just a few of the topical cases that have our attention for the moment. No matter how repulsive the initial reports are in any of these stories, as Americans who believe in our Constitution, we owe it not only to these people, but to our families, friends and ourselves to let due process run its course. Anything less is to acknowledge that we don’t mean it when we pledge allegiance to the flag, or take an oath to support, defend and preserve the Constitution. Yet when unexpectedly someone finds himself in a “situation” not of one’s choosing, you can be sure that all rights and protections will be claimed. And rightfully so---but that should always be the case.