|June 26, 2014||The Agitator #122: Selective due process||3 comments|
|June 19, 2014||The Agitator #121: Humpty Dumpty||no comments|
|June 12, 2014||The Agitator #120: Cash is King(ston)||5 comments|
|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|
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.
Eleven years after the war in Iraq began we continue to pay for it. My guess is that the final payment won’t be in the foreseeable future. The Bush administration relied on information that may go down as one of the biggest intelligence failures since World War II, although there have been a number of others that rival it. In this instance we had electronic capabilities that should have revealed that Saddam Hussein did not have WMD, and that Saddam was playing a bluff game with Iran, his arch enemy. Yes, he had gas and biological weapons that he used against his own people, but he always knew that to use them against Israel or the U.S. would result in his country’s annihilation.
The NSA revelations prove that our government has very substantial spying capabilities leading up to the war. It’s also hard to believe that we didn’t have a few well-placed sources on the ground in Iraq, both in their government and military, that could have shed some light on Saddam’s real game. Yet despite other American and foreign intelligence agencies warning Bush that it would be a mistake to rely on certain CIA sources, to believe that Mohammad Atta, one of the 911 ringleaders had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer when Atta was shown to be elsewhere at the same time, the administration went forward with the war. Later when Bush had to admit that there was no WMD, he said the war was worth taking out a really bad guy, that the Iraqi people could now live their lives in freedom.
This was a war in which the American people were deceived in spades. It turned out that the Congress did not receive the full intelligence report provided by Bush to demonstrate the urgency to go to war. Some representatives that voted against the first Gulf War didn’t want to be on the wrong side of that vote again and voted for the war resolution the second time. Almost 4,500 soldiers KIA, many more badly maimed for life, hundreds or more American civilians dead, six figures of Iraqi citizens killed, we have nothing of consequence to show for it. Saddam, as bad as he was, did two things: He kept the peace between the two rival religious factions, the Shiites and Sunnis, and kept the balance of power with Iran. His fall led to Iran’s rise and the potential threat to the West since they no longer have to keep a wary eye on their neighbor.
And now for the big question. Why was there never a push for congressional hearings to investigate the intelligence failures, to examine whether a blind eye was turned on two questionable sources, Ahmed Chalabi and Curveball---both who had their own agendas for pushing the U.S. to overthrow Saddam. How about the money from Iraqi oil that Dick Chaney said would pay for this multi-trillion dollar war---no need to ask what happened to that money? Where was/is the cry from Republicans to investigate some of the war profiteering? Shouldn’t there be questions asked about all the taxpayer money that went to corrupt officials in Iraq? No, instead it’s one investigation after another of Benghazi.
The Iraq War did more than cost a lot of unnecessary lives, create a religious civil war, and upend the balance of power in the Middle East. It contributed to the whopping deficits because of the Bush tax cuts and off-line budget to pay for the war. And let’s not forget the century long tail of veterans care that follows each war, a dollar amount in the trillions.
Some politicians are talking about the U.S. going back in to protect the current Maliki regime. Perhaps these folks have spent too much time on the Rocky Mountain slopes of Colorado. Are they really willing to pay the cost in blood and taxes? Where are all the Middle Eastern countries that we give countless billions to pay for military equipment and training? Do they ever use the hardware, or is it just for military parades? Isn’t this their fight in which we could contribute some intelligence and logistical support without a full commitment? Where are the war hawk voices to demand that the Iraq problem is their problem?
Contrary to what some editorialists have written, Obama did not lose the war in Iraq. Bush set the withdrawal date for all combat troops that Obama carried out. What Obama couldn’t do was to get Maliki to agree to a Status of Force Agreement providing for remaining U.S. military personnel there for training and intelligence, to be protected by U.S. laws. Obama had no choice but to withdraw all servicemen under those circumstances.
Perhaps I am a voice in the wilderness in wondering where the outrage is in our country that we give countless billions to so many countries that do little to nothing for us, but when Obama proposes spending money in the private sector to rebuild our deteriorating infrastructure, it’s called job welfare or some such. There were many in congress who voted against a 60 billion package to rebuild the devastated areas from Hurricane Sandy two years ago, money that came from taxpayers who lost their homes and more from the storm. Where are our values when it comes to taking care of our own first? Why no call for hearings on how this all happened? Could it be partisan politics instead of trying to learn from our mistakes?
The Georgia Senate primary runoff is six weeks from now, a lot of time for allegations of one sort or another to turn up against either of the two candidates, David Perdue or Jack Kingston. Until this year, so it seems, Republicans liked to run as the “outsider”, the candidate not tainted by all the bad things associated with Washington, and if you had a business background, as they say in New York, you were in Fat City. In the May 20th primary you had Karen Handel and David Perdue running as outsiders, and Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun disingenuously trying to distance themselves from the pejorative of being Washington insiders.
The tables have turned and all of a sudden Perdue’s business background is bad, Kingston’s record of obtaining whopping earmarks (before being banned) for his district is good. Gingrey, Broun, and Handel, the three outsiders, now support Kingston the insider. Funny how politics work. (To be clear, I have no dog in this race, didn’t vote for either in the primary, and still don’t know who I will vote for in the runoff.)
I suspect that over the next six weeks I could write six commentaries on the accusations that will be lobbed back and forth between Perdue and Kingston. The current topic pertains to Kingston’s acceptance of $80,000 in bundled contributions from convicted felon, Khalid A. Satary, a Palestinian who served more than three years in federal prison for operating a major counterfeit CD business in the Atlanta area. He is currently fighting a federal deportation order. When this story unfolded, Kingston proclaimed to be surprised and would return the money.
First, I wonder why Kingston, who has not opposed the two recent Supreme Court decisions overturning campaign finance laws, would return the money. After all, the Supreme Court said that it is not a crime to pay for influence, that it is only a crime to bribe a public official. There isn’t even a whiff of a bribe in this instance, and all Satary did was attempt to gain access to Kingston, presumably to get his help to stay in the country. Since politicians take big dollars all the time from wealthy folks, from PACs put together by special interest groups---all seeking access and influence---what makes Sataray’s money so objectionable? There is zero information at this time that Satary asked for anything for his contribution. Perhaps he’s just a good citizen who supports good government, and Kingston is worthy of his largess as the right man at the right time to “restore our country.”
Actually, I am very cynical about this deal and all money in politics. For Kingston to argue that he didn’t know anything about Satary is willful ignorance. A very inexpensive data base search on the man would have turned up that he was a convicted felon and lots more. I’m not suggesting that due diligence be done on every contributor, especially those who can only afford token amounts, but I am saying that for someone that is virtually unknown to come up with $80,000 for a candidate, red flags should have been flying with hurricane force winds. Kingston is hardly new at raising money, and he should have known better. His explanations for accepting the money without some background check ring hollow.
There is currently a bill in the Senate to limit money in federal elections. Since no Republicans are supporting it that I know of, I assume that they agree with the Supreme Court rulings that money in politics is a form of free speech under the First Amendment. For those who claim that we need to go back to the original meaning of the Constitution, I can only ask where in that amendment there is one word or inference that money in politics is a protected form of speech. In America there should be political equality. No one should be able to buy access or pay for influence. Recently, casino owner billionaire Sheldon Adelson had prominent potential Republican candidates for president meet with him one on one for vetting. Surely none of these candidates were influenced by the money Adelson will bring to the 2016 race and his chosen horse. Wonder if any of the candidates would fly to Las Vegas to meet with an ordinary citizen to discuss issues? As long as money pays for access and influence, the rest of us can only hope to influence our representatives through another provision in the First Amendment, freedom of assembly. Remember that when there are more Occupy Wall Street movements.
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.