|April 11, 2013||The Agitator #68||1 comments|
|April 05, 2013||The Agitator #67||2 comments|
|March 27, 2013||The Agitator #66||no comments|
|March 21, 2013||The Agitator #65||no comments|
|March 14, 2013||The Agitator #64||4 comments|
|March 10, 2013||The Agitator #63||3 comments|
|March 01, 2013||The Agitator #62||3 comments|
|February 25, 2013||The Agitator #61||1 comments|
|February 15, 2013||The Agitator #60||2 comments|
|February 08, 2013||The Agitator #59||3 comments|
The Republican Party is trying to find its moorings and figure out how to take back the White House and Senate. Statistically, the Republicans are in shape to win the Senate in 2014. There are more Democrats retiring from that chamber, and the six year mark for an incumbent president usually results in the voters looking for a change. My guess is that 2016 will be the year that will determine whether the Republicans have any meaningful expectation to regain its power and influence. Between now and then they will have to come together and choose who their leaders and spokespersons will be. Then the chosen will set the course for the party on social issues, taxes, spending priorities, healthcare, immigration, guns, and other areas of interest to the American people.
In my lifetime I don’t recall the Republican Party being so divided. Anyone in the party that dares to stray from its “core” values is labeled a RINO. But who gets to decide who is a RINO? What makes one person’s views more adherent to the party than another’s? Without question Eisenhower would be considered a RINO by most of today’s Republicans. (Back then Republicans like Joe McCarthy and his acolytes even accused Eisenhower of being a communist sympathizer.) Those who look at Reagan’s record carefully and airbrush out the mythologies that have been built around him would consider him a RINO too. Yet in my opinion both were good presidents that confronted the issues of their times. No politician will ever make everyone happy all the time, no more than in a marriage do the respective partners agree on everything.
Illustrative of the internecine feuding within the Republican Party are some of the upcoming primaries in Georgia and elsewhere. The 2012 presidential primary was as nasty and divisive as it could get as most of the candidates tried to outdo each other in demonstrating who was more extreme on any given issue. Also illustrative is a local writer who summed up well, from his point of view, why the Republicans are becoming more divided. The writer says that there can be no compromise on homosexual marriages. His basis is a belief that some truths are absolute, and that absolute truths can never evolve. Since he is a self-professed Christian, I wonder what he thinks about the evolving truths of the Bible. Polygamy and slavery were accepted in the Old Testament (and slavery in the New Testament as well), violations of the Sabbath and children disrespecting parents were punishable by death, and other examples. If truths were so absolute with people of faith there wouldn’t be so many denominations that disagree over abortion, embryonic stem cell research, the death penalty, and other social issues.
If one issue Republicans think it’s worth fighting to protect that issue above all else, so be it. I don’t think I am outside mainstream America in being concerned about our economy, jobs, and other issues that affect all of our day to day lives. I too worry about the continuing breakdown of the American family but attribute causes other than homosexual marriages. I am amazed that a larger priority doesn’t focus on spousal abuse, child cruelty, and the causes of poverty. There was a time that southern Democrats were determined to maintain Jim Crow laws because they protected traditional southern values. Those Democrats became the Dixicrats of the Democratic Party. In the 1960s they began the trend of morphing into Republicans. The rest of the country moved in a different direction. If the Republicans choose to make social issues their number one priority, particularly southern Republicans, they could end up being marginalized like the Dixicrats. Time will tell if they represent the majority of thinking in the U.S., and if their world view will attract industry and jobs from other parts of the country and world.
North Korea has been in the news recently with its threats to fire up their plutonium making facility, and to once again annihilate South Korea and the United States. If I took seriously some of the reactionaries on talk radio, these self-professed military know-it-alls (none come to mind that served in the armed forces) would have me building a nuclear bomb shelter like the 1950s. Make no mistake---I don’t doubt for a millisecond that North Korea could inflict some very deadly damage on its southern neighbor. Considering the number and proximity of the North’s missiles to Seoul, Seoul would probably be obliterated if those missiles were unleashed.
In my blog last week I asked the question of the Iraq war defenders why Iraq needed to be conquered but not North Korea? Using the same criteria that was applied to the Iraq invasion, North Korea had all of them plus one: they actually had the atomic bomb. I’m not suggesting that Bush should have preemptively attacked North Korea, only that he used specious reasons to go into Iraq that he didn’t apply to North Korea. I don’t recall the reactionaries ever challenging Bush for these different standards to similar situations. But Obama is the one at the helm now, and as usual, because it’s Obama the reactionaries will go after him, even if he declared that he loved his mother. One self-proclaimed reactionary pundit said on the radio today that North Korea’s threats amount to an act of war, and that Obama should have responded accordingly. It’s not enough for these tough talkers that Obama flew stealth bombers to South Korea to drop dummy bombs on an unoccupied island off its shore. It’s not enough that Obama has implemented the Pentagon’s recommendations to position the navy’s anti-missile warships to defend the South, and to place anti-missile batteries on Guam. One radio expert didn’t think much of the dummy bombing run. I wonder if the Chinese Air Force was to simulate an attack on some Central American island, whether that same expert would be concerned. Only a full blown preemptive strike would satisfy these big talking strategists who make more money by far with their brilliant insight than any admiral or general that just might know a little more than these guys.
I have no way of knowing what secret weapons the United States has. I suspect that we have some very powerful conventional weapons that might obviate the need for nukes in a lot of situations. I don’t know, but suspect that we have monitoring technology that is keeping up in real time how serious the threats from the North really are. I also suspect that we have some military satellites that can do things that are out of science fiction stories. What I do know is that these war mongering talking heads don’t know any more than I do. And if they do, they and whoever leaked to them should be prosecuted. My opinions about the possibility of secret capabilities is based on having been part of things at other times in other places with the service and government. Some of the things our country could do was dazzling, and it is understandable that those not in the know would be concerned that we might not be taking the appropriate action in a given situation. But that is not the same as some of the treasonous calumnies that have been said about Obama.
By far and away Obama has shown strength as commander-in-chief in ways that we never got from Republican administrations. Reagan never retaliated for the deaths of the 240 marines killed in the Lebanon barracks attack. Bush could have used the torpedoing of the USS COLE as grounds to go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Yemen. He didn’t. Obama has repeatedly violated the sovereignty of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia---and who knows where else---to pursue terrorists. And while I agree that it is a fair debate on whether the president is doing this without certain due process protections, I find it remarkable that the reactionaries are suddenly concerned about the constitutional rights of terrorists. Considering our economic situation right now, if there weren’t other reasons not to preemptively go to war with North Korea (and likely bring in China), the reactionaries who are always concerned about spending might want to consider how much it could cost them in taxes if this got out of control. And when it comes to taxes, reactionaries listen.
The Republican mantra has always been to lower taxes and cut spending. Deficits have been the bane of Republicans for a long time, and I am fine with that being part of the political discourse. It is a fair argument to debate in order to try and distill truths from it so that we can get our economic house in order. But despite Republican’s concerns over deficits, for the most part their voices were silent or muted when Reagan and Bush ran up the largest deficits in history up until the current administration. One would think that with deficits in the forefront of Republican Party philosophy, with fiscal responsibility being a major part of their platform, that they would rejoice that we are now undergoing the sequester. After all, we have heard so often that there is so much waste in government that federal spending could easily be cut anywhere from ten percent to twenty-five percent across the board. In Friday’s AJC it was reported that the Republican Senate in Georgia voted to support a congressional resolution that would call for a constitutional convention for the purpose of balancing the budget. Now let’s be serious---if we were to balance the budget anytime soon, the consequences of the sequester would look like a walk in the park on a nice sunny day. This is one of those things known as the curse of the Greek Gods, which reminds us to be careful of what we wish for because it might come true.
Fast forward to March 1st when the sequester kicked in. All of a sudden there are Republicans crying foul. (I am leaving Democrats out of this discussion because they are perceived by the Republicans to be the tax and spend party.) The arguments are all over the place, but for the most part can be boiled down to spending cuts that affect them or people/things close to them. Yet, I recall the cries for across the board cuts, which we got. I recall too the unelected Grover Norquist extracted or extorted from Republican candidates across the fruited plane a pledge that they would never vote to raise taxes. The same Norquist said that his goal was to cut government down to a size where it could be drowned in a bathtub. The sequester cuts are a long way from achieving that startling image, but never was there any Republican voice to challenge Norquist.
Now the best for last. His Porkulous (Rush Limbaugh) has come up with another conspiracy. The man’s imagination knows no limits. In this latest, His Porkulous says that Obama is intentionally inflicting these cuts on America to cause pain so that those feeling it will plead and beg to have the spending restored. And that would allow Obama to tax and spend some more of our money. Evidence for this is lacking in the extreme, but it makes for good programming, deceives the low information voter, and keeps this demagogue’s show going on and on. The bottom line to all of this is that sequestration was a bipartisan agreement that neither House nor Party thought would ever occur. But it did. And I can’t understand why the Republicans aren’t dancing in the streets to proclaim that their prayers were finally answered.
The sequester has struck but it’s too early to know if it will be as consequential as the doomsayers predict. This is the bargain that both parties struck when they couldn’t agree on spending cuts to go along with increasing the debt ceiling. It was a poison pill that the House and Senate agreed to and which the President signed into law. What is curious about all this is how the Obama-haters are blaming him for coming up with the idea. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Does it really matter considering the bipartisan support in both Houses? What matters is if the sequester will ultimately impact public safety and government services that we all rightfully depend on.
Senator Johnny Isakson submitted to an interview on NPR Thursday evening. Unlike a recent MDJ editorial and MDJ guest columnist, Isakson engaged in a reasoned discussion about the problem and did not substitute reason with mindless Obama bashing. Isakson took the high road in stating that if we are in this situation again, there won’t be a meat axe approach. Instead each governmental department and agency will be directed to cut a certain percentage from their budget thereby allowing agency heads to make intelligent and informed decisions about where the cuts should be. There is no getting around the fact that despite a roaring stock market of late and a slow increase of home sales, our country is still in a difficult financial situation. We are still paying for two unfunded wars and Medicare Part D, both of which substantially added to the deficits, and with unemployment still high there remains a lack of needed revenue. Unfortunately, so many of the jobs being created today are not those that will bring in the taxes that occurred prerecession.
The American middle class continues to shrink, their wages are stagnant, and some things that can be done aren’t. The current tax code needs to go. When you have vacant shopping centers right here in Cobb County because landlords demand more rent despite businesses revenues being off, you have to ask why. Does the tax code incentivize investors of these shopping centers to walk away with some tax advantages to the detriment of the small businesses and communities? If so, something is very wrong with that. Empty shopping centers are not good for anyone except criminals, and of course, the property value also goes down which in turn decreases the local tax collections needed for schools, police, fire and other public services. But despite an overwhelming number of Americans who demand a new tax code, it won’t happen until there is campaign finance reform. When special interests no longer are special because they can’t influence our elected officials with money to keep their tax breaks, we just might see a ray of hope for change.
Recently the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to allow houses of worship damaged by Hurricane Sandy to receive federal disaster aid from FEMA. I wonder how many readers know that this aid is in the form of grants, not loans, which would allow churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other religious edifices to receive federal tax dollars to rebuild. What I find interesting is that after large, damaging storms, there are loud voices that object to the money FEMA spends to help people who have lost everything. The claim is that these people should have had insurance, they knew the risk of living where they did, they were foolish to choose a home near the beach, flood plain, etc. For the most part I agree with these objections with some exceptions not worth mentioning here. But what I am puzzled by is that the Republicans tout individual responsibility, risk/reward, and that the government shouldn’t be the paymaster for things that go wrong in people’s lives. (Yes, some Democrats voted for this bill too, but according to the Republicans, the Democrats love taxes and spending anyway, so according to them, Democratic support for the bill should be no surprise.) One has to also keep in mind that it was the same House that was reluctant to provide reconstruction money to New York and New Jersey using the same arguments that I mentioned. I, for one, would sure like to know what influenced their voting for this FEMA addition.
In these times of trying to figure out ways to cut spending, eliminate special interest tax breaks, here is another one that seems to be a sacred cow: the special exemption from federal taxation for all “legitimate” clergy for most of the money they spend for housing. And yes, that would include some of the high profile ministers with seven figure incomes when combined with benefits. No secular staff members of nonprofits are eligible for this perk. No teachers or other volunteers that work in ghettos for low pay can claim this deduction. What makes clergy members so special that they get a tax paid housing subsidy? Clergy are also in a unique category that allows them to opt out of Social Security. While I have no issues with Social Security, I know all too many people that have said that they wish they had a choice to leave the system and take their chances with investing their own money. Then there is the question of why churches do not have to file annual paperwork concerning their finances, paperwork that every other tax exempt 501 (C) (3) is required to complete. I have read that preparing the form for the IRS is very labor intensive and costly. Do any readers remember the pushback that Senator Charles Grassley got a few years ago when he proposed auditing some of the mega churches that paid whopping salaries and benefits to their spiritual leaders, and had complexes that would rival something a major corporation would envy? I can only wonder how much money from these sacred institutions is legally and illegally not going into the treasury.
Consider too that churches don’t pay property taxes, but they get police, fire, and other public services that the rest of us have to pay for. And each time a new church goes up on property that a church purchased, it is another parcel taken off the tax rolls. Any guess who has to make up the shortfall? Ironically, The Atlanta Free Thought Society (AFS) purchased on old, historic church. AFS is a 501 (C) (3) that does a lot of charitable work in the community for the small organization that it is. Yet it pays a sizeable sum in property taxes. They don’t object to paying the taxes, but rightfully so, they do have a legitimate claim of disparate treatment. Do you think the churches would complain if asked to contribute to the public services they now get from the taxpayers that subsidize them? Count on it!
The AJC reported on 2/21/2013, that a host of business entities, through their paid lobbyists, are seeking from the Georgia General Assembly special tax breaks. Former Governor Roy Barnes in his 2009 campaign identified over 200 businesses that received special tax considerations. We all know the arguments that are used to protect these interests: they create jobs, they provide incentives for businesses to locate in Georgia, they add to the community’s tax base, they help the poor, and on and on. I can assure you that as a small business owner, if I got the same tax breaks I would hire people and take on jobs that presently I consider too small and not worthwhile because of the taxes. Amazingly, the Tea Party---among others---promotes a policy of no new taxes and cutting spending. Here’s an opportunity to go after some religious and business sacred cows. It’s long overdue. I’ve heard enough canned speeches from our local congressional delegation and Senator Johnnie Isakson to last a lifetime about how we need to change the tax code. But if you asked any of them if they have put together a team of outsiders with tax and business expertise to come up with a draft of some serious tax revisions, the answer would be no. They benefit from the campaign contributions from the very special interests that need to pay up. In the meanwhile, we, the working stiffs, are paying for this outrage.
The stock market went over 14,000 last week for the first time since 2007, a good thing if you are invested in it. But I would hate to judge the economy based on the numbers. The unemployment rate is bad enough, but the numbers who are underemployed is equally alarming if not more so. What can be done about it? Well, some seem to think if that they keep blaming Obama, somehow that will make things better. I assume the real message is that the Republicans have a solution if only they could get rid of the current president. If that was the cure, I would support it in a New York minute, which is very fast. But consider that we have the lowest interest rates in perhaps 75 or more years, yet that hasn’t spurred home ownership or businesses to go out and borrow money to expand. Corporations are sitting on upwards of $3 trillion but not spending it. Why? Some blame Obamacare and excess regulations, but in fact if you ask any business owner the reason is lack of consumer demand for product and services. Lowering the FICA by two percent put some extra cash in middle class people’s jeans, but it didn’t really stimulate the economy. (I remain puzzled that the Republicans blame Obama for not continuing the FICA cut in December, but the Republicans didn’t come out and support it either. In fact, the Republicans pushed for a FICA cut when Bush was president and then opposed it when Obama first proposed it.)
Politicians can argue all day about how the corporate tax needs to be reduced or eliminated to stimulate the economy. So why hasn’t it happened? Could it be that the myriad of tax credits and deductions that many business can take advantage of might get cut, so it’s in their interest to keep it where it is? Remember, GE was only one of the big corporations, despite the 35% corporate tax rate, to pay no taxes a year or so ago. I’m not a tax lawyer or accountant, but I can sit back and say that that is a pretty good deal if you can get it. Of course our military protects American businesses, but the way the tax code is structured, it’s much better to make the shareholders happy than to worry about paying for the hardware and personnel costs of our armed forces. And the social costs of military retirees (not wounded or disabled veterans) is staggering. It is more than twice that of those on active duty. I’m all for either cutting some of these benefits or raising taxes to pay for them. The volunteer military was never projected to be adequately funded. It became law as an emotional response to the draft, something I still think we need. Recipients of this largess claim they have earned it, and I won’t dispute that. I will only say that Congress decides what it means to have “earned” the benefits they bestow, and in these hard economic times everyone has to have an oar in the water and feel some of the pain. (As a federal retiree I am fine with taking a reduction, but to suggest that I should be an “army of one” and take the cut myself as a matter of principle is meaningless.)
Our elected officials face two very real issues as I see it when it comes to fixing the economy. They can dramatically cut spending, which will happen if sequestration occurs. If that happens the pain will be felt by almost everyone. Too many politicians blame spending for all the problems, but there is a revenue side to this equation, and this recession has dramatically cut revenue. The government pumps a lot of money into the private sector, Lockheed being just one example out of millions. Take that money out of the economy and you are now hitting all the stores where these private sector employees shop and buy their morning coffee. The government doesn’t operate under micro economic theories. If every American saved all their money, some would say that’s a good thing. But on a macro level it would put us into a depression. Ask a restaurant owner what they think about politicians or other pundits that urge families to cut their spending and eat more meals at home or brown bag.
To sum it up, our politicians are not addressing how technology has and continues to replace good middle class jobs. On the state level our elected officials are too interested in giving enormous tax credits and benefits to attract individual industries that often fail and don’t come close to making up the advantages they were given to locate here. Instead, spending money on transportation, education, and infrastructure, which would not be cheap, would likely draw many businesses because of the better quality of life we could offer. But consider that a few years ago the voters of Georgia turned down a $10 added fee when renewing a drivers license that would have gone to build new trauma units in rural hospitals. So if you are seriously injured once you get south of Macon, good luck---you will need it because you won’t have a trauma facility near you. And like so many issues related to taxes and spending, it comes down to those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.