Sunday, April 24, 2011

I Want My Country Back

I was fortunate enough to have the following published recently in my local, weekly newspaper.

I Want my Country back...

I want my country back from people who believe President Obama hates America.

I want my country back from those who use religion to foster hatred.

I want my country back from people who believe that repeating a lie often enough makes it true.

I want my country back from those who decry the tyranny of the majority, until they become it.

I want my country back from people who use profit as their only yardstick.

I want my country back from those who think Charlie Sheen and the Kardashian sisters are role models.

I want my country back from people who believe that the loudest opinion is correct.

I want my country back from those who forget that everyone in America descends from immigrant ancestors unless they are Native American.

I want my country back from people who believe that might makes right.

I want my country back from those who are very religious but not nearly spiritual enough.

I want my country back from people who believe that compromise is a sign of weakness.

I want my country back from those who deny the pleasures of marriage to the gay community while ignoring the 50% plus failure rate of marriage among heterosexuals.

I want my country back from those who believe that profits are more important than people.

I want my country back from people who believe that their religion is the only true religion, their politics the most patriotic, their color the superior race, their sexual orientation the only moral perspective and their nationality the only exceptional heritage because it is divinely blessed.

America is a great country! Despite the fact that your opinions may reflect some of mine as detailed above or are more in tune with one or all of those with which I disagree, we are able to voice those opinions, debate the merits and flaws of our various ideas and do so without the violence and unrest that is currently taking place among people throughout the world. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget that it is the very existence of this diverse and sometimes incompatible range of viewpoints, and the freedom to express them that makes America so great. Our ability to resolve the disagreements among ourselves, without rancor, is the most powerful example we can present to those protesting, fighting and dying for the rights and freedoms that we so often take for granted.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Lately, with all the news about our growing national deficit, I have spent some time reading the various deficit reduction plans, critiques of said plans, and articles about taxes in general.

I have read that our corporations pay a far smaller percentage of aggregate collected income tax than they did 20, 30, 40 years ago, but I also read an opinion that these collected taxes are lower because many of these multi-national corporations moved their headquarters off shore to take advantage of the lower corporate taxes of other countries.

I have read that we shouldn't tax millionaires any more than we are currently, because they will simply up and move their companies and/or residences to states where the taxes are lower but then I read about a research study that indicated that very few millionaires, who have the opportunity to move to a neighboring state with lower "top-end" income taxes, actually did move.

I have read that one party's deficit reduction plan will place the next generation of our elderly in the precarious situation of chasing after their own individual health care plan while on a "budget" while the other party's plan will result in the bankruptcy of Medicare which will leave all the elderly without medical coverage. But then I read that one party's tax cut is another party's increase in spending and that either way the budget will never be balanced.

So what is the answer?

As is always the case, the answer lies in a country's priorities. What does it mean that Medicare or Social Security are going to bankrupt America? My understanding is that both these programs have historically collected more money than needed to pay their liabilities. Unfortunately, that excess money was used to balance past federal budgets rather than kept aside for a rainy day (and it appears to be raining pretty hard right now) so we have IOU's in place of actual funds. Yes, those IOU's are in the form of treasury bills, etc which means that one government agency owes another, but the fact is there is a debt and accompanying interest that exists as a result of this accounting ploy. And now, there is the fast approaching time when these programs will begin taking in less money than required to pay the bills so not only will we be paying interest on past debt, we will have to come up with new money to pay future liabilities. So, while using the word bankrupt may be an exaggeration of sorts, the fact is that either cuts to the benefits or new taxes will need to occur to bring both programs back to solvency.

Now, lets take the case of national defense. The United States spends as much money on "defense" as the next 20+ countries in the world, 5 times more than that spent by the 2nd highest. Should that mean that we, as citizens, should then expect to pay more in taxes to support this tremendous outlay of monies? If there were a poll taken today of Americans asking if they were willing to pay substantially more in taxes than the citizens of all other countries in the world to cover defense spending, what would the result be? Clearly, Americans seem unwilling to pay more taxes for better health care and other social services, but I wonder if we would draw the line on national defense. If so, then I guess we have established our national priority; security as a nation over security as individuals. If not, then perhaps we need to have a new discussion about where our tax money is being spent.

Which brings me back to corporations. Are they not willing to shoulder the higher tax rate to keep America safe?

One other question about corporate taxes. Why are corporations allowed to merely establish a corporate headquarters in another country to avoid US taxes? Perhaps I am naive in saying this, but wouldn't it be more fair if corporations paid taxes to the countries coffers where they actually earn their revenue and profit? If I were to research and find the lowest state tax rate in the country and then open a post office box in that state and use it as my "headquarters", could I avoid the state tax of the state where I work? Probably not, yet isn't that what we allow corporations to do?

Finally, I saw an article in a well-respected business magazine which detailed how businesses and individuals could pay no taxes to Uncle Sam. All the suggestions were legal tax deductions, of course. Certainly, I understand that we all need to feel that our tax money is being spent wisely, and so I encourage everyone to research the national budget and see where the money comes from and where it goes. But is it not part of our patriotic duty to pay our taxes? Or, to put it more bluntly, are you not willing to support our troops, pave our roads, build our bridges, educate our children, research the prevention of disease, assist the disadvantaged, etc? Or have we all become so selfish and self-centered that we now only ask "not what we can do for our country" but what our country can do for us?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Final thought (for now) on the budget and the military

With (finally) the onset of nicer weather, I have been hearing birds in the morning during my route. Chirp, chirp.

In a previous blog, I detailed that federal spending is divided into two main categories, mandatory (required spending per existing laws) and discretionary spending (where we choose to spend our funds). So, when I recently read an article that stated that discretionary spending for the 2011 federal budget was overwhelmingly being directed to the department of defense (something like 75%), I thought it necessary to investigate.

Towards that end, I found a very informative interactive graphic in a New York Times article. Cut and paste link below.

This graphic displays the 2011 federal budget by spending via blocks that are sized based on the amount allocated for each area. It is also color coded in that it indicates the percentage of increase or decrease for the 2011 budget over the 2010 budget. It is interactive in that you can place your cursor on each box to reveal the name of the category. And, at the top, there is a box that enables you to hide the mandatory spending categories to display only the areas of discretionary spending. It is very revealing!

First, if you look at it with all spending boxes "on", it is easy to see where the bulk of the federal budget is targeted; national defense, social security, medicare and an area called income security. Clicking on the "remove mandatory spending" button, presents the discretionary spending and confirms in stark contrast the high percentage of military spending that the article claims. The shear size of the box when compared to spending in all other areas would be comical if not for the fact that it reveals just how costly is our belief in might makes right. I encourage everyone to take a look at this graphic and decide for yourself if it reflects your priorities.

In conjunction with this discussion on the military, I recently began reading a book called "9/11/11: The Tenth Anniversary Attack" by Dr. Rocco Martino. It is a work of fiction but is executed by a writer who clearly knows his subject. In the book, Dr. Martino attempts to detail the strategies of our terrorist enemies, and our own government as we attempt to thwart their plans to inflict damage on our country. The plot takes the reader through the time of late 2010 up until the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and paints a possible picture of the destruction that may be heading our way.

Without revealing too many details about the book, there is one particular scene which spurred an unsettling thought on my part. The scene involves a conversation between two of the main characters in which they are discussing as fact how President Reagan toppled the Soviet empire by outspending them. I am not saying I disagree with the assertion that this was the sole cause of the fall of the Soviets as I think it is a bit simplistic, but I certainly agree that it was a factor. (It certainly led to the doubling of our national debt which so many conservatives today seem to overlook in their idolatry of Reagan's legacy).

What unsettled me was that perhaps our enemies are using the same philosophy against us, i.e trying to bankrupt us in our execution of the "war on terror". Again, the obvious fact that we have spent huge sums of money on the wars since 9/11 (not to mention lives) and that, again, this expenditure has as much to do with our growing national debt as anything, seems lost on the deficit hawks now in the spotlight. Perhaps our enemies' plan is to let us spend ourselves into bankruptcy by merely adding fuel to our "revengeful" fire via the occasional plot (foiled or successful, it doesn't matter). Now, as I review the budget boxes as demonstrated on the NY times graphic, it makes me even more concerned that perhaps my fear is not so outlandish.

At a time when federal, state and local budgets are under stress to decrease funding for the people of this country via education, health and human services, there seems no end to the money we will spend on the military. What better way to destroy a country than to let it collapse upon itself.

For readers interested in Dr. Martino's book, please refer to the following websites for information. (Dr. Martino's website) (the book site)

Or, for all you electronic book users, it is available on both Amazon (in digital and electronic form) and Barnes and Noble (in electronic form).