politics & government

Taxes are the price for a civilized country…

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The condition of man… is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.

Thomas Hobbes

To be educated, a person doesn’t have to know much or be informed, but he or she does have to have been exposed vulnerably to the transformative events of an engaged human life.
Thomas More

 

Can you say AN/PDR-27R?  ALPHA-NOVEMBER-PAPA-DELTA-ROMEO-TWO-SEVEN-ROMEO?

Those veterans among us have no problem with that, since it’s basic military phonetic alphabet and is the name of a pretty common piece of stuff that most were exposed to at one time or another. It’s the Geiger Counter used by the military in its various configurations over the years.  For a part of my career as a grunt, I had to use these things as a Chemical Operations type – NO LIGHT TOO BRIGHT/NO BLAST TOO FAST/SO UP YOUR ASS/WITH BUGS AND GAS! (Being the unofficial motto of the Army’s Chemical Corps.) Training people to use these things was part of the gig, and they’re frighteningly easy to use wrong; they’re reasonably delicate and fairly easy to contaminate or peg. Walk up to a hot source and check it with the meter on one of the lower scales, and bad things could happen. Open the shield to check for beta radiation, and pass it to close to a blade of grass, and you risked puncturing the shield. IF the numbers get high, you get out if you can.

While there are lots of emitters – particles that have become radioactive or are by their nature radioactive such as uranium – the primary ones monitored for in the field are GAMMA radiation, which is the most immediately deadly, Beta radiation which can be very hot but has a real limited range of its emissions, and then Alpha Radiation which is most dangerous if it gets inside the body. Think of barriers – lead is a great barrier for gamma; beta can be blocked by clothing and dust masks and goggles. Alpha is pretty insidious – the meters to detect its presence are specialized and primarily available to emergency reaction teams who would respond to a nuclear accident or a dirty bomb. IF it gets into the water table of the food chain, it can be a problem. If you inhale it or it gets into a cut, it can be a problem. Not quickly, but down the road a piece.

OK, welcome to the modern world. We have to deal with dirty water, dirty air, global climate change, extreme weather, decreasing availability of cheap energy, overcrowding, pandemics, potential famine, potential shortage of potable water…everything except the viral crop of right wing, isolationist, brain dead bigots that currently infect the US and indeed the entire civilized world. Thomas Hobbes and Thomas More weren’t exactly contemporaries, but I’ve come to believe of late that the Tea Party and their ilk, the Grover Norquist-Herman Cain-Joe Walsh axis of that world, mistook the two. They read Leviathan, and then they read Utopia and then got confused as to which one was supposed to reflect the good idea and which the bad. (This is kind of like confusing The Joy of Sex with The Joy of Cooking, but more dangerous to civil society.)Hobbes believed that in the absence of a strong central power, “Life is nasty, brutish, and short,” and advocated a very strong central government as essential to a civilized society. More described an ideal society – Utopia – where the absence of distractor and distinctions allowed for a classless and a rather bland society. But, he pointed out in the book itself that it was an intellectual exercise and in real life, he advocated a very strong central government. When that central government decided to execute him, his final speech was brief and to the point, saying in large part “I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.”

There is a rhetorical tool called reduction ad absurdum that doesn’t work with these people. We’ve seen it several times this year in debates; the famous “Let him die!” crowd cheer in the Republican debate in response to Ron Paul’s brief hesitation in his response to Wolf Blitzer is the most distinct. I’ve had it happen in discussion with students who hold these beliefs; I first felt the change in argument when I said to one of the folks who was paying my salary by attending class on a mix of GI Bill and Pell Grants and Federally Guaranteed Loans that “Look, the government needs to be able to help people. No one wants to see beggars and kids starving…” The guy responded, “Who cares? That’s their problem.”

How do you argue with that sort of stuff? More, I think, encountered the same thing, as did Hobbes. More’s comment is more immediately apropos, since this was a student in a graduate business economics class –“One of the greatest problems of our time is that many are schooled but few are educated.” I’d like to think that I had the same thought and possibly did at the time, but it was probably punctuated with obscenities, curses and commands to get his ass off his head and back where it belonged. I kept quiet – you don’t get to curse students until you have tenure. But, I think Hobbes again adds clarity to the argument, about the role and responsibility of government. “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth by which he is able to protect them.

OK, Brother AXE, how exactly do you get from Geiger counters to the Tea Party to Hobbes and More and beyond. Well, it’s relatively easy…all it takes is following More, being transformatively exposed to an engaged human life…

The discovery came in the midst of the largest federal effort to date to clean up uranium mines on the vast Indian reservation. A hearing in 2007 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform led to a multiagency effort to assess and clean up hundreds of structures on the reservation through a five-year plan that ends this year….Yet while some mines have been “surgically scraped” of contamination and are impressive showpieces for the E.P.A., others, like the Cameron site, are still contaminated. Officials at the E.P.A. and the Department of Energy attribute the delay to the complexity of prioritizing mine sites. Some say it is also about politics and money… “The government can’t afford it; that’s a big reason why it hasn’t stepped in and done more,” said Bob Darr, a spokesman for the Department of Energy. “The contamination problem is vast.” Leslie MacMillan, NY Times, April 1, 2012.

The article describes another moment in the timeline of exploitation and destruction of Native American culture and people by corporate and government greed and indifference. In this case, during the great uranium boom of the 1956-period, the government not only allowed but encouraged various people ranging from major mining interests to irresponsible nutjobs – not that the two are mutually exclusive – to seek deposits of uranium on reservation land in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. When the boom died, the various mining interests left – and since then, it became obvious that they left a lot of junk behind poisoning the land. Hey, the Navajos have a lot of space, who cares? Well, that sort of lasiez-faire nonsense fails to consider the Navajo cultural and religious ties to the land. I am not an expert on Navajo religious beliefs, but their origin myth has a very strong tie not only to nature but to the very ground itself and what is beneath it. The Old Man of the story is as close to a god figure as we get here:

watch?v=UMTG7cSJQsI In most cultures, including the western culture we supposedly represent, when you make a promise you fulfill it. The relationship between the US and the Navajo isn’t simple – no relationship between sovereign states where one is in fact subservient to the other can be simple. But, the role of the US in this equation is to protect the Navajo and to act as stewards so that they can maintain their way of life. Obviously, the great Uranium rush resulted in a lot of undocumented craziness in isolated backlands. Problem is, many of the reservations people live out in those backlands and are pastoral in existence…sheepherders. Sheep need to roam, and one might wonder if the reservation is huge enough to support a relatively large population in the high desert of the American Southwest. When you poison hunks of the land, it’s difficult to maintain and use. When you don’t tell people the hazards you are exposing them to, you risk exposing them to patterns of illness and sickness that they may not recognize or have the resources to care for.

The EPA has done a lot more than would be done without it, but these areas are environmental disasters. The NavajOf course, the Navajo people are American citizens. If the government of the United States allows and encourages Bob’s Radioactive Mining and Waste Creation service to dig up and contaminate my back yard, I have a valid claim for the US government to honor. If I get sick, I have a valid claim against Bob’s – who either goes bankrupt or has died – and against the US government.o don’t have the resources or the money or the expertise to handle 6-7-9=800 documented and undocumented hazmat sites. No one does, except the US. If you can identify the company that poisoned and failed to remediate the site and the company is still in business, you can take them to court if you’re either the Navajo or the US government and force them to remediate it. However, a lot of these diggings are anonymous or were dug by individuals 50 years ago and are no longer in business. I suspect it’s obvious – the US has a responsibility to fix this; someone needs to get incensed and question whether or not the senior member of the partnership of sovereigns in this case is fulfilling its responsibilities.

So, the problem is money. Let’s turn briefly to another money issue.

When the Army was made up of draftees and folks who “volunteered” to avoid being drafted, drawing down after a war wasn’t a problem. You pointed at the door and said who wants to go home first. However, after Vietnam, a lot of enlisted guys who become commissioned officers found themselves being told that they weren’t needed as officers; they could, however, stay on as NCOs. And, as a benefit, they could continue to serve in the active, individual reserve so that when they retired they could do so at whatever reserve officer rank they achieved. I know a lot of guys who were Staff Sergeants and Sergeant First Class and even a few Sergeant Majors and such who retired as…Lieutenant Colonels. In one case, the only person who could rate a SFC in my section was the Brigade Commander, because he was senior to everyone else. Weird. Most of these guys were great soldiers, but there was always some fear and resentment, no so much on their parts but on the part of the guys who were now giving them orders.

Minor problem. Solved by 1981 or so; but the problem is greater when you have a volunteer force that you’ve used in the longest war in the Nation’s history and the Iraq war. These folks have been told they are heroes, that the nation is forever indebted to them. They are also literate and engaged human beings – they realize that they are facing a period of arbitrary eliminations and downsizings. They also are learning that the quality of life for those who remain on active duty will decrease significantly. This makes them unhappy.

As it should. It always has…you want to see a portrait of a lost soldier, check out Rome on DVD or Blue Ray and see what happens to soldiers who suddenly and without reasonable transition find themselves tossed into society. Read about what went on with the various paramilitary groups in Germany after World War I. One reason our friend Winston Churchill was able to find a small army and call it a police force, deploying it to Ireland to handle the Irish Revolution was because they had tons of veterans who had no way to make it as civilians after four years in the trenches and the Army was drawing down because of peace. So, the Black and Tans entered Irish history – it may seem a benign mixed drink of lager and stout here, but it Ireland it’s something else entirely.

Now, I served through one peace dividend, the post Soviet Union-post Gulf I drawdown. Operations Temp became absolutely insane for units, particularly in the support base, Intelligence, Logistics and Maintenance for the Army. As a First Sergeant in a Corps Support Brigade in Germany, I was deploying people to Africa, Greece, the Balkans and Belarus on a monthly basis. It was slightly crazy. The OPTEMPO increased when Bosnia and Kosovo came into the picture; when I returned to Fort Lewis, I got another Company as First Sergeant, and went through the same stuff, deploying people to every place from Port Au Prince to Princeton. We were as an Army and as a military far busier during this period than we’d been during the Cold War.

However, since 9/11 the military has been on continuous insanity as an OPTEMPO. What I see in my various wanderings is a force that is largely stressed by insecurity and craziness imposed by a chain of command and then further stressed when they hear that 70000 soldiers will go home this coming year, that standards for weight, PT, body art and so on are going to ratcheted up and that any screw-up will result in getting the boot. Posts are becoming overcrowded which will negatively impact both mission and quality of life. Benefits are being cut. The services are showing their loyalty to the nation and will continue to do so; but, they’d like something in return. Fulfillment of what is seen as promised –Old Veterans can smile cynically but it’s not because we don’t agree with them. It’s because we know. We’ve known since Socrates mustered out in Athens; Kipling said it for all of us –

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll…

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees
!

Now, as a special disabled veteran and a retiree, I have a doctor at the local Army installation, in this case, the clinic at Fort Irwin. Now, Irwin in some ways reminds me of Fort Apache…the Army has done a tremendous amount to make it more livable, but the fact remains that you’re forty miles not from civilization but from the interstate. I make the drive when I need to see my doctor or when I need to pick up a prescription. When I was in to see my Doctor recently, she informed me that she was leaving because her husband was retiring from active duty in June and she had no idea what staff they’d have after she left but was sure they’d find some good ones. She also handed me a prescription for one of my medications, written for a civilian drug store, telling me that the Pharmacy wasn’t going to stock it or many other drugs that had been a normal item in their formulary. I was curious as to this, thinking that the drugs were things that were normally used by retirees and frankly, that made sense. I have had a number of conversations with the soldiers working in the pharmacy over the past couple of years as well as several with the senior officer in the Pharmacy, a Captain. I had to pick up something else, and got a chance to talk to a young sergeant with a close combat badge and a 10th Mountain combat patch. She’s in her early 20s and would like to make this a career but said, “they’re throwing soldiers out and they’re cutting back support to the rest of us. What the hell, First Sergeant?” The Captain was very direct with me; when I said I’d leave her name out of this piece she said,  “I don’t care!! I’m getting ready to PCS and the command loves me because I always come in on budget. They know what I think, but it doesn’t matter. If I make the budget they’re happy with me.”

It takes a lot to bitch slap me with a piece of reality, but I’d never heard about the number one thing on an OER for a company grade officer being “come in at or according to plan.” That’s a civilian bean counter approach. But she told me that the particular thing I’m now getting through RiteAid  — Androgel, I am seriously old although not as old as Gordon or Trowbridge, hehhehehe – is used by a lot of younger soldiers. The reason for the reduction in formulary –drugs carried in the pharmacy – is simple; her budget has been cut by 40% with minimal warning. Of course, the patient load is increasing.

I find this somewhat disturbing on several fronts. If it’s only retired old farts who need something, of course, send up to the pharmacy in town. The co-pay is unpleasant but I can live with it. But, a soldier on active duty, a spouse, a child who’s treatment is delayed while finding a way to Walmart (50 miles away) or waiting for a delivery through ExpressScripts is unconscionable. More than that, the feeling becomes more that they – the Army, the Nation, the People, the Congress, the Government – don’t care.

So, when the House Armed Services Committee grill the Joint Chiefs wanting to know why the Army and the Marines aren’t looking for new tanks and a new generation of tanks in what is supposedly a time of austerity, you have to wonder. The Army says no thanks, we got lots of tanks and nobody to really fight with…with tanks. The Abrams and Bradley and to a lesser extent the Stryker are excellent platforms and weapon systems and WE HAVE ALL WE NEED. Then, the Budget Committee led by Paul Ryan who looks like a cross between a weasel, snake and Eddie Munster to me from some weird progressive sci-fi novel, ignore the Joint Chiefs and say in effect, “They’re lying to us!” as they flood more money into the defense budget, you have to wonder. I personally wouldn’t tell General’s Dempsey, Odierno, and Amos that they were lying to me unless we were playing poker. But Ryan felt comfortable with this gem. General Dempsey’s response would scare me if I was simpering chicken hawk like Ryan and his gang…

We don’t think the generals are giving us their true advice,” Ryan had said, according to Politico. “We don’t think the generals believe their budget is really the right budget.”

Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took issue with those comments.

“There’s a difference between having someone say they don’t believe what you said versus … calling us, collectively, liars,” the general told reporters on Thursday, according to the Wall Street Journal. “My response is: I stand by my testimony. This was very much a strategy-driven process to which we mapped the budget.”

Lest someone say something along the lines of “you can’t have it both ways, Brother AXE!” I have to explain something – they’re not interested in improving quality of life for soldiers on the Hill; they’re interested in keeping the Defense Contractors happy. My own representative is Chairman Buck McKeon who is pretty much on the dole from Lockheed, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. The only reason they would be interested in maintaining the formulary in the Army Medical System is if Merck and Pfizer weighed in. Total BS – these are the guys who want more tanks, more systems that don’t require soldiers but cost a lot of money, more defense contractors doing things soldiers can and should do. Rachel Maddow made the comment on the Jon Stewart show that she didn’t think the Army needed people from KBR peeling potatoes; we could probably figure out some way to have soldiers do that. We don’t people from Cubic managing airspace or logistics. A lot of these people are great folks – lots of former military and retirees. But, they’re doing work that should be done by soldiers.

The number of broken promises and bad judgments made over the last 30 years is incredible. Each bad judgment ends up causing more broken promises. However, the majority of the problems I see – crumbling infrastructure, lousy schools, increased long-term unemployment, mounting debt, lagging modernization, lack of a coherent energy plan and so on and on and on  as well as what has happened to Native Americans, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsman, Civil Servants, Labor Unions, and on and on comes from the idea that we don’t have the wherewithal to pay for what we need to do. That is bullshit. We may all be Travon Martin to some extent; we are also all General Dempsey being insulted and talked down to by Ryan who now claims that he misspoke. Yeah, he’s sorry if General Dempsey didn’t understand what he was saying…if General Dempsey was offended, he’s sorry that General Dempsey was offended.

“General Dempsey and I spoke after that, and I wanted to give that to him, which was that’s not what I was attempting to say,” Ryan said on CNN. “What I was attempting to say is that President Obama put out his budget number for the Pentagon first … and then they began the strategy review to conform the budget to meet that number. We think it should have been the other way around.”

We are all the early 20s spouse who’s told that while her husband is deployed to Afghanistan and she’s just taken her child to the emergency room at Fort Irwin for some condition that she’s going to have to drive in to beautiful to get the medication the kid needs; we’re all the poor pharmacy specialist who has to deliver this news to a scared and lonely woman. We’re all the school teacher who has to buy supplies for her room while trying to pay student loans and for a Master’s degree that she’s required to have but is also required to pay for. We’re all the Navajo farmer who just discovered that his sheep have been munching contaminated grass and have to be put down…

What we’re all not is Paul Ryan. What we’re all not is Buck McKeon. What we’re all not is Mitt Romney – we’re closer to Shamus on the trip to Canada. We’re not the Koch brothers. We’re not worrying about how many millions of dollars we can make in bonuses; we’re not wondering about how much money we need to put into the Cayman Islands this year. We’re not GE, with a 1000 people in their tax department figuring out how little tax they can pay; we’re not the head of Goldman Sachs mortified that the word has gotten out that we’ve financed a  human trafficking website…

There are things that we can do to solve our problems. First of all, we have to acknowledge that taxes are too low and the lowness is progressive. I have no problem with current tax rates so long as at the top end, they are flat above some limit. No deductions. Sorry. So if you’re Mitt Romney, you can claim standard deductions on some portion of your income – say the first million – but the $277M after that should be taxed at the full 35%. Capital Gains up to some limit can continue to be taxed at the current rate – say, up to $2M but above that, it should be taxed at the normal income tax rate. Have somebody rational calculate the shortfall and come up with strategies to overcome it. The SHORTFALL IS NOT SOME NUMBER THAT PAUL RYAN COMES UP WITH. IT NEEDS TO BE BASED ON WHAT WE ACTUALLY NEED TO DO SO THAT THE SOVERIEGN ENTITY CAN FULFILL ITS FUNCTION ACCORDING TO HOBBES.

In Romney’s case, under my plan, assuming he’s able to deduct everything up 1 Million and all but a half million total  is capital gains, he’d still have well over $180 mil in income this year. I think they could get by, just fun. Failing to do something like this, and letting the Randian nutcases and economic libertarians/Austrian School reactionaries and malefactors of great wealth continue to get away with things will result in another Hobbesian diagnosed problem …

During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.

Well, what needs to happen to get there? That’s the next piece. I’ll have it posted in a few days.

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