U.S. – Cuban Relations (Or Lack Thereof)

June 23, 2017

The recent announcement by the president that his administration will roll back the normalization of relations with Cuba as enacted by former president Barack Obama, reeks of political pandering to the very small, yet very vocal Cuban-American community in the delegate rich state of Florida. Ironically, when President Obama announced the easement of the embargo, Cuban-Americans were outraged, yet the Cuban people rejoiced.

America’s fifty year embargo against Cuba via commercial, economic and financial sanctions did nothing but hurt the Cuban people and kept the Castro brothers in power all these years as they blamed America for all their hardship. Making matters much more dire, Russia has announced they are planning on opening a military base in the island nation located only ninety miles off the coast of Florida.

Even more ironic, just days after the announcement by the president that he is rolling back Cuban relations to Cold War status, Raul Castro has confirmed his plan to not seek another term as president when his current term expires in 2018.

What could ever possibly go wrong?

Steven H. Spring
Earth

Another Massive Tax Cut For Big Business And Billionaires

April 28, 2017

With the president boasting that his one page tax reform plan (i.e., massive tax cuts for both Big Business and the wealthy elite) is the biggest in history, one thing for certain is that this proposed legislation will add to the soaring national debt, as experts are already opining that it will add an additional seven trillion dollars of debt over the next decade. The administration is saying this tax plan will pay for itself via economic growth. However, that was not the case when George W. Bush cut taxes twice during his terms in office.

Politicians, corporate leaders and business pundits all whine how the present corporate tax rate of 35% is the highest in the world, yet they fail to mention the average, effective rate paid by all corporations is only 12.8%, hardly unfair. Many of this nation’s largest corporations pay little, if any federal tax, including Boeing, General Electric, Priceline.com, Verizon, American Electric Power, First Energy, Duke Energy, Con-Ed and FedEx, among many others. These same people say reducing the corporate rate to 15% will create jobs, however, it is demand that creates jobs. U.S. corporations have been sitting on record piles of cash the past few years, which has done nothing to stimulate the economy. The problem is the working man and woman have little, if any discretionary income, as they are barely getting by on minimum wage jobs. Now days, it takes both the husband and wife working full-time jobs to raise a family, whereas a few decades ago all it took was for the husband to be the breadwinner.

Why is it that nearly seventy percent of U.S. corporations are regarded as non-profits? According to the latest available Internal Revenue Service statistics that I could find, the percentage of non-profits has grown from twenty-four percent in 1986 to sixty-nine percent by 2008. Why the sudden surge in the number of corporations that consider themselves not-for-profit? This percentage is far higher when you add in sole proprietors and partnerships.

Congress needs to investigate why, in 1959 the IRS changed the wording of the actual law regarding the qualifications for tax-exemption status, when they had no legal authority to do so. I am not an attorney, nor a tax expert (who is?); however, the law as written by Congress in Section 501(C) of the tax code requires any entity not organized for profit, applying for tax-exempt status as a social welfare organization to be operated “exclusively” for the promotion of social welfare. Some non-profit corporations that do not seemingly meet the requirement of exclusively promoting social welfare are the NCAA, PGA, LPGA and the NHL. The NFL just this month announced they are giving up their tax-free status, as Major League Baseball did in 2007.

Or, how about Wall Street bankers, earning millions of dollars a year, pay a federal rate of only 15% because their income is counted as capital gains. I guess that “golden rule” is true, isn’t it? Our tax code desperately needs overhauled, but once again slashing taxes paid by Big Business, millionaires and billionaires is not the answer. Nor will it simulate the economy. President Clinton raised taxes and the economy roared. George W. Bush cut taxes twice and he left office with the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Do I feel sorry for U.S. corporations or the wealthy elite who earn billions of dollars, yet pay little or no federal tax? Hardly.

Steven H. Spring
Earth

Veterans Are Dying Left And Right, Or Are They?

April 26, 2017

If one were only to get their information about the Veterans Administration’s treatment of America’s military veterans solely via television, one would think the VA is performing a terrible disservice to those who served this nation, that veterans are dying at an alarming rate due to lack of adequate, or timely treatment. However, relying solely on the VA the past ten years for all my medical issues, I have been treated with the utmost care by the Dayton Medical Center, located in Dayton, Ohio.

A couple of months ago, I had a panic attack episode, however this one was much different from most because I blacked out. Two sisters (they are sisters, though not to me, but are like family) stopped by to help pick out some mats for a picture I was putting together for one of my Navy brothers, as I am colorblind. I was talking to one about the fish in one of my aquariums while logging online to my framing store with the other when the next thing I knew they kept asking if I were alright. I thought they were teasing me, as both like to do, but when I noticed my next door neighbor was standing beside them I knew something was wrong.

The sisters are aware of my panic attacks, but one went for my neighbor because she had not seen me black out before, which I had done, I believe only one other time, that being twenty years ago. After somewhat gaining my senses, I then went into one of my more “typical” panic attacks. I have been experiencing these attacks for the past twenty years due to a very serious mid-life crisis in which I lost everything of importance, including my health. When I lost my job as an audit supervisor with the Auditor of State of Ohio, I was taking 400mg of Zoloft daily, an amount entirely too excessive. Losing my benefits, I was forced to withdrawal cold-turkey from the anti-depressants, which caused several serious side effects that still linger with me to this day.

Ten years ago, I was kicked off of Medicaid because my state retirement, of which I have yet to receive any benefits, now counts as an asset because I can cash it in at any time, and my retirement account puts me over their income eligibility threshold. Thankfully, my four years of duty as a weatherman aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-61) has provided all my medical coverage via the VA. Without this coverage, I do not know where I would be this day.

When I had the blackout episode, I sent an email to my prime care doctor to let him know what happened, as I was not scheduled to see him for another six months. I sent my doctor (whom I consider the best doctor I have ever had) my message on a Friday. The following Monday morning, I received a reply telling me he wants to see me right away.

The next week, I was at the Dayton Medical Center for my appointment, at which time they did an EKG test. Within three months, I had the following tests performed; ZIO Patch (monitoring my heart for two weeks), Echo-cardiogram and a CT scan of my brain. After each test, I met with the appropriate doctors to discuss the results, all of which indicated no problem signs.

I could have had an even shorter time frame to have had all of these procedures and follow-up appointments performed, however I ride with my local Veterans Service Commission as I have no transportation (my truck did not survive my mid-life crisis, it was either my truck or I, and thankfully the truck lost). Riding with the Veterans Service Commission, I always ask for an early afternoon appointment, which does not guarantee the quickest available appointment, so that my fellow riders will not have to wait for me for our long ride home.

Granted, one veteran dying from lack of proper medical treatment is a travesty. However, the VA system is this country’s largest medical system, and as such there are bound to be some problems. My guess is that the VA has become swamped by the enormous number of veterans it treats. In addition to all the aging vets it cares for, as a country currently involved in three wars (Iraq, Afghanistan & Syria), plus another four countries we are bombing on a semi-regular basis (Libya, Pakistan, Somalia & Yemen), the system has become overloaded with vets injured in battle facing serious, life-long injuries.

The Dayton Medical Center and my local Veterans Service Commission have been a life saver for me. I could not be more happier with the medical services they provide. My only complaint is that I wish the VA provided dental service.

Steven H. Spring
Earth

 

Defense Spending Vs. The National Debt

March 3, 2017

With the recent announcement by the president that he is requesting at least a $54 billion increase to the military budget, though he also said it could approach $100 billion when all is said and done, it seems that decreasing the national debt is no longer a priority. With an annual defense budget of $600 billion, we spend thirty-six percent of the world-wide defense budget, out-spending number two China by $350 billion. When combined with our intelligence agencies, we spend nearly $1.5 trillion on defense and intelligence related expenditures every year. Moreover, this does not include America’s newly created ultra secret intelligence budget.

Since September 11th, our government has built up such a top-secret network of intelligence agencies that no one knows how much it cost, how many it employs or how many agencies it runs. The defense budget itself has nearly doubled since 2000, yet where has all this spending gotten us? As a nation, we live in fear of another September 11th attack; all the while, our country is falling apart. America is bankrupting itself and it is not from our spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. It is from our imperialistic attitude and our attempt to dominate the world we call planet Earth.

In a rather sad, ironic twist, America is by far the world’s largest arms dealer, with more than half of total world-wide arms sales. Thus, not only are we bankrupting ourselves with our military spending, but we are also heavily arming the rest of the world. One must remember that America armed Saddam Hussein when he was at war with Iran in the 1980s and we armed Osama bin Laden when he fought the Russians in Afghanistan, also during the ‘80s. America has a very extensive history of arming and supporting malevolence dictators and lunatics, in the name of what is best for this country, not necessarily what is best for the rest of the world.

Making matters worse is that we spend billions of dollars on military items our generals and admirals do not need, nor want, all because members of Congress feel the need to look good to their constituents back home by keeping jobs in their districts. A prime example of military waste is the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), which Senator John McCain has proclaimed a boondoggle. Construction begun on the $13 billion carrier in 2005, and though not yet commissioned is two years behind schedule with cost overruns of nearly $3 billion. Furthermore, this does not include the nearly $5 billion cost of research and development, nor the cost of more than seventy-five aircraft that will take-off and land on her massive flight deck. One must also not forget that the Pentagon’s accounting books have been unauditable for years.

In his January 17, 1961 farewell address to the nation, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the country to beware of the mighty military-industrial complex. President Eisenhower stated “…we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Coming from a five-star general, many credit for winning World War II, America should have listened.

Steven H. Spring
Earth

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Government Regulations

January 26, 2017

With the boast by the president that he will cut government regulations by seventy-five percent, if not more, what could possibly go wrong if he gets his way? Regulations, like laws come about because of wrong doing. We must not forget that forty years ago, the Bald Eagle, America’s national symbol became nearly extinct because of the use of DDT. In June of 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught fire due to decades of polluted industrial waste. That was just the last time the river near Cleveland, Ohio caught fire, as it burned several times throughout the first half of the twentieth century. More recently, let’s ask the citizens of Flint, Michigan how they feel about eliminating nearly all government regulations.

Living in the Rust Belt, we like to think that our air is much cleaner than it was during this region’s steel producing heyday, and judging by photographs taken seventy-five years ago, it appears so. However, the American Lung Association deems fifty percent of all U.S. counties suffer from unhealthy air, resulting in their citizens suffering from asthma (which is becoming an epidemic, especially among our children), bronchitis, emphysema, strokes, heart attacks and premature deaths. It has been estimated that nearly five million people die every year world-wide from breathing polluted air.

Making matters worse, the president has even issued a gag order against the EPA, forbidding scientists from talking to anyone about their work. Additionally, he has frozen the agency’s funding, in effect putting an end to any future research into climate change, along with its many other services such as environmental waste cleanup and the monitoring of the quality of the air we breath. It has also been reported the agency has been ordered to begin purging its historical research data.

Ironically, the president, who bailed out son Donald, Jr.’s failed business (bankruptcy must run in the family), wants the taxpayers of South Carolina to pay for cleaning up the business site’s toxic waste. In order to do so, the president must prove he does not know the previous owner.

In what has to be the most egregious misuse of any word in the history of mankind, this president has the audacity to proclaim himself an environmentalist. This surely must be one of this administration’s alternative facts.

Steven H. Spring
Earth

A Tale Of Two Parties (Apologies To Charles Dickens)

November 10, 2016

Less than twenty-four hours after the Republican Party candidate pulled off the biggest upset this year, no, make that number two behind Penn State pulling off a huge upset in a Happy Valley white-out against the Buckeyes, President Obama invited the president-elect, who mocked Obama for years, to the White House to discuss the peaceful transfer of power come January. Whatever happened to the president-elect’s investigation into the president’s birth and religion, the results of which we were told is gonna shock us?

Eight years ago, on the day President Obama was first sworn into office, Republican Congressional leaders met at the Caucus Room restaurant to make sure the “uppity” first-term Senator from Illinois was a complete failure, in effect the most perfect example of putting party over country. Especially considering the disastrous economy he inherited. Or a world economy on the brink of a catastrophic meltdown, due to the Wall Street mess. Not to mention the two longest wars in U.S. history, both unfunded and still ongoing. Also unfunded were two massive tax cuts, benefiting mainly the wealthy elite, as well as the Medicare prescription drug program.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had the audacity to announce his number one priority was seeing Barack Obama a one-term president. He couldn’t even get that right!!!

Steven H. Spring
Earth

U.S. Elections Are Rigged, Just Not In The Way Donald Trump Whines About

November 1, 2016

How is it that America, which prides itself on being the world’s all-time greatest democracy, is becoming less and less so with each and every election? Though technically a representative democracy in which we elect local and state officials, along with members of Congress to cast our votes for us, this concluding presidential season just might prove that we are anything but one.

On the Republican side of the wall separating the two parties, businessman, blowhard and national embarrassment on the world stage Donald Trump beat a field of sixteen other mostly uninspiring candidates by out-name calling them to win his party’s nomination. Trump is such a polarizing candidate that members of his own party took an anybody-but-Trump movement right up to the moment he accept the nomination during the Republican Convention held earlier this summer in Cleveland.

Even though Trump won his party’s nomination by winning more than the 1,237 delegates needed to win, he referred to the system as rigged. As Election Day finally approaches, he has begun a full-time campaign decrying the system as rigged and massive fraud will be committed on Election Day. Trump has gone as far as stating he will contest the outcome, unless of course he miraculously wins. With election fraud virtually nonexistent, and polls indicating that Hillary Clinton just might win in a landslide, it seems that Trump is getting his excuses in order when he loses the election, so that the final result will not be a blow to his enormous ego.

Mr. Trump probably saw nothing wrong with winning his home state primary of New York with sixty percent of the vote, yet he received ninety-seven percent of the votes that really counts, the delegate vote. Making matters more complicated than this seemingly unnatural method of electing candidates are the party’s “unbound” delegates. The Republican Party cannot even give an accurate account of their highly influential number, as it ranges from plus or minus one hundred and fifty to as many as two hundred. These unbound delegates are free to vote for whomever they choose, despite the vote of the people, and comprise as much as sixteen percent of the actual vote needed to win the Republican nomination. This is democracy?

The Democratic Party, with its seven hundred and twelve unpledged “super delegates,” comprising a whopping thirty percent of the party’s total delegate count, is even more undemocratic. These super delegates, who are comprised of various Democratic leaders such as sitting governors and members of Congress, are under no obligation to vote for the candidate who won their state primary. The perfect example of democracy in action for the Democratic Party, despite the irony in its name occurred during the New Hampshire primary. Senator Bernie Sanders, who beat Clinton by twenty percentage points, walked away with a virtual tie in the delegate count.

Based on his margin of victory, Senator Sanders won the pledged delegate count fifteen – nine over Clinton, yet six of the state’s eight super delegates pledged their support for the former New York senator, with two delegates uncommitted. This resulted in fundamentally a tie between the two candidates, despite Sanders soundly beating his opponent. In an even more egregious example, Sanders won the Wyoming caucus by eleven percentage points, yet Clinton won the total delegate count eleven – seven. How is that possible?

The Democrat Party’s super delegate nominating process came about after former California governor Ronald Reagan beat President Jimmy Cater during his re-election bid in 1980. Party leaders felt to urge to correct any “mistake” made by voters during the primary season, thereby being able to nominate a candidate more their liking, despite how Americans actually voted. The vast majority of Hillary Clinton’s delegate count over Bernie Sanders was due to super delegates.

When you also consider the Republican Party is doing everything it can to restrict voter turnout, be it by reducing early voting dates or enacting new voter ID laws, America’s democratic values are being greatly undermined. In Texas, a hunting license is an acceptable form of voter ID, yet a college ID is not. We are led to believe that stricter ID laws are required because of voter fraud, yet voter fraud is basically nonexistent. From 2000 through 2014, more than one billion votes were cast with only thirty-one documented case of voter fraud, a fraction so insignificant it might very well be zero. Most cases of alleged fraud are only errors committed by citizens staffing the polling stations.

The Grand Old Party has also taken to greatly reducing the number of voting machines in historically Democratic voting districts, resulting in lengthy waits in line just to cast a vote. In this past Arizona primary, voters waited in lines for up to five hours, while during the last presidential election, voters in Ohio waited in line up to eight hours. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted was sued earlier this year by the ACLU over allegations of illegally removing tens of thousands of voter names from registration rolls. In September, the Sixth Circuit Court Of Appeals ruled he cannot purge the voting rolls merely because citizens do not vote regularly. Maybe it’s time for America to change its national motto from “In God We Trust” to “If You Cannot Beat Them, Restrict Them.”

Another method of restricting voter turnout are the “closed” primaries, in which Democrats are only allowed to vote Democrat and Republican the same, leaving Independents out of the process. One report indicated that more than a million New Yorkers were refused their constitutional right to vote. Who can forget that two of Trump’s children failed to properly register and left unable to vote for their father?

Making the entire process even more corrupt was the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in which the court basically ruled that the ability of corporations and unions to contribute unlimited amounts of money to candidates and issues equates to speech. Money is not free speech, and not free as money buys influence. Unlimited money buys corruption. Campaign contributions to candidates by Wall Street have tripled since 2012. It is said that members of Congress now spend most of their time begging for campaign contributions.

After voting is completed in state primaries and then finally the national election, it is not the candidate who receives the most votes that wins the election, it is the Electoral College that decides who will be the next president of the United States. Is America a democracy? Hardly.

Steven H. Spring
Earth