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

The Best Christmas Present Ever

December 25, 2016

Driving home a barren country road early in the evening twenty-one years ago from the local village market, it was a cold, clear night. Rounding a sharp curve, one very bright star caught my eye. Knowing very well that this star was a planet, most likely Venus, however I could not help but be reminded of the Star of Bethlehem, lighting the way for the three Wise Men to find their way to Bethlehem, to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It was Christmas Eve after all.

Two months earlier, life as I knew it ended quite suddenly, an accumulation of related events that cost me both my promising career and marriage. When you combine that with the medical crisis that nearly cost me my life, suffering still from several side effects to this day, I paid dearly for my youthful indiscretion. A payment I make every single day, and will until the day I die. Having renovated the farmhouse prior to moving in five years earlier, the first thing I did when the family moved out was to redecorate, removing any signs that a very troubled marriage once lived there.

I had spent Christmas Eve hanging new mini blinds, after recently painting the two front rooms, color coordinating both living rooms, one a light green, the other light blue. I had no problem hanging the blinds in the green room, however, when I got to the blue room, I needed a really small drill bit, but could not find one. By the time I realized I did not have the bit needed to finish the job, I knew the local hardware store (different village in the opposite direction, but the same five-mile distance away) would be closed on a normal workday, let alone Christmas Eve.

After renovating the farmhouse before moving in, and during the entire twelve years I lived there, I ended up with a small stockpile of nuts and bolts and odds and ends down in the basement, my own mini hardware store. However, being a life-long neat-freak, a perfectionist, and in the throes of becoming very obsessive-compulsive, I knew very well where all my drill bits were; in the metal case the DeWalt cordless drill came in. But knowing very well where all my bits were did not keep me from searching out that elusive bit all night long.

As the evening was nearing midnight, I’m thinking to myself, talking to God, wishing that I had just one small drill bit. I probably bought that drill when I first started working on the house, so I had owned it at least for five years. By 11:30, I’m thinking I would give anything to have one very small drill bit. Then, at 11:45, fifteen minutes before Christmas officially began, I had the bright idea of looking underneath the cardboard backing that came inside the DeWalt metal case. I owned that drill for many years, but never removed the cardboard packaging.

Underneath that cardboard, what did I found? No, it was not one very small drill bit. It was three very small drill bits, two shiny silver, and the other black. Were these newfound bits purely coincidental or someone’s present? Whenever I needed anything from the hardware store, I would buy extras. If I needed a couple of screws, I would buy a dozen or two. That’s how I built up my supply room in the basement. If I needed a small drill bit, I would buy three. I can understand how one bit might have fallen under the cardboard, but three of the same size. What are the odds on that happening?

What is somewhat peculiar about the bits were that they were two shiny silver, one black. What were the three gifts the Wise Men gave the baby Jesus? Gold, myrrh and frankincense. Myrrh is a natural gum that was used as perfume, incense and mixed as a drink, but was also as an embalming oil. John 19:38-39 tells us that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea brought a 100-pound mixture of myrrh and aloes to wrap Jesus’ body in after his crucifixion.

Two good, one bad. Two shiny, one black. Whatever the case, at that time and place in my life, when I had lost everything that meant anything to me, I could not have received a better Christmas present than those three drill bits.

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