Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Taxed to Death

I got to thinking about the tax system in our country. I have known for a long time that those who make the most money pay the most in Federal Income Tax.

Over the years I’ve heard how the “rich” don’t pay their fair share; that they have ways of hiding their money; that they get special tax breaks, while the rest of us poor slobs carry the tax burden! Is this true? Let me fill you in on my research.

In an article written for NPR (National Public Radio) in April of this year, a stunning bit of information is offered: “It turns out that nearly half of all Americans don't have to pay any federal income tax. In 2009, 47 percent of all filers paid nothing. It's a number that's gone up significantly in just a couple of years. Robert Siegel talks to Roberton Williams, who's been crunching the numbers at the Tax Policy Institute in Washington. According to Williams, millions escape filing because their incomes are too low or they're eligible for deductions, credits and exemptions.”

Did you catch that? “In 2009, 47 percent of all filers paid nothing.” Which 47 percent does not pay? “Millions escape filing because their incomes are too low.” Our U.S. population is right at 310 million (or 4.5% of the world’s population). About 200 million are adults eligible to be in the workforce. So roughly 100 million are paying income tax for a nation of 310 million.

So, do the “rich” really get a break? Not according to my research. They have opportunities of protecting their money through investments to a certain degree, but income is income and must be reported. Audits are conducted to make sure income is properly reported and taxes are paid on that income.

Are the “rich” paying their fair share? Yes and No. Yes, because they are paying a lot of taxes, and No, because they are paying way more in taxes than the rest of us. In 2008, the top 1% of filers paid 38% of all federal income taxes. To qualify for the top 1% of earners, you needed to have income of at least $380,354. The top 10% of filers with income of $113,799 or more paid 69.9% of the total federal tax burden. News Flash! The top 1% of filers are currently in the 35% tax bracket. For 2011, their tax bracket is scheduled to be increased to 40%.

This is why the “flat tax” is strongly supported by those who are wealthy.

They won’t have to pay as much income tax! How does this work, you say? Simple! Let’s say the government comes up with a flat tax rate of 20%. Everyone, the rich and the not so rich, would pay 20% of their income in taxes. So if Daddy Warbucks makes one hundred million this year – he would pay twenty million in taxes, while at the current rate of 35%, he would pay closer to thirty-five million. Still think the rich should pay more in taxes? Do you really want a flat tax?

Be careful of falling into the “Class Warfare” trap. Politicians are great at using this to their advantage. Those who are not wealthy and are not familiar with big money and how it works, often fall prey to the fires of resentment fostered against those who make a whole lot of money. One of the reasons the United States of America is the great country that it is has to do with the Free Enterprise system, which allows anyone the opportunity to not only earn a living, but to make as much money as they can, given time, talent, and opportunity. Those who make a lot of money are most likely to take that money, reinvest it, which in turn generates business growth, which then creates jobs for the rest of us. When Big Government gets in the way by demanding more taxes from the rich, the money used to reinvest is squirreled away which has the opposite effect: businesses suffer, and jobs are lost. Also, when business owners feel the pinch from the government, they tend to put their profits back into their businesses. Seems like an okay thing to do, except that it raises the cost of the item they are providing, which means you, the paying customer, are paying more for the item. We don’t call that a tax, but it might as well be!

One last thought! Many of our elected officials at the federal level are millionaires. Of the two major political parties, which one do you think has the most millionaires? If you said, “The Democrat Party,” you would be correct. If you said, “The Republican Party,” then you’ve been duped into believing the mantra that they are the party of the rich. Neither party is exactly standing in the bread lines, but just be careful of what you accept as fact.

‘Tis a true saying, “Death and taxes are unavoidable.” However, the answer to our tax problem is not to tax the rich to death, but to force Big Government to spend less.

And everybody said, “Amen!”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fly the Flag!

Okay, enough is enough!

A mere thirty miles from where I live in California, a 13-year-old school boy this week was told by school authorities that he could no longer fly an American flag from his bicycle. The reason? It might cause racial tensions with other students who complained that they found this display of the American flag and patriotism offensive.

Political Correctness strikes again! I suspect Cody Alicea is one of many young people throughout our nation who is proud of the American flag and displays it in any number of ways. Just to be sure, I researched the proper etiquette and protocol of displaying the American flag. The Rule Code for Flags states "More than simply a piece of fabric, a national flag represents the nation as a whole, and is an important symbol of national identity."

Cody had been flying the flag from his bike to and from school for the past two months. School officials decided to clamp down on this young man during Veteran’s Day week. And these are the people responsible for teaching our children?

In my research to see if there is any substantive argument against Cody flying the flag from his bike, I found nothing which would in any way demean or denigrate the flag.

I might add that I have had a fair amount of experience in handling the American flag. My step father served in World War Two as a Marine. Love of country was unquestioned in our household. In 1960 his business took us to Paris, France, and then from ‘61-‘63 we were in Oslo, Norway. Many times we wanted to display our American flag, but because we were living in another country I understood that it would not be appropriate to offend the citizens of that country. In Paris, we lived on the 14th floor of an apartment building overlooking the Seine River. During the spring and summer, the height of the tourist season in the “City of Lights,” standing on the terrace, we would often drape our American flag from the railing in the evenings when the tourist boats cruised by. We would wave frantically at the boat and flutter the flag. The boat captains would shine their search lights directly on our flag, which always got a cheer from the Americans on board. Then we would take the flag back inside. That was about the extent of our flying the flag while abroad.

Later as a young Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, I served with a guard unit. One of my responsibilities was to head up the detail responsible for raising and lowering the colors each day. This is done with precision. And just to make it a bit more tense, the Commanding Officer would stand looking through the window of his office, not more than thirty feet from where we raised the flag each morning, and observe every detail of our execution. Believe me when I tell you that I drilled my Marines in the proper way of handling the flag! I literally threatened them with bodily harm if anything went wrong, because I did not want to have to stand in front of my commanding officer.

As a Navy chaplain, I have officiated in many military funerals. At times, when we were short-handed, besides performing the religious ritual, I might have to assist in folding the flag taken from the coffin, and/or present the folded flag to the loved one.

So, my first thought in reading this story about Cody was, “Has he done something inappropriate?” The answer is, “No.” He is a young teenager who is proud of his country and the military service of his grandfather. Flying the American flag from his bicycle is a natural expression of that pride.

In writing this story, I have contacted a friend in DC who has assured me that Cody will be given a tour of the White House when he visits our Capitol next spring.

Cody, keep flying that flag! We’re proud of you!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Remember!


I just could not pass up the opportunity to recognize two special days in the year. Most people are familiar with one, but not the other.

November 11th is, of course, Veterans Day and has been since the end of World War I. Originally it was known as Armistice Day announcing the end of World War I, but was later changed to Veterans Day following World War II. This is a day when we recognize and honor those who have served in the military throughout our nation’s history, both living and dead. Folks often confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day. As the word “Memorial” implies (in memory), Memorial Day (Originally Decoration Day) is a time when we honor those who have died while serving in the military in the defense of our nation.


So, besides Veterans Day, there’s a second day: November 10th, the birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Granted, this may only seem to have importance to Marines and their loved ones, but wait! Though other branches of the military have birthday dates, and they are earlier than the Corps by a matter of months, the history and traditions of the Marine Corps are part and parcel of the legacy that surrounds the Marine Corps. There is not a Marine alive today who does not know that November 10 is the birthday of the Corps! Ask ten people who have served in the Army or Navy what the birthday of their service is, and I would venture to guess that, at best, three of 10 might know. Now ask ten Marines the same question and you will have ten out of ten say November 10.


Great day of golf! Friday, 5 NOV 2010 Spring Creek G&CC, Ripon
Tony Boyce, PFC Ramon Vasquez, Bill Singleterry, Chuck Roots


As things often align in life, Ramon Vasquez, the young man I wrote about a couple of months back, graduated from Marine Corps boot camp on October 29th, meritoriously promoted to Private First Class (PFC). He then came home for ten days. My, how proud our church family is of this young man! So the other day his step father, Tony Boyce, asked me if I’d join them in a round of golf. I suggested we have a fourth join us. So I called my friend, Bill Singleterry. I was particularly anxious to have Ramon meet Bill because Bill is a former Marine who saw a lot of action during World War II. Marines know their history, and particularly the history of the Corps. With so many of our WWII veterans leaving us, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for Ramon to personally interact with a man who served during a period of time when the legacy of the Marine Corps was being reestablished as a premier amphibious fighting force. So, this morning we four met and had a wonderful time playing golf, but more importantly, Ramon got to spend time with Bill. Later, we enjoyed lunch together, delving into Bill’s Marine Corps experiences.


At age 17, Bill convinced his dad to sign for him to enlist in the Marine Corps two weeks after graduating from high school. When asked why he signed up for the Marines, Bill gave a one-word answer: Patriotism. Leaving his home in Joplin, Missouri, Bill traveled to San Diego by train where he went to boot camp. Before the year was out, and right after his eighteenth birthday, he was thrust into the first offensive action in the Pacific. The Battle of Tarawa, November 20-23, was an amphibious landing of the 2nd Marine Division on the Tarawa Atoll, defended by 5,000 well trained and well-entrenched Japanese soldiers. Bill writes in his memoires, Transition: Boy to Man, “The 2nd Marine Division was taking the island, and we were designated as replacements. If everything goes well, they won’t even need us.” The Marines ran into a buzz saw! “The defenders were the Japanese counterpart of the U.S. Marines. They had dug in deep and the pre-invasion bombardment had hardly made a dent in the defensive positions. Later that day they told us to prepare for landing the next morning. We knew things were tough ashore. Otherwise, why would they need a replacement battalion?”


The next morning Bill was on a Higgins boat heading for shore. “We roared toward the beach. We had our heads down to keep from getting hit so we couldn’t see how close we were getting. The boat hit the reef and came to a sudden halt. The door dropped down and I received my first 'baptism of fire.' All during training you wonder how you will react when the real thing comes along. The first thing I thought about was doing everything I could to stay alive.” Bill goes on to tell what happened after they jumped into the water. “With all the equipment you had on it would be very easy to drown if you hit a hole, and some did. We were still 200 yards from the beach and machine gun fire was coming in hot and heavy. I wondered if my rifle would fire if I ever got to shore.”

After Tarawa, Bill’s unit participated in the Battle for Saipan, then Tinian, and finally Okinawa. He was back in Saipan preparing to be part of the huge invasion force that would attack mainland Japan, had President Truman not decided to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Conservative estimates say that some 1.5 to 2 million American lives were spared by dropping the bomb.


In the Prologue of his memoires, Bill explains his reason for writing about his war experiences. “I wrote this because I want my children, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren and all the family that comes along after I’m gone to understand that the freedoms that they enjoy did not come cheaply. I want them to understand that many hardships were endured and much blood was shed to buy those freedoms. I want them to understand the privileges that too many Americans take for granted, could have been lost forever.”

On November 10th, Marines raise a glass to men like Bill Singleterry. On November 11th, the rest of the nation honors all who have served our nation.

Remember: Freedom and liberty come at a high price!


Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Brats Reunion

A couple of weeks ago I drove to Eugene, Oregon along with my wife and sister. The purpose of this sojourn was to attend a rather unusual reunion.

Overseas Brats is an organization that was formed twenty-five years ago strictly for the purpose of reconnecting with people you once knew while attending a school for military kids somewhere around the world. Officially, these schools come under the Department of Defense (DOD), providing an American style school for military kids whose parent is stationed in a foreign land. This could be Africa, Asia/Pacific, the Americas, the Middle East, and Europe.

Allow me to explain why this is important. Military brats, as they are frequently called, often attend a number of different schools outside of the United States during the course of their parent’s military career. Exposure to different cultures and climates are part of the overall experience of brats. A tour of duty for the parent typically lasts from one to three years. Because kids are thrown together from all over the United States in DOD schools far, far away, they learn to make friends quickly, knowing that, at best, they will have three years together! They may run into each other again somewhere around the world, but the odds are against it. So, even if they haven’t spent much time together, there is a bond develops transcends time and distance.

My sister, Joy, and I attended the Oslo American School (OAS) in Norway from 1961-63. I was in 8th & 9th grades and Joy was a grade behind. Despite the fact that our dad was a civilian (working for an American corporation) the school gave us permission to attend OAS. And we weren’t the only non-military kids there. But I have to tell you, those were some of the best times Joy and I ever had! Going to school was fun because we were constantly exposed to new and different things. You met kids who already had developed a level of maturity because of their travels and military environment that you did not see in kids back in the States. Besides having to study Norwegian, we often had coordinated events with the local Norwegian school next door to ours. We would go on ski trips together on the weekends, or play ice hockey (a huge sport in Norway), or go to the movies at night during the summer, only to exit the movie house late in the evening and the sun was still up! Conversely, in the winter we went to school in the dark and came home in the dark! That’s what happens when you live that much closer to the North Pole. But what I enjoyed the most was the Friday Night Teen Club. We would gather at the American Embassy in the basement with someone acting as a DJ, spinning 45 rpm records. We danced to all the latest hits. The guys wore slacks and buttoned-up shirts with a tie and sport coat, and the girls wore dresses. Parents and teachers acted as chaperones for the evening. We bonded with so many of those kids that hardly a day goes by that I don’t find myself thinking about one of them. So a few years ago, Joy told me about this organization of Overseas Brats holding these reunions around the country. She had managed to keep in touch with some of the kids from our time in Oslo, so I was aware there was something going on. But between my responsibilities as pastor to my church, and my role as a Navy chaplain in the reserve, traveling to a reunion was not on my priority list.

My wife was curious about this group because she had heard me talk about them over the years. We had beautiful weather the whole week we were gone. We spent the first three days in the Hilton Hotel in Eugene, getting reacquainted with brats we had known, and with brats we never knew before. It was particularly fascinating to meet the spouses of those brat friends you last saw when they were teenagers! We chatted on about careers, grandkids, and ailments! Lots of activities and entertainment were planned. One of the evenings we had a delicious dinner at Lane (County) Community College, hosted by the students of the Culinary Arts program. Entertainment during dinner was an Elvis Presley impersonator, one of the best I’ve ever seen. It was a wonderful evening, and those of us who had not seen each other in decades enjoyed getting caught up with each other’s goings-on, and renewing our friendships.

I’m hoping to attend more of these get-togethers, both to revisit those we spent time with at this reunion, and because there were so many more who were unable to attend.

Oh, yeah! If you happen to be an Overseas Brat, but you didn’t know about this organization, or you know someone who is a brat and might be interested, tell them to connect with Joe Condrill at [joeosbpres@sbcglobal.net], or go to the web site [www.overseasbrats.net]. Joe is responsible for getting the ball rolling on this in the mid-80s.

Some of the brats have written books about their experiences. One is entitled, “Hot Times During the Cold War.” Another is, “Military Brats and Other Global Nomads.” But my favorite title is, “I was a Teenage Norwegian!” Obviously, this title was a take-off of the movie title years ago, “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.”

So, thanks, Joe! Here’s to good times and renewed friendships! Let’s not allow another 47 years to escape before we do this again!

Psalm for the Day