Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Seriously?

 
When it comes to the office of the President of the United States, I shy away from making negative comments. This goes back to an earlier time when the President, regardless of party, was held in high regard – or at least in higher regard than today.

Our military is so different from other countries – in particular, our military has at the head, a civilian who is the President. Within the military community, there is a rule that you do not criticize anyone in your chain of command up to and including the President. If you do, you know the hammer is going to come down on you – hard! We are not a political organization. This does not, however, mean that individuals in the military do not have strong philosophical, religious or political opinions. You just learn to keep them to yourself. Once you return to civilian life this business of criticism gets a bit murky. The rule of thumb would be: When in doubt, don’t.  

I will continue to make this my practice despite the fact that I have many serious issues with our current president, not the least of which is his disdain for our military.

Just this past week I, along with many of you, experienced another peek into the attitude our president has toward our military. Having spent 34 years wearing the uniform, I get a bit sensitive when it comes to those who have willingly placed themselves in harm’s way for the 310 million Americans that reside in these 50 States.

In keeping with quoting from reliable sources and not wanting to take anything out of context, I present the following portion of an interview with President Obama the other day. The discussion centered on the federal budget and the need to cut the military’s portion by $500 billion.

“Even if the cuts take effect, Obama said, the Navy's elite commandos need not worry.

‘We're going to do what we need to keep our SEALs operating. They are the point of the spear in our battle against terrorism,’ he said. ‘We're not going to see our SEAL teams impacted. We need them to keep us safe.’

“He said he isn't bothered by charges from a political action committee called the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, founded by Scott Taylor, a former SEAL from Virginia Beach that accuses Obama of taking too much credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden last year.

‘I don't take these folks too seriously,’ Obama said. ‘One of their members is a birther who denies I was born here, despite evidence to the contrary. You've got another who was a tea party candidate in a recent election. This kind of stuff springs up before election time.’

“He described the bin Laden raid, carried out by Virginia Beach-based Navy SEALs, as ‘an example of the United States government working as it should to protect the American people.’” (Kate Wiltrout, The Virginian-Pilot, Aug 21, 2012).

I find this to be most interesting! Scott Taylor, a former Navy SEAL (Sea, Air, Land), a special operations force, has spoken out concerning this administrations trumpeting of the take down of Osama bin Laden. The SEAL Team that performed the task was named, and individuals associated with this operation were identified. A Pakistani doctor who aided our guys in finding bin Laden is now serving more than thirty years in a Pakistani prison because our leaders spilled the beans. This should not have happened! Who will want to step up and help us in the future if they are uncertain if our leaders can keep their egos in check and their mouths shut?

As a rule, special ops guys do not seek glory and fame. There are always exceptions, but they are few in number. So for a former Navy SEAL like Scott Taylor to speak out against the administration, and who was on the mission that got bin Laden, it had to be serious indeed. The President’s response when asked about Mr. Taylor’s criticism is stunning. “I don’t take these folks too seriously,” Mr. Obama said. Seriously? You don’t, Mr. President? You are the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of America. Ours is the finest military the world has ever known. And the Navy SEALs are arguably the best of all. And you don’t take them seriously?

Let me remind you of this pertinent fact. The men and women of our military, regardless of political stripe, will defend you, Mr. President, to the death. They will be loyal to you as their Commander in Chief even when you are not loyal to them. You, sir, hold their lives in your hands. They will serve you and serve you well, and not once will they blink. That is why the United States of America has been and continues to be the greatest nation on earth.

Mr. Obama, you are our president, duly elected. But when you disrespect our warriors, you disrespect all Americans for they are our sons and daughters, husbands and wives. Quite frankly, sir, we deserve better.

At this point I will simply say: The presidential election on November 6th is seventy days away.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Founding Insight


             American history is fascinating to me and never ceases to engage my interest the more I delve into it.

Recently, I was listening to a local radio talk-show host who was passionately explaining the writings of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison taken from the Federalist Papers (1787). Let me add at this point that every American should have a copy of this book along with the Anti-Federalist Papers. These writings were foundational in the establishment of what was shortly to become the Constitution of the United States (1789).

Back in those days following the recent American Revolution where we threw off the shackles of the British monarchy, the leaders of our fledgling nation of various states were using the printed word to share their political and philosophical views. To a thirsting American people who were wondering what this new republic was going to look like in principle as well as in practice, they read every word the various leaflets printed. Often the authors of these leaflets remained anonymous, for a variety of reasons, but mostly for safety reasons due to the rather novel and often incendiary views they expressed.

The concerns that Hamilton and Madison shared centered on the potential emergence of the political party system (what were called “factions”). England had already had its share of trouble between warring factions, specifically the Tories and the Whigs of the previous century. These same factions crossed the Atlantic where they emerged in the colonies and were firmly entrenched by the time the United States declared its independence on July 4, 1776. The primary difference between the American brand of factions (political parties) centered on the issue of whether America needed England or not. The Whigs wanted their independence from the English throne and were willing to take the necessary steps to obtain it, and the Tories felt the colonialists were making a grave mistake by cutting ties with Mother England. We sometimes forget that not all Americans were in favor of breaking ties with the British Isles. And an even greater number opposed the call to war against what was then the most powerful army in the world – The British Redcoats.

Alexander Hamilton’s opening sentence in the Federalist Papers No. 9: The Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection, writes, “A firm union will be of the utmost moment to the peace and liberty of the States as a barrier against domestic faction and insurrection.” He goes on to explain how other nations (he cites Italy and Greece – which ironically nearly three hundred years later are wrestling with the same problems!) struggled with power-hungry political parties.

Writing on the same subject, No. 10, James Madison goes at some length to address the viable concerns regarding factions, or parties, assuming too much power, and therefore infringing on the liberties of the people. If you’re thinking right now that this sounds like today’s political parties, namely the Democrat and Republican parties, then you are paying attention. You get a gold star and a cookie.

Madison writes in his opening line, “Among the numerous advantages promised by a well-constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.” Parties, or factions, be they in the majority or the minority role, tend to hold to specific philosophical beliefs which they then believe ought to be held by, or at least enforced on everyone else. If they are the majority party then they simply exert their will by ignoring the minority party. Compromise is discarded. Dialogue and debate are dismissed.

Madison continues, “Complaints are everywhere heard . . . that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”

There are two ways of dealing with the power of factions according to Madison. The first is to destroy the faction. But by so doing, you destroy liberty which a faction needs to survive. The second manner of dealing with factions is to give all citizens the same opinions, passions and interests. He concludes, “The inference to which we are brought is that the causes of faction cannot be removed and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects.”

So, it is with parties that we learn to work out our differences through the controlling power of a republican form of government where a few people are elected by their constituents to represent them in the larger government we call the Federal Government.

These Founding Fathers were able to see into the future because they understood the nature of man, and they knew their history. Can the same be said of our leaders today?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mitt's Millions

            In recent months much has been made over Mitt Romney’s vast wealth and whether he pays taxes. I’m not kidding.

First of all, do you think for one minute that a man who garners the sort of eight-figure income that Romney does is not high on the target list at the IRS? Mr. Harry Jacobson, writing for Forbes Magazine, points out what those who are considered to be rich pay in taxes in a given year. Let’s look at the numbers. Using data from the Internal Revenue Service in 2009, the top 1% of earners, including individuals with incomes of $343,927 or greater, represented 16.9% of all income and paid 36.7% of all federal taxes. Their average tax rate was 24.01%. The top 0.1% who had incomes of $1,432,890 or greater represented 7.8% of all income and paid 17.11% of all taxes. Their average rate was 24.3%.”

The top 1% of those who earn income in the United States of America pay close to 37% of federal taxes. The class warfare mantra is that the wealthy do not pay their fair share of taxes. On the surface this is laughable. It is because of the very wealthy that the United States has enjoyed such an amazing level of productivity and business growth. As I mentioned in a previous article, you don’t get a job from a poor person.

Mr. Jacobson further elaborates, “The average tax payer in the top 0.1% of all earners (the group which includes the vast majority of millionaires and billionaires) pays a tax rate over four (4) times that of an average secretary.” Mr. Romney is squarely in this category.

“I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more.” Romney said earlier this year. “I don't think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes.” Good point!

The attempt by his opponents is to paint Romney as a man who is not being honest in his financial dealings. It has been reported that he has accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, implying that he’s avoiding paying taxes on this money. The truth is he has declared these monies and is not avoiding paying taxes.

Admittedly, Mr. Romney is fabulously wealthy. You and I could not even begin to appreciate just how much money this man has made in his life. However, I remember as a kid growing up that part of the American Dream was to get an education, work hard and you might just become a millionaire some day. It was the classic Horatio Alger story. Alger was born on January 13, 1832 and died July 18, 1899. “He was a prolific 19th-century American author, best known for his many formulaic juvenile novels about impoverished boys and their rise from humble backgrounds to lives of middle-class security and comfort through hard work, determination, courage, and honesty.” This story of “rags-to-riches” used to be touted as the model for success, and people would applaud the hard work and grit of such an individual. When did it become wrong in the United States for a person to succeed and prosper?

Now here’s the kicker. “When Mr. Romney, a multimillionaire and presidential candidate, revealed that while he reported he made $42.5 million over the past two years (2009-2010), he also gave away $7 million.” That, my friends, is 17% of his income which he chose to give to charitable organizations. Putting that another way – For every six dollars he made, he gave one dollar to a charity. Just as a counter-point, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife had a combined income of $380,000 in 2011. On the latest return, the Biden’s listed $5,540 in donations to charity.” Ummmm, this means the Biden’s gave away 1½ percent to charity. The Obama’s made over $2.6 million in 2005-2006. Their charitable giving was $138,000. That figures out to 5% of their income being donated to charitable organizations.

It is interesting to see what organizations the Romney’s support. They have been Mormon’s for several generations, and Mitt has been very involved in the leadership of his church. Practicing Mormons are expected to tithe 10% to the church, officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. So that’s an automatic. Besides this, in 2010 the largest beneficiaries of the Tyler Charitable Foundation (a trust fund established by the Romney’s) included the Friends of George W. Bush Library, and the Center for Treatment of Pediatric MS (Multiple Sclerosis). However, the foundation also made contributions to organizations including the US Equestrian Team Foundation, Harvard Business School, and Homes for Our Troops. In past years, some of Romney’s contributions have gone to conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, the Becket Fund (for religious rights legal aid), and the Federalist Society, which seeks reform of the current legal system. In 2007, he wrote a check to Citizens for Limited Taxation, a Marblehead, Massachusetts organization that strives to limit taxes and the size of government.”

So let me conclude by asking some questions. Does Romney make a lot of money? Without a doubt. Does he pay his taxes? Certainly. Does he give to charities? Unquestionably. So ignore his opposition’s flailing (and failing) attacks which call to question his financial ethics. Armed with the facts, you can see through the smoke and mirrors.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Hope Revived

 
Every four years the world is treated to the Olympic Summer Games. And this year those games are held in London, England. When you read this there will only be a few days left of this two-week pageant.

Allow me to share a few of my personal observations. Like many of you, I have sat up each evening watching the wrap-up of the day’s events – everything from the May-Walsh beach volleyball duo, to Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin in the swimming venue, to Gabby Douglas leading the women’s gymnastics team. I am always impressed with the dedication by each athlete to their respective sport. The countless hours spent perfecting routines in nameless gyms and sports arenas across the country merely prove the presence of an indomitable spirit for sports competition within the soul of every one of us. Even if you’re a couch potato, there’s an inner-athlete in you cheering on your favorite competitor.

At the top of the list that stands out for me is the camaraderie that is shared amongst the athletes; not just from the same sport, or even the same nation, but the respect that is exhibited between all participants regardless of their nationality. This is what brings a spark of hope to my soul. To witness the interaction of these world-class athletes with their game-faces on just prior to their specialty, to congratulating one-another, win, lose, or draw, is the closest to world peace that you and I will probably ever witness this side of heaven.

The next example from these Olympics is the parental support for these athletes. They have driven their child to countless practice sessions and competitions in the pursuit of athletic perfection. They have agonized as their child has experienced the highs and lows of sports. Few of these athletes come from families with the financial means to undertake the investment of funds necessary to sustain their child’s dreams of Olympic competition. During these games the TV camera was frequently on the parents of an athlete. Some parents are quite animated and vocal while sitting in their lofty perches in the nose-bleed seats, and other parents are more stoic, showing little if any emotion regardless of whether their child is blowing away the competition, or is self-destructing, dashing all hopes of winning the coveted Olympic medal. Personally, I’d be a wreck watching my child perform on such a grand stage. Industrial giant Proctor & Gamble (P&G) underwrites some of the cost for our athletes through their advertising. The ad spots they have had on TV are first rate – particularly in their acknowledgment of the irreplaceable roll the parents have in the success of their child.

My third and final observation for this article is the wonderful character of these Olympians. I’m not suggesting they are perfect human beings – not at all. What I am saying is that the true character of these dedicated athletes comes out under the pressure of the competition and the ever present camera/microphone. How do you not feel a thrill rooting for the diminutive 4’11” Gabby Douglas with her million-dollar smile? She carried the American women’s gymnastics team on her small shoulders, not only leading them to the team gold, but also an individual gold in the all-around competition, defeating the Russians and the Chinese!

Another favorite athlete for me was the young American swimmer, Missy Franklin. She was always smiling – as though she knew something no one else knew. Her exuberance was irrepressible! It was clear that she was absolutely having a ball! I found myself smiling each and every time I saw her on the TV screen. Talk about character – this 17-year-old high school student passed up swimming for sports clubs, and instead focused on swimming for her parochial school. She and her parents also turned down numerous offers for endorsements. Well, it has now paid off. She is literally golden, having won four gold medals and one bronze. I’m quite certain she’ll be able to attend any college she wants next year. And as for those endorsements? Take a number and get in line!

Last but hardly least, is the greatest Olympic athlete of all time – Michael Phelps. What this man has managed to accomplish in the swimming pool is beyond comprehension. They call him “Superman.” In his final event, he took gold again in a four-man relay. Michael has participated in four Olympics: 2000 in Sydney, Australia; 2004 in Athens, Greece; 2008 in Beijing, China; and 2012 in London, England. Along the way he accumulated 18 gold medals and four others for a grand total, and new world record, of 22 medals. He has stated unequivocally that at his present age of 27 he is done. London was his last Olympics. But you have to wonder if four years from now when the 2016 Olympics are held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Michael, being the intense competitor that he is, might not want to give it one more shot. It would be worth watching.

By the end of this Olympics I’ll be exhausted! I’ll need to rest up before the Winter Olympics commence in 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Can’t wait!

       Go Team U.S.A.!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Guns Again

             Well now, here we go again!

Our nation has once more been rocked by senseless violence in the shooting deaths of 12 innocent people in Aurora, Colorado who were enjoying the much anticipated and ballyhooed movie, “Batman: The Dark Knight.” An additional 58 people were shot, and as of this writing, even those who were in critical condition seem to be hanging in there.

The perpetrator of this heinous act is currently in jail as he should be. Can anyone know what is happening in this man’s mind? Speculation runs rampant at this point, as it always does whenever the rest of society is confronted with inexplicable evil. It is evident at this point that there was a lot of planning that went into the killing spree at the movie house in Aurora, Colorado that was nothing short of a real live shooting gallery. To throw open a door that had been intentionally left ajar, and then simply aim and fire a shotgun, a pistol, and a semi-automatic rifle with a magazine of 100 rounds at people who had no warning, no sense of imminent danger, and who were squeezed into the theater seats like sardines is beneath contempt. It is pure evil.

I grew up with guns, learning how to shoot rifles and pistols from my father. He had a collection of arms that he’d acquired over the years. In his off time he became an instructor with the National Rifle Association (NRA). As a result, I showed an interest in learning about various weapons. Dad lived out in the country so there was plenty of room to shoot without being a danger. There was a mountain that rose up from his back yard providing an excellent backdrop. We would set up a sheet of ¼ in steel on an angle so when bullets hit they would ping off the steel and slam into the dirt. He often bought cases of WWII ammunition which wasn’t much fun to shoot because it seemed like every fourth or fifth round was a dud!

What I appreciated about learning to shoot, besides spending time with my dad, was the meticulous instruction in handling any weapon safely. I developed a respect for the weapon and what it was capable of doing. No one needed to instruct me as to its purpose. It is an instrument of death. That’s what it was intended for – Killing – be it animals or people.

In case there are any readers of this column at this point who may be miffed at me for saying guns were created for use in killing – relax. I still target shoot occasionally. Not long ago I went shooting with a farmer friend deep into his many acres. I do not hunt, simply because it does not interest me. But if you enjoy that, fine.

As a young Marine in boot camp I had the opportunity to shoot the M14 Garand. I learned to love this particular rifle. “The M14 rifle, formally the United States Rifle, 7.62 mm, M14, is an American selective fire automatic rifle firing 7.62X51mm NATO (.308 Winchester) ammunition. It was the standard issue U.S. rifle from 1959 to 1970. The M14 rifle was used for U.S. Army and Marine Corps basic and advanced individual training.” It was this rifle that I virtually slept with during our two weeks on the rifle range. At the end of those two weeks the rifle felt more like an extension of myself, an appendage if you will. With the ever-present drill instructor (DIs) teaching, correcting and training us in the proper use of this weapon, I enjoyed the time immensely. On the day we fired to qualify, I shot Expert, and was also high-shooter for my platoon. I’ll never forget how that felt! My reward for this singular accomplishment? The DIs gave me a cold can of soda. Any idea how uncomfortable you feel holding a soda in your hand while the rest of the platoon stands in formation, watching? This was a big deal because we were never allowed such a luxury as a soda during boot camp. So I took a sip, then passed it to the next guy and so on for as long as it would last. I also qualified Expert with the .45 ACP M1911 pistol, and the 9mm semi-automatic handgun.

You see, a Marine is trained to handle any weapon properly. For instance, we were required to know how to take the rifle apart, down to its smallest piece, clean it, and then reassemble it. Once we had that figured out, we had to do it again, only this time blindfolded.

Over the years I have taken various training courses in the proper use of weapons depending on the circumstance. I spent time learning how to handle weapons in a hostage situation. I’ve been through several courses for Carrying a Concealed Weapon (CCW).

I am a member of the NRA because I support their fight to protect our right to bear arms based upon the 2nd Amendment. The folks I know who use guns, whether they are military, law enforcement, or sportsmen, almost without exception treat their weapons with the respect they deserve.

Though I have never had to use a gun to kill someone, I have served many years as a Navy chaplain and as a law enforcement chaplain. It has been my unenviable duty to counsel with those who have had to take a life. Trust me on this: To do so changes a person forever. Unless you are seriously demented, like our Aurora killer, taking a life is such revulsion that a person may never take up a gun again. Forget what Hollywood portrays. To kill someone for whatever reason is a ghastly experience.

I will return to this topic of Gun Control next week, unless the Olympics provide something more compelling.

Go Team U.S.A.!

Psalm for the Day