The Difference Between Supporting Soldiers and Supporting War

This is a post of an email from Terry Cuff.

I respect Terry more than he may know.

I respect Terry more than many I know.

After reading an email from Terry about: (i) Marine Capt. Brian R. Chontosh; (ii) certain other unrecognized heroes; and (iii) the recent plethora of war-bashing press reports, I decided that I wanted to discuss these topics in this forum. In particular, I wanted to distinguish between my support of the soldiers (which I do) and supporting this war (which I don’t).

After spending an hour writing and re-writing, it occurred to me that Terry’s prose is just fine. I hope he doesn’t mind that I merely cut-and-paste from his email.

These words are Terry’s…in many ways I wish that they were mine.

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From Terry Cuff:

“There is a lot of negative publicity about Iraq. Not all is negative, but sometimes the positive items receive little press.

Brian Chontosh is a Marine Corps infantry captain now stationed at the Marine Corps installation at 29 Palms. He attended Churchville-Chili Central School class of 1991. He graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, then First Lieutenant Chontosh was a Marine infantry platoon leader leading his platoon up Highway 1 in a humvee. His column was ambushed by heavy machine gun fire, mortar fire, and rocket propelled grenades.

First Lieutenant Chontosh attacked. He told his driver to charge in the humvee directly at the machine gun emplacement that was firing at them from the flank. He ordered his .50 cal. gunner to engage. They destroyed and moved through the machine gun position and advanced on entrenched Iraqi troops. The humvee was disabled. First Lieutenant Chontosh continued his attack with his M16 and a Beretta. He cleared out the trench of Iraqi hostiles. He exhausted his M16 magazines and continued his attack with his Beretta automatic pistol. He exhausted its ammunition and continued his attack with a captured AK47. He exhausted its ammunition and continued his attack with a captured Iraqi rocket propelled grenade.

First Lieutenant Chontosh cleared 200 yards of trench and killed 20 or more enemy combatants. Captain Chontosh was recently awarded the Navy Cross for valor in combat.

Many stories like this never make the press — or are small items. Many men and women return from Iraq with similar stories of heroism.

We may debate the wisdom of the American operations in the Republic of Iraq and the details of how they have been prosecuted. None of us likes the casualties, but there are always casualties in war — typically many more than we have experienced in Iraq. Some incidents (such as Abu Ghraib) have been deeply troubling. (Vietnam had its Mai Lai. World War II had its share of incidents, but they generally were kept fairly quiet.) It is important to separate whatever negative thoughts any of us may have toward the operations from the men who served. These guys and gals did not go to Iraq because they considered it a vacation paradise. They left friends, families, and loved ones. Iraq is hot, dusty, and every day contains threats of sniper fire or improvised explosive devices. Iraq is not a pleasant place to serve.

It is important to recognize the sacrifices of the men and women who have served there and not to confuse them with a few whose service has not been so honorable.

The story about Captain Chontosh was forwarded to me by my former Basic School (Quantico) roommate. He served two tours of duty with First Force Reconnaissance Company in the Republic of Vietnam. Joe was nominated for the Medal of Honor and was awarded the Navy Cross for his service in Vietnam. He retired from the Marine Corps as a major. That is about as high as one is going to rise in a force reconnaissance career. There were no great parades and he received no recognition outside of the Marine Corps. Now we most remember the charges before Congress: “they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.” Servicemen who had served in Vietnam were none too popular when they returned stateside.

I am reminded of an afternoon I spent at the United States Naval Academy in 1992. I was particularly anxious to visit there, since my parents were married in the Naval Academy chapel, above the John Paul Jones crypt. I visited the alumni association bookstore. An old man sat in the corner behind a card table. The table was piled with copies of a book about submarines. The old man wore slacks and a polo shirt. What immediately captured my attention was a medallion about his neck, a golden star suspended from a light blue ribbon. Gold Star and Light Blue RibbonHe seemed quite abandoned by everyone, tossed in the corner like a piece of old baggage, as no one was showing up to purchase his book. I went over to talk to him. He explained that he had been a submarine captain both before and during the Second World War. We discussed the Mark XIV torpedo and its influence fuse, which I imagined always was a disaster. He explained that they sometimes worked and sometimes did not. We may have spent an hour discussing submarines in the Pacific during the Second World War. He commanded the Bonito and the Barb during the Second World War. I wish I could have stayed longer. He was an interesting man, and I learned a lot from our conversation. Like so many who served in wars, he now seemed cast aside — even on the campus of the Naval Academy. Seeing him sitting alone in his polo shirt with his light blue ribbon and gold star medallion is a sad memory. I do not think that many in the bookstore recognized it — or that they would have recognized his four Navy Crosses.

I hope that men and women returning from Republic of Iraq will receive a little more public support than those who returned from the Republic of Vietnam.

Perhaps, when you read negative stories about our armed forces in Iraq, you will also think a little of Captain Brian Chontosh, USMC, and also of Corporal Alex Lemons, USMC — or maybe even Rear Admiral Eugene Fluckey, USN. Whatever the faults of American operations in Iraq, many men and women have served in Iraq honorably and heroically and at great personal cost to themselves and their families. They put their lives at risk for us on a daily basis. They deserve our support.”

Tax Simplification — Do the Middle States Really Want It?

I keep hearing about income tax “simplification.” It is almost as hot a topic as “social security reform.”

On the topic of income tax, some of the less up-to-date among us still throw out the term “flat tax” as something that our representatives should strive to achieve.

I can’t be certain of this gut feeling I’m having, but based on what little I have seen and read, it occurs to me that “tax simplification” is just another ploy by the rich to get the middle class to demand a change to benefit the rich.

Yes, I know…Middle America “thinks” that tax simplification means that they will pay lower taxes.

But let’s be clear in this debate. There is no design element to tax reform that requires the government to collect less taxes. The federal budget is NOT being reduced. In the aggregate, the government still needs us (all of us) to continue to contribute an ungodly amount of money each and every year.

What we are talking about is which groups (which people) bear what shares of that huge and ever growing bill.

So let’s work with high-school algebra here. The total amount to be collected must remain the same. Middle America thinks that they will pay less. So where will the money that used to be paid by Middle America come from? Remember, Middle America thinks that they will pay less under the new system.

Where will that money come from?

The rich?

Does everyone think that the rich will pay more under the new system than they already do?

Let me kill that perception right now.

The April, 2004 JEC Report entitled “WHO PAYS THE INCOME TAX?” asserts that: (i) the highest-earning 20% of taxpayers earn less than half of all income but pay more than four-fifths of all federal income taxes; and (ii) the highest-earning one percent bears an even more disproportionate share of the income tax burden, earning 14% of all income but paying 34% of federal income taxes, more than double their income share.

Based on this report (and this report is roughly the same as all of the other JEC reports on this topic), the rich (the top 20% of earners) are already paying a ridiculous percentage of the overall collected tax (more than 80%).

So, when the President mandates that the changes to the tax code should “promote long-run economic growth and job creation, and better encourage work effort, saving, and investment, so as to strengthen the competitiveness of the United States in the global marketplace” doesn’t this sound like the old Republican mantra “we need to give more money to the rich so that they can invest it in companies that provide more jobs for everyone else”?

I know I am being cynical here, but the President is not looking for a tax reform proposal that requires the rich to pay more.

Now, I am all in favor of a system that simplifies both compliance and enforcement. If we could actually support the folks that are charged with chasing the dead-beats, we would go a long way toward easing the burden of all of the rest of us voluntary compliers. And certainly, that is a key goal of the Tax Reform Panel. But until this last budget bill, the appropriations for Treasury were meager. Heck, a junior partner at a regional accounting firm or law firm can make twice as much as the highest paid IRS cop. Is it any wonder that the brightest tax minds leave government and go over to the “taxpayer” side?

So I propose this. Find a way to increase voluntary compliance with, and enforcement of, the existing laws AND / OR reduce the budget.

If it were up to me, I would leave the top 20% paying 80% of the tax and just reduce the budget.

The funny thing is…if we reduce the budget, then the government will have less of a need to keep dipping into social security.

Maybe we can fix both problems at once.

So I am not Blogging Again…..Why? Time?

Time? Probably.

I have really enjoyed the evaluation versions of Go Live and Photoshop. They resulted in Paula’s website. That ate up a lot of time. It still needs tweaks…but I don’t have time for that.

I have really enjoyed iPodderX.com. ….but NPR needs to put more out there than just On the Media. Of course, the whole point of “podding” is to find stuff that is not “syndicated” or “mainstream”. And that takes time, and I really don’t have the time.

I have really enjoyed Mambo. In a word…”Wow!”. I was able to do this in almost no time. Of course the graphics were compliments of Photoshop. I still need to tweak the color of the buttons…I really don’t like orange, but I don’t have time.

I was at a meeting with the senior staff of my department this morning and you know what? We all decided that the best thing to do is spend more time growing the business. Ironic, huh?

I wish I had time to Blog. There is so much to blog.

The split in the DC district court over the Guantanamo Detainees is a story crying out to be debated. But I don’t have time to explore the constitutional issues in enough detail to debate which of the learned judges is right and which is wrong. The indigo girls in their song Perfect World implore us to not float through life; not to look the other way. Those “enemy combatants” have been there a long time. I would really like to know if this is an indefinite life sentence. And does the punishment fit the crime? By the way, what is the crime? Of course, if I had the time to look I might find the reason I need to agree that they are really a danger to the US…. Honestly, I just don’t know. I haven’t had time to look. And that just sucks. Am I just floating through life? I must say, I do have a cushy life. Whine whine whine….

Speaking of not being there to bear witness to life, did I mention that it is the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz? I will not provide a link as there are too many good ones….not that I have visited them yet….did I mention that I don’t have time? All that and I’m not even a history buff….or jewish.

Speaking of Jewish….I am wholly innocent of the background of Kristallnacht, the names Zindel Grynszpan and Ernst vom Rath. Is that a lucky thing for me? Or am I simply bereft of even the most basic of historical knowledge? I really do want to simply put the names into Google and press enter. How can I not have time for that?

And then there is Lawrence Summers. What did he really say? Does it matter any more? What should the debate be? Should the debate be limited to gender stereotyping? Should we be speaking about better mentoring? I am the father of a daughter. This should be a HUGE issue for me. But there it is again. I don’t seem to have the time to keep up.

Hell, if it wasn’t for RSS, I wouldn’t even know this stuff was out there.

I don’t even know how the Stanford Men’s basketball team is doing this season….and I have season tickets.

I don’t even think that I spend enough time on the floor playing with my daughter and her cars.

…so there it is…

I’ll keep looking….

Until later….

Paula’s New Website

I just finished the first draft of Paula’s new website.

The devil is, of course, in the details….and I have no idea what I am doing. Nonetheless, I am realively pleased with the initial results.

Yes Richard, IRS Agents Do Watch TV

I am shocked when normal people think that they can dodge the IRS and hide income. But this strains credibility. Richard Hatch made the money in question in front of 20 million or so viewers. How could he think that the IRS wouldn’t notice?

Charges / Plea Agreement