Wednesday, May 30, 2007

KAA – Another Unneccessary Death that demands Congressional Action

KIA, short for Killed In Action, is used to indicate an individual who is killed during a military operation.
KIA happens due to the enemies action.

KAA is short for Killed After Action.
KAA may be due to our inaction and inattention to the emotional state of our returning soldiers.

Brian Skold enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard on Dec. 30, 1998.
Skold served with the 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery based in Montevideo Minnesota and was deployed in Baghdad from late 2004 through 2005.
The 151st lost three men in combat in Iraq.
Skold died on May 27th after a standoff with police.
Members of his family told authorities that he may have been suicidal.

"I don't think the president and the government are doing their job with these young men and women who are coming back from the war zones and trying to turn their lives back to a regular world again," said Don Pappenfus, a Vietnam-era veteran and a Sauk Rapids City Council member, "Something's bothering them, and the screening isn't there."

"I don't know enough about his situation, but it doesn't surprise me that we're seeing more incidents like this," said James Schulze of rural Stewart, Minn., whose son Jonathan, a 25-year-old Marine veteran, committed suicide in January.

Read the complete StarTribune story

As an editorial in the Austin Daily Herald commented :
107 suicides during Iraq operations have been recorded - and that doesn't include suicides by troops after they have returned home. That is a shocking number. Something needs to be done.

The U.S. Army Medical Command Mental Health Advisory Team III released a report that included a number of key findings including :
-- The top non-combat stressors were deployment length and family separation.
-- Soldiers serving a repeat deployment reported higher acute stress than initial deployers.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) reports : At least one in three Iraq veterans and one in nine Afghanistan veterans are facing a serious mental health problem, from depression to anxiety to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These veterans face serious family and employment problems. Divorce, drug abuse and suicide rates are up.

Earlier this month, Democrat James Moran of Virginia introduced H.R. 2219 : "To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to award a grant to a private, nonprofit entity to establish, publicize, and operate a national toll-free suicide prevention telephone hotline targeted to and staffed by veterans of the Armed Forces." Minnesota Congressman Jim Ramstad is an original co-sponsor of H.R. 2219 ... Veterans care might be one of the few issues that can – and should - get bi-partisan support.

There is no reason that every Minnesota Congressperson does not become a co-sponsor of this bill. Please contact your representative today.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Minnesota State Tax Proposal :
The Bill Cooper Legacy Tax

Anybody has a right to evade taxes if he can get away with it. No citizen has a moral obligation to assist in maintaining the government. If Congress insists on making stupid mistakes and passing foolish tax laws, millionaires should not be condemned if they take advantage of them. -- J. Pierpont Morgan

In the spirit of J. Peirpont Morgan, I propose The Bill Cooper Legacy Tax as a lasting tribute to the man who fought Minnesota tax policy.
For those of you who do know the name Bill Cooper, it’s probably because you are not a Republican millionaire who views taxes as evil and excessive.
Bill Cooper has thrown in the towel and left our state ….
But with our money.
Legally, I might add … because the State Legislature wrote the laws.
"I reject feeding this dysfunctional [Minnesota government] beast," said Cooper, who made millions in cash compensation and is worth more than $100 million in TCF stock, admitted that Minnesota also proved a decent place for him to eke out a living.

It’s time to correct that stupid mistake and correct a foolish tax loophole.

Many Minnesotans participate in deferred retirement programs … i.e. 401k. The Federal Government wants us to save for our retirement (hint : don’t count on Social Security). As a general rule of thumb, the maximum amount the IRS allows a person to defer to a 401k plan is $15,500 and may go as high as $20,500 -- although many company programs may have lower thresholds. Although many of us do participate in such programs, our income limitations may not allow us to max out. So what we have here is an example of a good program that provides unequal benefits … but that is the way it goes.
Financial planners recommend deferring income recognition with the assumption that your income will be less -- as well as your overall tax rate -- during your retirement years.
To the Federal Government, they are willing to permit this, since eventually you will be paying a tax.

Now, here comes the Minnesota problem.
Minnesota mirrors the Federal Government deferral … but Minnesota is not guaranteed that you will be a taxpayer during your retirement years. Bill Cooper is no dummy and he is not alone. Some people permanently move out of state, while others maintain multiple residencies … but only one for tax purposes. Minnesota relies on a variety of taxes while other states such as Florida do not have a State Income Tax. Regardless if they are permanently gone or just “snow-birds”, Minnesota is being “legally” manipulated by the current tax law. And as a result, the tax burden is shifted to the current residents and depriving the government of revenue needed for the common good.

For someone in Cooper’s income bracket this can be a nice little windfall … as 401k plans have been around since 1978 … easily over $100,000 of deferred income ... that every year has been excluded by Minnesota and who now will never get any tax dollars. In fairness to Bill Cooper, this is a tax loophole that should have been corrected earlier ... in fact, I approached my former State Senator about this but he told me that he was retiring to Arizona so he could not help me. But every good legislation needs a snappy title ... so let's pay homage to the former head of the Republican Party in Minnesota and name it after Bill Cooper --- it will be a legacy that we'll all remember.

Here is the simple solution, when completing the M1 Minnesota Individual Income Tax form, simply include the income on line 3 of the form. Yes, that income will be considered in your reported income, but that’s fair for all of us. And since the tax was paid on the income already, your withdrawal would be tax-free.

And for the politicians that have taken a No Tax Pledge, this should not be a problem since this is not a new tax, nor an increase in tax rate … it is only a change in when it will collected (Remember when Property Taxes were due in November then got moved up fifteen days?).

Cooper complains of taxes but the problem is not taxes … the problem is the tax law writers. The problem with taxes is because of subsidies, credits and loopholes --- fairness is missing.

“The avoidance of tax may be lawful, but it is not yet a virtue. -- Lord Denning

Monday, May 07, 2007

Michele Bachmann for Vice-President !

After wining the First Quarter Republican Campaign Coffer Primary, Mitt Romney joined the other announced candidates for a “debate” at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library during which he read all the cue cards exactly as puppetmaster Vin Weber wrote them. The general consensus of the pundits is that Romney did a credible job making him a viable competitor to McCain with Giuliani faltering.

As Stephen Colbert lamented... “Come on, media, it’s your job to preemptively anoint someone so we all know who to give our money”, so let’s save the time for any more of these “debates” and award Romney the nomination.

I know that might seem hard for some to accept … after all in 2000 the message was that America needed a MBA in the White House (Romney was a classmate of GWB at Harvard’s Business School) and in 2004 the message was that you cannot vote for a Flip-Flopper from Massachusetts … but that was then, and this is now. The people who packaged Bush have a new and improved 2008 version … a State Governor with no foreign relations or Congressional experience is what the country needs … (this time, they’re sure they got the right guy… just trust ‘em.)

So what is the first order of business for President-to-be Romney --- selecting his Vice President.

In modern politics, the VP is someone who strengthens the ticket from a regional, religious, experience, and even once a gender difference.
So looking at Romney, what areas does he have to concern himself ?
His current State of residence is Massachusetts (and that is about as Blue as you can get on the Electoral College map) and his strongest backers are in Utah ( and that is about as Red as you can be). So, he need someone from a state that is an Electoral College toss-up. In the past two elections, Florida (27 Electoral Votes) and Ohio ( 20) were the key states. This year, it might not be two big states, but instead a combination of smaller states … toss-up states such as those interconnected in the middle of the country – Minnesota (10), Iowa (7), Wisconsin (10) and Missouri (11).
As has been pointed out, Romney is a Morman, so someone with the strong appeal from the evangelical movement would be a plus.
For experience, Romney’s only elected office was as a one-term Governor. So someone with experience in Washington would be beneficial.

So, the field is relatively small.
Jim DeMint, Senator from South Carolina and a strong backer of Romney would be a choice, but South Carolina’s 8 votes are most likely in the Republican column anyway. And with the Senate having 1/3 of its members up for election, there are a number of potential candidates (i.e. Norm Coleman) would have to weigh giving up their Senate seat for the possible VP slot. Also, the Senate is split so close between Republicans and Democrats that the Party may not want a sitting Senator to abdicate.
Choosing a sitting Governor may not help although Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty and Missouri’s Matt Blount are Republicans.
So, he might have to pick someone from the House of Representatives.

Now, with 201 Representatives to choose, he might have to find someone that fits his ideological beliefs.

To learn Romney's ideological beliefs, I note that he delivered Saturday’s graduation speech at Regent University, the school founded by televangelist Pat Robertson. During the address, he criticized people who choose not to get married because they enjoy the single life.

OK, so don’t allow me to stray into a tangent that some people may never get asked to get married; or may have a spouse killed in the Iraq conflict … simply stated, I guess being single is a problem for Romney. I suppose that I should not be surprised considering his family’s polygamy background including a great-grandfather who had five wives and at least one of his great-great grandfathers had 12. But wait a second, this couldn’t be Romney codeword equating “the single life” with those of alternative lifestyles.

So obviously, he needs someone with strong family values that will join him to lead America in a moral crusade to the promise land. Maybe someone that the alumni of Regent University would support (Marcus Bachmann earned a master's degree in counseling from Regent University).
That’s right, it may be time for Michele Bachman to bring Minnesota’s ten electoral votes to the Romney-Bachmann ticket.
What a perfect solution ... from a toss-up state, deeply religious, from Congress, and a woman ... what more could the Romney want?
That’s right only a heartbeat away from the presidency … Michele Bachmann.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Baghdad or New Orleans – Is there a difference to Bush ?

When George Bush speaks, for too often, I end up shaking my head, but his comment explaining the situation in Iraq still has my head spinning.
Either we'll succeed, or we won't succeed. And the definition of success as I described is sectarian violence down. Success is not, no violence. There are parts of our own country that have got a certain level of violence to it. But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives. And that's what we're trying to achieve."

Was he talking about Philadelphia which as through the first 114 days of 2007, have experienced the murders of 128 people. Since 2002 the murder rate has climbed steadily, from just under 300 to more than 400 last year. Half of the killings remain unsolved. The murder rate in Philadelphia right now is higher than New York City, higher than Los Angeles, higher than Chicago. Philadelphia's poverty rate is the highest of any major U.S. city and Philadelphia is overwhelmed with illegal weapons.

Or maybe Bush was referring to New Orleans which according to the FBI, in 2004, the last full year before Hurricane Katrina, there were 56 murders for every 100,000 people. Time Magazine speculates that "residents will not return. If they don't return, bringing money, momentum and stability with them, crime will continue to increase."

The displacement from Hurricane Katrina caused an increase in Houston’s murder rate.

Or maybe Bush was thinking of the violent crime in Minneapolis which has increased in every year since 2001 and now has businesses demanding more increased police patrols.

But that may be unfair, just to pick on large cities. The most recent FBI examination of violent crime data for the population groups showed that cities with populations from 100,000 to 249,999 had the greatest increase in the number of murders, up 12.5 percent. Cities with 500,000 to 999,999 inhabitants experienced the greatest increases in both robbery, 9.9 percent, and aggravated assault, 8.5 percent.

If this rant sounds like a KFAN audio clip “All the negativity in this town sucks!”, it should be.

Atul Gawande has a OpEd piece in the NYTimes entitled “The Power of Negative Thinking.
“We Americans believe instinctively in the power of positive thinking. Whether one is fighting a cancer, an insurgency or just an unyielding problem at work, the prevailing wisdom is that thinking positive is the key — The Secret, even — to success. But the key, it seems to me, is actually negative thinking: looking for, and sometimes expecting, failure.
[snip] Negative thinking is unquestionably painful. It involves finding and exposing your inadequacies, which can be overwhelming.

And that’s Bush’s problem.
He’s not thinking about the negatives … he’s talking positive and regardless of reality.
Addressing negatives can create postive results.

Let’s ignore Iraq for a moment and evaluate George Bush’s presidency based on crime, poverty, illegal drugs, illegal immigration, economic opprotunity, police levels, etc.

Why does the President have a mentality that accepts a “certain level of violence” in any community ?
Shouldn’t the challenge for Bush to make every community feel as safe as Crawford or Kennebunkport ?