The Cost of “Endless” War

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In August 2010, I devoted that issue of Reflections to the War in Afghanistan and how it affected Savannah, GA a historic city where I lived for 20 years. I would like to share some of those thoughts with you again.


We have a host of military bases in Savannah, with thousands of soldiers coming and going. War is not some far-off battlefield, but one that we feel every day. Many a tree has a bright yellow ribbon. The shops offer a military discount. When we dine out, we buy meals for our men and women in service. It’s our way of saying “thank you.”

Our airport is unique when it comes to the military and their families. We permit the families to go to the departure gate to say goodbye and to welcome their soldiers home.

Recently I was waiting for my flight when the incoming plane arrived with a number of troops returning from Afghanistan. It was a very emotional moment.

The wives and children were waiting, holding balloons and signs. One little three-year-old had a “Welcome Home Daddy” sign that was bigger than she was.

The plane pulled up to the gate. Everyone came alive in anticipation of seeing their loved ones. The door opened and the returning servicemen and women were greeted with applause. Their eyes searched for their families. A squeal of delight rang out from the wives and children when daddy stepped through the gate. Balloons dropped to the floor, followed by long hugs and tears.

Everyone was moved by the emotion. The applause continued until the last service person had left the plane. Then there was silence. We all wiped the tears from our eyes. I, for one, was emotionally drained.

On Memorial Day weekend (2010), it was announced that over 1,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. I thought of that number during this moment at the airport. Many were from the Savannah area. They plant a tree at Ft. Stewart for each fallen service man and woman. We have too many trees!!


We are now seven years removed from that day at the Savannah airport and the war in Afghanistan continues. Politicians promise to end it, and yet more young men and women have died or been wounded and billions more dollars have been spent.

The statistics today are sobering, if not infuriating.

Human Toll

  • 2,350 U.S. troops dead (more than double the number in 2010)
  • 20,092 U.S. troops injured
  • Thousands more civilian contractors, allied troops and local civilians have been killed or wounded.

Economic Cost

  • Over $1 trillion spent so far.
  • Another $1 trillion will be spent treating the wounded and disabled over the next 40 years.

(Sources: U.S. Department of Defense, Brown University research study.)

For 17 years we have been mired in this conflict. How much longer? To what end?

Certainly, we must fight terrorism and keep our country safe, but we need to define a path to cease combat operations in Afghanistan in a reasonable timeframe.

Our best young men and women have given all that they can give. We salute them. But, we must demand better from our politicians, policy makers and the Pentagon.

I pray that I won’t be writing a Reflections piece about Afghanistan in another seven years.

Hurricanes Awaken The American Spirit

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Strong leadership at many levels is helping our nation respond to major hurricanes in the continental United States and our off-shore territories.

Harvey

In response to the massive flooding in Texas and the Gulf Coast, federal, state and local governments provided aid on a timely basis. But something more illustrated the true American spirit.

The Cajun Navy

Private citizens came from miles around to do whatever they could. They gassed up their bass boats, loaded them on trailers and drove to where they were needed. Thanks to them, thousands were rescued from the rising flood waters.

It was a great example of neighbors helping fellow neighbors in need. Everyone worked around the clock carrying people to higher ground. In short, they responded when the cry for help went out.

Irma

Florida was hit with high winds from Hurricane Irma. Power outages occurred, however, again thanks to strong federal, state and local leadership, the damage was quickly resolved. Residents especially thanked “the pole dancers”; electric crews who came from across the country to restore power. Another great example of neighbors helping neighbors.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has been devastated by back-to-back hurricanes leaving residents with no electricity, limited fresh water and debris as far as the eye can see.

In contrast to Texas or Florida, Puerto Rico is an island where all relief supplies have to come in via ship or plane. The three million people had very limited supplies until help arrived. It is estimated that it will take months to restore power and clean up the debris.

A large cruise ship was used to transport some to safety. Portable generators were brought in to supply some emergency power. Relief supplies piled up on the docks because they had no truck drivers to move the supplies over the severely damaged roads and bridges.

Added to the immediate devastation is Puerto Rico’s current $75 billion debt. Their economy is under siege. Where will they get the money to rebuild their infrastructure?

Electricity

The hurricanes remind us that Americans take electricity for granted. It’s always available…until it’s not. We need to ask, how would we survive if our power was lost for weeks or months?

There would be chaos across the country. Within hours stores would run out of food. Gasoline supplies would be gone. Access to money would be shut down. In short, our economy would collapse.

Protecting our electrical grid must be a top priority. North Korea has already threatened to wipe it out. We can’t take that chance.

Summary

Americans again responded to major crises. They came in their boats of all sizes and shapes to help their neighbors in need. They drove repair trucks non-stop to get the power back on.

We salute the American spirit and our citizens’ “can do” attitude.

Let’s keep that spirit alive. Tell Washington that we expect the same “can do” spirit from them. Quit fighting amongst yourselves and start doing your job!

Reflections on the Past and Future

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September 2017 marks the eighth anniversary of “Reflections.” Your responses over these many years has been most gratifying. Thank you for your support and input.

Let’s go down memory lane and reflect on the highs and lows over the last eight years.

Communications

The first issue dealt with the importance of communication.

“When we think of communication, we generally think of speaking, writing, sharing information. How many times have we heard the statement, “He’s a great communicator.”?

“However, there’s another side of communication, and that is listening. How many of us really listen to what a person is saying, or are we merely waiting for our turn to talk? Too many of us have “cement ears” and do not want to listen.”

Today, America is facing significant challenges because we are not communicating with each other. We need to listen more and talk less!

The communication industry—TV, newspapers, radio and the internet—are not serving their audiences well. Their biased reporting and commentary are a disgrace to all Americans. Their comments are filled with hate and misinformation. People are tuning out. In the media’s efforts to destroy others, they are destroying themselves.

Fiscal Responsibility

A common theme in “Reflections” during the last eight years has been fiscal irresponsibility. Neither party has provided fiscal leadership—just the opposite.

The deficit has doubled to $20 trillion and climbing. We can’t continue to spend $4 trillion a year and collect only $3 trillion+ in taxes. This is madness.

Taxing the rich more is not the answer. The solution is reduced spending coupled with tax reform. Let people keep more of their own money and we will have a robust economy which will lead to more tax income.

Obamacare

We have been living with Obamacare for seven years. It has been a disaster!!

Both parties need to solve this problem. Going to a “single payer” is not the answer. It will lead to less health care and more costs.

Energy

One bright spot during the last eight years has been energy development. Thanks to fracking and the expanded natural gas supply, we have become an energy powerhouse again. This has resulted in significantly lower costs for gasoline and natural gas.

The prior government did everything in their power to halt or interfere with our energy development. Private industry made it happen.

Politics

The November 2016 elections were a major victory for the Republican party. They now have a majority in the House, and Senate, plus the White House.

However, many were disappointed with this outcome. These people—both Democrats and Republicans—refuse to accept the outcome. They are committed to blocking the President and his agenda, much to the detriment of the American people.

Civil Disobedience

We have been confronted with all forms of civil disobedience. People marching in the streets, chanting their slogans of hate, coupled with destructive acts of violence. Law officers have been killed and wounded. When will this madness end??

The press has added to the rancor with their biased “reporting.” They should report the facts, not their opinions. Don’t give these hate groups publicity!

Summary

As I have said for these last eight years, America has a choice to make. Stop the actions of self-destruction. Start working together to build America

I urge you to speak out. Communicate with your leaders. Tell them you want results…NOW!!! Tell Congress to stay in session until we solve healthcare and tax reform. Remind them, they work for us!

Regulations and Taxes

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Regulators have become the fourth branch of the federal government.

According to the Heritage Foundation, federal regulation that explicitly restricts business transactions has exploded since 1960.

  • From 1960 to 2015, the amount of taxpayer money allocated to federal regulators increased by more than 1800 percent, from $3.06 billion to $57.05 billion.
  • The 277,000 regulators recorded in 2015 didn’t include anyone from the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, Defense Department, or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services-even though these agencies account for roughly one-third of all final rulemaking actions in a typical year.
  • The budget for the Federal Aviation Administration increased from $241 million to $1.36 billion.
  • Since its founding in 1970, the EPA has grown to over 10,000 employees.

These are just a few examples of the federal regulatory juggernaut.

Government Spending

The Heritage Foundation also reports that federal, state and local governments spent an astonishing 37.7 percent of America’s gross domestic product in 2015. That’s over 37 cents for every dollar Americans produced that year.

Taxes

The tax burden on all Americans is too high. Consumers need to keep more of their money. This will improve the economy and help us achieve the desired growth rate of 3-4%. It worked under Ronald Reagan’s leadership and it will again.

Corporate Taxes

We have one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world at 35%. Reducing it to 15% will make our companies more competitive. This will keep more companies and their jobs in the USA.

In exchange for a lower tax rate, Congress could eliminate all corporate subsidies including green energy. No more special tax breaks for one company vs. others. The government should quit picking winners and losers.

Overseas Earnings

The current practice of taxing overseas earnings needs to be changed. Although a company paid the country tax where it was earned, that company is also taxed by the U.S. government if they bring their earnings to the USA.

The Bush administration provided a one-time opportunity to bring those earnings back to the U.S. with a small surcharge. We have trillions of dollars “parked” overseas that we could and should invest in the USA.

Dynamic Growth Opportunity

If you want to see business in the USA grow at a fantastic rate:

  • Cut corporate taxes to 15%,
  • Bring the trillions of dollars sitting overseas to the USA, and
  • Continue cutting regulations.

Combine these actions with our low-cost energy, and you have a recipe for a growth powerhouse!!!

Summary

The American people are tired of the lack of leadership and results in Washington. We elect people to Congress and the White House to solve problems and make decisions.

It’s time to stop talking and take action. It’s time to enact a strong tax plan that will help us address the opportunities before us.

Just Do It!!!

Together, we can make America Great Again.

Anti-President Fixation Recalls the 60’s

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Our President, Donald Trump, has been in office less than 6 months, yet the attacks on him and his presidency increase!!

Granted, many opposed him and still do. However, 60 million people voted for him and his electoral college victory was decisive.

The first assault on the election outcome was the “recount” in selected states by the Green Party candidate. The effort failed with Trump receiving more votes in the recount.

The next campaign was against the electoral college delegates. They received all kinds of threats demanding they vote their conscience and not for Trump. The results…Hillary lost five votes to Trump’s two.

We have had months of investigations into a so-called Russian collusion. Yet, after hours of hearings and false statements by the press, even some Democrats are acknowledging that no collusion has been found.

Yet, the attacks on Trump continue. Now we have a special council, who already wants to expand their scope of this investigation; essentially a fishing expedition, hoping to find a reason to exist.

If one looks at the history of “special councils” they go on for years with very speculative outcomes. They waste time and money for all concerned.

All of these attacks are designed to keep the President on the defensive, thwarting his ability to carry out his Make America Great program.

The Washington Post and the New York Times continue to feed the attacks with non-confirmed stories. Many of them have been proven to be untrue. Who are the “leakers” that continue to attack the President?? The former head of the FBI leaked his notes from a meeting with the President. Yet we are still waiting to see them and their contents.

The last time America was this divided was in the 60’s, over the Vietnam War. When the Democrats expanded the war, under President Johnson, riots occurred coupled with bombings with fatal results.

Fortunately, the anti-Trump movement hasn’t gone that far, however the attacks against Trump are becoming more bitter. The recent shooting at the Republican baseball practice could have been a major tragedy!

Have we learned nothing from those angry days of the 60’s?? I suggest we all take a deep breath and calm down this extreme behavior. We have real problems facing America:

  • Terrorists want to kill us;
  • Our open borders permit heroin to come into our country. 52,000 Americans died last year with 62,000 more predicted deaths in this current year.
  • There’s an unstable “leader” in North Korea with atomic bombs aimed our way.
  • Healthcare needs to be reformed.
  • Our tax policy needs to be addressed.

The American people want these issues solved. Congress must quit bickering and get to work on behalf of all Americans.

Summary

Mr. Trump is our President. It is time to quick blocking his presidency. To the Republican Leadership, you have a majority in the House, the Senate and you have the White House. Keep Congress in session until you solve healthcare and tax reform.

Let’s work together to Make America Great!!!

Student Loan Crisis – Part 3

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This month’s column is the third in a series on the Student Loan Crisis written by Jim McGraw’s son, Mark.

America is continuing at a dangerous pace; however, there are some signs of hope.

According to Student Loan Hero website:

  • 44 million borrowers owe $1.4 trillion in student loans; that’s $620 billion more than total U.S. credit card debt!
  • The average student loan payment for 20-30 year olds is $351 per month.
  • The delinquency rate (90-days past due or more) is 11.2%.

The New York Times reports:

  • The average borrower leaves school owing $34,000.
  • Five percent of borrowers owe more than $100,000, but they account for one-third of all student loan debt.

While the crisis is still with us, there are signs of improvement:

According to an article in CNN Money, “Indiana University officials say borrowing by undergraduates at the school has dropped 18% since 2012. That’s when the university began sending students annual letters that estimate their total loan debt and future monthly payments, as part of a push to boost their financial literacy. Inspired by the results at IU, Indiana last year began requiring all colleges that accept state aid to send letters. Nebraska followed with a similar law this spring.”

There has also been a positive move on interest rates. According to a recent WSJ article:

  • Interest rates on newly issued federal student loans are down. For example, Stafford loans have a fixed rate of 3.76% compared to 4.66% two years before and 6.8% four years prior.
  • Student loan refinancing has taken off and borrowers are seeing reductions of 2.2% on average than the rate on the initial loan.

Where does the Trump administration stand? Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently reversed an Obama administration plan to consolidate the nine student loan service providers to a single administrator working through an Education Department portal.
The Student Debt Relief website took a shot at what they think might become Trump policy based on comments he has made in the past. Some of the interesting ones:

  • Trump will support a single Income Based Repayment (IBR) program where borrowers will pay 12.5% of their income to repay loans for 15 years after which the loan would be forgiven.
  • Trump has stated the government should not make money on student loans which could lead to lower interest rates.
  • Pressure universities to lower tuition, lower administration costs and spend more of their endowments on students.

The solution to the crisis will ultimately involve reducing the amount of student loans that are issued and a more reasonable repayment scheme. Actions like the Indiana University letters help, but universities need to spend more of their endowments to ensure students leave with a reasonable amount of debt. There should be a cap on the total amount a student can borrow which is especially needed for students attending for-profit colleges and trade schools

Repayment should be done over a longer period of say 30 years, like a home. Coupled with a reasonable Income Based Repayment program, students would be able to repay most or all of their loans with little need for government forgiveness or debt.

The Wall Can Do More

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Many are questioning the wisdom, cost and effectiveness of the border wall being advocated by President Trump and others. There is more than just one issue to consider.

Illegal Drugs

America is facing more than an illegal immigration program. It is estimated 52,000 Americans died from illegal drugs in 2015. Tens of thousands more have seen their lives ruined. This is an epidemic of historic proportions.

This can be stopped—or at least slowed—by controlling the source of illegal drugs; Mexico!

The wall can help. It is estimated that 95% of the illegal heroin coming into the U.S. is via the Mexican border.

History

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 was introduced in Congress on September 13, 2006. Within two weeks it sailed through the U.S. House and Senate. It called for construction of 700 miles of physical fence/barriers along the border.

By January 2010 the project was completed from San Diego, CA to Yuma, AZ. From there it continued into Texas. The fence is 21 feet tall and is buried six feet deep in the ground, cemented in a three-foot wide trench with 5,000 psi concrete. The border patrol prefers a high, see-through fence rather than a solid wall.

The fence has been very effective in controlling illegal immigration, especially in the San Diego area. Illegal drug smuggling has also been slowed.

Other Experiences

Israel built a wall to protect themselves from terrorists. Construction of the barrier began in September 2000. Before the first segment was completed in 2003, 73 suicide bombings were carried out from the West Bank. By the wall’s completion in 2006, only 12 such attacks occurred.

Who Pays for It?

President Trump has said Mexico will pay for the wall. Whether that happens or not, Texas Senator Ted Cruz has another interesting idea. He has introduced a bill calling for the use of $14 billion seized from cartel drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and other drug dealers, to be used to help pay for the fence.

Action Needed

The illegal drug problem is immense. Their low cost and easy availability trap people into using drugs. The user has no assurance about the quality or quantity of the active drug in each unit he or she purchases. With the low cost of the drug, the supplier is more careless when diluting the active ingredient.

This leads to more deaths!

Next Steps

No one wants a member of their family falling victim to low-cost drugs. This should be a non-political issue. We should take all steps necessary to reduce the supply of illegal drugs to our country…including a border fence.

This action, coupled with more border agents to enforce our laws, will slow illegal immigration and help reduce illegal drugs and the death they bring into America.

Summary

We have a drug epidemic in our country. People are dying by the thousands. Millions more are affected by the scourge of illegal drugs. The supply of cheap illegal drugs must be stopped.

A border fence, plus more border guards, will be a potent force to cut off supply while also helping stem the tide of illegal immigrants.

Write your Representative and Senators demanding strong borders. It will lead to fewer deaths from illegal drugs and a safer America for all of us.