Take (Read) With Two Tissues

Somewhere in my write-only memory there is a note that the older one gets the more tears will roll down the cheeks.

Have a couple of tissues handy when you read Joe Klein’s cover story “Can Service Save Us?’ in the July 1, 2013 issue of TIME magazine, also billed as “Our Annual National Service Issue.”

I admit it.  I have worn out a dozen or more soap boxes on the subject of national service, insisting that our great country is missing an essential element to stay great; namely, a system, program, call it what you will,  in which every citizen is required to serve his or her country.  Doesn’t have to be in the military, and doesn’t have to be for more than a year or two, but by not having such a requirement we miss having a citizenry that understands what it means to serve and we do a disservice to the memory of those who served before us and gave so much.

Without trying to repeat everything in Klein’s thoughtful and superbly written article, here are a few highlights:

In increasing numbers, our returning combat veterans are suffering from PTSD.  Also in increasing numbers, many of them are defeating that horrible illness by engaging in service projects that help others; e.g., helping the Oklahoma tornado clean-up.

A group known as “The Mission Continues,” based in St. Louis and founded by Eric Greitens, “…is at the heart of a growing community service activism among this generation of combat veterans.”

A group known as “Team Rubicon,” based in Los Angeles, “…has a roster of about 7,000 veterans ready to do disaster relief around the world.”

First Lady Michelle Obama has begun a program called “Joining Forces” to help and support veterans.

42% of Americans have not done any volunteer work in the past year, but 57% favor a national service program for people to serve our country in a military or civilian capacity for a year or more.

Klein wasn’t satisfied to simply write about service.  He spent Memorial Day weekend with 60 Team Rubicon volunteers helping with the Oklahoma City tornadoes clean-up.  The group was led by Michael Washington, a former Marine Master Sergeant (ret.) and Seattle firefighter.  Known as Top to the group, he told Klein about the son he lost in Iraq and the new purpose he found in working with Team Rubicon.  “I’m in this for good,” he told Klein, “I’m anywhere they want me.”

At a Memorial Day service in the Home Depot parking lot on Southwest 19th Street, Top led the event reading the Gettysburg Address.  He ended with the words familiar to all of us:

“That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

And then the group went back to work.  And that’s when I reached for another  tissue.


Tickled by the Sunday News

These days it’s not often we smile at the news.  But somebody at the Raleigh News & Observer got a giggle out of us this morning.

Stories from Fresno, California; Orlando, Florida; and Savannah, Georgia, informed us that we Americans waste about 21% of our food each year, weight too much, and line up outside outside a restaurant famous for its rich menu items – all on one page.

(Page 13A, Raleigh News & Observer, June 23, 2013)

Haunting Fiction

Just finished “The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox,” Maggie O’Farrell, Harcourt Books, 2006, recommended by daughter-in-law and wife.

Books like these are forever in the memory.  Haunting and wonderfully written, O”Farrell tells the story of a girl sent to a mental institution for 61 years because she didn’t fit in to her family’s idea of what a girl should be and how she should act.  It is the story of an older sister who benefits from her younger sister’s lifetime punishment for being different.

The author’s inspiration begins with the quotes preceding page 1, quotes that made me think not only of how fitting they were to the story, but how much they evoke the constant tension surrounding our politics these days.  I recommend the second of the quotes:

“I couldn’t have my happiness made out of a wrong – an unfairness – to somebody else… What sort of a life could we build on such foundations?”   Edith Wharton

We would do well to avoid basing our well-being on the backs of those less well-off.


On my first trip to New York City, must have been around 1972, when I was a fledgling court manager, a friend showed me a sign on a building.  Wait – it wasn’t just a sign that was hung on a building or in a window.  The words were etched into the stone facade of the building itself, not unlike one might see on a statue.  Or a tombstone.

The words were the title of this article, all in capital letters in a style that evokes memories of a Mel Brooks film title: “TOO MUCH IS NOT ENOUGH.”  I am reasonably certain the person responsible for those words chiseled them in that stone with tongue firmly placed in cheek, but those five words came to symbolize for me the attitude of too many people when it comes to money, cars, houses, electronics, vacations, etc.

Here’s an example of what I mean.  Around 1995 I met a young couple at a party.  I knew they had just built a 6,000+ square foot house.  I asked them if they had any children, an innocent enough question in an informal social setting.  Or so I thought.  They proceeded to lecture me on government and how they could not afford to have children because the government took too much of their money in taxes.  Which left me to wonder, among other things, how often they were able to see each other in their 6,000+ square feet.  That probably also contributed to the no children situation.  The probability of bumping into each other in a large house, not the taxes.

Then this fine Carolina June  morning along comes the Sunday News & Observer with an article from the Charlotte Observer (I guess there  is little news in Charlotte, just things to observe) about the Charlotte Observers “Annual Executive Compensation Report.”  The article contained photos of mostly smiling North Carolina executives – and I’d smile too, though it would be a slightly sheepish, possibly even embarrassed smile – the 2012 compensation for whom ranged from $544,500 to $7,757,046.  The increases the group received over their 2011 compensation I calculate to range from $26,625 to $2,442,363.  

Even the least of the increases, $26,625, amounts to what a lot of jobless U.S. citizens would love to earn.  Today.

I don’t agree with the various studies and reports that claim the income disparity in our country has widened so much that we should take money away from some and give it to others.  The math for that idea doesn’t work anyway.  But I do think there is evidence to suggest that there are just too many people who aren’t sharing in our country’s good fortune.  But that can’t be resolved  by taking a few million from the 1 or 2%, because Mitt Romney’s famous 47% is too big a number.  The math doesn’t work.

What I do suggest is that when executives or anybody else are piling up so much they can’t possibly spend it in two lifetimes while millions can’t even find a job – that’s a recipe for something more than discontent.  It’s a spirit thing akin to those who speculate that since we made no sacrifices -material sacrifices such as rationing – for the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns – those have dragged on way too long, costing way too much in lives and fortune, because nobody back home was hurting.  Except, of course, for the thousands of fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and others who lost their loved ones.

When down and out people read about executives who make 10, 20, 30, 100 times or more what they earned in their best years, there exists a perceived reason to think that it is all unfair, that there is no use even trying, that it will never get any better.

It’s a spirit thing.  And to me it is clear that millions of our fellow citizens can’t earn enough or even get a job.  They are dispirited.


Nonprofit = Tax Exempt?

Once again Michael Grunwald has hit the nail on the head with his article “One Nation, Tax Exempt” in the June 10, 2013, issue of TIME.

The root of the current controversy involving overdone IRS attention to Tea Party groups is that the IRS shouldn’t be in the business of determining what constitutes a “social welfare” organization, and quite possibly shouldn’t be in the business of granting tax-exempt status at all, to anyone or any organization.

The IRS should not have to decide whether an organization is tax-exempt because it engages in activities that may be characterized  (or mischaracterized, as in organizations that are blatantly political) as a “social welfare” organization.

If an organization doesn’t make money, why does it need to be tax-exempt?

Grunwald points out that “In 2012, the U.S. had 1,616,053 tax-exempt organizations, 10 times the number of fast food restaurants.”  He makes a great case for simply taxing organizations and real human beings and using the money to pay for what the private sector can’t or won’t provide.

Support what you want to support; America is still a free country.  But don’t expect to get a tax break for it.