Archive for the 'Soapbox' Category

The Problem With “Taxing The Rich”

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Those who favor the current administration’s plan to generate billions and billions of dollars to fund their new entitlement programs often cite Scandinavia as a model of “spreading the wealth.” I’m married to a Dane and have traveled there, but would never call myself an authority. My wife Gina, however, has some very strong – and extremely unfavorable – opinions about what our government now proposes. Let me tell you why.

Indeed, in the 1960′s Denmark and Sweden enacted Tax The Rich legislation similar to what is now being proposed here. But what has occurred in those countries in the decades since provides a very good reason to not follow in their footsteps.

Why? Because 3 things happened there that will inevitably occur here, should we do so.

1. The rich took their money elsewhere. Rather than pay 90% and more of their income to the state in taxes, the rich either moved their families to less-taxed (or even un-taxed) havens, or they created corporations in those locales that sheltered their assets.

2. The middle class then had to take up the slack. Government programs, once created, rarely ever go away. So the burden in funding cradle-to-grave welfare and medical programs fell on those who were left behind. A registered nurse in Denmark began paying over 40% of her salary in income tax. A small business owner entered the 60% bracket. In time, even these monies fell short of feeding the Welfare Machine, so taxes were raised on every conceivable commodity (gasoline, especially.) When that wasn’t enough, Sales and Value Added Taxes went through the roof.

3. The best and brightest moved away, and the “takers” moved in. Immigrants (many from Turkey and the Middle East) came to Scandinavia on work visas, had babies, and thus qualified for all benefits of the nanny state. But they also refused to assimilate into the Scandinavian cultures. They were willing to take the Swedish and Danish kroners, but would not embrace the values of their hosts.

History repeats itself when we fail to heed its lessons. If we follow the Scandinavian model, your children and theirs will never know the opportunities and blessings you have always taken for granted.

(Of course, you could always move with them to Monte Carlo or the Cayman Islands. If “Spread The Wealth” becomes our national policy, they will be two of the places where our wealthy go.)

Adios, Paul Harvey. Farewell, Horton Foote

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

2 of my heroes and mentors died recently, both in their 90s and both immeasurable in their impact on me.

When Paul Harvey began his “The Rest Of The Story” programs back in the 1970s, I sent him some unsolicited true stories “with a twist.” A few weeks later, he called. For the next few years, I regularly forwarded him the raw material (always with 2 sources of authentication) for his son Paul Jr. to craft into finished scripts. Soon after, I’d receive a check signed by his wife Lynn (or – as he called her – “Angel”), but only for those stories he actually read on the air. Sometimes, he would use as few as 1 out of every 4 or 5 ideas I researched for him. Gradually, I got a little better at guessing which ones he would like. But what I learned was that I might not know which ones were right for him, but he always did.

My first meetings with Horton Foote were similarly frustrating. I knew him mainly as the author of the screenplay of “To Kill A Mockingbird” when he came to Dallas in the early 1980s, to cast “Tender Mercies.” I made it from the 1st audition to a 2nd, and ultimately to a 3rd and 4th, before losing “my” role to an LA-based actor. I was crushed at the time. But then, a couple of years later, he came back to town to shoot a new movie, “The Trip To Bountiful.” This time, I got a personal call to the audition – the ONE audition. It seems that he had remembered the kid from Texas who’d been not quite right for the Tender Mercies part, but who exactly fit the role of “Billy Davis” in the new project. Like Paul Harvey, Horton Foote’s gift was knowing the difference between a thing that’s almost right, and one that’s perfect.

Both men knew and understood their audiences, but more – they understood themselves. They trusted their own instincts, rather than committee reports or popularity polls. Add to that their talent, work ethic (neither ever really retired), and basic decency, and it’s no wonder they were so successful.

Nor is it any surprise that they will be so terribly missed. Giants always are.

Bernie Madoff Is A Piker!

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

A Ponzi Scheme is a scam that pays dividends with money from subsequent investors, rather than from profits. New York financial guru Bernie Madoff is currently accused of bilking his clients out of 50 billion dollars. That’s a five, with nine zeroes after it – or approximately Bill Gates’ net worth. Yet, strange as it may seem, if Bernie is found guilty, it should be for thinking small.

Why?

Because when it comes to running real big-time Ponzi fraud, Bernie isn’t even in the same league with our own federal government. After warming up with Social Security, then progressing to MediCare, our elected representatives have just passed an 1,100 page “stimulus” bill, which:
1. none of them have read in its entirety,
2. has a bigger price tag than the entire cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and
3. with interest, will cost more than the entire Gross Domestic Product of the U.S.A.

Now that’s ambitious! By comparison, Bernie is a nickel-dime grifter.

But Bernie is facing a prison cell for his actions. Congress gets a generous retirement package (with full medical benefits) for theirs. In fact, they just voted themselves a pay raise!

Poor Bernie – he should have run for office. Because, as Will Rogers said, “We have the best politicians money can buy.”

Must We Always Learn, The HARD Way?

Monday, February 9th, 2009

It seems to me that there are two kinds of things we learn. The first, like the light bulb or the integrated circuit, only needs to be discovered once. The next generation can build on the knowledge already accumulated to refine and improve what already exists – they don’t have to discover it again.

It would be terrific if everything could be learned this same way. My parents would have gladly kept me from repeating their mistakes, if they could have. Their good advice might have saved me a world of hurt – if I’d only listened to it.

And that’s the problem: so much of what we know is apparently only learned from personal experience, the hard way. We are told “Don’t touch that paint – it’s wet.” (And it is.) We hear “Careful! The stove is hot – it’ll burn you.” (And it does.)

We live in an information and technology-rich age. Supposedly, if you know where to look, you could be learning how to make a nuclear bomb right now (instead of reading my online musings.) Anyone with a computer is only a few keystrokes away from learning the reasons for the Great Depression or the Japanese economic crisis of the 1990s.

Why then, are we as a nation in such a hurry to make those same mistakes again? With all the resources available to us, why are we blindly charging down a dead end street marked “1929 – this way?”

Isn’t one definition of insanity the act of doing something the same way it has been done many times before, yet expecting a different result?

Congress is doing just that, with our children’s money. It’s never worked before. It won’t succeed now.

And when it doesn’t, your kids and theirs will be the ones learning “the hard way” the real cost of our inaction today.

What Do We Call The NEXT “Greatest Generation?”

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

After I performed my musical “Tribute To The Greatest Generation” this past weekend, one of the Seniors from the audience gently took me to task.

While appreciative of the recognition Tom Brokaw’s book title gave to his group of Americans, he wanted me to remember that many, if not most, of those who served in our armed forces during World War II were draftees, not volunteers. Conversely, every single one of the wounded vets he visits regularly at our local VA hospital chose to potentially put themselves in harm’s way, in order to protect our country. “What should we call them?” he asked.

Heroes is the first word that came to my mind. (Selfless and Role Models came next.)

But – with all respect to the gentleman who posed the question to me – I have decided after much deliberation that “The Greatest Generation” is a title still deserved only by his own peers. And I have three reasons why I feel this way.

1. World War II really was a generation-wide effort. Virtually every American sacrificed comfort and luxuries for the benefit of the war effort. Unlike the conflicts since, this was “everybody’s” victory.

2. The draftees fought just as hard as the volunteers. Not every American in uniform may have chosen to go to war, but – once they finished boot camp – the draftees were indistinguishable from those who signed up December 8th, 1941. They were just as heroic, and just as dedicated to winning as the “gung-ho” crowd. And they deserve credit for that.

3. The “greatest” among us are always the last to see their own greatness. Throughout my life, I have always heard veterans say “I just did my job” or “we all tried to do our part.” Real heroes never seem to know how special they really are.

So I’d like to thank the gentleman who posed the question that started all these deep thoughts. And he’s right that those wonderful individuals who have stepped forward deserve all our admiration and support. But I have concluded that, the very fact that he – like so many others of his age – is so concerned about honoring the next generation of heroes is all the proof I need that Brokaw got it right.

They still are “The Greatest Generation.”

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

As we say goodbye to 2008 (and, as some of us say “good riddance”), it seems that every magazine, newspaper, and TV news show are running features on those who died during the year.

Like all years, it’s quite a list, including George Carlin, Bo Diddley, Charlton Heston, Tim Russert, Sir Edmund Hillary, Suzanne Pleshette, and Tony Snow – to name just a few. But the one name that stops me in my tracks, every time I hear it, is Paul Newman.

Newman fans – and there are millions of us – each have their own reasons for holding him close to our hearts. His philanthropy ($250 million in gifts), his dozens of great movies, or – for some – just his amazingly blue eyes evoke in us a deep personal response.

To me, though, when I think of Paul Newman, I see a guy who took every batch of lemons life handed him – and turned them into lemonade.

His first movie (and almost his last) was “The Silver Chalice.” It was one of the most atrocious movies of the entire 1950s (Newman always claimed it was the worst), and – as the star – he deserved a fair share of the blame. A lesser person might have never shown their face in Hollywood again. Instead, he learned from his over-acting mistakes. He also made no excuses for his failure. He simply vowed to do better the next time – a promise he kept for 50 years.

This is a pattern he would repeat many times in his life, in marriage, fatherhood, and in business.

The death of Newman’s son Scott from a drug overdose was devastating. But – being Paul Newman – he found a life affirming way to deal with the tragedy. In Scott’s name, he created a foundation to help in both prevention of and recovery from drug addiction. His goal was simple – to spare as many other families as possible the pain of losing a loved one to drugs.

I look forward to every viewing of “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid,” “The Sting,” and – a personal favorite – “Cool Hand Luke.” Like all great actors, Newman learned to make each performance seem effortless. And, through the magic of film, he will always be with us.

But, unlike so many other public figures, he was a class act off screen as well. And there aren’t so many of those around that we should ever be too busy to note the passing of one of the best.

Nor should we fail to learn from his example. Old show biz hands say that “In life there are no second acts.” Paul Newman proved them wrong. And time after time, we were the beneficiaries of his second efforts.

So goodbye, 2008 – I won’t miss you at all. But Mr. Newman – wherever you are – you are a memory I will treasure.

When Is A Christmas Program NOT A Christmas Program?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

I was honored to have the opportunity to speak to a group of retired college educators this week. The occasion was what we folks from Mayberry used to call a “Christmas party.” But – since these good folks had toiled at a state college – political correctness required that it be known as a “holiday” gathering. (It could be worse, I guess. They could have called it a “Winter Solstice Celebration.”)

Anyway, my task was to figure out how to deliver a Christmas program that wouldn’t step on the sensitive toes of any of the guests. My solution, such as it was, was to do my regular movie program (“Hollywood: Where The Inmates Run The Asylum”), with the addition of some film-related seasonal tunes at the end (specifically “White Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”)

It seemed to work okay, and nobody threw anything. But two conversations I’ve had since the event left me scratching my head at how PC we’ve all become. One of my Muslim friends wished me a “Merry Christmas,” which prompted me to ask him if he would have been offended by a “Christmas” program at a “Christmas” party. To my surprise, he told me that his all-American kids always celebrated Christmas, and that Santa never by-passed their house. He thought our national political correctness fetish was well-intentioned, but an unnecessary over-reaction.

The other conversation was with my Missus, the lovely Gina Tanner. We passed by a shop bearing seasonal greetings in the two most common languages of our town, English and Spanish. The sign said “Happy Holidays” and “Feliz Navidad.” She asked me what the literal translation of Feliz Navidad was, and I told her: “Merry Christmas.”

“So how come,” she asked, “we can say Merry Christmas, as long as we say it in Spanish?”

Quien sabe – who knows? But please excuse me if I think todos el mundo (the whole freakin’ world) has gone loco en la cabeza (stark raving nuts.)

United We Stand, Divided We Fall. (Cast my vote for United.)

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

“It ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings.” Or, as Yogi Berra once said (with his usual illogical-logic), “It ain’t over ’till it’s over.” But the trouble is – in American politics today – it ain’t ever really over.

The machinations may not be played out as publicly as they were in the “hanging chad” debacle of the 2000 presidential election, but you can bet that across the fruited plain, would-be congressmen, senators, governors, and yes – even presidents – are poring over yesterday’s exit polls and vote tallies to plot the strategies that they hope will sweep them into office, next time around. The races for 2010 and 2012 begin now.

Which is too bad for joes like me, ’cause I’m sick of the whole thing. I’m tired of spin doctors, attack ads, and endless empty promises (which at least have the virtue of being cheaper than endless fulfilled promises.) I’m fed up with rabid partisans, especially of the pundit class, who see our country only in terms of “us” and “them.” According to these guys, the U.S. map is a collection of red and blue states.

What a bunch of cow wabunga! My particular county of my supposedly red state is decidedly blue. Closer to home, my neighborhood is about evenly split. Even my own personal ballot is usually a mix of so-called “red” and “blue.” So I don’t buy into the divisiveness that compartmentalizes our nation into “us” and “them.” I may disagree with the votes some of my neighbors and family members make, but they remain my neighbors and family. We are all still “us” – at least, as far as I’m concerned (and I hope they feel the same.)

My wife Gina has a friend, a grandmother whose child went through nasty divorce. The grandma continues to maintain cordial relations with the ex-spouse. Why? For the sake of her grandchildren, and to ensure her ability to be involved in their lives, she is willing to assume that the ex ultimately wants what is best for the kiddos. Thus, despite all that separates them, they can both agree on doing right by the grandchildren.

What our nation needs (and has needed for decades) are politicians who are willing – for the sakes of all our grandchildren – to do the same thing as Gina’s friend. They must see the whole country as “US” – spelled “U.S.” Sure, 300 million Americans are never going to agree on everything, but true statesmen always seem to find a way to appeal to our better instincts – to the “us” in all of us. And that kind of leadership transcends “red” and “blue.” Anyone running for office on that platform is guaranteed to get my vote. I just hope they declare themselves soon.

Otherwise, that fat lady is going to be singing for us. And friends, she’s warming up her vocal cords – right now.

“My Fellow Americans…”

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Tomorrow, Supreme Court willing, American voters will elect a new President of the United States. And, based on a thoroughly non-scientific analysis of the yard signs in my neighborhood, about 49.9% of us are going to be ticked.

The U.S. of A has been dis-united throughout the last several election cycles, with so-called “red” and “blue” states (nominally in favor of one candidate or the other), almost as divided as the nation itself. This means that the winning candidates – even as they make their inaugural speeches – know that nearly half the people listening do so through clenched teeth.

The victor’s words have the potential to begin the healing process. Unfortunately, not all the winners take advantage of that opportunity. In his 2nd inaugural address, U.S. Grant said: “I have been the subject of abuse and slander scarcely ever equaled in political history, which today I feel that I can afford to disregard in view of your verdict, which I gratefully accept as my vindication.”

Or in other words, to my critics: “nanny-nanny boo-boo.”

But Thomas Jefferson, though he had been accused of atheism, miscegenation, cowardice in time of war, and of being the offspring of a baboon, took the high road: “Let us then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social harmony and intercourse that harmony and affection without which Liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.”

Beautifully said (although I would caution any politician today to be careful advocating a restoration of “intercourse.” Word meanings change, from time to time.)

The best of all healing inaugural addresses came from Abraham Lincoln, who gave us a glimpse of what Reconstruction might have been, had he lived: “With malice toward none, with charity for all… let us strive on… to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and all nations.”

For the sake of our country, I hope our next President’s inaugural address strikes a similarly uplifting theme.

It’s so much better than “nanny-nanny boo-boo.”

An Open “Dear Jon” Letter

Monday, July 28th, 2008

(Note: Jonathan Edwards recorded the 1972 hit “Sunshine”. He continues to perform regularly for his fans, and – this past week – he had a spectacular opportunity to add to his fan base. In my opinion, it was an opportunity he squandered. How? Read on.)

Dear Jonathan,

I saw you July 20th when the “Hippiefest” Tour came to our town. Both the tour’s name and its website suggest a “Summer of Love” vibe, conjuring up images of those whom Scott McKenzie called “gentle people with flowers in their hair.” Fond memories of that Aquarian Age, plus the opportunity to see a number of name acts of the era, attracted thousands of us who were united by our appreciation of late-sixties music.

At least, we were united until you opened the show. Five minutes into the four-hour evening, you honed in with laser accuracy on an issue guaranteed to divide us. Introducing your hit “Sunshine,” you described it as having been written in response to “another war” built on “lies.”

A few dozen audience members shouted their agreement with you, and – doubtless – many more in a crowd that size silently concurred. But statistically, about 30% of Americans think our nation’s current war effort is necessary. (In Texas, and with hundreds of veterans in the audience, our percentage may have been significantly higher). Still, using the lower figure as a benchmark, your remark – mere moments into the concert – essentially said that 1 out of every 3 persons present (who shelled out $60 each to be there) are either aiding and abetting “lies,” or are just too stupid to realize they’ve been duped.

Whether they are evil or simply fools, you made it clear that – while you’re perfectly willing to take their money – those of the 30% will never be enlightened like you.

Congratulations, Jonathan. The fragile golden thread of audience unity was severed so fast that it may be a world’s record (though not one most entertainers would aspire to hold.)

When I wrote you via your website last week to express these same thoughts, I mentioned that Eric Burdon of The Animals urged us to “Pray for Peace” without offending anyone, while Flo and Eddie of The Turtles encouraged all of us to vote, again without dividing the audience into “us” and “them.” Unlike you, they used their talents to build bridges, instead of burn them.

Hippiefest draws thousands of Americans each night, each with their own solutions to the problems facing our nation. Either you’ve forgotten how to entertain a broad demographic without alienating a significant portion of the crowd, or – even worse – you knew you were being divisive and yet you spoke anyway.

And therein lies the tragedy of your ill-chosen words, Jonathan. Hippiefest was your opportunity to re-introduce yourself to audiences who would otherwise never see you. This was a perfect place to remind them of just what an extraordinary talent you have, and to add them to your legion of admirers. But it was an opportunity wasted, because of your polarizing invective.

If your goal is to open hearts and minds, use your gift of song. Name-calling won’t get you there.

Sincerely, Dave Tanner