Lonna Gooden VanHorn introduces Dick Pittenger
The article below was written by retired minister and WWII veteran
Rev. Dick C. Pittenger. A version of it
appeared in the "My Voice" column of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Tuesday,
Nov. 23, 2010
WWII Veterans' Honor Flight
By WWII Veteran and Retired Methodist Minister, Dick Pittenger
I recently shared a precious experience. Along with 150 brother and sister World War II veterans, I went on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II Memorial. As I stood with the others, many of them friends for more than 50 years, some now in wheelchairs, before the Wall of Honor, I was almost overwhelmed with emotion.
That wall contains 4,000 Gold Stars, each of them representing 100 who never made it home from the war, including classmates and relatives. I felt we were there not only representing them and ourselves but also millions who died before the memorial was built.
I remembered loved ones long gone, including five brothers, four who also served in WWII. I then remembered President Eisenhower's justification for retaining the federal tax rate at 90 percent on income above $400,000 a year. He said millions had been making excess profits while G.I. Joe earned $21 a month. He also told the wealthy that it was "in their enlightened self-interest to help create a more just and humane society."
I believe he was thinking of those 16 million men and women he had led back from the crucible of war, some of whom had given five years or more of their lives to make it possible for the rest of us to live in peace and freedom and to make our "excess profits." Ike cared deeply about his soldiers and would be appalled that we have homeless veterans today.
Today, Ike also might point out that only rarely do the rich or their offspring venture into harm's way to keep our freedoms secure. Perhaps that fact alone deserves a much higher tax rate for them.
For almost 50 years, maximum federal income tax rates ran between 63 percent and 94 percent. When Reagan was elected president, the federal debt was $907 billion. Until then, we had paid for the social revolution of the New Deal, WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars and the Great Society. One of Reagan's first acts was to lower the maximum tax rate from 70 percent on income above $400,000 to 28 percent on income above $29,750.
This was the most radical wealth redistribution in our nation's history, redistributing wealth upward and making it impossible for us to run this great country without going in the red. We began to rack up huge deficits and immediately began to borrow.
Reagan is the only president in history to triple the national debt. By the end of George H.W. Bush's presidency, the national debt was $4.4 trillion. After Clinton's eight years, it was $5.8 trillion; after George W. Bush's presidency, it was $12 trillion.
George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus of $236 billion, the sole justification for the totally unnecessarys tax cuts he insisted on and fought so hard to obtain. (In contrast, at the end of President Obama's first year, he was presented with a $1.9 trillion deficit for which he was not responsible.) This was the first time in history that we cut taxes for the rich in a time of war.
Since the Bush tax cuts, we have borrowed an average annual amount of $800 billion, partially to return a one-time $236 billion surplus to the people, and the Republican Party wants us to continue to borrow to pay for them.
I can't abide the blatant hypocrisy of the Republican Party.
Thanks to unwise tax cuts for the rich, causing skyrocketing federal debt the past 30 years, millions retired at age 55. Early retirement was encouraged in an effort to free up jobs for the generations coming up. How do Republicans propose we now balance the budget? Why, of course, by increasing the retirement age for middle America to 69 and by eliminating cost of living adjustments but not by raising taxes for the rich.
Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong?
If cutting taxes for the rich creates jobs, how did we lose 9 million jobs during the past 10 years?
Republicans say they refuse to raise taxes on the rich because it would cost jobs at small businesses. Their small business owners include billionaires like the Koch brothers and Warren Buffett, hedge fund managers on Wall Street and thousands of lawyers and doctors whose only employees are already-hired office staffs. Bernie Madoff would qualify as one of Sen. Mitch McConnell's small business owners, but he's in federal prison.
I wonder whether the wealthy ever feel guilty that slashing their tax rates has resulted in spiraling federal debt?
Post-script written by Lonna Gooden VanHorn
Rev. Pettinger's column was one of the best I have read regarding the ridiculousness of the rich clamoring for the extension of their Bush tax cuts, and the incredible fact that so many poor and middle-class people, the very people Republican objectives would hurt the most, have been hoodwinked by right wing-pundits and politicians -- most of whom are themselves affluent and are lobbying for said tax cuts in blatant (and, in my opinion, unpatriotic) self-interest -- into believing the cry that doing away with the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and our already over-subsidized corporations amounts to "class warfare," and that only by continuing said tax cuts do we have any hope of solving the economic problems which, in actuality, were brought about, at least in part, by the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
Forgotten is the fact that after seven years Bill Clinton finally managed to bring us to a budget surplus by raising taxes slightly after the ruinous Reagan/Bush I tax cuts tripled the national debt.
"One of Reagan's first acts was to lower the maximum tax rate from 70 percent on income above $400,000 to 28 percent on income above $29,750. This was the most radical wealth redistribution in our nation's history, redistributing wealth upward and making it impossible for us to run this great country without going in the red."
When Bush, Jr. came into office he squandered Clinton's surplus and he and Congressional Republicans demanded additional tax cuts for the rich even though they began two wars during his watch, wars which, prior to those in Iraq and Afghanistan, were always financed through increases in taxes. David Stockman, Budget Director under Reagan, blames the deficit -- then and now -- on tax cuts, and says the first thing we should cut is the military budget which is larger than that of all other nations military budgets combined and most of which has nothing to do with fighting the war on terror. It was not through 9 years of expensive wars, but through intelligence gathering and the utilization of a very small military contingent that Obama finally succeeded in killing bin Laden, yet Republicans refuse to include any kind of real oversight, let alone reductions, to any part of the bloated, wasteful, and often counter-productive military budget.
Not only were personal income taxes much higher on the rich until the Reagan years, but under Eisenhower corporations paid more than 50% in taxes, and there were not then the off-shore headquarters or tax breaks that reduced those rates to the pittance many large corporations pay in taxes now. Reagan's corporate profit friendly policies also facilitated moving companies and jobs to other countries. As former Republican Senator from Kentucky, Marlow Cook, another WWII veteran wrote in a 2004 letter to the Courier-Journal when giving his reasons for voting for John Kerry over George Bush, " Lyndon Johnson said America could have guns and butter at the same time. This administration says you can have guns, butter and no taxes at the same time. God help us if we are not smart enough to know that is wrong, and we live by it to our peril." http://www.commondreams.org/views04/1021-30.htm
Bush, Jr. and his insistence on unnecessary tax cuts for the rich took us immediately into balooning debt again, but that fact was largely ignored, and the consequences of those earlier tax cuts and policies were conveniently blamed on Obama notwithstanding the fact that even John McCain's economist admits the country would be in much worse shape than it is if Obama had not taken the steps he did to stimulate the economy.
Rev. Pettinger wrote, "If cutting taxes for the rich creates jobs, how did we lose 9 million jobs during the past 10 years?" Jobs that were lost after Bush cut taxes. As economist Robert Reich writes the rich do not need their tax cuts continued. The top 1% of taxpayers "are now getting almost a quarter of all national income, the highest percent since 1928 (sic. the year before the crash.) They don't deserve it (they got the lion's share of the benefits of the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, and have had no reason to expect a continuation of their windfall). And giving it to them blows a giant hole in the budget (the Joint Tax Committee estimates the cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent to be $61 billion in 2011 alone. )" http://robertreich.org/
Lost in all of the hoopla is the fact that Obama actually cut taxes for the poor, middle-class and small businesses. Do no "average" people remember they paid less in taxes last year?
America seems, now, to have become a country of people populated, largely, by those who feel "entitled" for themselves, but who feel little responsibility for the unfortunate, or for the well-being of future generations.