Leaders lead not persecute

A story I heard today set my jaw, got my dander up, and got me to thinking what sort of incapable hands, and I am speaking of the enlisted Navy khaki community – have my Brothers and Sisters in the CPO Mess (Retired) left behind?   In recent years, story after story of accidents,  improper behavior (fraternization) and issues with ships, aircraft and installations continue to be reported.   The Navy’s top enlisted Sailor, the MCPON, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, resigned due to allegations of improper leadership this year.   And I heard today that a Sailor, who happens to be a career top performer and a person who shares my faith (and a member of my congregation), is being allegedly PERSECUTED by the unit CPO Mess for  (allegedly) sharing values with another sailor.    Honor? Courage? Commitment?

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honoring the WWII sacrifice of 4 chaplains

I have to wonder what has happened to the Navy I served for twenty-six years.  For as long as people have put to sea, spiritual beliefs have gone to sea with them.  For the last two centuries, members of a faith community have been guaranteed the freedom of expression, worship, and other rights, as well as equal protection under the law.  I certainly understand that everyone is entitled – and in the military particularly – to believe whatever they want to believe – as long as the mission and the team performance are not negatively affected.  A conscientious objector in charge of a weapons system is not expected.  A polygamist or adulterer is not expected to respond to policies that define conduct  which brings discredit the unit.   A person with addiction, particularly to alcohol or prescription drugs, is not the model of reliability in a moment of necessary quick response or judgement.

A search online on the topic of faith and military duty will reveal articles that support that servicemen and women of faith make better and more capable members.  And there has been at least one who was convicted at courts martial for refusing to obey orders to remove a display of religious quotes in her workplace.  That conviction was based in part on disobedience to a lawful order, and failure to demonstrate that she had taken all the proper steps via the chain of command to remedy her particular issues.

In the case of the Sailor I heard about today, I know that conduct was not the issue.  Disobedience and disrespect of a shipmate was not the issue.  If good people of faith,  technically capable and ethically sound, are forced out of serving in uniform,  then the nation as a whole suffers.  I do not expect all members of the military to share my Christian faith, nor even to have a belief in a supernatural Deity.   But I have known men and women in positions of responsibility whose conduct and attitude demeaned their peers and subordinates.  Some of those subordinates chose to leave the service at the end of their contracts.

fb_img_15287322881111Honor. Courage. Commitment.    Leadership in the armed forces of the United States is a privilege.  And respecting the spiritual beliefs of capable, ethical, and valuable members of the team is but one trait that an exceptional member of the Chief Petty Officer Mess can impart.

Combat-injured veterans tax relief

undoing the added insult to injury

Of all the things that politicians do that gets people’s dander up,  then-President Obama signed into law  a bill that rights a wrong for combat-injured veterans.   For more than a hundred-thirty thousand  veterans whose combat injuries ended their careers,  the government has ended taxing their severance pay.  The veterans affected served from 1991 (Desert Storm) through the present.

The IRS bulletin :

The Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act of 2016, enacted December 2016, allows certain veterans who received lump sum disability severance payments additional time to file a claim for credit or refund of an overpayment attributable to the disability severance payment. The law directed the Secretary of Defense to identify disability severance payments paid after January 17, 1991, that were included as taxable income on Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, but were later determined to be nontaxable and to provide notice of the amount of that payment. The Department of Defense is mailing letters to affected veterans (letters 6060-A and 6060-D) in July 2018.

What this means for some veterans

Veterans discharged from military service due to medical disability may receive a one-time lump sum severance payment. Disability severance pay is taxable income unless the pay results from a combat-related injury or the service member receives official notification from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) approving entitlement to disability compensation.

Anyone who received a disability severance payment that was taxed and determines later that the payment qualifies under one of the rules above can file a claim for credit or refund for the tax year in which the disability severance payment was made and was included as income on a tax return.

For veterans who received a lump sum disability severance payment after January 17, 1991, the Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act of 2016 may provide additional time to claim a credit or refund for the overpayment attributable to the disability severance payment.

What you need to do

You must complete and file IRS Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, for the tax year the disability severance payment was made carefully following the instructions in the notice mailed by the Department of Defense in July 2018. You must mail the claim generally by the later of:

  • 1 year from the date of the Department of Defense notice, or
  • 3 years after the due date for filing the original return for the year the disability severance payment was made, or
  • 2 years after tax was paid for the year the disability severance payment was made.

If you did not receive the notice from the Department of Defense and you received a disability severance payment after January 17, 1991, that you reported as taxable income, you can still file a claim as long as you attach the necessary documentation to your Form 1040X. You may contact the Defense Finance and Accounting Services to obtain your documentation for submission with the required Form 1040X. See the FAQs for additional information.

Text of the 2016 law:

https://www.warner.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2016/12/senate-passes-bill-to-end-taxation-of-combat-injured-veterans-severance-payments

Concert apart

The dictionary defines concert, so the director said Saturday night, as “a musical performance given in public, typically by several performers or of several separate compositions. (2) agreement, accordance, or harmony.” It was an opportunity to enjoy an evening with a thousand fans of symphony music. From the audience standing and singing the Star Spangled Banner to a medley of famous themes like the Sound of Music, the night and the performance were wonderful. And the point in the concert where the conductor asked military veterans to stand and be honored was wonderful.

The night was planned several weeks ago for our friends and us, to have dinner and enjoy the season-opening concert, San Diego Symphony at Bayside – on the waterfront downtown next to the Convention Center. The evening featured famous American composers and included masterful choral singing. Yet the night was unnecessarily in competition with a harbor cruise “party boat” going back and forth in the harbor all evening. While the symphony conductor was the picture of grace and civility, the operator, just offshore of our venue, was deliberately negligent, blaring the distracting beat, “ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum” over and over, and over again. The conductor made light of it, and yet many of my fellow veterans in the audience (from 20 to 80 years in age) were visibly ready to form a boarding party.

It was a great metaphor for the “endangered species” of civility – particularly in America in 2018. On the way home by trolley, a young person zigged and zagged to step in front of us “old people” ( I spent 4 seconds before inserting my card in the ticket-dispensing machine) to try to get her trolley ticket first (until I harrumphed and she demurred). On social media, a person makes a comment both insulting the fans and actually containing some painful truth, of a particular topic (politics), and gets his (insert characteristic here) questioned. But the comment was deliberately meant to provoke anger.

frowny_face

I regularly encounter both Prius and BMW drivers who act as though they are the most important dignitaries on the road -tailgating, careening across lanes – to get two car lengths ahead – in rush hour. When I hold a door open as a courtesy for females (as I do for males) even among my workmates, there is a occasionally a woman under thirty who seems irritated that I did so. But age is not a predictor of civility. I see men my age with yard signs or bumper stickers that declare other human beings idiots, criminals or ignorant. It is common now for people to pick “sides”. There is no tolerance for differing opinion. And there is no standard where dialogue has to be reasoned, calm, and well-supported by easily (verified (and unbiased) observers.

How do we revert to civility norms?

I think that this decline in civility has both been inflamed by social media as well as our education system. For fifty years we have groomed people to believe they have the right to say what they want without consequences. A Utopian desire for harmonious acceptance, order, and a pain-free existence for everyone everywhere is not through government control.  Either some are forced (Constitutional guarantees are repressed by power-brokers; disagreement is labelled “hate speech”) or are bribed (“living wage” increases worker support, recipients of “public assistance” are encouraged to remain on the “dole”) to be obedient, and the result is a lack of civility toward those who have different views.

One christian’s viewpoint

Most among the secular world see the faulty application of Christian theology by many as evidence of a faulty theology rather than faulty human beings.  Any government that promotes officially-sanctioned multiple languages, cultural norms, legal precepts, and political ideologies, is not elevating civility among dis-unified people but instead further isolating individuals and groups into opposing factions. History is full of these lessons. “Balkanization” is a term where multiple ethnic, religious, linguistic, and religious fracturing is present. The first World War all the way through the “ethnic cleansing” in the former Yugoslav (Balkan) states in the 1990s were due to this fracturing. Fear and paranoia of people who will not assimilate is thousands of years old.  But governments that accommodate the noisy separatists and neglect the “deplorables”, risk permanent balkanization.  It has been the national identity, as “Americans” regardless of all the other factors, that has maintained unity in the United States since the Nineteenth Century.  The resurgence of socialism in American culture, in the absence of a truly spiritual understanding of brotherhood, respect, looking after the ill and the truly desperate, leading a peaceful existence and having a strong work ethic, is not going to achieve a concert in America or elsewhere.

Secular proposals to restore civility in America

Americans can try to restore a civil culture through man-made effort.   But how do people restore civility?

  1. Restore ONE NATION: Celebrate our diversity in ethnic heritage but unify everyone who comes here – through the established immigration policies – to become AMERICAN. Stop using hyphen american in all our identifiers.
    1. Establish ONE language.  All business, education, judicial dealings, social interaction should be performed in English.  Teach different idioms and language, but everyone who wants to be a resident must read, write and speak English in everyday situations.  Make it mandatory to pass an oral and written exam within 24 months of arrival – with intent to remain – to reside in the United States, and become a citizen.  Make the language a requirement to obtain any public assistance.
    2. Restore the ONE culture. Quit the divisiveness of public – and public-funded institutions promoting ethnic separatism.  Whatever color, race, creed, or political leanings,  celebrate differences in the context of making the “melting pot” better.
    3. Prohibit any public official or lobbying group on behalf of any non-citizens, extra-national allegiances, from campaigning to support non-citizens, foreign governments, or business interests seeking to change immigration policies without a national vote.
  2. Restore GOD and belief in a Creator as acceptable teaching. Permit use of public property for the exercise of religion as with any other use.  Get government out of the Belief business.
    1. Spiritual beliefs that do not contradict the good order an unity of a nation, are not legally barred.
    2. Atheism does not trump the rights of others to practice their spiritual beliefs in private or in public spaces.
    3. Non-government employers and places of employment that express particular religious beliefs cannot be forced through legal redress to change policies (adding “abortion coverage” to a health plan for an employer that publicly “pro-life”).  Employment conditions are still voluntarily accepted by both parties – employer and employee.
    4. Public (government) employees are barred from expressing support for, or opposition to, insulting, belittling, or deriding a particular religious belief.
    5. The judicial branch of government only decides whether an action violates the law, not whether it is moral, ethical, proper, or the “intent” of the law-makers
  3. No elected official can refuse to enact voter-approved legislation that does NOT
    1. cause physical harm to individuals or groups
    2. bar individuals or groups from activities that do not seek to cause harm (violence, rebellion) or deny others their human rights
  4. No institution of government can be used to manipulate public information, sentiment, or coerce support for a particular national political entity in power. This also means no institution of government can be manipulated to deny another political entity the fair and equal opportunity in elections.
  5. No entity or institution serving the national interest – media service, local, state or national educational institution (public or privately-funded) can bar exercise of the Constitutional “freedom of speech”.
    1. Civility is a voluntary ideal but some focused practices could improve civility:
      1. Practice, starting in the home, schools, and social organizations  that disagreement with the policies of a government official does not condone any action, outburst, or display abusing that office.
      2. Accept the outcome of elections.  Bring change through the ballot box.
      3. Public figures or celebrities should not incite street protests and violence against law enforcement and other public safety officers.
      4. Leaders of religious orders should promote peaceful doctrines, respect for authority, and practices among their adherents.
      5. Engaging in personal attacks on or inciting abuse of the family members of a government official should be restrained by peers and not promoted as entertainment by media business, celebrities, and public officials.

 

a veteran gets “Media” love

In the past week,  the tabloids and other media was agog over the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry of Britain.  The Duke of Sussex, KCVO (Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order ). Several of my friends on social media posted “enough already”- type memes and commentary.   I probably have a unique viewpoint among them,  in that a “Combat Veteran Gets Lots of Love by the Media”.

Unique among the current British Royal family,  Prince Harry served in combat, in Afghanistan, not just in uniform.  His presence was kept secret for several weeks by the British press.   In typical fashion, some in the media cannot keep secrets.  The Australian press revealed that the Prince was in Helmond province.  Against the Taliban and Al Quaeda,  publishing the whereabouts of a high-value target such as the Prince was unwise, yet the prince continued to serve in theater.  After serving in the British Army for ten years, he has continued to serve in a leading way but for charitable work.

Unintentionally,  I believe,  the news media has made a combat veteran a star.   For a guy with army service, and little chance of ever becoming King ( he’s fifth in line behind his elder brother and  family),  I think it is pretty cool.

image source: Esquire magazine

Biography

Charitable work, past and going forward:

The Telegraph

Wild About Harry by Remembering Lives

A culture of complacency?

Four American Special Operations soldiers who died in an ambush in Niger were reported to have died as a consequence of improper planning, training, and taking unnecessary risks – a “culture of complacency”.  Summarizing details in a classified Pentagon report, military officials found  “low-level commanders, eager to make their mark against local militants in Niger, “took liberties to get operations approved through the chain of command,”  ” according to the Wall Street Journal article today.

In the collisions between U.S. Navy warships and civilian freighters in 2017, the Navy found the same consequences of complacency,  not following procedures, and overconfidence.  In recent articles describing mishaps in Air Force and Marine Corps aviation,  both cite decisions regarding decreased training hours for pilots, as well as decreased material support and funding resulted in increased mechanical failures and pilot error,  particularly in the last several years.

For years, much of the attention paid to combat-action, training or mission-related casualties has focused on politics, funding (budget), and defense contractors, but less has been paid to warfighter training and culture.  In the last twenty years both the warfighters themselves and the military services have “adapted” by the social norms of the day.  Competitiveness, rigorous thinking, physical prowess, and unity of singular national identity ( e.g. American, not  hyphen American,  or French, not Algerian-French) has been debased internationally in favor of equality, fairness, tolerance, and individualism. Regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or spiritual concerns,  a warrior culture has to be obsessive and unyielding about unity, training, respect for and obedience to authority, to mission and to nation.   A warrior commander has to be  pragmatic about readiness, mission planning, and risk.   While there is always some acceptance of risk in any effort, there is no room for overconfidence, personal ambition, or politics in military operations.

However, with human beings comes human weakness.  From the American ambassador during the Barbary Wars (at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century) who diverted support from the U.S. naval commanders  interdicting pirates because he was not consulted, to the battlefront commanders who did not receive accurate enemy strength numbers when advancing on Tora Bora during the initial Afghanistan campaigns (with some fault from communication issues), character, training and planning shortcomings have resulted in unintended casualties.  While it is true that military forces, particularly among the NATO alliance, have become better trained, better equipped and more unified, particularly in communications (Blue on Blue, or “friendly fire” incidents declined), veterans, families of currently-serving members, and the public need to press our civilian leaders to make the necessary changes from the ground up. Better leaders make better institutions.  Better institutions makes better people. Better people make better warriors.  Better warriors make better decisions.

 

fiddling around

Sometimes you get assistance and support from your elected representative.  Sometimes you get a letter where they have miss the point the constituent was making entirely.

Thank you for your letter regarding your concerns about unsolicited calls and the enforcement of the Do Not Call Registry rules.  I appreciate hearing from you, and I welcome the opportunity to respond.

I understand that you have registered your number with the National Do Not Call Registry, but that you have continued to receive telemarketing calls with disguised identities and phone numbers.  In your letter, you expressed your support for stronger penalties against companies that violate the Registry rules. …”

I actually studied Political Science at the university ages ago, as I had some fantasy about going into government service.   But that was before most colleges became a breeding ground of Orwellian thought control.    These days I think back to the movie and musical, Fiddler on the Roof.   Living  as best one can apart from the Government bureaucracy.

Tevye: And in the circle of our little village, We’ve always had our special types. For instance, Yente the matchmaker, Reb Nachum the beggar… And most important of all, our beloved Rabbi.

Leibesh: Rabbi! May I ask you a question?

Rabbi: Certainly, Lebisch!

Leibesh: Is there a proper blessing… for the Tsar?

Rabbi: A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar… far away from us!

I actually reached out to Senator Feinstein to demand that the perpetrators of cell phone abuse: spammers, hackers (who masquerade as someone in your contact list — or when you receive a call from your own number! – and malcontents be the focus of more intensive prosecution and penalties.  I acted after my son received a call at his work number claiming that his mother had been injured in a traffic accident.  It was b.s.

So all my friends and family who truly believe that the proper political party leading the country will make the roads efficient, the cell phones free from telemarketers, and the social media free of Russian meddling have great faith.   Me,  I will continue to be

Tevye: A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’ Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!

 

Please be assured that I will keep your concerns in mind should the “Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone Calls (HANGUP) Act” come before me for consideration in the Senate.

 

Dust

Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist, died this week.

Lots of people are voicing condolence.   Maybe people know of him due to the 2014 movie , Theory of Everything, that many who don’t understand his grand theories know his name.  A very intelligent being nonetheless, and one of the most celebrated brains who had ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).  (As an aside, I thought Eddie Redmayne portrayed Hawking in stunning fashion in that movie.)  Not having read any of Hawking’s work, I nevertheless learned a bit about him.

He went to the grave an atheist.   Yet his religion was ‘science’, which for all the debate from atheists about facts versus myths,  is still human observation of the universe and its interplay on physical objects. With every passing decade, a “fact” gets refined, or refuted, or re-interpreted.  A deduced certainty – weather, tides, or planetary body is still victim to an “uncertainty principle”.   Of course, we have launched satellites and people into space, but these have finite parameters.  We cannot create an organism from a vacuum.  Science still cannot define origins.  It cannot define why – in our own solar system – life evolved to the scale it did from gas and dust.  It does not explain the origin of the gas and dust.  And science does not explain human thoughts.

Stephen Hawking for all his contribution to science wanted to determine a grand unifying theory for the universe.  It eluded him.

Some atheists who really examine evidence and limit their biased presupposing, have admitted that they just don’t know.  Those who believe what that grand unifying theory is,  and have empirical evidence – also from human experience and perspective – in their lives, will continue onward.  I do not pretend to know why some very intelligent scientists  and scholars do not embrace belief in God,  while other’s look at the same evidence and hold an awe for a Master Engineer at the center of everything.

Hawking may now return to dust from which he formed.   Sagan may be “star stuff”.  And it all may be a futile cycle of randomness that anything exists at all.    But what if Eternity is … a corollary of the Grand Unifying Theory?  And all that scientific dust….

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