Tagged: 2012 election

Obama to Snub Medal of Honor Ball – Again!

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

The dancing ObamasThe President will not be attending the 2013 Salute to Heroes ball, held every inauguration week since 1953 to honor America’s recipients of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award for bravery. The President has traditionally made an appearance at the Salute to Heroes ball every year it has been held – until 2009, when President Obama became the first president in history not to attend.

The event was first organized by the American Legion, in honor of the election of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It is now cosponsored by a number of veterans groups, including Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Granted, in 2009 – the first time in any Commander in Chief was MIA from the Salute to Heroes Ball, the President’s schedule was full of more pressing obligations – he and Michelle attended ten other balls during the inauguration festivities that year, including the Biden Home State Ball and the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball, which allowed the Obamas to be seen with Alicia Keys, Shakira and Beyonce.

However, a number of dignitaries are scheduled to attend, including 25 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation, Representative Jeff Miller (R-Florida), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Senator Bernie Sanders (I – Vermont), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

The following Medal of Honor recipients have confirmed they will attend:

  • John Baca
  • Donald Ballard
  • Gary B. Beikirch
  • Patrick H. Brady
  • Sammy L. Davis
  • Roger H.C. Donlon
  • Walter D. Ehlers
  • Harold A. Fritz
  • Salvatore A. Giunta
  • Thomas J. Hudner Jr.
  • Joe M. Jackson
  • Jack Jacobs
  • Walter J. Marm Jr.
  • Thomas R. Norris
  • Robert E. O’Malley
  • Robert M. Patterson
  • Leroy A. Petry
  • Alfred Rascon
  • Ronald E. Ray
  • Gordon R. Roberts
  • Ronald E. Rosser
  • James M. Sprayberry
  • Kenneth E. Stumpf
  • Brian M. Thacker
  • Hershel W. Williams

Click on the American Legion link at the top of this article to read the Medal of Honor citations for each of these men.

The Obamas will be attending the Commander in Chief’s Inaugural Ball, however, at the Washington Convention Center. He will also attend the Inaugural ball, held for his supporters, also at the Washington Convention Center.

 

What do you think of this? Is this a snub or even controversial to you? Should the President attend this ball over many of the others, especially when we still have troops overseas and more wounded warriors than ever? Tell us below.

Election Day in Douglas County, Nebraska

Posted by Kelli McKinney

thank a servicememberIt’s a chilly fall morning in Elkhorn. The sky is a brilliant blue, the grass is still green, and the trees that still cling to what few leaves they have are showing off their jewel-inspired colors. The air smells vaguely of campfire. It’s a great day to be out and about.

Along with thousands of people in my county of residence, I lined up at the polling place bright and early this morning, wearing my patient pants and excited about participating in the democratic process. My polling place is the chapel of a sprawling retirement home, the kind at which I can only dream about residing some day. I follow the directions on my yellow voter’s card and walk toward the main entrance, where I am greeted by a smiling older woman with kind face. She points me down a hallway to my right, where I am immediately greeted by two more sweet older ladies. They’re standing by a thick wooden table that’s covered with coffee urns, trays of muffins and stacks of fruit, napkins, and assorted coffee sweeteners. “Help yourself to refreshments now or when you’re done,” say the guardians of the goodness. I look to my right at the growing line of citizen voters and abandon the refreshment table. Afterward, I decide. I have a feeling these ladies keep the table well stocked at all times.

I take my place in line, where I am one of only a handful of people who are not dressed smartly in either corporate or military uniform. There are at least 45-55 people ahead of me, and I noticed that across the hall from me was a barber shop, complete with striped pole and red curtained windows when I heard a strange electronic beeping noise coming from somewhere in line. I looked around and noticed the source of the sound:  an elementary aged boy waiting with his mother, playing a handheld game console, and if my hands hadn’t been full with my wallet and polling card, I would’ve smacked my forehead. I say to no one in particular, “Aw, I should have brought my son so he could see this.”

To my surprise, the woman standing in front of me in line turned around and said, “I was just thinking the same thing. How great would that have been, for kids to see what democracy is about.”

We made small talk for a bit, the kind where you ask about the kids’ ages and schools they attend. The conversation was pleasant and quiet and it certainly helped the waiting time pass more quickly. We steered clear of sensitive subjects like who we would vote for and political platforms, and I couldn’t help notice that when people passed by us on the way out of the polling booth, my conversation partner smiled broadly and proudly at them. I asked, “Is it just me, or do you want to cheer for people when they’re done voting?”

She laughed, “I do!  The fact that we are able to participate is very special to me,” she said. Her words humbled me as she went on. She described how ever since she was a kid, she has cried each time she’s voted. “When you think about it, thousands of people died so I can stand here. People today are dying to protect us as we stand here.”  Her eyes welled with tears and I could see that she was reflecting on someone in particular. “It’s silly,” she said, wiping her eyes and opening her purse to dig inside. “It’s not silly at all,” I replied.

We waited quietly for only a few minutes more until she was administered her ballot and moved into the private voting area; I followed another few minutes behind.

I’ve voted in nearly every election I could since I turned 18. I’m not proud to tell you that this year I’ve become a little jaded, what with the onslaught of obnoxious advertising, campaigning and armchair quarterbacking of every candidates’ move. Before I stood in line on this beautiful morning, I was mostly grateful that we would soon be rid of that aspect of the process, at least for a little while. But that conversation in line reminded me of something I should have been mindful of from the beginning: That voting is a sacred act, a privilege paid for by the blood and effort of thousands of people. I cast my vote, and with it I gave thanks for all who made my voting possible.

Afghanistan Military Ballots Delayed – For Five Weeks!

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

military ballot boxA box of absentee military ballots mailed from Afghanistan more than a month ago was hung up in the military postal system for up to five weeks. According to reporting by Army Times, the Postal Service’s mailing tracking number places those ballots at a postal facility in New York City. The tracking numbers were updated to reflect an arrival at New York City on Friday.

At least one of those ballots was mailed on September 27th, and placed in a special box with an unknown number of other ballots. The tracking code on at least one of the ballots in that box listed the ballot had not cleared Bahrain until Friday, November 2nd, which means there was a delay of nearly five weeks between the time the ballots were mailed and their arrival at New York City.

This delay is substantially longer than the delays anticipated by the Military Postal Service Agency’s own published plan, which specifies a mailing date of 17 or more days prior to elections from most APO codes in Afghanistan, and 25 days for those deployed aboard ship in the U.S. Pacific or Atlantic fleets.

The Military Postal Service Agency has primary responsibility for all mail issues affecting U.S. servicemembers outside of the U.S. When letters and parcels arrive within the United States, they become the responsibility of the U.S. Postal Service.

The news comes just days after a Russian plane carrying 4,700 pounds of mail crashed and burned at Shindand Air Field in Afghanistan (the aircrew all walked away from the crash.) An unknown number of military ballots may have been on board. Although elections officials are required by federal law to mail absentee ballots to overseas servicemembers at least 45 days prior to the election, many jurisdictions failed to meet that deadline. In some instances, the Department of Justice filed suit against some states, including Vermont and Michigan, to force state and local elections officials to comply, or to extend the deadline to receive absentee ballots.

Several calls to the U.S. Postal Service, the Military Postal Service Agency, and the MPSA’s own Postal Voting Program Manager, Vardar May, were not immediately returned.

Can I Register on Election Day?

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Military election-day votingIf you’re a servicemember or family member, you are entitled to keep your home of record as your domicile, no matter where the government sends you. That means you can be away from your hometown for years and still be able to vote. But suppose you didn’t get an absentee ballot? Or you forgot to request one? Not all states will accept a late ballot, even if it’s postmarked on or before the date of the election.

If you are living outside of your normal voter registration jurisdiction, you may still be able to cast a ballot – even if voting absentee is impractical at this late date.

How?

Same-day voter registration.

Some states allow you to show up at the polls, register on the spot, and vote the same day. That’s great news for military families who move around a lot.

What states allow same-day registration?

As of early November 2012, the following jurisdictions allow same-day registration.

  • District of Columbia
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Additionally, North Carolina allows same-day registration but only for early voters, up to three-days before the election. Ohio, as of this writing, allows for same-day registration from the last Tuesday in September through the first Monday in October – during the early voting period.

You can’t vote in your hometown local elections. But you can make your voice heard for federal elections, and for local and state elections in your current home.

Be prepared to prove your residency with documents like a driver’s license, bank statement, a set of military orders placing you in the new area, utility bills, bank statements, or other proof that you are a resident of the community you are voting in.

Also, be aware that there may be unintended consequences of voting in a local election. For example, if you register to vote where you’re living now, and then return home next year to go to school, you may find your eligibility for in-state tuition rates challenged. Voter registration is one of the things officials look at when determining your state of residency or domicile.

Help! I Didn’t Get My Military Absentee Ballot

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

military absentee ballotsIt’s hard enough to for military families to exercise their right to cast ballots every election, even under ideal circumstances. The serviceman himself or herself has a chain of command to help out, but it’s tough to remember to register or stay registered among all the other challenges of military life.

For example, some state laws require officials to purge voter records after you miss so many elections. They’ll send you a letter to try to verify your existence before they drop you from the registered voter rolls for your district or county. But the U.S. Postal Service only forwards mail for six months.

If you PCSed or moved more than six months prior, you probably didn’t get that letter.

This was a problem for a number of military members in Florida – a hotly-contested swing state in the Presidential election this year. At least 30 active duty servicemembers in the Tampa area alone were dropped from Florida voter rolls.

It’s too late now, barring a court order, to register to vote in Florida. The deadline was October 8th, a month before the election.

If you believe you are properly registered to vote, and you requested an absentee ballot, it’s getting pretty late in the game. You can download a federal write-in ballot via the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program. That will get your vote counted for federal elections, anyway. For state and local elections, your mileage may vary. You’ll have to contact your local election officials to get a write-in or provisional ballot for the down-ticket elections in your jurisdictions.

You can also use the FVAP site to download a state and/or local write-in ballot if your jurisdiction makes it available.

Is it too late?

Well, that’s where your state laws come in. In Florida, your ballot has to be postmarked by the 6th of November, and must be received by the 16th. There’s a 10-day window that your ballot can be late but still counted under Florida law. Other states have different cut-off dates. Hawaii, for example, does not accept late absentee ballots. Your ballot must actually be received by election officials by the 6th of November to be counted.

Can I Register on Election Day and Vote Locally?

Possibly. There are a number of states nationwide that will allow you to show up at your local polling place on election day:

As of early November 2012, the following jurisdictions allow same-day registration.

  • District of Columbia
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Additionally, North Carolina allows same-day registration but only for early voters, up to three-days before the election. Ohio, as of this writing, allows for same-day registration from the last Tuesday in September through the first Monday in October – during the early voting period.

You can’t vote in your hometown local elections. But you can make your voice heard for federal elections, and for local and state elections in your current home.

Plane Crash Destroys Unknown Number of Overseas Military Ballots at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

All Destroyed Mail from APO AE 09382

Now we’ve heard everything.

military ballots lost in plane crashAs if the government’s questionable track record of failing to ensure deployed servicemembers have their votes counted wasn’t embarrassing enough as it is, federal officials are now saying that some 4,700 pounds of mail were destroyed in a plane crash at Shindand Air Base on October 19th, according to an Associated Press report.

It is not known how many ballots were on board. The AP reports that all the mail lost was from a single zip code – apparently not understanding that that zip code, 09382, is actually an APO zip code serving Shindand, Farah, and Camp Stone, or Herat.

That complicates the effort because the potentially destroyed ballots cannot be limited to a single county elections office stateside; the troops deployed would have homes of record from all over the country. If they already voted, they would have no immediate way of ensuring their votes were received and counted in their home counties in time to influence the election.

The deadline under federal law for county commissioners to mail these ballots to overseas military absentee voters was nearly a month prior to the crash, on September 21. So it is very likely that any ballots on board would already have been filled out, and were on their way back to the United States. This further complicates the effort to discover what ballots may have been missing initially, because simply asking troops whether they received their ballots a few weeks ago does no good if they were destroyed on the way back home.

What to Do if Your Ballot May Have Been Destroyed

The Federal Voting Assistance Project advises the following:

All military and overseas voters who have not received requested ballots from their local election official yet are strongly encouraged to fill out the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) at FVAP.gov and return it as soon as possible. All military and overseas voters who have received a requested ballot from their local election official should complete it and return it as soon as possible.

If you receive your State ballot after submitting the FWAB, vote and return the State ballot as well. You will only receive one vote as the State will only count your FWAB if the State ballot is not received by the deadline. If your State ballot is received by the deadline your State ballot will be counted and the FWAB will be disregarded.

DoD Fails to Comply With Military Overseas Voter Empowerment Act

Perhaps there may have been an additional layer of accountability possible had the Department of Defense fully complied with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which directed the Secretary of Defense to ensure that there was a military voter assistance office established on every overseas military installation (outside of an immediate combat zone.)

A military inspector general found in an August 31 report that the Department of Defense had done so on only about half of the bases it was required to by law.

Furthermore, the implementation of the voter assistance program at the DoD was so haphazard and chaotic that the inspector general was unable even to get a comprehensive list of installations that supposedly had voter assistance offices established at all (see page 29 of the IG’s report).

The IG was unable to locate any voter assistance office at Shindand Air Base.

Federal officials have sent an advisory email to the various state secretaries of state and county elections officials. While the total number of ballots lost in the fire is not known, the breakdown in accountability may provide a ready-made source of enough found ballots to swing at least one election in a tight race.

According to a recent survey from Military Times, military voters are expected to support Governor Romney over the president by a margin of 2-1.

DoD Putting Off Announcement of TRICARE Cuts until After the Election

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

TRICARE Prime cutsMilitary Times is reporting that an unnamed source has said that the Department of Defense is deliberately delaying announcing broad cuts in TRICARE Prime benefits for some military members, retirees and their families until after “a certain date in November.”

The Presidential elections, with a lot of down-ticket races at stake as well, are scheduled for Tuesday, November 6th.

The planned changes would eliminate access to TRICARE Prime in five areas in the West and Midwest, including Iowa; Minnesota; Oregon; Reno, Nevada and Springfield, Missouri, effective April 1 of next year. As we reported last week, these changes have been contemplated by members of both parties since at least 2007, as a way to contain military health care costs. TRICARE Prime enrollees will have to enroll in TRICARE Standard, which provides less in the way of benefits.

The changes will affect perhaps as many as 170,000 participants, who would have to switch to Prime or drive farther to see a doctor.

The Administration is locked in a fierce battle to win the 2012 presidential contest – and health care and the economy are major issues.

At least one Congressman, Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) wants to know why the Pentagon is delaying the formal announcement.

The delay comes on the heels of another parallel controversy: The Obama Administration pressured the defense industry to delay issuing layoff notices legally required under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice Act (the “WARN Act”),  until after the election – a move that Senator Lindsey Graham argues is “patently illegal.”

Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) has also written to TRICARE’s chief doctor, asking for clarification – and pushing for a formal announcement of any cuts prior to the election.

At issue: A contract change between two providers. While the Pentagon is not confirming anything at this time, the incoming contractor for the TRICARE West region, United Healthcare, does not plan on providing TRICARE Prime services beyond 40 miles from major treatment facilities. This could cause around 30,000 plan participants to lose their access to the Prime plan, requiring them to pay more out of pocket.

Romney’s Formula of Defense Increases + Tax Cuts Puts Supply-Side Economics to the Test

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Romney military budgetAccording to reporting by Military Times, Governor Mitt Romney would act to set the base Defense Department budget to the level recommended by Secretary Robert Gates in 2012. Romney’s would effectively raise the current spending level for defense from 3.2 percent of GDP to 4 percent, according to the report by Times staff writer Marcus Weisgerber.

Congress slashed that baseline by some $259 billion. Full story is here.

Romney’s planned level of defense expenditure rivals the level of defense spending during the Cold War, as a percentage of the gross domestic product – a statistic that measures the total value of goods and services produced within the United States during one year.

At the same time, the Romney campaign is advocating a reduction in a variety of tax rates – including both income tax rates, tax rates on dividends and on capital gains. He is also advocating a cap on federal spending of 20 percent of GDP.

Combining both measures, the Defense Department would effectively comprise 25 percent of the overall federal budget under Romney’s proposal.

At the heart of Romney’s argument is a belief in supply side economics – and with it the assumption that revenue streams to the Treasury react dynamically to reductions in the tax rate. The idea is that if you lower the tax rate, then the additional revenue retained by the private sector would be reinvested in the economy, allowing economic growth to compound exponentially – hopefully at a rate that will outpace the interest rate on treasury debt.

In other words, Romney – and conservatives in general – argue that reductions in tax rates actually have the effect of increasing net revenues to the government, thanks to economic growth. They sometimes point to the Reagan Administration. Ronald Reagan lowered tax rates substantially, but also presided over the longest period of sustained economic growth at that time. Revenues to the treasury doubled during the Reagan Administration as the economy grew substantially.

But Democrats also point out that despite the growth, deficits increased substantially as well. The increases in tax revenue were not sufficient to overcome Reagan’s substantial increases in defense spending – plus the effects of a sharp recession in 1981-82 thanks to the Volker Fed raising interest rates and restricting the money supply to clamp down on the runaway inflation of the 70s.

Nevertheless, the argument that lower tax rates can stimulate economic growth and result in a net increase in revenue to the government is not unheard of on the Democrat side of the aisle. President John F. Kennedy raised precisely this argument in a 1962 speech.

But at the time, the top marginal income tax rate was 91 percent – the same as it was during World War Two. According to Kennedy’s close associate, Robert Schlesinger, who knew Kennedy well, the late president was advocating a reduction in the marginal income tax rate for those in the highest bracket to 65 percent.

It is now 35 percent, as is the maximum tax rate on short-term capital gains.

Schlesinger argues that Kennedy was not advocating a blanket argument that tax reductions paid for themselves in economic stimulus, but was discussing a specific circumstance: The desirability of taking the tax code off of the war footing, when the U.S. economy was essentially fully mobilized to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

During WWII, the U.S. was spending its full production capacity – and all the credit it could obtain and bonds it could sell – on war. It was not concerned with reinvesting private sector proceeds back into the economy to grow to fund future consumption. This was a fundamental difference between the WWII era and Kennedy’s term, as it is for Obama and, if he wins the election, for Romney.

Will Romney’s supply-side economics bear out? That depends on which side of the Laffer Curve you think we’re on right now: If you set the tax rate at zero, revenues to the government will be zero. If you set the rate at 100 percent, that would also likely drive Treasury revenues to close to nil, since there is no incentive for production. All profitable activity would be driven underground, out of reach of the tax man. The economy would contract, not grow.

It follows then, if you believe in the Laffer Curve, that the sweet spot is somewhere in between: There is a point on the curve that maximizes federal revenue.

If Romney is right as a supply sider, the increase in the defense budget is probably sustainable – if he has the political courage and political capital to get cuts in other areas of the government.

If he is wrong, or if he cannot get his other cuts in spending passed – just as Reagan failed to get his proposed spending cuts through Congress when his budget was declared “dead on arrival” on Capitol Hill – then Romney’s proposed defense spending will be a budget buster.

The Presidential Candidates on Veterans Issues

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Obama Romney on veteransBarack Obama and Mitt Romney went head to head this month on opposing pages in VFW Magazine – the official print magazine of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The editors of VFW posed the same set of questions to both candidates. Most of the responses from both sides were pretty bland, consisting of nice language but few specifics. However, there were a few salient points, where both men distinguished themselves from one another. Here is a ‘hot wash’ of the candidates’ positions on important issues concerning veterans. You can read the piece in its entirety here.

On partial privatization and vouchers

Obama

“There are instances where the targeted use of fee-basis care can be a tool for extending VA’s ability to care for veterans, in remote rural or in hard-to-fill specialties. But our first responsibility should be strengthening VA, and as long as I’m President, I will not allow VA health care to be turned into a voucher system, subject to the whims of the insurance market.”

Romney

“Private care may have a role in that the existing network of private providers in the military’s TRICARE system can be an excellent optional supplement to VA, but it cannot be a replacement for the VA program…

…With veteran suicide rates and mental stress soaring, we must consider offering veterans optional access to private providers already available through the TRICARE system to supplement the VA system of care.”

On Increases and Cuts in the Defense Budget

Obama

“We need a military that is more agile, with cutting-edge technology and capabilities and we need to focus more on emerging regions like Asia. And my proposed budget grows defense spending every year after 2013 – albeit at a slower rate as we wind down the wars. My balanced plan to get our fiscal house in order over the long run includes less in defense reductions than recommended by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission.”

Romney

“I would increase the naval shipbuilding rate from 9 to 15 per year, improve force structure throughout the services and increase the number of active-duty troops by 100,000… there are savings to be found in the Pentagon’s civilian workforce that can be put toward our fighting men and women and the equipment they need.”

On protecting Retirement Benefits

Obama

“I am committed to providing sustainable retiree benefits to our military personnel, and I strongly support protecting the retirement benefits of those who currently serve by grandfathering their benefits.”

Romney

“I will not propose TRICARE fee increases or cuts to military benefits especially while the size of the federal budget is exploding. Time and again, we have seen that efforts to balance the budget on the backs of the military end up costing more, not just in treasure, but in blood.”

 

What do you think? Are they blowing smoke? Sound off in the comment section!

Poll: Military Voters Break 2-to-1 for Romney over Obama

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Military voters break for RomneyRepublican presidential candidate Mitt Romney holds a commanding lead among uniformed servicemembers, according to a poll of active and reserve component members conducted by the editors of Military Times.

The poll found that two out of three uniformed military plan on voting for Mitt Romney. Only 26 percent are supporting the re-election of the president.

The respondents are overwhelmingly basing their vote on economics, rather than military-related concerns. Only 16 percent of them list national security concerns as the top reason for their vote either for Obama or Romney. Only 1 percent list the war in Afghanistan as their most important issue.

The President has actually gained slightly since 2008, when he received 23 percent of the vote in the same poll, running against Senator John McCain, the Republican from Arizona. And a 2004 poll by the same outfit found that 57 percent of military voters identified as Republican, compared to 13 percent as Democrats. Officers were more likely to identify with the GOP, by 66 percent to 9 percent Democrats.

The poll was not a randomized sampling, but instead a poll of subscribers to Military Times. The subscription base is 91 percent male and 80 percent white, with 35 percent of them holding ranks between O-3 and O-5.

While the poll’s oversampling of white, senior-ranking males can be expected to skew the result somewhat towards the Republican candidate, the findings broadly confirm a series of earlier surveys that found that Romney held an overwhelming advantage among veterans in many battleground states. Simply put if you are a veteran, you are markedly less likely to support Obama over Romney, whether you are still in the service or whether you have been discharged. It’s been a consistent pattern among military and veteran voters since Ronald Reagan.