December 31, 2012

Letters to the editor: Higher taxes for rich not 'theft'

William Vaughan of Chebeague Island states that the argument for higher taxes on higher incomes amounts to endorsing theft ("Argument for higher taxes amounts to endorsing theft," Dec. 24).

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As the fiscal-cliff deadline bears down, a letter writer takes issue with another who said arguing for raising taxes on only rich people amounts to endorsing theft.

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I believe that Mr. Vaughan, possessor of a Ph.D., should have opened whatever dictionary he owns before commencing his writing. He uses "theft" and "stealing" interchangeably, which is fine, except for the fact that neither word has to do with the discussion of higher or lower taxes.

"Theft" definition: "To take or appropriate another's property without permission, dishonestly or unlawfully, in a secret or surreptitious manner." Does Mr. Vaughan actually believe that any form of graded taxation is tantamount to theft?

His letter then goes on to imply that if I were to lobby a representative to increase taxes, I could somehow therefore be guilty of "a form of theft" or even reduced to the level of Willie Sutton, the infamous bank robber of the past mid-century.

The only thing proved by Mr. Vaughan's letter is that a poorly defined, convoluted thought process leads eventually to specious conclusions.

Skip Clark

Kennebunk

Medicare recipients should be subject to asset recovery

One way to cut the federal deficit is to place the same asset recovery rules for Medicare recipients as exist for low-income people who receive MaineCare benefits. Currently, any low-income person who owns a home loses that asset when he or she dies to reimburse the government for the cost of their health care.

Conveniently for people who qualify for Medicare but not MaineCare, this asset recovery rule does not apply to them. As a result, they get to pay subsidized Medicare premiums of less than $200 per month while often incurring medical expenses that run into the hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars.

It seems the free-marketers who like to tell poor people to get a job should have no problem agreeing to have their estates reduced at the time of their death by the amount that their actual medical expenses exceed the cost of their government-subsidized Medicare health insurance premiums.

Frank D'Alessandro

Portland

Schaible column on Gaza didn't have 'made-up' facts

I have two brief observations to make about Jules Szanton's attempt (Another View, "Gaza column misrepresented Israel's history with neighbors," Nov. 28) to rebut Robert Schaible's facts as presented in his Oct. 24 column (Maine Voices, "Israel's victim image belies its drive to control, abuse Palestinians").

First, that Schaible "made up" facts. I read Schaible's column. Only one claim stands to be corrected. Szanton is correct that after the Armistice of 1949, Gaza was actually controlled by Egypt until 1967. This is a simple oversight.

The rest of the information cited by Schaible is consistent with what I have found in my own research. Schaible, using actual Israeli scholars and Jewish leaders as references, makes clear that Israel has a record of telling lies to its own citizens and the world. This would also be my conclusion.

In Szanton's response, however, he mostly repeats Israel's standard claims about the conflict, e.g., "Israel -- unlike Hamas -- cares about minimizing Palestinian civilian casualties." If so, then why have so many Palestinian civilians been killed by Israeli attacks?

Israel's standard response to this question has been "Hamas uses their own people as human shields." The Palestinian civilians I have encountered, however, strongly deny this, and the Goldstone Report found no evidence of it.

Second, Szanton asserts that attacks on civilians living in the occupied territories violate the Geneva Conventions. According to international law, however, settlements are, in fact, illegal. So, are those settlers really "civilians" in the usual sense?

After all, they live on land stolen from Palestinians, are frequently armed and shoot at Palestinians working their own fields near Jewish settlements. They also set fire to Palestinians' olive trees, poison their wells and even open raw sewage pipes to flood Palestinian crops.

So, aren't those settlers an extension of the military machine that is brutally pushing Palestinians off their own land? Don't Palestinians have the right to defend themselves from illegal occupants?

Joel Robert Costigan

Portland

Why do we keep sending 'bozos' back to Congress?

Congress is broken and incompetent. This fall, the public gave Congress a 9 percent approval rating.

Consider the inability of Congress to deal with the current fiscal crisis. Republicans and Democrats blame each other. Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear just any politician stand up and assume a smidgen of responsibility? Why do we continue to send these bozos back to office?

Most of our so-called public servants couldn't earn an honest living if their lives depended on it, yet we enhance their sense of self-importance by filling their individual pockets with an extravaganza of undeserved salaries and benefits.

The average work week in Congress is three days. In addition to their spring break, they get breaks for Presidents Day, Memorial Day, summer break, Christmas, campaign season, etc. Base salary for a congressman is $174,000.

Additionally, each senator receives $900,000 for staff salaries, $250,000 for office expenses, free mail, $500,000 to hire up to three legislative assistants, $40,000 for furniture in their home districts, etc. Representatives can carry a staff of up to 22 aides and can transfer up to $75,000 of staff funds to their own expense accounts.

There is a private gym for both the House and the Senate. Parking at the Washington airports is free, congressmen are exempt from TSA rules, benefit from taxpayer-funded health care, and have a lucrative pension plan. They receive between 28 percent and 80 percent of their salary for life after leaving office. (Twenty-eight percent of $174,000 is $48,720!)

Nearly half of the members of Congress are millionaires. They even vote themselves raises. In fact, since 2009 ("the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression"), congressional salaries rose 5 percent ($8,800). Median personal wealth also grew to $911,510.

Who's working for whom?

Richard Schoff

York

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