Why Atlanta Fans Deserve To Lose- Published Providence Journal 2/2/17

WHY ATLANTA FANS DON’T DESERVE A WIN

It seems most of America outside of New England is rooting for the Atlanta Falcons in this years Super Bowl. More accurately, most are rooting against our Patriots.

There is one factor these misguided folks are missing when choosing sides in Super Bowl 51, fan devotion. Atlanta has always been a horrible professional sports town and its fan base simply does not deserve a championship! It has been this way forever.

Here’s some personal history.

In May of 1995 I was in Atlanta for a week on business. Our group stayed at the CNN Omni hotel next door to the Omni Coliseum and we discovered that the Atlanta Hawks were playing an NBA playoff game against the Indiana Pacers. Unsure whether we could get tickets to a playoff game we ventured over to the Coliseum. There was barely a line at the ticket office. By the end of the first quarter the place was still only 50% full and so quiet you could hear conversations from two sections away. My recollection is that the final attendance was about 70% of capacity. As a Celtics season ticket holder during that time I
was astounded and appalled by this apathy.

A few nights later we decided to head over to Fulton Field to see if we could get in to see the Atlanta Braves versus the Philadelphia Phillies. The pitching matchup was Greg Maddux against Curt Schilling a dream pairing sure to draw a large crowd. As we neared the ticket booths we were approached by a scalper offering good seats. When we started bartering a security guard hustled over to speak to us. Thoughts of headlines reading, “New England executives nabbed in scalping raid.” raced thru my mind.

Instead the guard simply said, “ Could you move this transaction a little down the street?”

We slinked away and continued our negotiations. At Fenway Park you would always expect to pay a steep premium for scalped tickets to a big game. Not in Atlanta. There was a poorly disguised desperation in the sellers pitch. We wound up paying a total of $20 for four seats a dozen rows behind the Braves dugout!

I’ve wondered how Boston and Atlanta can be so different in their passion for professional sports. One reason may be long institutional memories. The Boston Celtics have always been the Boston Celtics and the Boston Red Sox have always been the Boston Red Sox. We New England baby boomers fondly recall Ted Williams, Jackie Jensen and Jimmy Piersall from the Sox and Bob Cousy, Bill Russell and Bill Sharman of the Celts, heroes during our impressionable childhood years.

The Braves, on the other hand, began in Boston, moved to Milwaukee then landed in Atlanta. Their long ago mythic heroes, Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews and Warren Spahn spent their glory years in Milwaukee. Likewise, the only Hawks NBA championship was in 1958 when the team played in St. Louis. Names like Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan mean nothing to the citizens of Atlanta.

Another factor may be the large number of transplants, many northerners, who have invaded Atlanta since the 1980s. In some sections of the city you must search to discern a true Southern accent. Hard core Pats, Celts and Sox fans are life long New Englanders who love their teams even more than their chowda!

A final, significant, reason for the lack of enthusiasm given the Atlanta pro teams is the regions passion for other sporting events especially college football and NASCAR. Whereas Boston College football has had only a couple of years of rabid fan following, the Flutie factor, the NCAA’s Georgia Bulldogs program is revered. Sports talk radio shows in the South, as they exist, spend an inordinate amount of air time discussing pit crew times and checkered flags.

Still, these are all flimsy excuses for the present day lethargy of the Atlanta fans towards their professional franchises.

The hardy New Englanders who brave frigid temperatures, howling snowstorms and two hour parking lot traffic jams to cheer on their Patriots deserve to have another February duck boat victory parade through the historic streets of Boston !

– END –

Representation Without Taxation 1/20/17

REPRESENTATION WITHOUT TAXATION

On January 13th I paid my usual quarterly estimated Federal and Rhode Island State income tax bills. While I can’t say I ever enjoy this chore the fact that some of my money is helping local education, funding basic infrastructure maintenance, aiding area libraries and, yes, providing a safety net for the state’s most vulnerable citizens lessens my angst. This year I wondered how many in the state are not playing by the same rules.

The state of Rhode Island Division of Taxation periodically publishes two lists, one of the top 100 business tax delinquents and a second of the top 100 individual tax delinquents.
The lists are very concerning.

The highest amount owed by a business is a healthy $4,284,022 down to a low of
$20,518. The total owed by these 100 firms is $17,534,358.

On the individual list the range is from $1,596,115 to $48,844. The total due from these 100 individual tax avoiders is $13,819,125.

While the amounts owed from these two lists seems large the grand total of all income taxes in arrears, called receivables by the Division of Taxation, is a whopping
$114,588,642! In fairness the Department of Revenue, under which the Division of Taxation operates, collected nearly $3,000,000,000 for the fiscal year ending on June 30th, 2016, so receivables are only .038%. But, in a time of budget austerity collecting it could certainly help the state coffers.

I have to assume that some of the children of these tax delinquents attend, will attend or have attended area schools. I’m also quite certain these same folks occasionally drive on our state highways and may, sometimes, use some form of government services. My simple question asks, is this fair? Isn’t this, to twist an historic rallying cry, representation without taxation?

Other than the shame of being seen on these rarely read public lists, what are the consequences of ignoring your civic duty to pay your taxes?

According to a spokesperson from the Department of Revenue there are some mechanisms in place to assist the state in collecting funds. An “offset” program will automatically deduct any future years’ tax refund to pay down debts, although how many of these individuals this affects is questionable. A “block” program prevents delinquents from receiving a drivers license , from registering a vehicle or obtaining certain professional licenses. In some instances wages may be garnered. Liens may also be placed on properties, although that is more difficult with the 24 individuals who no longer live in Rhode Island. Not surprisingly many have moved to warmer climes; North Carolina, Georgia and Florida being leading destinations.

The state also has a tax tip line (401-574-TIPS) for the public to inform the Division of Taxation of any fraud they may observe.

While these programs recoup some funds it would seem more effective tools must be devised and utilized. Frequent, more public, publications of the list would be a start. Currently the lists only appear within the Division of Taxation’s web site. How about twice a year publication in the state’s various newspapers? Shame is a powerful weapon.

Although there are criminal penalties for tax avoidance charges seem to be rarely pursued and mostly for business fraud, not mere avoidance. Perhaps the Attorney General and the State Police should take a more active, aggressive stance?

Now, I can sympathize with people who through no fault of their own; illness, job loss or other factors, have had their budgets busted. However, the people on these delinquents lists have, for the most part, just decided to not pay their fair share.

My wife and I retired in 2011 so our tax burdens are certainly lower these days. Still, looking back on our last eight years of employment from 2003 thru 2010 we paid nearly $100,000 in state income taxes.

The top name on the 100 individual group, who owes $1,596,115, is listed as now living in Boca Raton, Florida. I’ve lived a life of few resentments. I resent this.

Representation without taxation, it is quite the gig if you can get it. If you have no conscience.
– END –

Finally, A Revolutionary

FINALLY, A REVOLUTIONARY

It has taken 70 years, but, I am finally a revolutionary.

Born in 1946 I was a prime demographic for rebellion in the turbulent 1960’s, but, I mostly sat it out. Oh, I observed and I pondered, but, did not take real action. I even became a reluctant soldier from 1968 to 1971. However, as a squad leader I did play Bob Dylan’s Masters of War to my troops so the seeds of discontent were there.

Then I came home and lived a life. Those who know me would probably say I am a mild mannered, middle of the road, let’s find a way kind of guy.

Now, as we enter 2017, I am ready for a revolution. Events of the past 16 years have had an accumulative affect and I have reached my tipping point.

Certainly losing a close relative, and his wife, in the horror of September 11, 2001 could be seen as the first crack in my comfortable acceptance of the world as it was. But, it is more than singular events, dispiriting elections or global problems which have made me a late life rebel. It is the realization that the United States of America’s system of government is broken. Broken in a non-partisan, they are all to blame, a pox on all their houses way.

We have had wars based on lies. We have had political parties publicly declare their primary goals were to undermine newly elected presidents, not to best serve the country. Senator Schumer just went lower case Senator McConnell in recent interviews. We have had a Congress with a pre-election favorability of just 19% have most members who were up for re-election voted back into the quagmire.

Because of both parties intransigencies we have the possibility of having a vacancy on the Supreme Court for almost 2 years. Compare this to the fact that in 1986, Antonin Scalia, a controversial selection, was unanimously confirmed for a seat on the Court.

All chances of compromises on issues for the greater good have been abandoned in the current vitriolic political atmosphere.

These are not minor details. These, along with numerous other examples, are clear signals that our system of governing is broken. Major overhauls are the only answers.

Bring on the revolution!

First, abolish political parties. I’ve waited a long time, so why not start with my most radical proposal? All candidates will be unaffiliated. Having a “D”, an “R”,or even an “I” next to a candidate’s name carries preconceived notions, built-in biases . I do not want me, or the populace, to make voting decisions based upon biases. If you want my vote tell me what you stand for, even better show me what you stand for by how you have conducted your life.

Second, term limits for all office holders. Winning candidates should make a sacrifice with their limited time in public service then return to the reality of being a private citizen. To the naysayers who will wail, “..but what if we have someone really good in office?”, I ask do you have such little faith in the ability of a nation of 320 million people to produce a stream of competent representation? The present system creates fiefdoms which beget corruption and stagnation.

Next, strict, reasonable limits on campaign spending based upon the positions being contested. This change would also include limiting contributions and reversing the dreadful Citizens United decision. Money has corrupted the system for decades.

Finally, fair and equitable voting districts in every state which reflects the actual population base not the horrid gerrymandering mess fostered by both parties.

Are these proposals a stretch? Of course but the need is now too great to settle for placating incremental steps or kick the can inaction. I personally will do all I can to begin the process of this political revolution.

Does a 70 year old, with a full head of hair, look foolish wearing a red bandana?

– END –

Accountability (Published Prov. Journal 12/21/16)

img_20161218_194000ACCOUNTABILITY

By now you’ve probably seen one of the large,blue Rhode Works signs placed near several infrastructure projects in Rhode Island. They use stop light colors to tell the public how close the repairs are in two categories; budgets and completion deadlines. A green circle means all is fine, a yellow means a slight overage of money spent or work days required, while a red circle signals something has gone seriously wrong. The hope is that such visible monitoring will get contractors awarded these lucrative contracts to do their absolute best to honor their part of the bargain. The goal is accountability.

Wouldn’t it be wise, and certainly very entertaining, if we could apply this accountability system to other public sectors which affect our daily lives?

Imagine such signs posted just outside the entryways to our Rhode Island House and Senate chambers. Picture the consternation of the members of these august bodies if red circles were seen next to such items as; ethics reform, dismantling legislative grants, line item vetoes, budget adherence and other items which a majority of citizens have long clamored for.

On a more prosaic, but still important, level it might be eye-opening if such standards could be applied to the hard working, ever expanding, weather forecasting teams of our local news stations. If their predicted ‘NorEaster deflates to a few snow showers in Foster-Gloucester there’s a red circle attached to their green screens for the following days broadcast. While this may seem harsh, any entities which describe themselves as “pinpoint” and “accu” weather are just inviting scrutiny.

Hopefully one added advantage of this accountability monitoring would be the simple lesson to people and organizations to stop the practice of using improbable, over inflated promises to gain attention and approval.

The recently completed election cycle provides stunningly clear examples of the use of hyperbole with various candidates promising to; provide free college tuition for everyone, deport eleven million people and, even, put an opponent in jail. Then at a post election victory rally the new President – Elect, went so far to admit to his followers that the promised jailing, “…just sounded good before the election.” !

So much for accountability.
In 1978 as a fledgling sales representative I had a first time meeting in the office of the owner of a small, family business. On his desk was a typical wood base name plate with his name in brass lettering, “Bob Poirier, Sr.”. On a shelf behind him was another name plate which read, “JDWYSYWD”. About a year after this meeting, having formed a solid business relationship with him, I finally asked what “JDWYSYWD” meant.

He replied, “Just Do What You Said You Would Do.”

I have never heard a better description of accountability.

My goal in writing this Commentary was to encourage, companies, organizations, politicians and ordinary people to consider their utterances, live up to their words and honor their promises. I think my mid article transition was a little fuzzy, so I’m assigning myself a yellow circle.

I still have some work to do.

– END –

 

I Blame Alf, For Everything.

I BLAME ALF, FOR EVERYTHING

It was 1989 and my young children couldn’t believe I had banned them from watching the popular television comedy, “Alf”. Surely, a somewhat lame show about an alien, Alf, being taken into the Tanner family’s suburban home after crashing his spaceship into their garage couldn’t be a problem.

To me, it was. Quite often the main premise of the show featured Alf, played by a furry sock puppet, conspiring with the young Tanner children to fool the Tanner patriarch, Willie. The father, as played by actor Max Wright, is portrayed as an easily bamboozled, bumbling incompetent. Alf and the children speak of Willie with barely disguised disdain.

The parent in me bristled. Looking back I think on a scale of 1 to 10 for parental discipline I landed at around a solid 6. There was never any corporeal punishment, I’m not a believer, and I’d say there were very few occasions when my voice reached the “he’s losing it” level. But, I did insist upon and tried to teach respect. Not respect exclusively for their parents, but, for anyone whose actions and life choices earned respect. Hopefully as they grew up this would include worthy relatives, teachers, coaches, employers and friends.

I saw Alf as a bad seed, subversive to the concept of treating people fairly and decently. An over reaction on my part? One could argue, but, lessons must start somewhere. As Alf left the airwaves, new more pernicious shows took its place. Ever diligent I banned “The Simpsons” after my first viewing of this animated paean to a dysfunctional family.

Young minds are bombarded with many outside influences. There has been an exponential leap in these avenues since my early parental boycotts. Now the media blitz is 24/7 available on devices small enough to fit around a kindergartener’s wrist, if they are allowed. The quantum increase in the amount of violence, vulgarity, cynicism, misogyny, crassness and dishonesty which is served daily to our youngsters is bound to have a troubling affect.

As I wrote the above list of issues it struck me that the worrying description fits not only for movies, games and shows, but, shockingly news broadcast as well.

I have struggled mightily to not write the typical 70 years old curmudgeon man Commentaries. Attempted to not be the fossil who craves the antiseptically white washed “Ozzie & Harriet” or “Father Knows Best” portrayals of America in the 1950’s and 60’s. I am well aware that in this bygone era racial and gender inequality were just barely being addressed, Senator McCarthy conducted his witch hunts and we all cowered at the threat of nuclear destruction. However, the overall tenor of discourse both person to person and region to region seemed much more civilized and positive than today’s unhealthy mix of fear and anger.

Events since the turn of the millennium; terrorist attacks, Mid-East wars, a deep recession and the just concluded bloody election cycle seem to have greatly weakened our ability to work together to form a consensus with any dignity or respect.

We need an attitude adjustment and I’m not certain how we can begin, but mutual respect would seem to be a lynchpin.

All I know is that my now adult son and daughter both have a strong sensibility of who and what deserves their respect. They have even forgiven me for my parental censorship during their youth.

However, my daughter, mother of my two wonderful grandchildren, still does not understand why I would not let her wear stirrup pants.
-END-

Tension in the Air This Election

SIGNS OF THE TIMES (Published – Providence Journal 10/22/16)

In my neighborhood the first political signs appeared in July, their two narrow metal tines poking small holes into the soft summer lawns. They are colorful placards, approximately 36 inches wide and 24 inches high, touting my neighbors’ preferred Presidential candidates. This is a tradition which has been around for decades.

This year feels different.

This year, I fear, those many small holes have combined to create a fissure now bursting to the surface in this nasty autumn season as we approach November 8th. There is a tension in the air, a disturbing wind of rancor swirling through our everyday interactions.

We have moved so dangerously far from the simple declarations of; “I Like Ike.” or “Not Just Peanuts.” from past campaigns.

Social media has, of course, exacerbated the heated debates. Marital spats over this election play out, with heightened accusations, for all to see on Facebook threads which end eerily in silence leaving followers to wonder what lasting damage may have occurred.

Neighbors, who know they are on opposite sides of this bitter contest, warily avoid each other in the check out lines at the supermarket. Golf foursomes have been split by animosity.

An Huffington Post poll in May showed more than one-third of Americans had
already had a serious argument with either a close friend, coworker or spouse
over the Presidential race.

A September Harris poll reported over half of respondents reported that they were noticeably stressed out by the campaign.

It feels like we are gearing up for a national fist fight.

By hatching such overwhelmingly unpopular final choices for voters this election cycle and fomenting such globally embarrassing campaigns the process itself has shown it must either be extensively repaired or replaced. We would have to be a truly masochistic nation to submit ourselves to such torture again in 2020.

A complete review and analysis of the process is called for from; the length of campaigns which has grown by more than 35% since the 1970’s, the debilitating influence of an out of control financial contribution system, the fuzzy selection of delegates, the use of the electoral vote count, the gerrymandering antics which so influence state and local elections, appropriate and fair consideration of independent or alternative parties and some form of accountability of media outlets would be just some good starting points.

On November 9th, one day after the election, the yard signs will be pulled from our neighbors lawns. Mother Nature will begin her slow, patient healing process and soon the holes will no longer be visible. But, the United States will be put to a severe test. Can we shake our animosities and work together to close the fissures in our national psyche?

Only time will tell.
– END –

Jim Raftus lives in Cumberland.
Contact @: jraftus@aol.com

Donald “The Gunslinger” Trump

DONALD “THE GUNSLINGER” TRUMP

The more Donald Trumps speaks it becomes more and more obvious that he has seen too many Sam Peckinpah shoot ‘em up western movies.

12/22/15 – Grand Rapids, Michigan. Trump railing about journalist at a rally, “I hate some of these people, but, I would never kill them. Let’s see…ahhh…..
(hesitates, smirks and makes a wave with his hand) no, I wouldn’t.”

The crowd roared their approval. It was at this moment I truly became worried for our country.

1/23/16 – Sioux City, Iowa. Trump proposes, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn’t lose any votes.”

This description of the loyalty of his supporters serves as a surreal introduction, and counterpoint, to the following tirade.
9/9/16 – Pensacola, Florida. Trump categorizes Clinton as, “So protected she could walk into this arena and shoot somebody with twenty thousand people watching, right smack in the middle of the heart and not be prosecuted.”

His fanatic acolytes cheered this hyperbolic mendacity as if it was the word of God straight from the Bible.

This gunslinger mentality is more than a trend. It is a troubling, and revealing, character trait showing a man who fantasizes about violence, gun play and murder while in the most visible forums imaginable. If this is an important part of his public persona, what deeper demons lie beneath this frightening surface?

Coupled with the documented violence at many of Trump’s events, it is not a paranoid stretch to imagine on of his more unhinged followers taking a cue from the candidate to a dangerous and disastrous level. Trump did, of course, once bemoan that he misses the old days when a protester would be “taken out on a stretcher”.

The Republican nominee does not mute his proclivity towards violence when describing his plans for international policies. At the same Florida rally where he fabricated Clinton shooting someone he gave his solution for a recent incident between the U.S. Navy and Iran, “..when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and make gestures at our people, which they shouldn’t be allowed to do, they will be shot out of the water.”

Thus, Trump would order an act of war over a gesture. You could hear his supporters in the crowd screaming, “Yeah, kill them! Kill them!” without realizing, or worse caring, that it would enter America into yet another war.

Combine all these utterances with other well known comments such as, “…bomb the s*#& out of them” and “…with the terrorist, you have to take out their families.” and Trump’s fetish for violence and killing is shocking.

In the final stages of this exhaustive, and disheartening, campaign the question of which candidate is more “trigger happy” is being bandied about. Yes, it is a dangerous time in history, but, Gunslinger Trump’s view of the world as a Peckinpah sequel to The Wild Bunch or a Rambo film should clearly answer that question.

A dangerous man wants to lead our country.

– END –

Musings and reflections of a Commentary Writer. Watch for weekly post on Wednesdays.