Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Reforming Taxes

Probably the biggest news for this week is the anticipated vote on Tax Reform that the House has already passed and the Senate is currently considering.  Restructuring taxes is something that is probably supported by most Americans, assuming the outcome for every American is the same -- that our particular tax bill will be lower than it has been.

Obviously reducing everyone's tax bill is not possible.  While some people's tax bills will definitely go down, others will undoubtedly go up, but not necessarily in ways that will be obvious to everyone.  For example, eliminating the deduction for home mortgage interest while raising the "standard" deduction may look like a wash but the only way to be certain is by comparing your particular situation from last year with what the potential outcome will be with the change.  That is difficult to do since the information on the bill that has been released so far does not contain specifics that one can apply to an individual situation.  In short, we probably won't know the benefits (or harm) until the measure is passed into law.  That's not very comforting.  One has to wonder why the Senate would operate under such conditions.

The other portion of the proposed Tax Reform bill is for corporations.  The current tax rate in the United States on corporation is 35%, which is the third highest in the developed world.  And business owners have fought against this every way they can, as one would expect.  Tax incentives abound for corporations and those savvier CEOs take advantage of every one they can.  With the proposed reforms, the tax burden of these companies would go from 35% down to 20%.  While that won't make America's tax rate for corporations the lowest in the world (Ireland and Great Britain, for example, are both lower than 20%), it would make this country more favorable to doing business here, and, the argument goes, increase the ability of all companies here to offer more and higher paying jobs, expand their operations in America and increase needed research and development.

All of these are good arguments and points that most Americans can support.  The problem is, they just aren't factual.  This last August The Institute for Policy Studies released their 24th annual report on Corporations and those corporations' current role in the tax paying drama.  The study looked at 92 publicly held American companies that a) reported profits every year from 2008 through 2015, and b) paid less than 20% in federal income taxes (less than the corporate tax rate proposed by the House and Senate Tax Reform bills).  Their findings don't give weight to the argument that cutting taxes increases job growth, expansion or research.

The median job growth between 2008 and 2016 of these companies was a negative 1 percent.  Among US companies as a whole in that same period the growth was 6%.  While 6% is not a large number, at least it's a positive.  For these studied companies, there was an overall job loss.

48 of these 92 companies (52%) eliminated a total of 483,000 jobs during this time period.  That hardly suggests job growth.  If these companies are paying less than the proposed new tax rate, why did they cut jobs?  Remember these companies posted profits EVERY YEAR.  Where is the job creation?  What did they do with those profits?

The average pay for the CEO of these companies increased to $13.4 million.  That's an 18% increase.  That compares to a 13% increase for CEOs in the S&P 500 and 4% in the private sector.  And for the CEOs of those 48 companies that slashed jobs, they enjoyed a pay of $14.9 million on average.

But those increases are worth it if these companies are expanding and doing research (since we know they are not using their profits to increase their workforce).  But, that doesn't appear to be the case.  In fact, the top ten companies that cut jobs also spent $45 billion EACH buying back their own stock.  Which is money well spent if your goal is to make it appear that your stock is worth more than it actually is but does nothing to add to the job market.  

Then what can be done for tax reform?  For corporations, tax reform does not appear to be necessary.  Looking at the information above, 92 companies made profits every year for the past decade yet paid less than 20% in taxes.  They are already paying below the level that the Senate is proposing, so unless the tax incentives remain, these corporations will wind up paying more than they have in the past.  Given the current political climate in Washington, I highly doubt that this is the intended outcome.

Instead of rewriting the tax code, I would suggest passing two simple pieces of legislation.  The first is very simple; no publicly traded corporation in America is allowed to buy back its own stock.  This would eliminate the possibility of a company artificially inflating its stock price and in the example above, would have provided $450 billion for job creation, expansion and research.  

The second piece of legislation would change who can take advantage of tax cuts.  Put simply to qualify for any tax breaks a company cannot pay its highest paid employee more than eight times what it pays its lowest paid employee.  "Pay" would include all forms of compensation, including benefits, stock options, etc.  If, for example, a corporation pays a receptionist $20,000 annually, and values that employees benefits package at an additional $20,000, the total compensation for this position would be $40,000.  That would allow the corporation to pay its CEO $320,000 in total compensation.  If the benefits equal the salary, then the CEO would be paid $160,000 annually.  That's a far cry from the $13.4 million that the CEOs of the 92 companies above are paid (on average) and much less than the $14.9 of the 48 CEOs who cut nearly half a million jobs.  But look what this legislation would do for our workforce. If the CEO wants to keep earning $14.9 million (assuming this is total compensation), then the receptionist must be paid nearly $1.9 million.  This is probably not going to happen, but the lowest paid salary can certainly be increased while CEO pay is decreased to level out somewhere closer to the middle.  Offering salary and benefits totaling $80,000 to the lowest paid employee would make that position livable (and using my ratio of equal pay and value of benefits, this salary of $40,000 would essentially be an hourly salary of $19.24 (roughly)).  As an entry-level position or an unskilled occupation, that salary would certainly appeal to most job-seekers.  In this scenario the CEO would earn $640,000 annually, or $320,000 salary and $320,000 in benefits.  Most Americans would agree that this is certainly a livable wage.

This is reform that would actually make a difference.  While the current proposed legislation will make the rich richer, my scenario would lower the wealthy to a still wealthy position, just not as high while raising the lower paid positions to something that would benefit the people who truly need it the most; the rank and file who do the work that makes companies profitable.  And by cutting the executive salaries to something reasonable, there will be more money available for creating more jobs, expanding businesses and conducting research.  Under this proposal, there are more winners.

For anyone interested in reading the full report referenced above, a copy of it can be found here: http://www.ips-dc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/EE17-final-embargoed-for-August-30.pdf

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

We Don't Need A Wall

The issue of immigration has always been contentious in this country but particularly now that President Trump is in office.  He ran on a platform of building a wall and keeping out illegal immigrants, but a wall does more than keep out illegals; it sends a signal to the world that "outsiders" are not welcome here.  That is probably not the message that most Americans want the world to receive.

So, rather than building a wall, why not just reform our immigration laws?  Right now we have a quota system, and it has never been a fair system.  From the very beginning it was designed to keep certain people out, not to be inclusive of those in need.  Jews, Irish, Chinese, Germans, Italians, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Cubans, Mexicans and many others have been singled out over the years as being groups who were undesirable and unwelcome in this country.  Yes, these people are now part of the fabric of this country and have added to the greatness of this nation.

Limiting immigrants to only "those we want" (wealthy, well-educated and from first-world nations) and not allowing "those we don't want" (poor, Latino/dark-skinned from third-world countries) is not the way we need to handle this problem.  But we also have to address the very real issue of Americans who feel that their jobs are in jeopardy from immigrants taking lower pay to do the same job.  Particularly in areas where unemployment is very high, seeing immigrants moving ahead is hard to swallow.  Those feelings are valid and must be addressed.

To that end, I propose an overhaul of the system that would be more fair to everyone; both immigrants and Americans.  For the immigrants, we have a more open system, but one that requires a paper trail.  Illegal immigrants will only be those who refuse to follow the administrative course that will be required for entry into this country.  For anyone who goes through the proper channels, they will be allowed in (with few exceptions) and will be allowed to stay so long as they obey the rules.

The process is fairly simple; anyone who wishes to emigrate to the United States would visit the nearest US Embassy (or its website) and complete and application.  That application would include a small fee that would be used to process the application.  Most importantly, a background check would be done on the applicant, looking for evidence of violent crimes.  Note that stealing food to feed the family is not a "violent" crime.  People with records of rape, attempted murder, assault, battery and the like are not the people we need in this country.  Those applicants would be denied.  Anyone without a record would be allowed in.

The next step is a medical checkup.  Immunizations must be up to date.  Those would be arranged through the embassy for a small fee.  We don't need sick people bringing disease into our country.  Lastly, the applicant must have a sponsor in America.  A person, family, church or organization that is willing to accept them.

Once the paperwork is done and accepted and the immunizations are completed, the person will be allowed to enter the country.  In their first week they must report to the local police station and register as a legal immigrant.  They will need an address and phone number where they can be reached, and if they move, they must report their new information within one week.  This registration will allow them to apply for a social security number and a driver's license.

From the date they enter the country, they will have six months to either begin working full-time or be accepted to school full-time.  No one will be allowed to stay in the country if they are not working to better themselves.  Every six months they must report to the police department and check in to ensure that we always know where they are and what they are doing.  They must file their income tax return on time every year, and that must be shown to the police.  Once they have filed fifteen federal income tax returns, they would be eligible for citizenship.

The major change in this system is what they cannot do.  No immigrant will be allowed to collect any public benefit until they have filed fifteen federal income tax returns.  This means ALL welfare programs are off limits.  Even if a woman comes into this country and gets pregnant from an American, unless he has custody of the child, she and the child are not allowed any public benefits.  No immigrant would be eligible for government grants for school, they could not apply for any Obama Care programs, they cannot collect any welfare.  If they have worked and they are laid off, they would be allowed to collect unemployment, but only to the amount that they have paid into the system.

This change in our system is more fair to the Americans while allowing immigrants to enter our country without the fear of being illegal.  It would allow them a path to citizenship while not taking benefits from hard-working Americans.  It would show us as a country that is welcoming to those in need, not a nation that builds walls to keep them out.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

We Need To Prevent More Mass Shootings

The story of the recent tragedy in Orlando was still unfolding when I started to hear the usual comments. “It could only come out of Florida,” or “More senseless violence by the Muslims,” or “Trump was right; we need to keep these people out of our country.” At first glance, these statements seem to be reasonable but looking deeper into the issue, we see a very different pattern emerging.

In order to discuss this it is first necessary to look at this crime. We label this a “mass shooting” and while it is the largest ever to take place in our country, it is not the first. Over the past 50 years there have been 14 such shootings with 12 or more victims. Until this incident the most lives lost in a single mass shooting had been the Virginia Tech Massacre where 32 people were killed. After that it was Sandy Hook with 27, Luby's Cafeteria with 23, and McDonald's of San Ysidro with 21. The remainder of the shootings had under 20 killed in each incident. This does not make them any less tragic. I just don't want to list each one here.

In all 14 shootings a total of 274 lives were lost at the hands of 18 killers. (There were two people involved in the San Bernardino shooting, two at Colombine and three at Wah Mee in Seattle). 76 of these (or 28%) lost their lives at the hands of Muslims. 102 of them (37%) were killed by Christians. It is entirely possible that this number is actually higher. I can only include those who I know were Christians, not those who I suspect were probably Christians. George Hennard, for example, was the perpetrator of the killing spree at Luby's Cafeteria in Texas but I have not been able to ascertain a religious affiliation for him. As such, I can't just assume he was Christian and include him. If he was a Christian, that would increase the number to 125 or 46%. James Huberty was the killer at the McDonald's in San Ysidro, CA where 21 people lost their lives. He might have been Christian as well. Patrick Sherrill in Edmond, OK killed 14 people at a Post Office and Aaron Alexis killed 12 at the DC Naval Yard. These men might also have been Christians. If these are added in, the total comes to 172 or 63%. But even without these victims in the tally, Christians have killed more people in mass shootings in this country than Muslims have.

Looking at it from a racial perspective, only four of the killers were Middle Eastern. Five were Asian. One was African-American. Eight were Caucasian. In every case of the Caucasians, they were all born in this country, as was the African-American. None of them were immigrants. Two of the Middle Eastern killers were also born in this country. They were U.S. Citizens as well.

While Florida is very sadly the scene of the deadliest of these shootings, until this happened, Florida was not even on the list. Two shootings were in each of four states; California, Texas, Virginia and Colorado. The others were in New York, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Washington (state) and Washington, D.C. There is no set pattern for where these types of crimes will occur.

And while Omar Mateen (of the Orlando shootings) and Tashfeen Malik (of San Bernardino) made claims to being supportive of ISIS, those claims appear to be mere lip-service. There has not been any firm evidence found that directly links either of these people to this hateful organization. Even assuming that such is the case, then 63 of the victims would be killed with allegiance to ISIS as the motive. That would be 23% of the total victims. The other most probable motive is mental illness, which accounts for 170 of the crimes. 62% of the victims lost their lives because the killers were mentally ill. If it is found that Omar Mateen also had this condition, that would raise it to 80%.

This number does not include the shootings at the Edmond, Oklahoma Post Office, as I have not been able to find evidence that Patrick Sherrill was mentally ill. It also does not include the Fort Hood killings or San Bernardino, as neither has been directly attributed to mental illness. The Wah Mee Massacre was a robbery and therefore also does not fall under this category.

What this tells us is that mental illness is the most common cause of this type of violence. But certainly not all people with mental illness are killers. Most live out very normal, peaceful lives. Many are under medical care and some are taking medications to control their disability. The problem stems from those who do not receive the care they need. I would also venture a guess that these particular people (those who perpetrated these crimes) probably had a tendency toward violence in their lifetimes. Omar Mateen and James Huberty both had histories of domestic violence. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook murderer had a long history of obsession with violent video games. Adding a violent nature on top of mental illness is a very deadly combination.

Finally, pour into the mix the availability of guns in our country. The radio program “Market Place” did a study after the Sandy Hook killings and found that there are more places to buy guns in the United States than there are Starbucks locations throughout the entire world. They did the same study after the Orlando shootings and found the same results.

If we wish to end these killings, we don't need to point our fingers at Muslims or Christians or any other religion. We don't need to look at the nationality of anyone or do any racial profiling. What we need to be concerned with is mental illness left unchecked and untreated, particularly in individuals who tend toward violence. And if such is the case, we need to restrict the weapons these individuals would have access to. These are the steps that must be taken because we must do all we can to not let this happen again.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

And Now, Another Senseless Loss of Life

After 50 people were shot to death in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, there will undoubtedly be another call for gun control.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) will once again rally its membership to fight any forms of control with their tired chant, "They're trying to take our guns away."  But are they really?

Like most Americans, I own and drive a car.  Before I was allowed to drive a car, I first had to apply for a license.  The process involved being of a certain age, then getting a learner's permit, which only allowed me to operate a vehicle with a licensed driver in the vehicle with me.  Then I had to go to the state and take a written test.  Once I passed it, then I could take a practical test with a state representative in the vehicle.  Only after passing that could I get my license.

But that's only part of the saga.  Then I had to buy a vehicle and once purchased, I had to insure the vehicle.  This insurance was partly to insure my investment but really, it's mostly to protect others, as I have to carry liability coverage.  All of this had to be done before I could put my vehicle on the road.

Why can't guns be regulated (controlled) in a similar fashion?  First, establish a minimum age for gun users.  This would have to be debated.  Some would feel that 12 would be old enough, others will say 21.  Let's make it reasonable and say 13 but you have to be accompanied by an adult with a license and 18 to go solo.  Since 13 is a minor, they would still need the permission of a parent to apply for a gun permit.

Also, anyone with a history of mental illness or a record of incarceration for violent crime would probably not be the best people to be allowed to own weapons.  If they have a licensed adult who is willing to accompany them, perhaps there can be a special arrangement made for things like hunting.

Once the permit is received, the permit holders are allowed to shoot with a licensed adult.  That adult will train them in gun safety, etiquette and proper handling.  All of that will be done before learning to aim and pull the trigger.  Also, cleaning the weapon would be taught.  Once the permit holder is ready, they can then go and take a written test.  This test will demonstrate that they know how to properly handle a weapon.

After the written test is passed, they will then have a practical exam where they will fire the weapon, not showing that they are good marksmen but that they can do so safely.  After this, they will properly clean the weapon.

Now they can receive a license but only for that particular type (class) of weapon.  If they want another type, that's another test, just like getting a driver's license does not allow you to operate a motorcycle.  You have to have a motorcycle license for that.

Finally, when the person is licensed they can purchase a gun in the proper class, but they must also purchase gun insurance.  Gun insurance would be relatively inexpensive for things like hunting rifles and small handguns.  The insurance would pay for loss of the firearm as well as paying damages should anyone be injured by the weapon.  As the weapon increases in power, the insurance increases in cost.  While a 22 rifle might cost $25 a year for insurance, an uzi would be $1,000 annually.  This doesn't stop anyone from owning one, it just means you would have to really want one.

All guns would have to be recorded and licensed, just as cars are licensed.  They would be registered with the state so the owner would be on record.  They would have to be maintained and demonstrated to the proper authorities that they were in good working order at all times.  

This is gun control.  It's not a matter of taking weapons away, it's a matter of making them safer for everyone. 

What Happened to the Republican Party?

You hear it a lot these days; that this (the Republican Party) is not the same Republican Party that Ronald Reagan belonged to.  And I have to agree.  The Tea Party Republicans are so far to the right that they have pulled the entire party away from the center which ultimately led to the election of Donald J. Trump as their presidential candidate.  But how did this happen?

As I see it, it all goes back to a handful of people, starting with Rush Limbaugh.  Rush and his big mouth have spouted hatred for decades.  He had a captive audience that continued to grow as he maliciously lied to them day after day.  Democrats didn't have a way of countering this because as (Air America found out), Democrats don't listen to pundits.  The reason for this is simple; we can think for ourselves.  Just give us the facts and we'll make up our own minds.  Republicans aren't like us.  They want someone to tell them what to think and Rush was happy to do that.

Riding on this new-found conservatism came Newt Gingrich and his "Contract with America" in 1994.  Six years later, Edward H. Crane of the Cato Institute called it a failure: "the combined budgets of the 95 major programs that the Contract with America promised to eliminate have increased by 13%."  So, another lie by the Republicans but one that gave them control of the House and Senate.

On top of Rush Limbaugh we have Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter, all spewing hatred against the Democrats and all making matters worse rather than better.  Every one of these people has spent decades swaying the Republican voters toward their agenda of hatred against liberals.  They don't like gays.  They don't like immigrants.  They don't like atheists.  They don't like anyone who can think for themselves because if everyone did, they would all be out of work.

And all of that has now come to it's most illogical conclusion; the election of Donald Trump.  While those of us who do think are scratching our heads at this, I can't say we're really surprised, given the way the GOP has changed over the recent decades.  We have watched it steadily going downhill and to see it crash and burn is what we would expect.  And that's pretty much where it is now.

And yet, the GOP members of the House (like Paul Ryan) are still supporting "their" candidate, even though none of them wanted him in the first place.  They still speak out against everything he says (which means everything he stands for) but they continue to back him because, in their words, he would still be better than Hillary Clinton.  In fact, Paul Ryan recently defined one of Trump's statements as "textbook racism" but insisted that Donald would still be a better choice than Hillary.  Apparently, Hillary is worse than textbook racism, somehow.  He didn't elucidate on that any further.

Which just shows how truly misguided ALL of the GOP are.  To put an egotistical, megalomaniacal, narcissist into the White House for no other reason than that he is NOT a Democrat truly shows how much these people do not care about our country.  They would rather ruin life for all of us but be able to say they have the White House rather than support the one candidate who has proven herself as the most presidential simply because of her political affiliation.

This is truly not our finest hour.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A letter to Lois Frankel, U.S. Congresswoman from Florida:

Dear Representative Frankel:

On February 17, 2016, Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting assurances that the Leahy law restrictions on assistance to foreign security forces are being applied to Israel and Egypt.  The letter, signed by nine other representatives and Senator Patrick Leahy, calls on the Department of State to investigate reports of human rights violations by Israeli and Egyptian forces, and to determine what action should be taken under the Leahy law.

In their letter to Secretary Kerry, the members of Congress express concern that U.S. military aid to military units in Israel and Egypt has not been subjected to the same rigorous tracking mechanisms that U.S. military aid is subjected to elsewhere in the world. This type of congressional oversight is absolutely essential to the success of our democratic system.

In addition to Rep. Hank Johnson (GA) and Senator Patrick Leahy (VT), this letter was signed by Representatives Andrè Carson (IN), Sam Farr (CA), Raúl Grijalva (AZ), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Betty McCollum (MN), Jim McDermott (WA), James McGovern (MA) and Chellie Pingree (ME).  What is most troubling to me, as a Floridian, is the lack of a signature by any of our representatives from the sunshine state.  You, Lois Frankel, did not sign this letter and as your constituent, I want to know why you failed in your duty to uphold the law.

Our laws are what make our country the great nation it is and failure to follow those laws is tantamount to anarchy.  When Israel and Egypt violate our laws, and use our funding to abuse the basic human rights of others, then we are responsible for those actions and must act.  I am very proud of those members of Congress who had the temerity to stand up and speak out against these egregious actions but I am ashamed that my own Representative would be so cowardly to not put her name on the paper.

Lois, I am calling on you as my elected Representative to Congress to do the right thing.  I want you to send a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry lauding the efforts of your fellow Representatives and adding your name to the list.  I want you to show that you respect our laws and our land and if you refuse to do this, then I am calling on you to resign your seat.  If you refuse to uphold the laws of the United States, including the Leahy law, then you must not remain a member of the U. S. Congress.


Patt Gavin

The letter sent by the Representatives to Secretary of State Kerry follows:

February 17, 2016
The Honorable John F. Kerry
Department of State
Washington, DC 20520 
Dear Secretary Kerry:
We commend you for your extraordinary efforts to try to bring peace and stability to the Middle East. We write today to request information regarding the application of the Leahy Law in Israel and Egypt. We are also inquiring about specific allegations of gross violations of human rights by the security forces of both countries.
According to information we have received, the manner in which U.S. military assistance has been provided to Israel and Egypt, since the Camp David Accords, including the delivery of assistance at the military service level, has created a unique situation that has hindered implementation of normal mechanisms for monitoring the use of such assistance. Please update us on what mechanisms are in place to monitor the use of such assistance by Israel and Egypt.
Additionally, while the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) is responsible for processing vetting cases, the Department’s regional bureaus and our embassies have a responsibility to help document and determine the credibility of information related to allegations of gross violations of human rights by foreign security forces. Please provide a description of the procedures used by the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and our embassies in Israel and Egypt to investigate such allegations in order to enhance the quality of information being maintained and evaluated by DRL and made available to you.
There have been a disturbing number of reports of possible gross violations of human rights by security forces in Israel and Egypt – incidents that may have involved recipients, or potential recipients, of U.S. military assistance. We urge you to determine if these reports are credible and to inform us of your findings:
• Israel: Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have reported what may be extrajudicial killings by the Israeli military and police of Fadi Alloun, Saad Al- Atrash, Hadeel Hashlamoun, and Mutaz Ewisa. There are also reports of the use of torture in the cases of Wasim Marouf and Ahmed Manasra.
• Egypt: Human Rights Watch has described the August 2013 massacre in Rab'aa Square as “the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.” Recent reports document what may be extrajudicial killings by Egyptian security forces of Sayed Dwedar, Nasser al-Hafi, Osama al-Husseini, Hisham Khifagy, Gamal Khalifa, Abd al-Fattah Ibrahim al-Sisi, Taher Abdullah, Muatasam al-Agizi and Hisham al-Dessouky. There have also been a number of reported cases of forced disappearance including Asma’a Khalaf, Islam Atito, Sabry al-Ghoul, Esraa al-Taweel, Omar Ali, and Souhaib Sa’ad,and Al-Sayed al-Rassed.
In light of these reports we request that you act promptly to determine their credibility and whether they trigger the Leahy Law and, if so, take appropriate action called for under the law.
Thank you for your consideration.
Rep. Hank Johnson (GA), Senator Patrick Leahy (VT), Representatives Andrè Carson (IN), Sam Farr (CA), Raúl Grijalva (AZ), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Betty McCollum (MN), Jim McDermott (WA), James McGovern (MA) and Chellie Pingree (ME).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Letter to Representative Lois Frankel in Response to Her Vote Against Peace

My Congressional Representative, Lois Frankel voted against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which forces Iran to divest itself of nuclear weapons in return for having sanctions against it removed.  I feel that this deal should go forward and to have my representative vote against it does not meet with my approval.  To that end, I contacted her office (by email) and told her I wanted her to vote in favor of the proposal.  She did not, however the measure passed without her.

The following is her letter to me explaining her decision, as well as my response to her.  I apologize for the length but each letter is about two pages long.


Dear Mr. Gavin,

Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated by the P5+1, European Union partners, and Iran.  I appreciate hearing from you and I welcome the opportunity to respond. 

Let me start with the obvious: Iran should not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. It is the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism, lending support to Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Assad regime in Syria.  As disturbing, if Iran becomes a threshold nuclear state, it is expected that other countries in the Middle East will seek nuclear weapons, leading to proliferation throughout an already unstable and dangerous region.

That's why the vote on the nuclear deal with Iran was one of most important votes I have faced in my public career.  In that regard I spent the 60-day review period, allotted to Congress by law, engaged in intensive and thorough hearings, briefings, and discussions with administration officials, colleagues, constituents, as well as global leaders. 

I believe that a diplomatic solution is the best course of action and value the tireless dedication of President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and the U.S.-led negotiating team in that effort. With that said, I voted against approving the deal because I felt that it legitimized Iran's nuclear program after 15 years and gave Iran access to billions of dollars without a commitment to cease its terrorist activity.  It was a price too high to pay.

As members of Congress we placed ourselves in a complicated situation by weighing in after a deal had already been agreed to by top U.S. negotiators, five partner nations, Iran, and the United Nations.  It is an agreement that even ardent supporters admitted was far from perfect, but argued that rejecting it would entail sobering consequences, including isolating the United States on the international stage, unraveling sanctions without any gain, and allowing Iran back on the path of building a nuclear weapon.

As wrenching as this vote was for some lawmakers, it does not compare to the agony of the men, women, and children suffering at the hands of Iran's terrorist regime.  With this nuclear agreement, the Iranians will receive billions of dollars in unfrozen assets and future revenues that undoubtedly will be available to intensify their support of horrific activity aimed at innocent human beings.

Stripped of its technicalities, this deal essentially rewards—in fact, enables— a terrorist regime without extracting sufficient concessions. Concessions that could have made me support the resolution of approval would have been permanent nuclear disarmament and a cessation of non-nuclear terrorism. 

The release of sanctions without requiring a stop to terrorist activities is disturbingly counterproductive. We will be releasing billions to a destructive terrorist regime, while spending billions trying to keep peace in the Middle East. And we will be financially rewarding high ranking officials of Iran's Revolutionary Guard who have rich interests in businesses that will profit from the sanctions relief. 

The U.S. government classifies the Islamic Republic of Iran as the most active state sponsor of terrorism.  Iran has a long history of sponsoring terrorist attacks against the United States and Israel.  Iran's proxy Hezbollah, the first terrorist organization to use suicide bombing in the Middle East, has killed hundreds of U.S. citizens and Israelis at home and abroad.  Iran also lends support to Hamas, the Taliban, and militias in Iraq.  By supplying weapons, bombs, and militia to Assad in Syria, Iran is in large part responsible for the greatest humanitarian crisis of recent times.

There should be no doubt why Israel, our best friend and greatest ally in the Middle East, has determined that Iran poses an existential threat.  Iran's Supreme Leader has not only called for the annihilation of Israel, branding it a "cancerous tumor," but reportedly recently published a 416 page book detailing the means by which Israel's effacement should be achieved.

In 2006, Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets and missiles at towns and villages across Northern Israel.  With their augmented arsenal courtesy of Iran, Hezbollah now points over 100,000 missiles at Israel with launchers strategically placed in densely populated areas throughout Lebanon.

Since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Hamas terrorists have fired more than 11,000 rockets into Israel with Iran's support. Over five million Israelis are currently living under threat of these attacks.  In Sderot, located less than a mile from Gaza, children, 75 percent of whom suffer post-traumatic stress disorders due to the violence, have less than 15 seconds to seek shelter when rockets are fired. 

New reports indicate that Iran is funding the rebuilding of Hamas' sophisticated tunnel network to attack Israeli civilians.  Despite sectarian differences, Tehran and Hamas are united in their call for the extinction of Israel.

While the struggle of Israel has been at the forefront of the Iran deal debate, the horrific stories coming out of Syria must not be ignored.  Iran props up the brutal Syrian dictator Assad who carries out mass torture on his own population in order to maintain power.  Barrel bombs with nails and chlorine, sarin nerve gas, starvation, and rape are just a few of his sadistic methods of repression.  His regime is responsible for the deaths of over 250,000 people and the displacement of 10 million from their homes as they try to escape in terror, pouring into neighboring countries and Europe.

The world has witnessed their desperate plight: thousands fleeing for freedom, children's lifeless bodies washing up on shore, refugees suffocating in trucks.  Along with the moral calamity, displaced Syrians are straining the resources of nearby countries and Europe.

What's more, Assad's brutality has become a rallying cry for ISIL recruitment.

Proponents of the Iranian nuclear agreement argue that it was never meant to address Iran's terrorist and expansionist activities—that only nuclear related sanctions will be lifted and those aimed at terrorism will continue to be enforced.  The tradeoff proponents advance is unsatisfactory: at best a 15 year delay on nuclear enrichment,  unlocking the next generation's door to a wealthier emboldened Iran on the threshold of nuclear breakout. 

As you may know by now, after a vigorous and contentious review, Congress did not block the JCPOA. All parties to the deal are apparently moving forward with its implementation. Now, it is time for those of us on both sides of the debate to work together to make sure that Iran lives up to the agreement and stops its carnage of terrorist activity.

Thank you again for sending me your thoughts.   I encourage you to visit my website at http://frankel.house.gov/ to read my policy statements and learn how I voted on past legislation. 

It is a privilege to serve you as Representative for Florida's 22nd District.  Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with other issues that concern you in the future.  I welcome your input as I share ideas with my colleagues in the 114th Congress.    

Lois Frankel Member of Congress

My reply to her follows:

Dear Lois:

In response to your letter of October 2, explaining your reasons for voting against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), I have to say that I am appalled. Your reasoning and logic do not take into account certain relevant facts, and I have to wonder if you are truly that misinformed or if you choose to believe lies that support your opinions.

You mention Iran's support of both Hezbollah and Hamas. Hezbollah was formed in Lebanon in 1982 as a reaction to the ILLEGAL invasion of that country by Israel. It was created as a direct response to Israeli hostility and were it not for Israel, that organization would not exist.

Hamas was formed in Palestine in 1987, coming out of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood. Again, this organization was created as a reaction to the ILLEGAL actions of Israel, this time in stealing land from the Palestinians.

As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee it is vital that you understand this history and that you understand that the actions of Israel in the Middle East have exacerbated the hostilities in that region.

You claim in your letter that Iran cannot be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. Yet, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Israel, who is NOT a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) currently has 80 nuclear warheads. Why are we allowing ANY non-NPT country to have nuclear weapons? Why have we singled out Iran and completely ignored Israel?

You claim that Iran supports the Assad regime in Syria, which is true (Iran uses Syria to funnel weapons to both Hezbollah and Hamas), however Iran is not responsible for the crisis in Syria today. Syria is. This is a civil war and even if Iran were to completely divorce itself from that country, the war would continue. Iran did not start it. It was a dictatorship that is being fought by its own people. Civil wars are horrible things; our own country had one. But they can also be necessary and they resolve themselves over time. Iran's intervention in the war in Syria is no better or worse than our own. They just happen to be on the other side and there is no right or wrong side in this war. The best we can do for Syria is to open our own borders to the refugees. We should strike the Assad forces because of their use of chemical weapons, but beyond that, this is a war for the Syrians to fight themselves. We cannot prevent Iran from participating any more than we can prevent Russia from participating. What we could do is peacefully negotiate with Syria and Russia to step back and allow the Syrians to settle this themselves. Which means we should also stay out of it.

You cite that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has written a book calling for the effacement of Israel. You fail to mention the man's name, however, or the title of the book. The book is titled, "Palestine" and yes, he does call for low-level warfare against Israelis to remove them from the land and regain it for the Muslims. This is one person's opinion, not the work of the nation of Iran. And I would expect that as an American you would respect the constitutional right of all people to Freedom of Speech. Khamenei is entitled to his opinion, just as you are entitled to yours. To cite this as a reason to vote against this deal is anti-American at best and treasonous at worst.

You state that since 2005 Hamas "terrorists" fired 11,000 rockets at Israel. What you fail to mention is that the majority of "rockets" coming out of Palestine are homemade. Why not face the truth, Lois? From 2001 until April 2014 rockets out of Gaza killed a total of 44 Israelis. From 2000 until 2014 a total of 1,198 Israelis were killed by Palestinian attacks throughout the entire region of Palestine/Israel. By contrast, 9,151 Palestinians were killed. Nearly ten times as many.

Let's break those numbers down further. In Israel 129 children were killed. In Palestine, 1,523 children were killed. Palestinians killed 731 civilians compared to the 3,535 civilians that Israelis killed. In Israel, 596 people died on their own land. In Palestine 6,756 people died on their own land.

The numbers do not support your claims. Palestinians are freedom fighters, trying to keep their lands and their lives in spite of a much stronger army that is invading them. Israel are the terrorists who are stealing that land. Since 1948, when Israel first became a state, not one inch of land has been taken back from then. Considerable land has been stolen by the Israelis and remains occupied to this day.

You consistently support Israel, even though Israel has been the cause of unrest in the Middle East ever since the Zionist movement began illegally taking land from the Palestinians. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee you MUST know this. If you do not, you are not qualified to sit on this committee and I call on you, as your constituent to remove yourself from this panel. If you do know this information, then I expect to see legislation presented to move forward a peace process in the Middle East.

To begin with, we must stop financially supporting Israel. A country that is able to stockpile nuclear weapons is not a country that needs our support, either financially or militarily. Today we give $3 billion annually to Israel. This is far more than we give to any other country and this needs to be reduced to zero. There is no reason for the United States to continue to support a terrorist nation. And yes, Israel is a terrorist nation. History has already proven that. In fact, to date the United Nations has passed 79 resolutions against Israel for illegal actions, and that does not include the nearly 30 additional resolutions against Israel that the United States managed to veto.

We must lead the United Nations and other military forces in enforcing Israel's 1948 borders; which means the withdrawal of ALL Israeli occupation from Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and all Palestinian lands outside of those borders.

We must lead the United Nations in the establishment of a country of Palestine, respecting the 1948 borders of Israel and work with all nations in the Middle East to ensure that WITH THESE BORDERS these countries all have a right to exist. We must work toward ensuring that peace ensues.

We must impose the same sanctions against Israel that we imposed against Iran until Israel relinquishes its own nuclear weapons program. It must divest itself of its current stockpile of nuclear weapons and disassemble its plants so no additional weapons are created.

I will expect to see this legislation coming from your office, Lois. You claim that your vote against JCPOA was because of the potential for terrorism in the Middle East, then I expect you to live up to your words. Stop Israel's state-sponsored acts of terrorism. Prevent Israel from any further violence against the Palestinians and Muslims of the Middle East. Ensure that Israel is made to live by the same rules of war as the rest of the developed world, something Israel has never done.

Anything less than this is unsatisfactory and will be met with your dismissal at the next election. And all of AIPAC's money will not be enough to help you to win when your constituents are confronted with the truth.