Thursday, February 28, 2013

How to fix the budget mess…

As with most folks, I’ve been struggling with the ‘how’ of getting the power and programs back from the federal government and into the hands of the states.  The problem is that if you just slash the program at the federal level, you are likely going to cause a huge amount of calamity at the local level EVERYWHERE.  As with the politician hand-picking the impact of budget cuts to make them as painful as possible so nobody will want them, anytime you mention cutting a federal program, it is viewed through a one-way mirror that ONLY the federal government can provide this service, and therefore cutting it impacts too many people.  This is, at its core, one of the most serious aspects of federal control:  a change at the federal level impacts EVERYONE since everyone is under the feds.  The key to getting costs under control and making government programs nimble enough to remain efficient and service the people they are targeted at is to take that program down to the smallest governmental group you can.  A good first effort would be to move the power out of the federal government and back to the states.

 So how can you do it?  As I said, the problem is a big one – once a program is established at the federal level, it applies to people in every state and slashing it becomes seriously difficult, particularly if you view it from the perspective that it’s only a federal responsibility.  The interesting thing is that there is a fairly simple solution that would get all of this overreach out of the federal government with very little pain and at the same time preserve the things that people want while getting rid of things that folks don't need:   Instead of just slashing away at the federal level, do a little planning - work with the states to move things out of the federal government back to the state level.  This would require that the feds tell the states something like the following:

“Your share of the cost of program ‘X’ that is paid in by your state and your citizens, is such-and-such amount.  If you want to continue this program at the state level you may do so.  Regardless, we will begin to transition the funds that you send us to do that job back to you, the state.  Once the transition is complete, federal taxes will be reduced by the cost of that program, and no more money will be sent to the state by the feds for that program.  If the state wants to continue the program, it can plan to raise taxes on its citizens or it can move money from other programs.  If the state does not want to continue the program, it can choose to either phase it out or turn it off altogether.  Either way, the federal government will not be collecting money for that program and will not be providing that service.”

See how this would work?  The citizens of the state can decide if they want that specific program or service.  They can set up their own version of it to meet the needs that they have, versus trying to shoehorn a one-size-fits-all program from the feds into place.  The program can be managed locally, or if the state doesn’t really need that program, it can eliminate it completely or let a local government do it for the folks at their level.  Seems to me that any program that doesn’t have enough people in it to fund it probably doesn’t need to exist, so if you move it down to the local level and it’s too expensive, then folks will need to figure out how to take care of it themselves without government help.  As always, in the United States, the PEOPLE should choose (remember:  “…government of the people, by the people and for the people…”).  What makes us think that the folks we elect at the federal level are smarter than those of us who are not in government or are at the local/state level?

We have to get out of this star-struck awe we seem to have for federal officials.  They truly aren’t any more important than anyone we elect for any position.  I would argue that your state government is far more important to YOU than any federal official.  If you think about it, the feds should be almost invisible at the local level.  Your community should be the one making choices for those of you in your community.  You know, to be frank, YOU should be far more important to your government than the other way around.

Reality check time:  I am pretty certain this will never happen.  It could.  That’s the saddest part of this.  It really could.  It would take only a single change to bring it about:  The people we elected caring more about the country than about their power.  The problem is that this is like saying, “if only we had world peace, the world would be a better place.”  I’m afraid that human nature, once again, gets in the way of what is best for the people.  World peace will never happen as long as people are part of the equation, and smaller government will never happen as long as the people allow it unrestrained growth.  Like entropy, it requires the application of energy and intelligence to reverse.  Unfortunately, it seems we are sorely lacking in both.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Tweedle-Beetle (budget) Battle…

If you were going to go to your boss and ask for a raise, which of these two approaches would you think would be most likely to work:

1.      Hey boss, you know these on-line games are expensive and I really need a new iPad.  Also, my wife really likes to eat out so I need some more money.  How about a raise?

2.      Hey boss, my little Johnny has an incurable disease and will die if I don’t get a raise to pay for his care.  That will lead me to suicide and you’ll have to find someone else to fill my job.  Not to mention that my family is eating dog food to survive and we’re running out of furniture to burn to stay warm.  How about a raise?

Welcome to the world of politics.  Every time the government wants more money, they figure out what will cause the absolute MOST pain to those paying the bill (you and I).   They tell us that firefighters will be laid off, teachers won’t be able to teach, city services will be cut, jobs will be lost, travelers will be inconvenienced!  Oh woe and dispare!  Wailing and gnashing of teeth will ensue!!! 
These guys are pro's.  They intentionally aim the ‘cuts’ at those things.  Does anybody out there REALLY believe that there is no other place to do budget cuts ($44 billion from a $3.6 trillion budget???) than from the most critical places???  The frightening thing is how many people have been suckered in to believing this hogwash.

The government, in the guise of our elected representatives, have figured out that doom and gloom are far more effective at getting you and I to open our wallets.  Imagine if they came to us and said, “You know, we need to raise taxes or else we’re going to have to eliminate waste in some of our government spending!”  Most of us would say, “Ok.  So eliminate waste.  Sounds better than raising my taxes.”  See the problem?  They can’t tell us that there are alternatives to shutting down control towers in airports or eliminating TSA checkpoints or cutting the military budget during a war.

But first, we have to have a reality check.  The budget is NOT being cut.  The budget (read as ‘spending’) is actually going up, AFTER THE CUTS, by 15%!  Remember, only in Washington do they consider last year’s budget as a ‘baseline’ or zero point, and figure everything from there.  In their minds, what we gave them last year is now the starting point.  They tacked on about 18-20% above that baseline for this year and now are looking at reducing that increase by 3%!  I have to ask:  How did we make it last year without all of these cuts?  Somehow these elected idiots have figured out how to get 15% more money and call that a cut since they originally were going to increase it by 18%, and that somehow, Armageddon will ensue because of that non-existent 3%.


One other thing that comes to mind for me:  if these cuts REALLY will cause ALL of this calamity, then we now have proof positive that the Federal Government is involved in too many things.  Think about it.  Why should Federal budget cuts impact firefighters, policemen and teachers, all of whom are paid at the local level with city or state funds?  The only reason is because the Feds send money to the states to help pay for that stuff.  The sad truth is that the states have decided that they love that federal money more than they love their sovereignty.  Why should Federal budget cuts impact air travel?  That’s a private industry!  Oh, yeah – The FAA and TSA.  I don’t have a beef with the FAA.  As a licensed pilot, I think they perform a vital role.  However, the TSA is another story.  Why is this job a government job?  So here’s a question for you:  If the airlines still ran security, would the Federal Government having money problems impact travelers going through security?  Probably not. 

One quick aside:  The reality here is that until it was taken over by the government, searches of our ‘stuff’ was perfectly legal since the airlines paid for and ran security. The moment the government took over airport security, our 4th amendment rights were violated.  I personally don't think that's a good thing.  But I’m getting off topic.

The bottom line is this:  our politicians are scum.  Our media are scum suckers.  All of this ‘theater’ is destructive.  We are being played.  The media are not complicit – they are part of the ‘play’.  None of what’s happening makes the life of any citizen better.  We’ve completely lost our way – the role of government was to listen to the people and find ways to allow the individual to grow and become all they are capable and desirous of becoming.  Our government has become a business in its own right.  Virtually everything you see or hear from the Federal Government is managed by PR firms.  Companies like Hill and Knowlton massage every aspect of the message.  These companies get literally millions of dollars every year to figure out how to ‘push’ the public in the direction the politician wants them to go.  In other words, they are using our tax dollars against us.  No real surprise there, though – we should be pretty well trained by now by the IRS, TSA, BATFE, EPA, FDA, USDA… the list goes on-and-on.  Maybe that’s why they need 3.5 trillion dollars in tax money from us.

Unfortunately, our Federal Government provides very little value from the value they take from us.  We give of our blood and treasure, and in return, they take more. 

Kinda sad, isn’t it?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Chris Rock Civics Lesson...

I hate to even have to bring this up – I really shouldn’t have to – but it’s got to be said:  Chris Rock is an ignorant idiot.  Whether intentionally, or not, he is completely lost.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, as reported on, comedian Chris Rock said:

“I am just here to support the President of the United States. President of the United States is our boss, but he is also... you know, the President and the First Lady are kinda like the Mom and the Dad of the country. And when your Dad says something you listen, and when you don't it will usually bite you on the ass later on. So, I’m here to support the President.”

Really, Chris?  Do you really believe this?  Ok, let’s break it down:

1.       The President is NOT our boss.  He works for us.  “Government of the people, by the people and for the people…”.  All elected officials work for the people.  We are the boss of them!  Trust me, you don’t want the president to be your boss.  Keep in mind, no president is in office forever.  You might like this one, but you may not like the next.  You certainly did NOT like the last one.  Was he your daddy/boss???

2.      The President is NOT our dad and the first lady most certainly is not our mom.  The president does not rule us – he should not be spanking us when we are bad or giving us an allowance or sending us to our rooms.

3.      Um… are you advocating that those who don’t support the President should be bitten on the ‘ass’?  What powers do you believe the President should have over YOUR life???

We’ve seen 'boss' leaders in other countries – Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Pol Pot, Amin just to name a few.  History is chock-a-block full of ‘bosses’.  People like this were ‘the bosses’ of their people.  They had the power to reward, punish or even kill.  With just a word, your life was forfeit.  People died by the millions under their ‘care’.  The model of a single ‘boss’ or ‘parent’ running an entire country has an abysmal record historically.

And you know, when I read Chris's words above, I wonder why this is only true for Chris now?  He certainly didn’t feel this way about the last President.  The problem is that if you take what he says literally, he is not talking about President Obama.  He’s talking about the office of the President of the United States.  That’s why this is so very, very dangerous.  It’s easy to feel this way when it’s someone you like or someone 'benevolent'.  Can you still feel this way when it’s someone you don’t?  What happens when you get a malevolent leader who decides death panels are a good idea or that they can send drone strikes against Americans?

Anyway, I think Chris needs a short civics lesson on the Federal Government where ‘bossing’ is concerned.  It’s not hard – here are the basics:

-          The United States government is broken into three co-equal branches.  The heads of these branches are equal in power.  The president is the head of one of those branches – the Executive branch.  The other branches are the Legislative and Judicial.  The president is not in charge of the other two branches.

-          The President is the boss of the Executive branch.  Any departments that fall under the Executive branch report to the President and are ultimately his responsibility.  The military is ultimately responsible and answerable to the President.  However, even though he is the boss, he is bound by the law and Constitution and is oath-bound to follow the law.  The Executive branch/President has the authority to choose people to run Departments (i.e. – State, Defense, etc), submits nominees for Federal courts, including the Supreme Court and is the ultimate signer or veto-er of laws written by the Legislative branch.

-          The boss of the Legislative branch is the Speaker of the House of Representatives.  The Speaker has no control over the other branches, but does fall into the order of succession to the Presidency in the event of the incapacity, resignation or death of the President, behind the Vice-President.  Interestingly, it’s the President Pro-tempore of the Senate (Judicial branch) that is 4th in line ahead of the Secretary of State, who is in the Executive Branch.  The Legislative branch has authority over the Executive in that the House can issue articles of Impeachment against the President, and the Senate holds the trial of the President.  The Legislative branch also has to approve certain appointees in the other branches including heads of Departments (i.e. – Department of Justice, Department of State, etc) and federal judges sent by the Executive branch.  Since the President isn’t supposed to write laws, only sign them, the Legislative branch passes laws that get sent to the President.

-          The boss of the Judicial branch is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  As with the other branches, the Judicial branch has no authority to ‘rule’ the other branches other than the power to declare a law as ‘legal’ or not, typically directed at the Legislative branch.  The only ‘bossing’ they can do in regards to the Executive branch generally, is that the Chief Justice presides over the impeachment trial of the President in the Senate.

So you can see that the three branches all share power.  They are all equal, and they are bosses ONLY of their own branch.

That leaves one final part, the most important part of our Republic…

-          The People.  According to the Constitution and other founding documents like the Declaration of Independence, the people are the boss of themselves.  In our form of government, it is up to the people to decide what kind of life they will lead, where they will live, how many children they will have, who they will marry, what kind of work they want to do, what foods they eat, who their friends are, who their enemies are, what clothes they will wear, where they will shop, who they will work for, whether they believe in God or not, where they want to have our vacations, what kind of car they drive or even if they want to drive, and so many other things.  In the United States, the intent is that the people will decide what the limits are that are best for the community, and it is the responsibility of the community to ensure that those limits are maintained.  The federal government should have very little, if any, impact on the day-to-day life of the people.  There shouldn’t really be any expectations on the people from federal government.  By design, our federal government is intended to foster freedom, not limit it.  The law-abiding citizen should almost never need to think about government and it should have very little impact on the people.

Now I know that what I just said is a pipe-dream.  It would be wonderful if I could decide pretty much whatever I like as long as it does not infringe on the freedoms of other citizens.  This is the insidious nature of government involvement in our lives:  The more the government pays for with the taxes from other people, the more limits the government can put on you, since your actions affect other people’s wallets.  This is why the Libertarians among us are so stridently against government involvement in things like healthcare.  If your taxes are going to pay for my healthcare, then the government, which has inserted itself in the middle, can tell me how I must live, what I can eat (and not eat), where I can live, what jobs I can hold, how many children I can have, whether I can smoke or not, and what drugs I must or must not take.  If I fail to meet their rules, I’m a law-breaker and am no better than a thief.

It’s important to be reminded of something:  The government is the only legal entity that has the power of life-or-death over you.  They have the authority to kill you.  Corporations do not have that authority.  Other people do not have that authority.  Even your Mom and Dad do not have that power (unless you haven’t been born yet – and the government gives you permission to kill that life, if you want – so you’re really acting as a federal government proxy when you have an abortion), organizations do not have that authority.  Only the government has the RIGHT under law to take your life from you.

So, sorry Chris Rock.  The President is not my boss and he’s not my Dad.  He shouldn’t be your boss or daddy, either.  Just like the children of Israel wanting a King, getting what you wish for means accepting not just the boss you like, but also the boss you don’t.  And remember one other thing:  unlike your boss at work, you can’t change jobs to get away from the President of the United States if he’s your boss.  The POSITION is your boss, not the man!