Budgets, Deficits and Debt

The Question Still Haunts Us

Ed. note: This was my response to a letter from a friend, updated only very slightly, and was posted three months before the 2012 general election. Sadly, the question still haunts us.
 

Reading time – 3:34; Viewing time – 8:36  .  .  .

Thanks so much for your comments.  I completely and enthusiastically agree  .  .  .  You said we have bigger fish to fry and we certainly do have enormous financial issues.

We really have been living beyond our means for decades and our politicians (both R’s and D’s) have done a good job of protecting their jobs instead of doing their jobs and, in the process, they have led the public to believe that there is a free lunch.  We, the public, somehow went along with them when, to paraphrase Richard Pryor, the politicians said to us, “You gonna believe me or your lying good sense?” And we believed them. Go figure.

Notwithstanding the stupidity of all parts of that dynamic, my original comments that perhaps seemed polarized were and are intended to be focused on the broader issue. You used the word “reprehensible” and it is both apt and at the heart of my meaning. Here are a few data points, all of which raise a singular question.

The Republicans, led by Ted Cruz, held hostage the entire nation – even the entire world economy – to their fiscal demands. I understand that it was a leverage point, but the debt ceiling and a new budget are two entirely different things and the authorization to increase the debt ceiling should have been done as an independent issue. It should have been done immediately in order to declare our resolve to remain the standard for the world economy. Threatening financial disaster can be seen in another way: It is a statement of the kind of America the Republicans are trying to create. Is that really who we Americans are?

Conservatives Reagan, Bush I & Bush II, each in his time, ran up the biggest deficits/debt in the history of the world. Reagan and Bush I increased taxes to pay for their spending. Bush II instead both decreased taxes and started two unnecessary wars. All of that pushed us to the brink of financial disaster. Is that really who we Americans are?

Recall for a moment the Reagan-initiated frenzy for deregulation, a Republican mania that continues today. That led directly to the financial collapse of 2008 and, yes, D’s were complicit in that. All those trillions of bail out dollars are gone and with no accountability and nearly no mechanisms to prevent another round of “too big to fail.” Strangely, the Republicans are howling for still more deregulation which would put us at ever greater risk. Is that really who we Americans are?

A violent storm went through my area this morning and a power line was downed by a broken tree limb just a block from my house. The police were out in the violent storm within minutes, cordoning the area and protecting everyone from the continuous blast of 600 volt sparking and fire. Before heading to my basement due to a tornado warning, I saw more flames from another direction, called 911 and was connected to the fire department. I reported the situation and a bunch of guys saddled up and headed out in a fire truck, this while most of us were huddled in our basements from the continuing storm.

Consider, too, the school teachers to whom we entrust most of our kids’ education and those who drive snow plows through blizzards so we can go where and when we want. All these people protect and support us, including in dangerous situations and often in terrible conditions. They are also the people who the Republicans want to strip of some of their pay, their pensions, their right to bargain collectively and the Republicans want to lay off a bunch of them, too. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker wants to take nearly all of the savings from the heavy load put on the backs of Wisconsin cops, firemen, teachers and others and give it to rich people. Is that really who we Americans are?

Paul Ryan wants to kill Medicare, send everyone and their money to a few private medical insurers and leave millions of those who need health care adrift in their poverty. 70% of the savings from his plan to kill Medicare would go directly to rich people and corporations. Is that really who we Americans are?

In Michigan, the Republican controlled state government has decided that they have the right to take over any local governmental body in the state if the geniuses in Lansing decide that the locals need their help. [Update: Take a look at the Flint, MI lead-poisoned kids to get an idea of what a fine job those geniuses are doing.] They have effectively stripped voting rights from entire communities and imposed a dictatorship on the state. Is that really who we Americans are?

In Arizona, former governor Jan Brewer and Sheriff Joe Arpaio enshrined discrimination into the law and into desert concentration camps. Is that really who we Americans are?

Rand Paul says that it’s immoral that we helped the victims of Hurricane Katrina. That pretty much captures the America he and so many of the hair-on-fire R’s want us to become. Is that really who we Americans are?

The Republicans voted in lock step to continue to give tax breaks to the biggest oil companies which have the greatest profits in the history of the world. Huh?

Everything I see tells me that the Republican party wants to turn the clock back to the days of the robber barons. Life was very good then for the very rich. For everyone else, well, it wasn’t so good. The Republicans seem to be in favor of anything to kill those hated programs that help people who need help. Yes, I know there are plenty of dim-witted and even self-defeating programs that never should have been started or which have long outlived their usefulness. And don’t misunderstand me:  There is nothing wrong with being rich. The wrong is in excluding everyone else.

The financial burden from the past is enormous and vexing. The financial challenge of the future will look different from the free lunch nonsense to which we are accustomed. There is plenty of fixing to do. The key, though, is our clarity of vision of who we want to be – our national True North. That direction is being decided right now, in part, by people doing reprehensible things. The reprehensible behavior is not one-sided, of course. The bulk of it that I see, though, comes from the right.

I wish I could find one of those moderate Republicans you mentioned who has the backbone to speak what s/he believes, rather than what they thought would get votes from “the base” and who would offer reasonable centrist views. I’m hoping that you are incorrect about them being extinct, but instead find that they are in hiding, waiting for the chest thumping storm of temper tantrum insanity to pass. I will welcome an honest exchange that focuses on making a better America.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I believe we are right now at an important crossroads in the battle for the soul of America. We are in a defining moment of setting a vision – a self-image – of who we Americans really are.

In my Money, Politics & Democracy presentations I break the news about our American vision in this way:

We are crafting the America our children and grandchildren will inherit – and we’re doing it right now!

We better get about the task. We better speak up about the task, because:

If you don’t make your voice heard, people who want a very different America from the one you want will be heard, because they will be the only ones talking.

Speak up! In the Comments section below. With your friends, your family and, yes, even your crazy brother-in-law. Speak up or you and your children will have to put up with what you’ve tolerated.

 

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Those Feel-Good Commercials

Reading time – 88 seconds  .  .  . 

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the General Electric (GE) television ads with a lovely feel-good messages .  .  .

My mom makes trains that are friends with trees."

“My mom makes trains that are friends with trees.”

 

.  .  .  like the cute little girl who tells us that her mom makes trains that are friends with trees.

 

 

 

 

"I'll be writing software for planes, trains and hospitals"

“I’ll be writing software for planes, trains and hospitals”

 

.  .  .  and the software engineer who won’t work on trains, but who will write software so that planes, trains and even hospitals can work better.

 

 

 

Pick up the hammer

“Go ahead – pick it up”

 

.  .  .  and that same software engineer whose dad challenges him to pick up his grandfather’s sledge hammer and he doesn’t and maybe he can’t, but his mom says it’s okay because he’s going to change the world.

 

GE is spending a lot of money to air those commercials, yet they aren’t trying to sell you anything. Not a microwave oven, nor a ballistic submarine nor a nuclear power plant or any of the many things that GE makes. Why would they spend that money?

Perhaps the target market is young, talented people they want to hire. That makes sense in light of the fierce competition for smart, creative people, especially in the high tech sector.

Or perhaps it’s to burnish GE’s public image, as it has taken a bit of a beating over the past few years due to its avoidance of paying income GE's 10 Years of Negligible Total FITtaxes and its pitifully small share of tax paid as an American company. Just take a look at this chart (right – full article here) from the Citizens for Tax Justice.

From 2002 – 2011 GE made a cumulative profit of over $80 billion and paid just $1.467 billion in Federal income tax. Business lobbying groups like to say that America can’t compete in the global market place with our 35% top corporate rate, but GE has paid an effective rate of just 1.8% on its $80 billion in profit. Note, too, that the figures in red on the chart indicate years when GE got tax rebates from prior years’ taxes, even though they made billions in profit in those years. Got a problem with that?

Here’s the thing: GE is playing by the rules. No one appears to be suggesting that the people running GE have broken any law with their tax avoidance schemes; they’ve just gamed the system. That system was created by our legislators – it’s only administered by the IRS – which is to say that our legislators made a system that GE could game to its very lucrative benefit and to the detriment of our country.

In a well-referenced 2013 article, the Huffington Post reported that GE had $108 billion in profit squirreled away offshore specifically for the purpose of avoiding paying Federal income tax on that money. Of course, they aren’t alone, as HuffPost reports,

Sixty big U.S. companies analyzed by the Wall Street Journal kept on average more than 40 percent of their annual profits overseas last year.”

That kind of thing is made possible by corporate lobbying. Again singling out GE about their lobbying activity:

According to the report, GE lobbyists made contact with lawmakers or their staffs at least 863 times over a two-year period between 2011 and 2013 to argue for the loophole, known as the “active financing exemption.” [emphasis added}

Estimates are that there is a cumulative $2 trillion of un-taxed American companies’ profit hidden offshore and that’s pretty ugly stuff to those of us who pay all of our taxes (meaning just about all of we non-corporate entities – i.e. small businesses and individuals).

Note, too, that GE gave over $1.8 million to politicians in campaign contributions in the 2014 election cycle. Do you suppose that might help GE get additional legislation that allows them to game the system more and pay even less tax?

As this kind of information arrives in public view it’s a black eye for corporations like GE, so those companies have to launch PR campaigns so that we won’t think they’re the creeps they really are.

Clearly, the message is that you will need hundreds of lobbyists to twist the arms of legislators and the cash for very large campaign contributions so that you, too, can pay almost no Federal income tax. You say you don’t have the millions of dollars that would cost, the almost limitless wells of cash that the big corporations have? Too bad for you.

On the other hand, as you watch those television commercials, don’t you just feel all warm and fuzzy about GE? Maybe not anymore.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Letter to the Editor, Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune MastheadReading time – 52 seconds .  .  .

A recent poll showed that 96% of Americans deplore the influence of big money on our politics and want that changed. But that hasn’t happened and that big money is the mother lode that drives our national dysfunction.

After 20 little kids and 6 teachers were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary school nearly three years ago, 90% of all Americans and 80% of National Rifle Association members wanted universal background checks for all sales of firearms. We didn’t get what we wanted. The big money interests blocked the will of the American people.

Jeb Bush has raised over $114 million (“Jeb Bush, super PAC raise” July 9) and a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in Chicago cost $2,700 per seat (“Major donor to Obama, Emanuel to host Hillary Clinton fundraiser” July 21). Once they and other candidates receive these enormous sums, they are beholden to the wealthy who contributed and the candidates ignore the voices of regular Americans.

That’s why we don’t have laws to help small businesses and it is why our health care system caters to powerful insurance companies. It’s why we haven’t undertaken a critical updating of our education system and it’s why we wait for bridges to collapse and kill people before repairing our crumbling infrastructure. The list of serious problems ignored by Congress is long and ugly and our corrupt campaign finance system drives nearly all of them.

I’ve spoken to groups that span our political spectrum about our legalized bribery system that gives wealthy special interests an advantage and opens the door to corruption. Not once has anyone voiced any push-back. This is a bipartisan issue. We the People want reform.

As an Eisenhower Republican, my vote in 2016 will go to whichever candidates come out in support of fundamental election reform that truly puts government back in the hands of the people. In the 10th Congressional District, that rules out Robert Dold.

All candidates can show that they are serious about this issue by supporting the Government by the People Act (H.R.20). This bipartisan bill (with 160 cosponsors) will create a voluntary system of tax rebates and other incentives for small donors to have more of a voice in elections, including public financing of our elections. I hope the candidates campaign on this reform bill to ensure politicians are accountable to voters rather than catering only to a well connected few.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Get Government Out of Our Lives

ChaffetzReading time – 47 seconds  .  .  .

On April 15 Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) proposed H.R. 1563, a bill that would require federal workers to certify that their tax records aren’t delinquent, this under threat of dismissal. Chaffetz wants to make sure that those hoards of federal employee tax evaders with debt so large and so delinquent that, ”  .  .  .   [it] may be collected by the Secretary [of the Treasury] by levy or by a proceeding in court,” are brought out of the shadows and put in stocks in the public square. Alright, Jason. You are one tough dude!

And his bill flies in the face of workers’ rights to keep their tax records private and wholly ignores the fact that another department of government – the Treasury – is already monitoring and collecting delinquent taxes. Chaffetz’s bill appears to duplicate efforts, burden citizens, violate rights and is punitive. So, why would he introduce such apparently lame brain legislation that appears to run counter to the Republican “less government” mantra?

It turns out that, “.  .  .  the bill’s requirements apply to employees of the executive and legislative branches, as well as to those in the U.S. Postal Service and the Postal Regulatory Commission.” Hmmm, the U.S. Postal Service is included. Could that be a clue?

Just a few years ago our insightful and ever-vigilant Congress drafted a bill that requires the Postal Service to amass billions of dollars to ensure the pensions of postal workers. It projects the need so many decades into the future that the U.S. Postal Service is putting away retirement funds for workers who have not yet been born. That bill was designed to burden the Postal Service with such a crushing load of debt that it would become bankrupt; then the Republicans’ favorite free marketers could privatize it, cut services, raise rates and make lots of money.

Chaffetz’s bill is just another Republican effort to drive the privatization of all of our government functions in order to enrich their pals. Any time you want to understand this kind of stupid stuff, just follow the money.

And here’s the kicker: The rate of tax delinquency of postal workers is less than half that of the general public. These are solid citizens paying their fair share, but Jason Chaffetz, resolute soldier in the Republican war on government (this primarily for the benefit of rich people), wants to use government muscle to double up on efforts to humiliate and penalize these people.

Jason, your mother must be very proud.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

New Ryan Budget Adjustment

Reading time – 23 seconds  .  .  .

Washington DC – In a press briefing in front of the Washington Field Office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced new details of his updated budget plan. “To help save the economy,”  Ryan announced, “we’re making  an important change to our proposed budget. Upon adoption of the plan, we will start deporting seniors instead of illegal immigrants, in order to lower Social Security and Medicare costs. That simple change will extend the life of both programs by decades. It will also cost far less to administer than the current INS rules because older people are easier to catch and will not remember how to get back home.”*

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*The picture above is from a spoof piece making the rounds on the Internet Machine. Thanks go to ES for passing it to me.  I have taken liberties with the text for satirical purposes. Note that Congressman Ryan has not yet contacted me to indicate if his mother, Elizabeth Ryan, will be eligible for deportation.

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Eric CantorSUNDAY TWO-FER!

Reading time – 11 seconds

Good-bye, Eric Cantor, latest loser to a new extremist fool.  For years you had the power to be the driver of betterment for the American people and you chose instead to be a petty obstructionist.

We will not miss your arrogance and lies, your demagoguery and fraudulent misrepresentations, your partisan posturing and your dedication to failure. Your mother may be proud of you, but most of us are not.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Nothing Conservative To See Here – Move Along

Reading time . .  .  43 seconds

There are so many programs that the Republicans used to support, like healthcare reform, gun background checks and programs that suggest something science-y, like cap-and-trade.  For six years, though, they have been focused solely on opposing anything President Obama supports, so they have turned their backs on their own programs trying to out-testosterone one another and promoting governmental paralysis. Indeed, many Republicans used to be conservatives, but that seems to have fallen into disfavor over on the right, which is now well short of the neocortex.

The Republicans are big promoters of a fire breathing, smoke belching military. They support the troops and wave flags and insist that we continue to spend money on defense at the same rate or even more than we spent when we were engaged in a cold war opposing a country that now no longer exists. Let nobody suggest that the R’s are military wimps. They got their camo mojo on and it’s cookin’ all the time, supportin’ the troops. Conservative bedrock in action, right?

Except when our troops come home broken up, messed up and throwing up. Then the R’s aren’t so supportive of the troops. That’s when they adjust their bean counter eye shades and sleeve garters to cut budgets. That’s when it’s clear that the “political right” has departed from conservatism. Indeed, Poppy Bush would be aghast to learn that there are no compassionate conservatives.

Read Carl Gibson’s excellent article Fake Political Outrage is the Real VA Scandal and see for yourself. These R’s who are refusing to properly care for our wounded are the same right wingers who authorized “supporting out troops” by lying to the American people, trumping up “evidence” for an unnecessary war and then sending our troops into battle without body armor, without vehicle armor and without an exit plan. Then they sent another 100,000 troops to attack Afghanistan, yet another country that did not attack America. Tough beans now for the 1.6 million vets who have cycled home, need help and are applying to the VA for what was promised.

Are you looking for conservatives? Don’t bother looking at today’s Republican Party, because there’s nothing conservative to see there. Move along.

 Ed. note:  Thanks to EBC for bringing Gibson’s article to my attention.

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There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Upcoming Calendar

Reading time – 21 seconds  .  .  .

About a year ago it became clear to me that, while 4 out of 5 Americans who knew about the catastrophic Citizens United case wanted it reversed, too few of us knew about it. Education, it became obvious, is a must if we are to turn the country back in the right direction. And because I do keynote speeches and workshops with a focus on leadership in my day job, I took it upon myself to put together a presentation for the purpose of educating and motivating people to take action.

The program is entitled Money, Politics & Democracy and I’ve delivered it around Chicagoland and also in the St. Louis area. The comments have been strongly positive and I’m wanting to reach out to others, so if you have a venue where a speaker delivering a strictly NON-PARTISAN message to restore some sanity into our government, please connect me to that venue. And no, I don’t charge for doing these presentations. Like this blog, it is about making a difference.

Want to find out what it’s all about? Here are a couple of upcoming public presentations:

I will be presenting to NorthWest Suburban Organizing For America (NWSOFA) at 7:00PM on Tuesday, April 22. Here is a link to information on the session.

The next public session will be at the DuPage Coffeehouse on May 7 starting at 7:00PM. Information for my presentation isn’t up on their website yet, so click on this link for a PDF with program information.

Will you be there? Drop me a line so that we’re sure to connect.

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Republicans and Jobs

On December 3, 2013 Speaker of the House John Boehner declared in a 57 second speech that,

“Republicans continue to stay focused on the economy.  And the fact is that the American people want us to do everything we can to strengthen the economy so there will be more jobs and higher wages available.  This week we’ll take further steps to strengthen our economy.”

Then he launched into an attack on the Affordable Care Act.

So, here is the question for you:  Can you name a single thing that the Republicans in Congress have proposed or done since January 20, 2009 that has been aimed at creating more jobs or higher wages?

They spent lots of energy and money to fight the Jobs Bill and they defeated it.  They fought and then were at last shamed into allowing the Jobs for Veterans Bill to pass.  Okay, we’ll give them credit for that and do so with the same enthusiasm as they displayed to support our veterans.  Then they spent all the rest of their time on anything but more jobs and higher wages.

They spent much of the past five years proudly battling against gay rights, immigration reform and voting rights.  Not much of a connection with more jobs and higher wages there.

There was some truly google-eyed work done by Republicans in the House on the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare.  It is essentially the program recommended years ago by the very conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation.  It is also essentially the same as the program enacted into law in Massachusetts under Republican Governor Mitt Romney.  But today’s Republicans – the ones for whom John Boehner speaks – have spent their time trying to repeal Obamacare 43 times.  And, speaking of healthcare, they have hissy fits over defunding Planned Parenthood, too.  It is unclear how any of that helps to alleviate the suffering or improve the opportunities of our under- and unemployed.

They also made sure that we don’t have sensible control over the sale of firearms. No connection there to jobs or wages either.

Gotta give the R’s credit, though, as over the years they have boldly managed to give congressional endorsement to the naming of several post offices.  Check that box as Mission Accomplished.  Still, where is the action toward more jobs and higher wages?

Boehner was right in what he said – Americans want Congress to do something to create more jobs and higher wages.  Republicans, though, have done nothing to help that.   Too bad for us that all Boehner and the Republicans offer is lip service to what is most important to Americans.

Do you want Congress to behave differently?  Do you want our problems solved instead of being left to get worse?  Then you better get active, get involved and send to Washington people who will get this country headed in the right direction.  If you don’t, I promise you that our self-paralyzed Congress will do nothing to help you or anyone you care about with the opportunity for a job or higher wages.

One more thing:  With about 3 applicants for every job opening, it is a mathematical certainty that two out of three unemployed people can’t and won’t find work any time soon, leaving them unemployed.  Meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress want to cut unemployment benefits, lest we teach the unemployed to be dependent on government.  That is the reasoning expressed by Republican presidential wannabe Rand Paul.  His plan is that on December 28 we’ll just set the unemployed adrift, hungry.

And Happy Holidays to all of them.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

If It Isn’t a Perfect 10 . . .

Look, it’s as plain as can be that the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – was flawed from the start.   Whatever your political views, the act focuses on payment, not medical care itself.  And it doesn’t cover everyone.  Besides, the stupid website doesn’t work.  Just de-fund it, already.

And while I’m thinking of it, our interstate highways are pretty beaten up.  De-fund those, too.

Education.  Now, that’s a mess.  Our kids are way behind most of the industrialized world in science and math, so the only sensible thing to do is to just dump the system we’re using.  Perhaps funding based on real estate property taxes made sense a long time ago.  Maybe, maybe not.  But that funding mechanism isn’t preparing kids for today, much less for tomorrow.  And we’re not hiring and retaining the best teachers, either, as too many are on the “Three Years and Out” plan.  No, this isn’t working well enough to continue to throw money at it, so just pull the plug.

The Postal Service doesn’t get any money from the government, unless some bureaucrat wants to mail a letter, so we don’t have to worry about that.  But the people running it ought to be re-thinking their whole model.  One stamp sends a letter to the remotest places in the U.S. every day.  That’s crazy.  Maybe congress should increase the requirement for their pension put-away to cover people who won’t be born for another 50 years.  That would put the pressure on them to pull the plug.

And those spiffs to alternative energy companies – what’s up with that?  Those technologies only supply 2% of our energy needs, which is way too little to make a real difference.  No point in encouraging that, so we should just de-fund those loony subsidies.

What the heck is the government doing in the home mortgage industry?  Everyone knows that Reagan was right about government being the problem.  We should just let the free market do its magic.  The FHA falls well short of doing things right all the time.  Adios, FHA.  And pay no attention to those too-big-to-fail bank derivatives that nobody understands.  Let the free market work there, too, except if those guys crash and burn again and then government will be the safety net.  Everything has an exception, right?

Medical R & D – now, that’s a real problem.  We keep throwing money that way, but where is that cure for cancer?  Have you seen it?  Neither have I.  Now, that’s a really dark hole into which we throw cash all the time, but that’s a system that never delivers like it should.  De-fund that bad boy, too.

Back to Obamacare for a second.  The website is so bad that it’s embarrassing.  And President Obama did that, “If you like it you can keep it” thing, which turned out not to be true for everyone.  Those are two more good reasons for trashing the entire program.  Okay, really just one more, since I mentioned the website earlier.  But it’s that bad, though, so it should be beaten up twice.  Maybe continuously.

There are so many programs that we fund that work at sub-optimal levels.  If we are to make good choices about what to do with our scarce resources (i.e. what’s in our collective wallet), then here is the bar that must be cleared:  If it isn’t perfect, de-fund it.

There.  That was easy.

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

The Continuing Frog Boil

Boiling FrogThe U.S. budget sequestration went into effect on March 1, 2013.  It was designed to reduce defense and certain non-defense discretionary spending by annually declining percentages through 2021.  It applies these cuts with the fine precision of a large asteroid smashing into the Earth.  It was said to be designed as a pressure on Congress and the White House to hammer out a budget agreement on a timely basis and was not supposed to go into effect because its stupidity was unthinkable.  Apparently, some of the major actors in that drama didn’t do enough thinking, because we’re living with the sequester now.  Oddly, we are not hearing much of a wail from those affected.  There are reasons for that.

First, the impact of the sequester on defense spending is small enough to be a rounding error for the agencies with nearly unlimited spending ability and which buy thousand-dollar toilet seats, tanks for fighting the non-existent Soviet Union in a land war and trillion-dollar airplanes that no one wants.  Besides, when the affected contractors are unhappy with the government they don’t march in the streets.  Their comments are given behind closed doors, so you don’t hear them.

Second, many of the domestic program cuts only affect poor people and nobody listens to them.  For example, study after study has shown that early childhood education is the cornerstone for later success in higher education and for a lifetime.  But the sequester cut 57,000 children out of the Head Start program, thus necessarily relegating them to a much dimmer future.  Understand, though, that the Head Start victims of the sequester are poor kids whose parents’ voices aren’t heard in Congress because those parents don’t make large campaign contributions, so they don’t have access.  And you can’t hear them because the corporate media doesn’t relay their brutal reality.

Here is another example.  The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that the sequester would produce a reduction in economic growth of 0.6%, saying that this would affect job retention for 750,000 Americans.  “Retention” is not about new jobs.  It is about employed people just keeping their jobs.  That means three-quarters of a million Americans will lose their jobs because of the unthinkable sequester.  Like the parents of kids kicked out of Head Start, the newly unemployed don’t have access, so you don’t hear their voices, either, and it is relatively easy for the rest of us to ignore the change.

Third, we human beings only become aware of change when a big WHUMP! smacks us in the head.  Most of the time we tolerate small changes quite easily and don’t even notice them.  By the time we at last notice their accumulation into a WHUMP!, it is too late to prevent the adverse consequences that we will live with forever.  That is to say, most of us are living with the unrecognized effects of small changes and, like live frogs in a slowly heating pot of water, we fail to recognize that we are being boiled alive.

Yet, metaphorically speaking, that is what is happening to Americans.  We are tolerating changes like the sequester, either because each change is very small, as they are for most of us, or we are accommodating them because we are powerless, as it is for the poor, the disenfranchised, the unemployed – the very people who don’t contribute big money to political campaigns.

And the incremental deterioration story gets worse.  The current government shutdown engineered by Ted Cruz (R-Psych Ward) and his extremist pals has already kicked another 7,000 kids out of Head Start and 19,000 more are on the way out the door.  Those kids will under-perform and we will lose the benefit of their contributions and their genius.  Some will drop out and be a weight on society and some will turn to crime for survival.  For those who don’t care about those kids, surely even the investment class understands the value of spending a buck today to get a return of two in the future.  Yet all they seem to be able to see is that they want everything now.

Head Start is just one example of incremental changes that are absorbed with barely a public whimper – there are many more – but we will all pay the price.

On the other hand, here is a happy thought: we’re saving money today because we’ve cut unemployment compensation for those 750,000 Americans being laid off this year and we won’t have to listen to them complain because they don’t have a voice powered by campaign contributions.

Come to think of it, perhaps you are not donating thousands of dollars to the right legislators every election cycle.  If that is the case, you just might want to check the thermometer in your pot.  It might be edging up the the WHUMP! mark at the top of the scale.

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Definition: The Republican Caucus – a gathering place for the clueless.

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“Let me just check my talking points, and  .  .  .  Why, here’s something flamboyant and hateful I can say to rile up the base and make them cheer for me.  And here’s another.  Wow!  There’s a whole pile of ’em!  I’ll never run out of self-serving drivel.”  Sen. Ted Cruz in an imaginary and oh-so-brief moment of honesty.

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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