Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

Good Ideas Gone Wrong

November 4, 2015

Any idea can be carried too far. When that happens, good ideas become bad ideas. As examples, consider the Veterans Administration and the American public school system. Neither institution does what it’s expected to do. How did they go wrong? And are there lessons in why they’ve failed?

In both cases, the failure is caused by believing that government programs can be operated like a business. Eliminating waste in business makes the business more competitive. If carried too far, market influence will force a correction. But schools and the VA aren’t businesses and they aren’t subjected to market forces. Instead, they’re controlled by politics. Politicians invariably cut too much, because claiming they’ve eliminated ‘waste’ appeals to voters.

But what happens when you cut too much? You make the programs ineffective at doing what they’re supposed to do.

In both of these systems, the operating budget controls everything that’s done. The focus should be on the outcome, on what the institutions do, but invariably it’s on the budget. As a result, underfunded institutions don’t do what they’re supposed to do, educate students in the case of the public school system and provide for the needs of veterans through the VA.

Both institutions must select between two choices: provide a quality product to the few, thereby rejecting others, or provide substandard services to the many. We’re seeing that now. Our public education system does not educate students, the VA does not provide adequate, timely care for veterans. Uneducated students can’t successfully operate their own businesses. They lack the qualifications needed to work for others, and there are few good middle-class jobs anyway. This leads directly to high rates of criminal activity and huge prison populations. As for the VA, veterans die while waiting for care.

Testing in schools highlights the system failure, but does nothing to solve the problem. And Mr. Trump plans to ‘reorganize’ the VA if he’s elected. It’s funding, not organization, that’s the real problem.

We can do better. We must, if we expect the American nation to endure.

On Campaigns and Society

May 7, 2015

As of this writing (May 7th, 2015), there are at least six ‘declared Republican candidates’ for president. Six more are hinting strongly that they’ll run while they accumulate the milllions it will take to campaign for the party’s nomination. To do that, they’re attempting to find something, anything, that will separate them from the rest in the clown car. Funny suits, big noses, huge shoes won’t do it; this time, it’s not how they look but what they say.
Believe it or not, those buffoons represent a slice of the modern TeaPublican Party. Because they appeal to the few, they believe they can parlay that into an appeal to the many.

But they will end up driving each other farther to the right, to the portion of the electorate where the lunatic fringe lives. Where people think that if only people prayed more, that would solve all the world’s problems. Apparently they haven’t noticed how often Muslims pray.
They end up where the NRA lives, never noticing that the NRA propaganda hasn’t done anything to rein in government; instead, the guns kill thousands of ordinary citizens, many of them children. Not one ‘dictator’ trying to take over the country has been held back. You’d think someone would notice, but the propaganda is never ending. The tree of liberty has not been watered by the blood of patriots and tyrants, it’s grown stunted by being overwatered by the blood of children and citizens.
The no-tax fools are realizing that as government shrinks, as there’s less money in the system, somehow the potholes don’t get fixed. Bridges are collapsing. Some wonder why. Eventually, others will too. Whether they’ll wonder in time for the election I don’t know.
But the party of low spending has no qualms about using public money for political purposes. After all, they’ve spent millions trying to deny affordable health care for ordinary citizens. Fifty plus votes, last I heard. They’ve spent more on repeated investigations into Hillary Clinton. So far, nothing has been found. How much have the manufactured ‘crises’ cost the government?
More money will be spent on defense, too. Not to pay soldiers, not even to care for the injured and shocked, but for hugely-expensive weapons systems. That will, somehow, be spent in districts that elect powerful politicians. Ahh, pork…more public money used to help elect a critter.
So what are the issues? Other than that virtually all of them have been told by God that he should run. God’s being indecisive, I suppose.
Wouldn’t you love to see Ted Cruz debate Mike Huckabee on the role of religion in government?
Freedom, or what Republicans call freedom, is an issue.
Railroads are ‘free’ to haul dangerous cargoes. Periodically they blow up, but at least they blow up free.
Factories too are free of regulations. Guess what? They blow up too. But hey, regulation cuts into profits. And corporations need to be free to make as much as possible.
That TeaPublican fringe curses the EPA because it limits ‘freedom’. Even so, corporation are still free to pollute, to strip the top off mountains, to dump coal ash in streams, to leak oil from pipelines into rivers and streams, to create a mess that the federal government can’t control and won’t have the money to clean up.
And after the clowns drive the car as far to the right as possible, the eventual winner will try to crab back to the center. Dragging all that campaign baggage with him.
I don’t see much chance that a Republican can be elected. Even if one is, haven’t we seen how ineffective they’ve proven themselves to be at governing? At least so far, there’s a slight amount of control.
But the corruption is getting worse. The preachers and priests are gathering, waiting to have more say in American society. The manufacturers of military goods are smiling, waiting for more money for ever-more expensive systems they can sell to the Defense Department.
Have you noticed how similar we’ve become to the Middle Eastern nations we’ve been fighting?
We’ve separated into ‘tribes’ based on religious fundamentalism. On color. On ethnicity. On gender and sexual orientation. Corruption, always present, has become endemic. Schools are failing, education is a way for banks to exploit the young, the social safety net is tattered, little by little we’ve been reduced to a third-world nation. Maybe that’s what people are looking for.
Personally, I don’t want to live in Americanistan.
How about you?

On the 2012 Elections: Issues

August 27, 2012

I wrote this reply to a friend named Harry in a group on Facebook:
Read what you wrote, Harry. “Obama is now seeking…” and “suggesting that he’s grabbing the taxing power for himself.” You don’t’ say that Obama has usurped the powers of congress, you imply motives for actions (not documented, except by your opinion; and not really knowable in any case; we can only judge actions, not motives) and some vague suggestion based on no cited evidence.
Be honest; how far would you get in court with that sort of argument?
What you’re left with is a single answer: Congress. Not Obama, but Congress. Fact.
And we all know what Congress has done, or more properly has not done. While earning the opinion that this is the worst Congress in modern history.
They have refused to consider Obama’s jobs bill. Fact. Easily verifiable.
They have taken no independent action to push the economy for jobs. Fact.
Indeed, public sector jobs have declined, but private sector jobs have risen steadily. Not fast enough, but then note who has the greater power to affect the economy. There are literally thousands of citations to confirm that; it’s not an unsubstantiated claim by me, as you have made in your post. Both working together, Congress and presidency, could have done more, but we also know that this Congress has had one aim, to deny Obama a second term. That’s been their aim, and it’s colored every thing they’ve done in the past two years. They’ve repeatedly said so. Fact. Easily verified.
Two horses harnessed together by the Constitution; but one pulls forward, the other balks and sits down. And then claims that it’s the other who is responsible for going nowhere.
Congress has had the power, and has not used it. They have done many things beloved to the right regarding Obamacare and abortion and women’s rights, although they’ve acted to block both of the last two in any bill that’s pushed forward. They’ve also blocked immigration reform. They have generated no bill to do anything about the economy. Fact. Easily verifiable.
Not one.
Despite the fact that THEY have the ability to do that. Obama couldn’t stop them if he wanted to. Presidents don’t control Congress; if anything, it’s the other way around. Congress holds the power of the purse. Presidents can, at most, influence Congress. But nothing can stop Congress from passing a bill to create jobs. They have that power and are answerable only to the voters. They can even override a presidential veto. Of course, first they have to send a bill forward. And they haven’t. Fact.
The Republican Party controls Congress. They can generate financial bills in the Republican controlled House. They have blocked bills in the Senate through use of the filibuster. They have blocked presidential appointments and they used the filibuster to block the bipartisan immigration reform bill. Fact.
Facts. Not opinions. Except for that one statement that the president and Congress, working together, could have done more.
And this is something that no amount of rhetoric can change. Something that Romney and Ryan don’t want to talk about. Ryan might have put something into that budget he brought out of committee to create jobs. He did not.

On the Elderly and the Economy

July 31, 2011

On The Elderly and the Economy

I read Mr. Robert J. Samuelson’s column entitled Elderly Slowly Sinking the Ship today, July 31 2011. In the article, which deals with his interpretation of what’s harming the US National Economy, he concludes: “It’s the elderly, stupid.”

He couldn’t be more wrong. Allow me my own quote: “It’s the politicians, stupid!” By the end of this document you may judge for yourself.

I’m fairly typical, I suspect, of Americans of my age group (currently 71). I grew up in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s and graduated from high school. I had a very basic education, such as was common to small-town southern high schools back then, no trade of course but I could have attended college and learned enough to embark on a career. Except that I had no money for that. Plus, in those days, a young American male faced the draft. Generally it arrived in your early to mid 20’s, and at that point you left your job and went to serve for two years in the Army. You could, of course, join a branch of the armed services anytime after 18 and once you had served, you wouldn’t have to worry about the draft, short of a war in which you would get recalled but that would happen to everyone anyway.

During the time I worked before my 18th year, I paid income tax and social security. I had no choice; it was the law, a law passed by the US Congress and signed into being by the US President.

This was a part of the legal system of the United States. Congress passed these laws. I mention this because it seems they have forgotten this small fact.

I entered the US Army. I was paid a pittance, as we all were at the time. I got $77.10 per month in 1958. I got room (along with 50 or so others, in the same barracks) and board (3 meals in the Mess Hall; occasionally strange, but supposedly nourishing, unless the ‘cooks’ made a mistake). I also got medical care from the Army’s Medical Services. I paid Social Security Taxes from my salary, involuntarily. It was the law.

I now had become the beneficiary of two promises from the US Government, both of them originating in the US Congress.

In return for my contributions to Social Security, I would, upon reaching a certain age, become eligible for a pension. The money that I, and all the others like me paid into the system, was expected to provide the funds for that. This promise or assumption was already being eroded; more on that a bit later.

The second promise had to do with the draft. It was unpopular, and so the government, in order to reduce the numbers needed to be drafted to maintain the armed forces, offered retirement after 20 or more years with a salary and certain other benefits. Free medical care for myself and my wife, plus any minor children, was one of those promises. There were other, lesser benefits promised, but I want to concentrate on the ‘free medical care’ part.

In time, the government realized that this medical benefit was becoming very expensive. The solution was to simply, over time and involving a number so small steps, legislate it out of existence. Broken promises…but never call it such. It’s “reform’ of ‘entitlements’. Those entitlements were earned, part of a contract between myself and others who served until retirement, but don’t call it a contract which has now been broken by half the contracting party, the US Government, after the other half (the veterans) have done their part. Call it ‘entitlements’; it sounds so much better than breach of contract.

Meantime, the second promise, that of Social Security Retirement.

The money collected in this way went into a fund. But congress, leery of raising taxes, soon found out that this fund could be raided and the money transferred to the general fund. It was replaced by IOU’s, which of course, unlike other government loans, didn’t require repayment of interest.

Unlike other funds such as those of various state teachers organizations, social security funds didn’t get invested into interest-earning accounts. Also unlike other funds, the beneficiaries of the various insurance policies didn’t diminish in numbers. For every thousand teachers who contribute into the retirement fund, some of them will die. The numbers of those entitled to benefits are not expected to grown without contributing a commensurate amount to the fund. But for social security entitlements, the numbers grow. Disabled retirees retire without contributing fully; children may become entitled because a parent died; and so forth. And the money collected became simply another tax, but without calling it such; there were, after all, those government IOUs to back up the entitlements.

But in theory, if you worked for a certain number of quarter-years, and paid in so much money, you would be entitled to a pension as set by law, e.g. by the congress.

Um…not quite. If you had another pension, say from the Railroad Pension Fund, or from a Teacher Pension Fund (these had exceptions built in so that they could fund their retirees, and so they didn’t pay social security retirement taxes). So there was an ‘offset’. Despite the fact that you might have qualified for a social security pension, you would receive part of what you had earned, or often nothing at all.

Another broken promise by the congress, which believes that only the current congress exists. Whatever was done before, whatever was promised, unless it’s protected by the constitution, any promises or contracts are no more than what congress says they are.

The congresses’ promises are essentially worthless. They can change from one election to the next.

And so, the evolution of one of those entitlements: medical care. Military hospital care became Tricare care, in which you went to a physician or hospital and the bill was paid by Tricare. You could go to a military facility if there was one available, and so many retirees settled near a military base when they retired. No Tricare required. But then this too was deemed too expensive, and so at age 65 the retiree was dumped into Medicare, no longer eligible for military facility care. Medicare subscription fees were to be paid by Tricare as supplemental insurance, and by social security if you were able to get anything from them. No longer free. Just another broken contract, but unlike a contractor, retirees or social security enrollees can’t sue for breach of contract.

Unemployment benefits: these too are on the congressional chopping block. There’s a tax paid by employees and employers which is split by the state and by the national government. But it doesn’t fund unemployment benefits, especially in a recession. The money has already been folded into the general tax fund by one or the other accounting gimmick.

And now we come to 2011. TEA Party people and Republicans want to simply dissolve whatever remains of that contract that past congresses have made, to take the money and airily decide that there was really no contract at all.

And so you can now ask yourself: Is it the seniors and the Military Retirees and the Unemployed, the people who followed the laws as they were then, who fulfilled their part of the contract between themselves and the US Government? Is it the seniors, stupid?

Or is it the politicians who, over generations, have repeatedly broken the contracts after the people fulfilled their part of the bargain?