Monthly Archives: April 2014

budget-cuts

Common Cents: Prioritizing Cost Cuts

Until 6 years ago, Grandma P and I lived in a small Midwestern town with a population of approximately 10,000 people.  (If you followed the Midwest winter weather, you know why we moved South!)  Like every level of government, our small city was having a difficult time balancing their budget.

This city, like many small cities, televised their city council meetings.  Televising these meetings had both a positive and negative outcome.

The positive outcome was that it allowed everyone in the city to view exactly what the mayor and the five city council members were accomplishing for the benefit of the city.

The negative outcome was that it allowed everyone in the city to view exactly what the mayor and the five city council members were failing to accomplish to the detriment of the city.

Oh yeah.  Televising the city council meetings presented quite a double-edged sword.

The council and mayor were supported by the city staff.  They had a city administrator.  He was the full-time person responsible for everything going on in the city, including the budget.  This particular city administrator had his ‘pet’ projects.  The best way to address this particular city administrator’s fiscal philosophy is to say that ‘he had champagne taste on a beer budget.’  Spending the city taxpayers’ money, or more importantly, overspending the taxpayers money did not appear to present any roadblocks.

Which  services do you think are the most important provided by a city?  Police?  Garbage removal? Parks and recreation?  Fire protection?  City-owned telephone company?  This particular city did not have its own police department.  They contracted with the County Sheriff for police protection, as it was economical.

Now back to the show!  The mayor poses the request to the administrator, ” Next meeting, we would like a list of possible areas where we could reduce spending.”  Simple enough request.  The next meeting arrives.  The meeting agenda gets to the item about budget cuts.  The mayor looks at the city administrator and asks for his findings about reducing spending.  It becomes obvious that the city administrator did not prepare, as requested in the previous meeting, nor does he want budget cuts.  He wants tax increases!   His off-the-cuff and unfortunately serious response?  “We could eliminate the fire department.”  WHAT???   Are you freakin’ kidding me?  The only service that the community could not live without, and this idiot suggests we eliminate our volunteer fire department.  The entire fire department consisted of three full-time people and some volunteers.  The next available fire engine was at least 20-30 minutes away!

I did not have a personality issue with the city administrator, but I did question his fiscal policies.  I was confident that he met his Waterloo!  He was toast!  Make that burnt toast!  The people of our fair city would rise up and demand his head be displayed atop a fire ladder for such a stupid suggestion!

This was ten years ago.  The end result?  He is still the city administrator, and the same mayor is still in power.  This is after a failed, costly attempt at creating a city-owned telephone company, which makes it all that more unbelievable that either one is still in place. (David versus AT&T!)

Enough of the paltry local issues!  On to Washington, D.C, where the big dogs reside!

Are you concerned about the proposed down-sizing of the Army?

If you have not been following what is happening, the current proposal is to reduce the Army to its pre-WWII size.   That would mean that our current Army strength of 520,000 would be cut to 440,000- 450,000 soldiers.  If the sequestration cuts are not rescinded by Congress, this number could be reduced to 420,000.  This would all take place within the next four years.

In effect, the Army would lose six brigade combat teams by 2019, leaving only 28 brigade combat teams.   To put this into perspective, there would be less people in the entire Army, than we had in Iraq during the first Iraqi war.

Additionally, the National Guard would be trimmed by 20,000 and the Army Reserve by 10,000.  This would result in 335,000 in the National Guard and a mere 195,000 in the Army Reserve.

Here is the clincher.  The Pentagon realizes that this would not be enough soldiers to fight even one major ground war.  Really?  Then why do it.  Have we learned nothing from our past history?  Are you not watching what is happening in the Ukraine?  Do you think that North Korea has changed its national anthem to ‘kumbaya?’  We appear  willing to commit our military into every ‘who gives a   Crap-i-stan’ in the world.  And the scariest of all: have you not observed the increase in the Chinese military?  (The Chinese navy is now larger than our Navy.  It may not be as modern, but they are rapidly closing that gap.)

This concerns me on so many levels that I am sure I could write a book about it.  Let me preface this by saying I am a retired officer from the Army and Army National Guard.  Like most military men and women, I felt my branch was the best branch.  Even though we have inter-service rivalries, I reached a staff level which allowed me to appreciate that every branch is necessary for a good, combined, winning team.  Each branch has their strengths.

I was a Cold War soldier.  Most of the war plans were for the defense of Western Europe from the invading Communist hoard.  The Cold War got pretty hot!  But I am intelligent enough to know that things drastically changed after September 11, 2001.  The face of the enemy has changed.  The battlefield has changed.  It does not mean that all our enemies have evaporated and disappeared.

How does this segue into my story about my former hometown?  Like the city administrator wanting to eliminate the fire department, our federal government is willing to reduce our Army to the brink of ineffectiveness.  I consider the fire department vital to the city and I wholeheartedly recognize the Army being vital to our national defense.  After all, our federal government was formed for two reasons, national defense and foreign trade.  It was not formed for the Departments of Education or Energy.  All those other expensive departments were later add-ons.

Here is the breakdown of the monies received by the three principle branches of the military.  Care to make a guess which branch gets the most?  Well, at number three on the list is the Army. They receive about $130 billion.  Next, at number two would be the Army Air Corps, today known as the Air Force. (I could not resist this jab at my zoomie friends!)  They receive $144 billion.  The number one service branch is the Navy with a budget of $156 billion.

I am a firm believer that there are many other advantages in maintaining a strong defense other than the obvious role of protecting our country.

The military has provided a springboard for aliens that have wanted to become American citizens.  I know some of these people.  They served in the military and obtained their citizenship.  They are some of the most dedicated, patriotic, productive American citizens that I know.  (Of course, this was some time ago.  Today we let illegal aliens invade our country, vote, and take advantage of our generosity, ie. welfare, Medicaid, scholarships, etc., without contributing anything to our country.)

Not all young people have the maturity to decide what they want from life immediately after they graduate from high school.  Many young people have matured, learned, and accepted responsibility while serving in the military.  I had plenty of young soldiers serve with me who absolutely loved the regimentation they had in the military.  They knew when they would eat, do P.T, sit in class, or perform their duties.  They loved it because it was contrary to the ‘hippy commune’ unregimented lifestyle that they had at home.  Strange, but true.

Many young people learn a marketable skill while in the military.  Once they are out, they can find gainful employment.  In the same vein, some choose to go to college or vocational schools with the assistance of any GI benefits that they may have earned.  They, too, become productive, contributing Americans.

I have often thought that ‘mandatory military’ would not be such a bad thing in our country.  Many countries have it.  Switzerland and Israel are the two prime examples.  Need proof?  Ask any military veteran if they were better off or worse off after being in the military.  I will guarantee you that 99% will say that they benefitted from their military experience.  They may not want to repeat the military, but most will admit that it made them a better person.

(It is difficult not to respect and salute our flag after having served under it.  Even though I enjoy the show Duck Dynasty, I get upset when I see Willy Robertson using a flag for a sweat band.!)

So how do we fund the Army specifically or our military in general so we can put a halt to the downsizing?

Well, the Department of Agriculture has a budget of $146 billion!  That’s larger than the Army budget!  Of course, $80 billion goes to the bloated food stamp program and much of the balance goes to farm subsidies.

We could eliminate the Department of Energy and save $33 billion.  The bulk of that budget is for alternate energy resources development. I view that as being the responsibility of private industry.  If there is money to be made, they will do it.

The Department of Education swallows $57 billion.

But most people do not realize that the budget for the Treasury Department is $500 billion!  That is more than the three principle service branches combined!  You are familiar with the Treasury Department.  They are responsible for paying the interest on our national debt.  This year, that interest on our debt amounts to $195 billion!   They are also the kind folks that fund the IRS Army!  The IRS Army cost the United States about the same amount as the US Army!  Holy Crap!

While the US Army was fighting terrorists on foreign soil, the IRS Army was fighting the Tea Party on American soil.  What is wrong with that picture?

The lesson to be learned?  The next time we have a conflict on foreign soil, send the IRS Army!  They may be bigger than the US Army after the proposed troop reductions.

We need to get our priorities in order and our spending in check!

Right-vs-wrong

Doing Right or Doing Wrong – How Difficult Can it Be?

As I was growing up during my preteen years, life and choices were pretty simple.

Vanilla or chocolate?

TV or a movie?

Indoors or outdoors?

Pie or cake?

Then I got older and choices became a little more difficult.

Blond, brunette or redhead?

Clarinet or drums?

Football, basketball or both?

Linda or Mary?

Ah – the sweet innocence and simplicity of my youthful years.

Then I reached the age of twelve and life went to hell!  That is when my Mom’s parents decided I needed religion – and lots of it!  They would pick me up on a Saturday, drive me twelve miles to their house, and then force me to attend church another five miles away.  In the early 60s, those miles represented ‘importation’ of religion.

This routine was wholeheartedly endorsed by my parents.

When my grandparents could not get me for these weekly jaunts to heaven, they made sure I attended church in my hometown.  This was much preferred by me, as many of my classmates attended the same church.  I was able to do the local church sessions quite often during the school year, but the summers were spent avoiding hell twelve miles away.  No school meant no excuses.

One of the religious lessons that I was subjected to was that once you reached the age of thirteen, the Good Book (that would be the Bible, not Playboy) said that you were an adult.  Thus you became wholly responsible for your own actions.  Holy crap!  I was a late bloomer!  Did God take that into consideration when deciding your eternal fate?

About the time I was 12 1/2 years old, I hardly got a good night’s sleep.  I was consumed with thoughts of my impending responsibilities.  No happy birthday that year!  I was not looking forward to the red carpet walk of becoming a teenager.   I was convinced I would only live about a week after that dreaded birthday, before God sent a bolt of lightning right up my ass!   I survived.

The truth be known, I actually did enjoy some of my church time.  There were other kids my age attending church.  I did learn a smidgeon of information from the Bible.  I got a pretty good handle on Christian principles.   But the lesson that I really learned was the difference between ‘right and wrong.’

Looking back at my early exposure to church religion, I realize two things.  Firstly, after growing up in a Midwestern state where the cold, nasty winters lasted about six months a year, maybe a warm hell would not be that bad after all!  With any luck, maybe hell is located halfway between Orlando and Miami.

Secondly, my sister, who is four years younger than me, was never forced into the same religious exile experience at my grandparents’ church.  Isn’t that reverse sexist discrimination?  Either that, or they thought my sister as one of ‘Satan’s mistresses’  early in her life.

‘Right or wrong’ should be a pretty easy and understandable concept.  Parenting, schooling and  religion all form the basis for this concept.

So why don’t our federally elected representatives understand this concept?  Let me provide an example.

The House of Representatives is the legislative body that is to propose our annual federal budget.  Ideally,  this proposed budget would go to the Senate and on to the POTUS for signing.  The federal government runs on a fiscal year from October 1 to September 30.  This year, even though the beginning of the next government fiscal year is less than six months away, only one person has proposed a budget – Representative Paul Ryan (R) Wisconsin.  You remember Ryan.  He was Mitt Romney’s running mate in the last presidential election.

At first, this does not appear to be any big deal.  But last week, the media reported that no US Representative was going to put forth any budget proposal this year.

One would have to believe that the House of Representatives knows what is right and what is wrong in this situation.  What is right is that our government should be operating on an approved budget. (A balanced budget would be a bonus!)  That is their job!

Why is this not happening?

Please refer to Rule 1 of Grandpa T’s rules of politics.   Grandpa T’s rule number one is:  “An elected politician’s primary objective is to get reelected.”  Don’t be misled into thinking an elected politician’s primary objective is to represent his/her constituents or do what is right for America.  Those concerns become secondary after experiencing the aphrodisiac of power.

This year is a mid-term election year.  Not one Representative, either conservative or liberal, wants to propose a budget and be seen in the crosshairs of public opinion and media scrutiny.  These people know what is right, and they know what is right for America.  They are too cowardly to do what is right.

Paul Ryan’s budget proposal is already under fire.  The conservatives say it is not conservative enough.  Ryan’s budget proposal balances the budget by 2024.  The conservatives want the budget balanced by 2019.  Both Paul Ryan and the conservatives want to do it by cutting back on all government spending, specifically by neutering the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) and by retailoring the Medicare program.  The conservative’s proposal would be to offer seniors a lump-sum amount to purchase their own health care program, thus taking the first steps to get the federal government out of the health care business.  Amen, brother!!!

The liberals, on the other hand, are jumping for joy that some audacious conservative would offer a proposed budget.  Why?  So they can tear it apart!  They, in conjunction with the liberal media,  will   try to convince voters that all kinds of bad things will happen to our country and to its population, if those mean, nasty, tight-wad, impassionate conservatives get their budget.

This budget proposal also becomes a detractor from the current administration’s failures.  Benghazi is still an issue.  Obamacare appears to be a tremendous failure. The government keeps tooting its horn over the number of enrollees, but how many of those enrollees have written a check?   Our foreign policy is a joke in light of Putin attempting to reconstruct the old Soviet empire.  Really?  Putting economic sanctions on some of Putin’s close friends is going to bring Russia to its knees in the Crimea?  Those Russians are laughing so hard, they are crying tears into their vodka!

I will give Ryan credit for at least having the fortitude to propose a budget.  (Do you ever wonder what a Romney presidency would have been?  All those smart MBAs in cabinet positions with a surefire plan to get our country out of its financial malaise?  Business-experienced people reaffirming our capitalistic principles?  People that would defend the Constitution rather than attempting to circumvent it?  One can only wonder.  Where do you think that alternative outcome would have us today?)

Here is another failure of our current administration that keeps getting swept under the carpet.  Lois Lerner.  You know who she is.  She was the Commissioner of the IRS during the Tea Party scandal.

Ms. Lerner was on administrative leave and receiving her full pay, which in the first four years of her tenure totaled $740,000 in salary and bonuses.  Yup, you heard me right.  She got bonuses totally $42,000 over three years.  Could she have gotten these bonuses for subverting the Tea Party movement prior to the 2012 national election?  She has since retired last fall, receiving a $50,000 per year retirement.  Not a bad retirement for a four year tenure!

What is a travesty is that Ms. Lerner used her position of authority and the power of her agency to trample the First Amendment rights of a large portion of our citizenry.  She has appeared before two Congressional inquiries, utilizing her Fifth Amendment rights, thus offering no reason or excuses for her actions.

What is right and what is wrong concerning Ms. Lerner?

What would have been right would have been for the administration to fire her, thus stripping her of her pay and retirement.

Why hasn’t anything been done concerning this issue?  Well, you have the President saying that there is no indication that anything illegal was done by the IRS during Ms. Lerner’s tenure.  There was some conjecture that the Attorney General would investigate.  That would be imprudent.  If California represented the far left politically and Maine represented the far right politically, then Eric Holder’s political beliefs would be geographically located somewhere near Guam!

I believe that nothing has been actively done by this administration concerning Ms. Lerner, because  her actions were guided by someone in the administration.  You can draw your own conclusions as to whom.  Personally, I believe Lois Lerner should be brought up on charges of treason.  She used her agency to declare war on a segment of our citizenry and to trample on their First Amendment rights.  She subverted our democratic principles in order to assist an administration in its efforts to remain in power.  She ‘fixed’ an election by stifling political opposition.   Any dictator would be proud!

It appears the concept of ‘right or wrong’ is much more difficult than I was raised to believe.  It is obvious to me that some of the people in this administration should have been required to attend church with my grandparents. These ‘leaders’ should have been forced to learn the difference between ‘right and wrong.”   But then again, the POTUS does not attend church.  Hmmmm.