Posts Tagged ‘Government’

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Political Monday – Guns, Driving and Our Rights

January 28, 2013

freecopyofusconstitutionI posted a couple of years ago something regarding gun ownership and the Second Amendment(click here to read). Here are some follow on thoughts:

OK, I admit it, the NRA is right, guns do not kill people, people kill people. Of course, you might at well say cars do not cause road fatalities, people cause road fatalities and accept that as true too. Let’s do that, let’s accept they are equally true and treat them as equals. Here are some of the points being considered recently on just how we make them equal:

You want to drive a car, you have to pass a written test. 
    How about passing a written test to own a gun? 
You want to drive a car, you have to pass a driving proficiency 
road test. 
    How about passing a shooting proficiency shooting range test?
You want to drive a car, you have to carry liability insurance.
    How about carrying liability insurance to use a gun?
You want to drive a car, you follow the rules of the road.
    How about setting the same sort of rule structure for responsible 
    gun ownership?
You want to drive anything other than a basic car, you must have 
a special license, CDL & motorcycle, for example.
    How about having special licenses for specialized weapons 
    like assault rifles?

We all know driving and gun ownership are not the same thing. Cars and guns serve very different purposes in our lives, but both carry risks and both enjoy some level of legal protection. Wile the right to drive is one of our unenumerated rights, gun ownership is written directly into our Constitution.

In fact, the Supreme Court decided gun ownership is a fundamental right, but that does not mean there are no rules regarding guns. After all, we do not treat

1920s Machinegun Ad

1920s machine-gun Ad

owning a Thomson sub-machine gun the same as owning a Remington Model 870 Wingmaster. There was a time when they were treated the same. Hell, back then you could buy the Thompson as easy as you could a BB-gun. It was decided that allowing automatic weapons in the general population was simply too dangerous, so we modified our fundamental right to own a gun with some rules.

That is not to say you cannot own machine gun now, you can. All you have to do is obtain the pertinent federal license and follow the special rules that come with owning a weapon like a machine gun. In other words, to exorcise the fundamental right to own a machine gun, you must exorcise the fundamental responsibilities that come with it.

Regulating driving a car aids in safe driving and promotes another fundamental right – to live. Regulating gun ownership is no different on that point. We recognize the differences between driving an 18-wheel semi tractor-trailer and a Toyota Prius by having regulations for each. All I ask is for gun ownership to be treated the same way. Does anyone really think owning weapons capable of killing dozens of fellow citizens in a minute is any less dangerous than a Tommy-gun?

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Political Monday: Dealing with Cuts in Defense

May 28, 2012

As the United States looks to reduce its overall budget deficit, it is natural for conservatives and liberals to push for cuts in areas outside their own interests. Generally speaking, for conservatives, it’s social programs.  For liberals, it’s defense spending.  Over the next few weeks, I will be writing about various areas of cuts and try to step beyond the “politics as usual” and look for what is really going on.  To that end, a look at a small sliver of proposed defense spending cuts sheds some light on the subject.

Andrea Shalal-Esa of Reuters reported on the effects of proposed cuts at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, Lima Tank Plant, in Lima Ohio[i], on the local Lima economy.  It is well worth your time to read her article as it takes spending cuts down to a personal level.  While Andrea’s article is politically neutral, I think stories like this will be the fodder for the current political season.  Unfortunately, both political camps will miss the point of her story; budget cuts have real impact on individuals.

Upon reflection though, I think the real culprit in this situation is the company running the Lima facility – General Dynamics.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I am very fond of General Dynamics.  I served in the US Navy’s Submarine Service and General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division plays a large role in construction of safe and capable submarines.  That is not to blame them for budget cuts but more in how they react to budget cuts.  We must remember, our military is their customer.  By extension, that makes our government and ultimately, “We The People” their customers.

In business, management has the responsibility to return to investors the maximum amount of profit.  In the Lima case, they entered into a contract to run the facility for the government and produce tanks.  With the winding down of two wars, we have a surplus of tanks.  It is silly to spend over $6 million per tank on new ones, regardless of its impact on the Lima community.  In business, you must make the products the customer needs, not the product you want them to buy.  The question is not what can we do to keep the military buying unneeded tanks but what can we do to manufacture equipment at the facility until the military needs more tanks.  Companies supplying our military have for far too long depended on increased sales to maintain their profitability.  It is time that changes.

General Dynamics knows this.  Their latest acquisition of IPWireless Inc. shows they understand the need to diversify.  So how do we help them keep the Lima plant operational in the near-term?  This is the question our politicians need to answer; this is where their rhetoric fails.  The plant needs to remain operational in regards to manufacturing but idol in regards to building tanks.

The point is, it is not a political question as much as it is a one of practicality.  We need the ability to manufacture tanks but we cannot afford to pay for tanks just to keep the plant working.  Just off the top of my head, one obvious task the plant can take on is refitting and refurbishing tanks for overhaul.  As the number return from our combat zones, they will overwhelm the depot-level repair facilities.  Another task might be the recycling of tanks that reach the end of their planned life cycle.  It is up to General Dynamics to find useful work to keep their employees working, not the federal government.  Of course, it is in the government’s best interest to assist them in finding such tasking.

Another point to keep in mind when you hear a politician blast the opposing party for their lack of leadership on this particular issue, neither party shows any leadership.  The conservatives simply want to keep buying new weapons, the budget be damned, and the liberals want to slash production without thinking about the long-term effect on our national security.  Of course, I generalize but you get the point.

Today is Memorial Day.  Perhaps it is fitting to take on this subject on a day we honor the brave men and women that have kept our nation safe since before we were even an independent country.  We owe it to them, and the current men and women keeping us safe to spend each penny wisely.  We must give them the equipment they need.  We need to be frugal so we can afford to do just that.  Wasteful spending is just as unpatriotic as not spending at all.  We need companies like General Dynamics to do their part and keep the Lima plant open and working so, they can respond quickly when the demand for tanks returns.  We need their creativity to find ways to keep it operational.  This will make General Dynamics a true partner to our freedom and not just the beneficiary of unbridled defense spending.

 

 


[i] Shalal-Esa, Andrea. “U.S. Defense Cuts Hit Home at Ohio Tank Plant.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 24 May 2012. Web. 28 May 2012.
<http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/24/us-usa-defense-ohio-idUSBRE84N1DW20120524>.

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It really is a World Wide Web

March 13, 2012

I was just checking the statistics for my website. Since the beginning of the year my blog page has been visited 2,373 time from 34 different countries from all the continents, except for Antarctica of course. It really does show the ability of the web to disseminate information around the world. No wonder governments feel the need to control it, they recognize it power, power they can’t control.

Sort of hard to think I can write something, and a hour later it is being read by people in Indonesia.

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America’s Radical Tradition

January 21, 2012

Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull

Contrary to popular belief, we are a nation of radicals.  We always have been.  Perhaps the most radical group of Americans we have produced is the first group we identify as Americans, our Founding Fathers.     Today, we tend to think of this group as some sort of homogenous mixture of men that gently formed a nation.  Nothing is further from the truth and we have many lessons to learn by understanding them and then embracing our own inner radical.

It is easy to look back and think of our Founding Fathers as elder statesmen working together for the common good, sort of a picture of everyone rowing the boat in the same direction.  Famous quotes, like Franklin’s “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately,”[i] tend to support a single-minded view of the group.  In reality, it shows something else, the need to persuade.  While the origin of the quote is dubious, it sounds like a remark Franklin would make to bolster John Hancock’s attempt to gain unanimous support for The Declaration of Independence as anything less would get them killed.   It illustrates the need to set aside petty differences in support of a larger good.  In this case, the larger good was winning independence from Great Britain and that was a truly radical and treasonous undertaking.

There were basically three types of colonial citizen at the time, those for independence, those against it, and those that simply did not care.  While the Founding Fathers were certainly in the latter group after July 2th, 1776, the day they voted for independence, it was not the case mere days before.  All wanted relief but what form was hotly debated.  Some wanted to keep the king and have their own parliament.  Some wanted nothing more than changes in law.  Still, others wanted independence and the ability to define and craft their own destiny.  It is, of course, the latter view that won the day.

The remarkable thing is with such diametrically opposed views as committing treason and requesting relief are, our Founding Fathers came together and spoke in a single voice to address the issues they faced.  The choice they agreed upon was the most radical one – independence through war.   Our Founding Fathers were indeed radical is pursuing relief from the problems they faced.

The radical nature of our national founders did not change when they gained independence, far from it.  Even during the Revolution, member of the Second Continental Congress did not agree on the relative strength the federal government required.  After the war, this division of thought, along with apathy, became so pronounced it effectively crippled the government formed by the Articles of Confederation.[ii]   In less than ten years after the Revolution, our government made another radical change replacing The Articles of Confederation with The Constitution of the United States. Again, our Founding Fathers proved themselves willing to make, what at the time, were radical and controversial changes.

Of course, being the radicals that they were, not everyone was happy with the Constitution.  In fact, there was tremendous doubt if it would be adopted.  Again, the words of Benjamin Franklin proved pivotal.  Age and years of service prevented Franklin from reading his speech.  On the last day of the Constitutional Convention he had fellow Pennsylvanian; James Wilson read it which opens:

Ben Franklin, by David Martin

“I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.”[iii]

Even Franklin, as radical as he was, understood the need to put nation first and compromise for the greater good.  Even so, others, like George Mason, could not bring themselves to vote for the Constitution.   In his mind, the changes did not provide states and individuals the necessary protection from the federal government.   Three years later, his dogged tenacity lead to the adoption of The Bill of Rights, again, a very radical move by a Founding Father.

Franklin and Mason are perfect examples of Founding Fathers as radicals, as they were radicals to a point.  They defended their radical views all the while working on compromises when required.  Even on large moral issues, like slavery, both men saw the necessity to compromise.  Without that, the Constitution would never have been ratified.   The proof of their wisdom in compromising is evidenced by the Civil War some seventy-years later.

By the time the Civil War began all our Founding Fathers had long passed away.  Still the nature of Americans as radicals is very evident in Abraham Lincoln.  Even before the war, Lincoln did not shy away from radical politics.  As the Whig Party was irreparably split over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln became a driving force behind the formation of the modern Republican Party and its radical view to abolish slavery.

Among the members of the new Republican Party there were differences on how to achieve the goal to end slavery.  Some like John Frémont opposed Lincoln’s approach to slavery and even formed what is called the “Radical Republicans[iv]” within the Republican Party.  Lincoln’s approach was first to limit slavery, Frémont’s was to end it out right.  While it was easy then for people to jump on the Frémont bandwagon, Lincoln took a similar approach to slavery as the Founding Fathers.  It was not until the emancipation proclamation in 1863, a full

Abraham Lincoln, by A. Gardner

year and eight month after the start of the war, ending slavery became a central issue of the war.   Again, we had a dynamic leader with a radical view, tempered by what he perceived as the greater need of the nation.  It was not until President Lincoln believed ending slavery was the only way to preserve the union he accepted that as a goal of the war.

Think about it, in the 1860s, the Republican Party was the liberal-progressive party the party backing a powerful federal government while the Democrats held the conservative view of state’s rights and argued for weaker federal control.  It would take the economic disaster of the Great Depression to lead us to the political parties as we know them today.

As liberal-progressives, Republicans were successful with many programs labeled as Democratic today.  For instance in 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt negotiated with United Mine workers for more pay and fewer hours to end a strike.  In 1906 he signed the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act.  According to the National Park Service,

“he signed legislation establishing five national parks: Crater Lake, Oregon; Wind Cave, South Dakota; Sullys Hill, North Dakota (later re-designated a game preserve); Mesa Verde, Colorado; and Platt, Oklahoma (now part of Chickasaw National Recreation Area). Another Roosevelt enactment had a broader effect, however: the Antiquities Act of June 8, 1906. While not creating a single park itself, the Antiquities Act enabled Roosevelt and his successors to proclaim historic landmarks, historic or prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest in federal ownership as national monuments.”[v]

It’s hard to believe President Roosevelt is seen as one of the most successful Republican presidents of all times given his progressive policies.

In a way it is understandable that Roosevelt held progressive views.  The nation was in the midst of the Progressive Era[vi].  The dates of the era ran from around 1890 until the Great Depression’s beginning in 1929 with two periods separated by World War I.  The movement had both Republican and Democratic supporters.  After President Roosevelt, the next progressive to make radical change was Woodrow Wilson.

Besides being President during World War I, President Wilson was the moving force behind the creation of the League of Nations, the first international organization dedicated to maintain world peace.  This radical effort by Wilson is the first time the United States joined an organization with the authority of binding arbitration over its members.  His administration pushed through the Federal Reserve Act, Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act and federal income tax.  He later gave enthusiastic support to women’s suffrage.  President Wilson was the last president elected while the Democratic Party held conservative views of individual freedom and states’ rights.

World War I left a national debt increased by almost 90%.  Over the next twelve years Republican’s took a fiscally conservative stance and reduced the federal deficit by 50%. With the election of Warren G. Harding, the modern Republican stance on less business interference from government took hold.  He is quoted as saying, “less government in business and more business in government.”[vii]    In pushing a business friendly, smaller government platform, the Republicans took a radical stance but one in the conservative direction.  While effective in reducing the deficit as well as establishing a comprehensive federal budget, the radical shift in governance set the stage for the Great Depression.

At this time, politics went through a sort of paradigm shift.  The voting blocs of the Progressive Era were swept away and support for the business leaning Republicans plummeted.  1933 marked the beginning of the New Deal Era and caused the states’ rights Democrats to flee the party and join the remaining conservative Republicans.  1933 began to radically reshape both parties into the blocs and collations we recognize today. In broad terms, this is the point where Republicans are defined as conservative or the Right and Democrats as liberal or the Left.

With the Great Depression raging like a wildfire and the election of Franklin Roosevelt, that country was ripe for radical change and the New Deal gave them the change they demanded.  Roosevelt’s support for social change galvanized the Democratic Party as the home of social liberals.  To deal with the Depression, Roosevelt proposed three major efforts, Relief, Recovery, and Reform.  The Three Rs, as they became known, put Keynesian economic theory[viii] into practice and was an extremely radical departure from prior governmental practices.  It produced the most dramatic change in governance since the Civil War.

Herblock March 29, 1950 cartoon that originally defined McCarthyism

America’s radical mood swings were put on hold in 1941.  With Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ entry into World War II, the war effort became the overriding event that dominated the political landscape.  More than any other time in US History, World War II marks the period where we thought as one and put our political differences aside.

After the war, these differences once again surfaced and our nature as radicals once again reigned supreme.  Post-war international posturing directly impacted radicalism within the United States.  With the Soviet Union exporting communism across Eastern Europe fear gripped much of the nation and gave rise to political death by accusation and the witch-hunts of McCarthyism[ix].  Though Senator Joseph McCarthy’s personal influence ended with his censure by the Senate in 1954, the lingering effect of McCarthyism still raises its ugly head from time to time.  It serves as one of the few example where a radical view produced real damage to America before the tempering hand of opposing views pulled back the reins.

After the Korean War (1950 – 1953) and the excesses of McCarthyism, Americans were in the mood to relax and pursue personal interest.  Politically, President Eisenhower was ready to give it to them.  While working to reduce the rate of federal spending, he pushed to continue and improve upon many of the New Deal social programs put forward by President Roosevelt.  Under Eisenhower, the largest federal public works program in history.[x]  While there is really nothing radical about that, it is radical thinking from t the leader of the Republican Party.   Again, showing radical action can produce beneficial results.

During the 1960s, Vietnam and the Counter Culture dominated American politics.  Starting with President Kennedy’s 1962 declaration:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too,”[xi]

and ending with Neil Armstrong’ statement in 1969:

Foot Print, Apollo 11 Crew, NASA

 “That’s one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind.”[xii]

In the 60s, America passed through one of its greatest periods of radical ideas.  President Kennedy’s bold radical statement was not back up by technology at the time.  In truth, no one knew if it was possible or not.  Still, he defined a daring and bold goal and the country answered the call.  Bright lights of radical thinking burned in the 60s, President Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  to name a few.  Of course, other radicals made headlines in the 60s as well; names like Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan, and James Earl Ray show radical thinking has a very ugly and evil side as well.

Richard Nixon certainly had radical views about what he could and could not do as president, ultimately leading to his resignation.  Still, if you look beyond his paranoid excesses, you see an effective president that suggested radical social reforms including a healthcare plan that is very similar to one put into effect some forty years later.

Nixon was the last of the fiscal Republican elected as President in the 20th century.  From this point forward, Republican presidents followed the social conservative model put forward by Senator Barry Goldwater.  In radical departure from the post-World War II mainstream Republican, the election of Ronald Reagan revived the basic ideals of laissez-faire[xiii] governance at the same time expanding the military in the largest peace-time buildup in history.  His approach reduced taxes but failed to reduce overall federal spending resulting in a 61% increase in the national debt.

Radical thinking at the end of the 20th century seems somewhat stilted compared to icons of radical thinking like Franklin and FDR.  Now, we focus on radical thinking as a negative rather than a force of change.  Still, weather good or bad, we have our radical thinkers.  We have past presidents, like Bill Clinton and both Bushs stepping away from politics and working together around the world for the greater good.  What could me more radical than that?

Overall, America has a tradition and history with radical thinking.  We seem to always reinvent who we are and how we move forward.  Listening to politicians, they tend to paint as being radical in nature while not accepting their own views are rooted in a radical tradition.  It is a convenient smoke screen for them to hide behind while they bash other’s opinions all the while avoiding explaining their own.  It’s time for us, all of us, to embrace our radical nature and accept different ideas, then judge which ideas we need to support and move forward.


[i] Franklin, Benjamin. Famous Quotes at BrainyQuote. 19 Jan. 2012 <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/benjaminfr151597.html>.

[ii] Washington, George. “Letter to George Clinton, September 11, 1783.” Loc.gov. The Library of Congress. 19 Jan. 2012
<
http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mgw:@field%28DOCID+@lit%28gw270170%29%29>.

[iii] Franklin, Benjamin. “Speech.” Constitutional Convention. 17 Sept. 1787.  The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net. 20 Jan. 2012 <http://www.usconstitution.net/franklin.html>.

[iv] “Radical Republican (American history) — Britannica Online Encyclopedia.” Encyclopedia – Britannica Online Encyclopedia. 19 Jan. 2012 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/488729/Radical-Republican>

[v] “National Park Service History: Theodore Roosevelt and the National Park System.” National Park Service Cultural Resources Discover History. 19 Jan. 2012 <http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/hisnps/NPSHistory/teddy.htm>.

[vi] “Progressive Era.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 19 Jan. 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_Era>.

[vii] “Warren G. Harding.” The White House. 19 Jan. 2012 <http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/warrenharding>.

[viii] “John Maynard Keynes, Economist.” Maynardkeynes.org. 20 Jan. 2012 <http://www.maynardkeynes.org/maynard-keynes-economics.html>.

[ix] “McCarthyism – Credo Reference Topic.” Credo Reference Home. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://www.credoreference.com/topic/mccarthyism>.

[x] “Interstate Highway System.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_System>.

[xi] Kennedy, John F. “Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort.” Speech. Texas, Houston. 12 Sept. 1962. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Ready-Reference/JFK-Speeches/Address-at-Rice-University-on-the-Nations-Space-Effort-September-12-1962.aspx>.

[xii] Armstrong, Neil. One Small Step. http://www.hq.nasa.gov. NASA, 21 July 1969. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a11/a11.step.html>. Transcript.

[xiii] “laissez-faire.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/328028/laissez-faire>.

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Fix SSI? No Thanks, Just Give Me My Money Back

August 11, 2011

I joined the workforce fulltime in 1980.  That means for thirty-one years I’ve been paying FICA taxes.  Lately, I’ve wondered at what I receive in return for this tax.  While no one likes paying any tax, the necessity of financing the government requires some sort of tax.  This is where all the arguing begins and politics become life’s only true quagmire.

Rather than getting caught in the endless political debate over this or that tax, let’s look at just how the system actually works compared to how is should work.  The system is overwhelming to look at as a whole so focusing on just FICA allows us to at least see the path through out nation’s taxation swamp.

Just what is FICA anyway?  If you ask someone, they might tell you it is Social Security or it is the money you can’t get back on your tax return.  While correct, there is more to it than that.  FICA stands for the Federal Insurance Contributions Act.  It came to be during President Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.  Back then, it did simply fund Social Security to address three specific issues, retirement, disability due to injury, or congenital disability.  In the 1960s, Medicare and Medicaid were added and the percentage tax increased to cover the additional costs.  So, FICA is a way to fund federal assistance programs for citizens in what is called a “pay-as-you-go” system.

“Pay as you go” simply means our payments today are used for people who paid in before.  There are, of course, exceptions.  No one expects a two-year old to be denied access to this system because they have not paid in yet, but eligibility is a whole other argument – remember, it is a swamp in there.  The idea is this: as our population increases, more people pay the tax and cover the costs of prior generations of workers. Sounds great in theory… in theory!

Had our wonderful elected officials in Washington simply put the system described above in action and invested the money in US Government bonds, it would work.  Of course, that is not what happened.  Rather than buying bonds as most people think of them, they came up with a whole new type of bond that is closer to an IOU than a typical government bond.  The tax we pay for FICA does not go to fund Social Security Issuance (SSI), Medicare, or Medicaid.  It goes to the US Treasury, who writes the IOU-type bond to the various programs concerned.  When one of the programs needs money, they send Treasury a bill.

Here’s the problem.  The Treasury spent the money.  It is a way for our government to use this money for whatever they want and not raise our taxes to do it.  The money has been used for everything from sending men to the moon to fighting wars in far off places.  Now, as more citizens retire or otherwise draw on the programs, the monthly intake in FICA tax no longer covers the outlay.  In other words, the Treasury is paying more to the programs (in principal and interest) than it takes in.  Now, the federal government must take money raised for other uses to pay for the programs they took the money from in years past.

Had they truly invested the money, we would simply be drawing down the participle of our investment.  If in time, more money is needed to cover expenses, the FICA tax would need to increase to cover it.  It would be a case of paying for what we get, or “pay-as-you-go,” the way the system was initially envisioned.

This is also where the argument over “entitlements” begins.  We call them entitlements because we, the citizens that paid into the system, have no property right claim to the money we paid in as we would with some sort of private insurance.  In 1960, the Supreme Court settled the argument.  Congress gave to themselves the authority to add, limit or do away with benefits as it sees fit.  In other words, they took our money; made us a promise and we are powerless to make them keep that promise.

As it stands, the government ran up a huge tab (part of our national debt) by converting the money we paid into FICA, into IOUs the government does not have a legal responsibility to pay.  Of course, not paying it will be political suicide but changes to payments or reducing the payments may be more palatable to the general public.  This is why officials wishing to reduce payments frame the issue as people gaming the system or taking advantage of a system of “entitlements.”  They try to make is seem they want to fix a dysfunctional system while looking after the good of the people.  What they really want is for us to keep paying the money so they can spend on their programs rather than its intended purpose.  They don’t care we paid the money to have these programs.

In the end, I am not against changes to the system.  Especially if the government collects the money, spends it, then complains about paying the system back.    So, there is the truth, the government cannot give me my money back because they spent it on things none of us gave them permission to spend it on.  If anyone of us tried that; we would be put in jail for embezzlement.

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Orwell or Huxley, Different Sides of the Same Coin

May 22, 2011

While many writers influence society, few if any, impact modern political thinking more than Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.  Born only nine years apart, both men grew up in the pre-World War I British Empire.  Moreover, Huxley, for a short time, taught French at Eaton College to a young Eric Blair who later took the penname George Orwell.  From this point on, their lives moved in cycles of circular motion rather than parallel, at times agreeing, at others times diametrically opposed.

Both men wrote about social injustice of sorts but approached it from differing directions.  In Orwell’s mind, government controls society in a totalitarian fashion.  In fact, the quote “big brother is watching” comes from his novel 1984.  Huxley, on the other hand, sees personal liberties eroded by a society jaded and overwhelmed with excess exposure and stimulation of unimportant issues.  Perhaps, in the end, we will find both are true with the multinational, multicultural society we have today.

It is common today to see comparisons of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World boiled down to Orwell fear of a government that bans books and  Huxley’s fear of  a society that chooses not to read them.  While in a broad sense the comparison is true, it does lend itself to Huxley’s fear of people whom cannot be bothered with knowledge in-depth and satisfy themselves with the cursory.  In truth, both theories are intertwined and simply different parts of a larger perplexity.  That is, we as a society are satisfied with filling our minds with stupidly numbing trivia, all the while our freedoms erode.  It is the modern-day equivalent to Nero fiddling while Rome burned.  We are more interested in who Arnold Schwarzenegger screwed over a decade ago than the very serious issue of our national debt, or the wars we are fighting overseas.

Perhaps we are well on the way to the world Orwell predicted in 1984 and it is with the compliancy Huxley points out in Brave New World used as the roadmap.  For a government to control its citizens, as in 1984, they must be pacified.  Nazi Germany pacified its citizens through fear and intimidation but their primary passivity stems from a post-World War I government that simply degenerated into chaos.  This chaos created apathy and set the stage for a government with totalitarian goals.

With a different set of particulars, are we not on the same road today?  In Orwell’s thinking, such a government keeps the truth from its citizens.  In Huxley’s thinking, there is no need as its citizens are only interested in the superficial.  For instance, when the Cable News Network (CNN) began in 1980, it started the 24-hour, continuous news cycle.  As other broadcasters followed, competition required stations to via for ratings and advertising dollars.  Soon, daily news was more about keeping viewers with entertainment than news itself.  Soon, the line between the two blurred and now a valid news item becomes mixed with trivia and intrigue.  We no longer see the difference and our government freely hides information we need within the background noise we don’t.  We are setting the stage for an apathy that will allow our government to steal our freedom as easily as pickpocket unknowingly steals a wallet.  By the time we figure it out, the wallet of freedom is long gone.

That is not to imply some vast conspiracy on the part of governments or corporations.  No, it is our own unwillingness to seek information in-depth and question what we see that drives us to fulfill this Orwell-Huxley future.  If we watch shows like Jersey Shore instead of 60-Minutes, we will see more shows like the former and even the latter will change its format to include such fluff to remain relevant.  That is not the fault of government or broadcasters.  It is our fault; it is societies fault.

When we wake up and find an Orwellian government in place, it is because we now live in Huxley’s view of society.  We need to step back from our over-stimulated, under-informed lives and demand more from our government and news organizations in the way of valid information.  Otherwise we will go beyond Orwell’s bad dream and enter a Kafkaesque nightmare.

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The Death of Senate Bill 987

December 23, 2010

In May of 2009, Illinois Senator Dick Durban introduced bill 987 to the Senate[i].  As bills go, it is relatively small, only ten pages, with an estimated cost of $108 million over the next five years.  While $108 million is nothing to scoff at, the all too common bills in the billion and trillion ranges dwarf it.  From its heft in paper and its cost, the bill is unremarkable.

What makes S-987 special is the contents of its mere ten pages.  The title alone illustrates its importance – “The International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010.”  While it is an awkward name, it simply defines what constitutes child marriage, states the United States is against the practice, requires the collecting a reporting on statistics regarding it, and requires the President to develop a policy in dealing with the international problems of child marriage and to discourage it.

Who could be against such a bill?  In fact, it is one of the rare, extremely rare, bills to receive unanimous support in the Senate.  Forty-two senators went so far as to co-sponsor the bill[ii].  Its passage in the house seemed a sure thing.  That is until Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida’s 18th District set her sights on its defeat.  In other words, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is against such a bill.

An article by Josh Rogin in the Cable cites a letter Rep. Ros-Lehtinen circulated to her Republican colleagues urging them to vote against the bill based on cost[iii], something that every representative, not just the Republican ones, should take into consideration.  After all, with our current fiscal mess, can we afford $21.6 million a year, for the next five years, to prevent children married off before they are old enough to decide for themselves?  Every single senator thought so.  Even a majority of representatives agreed we could afford it.  Given that, it is truly remarkable the bill did not pass the House of Representatives.

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi set the stage for defeat when she brought the bill to the House floor under a procedural maneuver known as “suspension of the rules.”  It basically prevents amendments to a particular bill but requires a 2/3 majority to pass.  It is normally used for issues like naming of a post office or federal building.  In the case of S-987, its use proved fatal.

Having lost her argument of cost, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen employed the sure-fire method of whipping up the GOP base, she claimed it will use federal money to pay for abortions; something the bill, prevented by law[iv], cannot do.  To put is another way, she lied.  The net effect of the lie was energizing the Pro-life right-wing of the Republican Party against supporting the bill.  They had enough votes to undermine the 2/3 majority required and effectively killed the bill.

A large portion of the blame for the bill’s defeat belongs to Speaker Pelosi.  Had she not played parliamentary tricks with the bill and allowed normal debate, the most likely outcome would have been the bill becoming law.  While there can be no excuse for Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s lie, we can at least understand she resorted to it having been denied her say in the matter.

That last part is the real point.  We send people to Washington to do our bidding.  When the use of trickery and procedural posturing deny a member their say, a member will use trickery of their own in response.  That is the sad state of affairs in the U.S. Congress.  Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s concerns needed exploration.  Given the number of fiscally conservative senators sponsoring the bill, answering the concerns of representatives should have been easy.  Instead, we now have a representative that is a liar and a leader in the House that bends the rules to deny rightful debate.

Unfortunately, there is little chance things will change when the new leadership takes over.  Given the polarization of the two dominate parties such posturing will only increase, leaving us with a government that is incapable of getting the simplest things done.  Belligerence in politics only produces short-term gains, never lasting results that serve the best interests of a nation.  That is the point that neither Speaker Pelosi or Rep. Ros-Lehtinen seem to understand.


[i] “Text of S.987 as Referred in House: International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010 -… OpenCongress.” OpenCongress – Track Bills, Votes, Senators, and Representatives in the U.S. Congress. Web. 23 Dec. 2010. <http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-s987/text>.

[ii] “Bill Summary & Status – 111th Congress (2009 – 2010) – S.987.” THOMAS (Library of Congress). Web. 23 Dec. 2010. <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:S.987:>.

[iii] Rogin, By Josh. “How Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Killed the Bill to Prevent Forced Child Marriages | The Cable.” The Cable | FOREIGN POLICY. Web. 23 Dec. 2010. <http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/12/17/how_ileana_ros_lehtinen_killed_the_bill_to_prevent_forced_child_marriages>.

[iv] “USAID Health: Family Planning, Policy, Restrictions on Support for Abortions.” U.S. Agency for International Development. Web. 23 Dec. 2010. <http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/pop/restrictions.html>.

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