On Running Your Own Government, Or, Why Pay The Military?

I have not been talking about the insanity around the debt ceiling and debt and deficit and the efforts of Republicans to drive us all off the cliff, but I am today – and I’m going to do it by allowing you to grab ahold of this problem and see for yourself just how unbelievably bad this manufactured crisis is going to be.

You will hear a lot of conversation about the consequences from others; today, however, you are going to get the chance to be both the President and the Secretary of the Treasury, and you will get to decide for yourself exactly what bills the Federal Government should and should not pay as the cash runs out if a deal is not made by the time borrowing authority runs out.

At that point you’ll be able to see what’s coming for yourself – and once you do, you won’t need me to tell you what ugly is going to look like.

“…no state has the right to secede unless it wishes to…[and] it is the President’s duty to enforce the laws, unless somebody opposes him…”

William H. Seward, deprecating President James Buchanan’s efforts to preserve the Union, as quoted in the book Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

So before I go sending you off to take the reins of power, let’s fill you in on a few things that you’ll need to know.

If no one has explained it to you yet, the Great Big Fuss that is going on right now is set around two issues: there are those who feel that the best way to make this economy better is to ensure that the Federal Government is a smaller player in our economy and not running on a deficit; many of these folks feel the way to achieve this is to make immediate, drastic, cuts in Federal spending.

At the same time, the United States has run up against its “debt limit”. That means the US will be unable to borrow money to fund ongoing government operations, and as you’ll soon see, right now we borrow a lot of the money we need to run today’s Government.

So if you are one of those who seeks to immediately cut Federal spending, you could force that to happen by refusing to allow the Federal Government any more borrowing authority; the fear of what could happen after that is presumably going to force the opposition to accept any deal, no matter how draconian, just to obtain that borrowing authority.

Naturally, the bigger a hostage you’re holding, the more draconian of a deal you hope you can make, and holding the “Full Faith and Credit of the United States” hostage is about as big as it gets; that’s why the Republicans are pushing for everything right this very second, from the end of Medicare and Medicaid to the right to mine uranium right next door to the Grand Canyon.

So with all that in mind, let’s talk money.

In the month of August, the Federal Government is expected to take in $172.4 billion.

There will be a mess of bills that are coming due during the month; that amount totals $306.7 billion, and that means about 44% of the bills must go unpaid.

Where’s that money go?

The Big Five are interest on current debt, which must be paid to avoid a default, payments due to defense contractors, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; the five of those, alone, will be just about $160 billion.

And that leaves $12.4 billion to fund everything else the Federal Government has to do.

That would include the remaining cost of supporting our several wars, the entire Federal law enforcement establishment (for example, the FBI, DEA, ATF, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the TSA, the Border Patrol, the Federal Marshals’ Service and the Bureau of Prisons), the National Parks Service and the Forest Service, the Centers for Disease Control, the Weather Service…well, just about every single thing the Federal Government does, except the Big Five.

So that’s the situation – and now it’s time for you to become the boss and make the choices:

The fine folks at Bloomberg Government have created an interactive tool that allows you to point and click your way to figuring this stuff out.

You will find your spending choices, and you just click on what you want until you run out of money, which the handy bar on the left will manage for you. When the bar turns red…you’re out of money.

“…Each month, I put all my bill collectors’ names in a hat, reach in, and pull out a name. That’s who I pay. If you keep calling here, then your name is not going in the hat next month.”

–Steve Harvey, quoted in October 2003’s Vibe magazine

OK folks, so now you know where to go, and you know what to do, so let’s make something happen.

Take this tool and use it to create a conversation about just what really is at stake, and watch the look on your friends’ faces when you point out that the entire Federal Government is about to go out of business if Republicans have their way.

I’d tell you the looks on their faces would be priceless – but that’s not true.

Absent a debt ceiling deal, the price is actually going to be about $134 billion, which is the money we’re just not going to have next month, when we’re not doing things like paying for the salaries of active-duty servicemembers or food inspectors or the guards out there at the Supermax.

It should be a fun time, all the way around – unless, of course, you’re one of the 300 million or so of us who are gonna get screwed over by it all.

Hitler Holds News Conference, Thanks Balanced Budget Amendment For U.S. Defeat

(FNS – Washington, New Germany, April 17, 1947) America’s new Führer, Adolf Hitler, announced today that his official War History would in fact acknowledge that one of the biggest contributing factors to the defeat of the Allies was the insistence of the former United States of America on sticking to its Balanced Budget Amendment, which left them unable to fund the wartime conversion of the US economy for the benefit of the Alliance.

“All those ideas Mr. Roosevelt spoke of”, said Hitler, “Lend-Lease, modular shipbuilding, War Bonds, secret weapons…in the end, all of them were just words, since the Americans’ Congress was never willing to allow the country to fully fund its war effort.”

As has been previously disclosed, Waffen SS historians have already located caches of documents in Washington describing plans to fund a massive military expansion in the former United States by selling War Bonds.

These debt instruments would have allowed the Roosevelt Administration to spend up to 40% of the Gross Domestic Product of the former Nation in defending itself, the former United Kingdom, and other nations against the Fatherland, but for reasons that are still not well understood Conservative politicians demanded that the former US Government never “take on debt for outsiders”, or, in the words of Mae Cadoodie, leader of the American Tea Party movement, “Never invite a foreign entanglement that raises our taxes”.

Had the Americans been allowed to sell War Bonds, or to raise taxes to fund the War, it is estimated that they could have provided tens of thousands of aircraft, millions of military vehicles, and hundreds of ships, but the Balanced Budget Amendment prevented any of that.

This represents the end of a series of political arguments that had been taking place since the 1930s, when some American economists were suggesting that a new idea called “deficit spending” could be helpful in bringing the former USA out of the Great Depression; at that time the Roosevelt Administration was unable to establish agencies such as the Work Projects Administration, which would have built public works projects throughout the USA in an effort to revive the moribund economy.

Mae Cadoodie and others fought back successfully against these ideas, pointing out that the last thing the US economy needed in a bad economy was new taxes; they made the same arguments when the Roosevelt Administration first proposed Lend-Lease as a war emergency measure.

“We cannot inflict punishing new taxes on American industry at this fragile time in our recovery” Cadoodie said in a famous speech in 1939, “and if the market is really there for this military materiel, if it’s not just some boondoggle manufactured by Roosevelt to take money out of the pockets of the American people, then I’m sure the British will be able to find the funding they need from the markets or from charitable donations”.

Cadoodie was unavailable for comment, as she and most other former American politicians are still serving on the Eastern Front, and will be for the foreseeable future.

In a related story, the conversion of the remainder of the American industrial base is underway for the fight against the Russians, and millions of otherwise unemployed Americans are being drafted into the military services in preparation for the final assault.

On My Last Weekend, Or, Wanna Save A Few Trillion On Health Care?

So I disappeared for a full week, right in the middle of what should have been a busy writing schedule, and I have to claim some “personal days” to cover the time we missed here at the blog – but it won’t be time entirely wasted.

Instead, I’m going to jump into my own personal life for today’s story, and I’m going to do it so that we can stimulate some thinking about where we really need to go to if we ever hope to make some sense out of the crazy way we deliver health care in this country.

Since this appears to be the weekend that a lot of decisions are either going to be made about the future of our “social safety net”…or they wont; we’re entirely unsure…let’s talk about how it actually works for a lot of us – and how it could work a lot better.

But the worst part of the Industrial Revolution – and the part that has never been documented – is what happened to the role of managers. The owners of factories realized they needed a layer of insulation between themselves and the people they were exploiting. They needed the type of people who were incapable of understanding the workers’ pleas for common sense, decency, and safe working conditions. The owners wisely chose managers for these roles.

–Scott Adams, from the book Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook

So as most of you know, I am a blogger, and that means, for better or worse, that this is how I’m trying to make a living – and as a result I, along with about 50,000,000 other Americans, find myself on the DGS Health Plan (never heard of DGS? It’s the “Don’t Get Sick” Health Plan).

So what do I do? The same as a lot of you: I don’t get sick.

And up ‘til now, it’s worked out surprisingly well, even though I weigh more than I should and I have a coke addiction that can see me consuming as much as 2 liters in a single day…but by last Friday I had one of those tooth twinges building up that you know is not going to end up well.

By Friday night things were getting bad enough that I had to tell The Girlfriend that we were very likely to be going to an Emergency Room, if not that night, certainly by morning – unless things cleared up on their own, which, if you’re an optimist, could happen.

So much for optimism.

Midday Saturday we’re in downtown Seattle and I’m waiting in line to be seen by an intake clerk, then a triage nurse, and then a financial counselor, because there’s no way I can really take on a big medical bill.

I’m lucky that Washington State has a “Charity Care Law”; that law requires Washington’s hospitals to accept all comers at the Emergency Room, regardless of ability to pay – and there’s been a considerable increase in demand over the past four years.

(The Department of Health reports that $591 million in such care was provided in ’07, and in the last year for which numbers are available, ’09, the same cost had run up to $846 million; that’s a 43% jump in just two years. The odds are pretty good that the ’10 and ’11 numbers will also show an increase that’s well above the rate of inflation.)

Anyway, after that they showed me to a sort of mini-Emergency Room facility, I was examined by a Medical Student and his Instructor, and they decided that maybe a CAT scan would be a good idea, just to determine exactly how badly and how widespread this infection might be.

I rode the ride, an assessment was made, and it time to offer up my various elbows to my Medical Student, which left me with a couple of bruises that are still healing, and him with a couple of experience points.

More assessment followed the return of the lab results; as a result I was given a prescription of a rather unpleasant antibiotic that I’ll be taking for a few more days, but all in all, for me, things worked out pretty well.

That said…imagine if I lived in Canada.

First thing, I waited longer than I should have with this infection, and if I had a General Practitioner with whom I had an ongoing relationship, I would have gone there at least a day sooner.

That delay imposed a few costs: I had that CAT scan, took up ER time and a mini-ER suite; instead I could have made an office visit, and probably walked out with a prescription for the same antibiotic with a quick exam or just a blood test.

There is no financial counselor in Canadian healthcare – instead, you present your Provincial insurance card, and that’s that. For those not aware, Canadian healthcare, for the most part, works like American care, except there’s only one insurance company, and that’s each Province; they also collect taxes to fund the services.

That means providers only deal with one insurer, and all of that cuts a lot of administrative expenses out of the system. It also means patients never have to worry about whether their provider will be “in the network”.

(Fun Fact: bankruptcy is now a big part of the American medical system. In 1981 8% of bankruptcies were related to medical costs, but by 2007 that number appears to have grown to 62%, all this according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Three-quarters of that 62% had medical insurance.

Canada does not have a medical bankruptcy problem of statistical significance.)

When you add all this together, it begins to explain how it’s possible that Canada can insure all their people for about 11% of their 2009 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) when we pay about 17% of GDP and still leave a huge portion of the population either completely uninsured or unable to pay for care even if they have insurance, due to what won’t be covered when the bill comes in at the end of the month.

(Fun Fact #2: Sweden, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland – in fact, any country that you can name on the face of the Earth – pays less than we do for their health care.

By a lot.

When it comes to the cost of health care, the USA is #1.)

So it’s not all skittles and beer, up there in Canada. You might have to wait a while to get some types of care, and it appears that there’s an element of “rationing by waiting period”, which is a constant source of complaints up there. (The counterargument is that rationing of some sort is required in any medical insurance scheme; otherwise, you’ll have folks at the doctor’s for no reason at all, and that’ll quickly drive a system broke.)

There are co-pays, for some services, and no coverage for others, depending on your Province, (nonemergency dental and vision are often not covered) and that can lead to some out-of-pocket, but for the most part taxes cover the bills.

And just as we in the USA are struggling to pay for medical care, so is everyone else: controlling medical costs are hard, for a variety of reasons, including the cost of paying medical professionals to do work in a dangerous environment that can often be hard to automate.

Dangerous, you say?

In healthcare, back injuries, frequently caused by overexertion, occur at a very high rate. Healthcare industry workers sustain 4.5 times more overexertion injuries than any other type of worker…According to national statistics, six of the top 10 professions at greatest risk for back injury are: nurse’s aides, licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, health aides, radiology technicians, and physical therapists.

So the other reason I’m having this conversation today is because I was having a talk with a very nice gentleman just about 48 hours ago who is a bit more Conservative politically than I, and he wondered how I felt about “Obamacare” (formally known as the Affordable Health Care Act).

I’m not a big fan of that plan, I’m not, and that’s because I’d much rather do something like expand Medicare to everyone, or “go all Canada”; either choice seems simpler and easier and doable at far lower administrative costs than any plan that relies on private insurers, as the Affordable Health Care Act does.

So there you go: that’s how I spent the weekend, and a couple of days after to boot, and if we were living in Canada I could have had the same problem, but it would have cost the healthcare system a whole lot less money – and when everyone gathered at the White House today, I wish that’s what they had been talking about.

Hiding Behind Personal Responsibility

I also could have  titled this “The Hypocrisy of Personal Responsibility”.   A few years ago I met a couple of right wingers in a certain setting. To protect the identities of these people I will not use their names or give clues to how we met. I was surprised to find out their views later. One was incredibly shocking to me. For the rest of this article I will be using the word “you” as a reference to this person as if I was speaking to him or her.

Here is a link to what one of those people emailed me about their political views and specifically about Personal Responsibility.

After thinking about it I realized the main thinking flaw in the thought process, which was RIGID thinking. No shared responsibility, no cooperation, no meeting half way, no talk on probabilities, no consideration of environment or internal or external conditions, most of the time the thinking was Black and White, All-Or-Nothing, i.e. inflexible and missing shades of gray.

“The basic underlying principle I have is that people are responsible for their own actions and choices”. Well that’s a good start but pretty simple minded. You mean to say our “choices” are completely independent of our external and “internal” conditions like genetic code and physiology and brain wiring and learned experience and environment a person grew up in?

“Rich or poor you are the only one responsible for your choices”. What if your choices are bad and worse? Are people responsible for getting out of their economic slavery? You do not take into account how important your CONDITIONS are, and use the word “choice” in a very simple manipulative way. You had a tough life and were ABLE to work hard and make good choices. That’s impressive and it’s also something to be proud of. However it doesn’t make you more deserving as a person.

“Nobody owes anyone anything”. Well whatever. Who says? So then we should have no laws to enforce? You don’t seem to realize how dependent you are on other people. It’s not about “owing” it’s about what works and doesn’t, what helps the most people the most ways with the least cost. What is the best optimal practical way to run society.

“There are different kinds of people and some are better than others”. People have different abilities, conditions and properties of course but no one is better or more deserving then another. See Why No One is Better then Anyone Else .

“The 4th kid chose to drink and do drugs”. You mean to say this person simply said to himself, yeah I’d like to be hooked on drugs? No consideration of genetic pre-disposition causal factors or peer pressure, or dealing with not completely getting what he needed from his parents emotionally? And if this person had all this his or her brothers conditions you would of been able to choose “above” that? No, some very important conditions were different. In addition there is a huge difference between a choice like flipping a light switch and a choice like every single day sacrificing a drug you crave or other extremely difficult sacrifices.

“Selfishly causing fear and pain for years. He died last year at the age of 49”. Well too bad for him huh? I guess he deserved it. It’s too bad he wasn’t as good a person as you were.

“I worked hard, went to collage and have a good job. I have had more success than my older siblings. I have a higher standard of living than any of my siblings”. No brag just fact ah. I knew you were better! And less lazy and more responsible too (as a person) I’m sure. No chance there were different conditions with how you were taught or what you and he believed and your environments. Did your parents treat everyone EXACTLY the same?

You believe that everyone is basically responsible for everything in their lives and should NOT be helped in any way. If that were true then we should have no government. And you know damn well you would suffer without government. What about the idea of shared responsibility?

“It is due to the choices each of us have made.” I see and he just wanted to make bad choices (his choice) and you just wanted good choices. He was inferior and you were better.

“Nothing was handed to me”. Apparently you were given some ability to make better choices, which you got for free. After all you didn’t earn THAT and don’t count that (which you got for free).

“I chose to have a better life”. Well of course you did and everyone else just simply chose to make bad choices and suffer and/or die. You were ABLE to choose a better life, they didn’t have the conditions for it.
There is a seed of truth to the fact some individuals who psychologically are brought up to not act in their best interest and feel sorry for themselves and become passive “victims” need to learn a more empowering way of thinking. But this is purely a psychological problem. REBT should be taught in schools to prevent irrational thinking. Learning to think rational is at least as important as English. This methodology cannot be used as an excuse to hurt people by saying feelings are completely up to the individual. Maybe you can be happy if your sick and poor but it’s irrelevant. Quality of life still matters, circumstances still matter.

However how people affect society (societal responsibility or social responsibility) is part of “personal responsibility”. That subset of “personal responsibility” (social responsibility) is what right winger authoritarian followers carefully carve out (filter out) of their responsibility list to avoid being held accountable.

“I deserve what I have because I earned it, I didn’t win it, it wasn’t handed to me, I wasn’t lucky. I earned it. I made the choices I needed and I worked very hard. I shouldn’t be forced to pay more in taxes to give money to the poor who chose not to better themselves and take the easy way”. The easy way! How ignorant can you be? You were ABLE to make good choices. You deserve to get specific things for doing specific things but you are not more deserving as a person. But on the contrary if you won’t allow the rich and giant corporations to pay their fair share of taxes then maybe you should be paying for that revenue lost instead.

However because you are only partially responsible for the massive global injustice and suffering the right wing causes and because you are being aggressively lied to and do not directly cause the suffering (indirectly yes). I will just say your lucky you are getting off Scott free with your sociopathy. You are partly responsible for the wars, emergency rooms, tax breaks for the rich and the corporate welfare which is sucking the life out of our country. Of course we can never prove you were at fault for any specific thing your leaders do. Your part of a collective that hurts people and there is no overtime or enough charity that you or your collective have to give to make up for that. Although your collective should.

The sick and poor are sick and poor primarily because of unfortunate circumstances with their genetic code and upbringing and then you make it worse for them and you try to reduce their safety nets and not give them what they need. Again your not taking RESPONSIBILITY for how you affect them even though you DO affect them indirectly.

They will most likely do much better with liberal more socialistic policies I think you know that and are afraid of that. People will more likely better themselves when they are healthy and have health care then with your draconian policies. Your family had it tough and you were the one who was able to rise above it. But the fact is the reason the rest of your family didn’t do as well is has to do with the hardship they experienced and the lack of help they got. But you are under an illusion that you (being a better person) just “will powered” your way out of it without stopping to think of how mental and physical and environmental conditions for you were different then for them. Very dangerous this narrow thinking and the manipulation of the word “choice” is!
“My tax dollars should go to provide basic services a community needs. Fire protection, police, education, government, military”. Education is the key. Not enough tax dollars go to education. Without your health care and your health (mental and physical), education is not going to help much. Normally I would agree with your statement but with this extreme thinking you have I want to ask Why? I thought no one owes anybody anything? I thought government was bad? Won’t we have to tax people to get these things? Why do you think you have a right to tax anybody for anything? Why shouldn’t you provide for these things independently of government or do you need help from other people? It’s a simple choice and people should just be completely independent of any help from others right? Or would you be powerless and suffer without these basic programs? Maybe these are the minimum that YOU need but others might need more because they didn’t get some essential psychological or physical or other important invisible intangible needs met that you did. Don’t say everyone needs these things as if you care about others. If you cared about others you would not want to cut off government after your needs were met when others needs are still unfulfilled. If you were a person who acts RESPONSABLY you would not vote for people who distribute wealth to only the top few and not allow for even a small reasonable percentage of money to go from the rich and large corporations to used to create programs (not cash) for the sick and poor. If you cared about people you would also want there to be more government money spent on medical research and development for remedies and cures for physical and mental problems and spend much more money on improving the quality of life for all people! The country has the money but it’s all trapped (I could also say stolen by in a way) by the top few. We could have a great society and minimize suffering and disability and invest in the middle class but you won’t have any part of that! Shame on you!

Maybe you are mad because you could of used some help back then and think it’s not fair for others to get something “for free” which you didn’t… but actually you did get that important combination of conditions to get unstuck. Maybe you want others to toil and suffer like they did. How very sad and pathetic if this is true.

“Our current system rewards the poor choice makers”. Yeah I agree, like George Bush! He and Cheney should be in jail. Eric Holder is not doing his job! But I digress.

You refuse to acknowledge that we all need things and we need other people to provide these things. And refuse to truthfully admit that you want government up to a certain point … which selfishly and immorally filters out essential needs for those less fortunate (who obviously would choose out of their adversity/trapped-ness/pain if they had the sufficient conditions). And by the way your life has to be getting tougher as well. Even though you are relatively insulated, you wages have stagnated, and your cost of living has continued to increase. I have to assume either you are ignorant of that or insulated from that or even worse don’t care because nothing is more important then getting in the way of helping the needy.
You use the phrase “Personal Responsibility” as a shield, red-ha ring, diversion to crap on society with your sociopathy without having to TAKE any RESPONIBILITY. You sure can dish out RESPONSIBILITY though.

These right wing authoritarian followers are using “Personal Responsibility”, weather they know it or not as a diversion tool probably designed and created by their corporate masters, to keep our eyes off of what powerful are doing to our society. Right Wingers (like this person) use “Personal Responsibility” to justify being inhumane and uncompassionate. They end up with the illusion that it’s OK to blame the victims and believe they bear no responsibility whatsoever. It’s amazing how angry and self-righteous they act about the whole thing. Unfortunately you have been manipulated from day one and didn’t learn the correct lesson after you escaped your adversity.

So that is why I say I could of titled this “The Hypocrisy of Personal Responsibility”. While they vote for war mongers and fear mongers and liars and criminals who only want to help the powerful at the expense of everyone else they preach that the disadvantaged deserve to be where they are and suffer, and should take complete 100% total personal responsibility for their situation. A situation which if the person knew how to avoid or how to get out of, they obviously would. If a person is given what they basically need they will me likely behave better and be more productive. These right wing authoritarian followers like this person are ignorant of how unlikely it is to get out of a powerless situation because they drew the wrong conclusion. They are ignorant of all the incredible complicated multi-faceted difficulties people can have (especially mental illness combined with the physical). It always takes power to create more power and if you don’t have enough to begin with then you will get stuck in a powerless catch 22.
One of the most important and basic ways to prevent this “stuckness” would be offering everyone affordable health care. The positive ripple effect would be dramatic (not to mention the money saved for healthier happier more productive, less sick people). Then education could help enormously, but only after health is achieved.

We can’t have people tailor government by picking and choosing what they want because the laws have to apply to everybody and because of the variety of different needs people have. But we can optimize government to be efficient and create prosperity for all the people (instead of a select few). The powerful few at the top are trying to sell the people lies to push their power abuse agenda. First lie, government is bad, no, GOVERNMENT is GOOD and in fact GOVERNMENT is GREAT! Tax increases are always bad, NO, they are good because they generate revenue which increases the FLOW of money where as tax cuts especially for the rich do no good whatsoever. But I digress again.
What if this person didn’t have enough money to go to school and an impairment that made difficult to learn? Any number of adversities can keep a person down and the fact that there are a few people who overcome incredible adversities (usually they are simple and extreme but not multifaceted and complicated) doesn’t mean everyone else should. When someone on TV says “if I can do it, so can you”, that’s a lie. No your conditions are different! The fact is if you look with a microscope those people had something extra with their mind or belief systems or physical health or enough simplicity (they only have one isolated extreme problem instead of a complex nest) something that allowed them to overcome their adversity while if everyone else had “that” invisible condition they most likely would of succeeded also.

It matters what kind of probable outcomes you set up with laws and rules. It matters immensely whether you provide everyone with basic needs or just let it be survival of the luckiest. We know logically and factually that if we use our wealth to re-invest in the people that our society flourishes and, on the other side of that, if we allow the abundance of prosperity to be sucked up to top few, that the society will move toward despotism. Wealth distribution goes to quality of life, and in some cases quantity. What is more important then that?
We need to do an optimal cost benefit analysis on what taxing systems will benefit society as a whole the most, there are drawbacks if we tax too much (incentive gets hurt for one) but we are a long way from anything close to that.
You can say “it’s a free country” to justify your draconian rules, but is it? Freedom is not an absolute. The poor are not “free” They supposedly live in a “free” country but are they really free? No, true freedom requires power which requires health and money. Freedom is relative. We live in a society and so we effect each other so their is no ABSOLUTE freedom.

This is also true with the word RESPONSIBILITY. Response-Ability. The ability to respond. It is also not an absolute and varies based on the knowledge, power and control the individual has,… particularly when it comes to affecting other people.
It’s irrational and selfish and sociopathic to fight against a cooperative “working together” culture which fairly divides shared risk and sacrifice. We cannot guarantee everybody will be able to be a positive contributor to society but we sure can increase the likelihood that everyone lives up to their potential and minimize suffering and debilitation and increase the probability that they more likely will be a positive contributor which is good for all of us.

The only “entitlements” we should be talking about are the ones (obscene wealth distribution) that the fortunate have acquired from this broken system.

No one ever wants to make bad choices, no one ever wants to be sick and poor and disadvantaged and powerless either. People make bad choices of course but what does that have to do with anything? Of course they do, we are imperfect human beings! If we give people safety nets they often can rebound and be given a second chance. But the person I am writing this article around probably doesn’t want to see others get a second chance. They like their draconian rules. They vote for power abuser sociopaths who set up conditions that will increase the probability that the unfortunate will continue to be trapped and stuck and not have the “minimum” for those who started off much less fortunate. Not to mention the extinction of the middle class. They vote for power abusers that are redistributing the money/wealth to the top few and leave the rest of us a tiny (getting even tinier) thin slice of the wealth pie to fight over for the rest of us.

I happen to believe it’s fear that drives them. Insecurity over empowering others, fear of change, fear of losing power by giving others power, fear of the truth, fear of leaving their secure tunnel vision reality that their authoritarian leaders provide for them.

I say to this person, quit manipulating the word “choice” which hurts others and quit listening to your right wing authoritarian leaders. Take what they say and ask yourself, could the opposite be true? And finally, for Pete or God or the countries sake… learn the Golden Rule.

On our meeting with Rep. Dave Reichert

Last Friday, Linda Boyd, Robert Sargent, and I (Don Smith) had a meeting with 8th CD US Congressman Dave Reichert (R), at his Mercer Island office. This was the third time that I’d attended a meeting with Reichert. Each time we told him we were loosely affiliated with MoveOn. The affiliation with MoveOn has been getting progressively weaker.

The first meeting with Reichert was in early 2007; the second meeting was in early 2008. You can read a report on the second meeting here.

Reichert prides himself on being willing to talk with all his constituents. In the past he has bragged that as county sheriff he had to deal with all sorts of people, including thieves and murderers. So he’s not afraid to talk with us! Reichert has also been willing to chat with me after speeches at, for example, candidates’ forums.

But Friday’s meeting was somewhat different in tone from the earlier ones. He was less friendly and more defensive.

We went to his office last Friday with low expectations of changing Reichert’s views. More than in my past meetings, Reichert seemed unwilling even to hear us out or concede the need for moderation in Republican policies. During the meeting, Reichert angrily stood up at one point and threatened to leave, because Robert Sargent had interrupted him and challenged him about the fairness of Republican tax cuts. Reichert indignantly called for politeness. Robert apologized and exiting the office, leaving Linda and me to speak with Reichert for the rest of the meeting, his aide sat beside him.

In my past meetings with Reichert, he had been informal and friendly, willing to let down his guard, smile and joke. Perhaps this time his staff did research on the Internet about Linda, Robert or my activities and views. This time Reichert seemed testy and defensive. He was also dressed impeccably, with his hair neatly coiffed. Last fall, at the candidates’ forum in Newcastle, Reichert seemed unwell. He had recently recovered from his accident with the tree — which had fallen on his head. As I reported in my article about the forum US Congressman Dave Reichert doesn’t know what the Glass-Steagall Act, Reichert complained of his voice being weak. But on Friday Reichert seemed back in form.

Linda asked Reichert whether he supported the Glass-Stegall Act — last fall he hadn’t known what it is, despite the fact that Seattle Times editorial board had asked him about it. Linda reminded him what it is. Reichert said, “We’re still looking at that.” Such deliberation!

I asked Reichert whether he still agrees with what he said at the Newcastle forum: that the Bush tax cuts for the rich were a bad idea. Reichert had said, at the forum, that he was reading a book on the topic and that, despite being a Republican, he agrees that the tax cuts were a mistake.

On Friday Reichert seemed to backtrack. He said that the tax cuts were a mistake only in the context of the increased spending that Bush had caused. Obviously, you can’t both cut taxes and increase spending.

Robert, Linda, and I kept hammering away — with various levels of politeness — about the issue of unfair taxation. But Reichert wouldn’t budge. He said that we’re in the budget mess because of uncontrolled spending, not because we tax too little. He said that the main complaints of (small) business owners is that they want two things: (1) certainty about taxes, and (2) less regulation. When I mentioned that deregulation was one of the main causes of the sub-prime crash, he didn’t respond.

Reichert said that raising taxes would harm S-corporations.

Linda asked Reichert whether he’d agree to eliminate tax breaks or raise taxes on the rich, as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling. He said he opposes raising taxes. But he’d probably end up agreeing to raise the debt limit.

Reichert said that he might be willing to agree to some cuts to the military budget. But he wouldn’t agree to any fixed percents — 1%, 5%, 10%. He’d leave that up to the congressional committees responsible for that issue. Reichert was noncommittal about the budget issue. He said that the decisions are made by others. “I don’t know. You don’t know.” This might be the truth. Most of the real decisions might be made behind closed doors. Still, that doesn’t absolve Reichert — or us — from taking steps to affect the final outcome.

(Of course, it’s disingenuous to claim that we’re in the mess due to too much spending and regulation. The high spending is largely due to Bush’s unfunded, mismanaged, and unjustified wars, and due to the need to prevent a depression in the wake of the sub-prime crash — which was largely caused by deregulation. It’s also disingenuous to say that the tax cuts benefit small businesses. The tax cuts benefit mostly the multi-national corporations and the super-rich. Small businesses can’t get loans from the banks. Republicans always say that taxes cost jobs. Historically, that hasn’t been so Besides, the concentration of wealth is so skewed, the debt is so high, and tax rates are so low compared to just a few decades ago. Failing to raise taxes on the rich is irresponsible. Of course, bankrupting government via tax cuts is at the core of the GOP plan to drown government in a bathtub and dismantle 75 years of reform.)

Reichert brought up the topic of Israel and its economic successes. He’s reading a book “Start-up nation” that extolls the power of (small) businesses to drive economic success. In response to Linda and my pleas for reduced military spending, Reichert mentioned that much of the Israeli success resulted from innovations and inventions that arose from the Israeli defense establishment. I said, “Oh, so government programs can do good.” I’m not sure Reichert heard that remark, but his aide shot me a look.

After the meeting, Linda and I found Robert slumped in a bench across the street.

Linda Boyd posted her short and effective post-meeting letter to Reichert here.

Report on City Club meeting about the state budget

On June 22, I attended a public forum, “Law and Politics:The State Budget—Searching for Long-Term Sustainability”, at the Rainier Square Atrium in downtown Seattle. The panelists were

  • Representative Reuven Carlyle (D-36), Washington State Legislature
  • Representative Bruce Dammier (R-25), Washington State Legislature
  • Paul Guppy, vice president for research, Washington Policy Center
  • Marty Loesch, director of external affairs and senior counsel, Office of the Governor.

The moderator was Joni Balter, editorial writer and columnist for The Seattle Times.

How to achieve a more sustainable budget? How to avoid boom and bust cycles?

Loesch recommended the use of rainy day funds.

Guppy (WPC) said, “Only in government do they call a decrease in growth a decrease.” Guppy also said that the Washington Policy Center is nonpartisan. That may, technically, be true. But WPC is a think tank that supports free-market solutions.

Dammier (R) said “it makes no sense” to pull programs when they’re needed most, but most important is fiscal discipline.  He said there’s a lack of moral discipline among some legislators.

Carlyle (D) mentioned that the state educates 1,000,000 students in public schools and 300,000 college students. “The thief in the room” is healthcare spending, which has been rising faster than inflation.  Carlyle said, “I resist the idea that there’s a lack of moral discipline.”

The moderator asked: is the initiative process effective?

A panelist (Loesch?)  said: the reason we have an AA bond rating, and not an AAA bond rating, is that the anti-tax initiatives cause a chronic lack of funding, and yet people expect and demand services. Also, spending is required constitutionally (education), by statute, or by federal law. (The Washington State Constitution says that education is the paramount obligation of the state.) The lack of an AAA bond rating ends up costing the state millions of extra dollars in interest.

Dammier (R) said that initiatives and elections have consequences. The voters’ message about taxation and 2/3 requirement is very clear (I-1053). On the other hand, some initiatives are less clear; for example, the renewable energy initiative is complex to follow.

Guppy (WPC) said that the initiative process has been good for taxpayers but bad for “beneficiaries.” He acknowledged that government spending grows naturally and said, “I agree that government spending serves the general interest: police, education, social services.” But the unions get too much.

Dammier (R) said that the collective bargaining process is done behind closed doors, early on in the process. The legislators just get to vote yes or no. Shouldn’t they be involved earlier on?

Loesch (governor’s aide) rejects the “false dichotomy” between taxpayers and beneficiaries (since almost all taxpayers benefit from programs). The unions in fact gave up a lot. 3% lower pay. 25% more for healthcare contributions. Furloughs. It’s “an illusion” that government and unions collude to raise costs.

Someone mentioned that rising gas prices are contributing to deficits.

Carlyle (D) said there are 567 tax exemptions. We require commissions and auditors for spending programs. But we don’t require the same for elimination of tax exemptions, which tend to persist indefinitely.

Balter (moderator): why no traction on eliminating tax exemptions?

Carlyle (D): because of I-1053 (duh).

Dammier (R): the next budget will have another $2 billion (?) deficit. We kicked it forwarded (postponed the pain with gimmicks). But populations of students and seniors are growing.

Balter (moderator) said, “we may not have enough money to express our values.” The Governor herself said that her December budget was immoral. We’re stopping mammograms on low-income women. Unless we can control health care costs, we’re doomed. Health care spending is growing at 2% to 3% faster than inflation.

Guppy (WPC) asked: what goal should government play in society? Why have unfunded entitlements like 732 and 728. The number of kids in the classroom is not as important as the quality of the teacher.

Carlyle (D) disagreed about class size. Class size definitely DOES matter in the early years of education.

Dammier (R) said that his constituents want 1. Jobs, 2. lower government spending, and 3. education. Very few say they want lower taxes.

It was Carlyle (D), I think, who said that the budget cuts will take effect on July 1 of this year, and when the citizens realize the effects of those cuts they make reconsider their support for I-1053.

Guppy (WPC) predicted the “Washington Monument Effect”, wherein government bureaucrats choose to close the most visible, inconveniencing programs and services. Instead of making necessary changes to increase efficiency, they close the Washington Monument for tourists, for example.

How did other states handle their deficits? Guppy said: some states made policy decisions that would be unacceptable here.

Guppy (WPC) and Dammier (R) agreed that it’s a good idea to sunset some tax exemptions. Dammier gave as an example a tax exemption that favors ferries.

After the event, there was time for questions. I spoke, “This question is directed to Mr. Guppy, who said that the voters were very clear when they voted for I-1053.   Given the increasing concentration of wealth, the extreme regressiveness of Washington State’s tax system, the fact that tax rates are in fact lower than they’ve been in decades, and the fact that voters in Colorado and Massachusetts overwhelmingly rejected anti-tax initiatives, can we really suppose that Washington State voters understood what they were voting for with I-1053?  Specifically, did the voters really understand that, in addition to making it very hard to raise taxes, I-1053 made it very hard to eliminate tax exemptions?”

Guppy said that the voters have repeatedly voted for 2/3 requirements. They knew exactly what they were doing. The initiative process works well. The voters understood that raising taxes would reduce their take home pay.

I wanted to say, “You mean raising taxes on the rich would reduce the take-home pay for the middle class?” But we ran out of time, and the moderator thanked everyone for coming.

I shook hands with Mr. Guppy, who said that he agreed that the voters probably didn’t completely understand I-1053.   Eyman’s initiatives are always like that, he said.  The summary description of the initiatives sound quite reasonable, Guppy said, but the fine print always contains some sort of unexpected conditions that make the initiatives a lot more consequential.

I’ve notice that when you talk to moderately conservative politicians and activists, they seem quite reasonable. For example, they acknowledge the need for government services and openly admit that Washington State’s tax system is unfair.   Still, they go along with the immoderately conservatives’ anti-tax frenzy that is busting budgets nationwide.  To some extent, you have to blame the voters, who — in Washington State, at least — continue to buy into the right wing messaging.  As Adam Kline suggested, some of the legislators probably figure  “Why should I stick my neck out and educate the voters about taxation?   let the voters’ reap what they sow.”      Perhaps that’s the Governor’s attitude.

On my way out, a couple of people thanked me for my question.

Train wreck — er, bus crash — ahead!

Residents of King County should try to attend special public meetings of the county Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee to discuss proposed cuts in bus and trolley service.

Wednesday, July 6, 6:00 p.m.
Kirkland City Council Chambers
123 Fifth Avenue, Kirkland

Tuesday, July 12, 6:00 p.m.
King County Council Chambers
516 Third Avenue, 10th Floor, Seattle

Thursday, July 21, 6:00 p.m.
Burien City Council Chambers
400 S.W. 152nd Street, Burien

As explained in “Executive calls on King County Council to enact interim Metro funding or face cutting 17 percent of bus service over the next two years“,

The recession-driven decline in the sales-tax revenues that support public transit leaves the Metropolitan King County Council with two choices – ensure interim funding to continue service at current levels, or face the reality of cutting 17 percent of bus service.

To meet that challenge, King County Executive Dow Constantine today sent the Council a proposed ordinance to enact the one tool recently authorized by the state Legislature for King County: a temporary $20 Congestion Reduction Charge on vehicle licenses for each of the next two years.

Without additional funding, the county will have to shrink Metro service by 600,000 hours annually, equivalent to 17% of overall service. This would especially harm low-income workers who depend on buses to commute to work. It would also cause further congestion and pollution.

It’s not only the poor and the liberals who support the $20 license fee. Many businesses do too.

According to Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association, “Transit service is the economic lifeblood for Downtown Seattle and King County. Metro makes it possible for tens of thousands of residents from Kent, Renton, Seattle and places in between to get to their jobs Downtown. Cuts to bus service will negatively impact employees and employers and make it harder for King County to recover from the economic recession.”

Indeed, a business group associated with the Chamber of Commerce has come out in favor of the $20 license fee, saying “saying businesses would be hurt if employees and customers can’t get to businesses because bus routes are cut. He said the group will make that issue a primary one in grading County Council candidates and incumbents.” See Even the Chamber of Commerce wants this fee and New business PAC to County: Support transit tax.

The root cause of this problem is conservative anti-tax hysteria  and, in particular, Tim Eyman’s I-1053 initiative. The legislature applied Tim Eyman’s 2/3 majority rule to the King County council, who would need to approve the $20 fee increase. But Eyman has apparently convinced the four Republicans on the nine member council to oppose any fee increase. See Tim Eyman attacks public transit.

A far better solution than a $20 fee on automobile licenses would be a progressive income tax. Washington State has one of the most regressive tax systems in the nation, with the rich paying a far lower percentage of their income in state taxes than the middle class. Nationwide, conservatives have been slashing taxes for the rich, increasing the concentration of wealth, and convincing naive voters to support regressive anti-tax initiatives like I-1053, which not only makes it hard to raise taxes but also makes it hard to eliminate the many tax exemptions (for out-of-state banks, for example) that burden Washington State’s tax system.

The twelve-step program that works, but probably not for you

Over the last thirty years, Republicans, conservative Democrats, and their well-to-do allies have perfected a twelve-step program that has worked to transform America.

  1. Cut taxes and establish loopholes and subsidies for the rich and the corporations, to redistribute wealth upwards, drown government in red ink, and justify slashing of social programs.
    a. Lowest tax rates in decades for the well-to-do.
    b. Capital gains taxed at lower rate than earned income.    See CRAMER IS RIGHT: The Hedge-Fund Tax Loophole Is Outrageous, Simons Strategy to Shield Profit From Taxes Draws IRS Ire, and Questioning the Dogma of Tax Rates.  Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.
    c. Social Security cap at $113,700, exempting most of a rich person’s income from Social Security taxes.
    d. International corporations allowed to avoid US taxes by shipping profits overseas.
    e. Many large corporations, such as GE and Apple, pay no taxes at all.  Many corporations (especially Big Oil) receive subsidies.
    f. Lowered estate taxes.
    g. Anti-tax initiatives (like Washington State’s 1-1053) that benefit the super-rich.
    h. Lax enforcement of existing tax laws.
    i. Wall Street bailouts of AIG, Goldaman Sachs and other politically connected banks and corporations.
  2. Maintain the country in a perpetual state of war, to enrich military contractors, to open markets for oil and other resources, and to justify decreasing funding for human needs.   Support regressive regimes and, when convenient, instigate coups.
  3. Keep politicians dependent on private campaign donations.
  4. Manipulate elections by: vote rigging (including the use of hackable electronic voting machines) by gerrymandering , and by suppression of minority turnout (e.g., restrictive anti-fraud laws that require voters to show photo IDs, purging of voters lists, shortening the time for submission of absentee ballots, and provision of insufficient voting machines).
  5. Manipulate news and concentrate the ownership of media, to hide the truth and mislead the public. This is accomplished both by owned media (Fox News, AM radio stations) and by well-funded right-wing think tanks that market misinformation, character assassination, and attack ads.
  6. Blame government, taxation, teachers, unions, and regulation for the nation’s problems. See Teaching People to Hate Their Own Govt. Is at the Core of the Project to Destroy the Middle Class.
  7. Corrupt, privatize and mismanage government agencies and the military, to enrich well-connected corporations and to destroy the People’s trust in government. Conservatives exploit public anger at government waste and corruption that they themselves are largely responsible for. So, conservatives win twice by their corruption and mismanagement: they profit directly from the kickbacks, and then they win at the polls when voters express their disgust with government waste.
  8. Exploit bigotry, religion, patriotism, and fear to divide the people and to distract them from the important issues.
  9. Destroy unions, education and public sector employment. Slash wages, raid pension funds.
  10. Export jobs overseas, via tax laws that reward such exporting and via “Free Trade” agreements that also weaken environmental and other regulations.
  11. Oppose regulation: of Wall Street, of toxins, carbon, health care, insurance, the mortgage industry, and financial transactions. Oppose all government initiatives and regulations that might inconvenience the corporations, help the middle class and the poor, reduce dependence on oil, or lower health care costs.
  12. Corrupt the courts and criminal justice system, by politicizing the Justice Department, stacking the courts with right wing ideologues, refusing to approve Democratic presidents’ nominations, privatizing prisons, protecting torturers, prosecuting whistle-blowers, and pursuing a senseless war on drugs that enriches drug gangs, harms minorities, and disenfranchises African Americans.  White collar crime, insurance fraud, and credit card fraud are rampant and largely unopposed, since the police and FBI are underfunded.

Quite a lot to fix.  First we gotta fix #5 by developing an effective progressive media that educates the public about the issues.

For further resources, check out Government is Good.

by Don Smith

The twelve-step program that works, but probably not for you