Aug 272013
 

The uncommon but powerful .357 SIG round (left) combines the necked case of a .40 with the bullet diameter of a 9mm.

The TSA – the Transportation Security Administration – was formed shortly after 9/11/2001, and was tasked with taking over airport security screening duties.

Rightly or wrongly (more wrongly than rightly) it was felt that a government coordinated organization could better manage airport security than was the case prior to that time with private security firm contractors at each airport.  In understanding this, it is essential to realize that the box cutters taken on board the four flights that were taken over by hijackers on 9/11 were perfectly legal to take on board the planes.

The failures of 9/11 were two-fold, and neither was the fault of the private security screeners – the biggest failure being the policy of passively giving in to and cooperating with hijackers, and the second failure being arguably the decision to allow box cutters as carry-on items.

But in the panic after 9/11 and the need to blame anyone but themselves, the security authorities saw an opportunity to create a new massive government department and rushed to form the TSA, which then became part of what is now the third largest of all government departments (only the DoD and VA are larger), the also newly formed Homeland Security Department.

Anyway, enough of the history.  You know the TSA – you see them every time you take off your shoes and belt and shuffle through the security screening at any airport.  The TSA now employs about 55,000 people.

Although they’ve tried to make themselves look more like police, now with police style uniforms and shields/badges, the happy fact is that these government employed ‘rent a cops’ have no powers of arrest and are not sworn peace officers.

There’s one more thing about TSA employees.  They don’t carry guns.

So how now to understand their publishing a tender for the supply of 3.454 million rounds of .357 SIG pistol ammo?  This sounds unbelievable, but you can see their official tender document here.  (Note they refer to .347 but it should be .357).

What does an agency made up of non-sworn non-police officers need with 3.454 million rounds of out-of-the-ordinary caliber pistol ammo?

Seriously, what do they want with this huge quantity of ammunition?  Can anyone tell us?

Jul 212013
 

How did our police transition from being friendly locals to impersonal hostile strangers? Has this change made us safer?

The cornerstones of modern effective policing actually date back to 1829 and England, when Sir Robert Peel established the Metropolitan Police Force in London, based in Scotland Yard (hence them sometimes being referred to as Bobbies, or, in a more pejorative sense, as Peelers).

Arising out of his reforms came what are known today as the Principles of Policing, and we’ll list all nine of them before moving on with our article.

  1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.
  2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon the public approval of police actions.
  3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observation of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.
  4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.
  5. Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.
  6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.
  7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.
  9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

The core concept is that the police operate with the support and approval of the citizenry they serve.  This was evidenced by the concept of police officers walking the beat, armed with nothing more than a short wooden truncheon discreetly in a pocket, and integrating into the neighborhoods they serve.  Peel’s most famous statement stresses the integration between the police and community by saying ‘The police are the public and the public are the police’.

We can see the epitome of Peel’s principles expressed in that lovely television series from the 1960s, The Andy Griffith Show, which ran from 1960 through 1968.  As you surely know, Sheriff Andy Taylor was known, respected and liked by all in his North Carolina (fictitious) town of Mayberry, and he never carried a gun.  He didn’t need a gun, because a friendly word, a fatherly word, sometimes a stern word and sage advice was all he needed to keep the peace.

The year after The Andy Griffith Show ended its run, policing in the US took a turn for the worse.  After several years advocating the concept, the then police inspector Daryl Gates of the LAPD (subsequently to become a controversial police chief) was given permission to develop the nation’s first SWAT team, which deployed for in 1969, first in a raid against a holdout cell of the Black Panthers.  The SWAT concept was modeled after the Marine Special Forces.

After some controversy, Congress provided the next tool for the militarization of the police, when in 1970 it passed a new law authorizing ‘no knock’ raids for federal narcotics agents.  After repeated abuses of this power and many probably unnecessary casualties as a result of such raids, the law was repeated in 1974, but strangely, the concept lives on to this day, even without a federal law authorizing it.

Originally, in the 1970s, there were only a few hundred SWAT raids each year, but since that time, the number has been inexorably growing, while the trigger point for requiring a SWAT deployment has been successively lowering.   This article says the number of no-knock raids increased to 3,000 in 1981, and grew massively further to 50,000 in 2005 (that’s 136 times every day), and suggests that over 40 innocent bystanders have been killed.

As well as the 40 innocent bystanders who have been killed in gratuitous shoot-outs, many of the people being raided have also been killed in totally unnecessary circumstances, in situations that would not have occurred if one policeman had simply and calmly knocked politely on the guy’s door and had a discussion with the person when he answered.

The article also points out that criminals sometimes now pretend to be police on a no-knock raid, and, even worse, the police have moonlighted as criminals, conducting unauthorized no-knock raids to seize cash and drugs for their own personal gain and resale.

The article (it is short and you should read it) also points out just a few of the too many dubious uses of lethal force by police in no-knock raids.  What it does not and apparently can not point out, however, is any case where the ‘official review’ of use of force in a no-knock raid has ever been ruled unlawful or inappropriate, or any charges being filed against the police who conducted the raid (or, even better, filed against the judge who inappropriately authorized it).  Our police are increasingly unaccountable for their actions, even when their actions result in the unnecessary loss of life.

Until recently, one of the worst cases of no-knock raids was the shooing of US Marine veteran Jose Guerena in Tucson.  After shooting at him 71 times (and hitting him 22 times), the police then did not allow any medical aid, and watched Guerena slowly die from his wounds over the next hour.  In justifying their actions, the police claimed that Guerena shot at them first, but subsequently it was shown that his rifle was unfired and the safety catch still on.  An official report exonerated the police (naturally).  Details here.

In addition to no-knock warrants, the ‘knock and announce’ type warrant has become more and more closely identical to a no-knock warrant.  In theory, a knock and announce warrant requires the police to knock on the door and call out to the occupants, giving them a chance to voluntarily open the door prior to breaking it in and invading the property.  But how loud a knock, how loud an announcement, and how long a wait is involved prior to the police then breaking down the door and swarming inside, with their fully auto weapons ready to gun down anyone they encounter?  That’s a grey area, and the courts have been increasingly permissive about what the police can get away with.

There are also repeated allegations that police did not knock and announce prior to breaking in to properties.  Of course, in a situation where you have a team of half a dozen or more police officers all claiming they followed procedure fastidiously, and one or two citizens, now either dead or in custody for some trivial crime (perhaps ‘resisting arrest’), who will the courts believe?  The police, every time.  The police are no longer accountable.

After the ‘success’ of the first LAPD SWAT team, other police departments were quick to copy.  After all, it gave the police new fancy clothes to wear, new vehicles to drive, and new toys to play with – who wouldn’t love that.  By 1975, there were approximately 500 SWAT teams around the country.

More recently, in the hysteria fueled by 9/11, the new Department of Homeland Security (now the third largest cabinet level agency in the country, with only the DoD and Veterans Affairs larger) has been awarding grants, totaling over $32 billion so far, enabling police departments everywhere in the country to outfit themselves with military vehicles and military weapons.  The federal government seems to want to encourage the militarization of even the smallest town’s police departments.

Does any Police Department not have a SWAT team now?  Even small towns have SWAT teams.  In 1983, already 13% of towns sized between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team, and in 2005, that number had grown to 80%.

It isn’t only PDs that have SWAT teams these days.  Some of the most unlikely federal agencies also have SWAT teams, including the Fish & Wildlife Service, NASA, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Education.

SWAT raids now seem to be the standard way for the police to interact with the citizens they are protecting and serving.  Whether it be the SWAT team that raided a small group of Tibetan monks who had overstayed their visas while on a peace mission, or the repeated SWAT raids on home games of poker, any and every police action seems to warrant a full SWAT deployment.

Think about the slogan ‘To Protect and To Serve’.  The police are neither protecting us nor serving us when they hide behind face masks, helmets, and body armor, and break into our houses in the dead of night for no substantial reason.  They’ve totally lost sight of their mission.  Instead of protecting and serving us, they are recklessly endangering us and dominating us.

Here’s a great history of the rise of SWAT culture in US policing.  (If the link is dead, search for ‘Rise of the Warrior Cop’ in Google, you want to find a Wall St Journal article from July 19, 2013.)

All of the preceding has merely been introduction.  Please now read an appalling story of the latest SWAT raid, and in particular, the circumstances in which it took place.  The police received an anonymous tip suggesting that a child rape suspect was somewhere inside an apartment complex.  They had no specific information that the suspect was in the woman’s apartment that they terrorized, and they had no warrants supporting any of their activity.  But when the woman was slow to comply with their demand to let them in and search with no warrant, that ‘confirmed’ to them that he must have been in her apartment.

Yes, if you don’t voluntarily surrender your constitutional rights, you are now presumed guilty of harboring a rape suspect, it seems, even if you are a 59 year old middle class nurse with no police record or past problems.

Details here.

Look back up to the nine principles of policing.  How many of those are still being observed today?

We read a lot about the terrorist threats against the US.  Some might think that the greatest threat, and the greatest acts of terrorism, involve not Muslim extremists, but our own law enforcement officials, and rather than breaking the laws, they are aided and abetted by permissive laws and even more permissive courts.

Mar 062013
 
Do we need more accountability when we give government officials powers over us?

Do we need more accountability when we give government officials powers over us?

We understand that everyone makes mistakes from time to time, whether they work for the government or not.

That’s unavoidable and okay, if the mistake was sincerely made in the first place rather than a deliberate abuse of authority (and authority is something that government employees tend to have much more of than people working in the private sector) and if the mistake is quickly rectified.

We also understand that some people are not very nice people, and will sometimes vindictively do bad things, just because they can.  That’s not okay, but this also happens in both the private and public sectors.

The key thing here is that the person who acts badly be accountable for their bad actions.  Usually, in the private sector, apart from union-protection issues, people who clearly and deliberately act in appropriately can expect consequences from their actions, including possibly even being fired.  But how often do we think that happens in government departments?

Here’s an appalling example of egregious abuse of authority by a Customs & Border Patrol individual who decided it was easier to impound a guy’s new boat than to correct her paperwork, and who refused to allow the boat-owner to speak to her supervisor or in any other way attempt to get her capricious decision reviewed.

As detailed in a follow-up post, this woman’s decision to impound the boat for no good reason ended up costing over $10,000 in fees to a broker to get the boat back.  The follow-up post is also interesting because it shows two additional things – first, how the woman or her co-workers will self-evidently lie to justify their actions, and secondly, how CBP view us – normal, ordinary, honest, Americans – as the enemy, rather than as the client they are there to serve.

Two questions :  What negative consequence will flow to this woman for what apparently was a wrong act on her part?  (Probable answer – none whatsoever.)

Secondly, will the boat owner and the company who sold it to him get their $10,000 broker fee reimbursed by CBP due to the inappropriate actions of their employee?  (You can probably guess the answer to this, too.)

The more authority we give to government departments and their employees, the more accountable they must become.  Currently, the opposite seems to be the case – we are giving them more and more power and removing their accountability at the same time.

Our government is in danger of becoming out of control, and rather than acting to help us, as was the original intention of progressing from anarchy to government in the first place, it all too often now seems to deliberately make things difficult for us.  There is a growing divide between government employees and the rest of us; an ‘us vs them’ situation which bodes extremely ill for the country as a whole.

Jan 152013
 
The Royal Clock Tower Hotel in Mecca (also known as the Abraj Al-Bait Towers), at 1972 ft and 120 floors, the tallest building completed in 2012 and now the second tallest building in the world.

The Royal Clock Tower Hotel in Mecca (also known as the Abraj Al-Bait Towers).  At 1972 ft and 120 floors, it is the tallest building completed in 2012 and now the second tallest building in the world.

As we move into the new century, it is increasingly obvious that the 21st century belongs not to western civilization, but to other civilizations and regions.

That’s an unpleasant truth and hard for most complacent westerners to appreciate or accept, particularly when they close their eyes to the rest of the world and surround themselves only with those selected snippets of information that encourage their belief in the innate supremacy of the western cultural/social/economic system.

It is hard to measure the decline of the west, particularly when we are part of it ourselves, and surrounded by a version of reality that is unwilling to acknowledge our decline.  But if you travel the world (may I modestly say that I have) and particularly if you visit some of the new prosperous regions of the world, the difference between what we have come to accept and what is happening in the rest of the world is astonishing.  Why aren’t we being told about this in our newspapers and on our television programs?

Well, that’s a question with no answer, isn’t it!

One such measure of the economic winners and losers might be urban construction and development.  Here’s an interesting article that gives us a non-standard measure of the relative economic success and prosperity of cities in the world – skyscraper construction.  It lists the ten tallest skyscrapers built in 2012.

If you don’t want to go through the article page by page, here’s the list :

1.   Mecca, Saudi Arabia
2.   Dubai, UAE
3.   Dubai, UAE
4.   Dubai, UAE
5.   Guangzhou, China
6.   Dubai, UAE
7.   Hanoi, Vietnam
8.   Guangzhou, China
9.   Guangzhou, China
10. Chongching, China

In case you’re wondering, you have to get all the way to number 15 before the west appears (Toronto), and number 23 before the US appears (Oklahoma City).  Then another long gap until Canada reappears at #34 and the US again at #45.

As for Europe, its first appearance is #39 (Milan), followed by Moscow (which may or may not be fairly considered as part of Europe) at #48.

This page lists all ‘tall buildings’ (which it defines as taller than 200 meters, ie 656 ft) completed in 2012.  There were 66 in total, of which 22 were built in China, 18 in Muslim countries, and 11 in other Asian countries, but only four in Canada, two in the US, and one in Europe (plus one in Russia).

That would seem to clearly indicate where all the economic growth is occurring and – alas – where the economic growth is not occurring.

Jan 132013
 
King George V reviewing The Grand Fleet at Spithead in 1914. 98 years later, Queen Elizabeth II had to settle for watching a procession of private launches motoring up the River Thames in London.

King George V reviewing The Grand Fleet at Spithead in 1914. 98 years later, Queen Elizabeth II had to settle for watching a procession of private launches motoring up the River Thames in London.

Britain is widely regarded by all (except perhaps our ‘Commander-in-Chief’) as being this country’s strongest ally – it is the country we have a ‘special relationship’ with.  They feel the same way about us too, and they’ve not hesitated to support us whenever we’ve needed it.

The strength of Britain as our ally is measured not just in its moral support of our policies and positions on the world stage, but also in its military support too.  Wherever we’ve been fighting in the last several decades, there have been British troops, planes and ships alongside ours.

It is sobering therefore to understand how Britain’s military capabilities have massively imploded in on themselves.  We not only have our President spurning our relationship with Britain while racing around the world apologizing and bowing to our enemies, weakening the strength of the ties that keep us and Britain so closely together, we also have Britain’s disarming of itself to the point of international irrelevance.

This article, in Britain’s leading and somewhat conservative newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, is mainly of little interest to most Americans, inasmuch as it involves Britain’s dispute with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.  But we can’t let that topic pass without point out how sad it is to note the contrast between the short war with Argentina in 1982 when President Reagan fully supported Britain, and the current situation where our President and his team are unable to even say they support Britain, while cozying up to Argentina.

What is most interesting, however, is to look down to the bottom, at the table of Britain’s military strength as between 1982 and 2013.  In case the link has eroded over time, we repeat the information here :

1982 2013
Total personnel 320,000 160,000
Carriers 2 0
Submarines 32 9
Destroyers 15 7
Frigates 46 13
Assault ships 2 4
Patrol boats 15 4
Minesweepers/hunters      29 15
Auxiliary (tankers, etc)      45 13
Aircraft 400+ 130

 

This isn’t just a recent decline over the past 30 years, it has been steady and almost without a break all the way since World War 2.  For example, total personnel in Britain’s armed services in 1972 were 371,000; in 1962 were 434,000; and in 1952 were 872,000.  In sixty years, personnel have reduced five-fold.

In 1913 Britain’s navy was the most powerful in the world, and by official policy, larger than the next two navies combined.  In time for World War 2 Britain’s navy was still larger than any other single nation, but by the end of the war, the US navy was massively larger, and Britain’s navy has continued to decline ever since.

When Queen Elizabeth was crowned in 1953 the Royal Navy put on a formal ‘review’ at Spithead, with nearly all its fleet lined up in massive rows of warships.  When she observed the 60th anniversary of her ascending to the throne in 2012, the tradition of reviews, dating back to the 1700s, was replaced by a ‘flotilla’ of pleasure launches cruising along the Thames river in London.  The Royal Navy was too embarrassed to admit it no longer had enough ships to be reviewed and hoped people would not notice the difference between private boats motoring along the Thames compared to the former might of the Royal Navy in years past.

The reduction in armed personnel is all the more extreme when plotted against the rise in Britain’s total population.  In other words, the number of armed personnel as a percentage of the total country’s population is declining more rapidly than the simple decline in staffing.  This chart below gives a perspective on numbers from 1950 through 2012 (source).

ukarmedsvcs

There are two other issues arising from this, beyond Britain’s simple loss of military power.

The first is that it takes a lot longer to train a soldier, sailor, or airman now than it did 50 years ago.  Everything is much more complicated, and requires much more training.  This means that if Britain had to suddenly respond to a ‘high intensity’ conflict, or to come to our aid in a high intensity conflict of ours, by the time Britain could start deploying newly trained recruits, it would probably be too late.

The second issue is more subtle.  For almost all of Britain’s history, the armed services were a key part of the nation’s social fabric.  Occasional high intensity conflicts, occurring once a generation or so, saw large swathes of the population called up for service (as much as 10% of the population in both World War 1 and 2).  It wasn’t just the small percentage who served in wartime, either – even during peacetime, universal conscription – ‘national service’ saw all young male adults exposed to army training and discipline.  This ended in 1960 with the last intake being November 1963 – 50 years ago.

For the last 70 years, Britain has not had any high intensity conflicts, while the ‘pool’ of ex-servicemen has been dwindling as the old soldiers simply die.  The number of surviving WW2 soldiers is now rapidly reducing and soon there’ll be no more.

Britain is losing touch with its proud past, and is instead willing itself to become weaker and weaker.  Even if Britain wished to strongly support us in the future, it will lack the men and the equipment to do so.

Oh – and as for our own military capabilities?  Don’t ask.  It’s a similar story (but one to be told another time.

Oct 112011
 

Disney have edited this scene, changing the shotgun into a broom

A seven minute Mickey Mouse cartoon, originally released back in 1938, had Mickey Mouse grabbing a double barreled shotgun from a wall rack in his bedroom to protect himself against what Mickey believed to be a dangerous escaped criminal (in actual fact, it turned out only to be a parrot).

The cartoon is light-hearted and fun, as were all Disney cartoons back then.

But in a recent re-release, Disney have edited out the shotgun, and replaced it with a broom instead (details here).

This is the same Disney that, through its wholly owned ABC network subsidiary, thinks nothing of bombarding all viewers, including children, with adult themes of sexuality, drug taking, immorality and violence (and, yes, even guns).

But apparently a cartoon shotgun in a Mickey Mouse short from 1938 is too harmful to expose to viewers?

Where are these people’s heads, other than up their you-know-whats?  Which is the more offensive – their censoring and substituting the cartoon shotgun, or the appalling imagery and storylines they foist on viewers most of the rest of the time?

Their inconsistency is extraordinary.  Shame on Disney.

Oct 112011
 

Are New York's women shoppers now expected to wear burqa like clothing to reduce their chance of being raped?

So what is the best way to protect yourself against rape?  Some people might suggest learning a form of self defense.  Others may advocate pepper spray, or a shock/stun gun device.  Still other people suggest carrying a pistol and learning how to use it.  Then of course there are the delicate souls who advocate a whistle or some other nonviolent means of simply calling attention to your plight.

New York’s finest has a new suggestion to women in an area currently suffering from a spate of rape attacks.  Their advice is not to wear skirts or shorts, because those sorts of clothing are the types of clothing other rape victims had been wearing when they were attacked (see this article).

Applying the same logic, perhaps the police should also suggest the women go panty-less and bra-less too, because presumably other rape victims also had panties and bras on.  🙂

The police stopped short of recommending a full Muslim style burqa, but that was probably what they would most advocate.

Now what’s wrong with this?

Is our land of the free now reduced to a state where women are told not to ‘dress provocatively’ but rather to drape themselves in formless garb to minimize their risk of rape?

Isn’t this one step from the rapist defense of ‘Well, she was asking for it by wearing clothes like that’?

Are our police admitting they can not protect citizens from one of the most unpleasant forms of violent assault possible?

Oh – let’s not forget one more thing.  In New York, carrying a concealed handgun is almost completely impossible.  The city takes away the ability of weaker women to defend themselves against stronger men, and at the same time attempts to shift the blame/burden onto women if/when they are raped.

Handguns truly are the great equalizer, and the most democratic of devices.  They make all people equal – big or small, male or female, strong or weak, and no matter what their racial origin may be.

Democracies allow handguns.  Tyrannies seek to control and restrict them.  Which do you think New York is?

Aug 092011
 

This WSJ prepared graphic vividly shows how US spending on entitlements has more than doubled in the last generation

There’s been an appalling amount of nonsense put forth in justification of the differing points of view regarding how to solve our nation’s terrible debt crisis, and an even more appalling amount of nonsense is now being spewed out of the usual sources to try and shift the blame for our nation’s first ever credit rating downgrade onto anyone else but themselves.

So here are the simple truths that you need to understand.

Government ‘Spending Cuts’ Don’t Exist

The simplest truth of all is that the deal – the ‘compromise’ that was reached between Democrats and Republicans – contained no real cuts to anything at all.  It was a political fiction which politicians from both parties eagerly supported.

The ‘$900 billion in spending cuts over ten years’ that we were triumphantly told had been reluctantly agreed to are not cuts at all.  In reality, the government spending will increase by $7 trillion over these same ten years!

The ‘cuts’ are in reality reductions in spending increases.  They are meaningless.  Imagine a smoker proudly telling you ‘I’m cutting back on my smoking, I’m reducing the number of cigarettes I smoke by five a day’.  And he tells you that he currently smokes 20 a day.  So you’d expect him to drop down to 15 a day, right?

But no, he then tells you, without embarrassment, that after cutting down by smoking five fewer cigarettes a day, he will now be smoking 30!  How is that possible, you ask him in amazement.  He answers ‘Oh, I had been going to increase to 35 a day, so I’ve cut down by five and now will only be smoking 30.’

You end up wondering ‘How can a guy who smokes 20 cigarettes a day tell me he is cutting down by five a day and now be planning to smoke 30 a day?’.

It is the same with government ‘spending cuts’, and here’s how their game works.  You take a federal program and increase its budget request massively for the next few years.  You then make this new requested amount the baseline, rather than the actual amount spent in past years, and any reduction in this ridiculously inflated projection of expenditure for the future becomes a ‘budget cut’ – even though the program ends up getting a generous increase!

This is exactly what has happened.  The government is not reducing its expenditure compared to what it is currently spending or what it spent last year.  It has merely reduced its future fanciful increase.

If the government wanted to ‘reduce its spending’ even more, it could have projected a $10 trillion increase and then allowed it to be cut back to the same $7 trillion, and boasted/agonized over the $3 trillion in ‘cuts’.

So, do you understand, that the ‘reduction in federal spending’ claimed by so-called fiscal conservatives in government is nothing of the sort?

But who has been passing this truth back to you?  Has your congressman or senator told you ‘I tried my best, but the government is still going to increase its spending by a humongous $7 trillion over the next ten years’?  Or have they written impassioned letters to you about how any reduction at all will destroy the nation’s social fabric (if they are a Democrat) or about how the time for financial austerity is now and these bold cuts are necessary (if they are a Republican)?  Both sets of claims are ridiculous, because the government has allowed itself to continue to increase its rate of expenditure.

And has the mainstream media had headlines ‘Government fails to cut any spending and will instead boost it by $7 trillion’?  Nope.

For reasons you will have to guess at yourself, no-one wants to tell you the truth.

The Size of the Federal Budget and Deficit

In 2010, the federal budget in total was for $3.456 trillion dollars to be spent.  This is twice the size of the budget only ten years before.  If your income has doubled in the last ten years (not from promotion and seniority, but just ‘because’), then you’ll feel this to be fair.  But if your income has not doubled in the last ten years, then you’ll wonder how it is the government can double the amount it spends while you (and just about everyone around you) has not been able to double the amount they spend, too.

For 2010 the government not only planned to spend $3.456 trillion, but it also had a projected $2.162 trillion dollars in tax receipts – in other words, in 2010 we had right around a $1.3 trillion deficit.  One out of every three dollars the government spent was money it didn’t have.

In actual fact, the reality is even worse because the government engages in accounting practices that makes high profile corporate accounting fraudsters like Enron (CEO Kenneth Lay found guilty and was expected to receive 20 – 30 years in prison but died prior to sentencing) and Worldcom (CEO Bernard Ebbers received a 25 year jail term) look like saints rather than sinners.  If public companies used the same accounting tricks and outright dishonesty that the federal government uses, their leaders are sent to prison.  Even domestic goddess Martha Stewart found herself incarcerated for five months after a high profile show trial relating to avoiding a $46,000 loss by selling shares before they dropped in value.

But what are the chances of the government censuring itself?  Oh, about as likely as them voting to turn off their gold plated pensions!

The government mixes up its various different sources of revenue so that social security payments – the money we pay into our social security accounts to be held for future payouts back to us – are used to adjust their present shortfalls.  This is spending tomorrow’s money today, and is an incredibly foolish strategy that we ourselves know better than to do, but it is something the government happily does every day.

Look at this chart which shows the ‘official annual deficits’ (blue bars) after this government financial trickery and then compare them to the actual budget deficits (red bars) showing the true deficits.  (This second chart shows a projection for the future, and you just know that these projections are way too positive, rather than realistic.)

So our annual deficit is huge.  Imagine if you spend 50% more than you earn this year – and imagine that you’ve been spending more than you’ve earned for each year in the last decade, and imagine further that you’re planning to continue spending 50% more than you earn each year for the foreseeable future, too.  And also imagine that you’re not spending this money on investments like buying a house, investing in securities, or anything like that.  You’re spending it on luxuries rather than essentials, and on things that you use up and consume and which are then gone, leaving only their cost as a reminder.

What would happen to you?  How long could you continue living like this?

So, ask the same questions of our government.  What will happen to our government, and by direct extension, ourselves.  How long can our government continue spending money it doesn’t have?  And (here’s the really scary question) – what will happen when the government’s lenders stop lending it money?  (Almost the only remaining solutions then become for the government to either default on its debt or to just print more money to pay its debts, something that will create massive inflation and possibly even hyper-inflation).

The unstated huge tidal wave that will engulf us all is the growing interest on the growing balance of money we have borrowed.  Look at this chart which shows what the future holds for us – the red bar is the interest we will increasingly have to pay each year.  People like to talk a lot about the problem with the cost of Social Security (Social Security is not a cost, because it is something we have paid for ourselves) or the cost of Medicare/Medicaid, but what is the fastest growing part of this chart?  Not the green (Social Security) or the blue (Medicare/Medicaid).  It is the red – the interest on our growing debt mountain.

The Real and Very Simple Reason for the S&P Ratings Downgrade

So let’s now consider the historic first ever S&P ratings downgrade.  Is it the ‘fault’ of the Tea Party?  Did the Tea Party support a $7 trillion increase in government expenditure?  No and no are the answers to both these questions.

We can understand the real reason for the S&P ratings downgrade very simply – by reading their statement and explanation of why they downgraded the US.  There’s no need to invent other reasons, just look at the simple words they used to explain their action.

This is what they said :

Overview

  • We have lowered our long-term sovereign credit rating on the United States of America to ‘AA+’ from ‘AAA’ and affirmed the ‘A-1+’ short-term rating.
  • We have also removed both the short- and long-term ratings from CreditWatch negative.
  • The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics.
  • More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.
  • Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics any time soon.
  • The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower the long-term rating to ‘AA’ within the next two years if we see that less reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case.

Expressed really simply, while the politicians hope to fool us when they talk about ‘spending cuts’ that in reality are quite the opposite, they didn’t fool S&P at all.  S&P can see that the ‘cuts’ are actually increases not decreases.  Hence the downgrade.  End of story.

Democrats have tried to spin this as being all the Tea Party’s fault, because S&P said they are concerned about the lack of political consensus.  But when S&P say they are concerned about the political process, what they mean is the fact that politicians have not truly faced up to economic reality and cut any of the ever larger entitlement programs that are causing the deficit increases.  All this arguing over the last few weeks was not about actual decreases in government spending at all, it was instead about how much government spending would continue to increase!

S&P are not complaining about the Tea Party trying to encourage a measure of financial responsibility; they are worried about the Republicans and Democrats who pretend to be financially responsible while acting completely the opposite.  Even after all the fuss and theatrical nonsense about ‘the debt crisis’ (didn’t we all know, 100% for sure, that after a lot of chest-beating by both sides, the politicians would get together and work out a ‘compromise’ that in reality was not a compromise at all, shortly before the point where the government was to ‘run out of money’) the politicians have continued their same-old same-old approach to spending ever more to try and keep buying votes at the next election, no matter what the underlying longer term cost to our nation’s economy may be.

Note also that S&P are saying there is a chance they might downgrade our country’s rating still further if things don’t improve.

One last comment about the S&P rating.  Unfortunately, economics is not an exact science, and jokes-a-plenty talk about how whenever you get any number of economists in the one room, you end up with more than that number of opinions (because some economists can’t even bring themselves to express a single opinion about anything).

Other rating agencies still have the US on the top rating, and so the S&P rating drop, while significant, does not conclusively mean that it is the end of the world for life as we know it.  On the other hand, S&P’s decision to do something as hugely significant and symbolic (and to risk attracting the ire of the US government and people – Michael Moore suggested that they should be arrested as criminals) as to downgrade the US economy is certainly not something they’d do lightly, without a huge amount of discussion and thought.

How Did We Get to This Point

The US economy was formerly the rock on which the entire world based its financial system.  Our economy was healthy and strong, and other nations were happy to invest in our economy and our currency, because it seemed the safest place in the world to place money, and even nations that weren’t investing in the US were happy to use our dollar as the basis for their international trade.

All those things are changing – or have already changed.

So what has happened to our economy?  I’m not even going to talk about the ‘hollowing’ of the US economy – the loss of most manufacturing type industry to other countries, and the fact that just about anything and everything we buy these days comes from China rather than from a US factory.  Yes, those issues are indeed problems, but they are not the root cause of the issues facing us at present.

The issue we’re facing at present is that we’re spending too much.  That’s the simple problem.  We – that is, our government – is ignoring how much money it can bring in, and is spending money without any thought to budgeting or fitting its expenditures to match its income.

And what is it spending so much money on?  No – not defense (something too many people love to also cite as the runaway cost that needs to be reduced the most).  And, alas, neither are we spending money on bona fide capital investments and improvements (like new highways) that will give us lasting benefits for decades to come.  It can sometimes make sense to borrow money to build something that will then give you decades of lasting benefit – that way you are paying for the asset during the time period you are using it.

The government is spending money on ‘entitlements’ – welfare programs and the like.  Increasingly, our politicians have been buying our votes each election cycle by giving ‘us’ more benefits and handouts.  In the mid sixties and through to the beginning of the 1970s, the percentage of the federal budget spent on entitlements was less than 30%.  But since that time, with the only notable exception being during the Reagan years and the first half of the Bush snr presidency, entitlement spending has been steadily growing – not just in real dollar terms, but also as a percentage of the total federal budget.

Entitlement spending is now over 65% of the total federal budget (as shown in the chart at the top of this article).  Two out of every three dollars the government spends goes towards payouts (some would say ‘pay-offs’) to individuals.  As for defense spending, that represents a mere 20% of the federal budget.  And of that 20%, about 13% goes to actually spending money on defense, and the other 7% is interest on government debt that is so-called ‘defense related’.

No wonder that half of the US population no longer pays income taxes.  And that is an unsustainable and crazy situation to be in.  If the definition of ‘truly needy’ has shifted from a point where the bottom 5% or even 10% of the nation needs support to now where the greater half of the entire nation all needs support, then we need to change the definition back again.

Because there is the other part of the problem.  Politicians love to talk about ‘the wealthy paying their fair share’.  But what is a fair share?  Is it fair that half the country pays no income taxes at all?  Is it fair that someone who has been successful, who has created jobs for other people, who spends money on things that help other parts of the economy function, and who saves some money, creating funds available to then be lent to others; should this person pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in taxes (or even millions of dollars)?  Who do we better trust to keep our economy stable and growing – successful businessmen, or politicians?

How about some hard-hitting talk about the ordinary people also paying their fair share?  Don’t get me wrong – I’m an ordinary person too, and I don’t like paying taxes.  But the solution to my not liking paying taxes is not to tax the wealthy guy more, it is for the government to reduce its spending.

The real problem here is the government is trying to become unaccountable for its expenditures.  By focusing on a minority of the population to get their tax income from, a government no longer has to worry about any retribution at the polls, because although the heavily taxed minority might vote against them, the 50%+ of the population who are net beneficiaries of government spending will support the government, and enough of the people in the grey area between paying no tax and paying a lot of tax will support the government to ensure its survival.

Lastly, let’s just think what the $14.3 trillion federal debt ceiling (prior to it being increased) means to us.  It means that each and every one of the 300 million US citizens have close on a $50,000 debt incurred by the government on our behalf.  If you’re a family of four, that means your share of the nation’s debt is almost $200,000.

If you think that is a lot of money to owe, there’s more to consider.  This is just the total of the federal government’s debt.  How about the money your state owes?  Your county?  Your city?  How about your school district?  Fire district?  Port Authority?  Transit Authority?  All these other organizations probably have ‘negative net worth’ as well, adding further to your overall indebtedness.

So in total, you personally probably have closer to a $100,000 share of the total government debt of all types, and your family is getting close to half a million in debt.  And unlike your own personal debt – a mortgage on a house, a loan on a car, perhaps a student loan still being repaid, and hopefully not too much credit card debt – what can you show for this huge ‘investment’?  A lovely house?  Nope.  A shiny new car?  Nope.  How about increased earnings capabilities as a result of a degree or trade qualification?  Not that either.

Which begs one final question.  If we can’t see anything as a result of the huge over-expenditures the government is making, how exactly would we be harmed if the government eased back on spending money it doesn’t have?

Sources

1.  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903454504576493173381179508.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEADTop – this shows the growth in government expenditures that are payments to individuals from 1965 to 2011, and draws its raw data from OMB.  The chart at the top of this article is taken from this source.

2.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:InflationAdjustedDefenseSpending.PNG  – this shows the makeup of defense spending

3.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:U.S._Federal_Spending_-_FY_2007.png – this shows total 2010 government spending

4.  http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/273876/mad-debt-mark-steyn – the source of the ‘government cuts $900 billion but raises spending by $7 trillion’ statement.  The article goes off on a tangent by strangely comparing our debt to Chinese military spending (and probably underestimates the Chinese military budget, too) but the first part of it is excellent.

5.  http://www.cnbc.com/id/44051683 – Alan Greenspan acknowledges that the government can ‘cheat’ by simply printing meaningless money to ‘pay’ its debts, then amazingly blames the US’ problems, not on itself, but on Italy!

Aug 042011
 
School prayers are encouraged in Toronto, but only for Muslims, not Christians

School prayers are encouraged in Toronto, but only for Muslims, not Christians

Canada seems hell-bent on committing national and social suicide; turning its back on the country’s traditional values while welcoming and giving preferential treatment to a value system that is hostile to everything that Canada’s society has been built upon.  And while the examples in this post are in Canada, we all know the same thing is happening here in the US, too.

Here are two examples that you should read and ponder the implications of.

First, here is a fairly straightforward situation showing how Muslims get given ‘get out of jail free’ passes by the Toronto police.  Behavior that would get us arrested is apparently acceptable if you are a Muslim.

Okay, so that is something to get upset about, for sure.  But it seems like a finite sort of issue, rather than one which threatens to overturn Canadian society on its head, right?

So now please read this second article, and be afraid – be very afraid.  The scary part is not the appalling hypocrisy that has Canadian public schools banned from any type of linkage to anything Christian, but which allows them to encourage strict Muslim prayer sessions.  While that is bad enough, the really terrifying part is the analysis, towards the end of the article, about the demographic trends in western society.  To put it bluntly, Muslims are immigrating to western countries at greater rates than people of other religious persuasions, and once they get there, they are outbreeding us by two to one (in some cases even more).

Our future looks to be increasingly Muslim dominated.  In the past, it has made no difference to us if our neighbors are Protestant or Catholic or Jewish or agnostic/atheist.  Or, let’s open our minds some more – it also didn’t matter if they were Hindu or Buddhist or even Zoroastrian or – let’s go all the way – belong to some sort of ancient fertility cult.  Because, in at least the last hundred years or so, all these other religions and their adherents have been able to peacefully co-exist in western society (even if not necessarily in their own home countries!) without seeking to change our society and demanding that non-followers of their religion must adhere to their own personal opinions, views, and values.

But the Muslims seem to be different.  They seek to impose their values not only on themselves, but on the people around them too, and their values and behaviors are very different to ours.

That wouldn’t be a problem if we stood up and said ‘Sorry, you’re in our country, which is founded on Christian values of tolerance, decency, and egalitarianism’ and insisted they either conform to our social standards or return back to the squalor from which they’ve escaped.  But, for reasons that I can’t start to comprehend, we don’t do this.

Let’s be frank here – when Muslims move to our countries, they are moving to countries with vastly better living standards than what they’re leaving behind them (why else would they come here?).  And – here’s the irony of it – the reason our societies are so much more affluent and appealing to them – is because we have Christian/western standards and those have allowed us to build the positive societies that these immigrants simultaneously seek out to live in and then wish to destroy.

The ultimate sadness in all of this?  Our problem is not really the Muslim invasion that is occurring everywhere around us.  Our problem is ourselves and the passive way we go out of our way to accommodate them and their beliefs, even though those same beliefs are the opposite of the traditional values that our societies are built on.  Most of all, our problem is the hypocrisy that sees us restricting and debasing our Christian heritage while welcoming the new Muslim system and giving it preferential treatment.

We have met our enemy, and it is, alas, none other than ourselves.