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 :


  • 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?


1. – 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.  – this shows the makeup of defense spending

3. – this shows total 2010 government spending

4. – 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. – 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!

Jul 192011
Otis Rolley, a gun hater and Baltimore mayoral candidate

Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley wants to tax your ammo

There are few creatures more venal than politicians running for office.  They’ll say or do just about anything in the desperate hope of winning the election.  Normal people find this impossible to understand, because most of the time, normal people also can’t understand who in their right mind would run for most public offices.  But no-one has ever accused politicians of being normal.

An egregious example of idiocy is on display in Baltimore where mayoral candidate Otis Rolley has proposed a new way of reducing crime – by imposing a $1 tax on every bullet bought.  Baltimore is one of the most violent cities in the nation – I wonder if there is any relation between its appalling crime record and Rolley’s past position as the city’s planning director between 2003 – 2007?

In Rolley’s alternative universe, adding a $1 tax to every bullet would make it too expensive for criminals to use guns when committing crimes and so would result in less crime being committed, with or without guns.

Let’s think about this (distasteful but necessary).  Most criminals never fire a gun in any crime.  Indeed, probably most of the time, criminals don’t even carry a gun.  These criminals will be unaffected by Rolley’s bullet tax.

But what about the criminals who do carry a gun?  Adding a $1/bullet tax would mean that instead of spending $500 – $1000 on a gun and then $10 on a box of bullets, they now need to spend an extra $20 or so to get enough bullets to load their gun.  Wow – that will sure make a difference, won’t it.

And what about the criminals who actually fire their gun?  Maybe they fire their gun half a dozen times in the course of a crime that nets them some thousands of dollars.  Will an extra cost of $5 – $10 really make that much of a difference to them?

Rolley of course deliberately chooses not to think about the other people impacted by his plan – honest ordinary law abiding citizens who shoot guns for recreation or for training.  People like you (I hope!) and me.

We fire hundreds, possibly even thousands of rounds a year so as to ensure we can safely and competently use a gun.  The cost to us would be hundreds or even thousands of dollars.  That would sure impact on us.

There’s a bit of good news, though.  Baltimore is just one single city, and in a very small state.  So it isn’t too far to drive out of Baltimore to find a gun shop in a city not suffering from a crazy mayor, and to buy your ammunition there.  Or to get it online.  Hmmmm – maybe even the criminals will do that, too?  Do you reckon?

Otis is a Democrat.  But you probably guessed that, already.

May 132011

Few Cadillacs are sold in downmarket neighborhoods

Okay, so this might seem like a trivial question with an obvious answer, although perhaps asking if the government can force General Motors to do something is a bad example; being as how these days GM translates more to ‘Government Motors’ due to the massive bailout and shareholding in GM by the federal government.  Maybe they truly can force GM to do something as crazy as to open a Cadillac dealership in a depressed downtown slum area.

We can all surely agree that any car manufacturer should be free to open dealerships wherever it chooses, and should be equally free to not open dealerships wherever it does not wish to open them, correct?  That is just common sense and part of the free market.  There is not any suggestion that car manufacturers are obliged to offer their models in all marketplaces – a Yugo dealership should not be forced to open in Beverly Hills, and a Rolls Royce dealership should not be forced to open in Watts.

Let’s try another example.  Should the government be able to control where supermarket chains open stores?  Should they be able to say ‘No, you can’t open a store there, but you must open a store here instead’?  This might be more sensitive – could they say ‘It is unfair on this section of the population not to have a huge big upmarket Whole Foods in their neighborhood’, accuse Whole Foods of discriminatory practices, and force them to open their up-market overpriced stores in poor neighborhoods?  Do people have some sort of built-in right to have expensive supermarkets in their neighborhood, even if they can’t afford to buy the goods offered for sale in them?

Hopefully you agree that supermarkets too can open and close stores as they wish.

Now, for the third one.  Should the government be able to tell banks where they must open branches?  Unless you can see some way in which banks are different to car dealerships, to supermarkets, and to just about every other sort of commercial enterprise, you’ll probably agree that government has no business interfering with the normal commercial decisions of banks and where/how they open or close branches.

But, as this article reports, the government is doing exactly this; indeed, the Justice Department has opened a new division with 20 officials to try and force banks to do things which they would not otherwise choose to do themselves, including forcing them to lend money to risky borrowers and to open branches in areas they don’t see any commercial sense in having branches.

This is justified as a way to forcibly prevent banks from ‘red lining’.  Red lining was a practice, some decades ago, where banks would automatically refuse to lend money to a person based on where they lived.  This was before computerized data bases of credit reports, and at a time when discrimination was much more prevalent, and it suited banks’ purposes to simply say “If you live in a ‘bad’ area, we don’t want to risk our money with you”.  Was this fair?  Probably not, although on the other hand, whenever the government tries to force banks to lend money that they wouldn’t otherwise lend, we seem to end up with huge bailouts at the end of the day.

But these days, no-one in any bank ‘red-lines’.  They simply call up a credit report on their computer, and within 30 seconds, have a FICO score and a series of financial ratios in front of them that indicate if the applicant should be given a loan or not, and if the applicant should be allowed a discounted interest rate due to being an excellent credit risk, or if they should be charged an increased interest rate due to being a poor credit risk.

This is the same as – well, to use the car dealership example again; you go in to a dealership with a vehicle you want to trade on a new car.  If your old car is in good condition and low miles, you’ll get a higher trade-in value than if it is in poor condition and with high miles.  And if it is a vehicle that they know they can’t sell on, they might even refuse to accept it at all, or massively low-ball you on the price.

No-one is suggesting that car dealers should give the same trade-in on all vehicles.  But the Justice Department is blathering on about how banks should adopt identical policies for all potential borrowers, and ridiculously accusing banks of red-lining when in truth all the banks are doing is making prudent commercial decisions based not on race but on financial issues.

So bank regulators are setting the banks up for another banking crisis, by forcing them to open branches in areas where they don’t want to do business, and forcing them to lend money to people who by all normal measures are unlikely to be able to pay back their loans.  Does that sound familiar to you – aren’t we currently in the middle of a multi-trillion dollar economic crisis as a result of banks being pressured to make ridiculous loans to people who obviously had no way of ever paying them off?

One of the interesting consequences of this financial melt-down is that even the people the government was trying to ‘help’ have been massively harmed as a result of their dysfunctional help.  No-one has won, except perhaps for the government itself, which has used the financial crisis it generated largely by itself as a justification to become even more involved in all parts of our nation’s economy and commercial dealings.

It is common for some people to vilify bankers as being greedy and short-sighted, but spare a thought to who is forcing them to do these clearly stupid things – our own government.  There was a time when everyone respected their local banker – what has changed?  Government regulation is what has changed.

I’ll close not with answers, but with two questions.

1.  Why should the government treat banks differently to car dealerships, supermarkets, and just about every other type of private enterprise?

2.  Why can’t the government learn from its past mistakes, rather than repeat them?

May 062011

Obama, Biden, Clinton, etc, all pretend to be watching the bin Laden raid

You probably read one of a dozen different accounts of the Osama take-down, many of them including this picture, showing our illustrious President, together with Biden, Clinton, and various others all intently watching something out of the picture.

We were told this picture was taken as they were watching the realtime events unfolding at Osama’s compound.  Here’s a video clip of John Brennan (White House Counter-Terrorism advisor) talking about the group, depicted allegedly ‘monitoring the situation realtime’ and with full visuals.  And here’s one of dozens of articles including the picture.

But it now turns out that for the early 24 minutes of the 40 minute raid there was no video feed at all, and that the picture was a subsequently staged picture for the press rather than a true picture of what happened.

Apart from the assassination in cold blood of bin Laden, it seems everything else that was volunteered and proudly proclaimed about this mission were lies.  And let’s understand this clearly – it is one thing, in the heat of battle, to confuse some of the facts.  But is an entirely different thing for people to invent total lies (and to stage fake pictures) and pass them off as truth to us.

A 40 minute fire-fight?  Ummm, no.  Only one bad guy had a gun, and he was shot almost immediately.  Our guys did kill another person or two or three, but the only bullets heading downrange were from our guys, not the other side.

The helicopter loss was first described as a mechanical failure, then being shot down by ‘heavy enemy fire’ (which was non-existent) and then finally described as having collided with a side of the building.

Osama was first described as initially shooting at the good guys through a window as they stormed the compound, then of course, shooting at them in his bedroom with an AK-47 and hiding behind one of his wives; whereas now it turns out he never touched a weapon, wasn’t hiding behind a wife (who was first described as shot and killed and now the woman in question is described as having been injured) and was unarmed.  But he was ‘resisting’ (by turning and running away).

As for Obama himself, he was described as shot twice, three times, and now possibly only once.  But we don’t know, because the pictures we were promised, we will not know get to see, for fear of upsetting our enemies.

Talking about our enemies, initial reports cited the raid as being done in conjunction with the Pakistanis, and even said there was doubt who it was who shot Osama – maybe our guys or maybe the Pakistanis.  Now we learn that the only role the Pakistanis had in the raid is taking the remains of the destroyed helicopter and threatening to sell them to China or Russia or anyone else who would be interested in seeing the previously undisclosed new stealth technology that was on the helicopter.

The million dollar compound in which Osama was described as living luxurously in?  As any of the pictures of it made immediately obvious, it was a squalid ramshackle building, apparently already decaying in places although barely five years old, and the one million dollar cost estimate has been downgraded to a quarter million or less.

And the ‘incredibly gutsy’ decision made by Obama (quoted here)?  What exactly was gutsy about sending other people to take out Osama?  If Obama had decided to lead the mission himself, then that would be gutsy (and foolish).  But the only sacrifice he made was missing half of a golf game (apparently his 66th golf game since taking office – he is able to golf about once a week on average).

Please tell me what is gutsy about sending in a couple of dozen troops to take out Osama bin Laden.  After the months of monitoring, we probably knew exactly the extent and nature of the people in Osama’s compound (ie very few soldiers and very little resistance, resulting in zero casualties on our side) and was the issue of ‘Do we/don’t we take out Osama?’ even a question that needed to be asked or answered?

Obama risked nothing personally, nor even anything politically.  If the mission failed, it would have been kept secret, or else publicized so that he got points for trying.  And if it succeeded, as we are told it did, then of course, Obama would seek to cover himself in glory, as he double definitely has indeed attempted to do.

In an attempt to play up the element of ‘gutsy’ involvement, Obama then turned around and awarded a Presidential Unit Citation to the SEAL team involved in the action.  A PUC is the highest honor that can be awarded to a unit, sort of the collective equivalent of a Congressional Medal of Honor.

But, let’s think about this.  This group of SEALS were helicoptered in and out, fought against one armed man and another three or four unarmed men, in a friendly country, and took no casualties of their own, with a very mono-dimensional mission that had been as close to completely scoped out in advance as anything ever can be.

Yes, they were successful, and yes, it was a high value target.  But in a world where SEAL teams are tasked with truly risky missions, involving extraordinary feats of strength and endurance, lasting days or weeks at a time, in massively unfriendly places – both in terms of weather and the local people, and against much larger forces, often taking casualties in the course of the action, does this 40 minute ‘stroll in the park’ really qualify for the highest award possible?

I’m sorry, Mr President, but giving out a Presidential Unit Citation doesn’t make your own actions any more courageous or ‘gutsy’ and in doing so, you debase the actions these brave men and their fellow soldiers undergo most of the rest of their lives.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad we found bin Laden some time last year, and pleased to see bin Laden now dead.  I’m glad we killed him.  But doing so has changed nothing for the better in our ongoing battle against Islamic extremists.  They still hate us – possibly now more than ever.  Al Qaeda is not going to unravel or give up, just because of the death of bin Laden.  And all the dozens (possibly hundreds) of other Islamic terrorist groups are still there, too.

Now is not the time to celebrate another false feeling of a mission accomplished.  Now is the time to double down and to press the battle harder, because for sure, that is what the other guys will be doing to us.

Apr 222011

Getting a US Passport is about to become harder

There is, ahem, a bit of controversy about our present President and the legitimacy of his claim for American citizenship.  Apparently all he has had to do is show a ‘short form’ certificate of life birth, unsigned by any attending doctors or hospital officials, and that is all.

Some people think that it should be necessary to show more evidence to prove one’s eligibility for the supreme office in the country, and with it, the mantle of leader of the most powerful nation on earth.  Others of course disagree.  But let’s not go there – let’s leave that for others to thrash out.

However – here’s a question :  If we are to require more evidence to confirm the eligibility of a candidate for the office of President, what should that be?

That’s actually an easy question to answer, thanks to our own State Department.  They are proposing to amend the form we must complete to get a passport, adding some extra questions.  Actually, adding a huge amount of extra questions.

Go have a look at their proposed new form here.  Section A seems easy enough, although why do they need to know our social security number?

But, read on.  Look at section B, which requires the date and place of birth and citizenship of all related family members, including step parents.

And they’re only getting started.  Next is section C, with questions such as where your mother lived a year before you were born.  And that’s an easy question in this section – how about dates and details of both pre-natal and post-natal visits?  Details of when/where you may or may not have been circumcised!

Now for another memory test.  You’re probably familiar with applying for jobs or credit that might ask you to list past addresses and employers, perhaps going back three, five or even ten years.  So get ready for section D, E and F – but these require you to list details of every place you have lived at since birth, every school you’ve ever attended, and every job you’ve ever had.

You even have to remember the zip codes – I’ve no idea what you do if you’re sufficiently old as to have had addresses prior to the zip code system being instituted.

And as for your jobs, you also have to remember the name of your supervisor and give a phone number at which he can be contacted!

So let’s see this form first filled out, in its entirety, by our present President, shall we.  If it is good enough for the State Department to require us to do this form to get a passport, surely the least he can do is fill out the form, too – indeed, doesn’t he also need a passport?

More details here.

Mar 292011

I’m having a tough time at present.  Like many of us, particularly self employed, I’m not making as much money as I used to.  So, guess what – I’m cutting back on my expenditures.  More meals at home; and cheaper meals when I still eat out.  I don’t buy as many movies as I used to.  I’ve cut back on my shooting.  And so on.

Chances are, you’re feeling some of the same pressures I am, and chances are, you’re making cut-backs too.

But what of the government?  Well, we’ve all become so used to hearing the phrase ‘trillion dollars’ in the context of our national deficit that it no longer excites all that much (but for a fun thought, if you piled a trillion dollar bills on top of each other, they would circle the world almost three times).  And our national budget is a mess of confusing things such as defense spending; it makes it difficult to pick it apart and gives lots of ambiguity for big-spending politicians to hide behind.

But what about our state budgets?  They’re a lot more simple and straightforward, surely?  What’s been happening there?

I went and did some Googling, and came up with the total annual revenues and expenditures for all 50 states, for the 12 year period 1998 through 2009.

Here’s a simple chart that shows what has been happening :

Although we have had two two year periods with revenues dropping (2001 and 2002, then 2008 and 2009), you’ll see that every year has shown state spending steadily increasing.

Could our economy’s problem be as simple as that?  Our governments – both state and federal (and you may as well toss in city and county, too) are simply spending – well, you can say ‘too much’ or, if you prefer, ‘more than they earn’.

Maybe that is it, in a nutshell – but if that is true, why is it, at least for me in my home area, I get the distinct feeling that I’m getting less rather than more ‘help’ from the government every passing year?  Parks are being closed.  Library hours cut back.  The roads always seem to need repairs.  And so on.  Where is all the money going?

I’ll not answer that last question (but someone should!); let’s just simply look some more at the massive growth in state government expenditures.

Let’s give our state governments as much ‘benefit of the doubt’ as possible.  Maybe we need to adjust for two ‘growth’ factors that could explain some of the increases in their expenditures – the growing population of the country (which rose from 270 million in 1998 to 307 million in 2009), and the annual inflation rate (which has been hovering around 2% during this time period).

If we’re going to adjust, maybe we should also adjust for the overall improvements in efficiency and productivity that have come down the pike over that time period.  Whether it is better computers, more automation in general, improved systems, or whatever else, most industries are getting more results per dollar they spend, particularly on staff.

And don’t forget there isn’t a politician alive or dead who hasn’t promised us he will cut waste and make government more accountable, effective, and efficient.  How do we factor all these promises into the growth in expenditures?

But let’s ignore what should be a several percent annual reduction in expenditures due to efficiencies, and instead just add adjustments for population growth and inflation.

Here’s the chart again with a third line added to show what the growth in expenditures could be allowed to be.

So, no matter how much the politicians regularly promise cut-backs and budget cuts and all the other stuff they like to trot out, look at the gap between the green line and the red line.  Actual expenditures have been growing by almost 6.2% every year, about twice what could be explained by population increases and basic inflation.

Where is the extra 3% a year (in round figures) of government expenditure going?  Are you getting 3% more benefit from your state government each year?

And, to close on the note I opened with, the states revenues plunged from 2007 to 2008 and dropped still further in 2009 to a level little more than half that of 2007.  Meanwhile, expenditures continued to steadily rise like there was no tomorrow and no crisis.

This is sheer unaccountable lunacy.  We’d be homeless on the street if we treated our personal finances that way.  Hmmm – come to think of it – making some politicians homeless and dumping them on the street might be the best thing that could happen to them…


Mar 262011

With friends like our President, who needs enemies

There’s a huge amount to dislike about the actions we are taking in Libya at present.  It is so extraordinarily inconsistent – why are we ignoring all the other nasty dictators around the world, and all the other popular uprisings, and instead deciding to take on Gaddafi in Libya?

You might say, cynically, that it is all about the oil, but I’m not even sure that oil is a large part of this equation – it is typically a liberal cheap shot to denigrate our foreign policy as being all about oil.

Libya represents only about 1% of the world’s oil production; if oil was dictating our foreign policy, wouldn’t we be doing much more assertive things in countries with larger oil production and unstable/unfriendly governments?  For example, Venezuela, or, most notably of all, Iran (almost three times more oil produced than Libya), where the popular protests against their apparently unfair rigged elections were greeted with apathy and disinterest by the western powers.

And, of course, if oil is so important to us, wouldn’t we be, ahem, drilling a bit more at home, too?

So, no, I don’t think our Libyan actions are about oil, but having said that, it isn’t clear what they are about.

Two more opening thoughts.

First, much has been made of Gaddafi waging war with his own people, and even killing them.  But isn’t that his own business?  If he was invading a foreign country, then possibly international treaties much empower or compel us to come to the other country’s aid, but who are we to pick and choose our favorites in a sovereign country’s internal dispute?

For that matter, if we are to now wage war against foreign governments due to them killing their own citizens (even if their own citizens have taken up arms and are fighting an armed uprising against the government of the day) then why don’t we also wage war against governments that passively kill their citizens, not with bullets, but with corruption?

What is the difference, in moral terms, between a government that kills a citizen quickly and cleanly with a bullet, and a government that allows a person to slowly starve to death, or to suffer the consequences of non-existent health care, both due to corruption and the misallocation of funds that should have been destined to help improve the lives of its citizens?

Second, much has been made of Gaddafi as being a crazed madman, and of having been a sponsor of terrorism against the west.  But these things are all in the past.

Gaddafi changed his tune, and for the last five years and more, has been increasingly a friend of the west and supportive of our common causes.  He renounced his nuclear plans.  He was even helping us in our fight against al Qaeda.

So now we’ve decided to take out one of our allies.  Hmmmm.

Let’s also look at the ‘rebels’ in Libya.  Who are they?   What is so very special about them that we’ve betrayed an ally so as to befriend them?

Well, we actually know almost nothing at all about these rebels.  But we do know a couple of things.  The first is that many of them have formerly been fighting against us in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And the second thing is that they are being actively supported by al Qaeda.

Read this last paragraph again carefully, and then struggle to understand it, if you can, because I sure can’t.

Maybe Gaddafi is indeed a madman; but perhaps his madness was in renouncing his terrorist ways, in ceasing his acts against the west, and in giving up on his nuclear ambitions.  Maybe his madness was in befriending the west.

It isn’t just us.  Look at the French.  Not all that long ago, they refused to allow our planes to overfly France when President Reagan went to bomb Libya (back when Libya truly was an enemy).  And now the short little Frenchman, Sarkozy, facing an increasingly tough battle to get re-elected as President, has become the ringleader in chief, calling for action against Libya.

Just across the English Channel, the English – the same English who cozied up to Gaddafi so much that they gave him back the formerly imprisoned-for-life Pan Am bomber, took on the role of second keenest nation to do battle against Libya.

People who had formerly been cheered for persuading the Libyans to make substantial donations and financial support, eg, for educational institutions as reputable as the London School of Economics have now resigned in disgrace for the sin of accepting donations from the Gaddafi family.

How can we describe our sanity when we turn our back on a reformed bad guy, someone who is now actively befriending us, and someone we had in turn been actively welcoming back into our fold as a friendly power.  Instead, we are supporting and helping equip our mutual enemies – the people we are currently fighting against in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Don’t get me wrong, Gaddafi is no saint.  But that which threatens to follow him is likely to be much worse.

Please read this article which not only details the lunacy on our part, but also reports how al Qaeda are taking arms from Libya to use against us on other fronts.

Feb 222011

George Washington, Soldier and Statesman

Feb 22, 1732 saw the birth of George Washington, commonly considered ‘the father of our country’.

He played a leading role in the War of Independence and was the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army (a position he resigned at the end of the conflict), he presided over the constitutional convention that was responsible for writing the Constitution in 1787, and was unanimously elected as the nation’s first president, serving from 1789 – 1797.

He died on December 14, 1799.  In the years since then, he has consistently been ranked as one of the nation’s greatest presidents (usually Lincoln is placed first).

If you’d like to read a treasure trove of sage advice, his Farewell Address at the end of his Presidency makes for at times heavy going, but very illuminating reading.

Here’s a Wikipedia article that summarizes/explains it plus gives links to the full text original source.

However, to compress his sage wisdom, and taken from various published utterances, here are some shorter quotes to remember him by :

On Freedom of Speech

  • If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter
  • When one side only of a story is heard and often repeated, the human mind becomes impressed with it insensibly.

On Firearms

  • When firearms go, all goes. We need them every hour.
  • Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples’ liberty’s teeth.
  • The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.
  • There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet an enemy.

On Personal Success

  • Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.
  • Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.
  • I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy.

On Government

  • The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government
  • Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action
  • However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
  • It is important … that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres; avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.
Feb 102011

A Koran and crossed swords in their logo, but we are told to believe the Muslim Brotherhood is secular and peaceloving?

The executive branch of the US Government is falling over itself to push Egypt’s President, Hosni Mubarak, out, and are assuring us that this will be a Good Thing for Egypt, for the US, and for the world as a whole.

Apparently we should ignore the fact that for almost 30 years, Mubarak has been a sensible force for good and moderation in the Middle East.  He was the first leader in the region to make peace with Israel, he has resisted Muslim extremism, and he has no ambitions to become a nuclear power.

Yes, depending on how you choose to define such terms, he was probably also a despot and a dictator; but so too are many other of our allies (and our enemies) around the world.

Anyway, we are now being told that his downfall will be a Really Good Thing.  It is becoming increasingly obvious that in holding such a view, our political leaders are flying in the face of common sense and the general sentiment of other friendly governments in the Middle East (of which there are precious few).

What of the immediate future in Egypt?  It seems possible that Mubarak may be succeeded by a government headed by the ‘See No Evil’ ineffective former nuclear weapons inspector, Mohamed el Baradei – someone who did an excellent job of consistently refusing to acknowledge that either Iraq or subsequently Iran had any ambitions to become a nuclear power.  His success at playing a game of ‘See no Evil’ was so great that he was jointly awarded a Nobel Peace prize, along with the organization he headed, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in 2005.

This of course puts him in the illustrious company of other visionaries such as our current President (awarded the 2009 Peace Prize, with his win being decided on almost his first day of office; he has yet to show any substantive accomplishment that could possibly retroactively support his win); the joint prize awarded in 2007 to the now almost completely discredited IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) riddled with scandals after putting forward bald faced lies as climate-change supporting ‘facts’, and Al Gore; or the 2002 winner, the ineffectual Jimmy Carter (perhaps his largest contribution to ‘peace’ was having the Iranian revolution occur on his watch).

But, I am digressing.  Back to Egypt.

Notwithstanding the probable puppet presence of el Baradei, it is becoming uncomfortably and increasingly plain that the people pulling the strings will be the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that has publicly announced its implacable enmity to all things western (see more information on this organization here).

Or have they?  Today, our Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told a congressional hearing that while the Muslim Brotherhood may be nasty and bad in other countries, in Egypt they are peace-loving, largely secular, and really nice people.  See the video clip here.

Expressions of astonishment have erupted all around the country and world.  For just one such statement, here’s an NBC reporter, in Egypt, asking on camera ‘who on earth said that; it is totally wrong’.

So, here’s your choice.  Who do you believe.  Our nation’s Director of National Intelligence, who assures us the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood are really nice peace loving people?  Or me?

I say they’re no more peace loving now than they ever have been in the past, and while they might move slowly to take over power in Egypt and to make it into another extremist Muslim state in the mold of, eg, Iran, that is their clear aim and objective.

Lastly, a question to ponder.  If our DNI turns out to be completely wrong on this, two thoughts.  First, why would he have made what seems to be, to the rest of us ‘ordinary folk’, such a ridiculous claim?  Second, who will be held accountable and what consequences will they experience?