Archive for November 20th, 2010

Every so often, something reminds you that good fortune has brought you in touch with a remarkable family. Friendship seems to work that way: it brings families as well as individuals together.

When my mother came to the United States from the Netherlands after World War II, she lived in Minneapolis to see if my dad would make up his mind and propose to her. Meantime, she took a summer job waiting tables at Yellowstone National Park. There she met a co-worker named Jane, a smart woman my mom’s age. They became friends.

About the time my mom and dad married in 1953, Jane married Franz Gayl in Minneapolis. The Gayls had two children: a daughter, Ilse, and a son, Franz, Jr. Today the Washington Post published an article about Franz, Jr. that begins:

Franz Gayl made a name for himself a few years ago as a Marine Corps whistleblower, a civilian scientist who helped push the Pentagon to shift its Iraqi weapons strategy. Senators called him a hero for disclosures that helped get heavily armored vehicles known as MRAPs to the battlefield.

To reward Franz for his efforts, the Marine Corps stripped his security clearance and tried to place him on administrative leave. As another article put it, what was left of his career is over.

A few years ago I visited Jane and Franz’s stepfather Arthur Pejsa in Minneapolis. Franz had recently assumed the troublemaker’s arduous role at the Pentagon. Arthur warned that Franz placed his career at risk if he didn’t keep quiet. According to the Washington Post report, Arthur was right. You try to get the government to do the right thing, and your career is over.

I told Arthur at the time that some things are more important than your career. We needed people who would speak truthfully about the war in Iraq. At the time Franz started to speak up, the Pentagon would not even provide extra armor for its Humvees, let alone buy the more expensive MRAPs.

You may remember the soldier who challenged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when he met with troops in Iraq. The soldier asked Rumsfeld why his men had to go scavenging in local junkyards to find extra metal to protect their vehicles. Rumsfeld’s answer amounted to, “Suck it up. You don’t always get what you want.” Indeed. Many men and women died in Iraq because their government didn’t provide them with the proper equipment.

One person persistently prodded and pushed for better armor — appealed to the Marines’ sense of honor not to leave their soldiers unprotected. What did he get? Fired. Our government should have piled honors on him because he tried hard to make people do the right thing. He tried to lead and speak openly in an organization that prizes only good followers, and leaders who follow the rules. So the Marines dismissed him.

You have to wonder how we can win wars or defend ourselves when we treat our best people that way. I hope Franz finds a way to contribute as a scientist — talented people can usually cope with obstacles. Whatever he accomplishes, though, our armed forces won’t receive the benefit. Once people show you the door, they don’t welcome you back. To clear up uncertainty about that, the Pentagon should post a sign on its front door: FREE THINKERS AND UPSTARTS NOT WELCOME. GO AWAY.

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It Should be Easy to Balance the Federal Budget

In spite of the recommendations for tackling the federal budget deficit and national debt of Obama’s Debt Commission, which included a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts, a new poll released by  Rasmussen Reports finds that 51 percent of likely voters polled believe it is possible to balance the federal budget without raising taxes.  This is not surprising since approaching where to cut federal spending is like a glutton deciding where to start eating at an all you can eat buffet.  In other words, there are so many things that should be cut from the federal budget the hardest decision is where to begin.

There are so many things the federal government finances that are unconstitutional it would take a treatise to list them all.  So, instead I will just “nibble” at the edges, which in itself will save a bunch of dough.

First of all, how about abolishing a few bastions of corporate welfare?  I speak of the departments of agriculture and commerce.  In 1910, over 30 percent of Americans farmed.  Today, less than 3 percent of us till the soil, yet the Department of Agriculture’s budget has ballooned to be one of the largest in the Executive Branch at $95 billion per annum.  According to the Heritage Foundation, farm subsidies distributed by the department are meant to lessen the poverty of family farmers, but in reality the majority of payments go to big commercial farms with average yearly incomes of $200,000 and net worths of close to $2 million.   Keep in mind that these subsidies not only are a waste because they go to big agribusiness, but they are responsible for high food prices. Clearly, farm policy in America does not promote the general welfare.  Abolish the Department of Agriculture and save almost $100 billion annually.

Another corporate welfare enclave is the Department of Commerce.  At $6.5 billion a year this wouldn’t save that much but should be an easy target to unite the constitutionalist right with the socialist left.  The goal of the department is to essentially promote American business abroad.  Not just those on the right or left but all Americans should know that that is the job of corporate marketing departments.  The department is just another gross example of corporate welfare run amok.

And while we are talking gross examples of corporate welfare, there is no better example than the federal agency known as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).  The agency’s mission is to provide political risk insurance, loans, and loan guarantees for U.S. private capital in less developed countries.  In other words, the agency helps facilitate the transplanting of American jobs to foreign countries by giving financial aid to American business and by insuring those businesses against potential losses due to political upheavals and the like in their country of operation.    Granted the abolition of OPIC would only save tens of millions, but why should American workers pay for the exportation of their jobs overseas?  Doesn’t this also cut into valuable tax revenues? End the injustice, take the risk of doing business in a distant land off the taxpayer and place it back where it belongs on the business, abolish OPIC.

Next on the chopping block should be the boondoggles better known as the Departments of Education and Energy.  Brought into existence under Jimmy Carter in the late 70s, the Department of Education was nothing more than a gift from the president to the teacher’s union for supporting his presidential run in 1976.  Education has not improved in America since its founding, thus at a price tag of $70 billion a year abolition of the department is a no-brainer.

Likewise, the other Carter era department – Energy, should also be axed.  Its goal when it was founded in the late 1970s was to reduce American dependence on foreign oil.  It has failed miserably in that endeavor.  In the early 1970s, America imported 24 percent of Her oil.  Today She imports over 65 percent of Her oil.  By pulling the plug on Energy another $23 billion annually would be saved.

Again, because of my desire to keep this article at a reasonable length, I cannot get into all of the cuts I would propose of the unconstitutional and wasteful things the federal government spends money on.  But, I would be remiss if I didn’t include a discussion of the largest portions of the federal budget – namely Social Security/Medicare and defense.

The U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) in 2008 announced that because of the retiring Baby Boomer Generation unfunded future obligations for Medicare and Social Security total almost $41 trillion.  Many experts agree that to fund the programs into the future will require raising FICA tax rates enormously.  More than likely, those rates will bankrupt American companies and force many to relocate overseas.  The resulting unemployment will lower the standard of living for all Americans.  Something radical needs to be done.

In 1935, when Social Security started if you reached age 21 you could expect to live to age 65.  The retirement age for Social Security was initially set at 65.  In the last 75 years life expectancy has risen by 12 years to 77 years of age, yet the retirement age for Social Security remains at 65 years of age!  How insane is that?  In the short term to sustain those currently on the system and to save trillions the retirement age for both Social Security and Medicare should be raised to 75 years of age.  In the meantime, we should work toward transitioning to a time when socialized retirement does not exist.  Social Security has been continuously broken and reformed because it is a flawed concept.  Medicare has probably done more to raise the cost of healthcare for all Americans than any other “entitlement” program.  More than the well-being of seniors is at stake here.  The very financial solvency of the country is at stake and this affects all of us.

Lastly, the defense portion of the budget must undergo huge cuts.  Washington spends over $1 trillion annually on defense related expenditures.  We have our troops in over 150 countries.  Why is it that we have invested so much money and personnel in our security and yet still not feel safe?  It seems like the government’s national threat level is perpetually stuck at Yellow or Elevated.

Besides that, who are we competing against militarily?  We spend about six times more on defense than the next highest spending country – China.  Do we really need to spend a trillion dollars a year to defeat Al Qaeda?

The United States is in a similar position to what faced the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.  With a bankrupt economy, Soviet leaders continued to spend lavishly on its military industrial complex.  The result was the breakup of the empire.  The lesson was and is that bloated defense budgets can break the bank.  We can no longer afford to finance a worldwide empire that doesn’t even make us safe.  It is beyond the time to bring the troops home and cut the war budget by at least half.  To not do so puts our national security in greater risk than if we continue to spend trillions.

There is so much in the federal budget that can be cut that it should be relatively easy to balance the books.  At the end of the day the U.S. government must cut back drastically or face financial insolvency.   A majority of Americans realize that the solution is in cuts and not tax increases.  The problem is Americans have gotten use to feeding at the federal trough.  Big business will oppose abolishing federal departments that give them subsidies and eliminate competition.  The teachers’ unions will fight tooth and nail to preserve a department that perpetuates their failed monopoly over our education system.  The AARP will scream bloody murder about any changes to Social Security and Medicare.  And of course, defense contractors and military brass will mount a campaign of fear and hatred to protect their gravy train.  In the end, what it will come down to is the courage of our elected leaders.  Given their historic track record, it won’t be easy.

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