In American politics, at least, underhanded tactics are a time tested way to bully one’s political adversaries into doing what one wants them to do. Barack Obama seems particularly versed in underhandedness, as he once again demonstrated yesterday.

The problem, as is usually true with underhanded political tactics, is that it does nothing to solve the problem and will likely make the problem worse. Obama has used fear to motivate millions of Americans to badger their representatives into doing something that could very easily prove destructing for the country, and he did so to achieve political goals that could very easily prove destructive to the country.

Let’s face reality: Social Security is part of the reason our federal government is so far in debt to begin with, and without substantial reform–yes, even cuts–to the program, our federal government cannot remain solvent. The specter of checks not going out in August is just the tip of a very deep iceberg for a government that borrows almost half of every dollar it spends.

If the president wants to be a real leader, he should present a plan that might actually save the government from default, both now and in the future. Instead, he makes the same old tired arguments he always has: tax the rich, spend like a drunk sailor on shore leave.

In the meantime, he fiddles while Washington burns, and now his song has been tuned to make people dance in fear.


Stop trying to preserve government programs and do it yourself

As the budget and deficit talks between Congress and the White House drag on, I have been reading a lot of articles, especially from progressive sources, about how people need to act to preserve this or that spending program because of how beneficial it is. Almost every one of those programs shares very specific characteristics: they are almost always focused at a local problem and are almost always focused at helping individuals do something.

Here’s my idea: why not abandon the federal programs and try making these things happen ourselves if they’re really worth doing.

“But,” you might say, “where is the money going to come from?”

Isn’t that kind of the whole point? Because the federal government is taking so much money out of the the economy in taxes, there is no money for local people to do local things. If that reality is the case, then it makes sense to let the federal programs expire, let the money reenter the economy, and let local people take over doing local things.

Of course, the problem is a lot more complicated than that. For instance, even if the federal government makes these cuts, it won’t add up to the $1 trillion in deficit spending projected for next year, nor will it really dent the $14 trillion in debt the federal government has already accrued.

No, even if these locally focused federal programs expire, there still may not be money, and that reality must force local people focused on local things to consider an even more aggressive approach. In my view, it’s time for us to rebuild our localities so that they can withstand the disaster our federal–and state, really–governments have inflicted upon us.

This aggressive approach means abandoning the government solution in favor of hard work and sacrifice at the local level. It means accepting that the government, and the people who continue to benefit from government spending, is going to continue to rip us off. It means deciding to work together to find local solutions to local problems even when there is no money. It means caring enough about what happens to us and our neighbors that we’re willing to do what it takes to make things work for us.

These things can happen, but people have to do them. I will give you an example:

This year, the village of Covington, Ohio and several enterprising individuals started a farmer’s market (Facebook) on Friday nights in the parking lot of the government building there. It’s a small market, one I participate in, but it has the distinction of having no government involvement except at the local level.

Now, this market will live and die on two things: will people from the area who are doing things participate, and will people who live in the area frequent it? Frankly, this is a test of whether people believe a local thing can work, and it’s up to the local people to make it work.

Some might say that it’s just a farmer’s market, but I say it’s more than that: it’s local; it’s independent; it’s focused on the community; it’s the way jobs and the future will be created. But, these things will only be true if people actually participate.

So, here’s the test: will people participate locally, or will they keep expecting someone else to solve the problem for them? It’s up to you to decide.


Slow motion disaster

I cannot help but get the sense as I watch events unfold in Greece that we are watching the unfolding of a slow motion disaster, the beginning of a whole series of disasters as western economies begin to fold under the weight of the incredible debt they have accrued over the past 50 years paying for social programs their nations could never afford.

No one ever wants to believe these kinds of things will happen to them or in the time they are living, but a quick look around the world right now with any kind of realistic outlook shows that they are happening and that they are going to affect every one of us soon.

The question that remains is what each of us is going to do in response to the massive and enduring changes that will result from this slow motion disaster. Now is the time for people who care to stop talking in terms of rhetoric and to start doing. Get ready while there is still time to do so.


And you call yourself independent…

The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. — The 9th Amendment to the US Constitution

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. — The 10th Amendment to the US Constitution

Once upon a time, the United States was founded on the principle that the best way for people to live was to maximize their liberty and minimize their governments. In an effort to ensure that state of affairs, the founders of the United States crafted a Constitution and ten amendments designed to ensure that the federal government was bounded and that the liberty of the people was unbounded. Certainly, that founding document had glaring flaws, left certain things unresolved, and failed to anticipate things that have since occurred, yet the principle ideal was sound then and is sound now.

At least, it is sound in theory. Unfortunately, over the intervening 235 years, many Americans have decided that the liberty granted them by foresight, determination, and blood was just too much for them. They have traded their liberty for security, are deserving of neither, and have lost both.

Most Americans see no irony in the fact that they have allowed their government to violate the Constitution by allowing it to force them to pay for unemployment security, medical security, and retirement security; every one of which programs are failing to deliver on their promises while simultaneously bankrupting even those who do not want to participate in them.

And that last part is the real rub. Certainly, it is possible under the ideals of liberty for a group to decide to cede their liberty, but what has happened, especially in the last half of the 20th century, is that some groups have  forced all groups to give up liberty.

So, what are you celebrating if you celebrate independence today? How do you exercise your independence–not just the several liberties guaranteed by the amendments but the innumerable ones not enumerated there? If you are dependent on the government can you even celebrate independence?

These are hard things, and they are supposed to be hard. Liberty is hard. Freedom is hard. The things the founders did were hard. The things 235 years worth of patriots did to secure our nation were hard. Now it’s our turn, and if we do not get to work, we are going to lose what they secured for us.


The global attack on productivity

I often wonder–as the debates rage on about government budgets, deficits, and taxation–how many people realize that most taxation is an assault on their productivity.

You see, all you have available to you in life is your time and your effort, collectively referred to as your productivity. You choose to invest your productivity in a certain way, then along comes the government who says that a certain amount of that productivity–quantified as income–belongs to them off the top. Then, they say another amount belongs to them if you take your quantified productivity and do anything with it–that is, spend it. Finally, the government says that they are going to spend the productivity they took from you on infrastructure, products, and services it is now going to force you to use–literally force you, as the government has engineered a near monopoly on the use of force–and they’re going to take even more of your productivity in the form of fees for the privilege.

As far as I can tell, this system of robbing people of their productivity means that people, in general, have become less productive. Why should anyone work hard and apply themselves if the government is just going to come along and take what you’ve done, especially since it takes more as you are more productive.

So, the reason that local, state, and federal governments are going broke, and are taking all the rest of us down with them, is that they have effectively capped the amount of productivity their citizens can produce even as they demand more of it to pay for their infrastructure, products, and services they are going to force you to use by taking even more of your productivity.

This is a self-defeating system and can only result in collapse. What’s ironic about this whole mess is that this is not the first time in the history of the world this very thing has happened, nor will it be the last. People think that letting the government force them to do something certain ways in return for giving up their productivity seems like an easier way, but it always fails. There is no such thing as something for nothing, and as the number of people to cease to be productive goes up, it’s not possible for those who try to continue to be productive to make up the difference. The system collapses into an tragic, entropic heap, usually a lot of people die, and those who worked the hardest–that is, those who were most productive–rebuild on the ruins.

The manifestation of this condition in 2011 is massive global budget shortfalls. The US federal government alone has spent $14 trillion more productivity units than it managed to collect since the end of World War II, or 280 million household-years worth of productivity. That means that, even at full employment (unemployment around 4 percent, or about 68 percent of the total population working), it would take all of the salary of all of the households two years to pay off the debt, and that would not provide a dime to the government to maintain anything.

So, what’s the solution? It’s easy: stop penalizing people for being productive. How do we do that and still keep all of our pet programs? In short, we can’t do that exactly. The pet programs will have to change, get cut back, go away altogether, but that reality cannot help but be offset by the benefit most people will gain from having access to more or most of their own productivity.

In real terms, this probably means some sort of flat or “fair” tax, probably in the form of a transaction (sales) tax on things regulated by the government. And, no, I do not believe such a scheme would penalize the poor more because, frankly, the poor would be less so as wages rose because businesses could grow because they would have more money being spent by people who have more of their productivity back.

Of course, these sorts of things rarely resolve themselves by way of reason, dedication, and hard work in any kind of mutually beneficial way. Again, history tells us, they usually resolve themselves by bloodshed and hardship, but there is always a first time for everything. What this first time would take is the people demanding their productivity back at the ballot box.


It’s monumental news, but we need to keep it in perspective

The news that Osama bin Laden has been killed is certainly monumental, incredible news, especially since he managed to evade capture for such a long time. Yet, as important as his death may be, it marks but a single event in a much larger, longer conflict.

To a great degree, bin Laden was a figurehead, a rallying figure for the millions upon millions of people around the world who use their interpretation of Islam to justify violence, oppression, hatred, and fear. While his death removes that figurehead, it does not remove the justification.

This conflict is not and never was going to be won by simply killing bin Laden any more than Iraq was secured by simply capturing Saddam Hussein and killing his sons. This conflict is not even going to be won by the application of military force alone. Instead, this is a conflict over the hearts and minds of people held in tyranny for generations, and it is going to take conviction and diplomacy as well as force to win.

Because of this fact, we must resist the powerful urge to conclude that we have won and that it is now time to wind things down. There may yet be a time when that reaction is appropriate, but it must be a time when the future of Afghanistan is as secured as it ever will be. Yes, it has been a long war, and many of us who have been paying attention to these things all along have said it was going to be, but we cannot quit before the job is done, because the consequences of quitting will be worse than those of outright failure.

So, we should celebrate the victory bin Laden’s death represents, but we should do so with the caution born of the knowledge that a rough road still lies ahead. And, we should resolve ourselves to walk that road until its end.


How I would fix the government and, therefore, the economy

Anyone reading this weblog knows by now that I blame the government for most of what is wrong with the economy. It spends way too much, arbitrarily regulates, makes promises it neither funds nor keeps, yet continues to grow in size and scope on an almost daily basis. None of these claims are to say that other elements have not contributed to the problems our economy faces, yet I cannot help but notice that everywhere there is a problem in our economy, there is also a government presence.

That said, I have been asked–more than once now–how I would fix the problem. Given that my ideal of a constrained-to-the-original-and-intended-limits-of-the-Constitution government would be almost impossible to implement in a meaningful way any time soon, I have tried to give the idea of a fix thought with the intent solutions that could be implemented now. Here is what I have come up with to date:

Replace the income tax with a national sales tax

One of the Constitutional mandates of the federal government is to regulate interstate commerce. Taxing individual income–that is taxing productivity–does nothing to fulfill that mandate. A national sales tax would, and would also function to fund the government in a way that could not be evaded by anyone. I agree that some amount of money should be exempted from such a tax to avoid the immediate impact it could have on lower income earners (in the form of a rebate, probably), and I think allowances should be made for certain kinds of wholesale business, but on the whole I would tax all sales at a nominal rate with targeted higher taxes on certain kinds of goods and services.

Abolish the IRS

With no income tax, there would be no reason to have an Internal Revenue Service, and it should be abolished.

Abolish the Fed

In my opinion, the Federal Reserve and the Reserve Bank system is one of the worst ideas ever conceived by modern man. Giving the government the ability to manipulate currency for its own gain, to control banks, and therefore to control every citizen’s money is immoral and unethical. Kill the Fed, and that action by itself could right the economy.

Institute an independent, judicially managed federal audit service

Our federal government is crooked. Anyone who has spent any time working for, studying, or being afflicted by our government knows this is true. It spends trillions of dollars every year, yet is constantly broke, fails to deliver promised services, constantly cuts back the services it does offer, even as those who fund it and maintain it continue to give themselves raises, make money from their positions, and pat the backs of their cronies. I would implement a quadrennial governmental review that would alternate with the presidential election cycle and that would deliver its report to the public before it delivers it to Congress as part of the budget cycle.

Thrift Social Security

Contrary to the claims of mafias like AARP, the current Social Security scheme is broken and cannot be fixed by mere tweaks. To fix the program, perhaps permanently, I would implement something very similar to the Thrift Savings Plan into which federal government workers invest as part of their retirement plans. If the system works for and has remained solvent for the government, why not for the rest of us?

Invest Medicare

I would replace the current Medicare scheme with individual medical savings accounts funded by pre-tax dollars with a government guarantee against most risk. Some sort of federally guaranteed catastrophic care insurance might be appropriate, but I think it would be rendered unnecessary by other reforms.

Abolish all federal subsidies

Yes, I mean all of them. Abolish everything from agriculture subsidies to student loans to unemployment, and instead focus on encouraging the growth of local and state entities to tackle any problems that might remain once the billions and billions of dollars currently tied up in handouts return to the economy.

Tort reform

I would reform and simplify our chaotic and unmanageable civil justice system so it favored justice over income for lawyers, especially with regard to medical, patent, and copyright lawsuits.

Reform the national incorporation system

Without an income tax, a lot of corporate law would no longer be necessary, but for what remained, I would implement a system that allowed for more categories of corporations in an effort to differentiate between small companies and the monstrous ones responsible for most of the abuse. I think I would make the consequences for breaking the law categorically far worse for larger corporations, and I would constrain the way larger corporations are allowed to function within the political and legal systems.

These are just several ideas that I think could go a long way toward improving our national situation in a short period of time, mostly by returning trillions of dollars to the economy. I am sure there are many people who would disagree, but then again, maybe they could offer their own solutions.


26 random things that could cease to function during a government shutdown

Most people pay no attention to how many areas of everyday life our federal government is involved in. Many people believe a government shutdown will not affect them even as they depend on federal services almost every day of their lives. Granted, many of these things may not happen right away, as many federal agencies maintain capital reserves by federal law, but those reserves can be measured in days. I suspect a shutdown of more than 3 days could result in severe and, in some cases, permanent disruptions to federal functions.
  • A- Archives: the National Archives, Library of Congress, and the US Copyright Office would be forced to close.
  • B- Banks: all of the banks still dependent on TARP funds will lose their lifelines and FDIC insurance guarantees will become null because no one can disburse the money.
  • C- the Capitol: operation of the US capitol would cease and the capitol area would be forced to close down.
  • D- The Drug Enforcement Agency: the DEA will no longer be interdicting supplies of illegal drugs entering the United States.
  • E- Education: student loan disbursements and student loan rate guarantees will no longer function.
  • F- The Federal Bureau of Investigations: the FBI will no longer be available to assist in investigations of bank robberies and kidnappings. Domestic intelligence operations may cease or be cut severely back.
  • G- Governments: State and local government programs dependent on Federal money will be forced to reduce activities or shut down altogether.
  • H- Hospitals: medical programs dependent on federal grant money will cease to function.
  • I- IRS: the IRS will not be able to collect taxes, disburse refunds, or process returns.
  • J- Judges: the federal court system, including the Supreme Court, will be forced to shut down.
  • K- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: KSM and the the other detainees at Guantanamo Bay will suddenly be guarded and cared for by people who are not being paid.
  • L- Land: farmers utilizing government land, especially for grazing, may discover that land is no longer accessible.
  • M- Medical: Medicare and Medicaid disbursements will cease, even for individuals undergoing treatment.
  • N- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration: NASA will not be able to fund its ongoing missions, including the International Space Station.
  • O- Open Skies: US enforcement of the Open Skies treaty would cease.
  • P- the President: While Barack Obama will still be our duly elected president, he will cease to have quite a bit of executive power because that power is derived from the authorization of Congress as part of the budget process.
  • Q- A government shutdown Q&A. And another.
  • R- Research: federal research grant money will cease.
  • S- Social Security: eligible recipients be able to apply for benefits and, if a shutdown goes on long enough, checks may not be issued.
  • T- Taxes: the federal government will not be able to collect taxes while it is shut down.
  • U- Unemployment: Federal unemployment benefits will cease.
  • V- The Veteran’s Administration: VA hospitals may not be able to see new patients and may have to discharge patients.
  • W- War: we have combat troops in harms way, but those troops will not be paid and they will have to depend on supplies already available because resupply will stop because those moving the supplies can no longer be paid.
  • X- X-rays: the TSA will no longer function.
  • Y- Yemen: the US embassy in Yemen, and all other US embassies, will have to cease providing services.
  • Z- Zoos: national parks will shut down, such as the National Zoo in Washington D.C.
This is hardly an exhaustive list, and the devil is always in the details. Some of these events could unfold differently than I describe here or not at all. But isn’t that part of the point: no one really knows what will happen, yet we will all be affected by whatever does happen.

An oil tale

I doubt very many people give much thought anymore to the tired media adage that the United States is addicted to oil. Sure, people see the price of gas, and they understand that price is somehow tied to oil, but what they’ve never comprehended is that the price of almost everything else is also tied to the same price of oil.

I think about that addiction a lot these days, because I think both its existence and its end will come to define who we are as people here in the early 21st century. I think about it mostly because I wonder how any of us are going to succeed at providing for ourselves–and I’m not talking about whether or not the internet will still work or whether we’ll have cell phones, but whether we’ll be able to feed, clothe, shelter and protect ourselves–once the oil’s gone.

For me, this point is driven home by our precarious food system. Right now, virtually every part of the process most people depend on to feed themselves depends on oil to work, yet most people don’t even understand that it is true.

If we start with, say, seed corn produced to plant, the seed itself is already so laden with oil from the previous year that it’s kind of amazing it even exists, but for my purposes here, I will concentrate on this year. Most seed corn is grown hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of miles from where it is planted, so oil fueled, lubricated, painted, and upholstered semis must haul it from where it has been stored on oil-based tires across oil-paved roads to get it to the seed salesman.

Often, the seed bags are printed with oil-based ink, as are the shiny sales brochures and the price sheets, along with the oil-based dies used in the hats that were shipped from somewhere in the far east in oil-powered cargo ships. Farmers come to get their seed and paraphernalia in pickups as oil fueled, painted, upholstered, and tired as their semi brethren across similarly oil-paved roads.

Once back at the farm, the seed goes in the oil lubricated and painted planter, sometimes manufactured overseas and shipped to the States in oil-powered cargo ships and hauled on oil-powered locomotives and semis. But, before the farmer can use the planter, he must sometimes plow with his similarly oil-dependent plows using is oil-guzzling tractor, and then spray oil-based fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides using the same tractor.

Then, finally, he’ll actually plant, using the same oil-dependent tractor, followed by more spraying throughout the spring and summer, all dependent on oil to even exist, let alone happen.

When fall comes, the farmer will pull out his oil fueled, lubricated, painted, upholstered, and tired combine, shipped via oil from who knows where, to harvest the corn and dump it into his oil fueled, lubricated, painted and tired semi to haul it to the elevator where oil fueled, lubricated, and painted locomotives will haul it to processing facilities where the corn will be rendered into its constituent parts, then packaged and shipped by other oil fueled, lubricated, painted, upholstered, and tired semis across oil-paved roads to other factories where those parts will be combined into other oil-soaked parts into what most people think of as food.

And, it doesn’t end there, because then the food, as they call it, will be packaged in oil-based ink printed cardboard and loaded on yet other oil fueled, lubricated, painted, upholstered, and tired semis to be hauled across more oil-paved roads to warehouses stuffed full of oil-saturated goods from all over, to then be hauled again to your grocery of choice, once again using oil.

And we’re not done yet.

Because, you will get into your oil fueled, lubricated, painted, upholstered, and tired car and drive, sometimes quite a distance, to get to your oil-filled grocery to by your oil-based things you call food, but on the way home you’ll be so tired that it’ll just be easier to burn some extra oil waiting in the drive-through of your favorite oil-saturated fast food joint that was actually five extra miles out of the way.

When you finally get home to eat your oily food–let’s face it, even most of the carbon dioxide the corn plant used to make whatever part of the corn ended up in your food came from oil somewhere along the line–you’ll do so unironically in your house on your couch in front of your television watching cable all of which could not exist without the consumption of billions and billions of gallons of oil.

And to think that, just a little over a hundred years ago, most people had no idea what oil even was. Most of them lived on farms, still farmed with horses, and planted seed corn they grew the previous year using the same horses they fed with grass from their own pastures. They hauled their corn to the local market in wagons drawn by the same horses, and the people who came to buy it walked or rode horses themselves.

Now, I’m not saying we should go back to how things were a hundred years ago, but then again, I don’t have to, because the question that should be on everyone’s mind is how expensive oil has to get before we won’t be able to afford to do it any other way than the way they did it a hundred years ago. And how many people will be able to even do anything like that living in their suburbian sprawl, floating in a sea of oil they depend on everyday for their very survival, yet are so unaware of that the fact that they are probably sitting on, touching, eating, drinking, even exhaling oil right now that the idea would be a shock to them if they bothered to notice.

No, Americans aren’t addicted to oil, they’re consumed by it, and they have no idea what is going to happen to them when the oil runs out.


Orders of magnitude

$40,000,000,000,000 -- the total government indebtedness as of 2011
$25,000,000,000,000 -- the total state and local debt as of 2011
$14,590,000,000,000 -- the US GDP
$14,184,254,500,000 -- the total national debt as of 5 March 2011
 $3,550,000,000,000 -- the federal budget in 2011
 $2,300,000,000,000 -- the total federal tax revenue collected in 2010
 $1,300,000,000,000 -- the national deficit for 2011
   $695,000,000,000 -- total Social Security spending in 2011
   $663,700,000,000 -- total defense spending in 2011
   $528,000,000,000 -- total Medicare spending in 2011
   $500,000,000,000 -- expiring all the Bush tax cuts for 2011
   $125,000,000,000 -- the projected state deficits for 2011
    $90,000,000,000 -- expiring the tax cuts on income over $250,000
    $63,200,000,000 -- total local budgets in Ohio in 2011
    $46,300,000,000 -- total local indebtedness in Ohio in 2011
    $68,961,315,845 -- Ohio's total outstanding debt in 2010
    $56,600,000,000 -- Ohio's budget for 2010-2011
     $8,000,000,000 -- the projected deficit in Ohio in 2011
     $1,000,000,000 -- savings from SB5 in Ohio in 2011
           $400,000 -- presidential salary in 2010
           $286,686 -- average CEO salary in 2010
           $174,000 -- Congressional pay
            $46,326 -- average household income in the US

It’s all about magnitude.