Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 7 Comments

Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water…… [read more]

Republican Leadership in Congress: Stupid is As Stupid Does

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 1 month ago

My apologies to all those Republican stalwarts out there, but I stopped identifying with the G.O.P. some time ago and now count myself primarily as a Conservative.

And when I see posts like this on Hot Air, I feel amply justified.

A couple key bits:

The congressional Super Committee is long gone, but the consequences of its failure will be felt by millions of Americans unless Congress addresses mandatory cuts that take effect Jan. 2, 2013.

A new study released today by economist Stephen S. Fuller of George Mason University and the Aerospace Industries Association estimates that 2.14 million U.S. jobs will disappear as a result of the Budget Control Act’s sequestration mandate. That would push the nation’s unemployment rate above 9 percent.

Automatic cuts totaling $1.2 trillion will hit the defense industry particularly hard. Defense-related jobs makes up about half of the lost jobs, according to the study. The report estimates losses for other sectors of the economy as well: 48,059 jobs in healthcare, 98,953 in construction, 473,250 in manufacturing. California, Virginia and Texas will fare worst.

And just who was it that agreed to the genius idea of a “Super Committee” and the “draconian” sequestration in the (all too predictable) event that the Super Committee failed to reach agreement?  Yep, those guys in leadership like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.  Someone please remind me just why it was so clever of Boehner and McConnell to agree to this deal with the Democrats?  A deal that these very same people are now scrambling to escape and avoid like kids caught stealing from a candy store.   “Yeah, we did it, but we didn’t think we’d actually get punished for it or anything!”

And if the whole sequestration idea wasn’t bad enough, the particulars of the deal are just, downright horrible:

Cuts to America’s military are particularly alarming. The across-the-board cut of more than $500 billion over the next decade comes in addition to the $487 billion in cuts already proposed by President Obama for the Department of Defense. The Budget Control Act hits the military hardest.

Budget Control Act Sequestration Would Hit Defense Hardest

Chart produced by The Heritage Foundation based upon figures from the Congressional Budget Office.

These nitwit Republicans agreed to drastic spending cuts that barely touch the Entitlement Monster that is breaking the U.S. Treasury.

And why did the G.O.P. leadership do this?  Because they were afraid of forcing real and immediate spending cuts in 2011 as part of the debt ceiling “crisis.”

Anyone for a Conservative Party?   I don’t think America can afford the Stupid Party much longer.

The Vote Pump: The Sound of the Republic Being Flushed

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 7 months ago

Do yourself and the Republic a favor: find the time to watch the whole thing.

The Vote Pump

Beyond the overall point that Bill Whittle makes about the power of deficit spending to buy votes and ensure reelection of spendthrift politicians, this video by Whittle has a other worthwhile attributes:

1.  The video is an instant source of expertise on exactly what the numbers are in the Federal Budget, how much is being spent both in real dollars and as a percentage of the overall Budget.   We need this information as citizens and need to spread this information far and wide so the politicians have nowhere to hide.   These numbers are easily understood and give one of the best visualizations of the enormity of the debt problem we are facing.   The politicians in both parties are perversely determined to avoid making the spending cuts necessary because this video makes it abundantly clear that the size of the necessary cuts will be painful to many, many people.

2.  This video demonstrates the enormity of the Entitlement State. Notice that the actual dollars being spent on the so-called “discretionary” items in the Budget are relatively small compared to the enormous amounts needed to keep the Entitlement State (the so-called “mandatory spending”) afloat.    This is the A-1, Certified, Gargantuan, 16 trillion pound Gorilla in the room.   Democrats and Republicans can talk all they like about eliminating the Department of Education or cite the dollars spent on the Defense Department and foreign wars, but it is immediately obvious from this video that the real culprit in our insane Deficit spending is Entitlements.   The U.S. is borrowing over 40 cents of every dollar it spends and over 70% of that spending is going to Entitlements.

Yes, Federal agencies and departments need to be eliminated or severely cut back but those cuts will never be enough to take care of the Deficit problem.  Entitlements must be cut.

Note, too, that the cuts will have to occur now.   As much as I dislike Ron Paul’s rambling wreck of a foreign policy and his crazy, blame-America rants, he is one of the only politicians that is openly talking about reducing spending immediately in large amounts.   (Ron Paul falls off the rails, however, because he primarily talks as if cutting Defense spending will solve the problem whereas the video makes it clear that such spending is less than 20% of the total Budget).

If you listen carefully to every, other politician (including some of my favorites such as Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin), they are all talking about cuts of $1 Trillion over ten years or more. That is only $100 billion each year.   Check the video and you will see that $100 billion is relative chicken feed against the enormity of the spending.  The U.S. literally cannot afford to take ten years to reduce this deficit.

This will require a fundamental change in the way Americans view the Federal government.   The vision of Franklin Roosevelt and JFK and Lyndon Johnson and, yes, George W. “Compassionate Conservatism” Bush has to be chucked in favor of States taking the primary responsibility for the welfare of their own citizens.   Such a change will require leaders who can give the public the truth about the nightmare we are facing.

3. This video shows how little it takes to actually run the Federal government. Take a look at the actual numbers cited by Whittle in the pie charts for Federal revenues.   He cites the total amount spent in Fiscal Year 2011 for the General Services Administration which is responsible for the assets and logistics of the Federal government.   That number is $700 million or 1/10th of 1% of the total Budget.   Until the last 100 years, the Federal government was able to function quite well without any personal income tax because the scope of the Federal government was something like 1/10th of 1% of what it is today.

The growth and increase in Federal programs, agencies, departments, jurisdiction and oversight in just 100 years is almost unimaginable.  Americans have been sold a bill of goods promising a utopian society where a big, central government could makes everyone happy, healthy, wealthy and wise.   It has taken 100 years to come to the realization that those promises were, however well intentioned, dangerous lies.

“Stoopid” Talk About Cutting Defense Spending

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 7 months ago

In Herschel Smith’s recent post, “What Defense Cuts Can and Can’t Accomplish,” he noted in response to President Obama’s announced cuts to Defense that such cuts were cover to make room for ruinous entitlements spending and ensured a future military that will not be prepared to meet America’s defense needs.

To tag team on that post somewhat, I would like to address two, typical fallacies indulged in by those calling for cuts to Defense spending.   The first is the idea that the Pentagon budget is so massive and so stuffed with waste and fraud that any budget increase would almost be immoral.   The second notion is that Defense spending is indistinguishable from any, other Federal spending and, so, sacrifices must be made.   I offer this in the context of the ongoing Republican nomination season where an amazing number of candidates are espousing the same kind of cuts.   Furthermore, I am amazed as I travel the internet and read comments by alleged conservatives that call for deep-sixing much of the Pentagon budget.  So, to all those would-be candidates and fellow conservatives who are tempted by the low-hanging Pentagon budget, I say, “No good can come of it.”

And here’s why:

No Federal function will ever be free of waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement.   Live with it.

Conservatives must take it as almost axiomatic that the military, being part of the federal government, is inherently inefficient, wasteful, bass-ackwards, and prone to all the wrong priorities.   Herschel’s post detailing the problems with various weapon systems is on point.

That said, the U.S. military is, nonetheless, widely recognized the world over as the best-functioning part of the national government we have.  It is, in many cases, the only thing that does, actually work even half the time.  When any, significant natural disaster occurs anywhere on the planet and rapid response is required to prevent massive loss of life, who is the one doing the heavy lifting in terms of humanitarian relief?  The U.S. military which has the advantage of being everywhere on the planet (or at least within carrier distance) and organized to deliver critical logistics in short order.  For all its many, many faults, the U.S. military still gets the job done in far less time and in far better fashion than any, other alternative known to mankind at this point.

Money will be wasted by the federal government just as a teenager will blow at least some part of that $20 bill you give them on a Big Mac and fries.  There is simply no way around it.  Yes, fraud/waste/abuse must be rooted out as far as possible and contracting must be improved blah blah blah, but there is no way this side of Paradise to put as many people in the field, all around the globe with as many types of weapons/units/vehicles et al without substantial waste.  I am sick of Obama or any GOP candidate who puffs and preens about reducing waste at the Pentagon as if that is going to solve our national spending addiction.  All of the waste and fraud at the Pentagon in a year is still a pittance compared to the entire, federal budget.   The problem is in the very budgeting and spending process.   Raging about government waste is performance art.   Worse, when it comes to government and waste, the two are too often synonymous.

Perhaps a better way of viewing Defense spending is to liken it to a huge pipeline.   The U.S. government is like a huge pipe with lots of spigots and also a bunch of holes, leaks and cracks: water is going to leak out all over the place.   Amazingly enough, however, due to the sheer volume and force, enough water will still manages to get through.   Tightening down the spigot called the U.S. military does not save any, actual water.   That water will just flow to other spigots like welfare, “green energy,” public employee unions, TSA harpies, bridges to nowhere and genius programs like “Fast and Furious.”   To actually save water in this illustration, the entire plumbing system has to be re-engineered.

Some Federal functions are more legitimate than others.  Prioritizing is key.

President Obama and the other Defense cutters act as if every federal undertaking is on an equal footing much as a family may decide to spend less on expensive orange juice and shift those dollars to cereal instead.   For those of us who continue to believe that we live in a constitutional republic, however, the U.S. military in one of the very few legitimate functions that the federal government performs under the U.S. Constitution.  Rather than starting the discussion about budget cuts with the one department that is actually in the U.S. Constitution, how about talking first about real, immediate cuts to the plethora of departments, agencies, programs and funding that are completely outside of any Constitutional mandate.  Entitlements are the place to start, not the military.

Like Obama, John Huntsman is particularly annoying in this regard.   Worse yet, to hear Huntsman talk about Defense spending, the U.S. can treat it like putting off a leaky roof:  we can put off needed spending for some period of time, hoping that the roof will not collapse, and someday get the repairs done.   As Herschel’s post pointed out, this has been done with shocking frequency since the 1930′s and has always ended in disaster and tragic losses of life.  As night follows day you can rest assured that a major violent international event will follow our budget cuts to defense.  That’s not scaremongering, it is just history.  Sure, we can try ramping up like we did all those other times, but history may be less forgiving this time around.

As this Heritage Foundation paper aptly states, quoting Secretary of Defense Robert Gates:

After each war-driven boom, the defense budget has experienced an extended period of decline. In May 2007, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained:

Five s to times over the past 90 years—after the First and Second World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and most recently after the Cold War— the United States has slashed defense spending or disarmed outright in the mistaken belief that the nature of man or the behavior of nations had changed with the end of each of the wars, or that somehow we would not face threatour homeland or would not need to take a leadership role abroad.[6]

Time and again, policymakers have tended to neglect defense absent immediate, manifest threats to U.S. interests, and Americans and their military personnel have repeatedly paid the price of being less prepared.

Common sense dictates that the Pentagon should take advantage of peacetime lulls to replace damaged or destroyed equipment, to modernize legacy systems, and to purchase next-generation replacements to avoid predictable shortfalls in future force structure. Yet most Administrations have failed to do so.

The Heritage Foundation paper is well worth reading in its entirety and provides valuable citations and data that emphasize the follies of U.S. Defense spending practices for the past 90 years.   The papers leads to the conclusion that the combat forces of the U.S. military are increasingly being hollowed out by decades of short-sighted cuts, binge spending and misallocations, with increasing shares of the budget going toward entitlement-like benefits and mushrooming bureaucracies.

Conclusion

The United States is playing not only with fire but a can of gasoline nearby.  Any one of a dozen international hot spots could ignite in the next years and the combat arms of the military are increasingly made to get by with aging equipment and insufficient numbers of soldiers and marines.   In a bitterly comic twist, Democrats like Obama, who only 3 short years ago were complaining that President Bush was wearing out the U.S. military, are now cutting funds needed to re-build it.   More shocking is that this defense-cutting contagion seems to have spread to conservatives.  We seem to be watching our leaders flinging lighted matches at the gas can with little, apparent alarm.

Gates Indicts NATO While U.S. Stands in the Dock

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 2 months ago

A fascinating speech by outgoing Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on June 10 in Berlin at the Security and Defense Agenda think tank.

From this AP article:

BRUSSELS (AP) – America’s military alliance with Europe – the cornerstone of U.S. security policy for six decades – faces a “dim, if not dismal” future, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday in a blunt valedictory address.

In his final policy speech as Pentagon chief, Gates questioned the viability of NATO, saying its members’ penny-pinching and lack of political will could hasten the end of U.S. support. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 as a U.S.-led bulwark against Soviet aggression, but in the post-Cold War era it has struggled to find a purpose.

“Future U.S. political leaders – those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me – may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost,” he told a European think tank on the final day of an 11-day overseas journey.

The Washington Post summarized it this way:

BERLIN — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates rebuked some of America’s staunchest allies Friday, saying the United States has a “dwindling appetite” to serve as the heavyweight partner in the military order that has underpinned the U.S. relationship with Europe since the end of World War II.

In an unusually stinging speech, made on his valedictory visit to Europe before he retires at the end of the month, Gates condemned European defense cuts and said the United States is tired of engaging in combat missions for those who “don’t want to share the risks and the costs.”

“The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress, and in the American body politic writ large, to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources … to be serious and capable partners in their own defense,” he said in an address to a think tank in Brussels.

There are several points worth noting in Gates’ speech. The most obvious one is aptly noted in both articles: European members of NATO have been starving their defense budgets for years and it is finally becoming painfully, no, embarrassingly clear to everyone by the Afghanistan and Libya campaigns. The AP story notes the contrast between the “mightiest military alliance in history” and the patent failure of this alliance to bring about any kind of victory against a third-rate, tin-pot dictator in Libya:

To illustrate his concerns about Europe’s lack of appetite for defense, Gates noted the difficulty NATO has encountered in carrying out an air campaign in Libya.

“The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country, yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference,” he said.

Is it any wonder that the Taliban have adopted a strategy of attrition? The only, credible military force in the field seems to be the U.S., the Canadians and the British and the latter, two have already indicated that they will be pulling out of Afghanistan entirely in the near future.

Add to this the assessment by Gates that, while all NATO member countries voted in favor of intervention in Libya, fewer than half those members have made any contribution toward the effort.

On a political level, the problem of alliance purpose in Libya is even more troubling, he said.

“While every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have participated, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission,” he said. “Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t. The military capabilities simply aren’t there.”

Afghanistan is another example of NATO falling short despite a determined effort, Gates said.

He recalled the history of NATO’s involvement in the Afghan war – and the mistaken impression some allied governments held of what it would require of them.

“I suspect many allies assumed that the mission would be primarily peacekeeping, reconstruction and development assistance – more akin to the Balkans,” he said, referring to NATO peacekeeping efforts there since the late 1990s. “Instead, NATO found itself in a tough fight against a determined and resurgent Taliban returning in force from its sanctuaries in Pakistan.”

So, to sum up what we have learned from Secretary Gates, the chasm between the military and political capabilities of the U.S. and its NATO allies has become so large that, for all practical purposes, NATO has become a toothless organization that cannot even fight a meager enemy like Qaddafi for any length of time without substantial help from the U.S. and cannot be counted on to supply meaningful levels of troops in hot zones like Afghanistan. And despite the strong punch delivered by Gates, at least some in Europe, according to The Washington Post are glad that it is being delivered:

[Jonathan]Eyal, of London’s Royal United Services Institute, said the speech would be “very welcome” in Britain and France, however, because “privately this is what officials have articulated for years.” Gates “identified the key problem, which remains Germany,” he said. “You can argue that there are many countries that do not contribute their fair share, but most of the others don’t matter, and smaller ones would likely fall into line if Germany did.”

Eyal said: “It’s a shame politicians say what they think only when they are about to depart, but the Europeans needed this cold shower, and if it’s up to Gates to administer it, so be it.”

The speech amounted to “an outburst of frustration that is bigger than bottom line of defense cuts,” he said. “It’s about the lethargic way the Europeans walk on the world stage,” lacking a sense of urgency and thinking that “at the end of the day the Americans will always be there and do Europe’s bidding.”

But the speech “hasn’t caused a great rift,” Eyal said. “Deep down, there is no one in Europe that doesn’t think that what Gates said is absolutely the truth. No one argues he’s exaggerating problem. It’s not a rift. It’s worse. It’s an act of indifference.” The missing reaction in Europe, he said, is to reconsider burden-sharing and “how the Europeans can contribute more to the common pot.”

All this is very well and needed to be said. But I cannot help but speculate that perhaps Gates had more than just the Europeans in mind when he made these statements.

Could it be that Gates was placing a shot across the bow of those in the U.S. (both in and outside of the Obama Administration) calling for reductions in U.S. military spending? Looking at Gates’ remarks as a rebuke to U.S. policymakers makes equal sense.

How did Europe become so militarily defenseless? It happened as an irresistible, default choice when European capitals opted for heavy social spending at a time of declining birthrates and economic productivity.

This is the very same choice that is facing the U.S. today. The U.S. Congress is at this very moment locked in a bitter struggle against an inescapable reality: there is simply not enough money coming into the U.S. Treasury to fund the present, enormous welfare entitlements and a robust military. The decision must be made and it must be made now to either gut our military or seriously reform the welfare state as we know it. In all likelihood, given the rate at which the budget deficit is growing (due in large part to a terrible compromise on the 2011 Budget and less-than-expected revenues from a stalling economy), the markets and foreign lenders will not be content to wait until the 2012 elections for a responsible plan to control the deficit.

So, whatever satisfaction we get, whatever approval we may have for Secretary Gates’ jabs at NATO members for their pathetic military budgets, the U.S. seems to be taking the very same road as Europe. There are already too many in Congress and in the political class class who gladly concede that the Defense budget should be subjected to deep cuts in order to preserve our welfare state. Here is a typical example from Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Ron Paul. While this is expected from Democrats, even “conservatives” have been making similar noises. See this piece on Haley Barbour for example.

This is not to say that any cuts to the Defense budget are out of the question. The Captain’s Journal has long advocated smarter spending, as with the proposed, new landing craft for the Marines. Savings can certainly be found in better management and prioritizing. In light of Gates’ speech, it is worth re-examining the costs of keeping troops stationed in Europe versus the benefits of having troops pre-deployed close to the Middle East and to Russia. But, in the end, these savings will never amount to enough to reduce the Federal deficit in any meaningful way or balance the Federal budget.

The only way to do that is to either gut Defense or gut Entitlements.

I do not believe that the U.S. can make moderate cuts to both for the simple reason that the trajectory of Entitlement spending is such that it will eat up the entire Federal tax revenues by 2049. As shown in this chart from The Heritage Foundation (click to enlarge):

The U.S. faces now the very same choices that the Europeans faced some 50 years ago: guns or butter; continue funding social spending or provide for a credible military. We simply cannot do both and, as noted above, it is no longer possible to delay the decision. If we elect to cut Defense spending (and it will mean significant cuts) there should be no illusion about the results. We will soon be in the same position as Britain and France, sharing aircraft carriers; we will be unable to protect any national interest beyond our borders for any real length of time; we will be consigned to watching as thugs and fanatics remake the world into one of their liking. And you can be sure that such a world will not be to our liking. Unlike the Europeans, however, there will be no United States to come to the rescue.

The only answer, in the end, is to radically alter the welfare society that we have become.   Even if we were to gut Defense spending, that would be merely a sacrificial lamb to the ever-growing appetite of entitlements.  For proof we need only look to Europe to see that their decades of sacrificing Defense for social benefits has left them now facing the stark reality that there is nothing left to cut except the social spending.  But any attempt to do so results in riots and anarchy by a people too long accustomed to pampering and privilege.    God forbid that the U.S. reaches that stage of decay.
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Entitlement Spending: Time For Feds to Punt to the States

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 3 months ago

According to this article in The Washington Examiner, the prospects for the 2012 Federal Budget are bleak.

There are just 10 weeks remaining until an Aug. 2 debt ceiling deadline set by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. It’s a seemingly generous amount of time but too short in the eyes of some lawmakers, who are wrestling with how deeply to cut the budget and whether to increase the debt ceiling, the amount of money the government is allowed to borrow.

Scores of Republicans have pledged to vote against raising the nation’s debt ceiling if spending is not cut drastically, imperiling the measure in Congress and possibly forcing the government to default on its loans for the first time.

Despite months of debate, only one proposal has been advanced to address spending cuts, and that plan — written by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — may come to the Senate floor for a vote this week.

Ryan’s proposal would reduce spending by $6 trillion over 10 years and reform Medicare and Medicaid. But it isn’t expected to muster the 60 votes needed to pass, mostly because senators, including Republicans, are fearful of tackling popular entitlement programs with the 2012 elections looming.

The Federal Government is deadlocked, plain and simple.

According to every conventional way of approaching entitlement spending, it is an impossible conundrum.  Conservatives have many ideas about reforming or replacing such programs, but Republicans refuse to embrace them for fear of being tarred as heartless killers of old ladies and the poor.   Liberals know in their hearts that these programs cannot, under any realistic scenario, continue as they are, but no Democrat is willing to even consider mild reforms such as the one posed by Rep. Paul Ryan for fear of being hacked to death by the Left as a sell-out or traitor to the People.   So Republicans dither and delay while Democrats (and their media allies) demagogue the issue and distort the facts.

In fact, entitlement spending demonstrates, perhaps better than any other issue, the inherent weakness and fatal attraction in a central government that has badly strayed from its original, limited role.   There is simply no way for the Federal government to make the required changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that will keep the Federal Government from falling off the financial cliff with Democrats in control of the Senate and White House and Republicans in control of the House.   And it is not an option to wait until the 2012 elections possibly give control of all three branches to the Republicans.    America’s fiscal problems will not stay put until then (and Republicans may not be trustworthy on spending reforms considering the last time they held all three branches).

With this impasse in view and the very real prospect that the Democrat-controlled Senate will go yet another year without passing a fiscal budget, I offer this suggestion as a way for Democrats and Republicans alike to escape their chains:  turn entitlement spending over the States.

This is the perfect situation for punting the football and it makes absolute and total sense.   It is the right thing to do.   The ball is deep in our own territory, it is fourth and 50 yards to go and the coaches cannot make up their minds on any suitable play to call.   “Punting” to the States is the only answer.

“Punting” in this context means that the Federal government recognizes it is simply not in a good position to administer programs such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare and, worse, is completely incapable of controlling them.    The Federal government is far too big, too prone to waste and inefficiency and, most importantly, was never intended by the Founders to occupy the role of National Philanthropist.    “Punting” means, too, that the States are far better equipped in many ways to decide what level of care and support to accord to their citizens and implement the corresponding programs.

So, for example, if California wants to endow all of its seniors with generous retirement and health benefits, let them do so as long as the burden for funding those lavish benefits falls squarely on the shoulders of Californians alone.

Consider entitlement spending in terms of a business:  each State has to decide what benefits it can and cannot afford to dole out.  If the State is too generous, it will eventually go “out of business” as millions move in to enjoy the generosity while millions more move out as their taxes inevitably skyrocket.   If a State is too stingy, it will cease being an attractive place to work and live.  Between the extremes is an enormous range of policy options and solutions that can be crafted to fit the unique circumstances inherent in every State.  And, since most States are forced to balance their budgets each year by law, the State government will undertake entitlement spending with sobriety.

How could it work?

Such a change could not be done overnight, but it need not be terribly complex either. The first step would be along the lines of what Rep. Paul Ryan suggests in his proposal for Medicaid reform:  block grants to the States.   Florida, for example, might get a much larger grant based on 2010 Census numbers of its elderly population (and specifically its indigent population) than a demographically younger state.  According to the 2000 Census, Utah is the “youngest” state, i.e., the one with the smallest percentage of elderly persons, while Florida is the oldest.

The block grants should also factor in existing poverty levels and not just the percentage of elderly in a given State.  West Virginia has one of the higher percentages of elderly people but it also has one of the poorest populations.  Other factors could be considered as well, such as populations of disabled or other, at-risk populations.

With this grant money, each state can use it as they see fit to provide for their at-risk populations.

This kind of block granting has the unique advantage of incentivizing better care for these at-risk populations.  Say, for example, that Maryland develops a better, more efficient way of educating handicapped children.  (This happens to be true).  As this fact is known, more parents with handicapped children will move to Maryland which, in turn, will warrant more grant aid to Maryland to coincide with the higher, handicapped population.  Resources get allocated to those locations that do the best job of serving their populations at the local level.   Conversely, if another State does a terrible job with its care for handicapped children, then those parents will have every incentive to move to Maryland rather than remain in sub-optimal care elsewhere.   A key feature would have to be some method for tracking the subject populations in each State to determine the block grant levels.

But can States be trusted with a large, no-strings-attached, grant of money?  To continue the example, what if Maryland chooses to use the billions in Federal aid to plug the notorious gap in its annual budget?  I submit that even a liberal, tax and spend haven like Maryland would never do this precisely because the Governor and state legislature are far more sensitive and accountable to Maryland voters than the U.S. Congressional delegation will ever be.   Consider that, under the 2000 Census, the average Congressional district was comprised of 646,952 persons– far too many persons for individual citizens to hold the politicians accountable.  Politicians are much more easily held accountable to their local constituency simply by virtue of the smaller numbers contained in each, State legislative district.  It will, of course, be up to each State to decide how to best use the grant money and tough decisions will need to be made, but those decisions will be made far better at the state level where it is far more difficult for AARP to mobilize its members and bully politicians.

Giving entitlement spending to the States also makes sense in terms of perspective.    When we look at Social Security spending, for example, at a national level, the sheer size and scope of the spending is completely disorienting.   When speaking of hundreds of billions of dollars, it is nearly impossible to put the choices into concrete terms: who are these “millions of elderly” who will starve or go without medications?  Why can’t we afford another $200 million for this program when we are already spending $800 billion?   But when the debate is put at the state level, and more importantly, MY state level, things become much more focused.   Supposing that Maryland receives $6 billion in grant money to cover social security, medicare and medicaid for Maryland citizens for the next year, how should that money be used?  Am I willing to pay more in state taxes in order to ensure, for example, that 65 year-old Aunt Mary gets a social security check every month even though I know that she has an adequate retirement income from the Maryland Teachers Pension?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  And will Aunt Mary join in marching on the state capitol to get that extra money even if it means higher taxes for me and her neighbors, friends, colleagues?

Some States will give that money to Aunt Mary and raise taxes to do so.  Others may not.  In the end, however, it will be far easier to come to grips with the many issues involved when we are dealing with specific populations in our own state and with the direct ramifications of those decisions in our own state.

Consider, too, the enormous savings to the Federal budget when the huge bureaucracies associated with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are allowed to shrivel up and die.  The people employed at these federal agencies are not, necessarily, joining a bread line, however.   With the block granting of funds to each State it is likely that persons with pension and healthcare experience will be in demand (hopefully by private firms that provide services rather than bloated State bureaucracies, but that is another topic).  In any event, a reduction in federal personnel should be welcome relief to taxpayers everywhere.

Finally, the greatest benefit of transferring entitlements to the States is the effect upon Federal power and interference in the lives of ordinary citizens.   When the Federal government holds the power of health care in its hands, it induces an unhealthy obeisance to the central power.   This power needs to be split up among the 50 states so that ordinary citizens are empowered to hold their State officials accountable and rein in abuses.    This principle can, of course, be applied across a wide spectrum of federal activities.

Hopefully the politicians in Washington, D.C. will pass the buck in this instance which would, ironically, be the right thing for once.

Democrat Response to Rep. Ryan Spending Cuts: Burn The Witches!

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 5 months ago

Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan went on the Sunday news shows last weekend to preview Republican plans for the 2012 Federal Budget (not to be confused with the current combat over the 2011 Budget that Democrats refused to pass last year).

Ryan made it clear that the 2012 Budget sets out on a very ambitious path to cut over $4 Trillion from Federal spending over the next 10 years in an effort to reduce the size of the Federal government and get spending back in line with revenue.

My concern here is not to talk about the specifics of Ryan’s budget ideas.  Afterall, the proposed budget is not expected to be released until later this week.  Instead, I want to highlight the preliminary salvos being fired by Democrats attempting to “prepare the ground” for the Budget Battle of 2012.

Here is the Associated Press reporting on Rep. Ryan’s remarks as well as the Democrat response:

In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Ryan said budget writers are working out the 2012 numbers with the Congressional Budget Office, but he said the overall spending reductions would come to “a lot more” than $4 trillion. The debt commission appointed by President Barack Obama recommended a plan that it said would achieve nearly $4 trillion in deficit reduction.

Ryan said Obama’s call for freezing nondefense discretionary spending actually locks in spending at high levels. Under the forthcoming GOP plan, Ryan said spending would return to 2008 levels and thus cut an additional $400 billion over 10 years.

Ryan tells the interviewer, in general terms, that the proposed budget will include things like premium supports for Medicare and Medicaid, a bifurcation of treatment for those 55 and older who would continue under the present approach and those younger who would be put under a new, cost-savings approach.   Ryan previewed ideas such as block grants to the States for Medicare/Medicaid to allow each State to decide how to deal with their citizens on a local level;  a statutory cap on discretionary federal spending;  a revision of the tax code to broaden and simplify its implementation; no new tax increases.

The reaction by Democrats?  About what you would expect:

Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, slammed Ryan’s plan in a press release Sunday. “It is not courageous to protect tax breaks for millionaires, oil companies and other big-money special interests while slashing our investment in education, ending the current health care guarantees for seniors on Medicare, and denying health care coverage to tens of millions of Americans,” Van Hollen said.

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia was skeptical that Ryan’s proposal could achieve its targets without damaging social programs. He also questioned whether reductions in defense spending and seeking more revenue through tax reform would be part of the plan.

“I don’t know how you get there without taking basically a meat ax to those programs who protect the most vulnerable in the country,” Warner said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I’ll give anybody the benefit of a doubt until I get a chance to look at the details,” he said, “but I think the only way you’re going to really get there is if you put all of these things, including defense spending, including tax reform, as part of the overall package.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., part of a six-member group of Republicans and Democrats forging their own budget proposal, said that the lawmakers would be looking for “real balance” in Ryan’s plan and wanting all options considered.

“I think we’ll come at it differently,” Durbin said on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “The idea of sparing the Pentagon from any savings, not imposing any new sacrifice on the wealthiest Americans, I think goes way too far. We have got to make certain that it’s a balanced approach and one that can be sustained over the next 10 years.”

This knee-jerk reaction by Democrats– that “the Rich” are not paying their “fair share” and must be subject to “new sacrifice” — puts me in mind of that classic scene from Monty Python And The Holy Grail:

Democrats have the very same kind of medieval thinking when it comes to economics and tax policy.  Just as the villagers in The Holy Grail are determined to have their “witch” to burn, even if it means dressing someone up to look like a witch and making the most absurd claims of the woman’s evil deeds, Democrats in Congress are determined to burn the Rich regardless of the efficacy or, indeed, the great harm that it causes to the economy.

In this video by The Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Dan Mitchell explains how this type of witch hunting is so wrong-headed and, ultimately, damaging to our economy:

One thing to highlight in this excellent video is the fact that we live in a global economy that will always favor those who can move their capital elsewhere.   Professor Paul Rahe, in volume 1 of his book series, Republics Ancient & Modern, he notes that eighteenth century writers recognized that, “the invention of the bill of exchange [was] a turning point in world history.” (page 47).  The French philosopher, Montesquieu, noted that the effect of the bill of exchange was to allow the merchant class to avoid the arbitrary and confiscatory policies of the monarchical rulers of Europe by sending their assets to other, less oppressive states.  As a result, a veritable revolution in politics occurred because, for the first time, rulers’ decisions were checked by the ability of these merchants to vote with their movable assets.  (Ibid).

The same phenomenon applies today, but Democrats (and protectionist Republicans) just don’t get it.   They look at factories and jobs moving overseas and, rather than look squarely in the mirror at our anti-business, anti-manufacturing policies fomented by left-wingers still living in the 19th Century as the cause, they vilify the owners as “un-American” or unpatriotic or just evil.   The reality is that America will continue to shed jobs and capital until we stop demonizing “the rich” and start implementing policies that make it easier for businesses to stay in the U.S. and thrive.

Democrats in Congress, if the AP article is any indication, seem prepared to continue on their idiotic quest to “burn the witches” of our economy, not because there are witches, but because they know it offers a grotesque but satisfying spectacle to a constituency that they have carefully cultivated to feed upon envy, hatred, resentment and victim-status.

Congressmen like Paul Ryan and his colleagues in the Senate must not for one moment give in to this vile practice when it comes to hammering out the 2012 Budget and beyond.

“Nightmare” Budget Scenario From NY Times: The Sum of Liberals’ Fears

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 5 months ago

Professor N. Gregory Mankiw (Harvard) has a piece in The New York Times‘ business section that is intended to impress upon us all the frightful prospects that await the U.S. in the future if immediate action is not taken on the federal debt now.  (Hat Tip to PowerLine)

As a disclaimer I must say that I do consider immediate action to rein in federal spending a critical piece of saving America’s future and the consequences for not doing so truly are fearful, but reading Professor Mankiw’s list of horrors brings to mind commonsense policies rather than doomsday.

Mankiw writes the column from the perspective of a U.S. president in the year 2026.   The article is the text of the president’s speech to the nation.  So let’s have a little fun and put ourselves in the audience for this 2026 presidential address.

Here is the calamitous news that the president is forced to give to the nation:

Yesterday, I returned from a meeting at the International Monetary Fund in its new headquarters in Beijing. I am pleased to report some good news. I have managed to secure from the I.M.F. a temporary line of credit to help us through this crisis.

(I like this bit about the HQ being moved to Beijing.  It fits the Times’ recurrent fantasy that China is the paragon of economic and political progress, notwithstanding that China has more and deeper challenges to its future than America ever will).

This loan comes with some conditions. As your president, I have to be frank: I don’t like them, and neither will you. But, under the circumstances, accepting these conditions is our only choice.

OK, here it comes.  The terrible, awfable, excruciating cuts…. wait for it….

We have to cut Social Security immediately, especially for higher-income beneficiaries. Social Security will still keep the elderly out of poverty, but just barely. [Emphasis added].

Nooooooooo!  High-income beneficiaries may see a “cut” in their social security benefits???  How will they live without that unneeded income?  How will they cope with the thought of having paid into what they knew was a rotten system with negative returns on their investment that had no, real prospect of ever paying them back what was paid in?  The system that they chose to keep in place all those years by voting for Democrats that continually denied that there was even a problem with the system and obstructed and demagogued every attempt to reform it???  I hope it doesn’t get worse than this.

We have to limit Medicare and Medicaid. These programs will still provide basic health care, but they will no longer cover many expensive treatments. Individuals will have to pay for these treatments on their own or, sadly, do without.

Arghhhhhhh!  The pain!  “Limit” Medicare and Medicaid??? They will only provide “basic health care” and “no longer cover many expensive treatments” ???  Cruel world!  We will be expected to actually pay for something ourselves or do without?  This sounds agonizingly like personal responsibility!  I can’t expect my family and friends to help with something like my health care when it is clearly the responsibility of the federal government to provide me with every treatment and drug into eternity!  What about healthcare being my right?

We have to cut health insurance subsidies to middle-income families. Health insurance will be less a right of citizenship and more a personal responsibility.

Curses!!! There’s that word, “personal responsibility” !  No subsidies for the middle class?  What’s next?  Are they going to stop handing out free bread and eliminate the circuses at the Coliseum??

We have to eliminate inessential government functions, like subsidies for farming, ethanol production, public broadcasting, energy conservation and trade promotion.

The world is truly ending!  Eliminate farming subsidies?  Doesn’t the gubbmint know that farmers can’t survive on the record-high prices being paid for corn, soybean and other crops?  Don’t they know that the world food shortage means that farmers need those subsidies more than ever??   And ethanol…we can’t live without that!  Even if it does reduce the world food supply and costs far more in energy to produce than the energy released, it is so…GREEN and earth-friendly and makes us feel good that we’re doing the responsible thing rather than sending that corn to the starving people in Africa.   And no more public broadcasting?  Who will give me my liberal-biased news (besides ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, the AP, Reuters, AFP, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The LA Times…).   No more money for energy conservation?  Really?  How will Americans know how to conserve energy on their own without someone to tell them how?  Those bills I get from the utility company are so complicated.

We will raise taxes on all but the poorest Americans. We will do this primarily by broadening the tax base, eliminating deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes. Employer-provided health insurance will hereafter be taxable compensation.

Horrors!  It’s simply outrageous to think that more than 50% of U.S. citizens should pay anything in taxes.  This almost sounds like the nutty ideas of the “Far Right” all those years ago who wanted to restructure the tax code so that everyone enjoyed a lower, simpler flat tax without needing a high-paid CPA to do their taxes.  And those employer-sponsored health plans have been so vital to keeping down costs, too!  Taxing these might actually force Americans to switch to a model for health care that would make sense and be affordable– the villainy!!

We will increase the gasoline tax by $2 a gallon. This will not only increase revenue, but will also address various social ills, from global climate change to local traffic congestion.

Thank God!  Finally this president is talking sense.  It is way past time to crank up the gasoline tax another $2 per gallon.  I’ve always thought those tiny, little Smart cars were so cute.  Now everyone will have to drive them.   And I hear they have an optional drive train installed— pedals.  So cute!   And with that extra $2 per gallon, the federal government will know just how to spend that money curing the “various social ills.”   Yes, like “global climate change.”   Even though it is the year 2026 and none of the things the global warming scientists predicted have happened — massive crop failures, all the coastal cities flooded out and the polar bears drowned– we just know that one day global climate change is going to kill us all, so why not $3 or $4 per gallon tax?

AS I have said, these changes are repellant to me. When you elected me, I promised to preserve the social safety net. I assured you that the budget deficit could be fixed by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, and by increasing taxes on only the richest Americans. But now we have little choice in the matter.

Wow!  I just had an incredible feeling of de ja vu listening to you, Mr. President.  Here it is 2026 but I am almost sure that I heard some, other presidential candidate promise that all our problems could be fixed simply by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse and by re-distributing the wealth of those greedy, evil, rich people– let’s not even call them “Americans”;  real Americans don’t get rich unless they are the right kind of rich people who live in L.A. and donate small portions of their money to causes like saving the California Crested Booby-Hatch or promoting the rights of pedophiles.

It’s OK, Mr. President, I see now that you had no idea that being president of a big country like the U.S. would be so hard and I understand that you don’t have any choice but to make these terrible, awfable cuts.

But maybe, if you have the time, could you look into closing Guantanamo?

The G.O.P. And the Federal Budget: Piecemeal Approach Is The Key

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 5 months ago

Peter Ferrara has an opinion piece at Pajamas Media that urges the Republican leadership in the House to “get over” their fear of a government shutdown and get on with meaningful cuts to the budget.  Ferrara urges Rep. John Boehner:

The Republican leadership is losing their own base by displaying too much of a ready willingness to compromise, while Obama and the Democrats are not losing any support from their spending addicted political machine. The Republicans need to go on the offensive to reverse this political dynamic.

They must pass a continuing resolution (CR) for the rest of this fiscal year, which goes to September 30, with at least their original $100 billion in budget cuts for the year. No more 2 or 3 week extensions. Then fan out across the country and take their case to the people

Ferrara sees the fight playing out in Republicans’ favor:

That budget needs to inspire the grassroots by taking spending for every budget line item, not just discretionary spending, back to 2007 budget levels, except for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and of course interest on the national debt. That was just 4 years ago and America survived just fine then at those levels of federal spending. That would save roughly $500 billion in year one, and provide the foundation for balancing the entire budget within a reasonable time. The House should pass appropriations bills to implement this budget, and then again fan out across the country and take its case to the people.

This would frame the issue in the Republicans’ favor, for to resist them President Obama, Harry Reid, and the rest of the Democrats would have to publicly fight for higher federal spending, deficits, and debt. The Tea Party would then have its target clearly exposed.

If the Democrats can’t get their act together to pass a reasonable CR for this year and appropriations bills for next year that put the federal budget on a path to balance within a reasonable time, then the government can just shut down and stay shut down until the election, when the people can decide. There are big virtues to shutting the Obama administration down until the election. No funding for the EPA to implement cap and trade by regulation. No funding for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to implement ObamaCare. ObamaCare implementation funding may have been buried in the ObamaCare bill itself. But without continuing funding to keep the administrative offices open at HHS and elsewhere, there will be no one functioning to carry the implementation out.

In a shutdown impasse, House Republicans can continue to pass CRs and appropriations bills to fund the government, and demand to know why the Democrats won’t do their job and fund essential government services. They can pass bills to fund particular sensitive parts of the government. One bill can fund the federal courts. Another bill can fund the Social Security Administration.

While there is much to recommend Ferrara’s approach, particularly with regards to favoring a bold approach in the face of fiscal crisis, there is still plenty of opportunity for the Democrats to continue their intransigence by insisting that they cannot vote for a bill that cuts this vital program or fails to fund that urgently-needed priority.   So long as the Republicans present complete budgets to the Democrats, the Democrats can simply pick them apart as mean-spirited, devastating to the poor and disadvantaged, etc…  Worse, Ferrara’s approach still allows Democrats to claim that the Republicans are forcing a government shutdown by insisting on “draconian” cuts that will hurt the common person.

But Ferrara may have, unintentionally, hit on the key to drastically reducing the size and expense of the federal government.   In fact, it is a better and smarter way, politically, to achieve significant reductions in spending and put the big-spenders in D.C. on the defensive.

Republicans in the House need to fund the federal government in a completely upside-down manner, and they need to do this not only for 2011 but also for 2012 and, perhaps, beyond until some mechanism is put into place that can reliably shrink the federal government.   The solution is to stop funding the government with comprehensive, unitary budgets and, instead, as Ferrara alludes to as a sort of desperate measure, fund the government in piecemeal fashion with bills that fund specific government departments or activities.

As things stand, the Republicans in the House have been hitting a brick wall when it comes to passing a comprehensive, 2011 budget.   As Ferrara well notes, this was the work of the previous Congress run by Nancy Pelosi and they failed miserably despite having majorities in both chambers and the White House.   Whether one believes that a government shutdown is disastrous or not, it is clear that the GOP approach so far is not going to achieve any serious reductions in the 2011 budget.   Ferrara cites the horrific deficit numbers, so I will not repeat them here.   The GOP House has been forced to agree to temporary, continuing resolutions to keep the government funded on an ad hoc basis.

Instead, Boehner should flip the funding process on its head and abandon the comprehensive approach.  Rather than presenting one, unitary budget with spending cuts reflected in it, Boehner should present to the floor of the House a whole series of individual bills that fund only those essential functions of government that must be funded.  And the funding bills should be presented in order of political priority.

So, for example, the first funding bill to come up would be funding for Social Security for the balance of the 2011 budget year.  Let the Democrats in the Senate try to explain to the public why they are voting against Social Security.   They will cave in a heartbeat.  Just as liberal Senators, in the end, caved in on voting for military funding for the Iraq war in 2007, although they denounced the war as a lost cause and a crime against humanity, they knew that they could not face re-election having voted to deny our soldiers and marines the materiel needed in the midst of combat.  Same thing applies here.

Boehner and the majority in the House would continue to line up single funding bills in similar fashion:  for the Defense Department, for Medicare, for Veterans Affairs, for payment of interest on the national debt — there goes that favorite argument about raising the debt ceiling.

In short, this is a historic opportunity for the GOP to fund only those federal activities that are clearly necessary and Constitutionally prescribed.

Everything else never gets a vote.

The Department of Education?  No funding bill.  Note how this completely changes the debate.  According to the Department of Education’s own website, the Department oversees a budget of slightly more than $69 Billion.  Presumably this includes not only the cost of personnel but also programs such as the popular Pell Grant.   According to Higher Ed Watch the Pell Grant program grew from $14 Billion in 2008 to over $40 Billion for 2011.   If the GOP House took a piecemeal approach to government funding, it could easily introduce a bill that would fund the Pell Grant program at the 2008 levels and package it as a block grant of sorts to the States for each State to administer, saving the costs of federal administration.

Notice how completely different this equation is from a budgeting approach that automatically includes the Department of Education within an overall budget but seeks to cut its funding down to $14 Billion.   It effectively de-couples those who want an ever-larger budget for the Department of Education from those who do not care as much about education but strongly resist any cuts to the Federal Communications Commission.   It effectively splits the forces of the big-spenders.

Even better, piecemeal budgeting allows the House to specifically fund those programs that it finds appropriate and necessary without funding programs that are wasteful, better left to the States or are contrary to Americans’ values and beliefs.   The funding bill can specifically tie release of the funds to only specific activities or programs.

And because the most politically sensitive issues are voted on and approved first, the big spenders are left with fewer and fewer effective funding issues to demagogue.   For instance, once the funding has been set for Social Security, Medicare, Defense, the Courts and other, similar services considered essential, how effective will it be for the big spenders to howl about the House’s refusal to introduce a bill that would renew the $2.4 Million funding to New York state for, “Determining the connectivity among and fine-scale habitat use within Atlantic sturgeon aggregation areas in the Mid-Atlantic Bight: Implications for gear restricted management areas to reduce bycatch.”

Think of this approach as an aquarium tank full of electric eels.   So long as the tank is full of water, the eels can multiply the effect of their sting.  But by passing appropriation bills individually, the water in the tank is steadily drained out.   By the time the major spending bills are passed there are only the puddles of water left along with the eels harmlessly writhing on the floor.

Perhaps the biggest problem all along has been the method used to fund the federal government.  So long as funding is done in large, amorphous chunks, billions of dollars of waste and unneeded programs can slip through and no one is willing to sink the entire budget for the sake of cutting funding for what amounts on an individual level to small amounts.   But once the spending is broken down into individual and more manageable amounts, it is an entirely different matter.

Another huge benefit of the piecemeal approach to funding is where it leaves Senate Democrats who form the majority.   With the House churning out spending bills by the dozen and sending them up to the Senate for approval, the burden of keeping essential government functions instantly passes to the Senate.   If Harry Reid somehow refuses or fails to schedule the bills for a vote or cannot get the votes to pass the bills, then it will be Reid who has caused a shutdown of that government agency.   It is true that Reid could try to modify the bill and call for a committee to reconcile the two bills, but it will be a steep uphill climb for the Democrats to argue in this economic atmosphere that there must be more spending or they will shut down Social Security completely.   The American people are clearly in the mood for fiscal restraint and reduced spending.   Republicans should welcome any opportunity that paints them as the responsible cost-cutter versus Democrat big spenders.

It is time for Rep. Boehner and the House to get to work.   The present Continuing Resolution expires on April 8th.   Between  now and then, the House can vote to fund the government but only those functions and departments which are deemed essential or allow Democrats to demagogue.   Everything else must rise or fall on its merits and only after severe scrutiny.

The worst thing that could happen is the House democrats take the familiar approach and hide out in Illinois until the adults in Congress finish up the job properly.   That’s tough luck for Illinois, but, then again, Illinois is a far, far cry from the land of Lincoln.   Perhaps they should change the state motto to “Refuge of Scoundrels.”


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