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Americans Are Missing Crucial Critical Thinking When it Comes To The Federal Budget

The federal budget in 2016 was $3.8 trillion dollars. That’s a lot of money. Roughly two-thirds of that money goes to mandatory spending (Social Security, Medicare, Transportation, Veteran’s Benefits and the like). A little less than a third ($1.1 trillion) goes to discretionary spending. Of that the biggest piece (55%) goes to the military.

*Click below to enlarge (charted by Statista)

2016 military expenditure by country and share of global total. Statista
2016 military expenditure by country and share of global total.

We outspend the Chinese 3:1. We outspend the Russians 9:1. To hear it from our senators and representatives, we’re failing in the military arms race against the rest of the world, yet we’re outspending the next top 8 countries combined. If you include nuclear warheads and national defense we’re closer to $700 billion. This figure ($611 billion) doesn’t cover the war in Afghanistan or Syria. It doesn’t cover Homeland Security; it doesn’t cover Veteran’s Benefits.So one question to be asked is: how come other countries are seemingly so much better than us at military spending? Why is it we are worried about the Chinese whom we outspend 3:1? Why are we quaking when the Russians are spending a paltry $70 billion on their military? One answer is that fear and uncertainty help guarantee large military increases, help maintain these high costs (it’s also a budget within which we have people getting fat selling the government $1200 toilets and $3000 coffee pots. Yes, American companies are ripping off American taxpayers!).

Roughly a quarter of the $611 billion pays salaries. Ok. A third is operations and maintenance (doesn’t cover the war budgets, that’s a different part of the budget); and slightly more than a third is for “major weapons systems”.

So, now, think of this: what would happen if we dropped the military budget to, say, $400 billion. We could still pay salaries. We’d force the military to be a more efficient in operations and maintenance and we get lean and mean over new weapons systems.But think of the benefits! With that $211 billion in hand, free college becomes achievable. We come closer to free health care. Roads get fixed, bridges are repaired, subways work again.

A healthier better-educated population designing, building (and using) modern infrastructure would be a much better answer to more jobs and better salaries.

On Campaign Financing and Super PACs

So the Supreme Court in the name of free speech allowed money to swallow up free speech and opened the door to free-speech-gobbling Super PACs. We’ve always been proud of whatever it is we think denotes being American (and some folks do have profoundly different ideas on what that is). So maybe there’s a way to return to normalcy. Maybe there’s a way to switch this whole thing on its head. Just for the sake of unintended consequences. Just because we’re Americans and our proudest heritage is we keep on getting it wrong until we finally get it right.

It may be just the time to get it right.

So you want free speech, you want better political candidates who aren’t beholden to big money interests, candidates who won’t vote and support greed and big business but actually do the right thing, vote for the future? Tired of watching a Congress bickering over issues which the American people don’t consider issues? Tired of watching politicians vote so out of touch with the way the country is leaning? Do you believe you’re willing to take on a little pain if it means a better tomorrow, a more intelligent tomorrow?

Okay …..


Well, seems to me the little guy, the common American, has the wherewithal to defeat the Super PACs at their own game. Pretty easily without giving up too much. Again, pretty easily without much sacrifice.

In 2014 Americans spent:

  • $70 billion on Casino gambling
  • $70 billion on lottery tickets

Remember now, $70 billion Casino gambling figure

is what the casinos took in. That’s after they paid everything out. So they aren’t hurting and there are a bunch of folks out $70 billion dollars.

So it’s not difficult to see where I’m going with this. Instead of buy $10 worth of lottery tickets, buy $5 and send $5 to the new ApplePieAmerica PAC (more on this in a moment). Better yet, send $5 to the new Smart America PAC and save the $5 for your kid’s college or your retirement. The Huffington Post says a person’s chance of winning the lottery on a single ticket is one in 175 million. The odds of getting struck by lightning in your lifetime, being injured by a toilet this year, getting killed by a shark, and killed by an asteroid or comet are much more likely. And the lottery gurus are making it more difficult to win because that drives jackpots higher.

The idea is you cut back gambling & lottery tickets by 1/2 or 1/3. You keep some you give the rest to the new neutral ApplePieAmerica PAC. Just a 10% reduction would result in a Super PAC capable of spending $14 billion dollars. That would shut up all of the special interest groups in America.

What would the new Super PAC want to accomplish? What would be its platform? Well, that would be up to you.




HIV testing

So it’s a law in New York that if you are admitted into an emergency room in a New York hospital, the staff HAS TO ask you if you’d like a HIV test performed while you’re there.

  • Mind you, the hospital won’t pay for the testing, that’s on you (but they don’t tell you that, at least, initially).
  • Mind you, age is no barrier: they will ask you if you’re 12 years old (Sheesh!!).
  • Mind you, the law just states that they just have to ask and show proof that they did ask (appropriate forms must be filled).

My question: with all that’s going on politically, economically, socially in this country, in this state, who was the Einstein who came up with this brainstorm and then believed this little time-saving nugget of an achievement was worth authoring and fighting for?

On balancing the federal budget ….

Cutting the budgetAs much as we all may distrust the 536 folks charged with setting policy, there are rational agenda-free offices within the government doing a bang up job and quietly making interesting though potentially controversial suggestions on fixing the very institutions they work for. More on these folks later.

Our sputtering economy is tops on everyone’s minds these days. And I applaud both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements for venting their frustrations. This is America; this is a country built upon the premise that everyone has a voice. The problem with both movements is that in their frustration they rail against institutions that grant these rights and freedoms and their stridency while applaudable is not built upon promoting actionable solutions. Instead they are founded on the premise that that which they find objectionable must be torn down or removed. The government just can’t stop spending money tomorrow. Wall Street can’t stop working tomorrow or pull all paychecks. It’s not black and white, it’s 256 shades of gray. And it’s in recognizing and solving for gray that real workable solutions can be achieved.

Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, we’re all (well, maybe almost all) in this together and there are always workable solutions. This is a country that came of age and became a world leader because we were more industrious, more clever. We threw caution to the wind and came up with better more effective solutions. The time is ripe for being clever again. The time is ripe for making tough decisions and leading again by example. There is no better way to lead than by putting your money where your mouth is.Lincoln Memorial under construction

Let’s take the deficit and our debt issue…..

Continue reading On balancing the federal budget ….

245 years in prison

A sentence was handed down the other day to someone who had committed an especially horrific cold-blooded set of murders. The judge in the case set the sentence at 245 years.

I ask, what’s the point? What’s the point of throwing someone in jail for the rest of their lives? Do we expect this person to become rehabilitated? Are we punishing them to the point that -we hope that- they will regret their mistake every remaining day of their life? What if they don’t? What if they don’t ever regret it? What lessons have anyone really gotten from this?

Part of me thinks that those who commit heinous crimes should have heinous punishments and they should be denied all their rights. Shouldn’t they instead be forced to do -for example- hard labor for the rest of their lives? Should they be allowed to get a college degree on our dime? What would be the point of that? They aren’t getting out. The sentence in this case guarantees this guy will be dead long before he can come up for parole.

Again, what’s the point? We, as taxpayers, will shell out roughly $50,000/year to keep him in prison, fed, clothed and provided for. He will have company, not the world’s best or most enlightened folks, but he will spend the rest of his days living a stripped down life. He will live an unenviable life but he is guaranteed a roof over his head, warm food, heat and hot water, books, television, etc. (Prisoners have in the past gone on strike and held out for better food, more choices on the menu and won). He is guaranteed items that are not guaranteed outside the walls, that many of us are struggling with daily.

What’s the message we are sending to criminals such as these? What’s the point of handing down an unserviceable sentence?

Notes from the Unemployed: I’d Rather Be In Jail

Sad. Very sad.

Sad story in today Times about the unemployed. Story uses a worst-case scenario to make its point about the disenfranchised unemployed. Cynthia, 52, was an administrative assistant/secretary for 30 years, living in Jacksonville, Florida, one of the harder hit areas. She only knows one thing: administrative assistant. She can file, she can type 120 words a minute, she’s smart, but that job description has gone the way of the woolly mammoth.

She made too much money to qualify for food stamps. She got a job as a cashier at Walmart which pays a third of her former salary. She got “duped” into going back to school. I say “duped” because she took out a student loan and went to medical school to become a medical assistant, but they forgot to tell her that she needs a year of experience to get hired anywhere, meaning she needs to do volunteer work (for free) for a year. This is out of the question since her loan is now coming due. She doesn’t have the money to relocate. Tough story but the kicker is the ending quote:

“Sometimes I think I’d be better off in jail,” she says, only half joking. “I’d have three meals a day and structure in my life. I’d be able to go to school. I’d have more opportunities if I were an inmate than I do here trying to be a contributing member of society.”

Some thoughts:

Have we made the cost of citizenry too expensive? Between taxes (local, state, federal, sales, fees, registrations), health care, education (that is, -pardon my snobbery- a good education), have the costs of being a United States citizen become too expensive for the average Joe to sustain? Forget the basics: food, housing, clothing, commuting, utilities, etc.

I’m not bleeding-heart. I understand and -at times- applaud when we cut back and become more efficient, but at what cost? We can’t afford to pay people here the wages that folks overseas take because the cost of living is too high. While we are shedding unproductive jobs, we aren’t also reducing our citizenry costs, which should be happening in concert. The government is not reducing workforce (the irresponsible argument being they don’t want to add to the unemployment problem), nor is it reducing spending significantly enough, taxes are going up not down.

Interesting statistic: the US has less than 5% of the world’s population, yet we have nearly a quarter of the world’s prison population! Are we really that bad? Are we sending the right message to our fellow citizens and the rest of the world when we throw in jail nearly 1% of our population and that 1% has better benefits than possibly 10-20% of our population?

(Note: subject matter for another discussion — many of the business process jobs that are going overseas are going there because our IT departments build lousy inefficient systems.)