Thursday, January 21, 2010

Here's A Quick, Impertinent Question

Just a quick post today. I've been fighting some version of the garden variety crud all week and just haven't had two brain cells to rub together with all the congestion and such.

I was reading a Fox News article (,2933,583461,00.html) about the amounts contributed, individually and by governments, towards disaster relief for Haiti's earthquake. This article brings to mind my quick, impertinent question for the day:

If Islam is supposed to be this great religion of peace and goodwill and of which alms giving (called Zakat according to Wikipedia) is one of its five pillars, why are some of the major, oil rich, Islamic countries (like Saudi Arabia, for instance) giving absolutely nothing to the citizens of Haiti in their time of need?

You would think that Saudi Arabia as a nation, the birthplace of Islam and home to Mecca, would be first in line to give aid in times of need. Not so much apparently.

To be fair, the report does not say whether or not individuals in the Saudi royal family made personal donations even though it points out the contributions by such world luminaries as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Also, for those Islamophiles who may read this and want to argue that Zakat is supposed to be distributed in the community from which it is taken, remember we live in a global community now. If the Saudis are okay with taking everyone else's money for their oil, they need to be generous with that money in return when disaster strikes. That, or they and the rest of radical Islam can quit griping about America's role in the world.

One final thought: it is interesting that you don't see Al Qaeda making a token gesture of assistance like "we will donate the funds set aside for our next suicide bombing to help the victims of Haiti's earthquake." I'm just sayin'.

Friday, January 15, 2010

How To Solve Society’s Problems and TANSTAAFL

My last couple of posts have generated some comment exchanges which, in hindsight, I would have liked to have been included in the original posts. So, there’s only one thing to be done about that, of course. Write a new post centered around those comments.

One might ponder why these topics didn’t make it into the original posts. One who engages in such pondering would immediately be branded as someone needing something much better to do with their time. I wish I could claim that I had contemplated these gems and decided against their inclusion out of some high minded, philosophical statement about something or other. However, the truth is so much more mundane. Specifically, there’s only so much time I have to commit to writing at any one time between my other commitments, and I have to make executive decisions declaring something “good enough” from time to time. On the other hand, had I incorporated these thoughts and threads into the originals, the posts would have gone close to 5000 words each which is a little more than most blog reading people want to digest in one sitting.

Let’s get started, then, fixing my earlier oversights and omissions.

In response to “A Modest Proposal”, Nathanael Rey of the blog “This is How It Feels” commented, in part:
Now here is my general consensus. I agree with these ideologies in theory, and as a general guideline for the government. However, I think one point that could sway this theory is the whole, "what if?" factor. As I said I think as a general guideline, this is a good political theory, but i think an important thing to remember is the fact that not everything is so cut and dry. There are countless extenuating circumstances where I think there are exceptions to the rules laid down here. However, I do agree with the overall theory... especially about military action being the exception, not the rule.

Also, i don't think this necessarily solves the problems that we are facing today... but I do think they would have served us very well as preventative measures to those problems.

Now, Nathanael and I are about as different as night and day in terms of lifestyle and experience; however, he honorably served his country in the army even though the army didn’t treat him honorably in return. For that service, I believe his opinions are worthy of respect. In response to him, I said, in part:
I agree with you that theory and reality rarely coincide in the real world. We've got a complex society with very complex problems. The point I am trying to get at is that, just as an individual has to set priorities (like your post about getting the apartment and the affect it would have on your lifestyle), we as a nation have to set some basic priorities through which we attempt to address those more complex problems. Just like you have to make a choice between paying rent and getting the pedicure, America has to learn to make the hard choices between necessities and luxuries. At some point, we have to collectively say "no, we can't afford that."
It’s an undeniable fact we live in a complex society with complex problems, and Nathanael is right: not everything is so cut and dry. There are exceptions to every rule expect for the rule about exceptions for every rule to which there is no exception. The danger is when we start making the exceptions INTO the rules. When you start down that slippery slope, it becomes easy to say “just this once” or “we’ll deal with it later” or something equally intelligent. We’ve been saying that pretty consistently since the Civil War, and we are now standing in a cesspool of debt up to our collective eyeballs to prove it.

So, do we throw out the baby with the bath water because we can’t solve all of society’s problems? Do we give up trying to make a collective effort to live by a set of basic principles and priorities because they are unworkable and do not address or solve all the problems we face? If that’s the case, riddle me this Batman: when was the last time the United States’ byzantine and labyrinthine “progressive” tax code solved any of our nation’s problems. When has ANY of the 2000 plus page, tree killing, indecipherable, pork barrel project stuffed monstrosities enacted by Congress EVER done anything other than increase the size of government and line the pockets of the politically connected?

Further, in my opinion, it is BECAUSE we have tried to solve all our societal problems through creative legislation that we are broke as a nation. The point here is that any legislation not based on sound principles and priorities will CREATE more problems than it ever solves. We wanted cleaner air and water and safer food and drugs which are fantastic, laudable goals. So, Congress created the EPA and the FDA. Go read Philip K. Howard’s 1994 book, The Death of Common Sense, to see how well that’s worked out for us. I’ll summarize for you in two words: it hasn’t.

Better living through legislation and regulation is not the answer any more than better living through chemistry is. At least, not through the legislation and regulation coming out of our current system which lacks any kind of principle or priority not involving kickbacks, payoffs and outright larceny.

The founding fathers were wise to include language in the constitution limiting the power of the federal government. They understood the danger of an out of control government. They understood that most issues can and should be dealt with at a local level. Does your community have a homeless problem or a gang violence problem? Do those problems take precedence over your communities other priorities? That’s for the citizens closest to the problem to decide not for a distant federal bureaucracy to dictate. Should I, as a Texan, be forced to pay for California’s budget problems through my federal income taxes because they are too stupid to realize you can’t do everything your heart desires when I had no input into the decisions which led to those problems? What about my federal income taxes going to fund pork barrel projects in another state? I think not. That is the very essence of taxation without representation which led to the first American Revolution. Local problems require local solutions paid for by local funding.

National problems are, in my opinion, few and far between. National defense? Most definitely. Foreign diplomacy? Yep. International trade? Uh-huh. Interstate commerce. Yes. Immigration? Si, senor. Education? That’s a tough one. If the people of a certain city, county or state want to be so stupid they couldn’t pour piss out of a boot with instructions on the heel, they should have the right to be morons. We need a source of cheap labor to compete against China anyway. On the other hand, allowing a certain area to be fools hurts the rest of us. Is “No Child Left Behind” the answer? Not according to the teachers I’ve talked with. Ultimately, I think education should fall under the “promoting the general welfare” national priority. Just to be clear, I said PROMOTE, not DICTATE or PROVIDE.

Moving along now to another comment thread, in response to “Bad Bills and Basics”, GunDiva of the blog “Just Another Perfect Day…: commented as follows:
And another AMEN for Brother K! I've worked in medicine a long time. Medicine is not broken; we give great care to everyone. Insurance is broken. There are a lot of people out there who believe that Health Care Reform will result in "free" health care. Are you kidding? We'll be paying for it in the form of increased taxes. There ain't nothin' free about it. As Americans, we already bitch about how much of our paycheck goes to taxes. How 'bout when we start losing 50% of our paychecks to fund our "free" health care like they do in France? Or what about the "free" health care in Canada, whose government for a time shut down all emergency rooms and urgent care clinics from 7:00 pm until 7:00 am because of budget cuts. No thank you. I'll figure out how to pay my own medical bills, thankyouverymuch. I don't want some [abbreviated expletive deleted] Senator or Congressman deciding who, how, or when I seek medical care. [a derogatory reference to parentage deleted].
In response, I said: “GunDiva, you obviously get it where many do not. To quote from the late, great Robert Heinlein "TANSTAAFL" - there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.”

TANSTAAFL is really at the heart of what I am talking about here. Here’s another quick history lesson. The originator of the phrase TANSTAAFL is unknown; however, its first known usage was an El Paso, TX newspaper article in the 1930s. It is thought to relate back to a practice of American saloons in the 1800s of offering a “free lunch” with the purchase of drinks. Common sense dictates the lunch is really not free if you have to purchase something else to get it. A modern day equivalent of the “free lunch” concept would be the “free drinks” offered by casinos to gamblers. The bottom line is: You cain’t get somethin’ for nothin’. TANSTAAFL.

Everything has a cost whether it is monetary, personal, societal, moral, spiritual, temporal, etc. You/we have to pay, give up or do something in order to receive or do something else. Do you really want “universal health care”? Because that is what the ultra liberals in Congress would love to be able to enact. But, guess what? Doctors and nurses don’t work for free. MRI machines aren’t cheap and need electricity which isn’t free. Drugs? Definitely not free. Even those cheap little tongue depressors and extra long Qtips don’t miraculously pop into existence.

It’s been reported that the health care industry is approximately 1/5 of our total economy. If the GDP is $14.2 trillion dollars, that means health care accounts for about $2.84 trillion dollars worth of “free lunches”.

Oh, but wait, we’re supposed to realize huge cost savings by “reforming” health care which is a government euphemism for “we’re going to tell you what you have to do and fine you into oblivion if you don’t”. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that health care “reform” reduces costs by 50% across the board assuming that’s even possible. I know 50% is an arbitrary number picked out of thin air simply because our elected horse thieves are too slippery to commit to an estimate of potential cost savings when they have a hard time putting a price tag on how much their special deals and kickbacks are going to cost. Either way, I think most people would agree that a 50% cost savings represents a fair definition of “huge” savings. 50% of $2.84 trillion is still $1.42 trillion. How much does the IRS collect in taxes each year? Oh yeah, that’d be about $1.4 trillion. Now there’s a pill we can’t afford to swallow.

While we’re on the subject of cutting costs and budgets, I challenge anyone to try cutting your household expenses by 50% and tell me how that works out for you. Unless you are super wealthy, you cannot cut your expenses in half and maintain the same lifestyle. It can’t be done without making hard choices about who gets paid and who doesn’t or what things are necessities and which are luxuries. The same applies to our nation.

Now, last time I checked, America was supposed to be more or less a capitalist, free market economy. I know you can easily argue that any government regulation on the marketplace or economy moves us away from a truly free market economy, but that’s a whole ‘nother other can of worms (as mom would say) which I don’t have time to get into right now. So, in theory, goods and services as well as wages are determined in the marketplace. How is it possible to achieve 50%, or any percentage for that matter, health care cost savings without government interfering with the marketplace? You cain’t make a race horse out of that jack ass (I apologize. I spent some time in east Texas earlier this week. I promise I’ll be back to normal soon).

Do you want the government telling you how much you can charge for your goods or services? The pharmaceutical industry certainly doesn’t which is why they “helped” write the health care reform legislation. Do you want to invest a significant portion of your life educating yourself to be a doctor and have the government dictate that you can only charge $1 for your services (I know it’s not that extreme, but I am exaggerating on purpose)?

The constitution does not guarantee any person or company a “free lunch”. Nor does it provide any guarantees that future success will match past performance. The government has no business providing bailouts to any individual, group or company. We have to learn to stand or fall on our own two feet and live within our means. TANSTAAFL.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bad Bills and Basics

I promise I will get back to your somewhat regularly scheduled more light hearted programming soon, but this whole health care reform thing keeps burning a hole in my brain. If I don’t perform a quick cranial enema, I’ll be even worse cranky than I was when the dogs woke me up at a quarter to six this morning. Yesterday, it was the cat at 4:00 AM. Today, it was the dogs. My animals are conspiring to deprive me of sleep. Ungrateful little fur covered turds.

I was reading a little news this morning and came across an article in the Fremont Tribune ( which carries an interview of Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson (astute readers of my previous post will note that I originally reported Sen. Nelson as being from Kansas…that has since been corrected…y’all are supposed to fact check me in the comments…quit sleeping on the job) regarding his support of the Health Care Reform Bill now pending reconciliation between the two houses of Congress.

One part of the article that has me all riled up again today is the following paragraph: “Nelson said by insisting on certain changes before casting his vote he ‘took a bad bill and made it better.’ He pointed out aspects of the Senate’s bill he said will benefit Nebraska, and called the ‘Cornhusker Kickback’ a ‘sideshow’ that’s gotten too much attention.”

I’ve told y’all in a previous post how The Queen’s and my minister counseled us prior to our wedding that a bad marriage is a whole lot worse than no marriage at all. The same concept applies here. Someone needs to tell Sen. Nelson and the rest of Congress that a bad bill is a whole lot worse than no bill at all. Why can’t we take a GOOD bill and make it a GREAT bill? How’s that for an original concept?

The other part of the article that has my grippies in a serious wad and relates directly back to what I was talking about yesterday is two words: “UNFUNDED MANDATE.” This was part of Sen. Nelson’s explanation for the whole “Cornhusker Kickback” thing. He explained that $100,000,000 price tag placed on the kickback by the Congressional Budget Office is just a budgetary placeholder put into the bill because the CBO did not have time to figure out what it was really going to cost since they don’t know how many states will opt in or out of Medicare thus giving our trusted horse thieves time to figure out what the real cost is going to be behind closed doors.

In other words, “We don’t know how much it’s going to cost or whether we can afford it or not, but we are going to do it anyway.”

Sen. Nelson went on to say: ““Several of us have been concerned about the funding of Medicaid because it’s an unfunded mandate from the federal government. The federal government pays a portion of it and the state pays the rest,” he said.”

See? There’s those two dirty little cuss words. He should wash his mouth out with soap. For those of you who haven’t thought it through yet, when Sen. Nelson says “the state pays the rest”, he is talking about you me and the rest of the population in the form of higher state taxes. An unfunded mandate is the Federal government’s way of ordering the states to pay for something the Federal government thinks we should all be doing but for which there is no money in the Federal budget to pay for it. So, they pawn it off on the state’s budgets. Ask California how that’s working out for them.

I don’t think that’s kosher. Not kosher by a long shot, and yet this garbage continues.

I get the fact that there are some people out there who will think the Health Care Reform Bill is great just the way it is; however, by all indications in the news media I’ve read and heard, those people are few and far between. Why? Because we are a nation of individuals who each have our own opinions on any given issue. To paraphrase a quote from Abraham Lincoln just slightly: You can [please] all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot [please] all the people all the time.

Someone needs to remind the American people and the government that money is a finite commodity subject to the same laws of supply and demand as any other commodity. It’s also a fiction, but that topic is for another post.

Like I said yesterday, we need to get back to basics and get our priorities straight. Food, clothing and shelter are the basics of survival for any individual and have been since the beginning of time. Everything else is a luxury. If you can afford to buy a big screen TV, knock yourself out. Don’t expect me or anyone else to buy one for you.

As a nation, the basics of survival are pretty much just the way our founding fathers laid it out in the Constitution: Justice, Domestic Tranquility, Common Defense, Promoting General Welfare and Securing Liberty. Everything else is a luxury. Don’t expect the rest of us to buy it for you with our money or our blood.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Modest Proposal

To borrow from Monty Python, “And now for something completely different…” something more or less serious. My apologies to Jonathan Swift for the title.

When I began this blog, I had every intention of making regular commentary on the follies and faux pas of elected officials and the self appointed as well as formally ordained guardians of my morality/eternal soul/bank account. Hence the name of the blog and the subtitle. While I have written a couple of posts taking shots at those paragons of virtue and guardians of the public trust, I have discovered that my writing muse leads more frequently in other directions. Like towards my wife and family. There’s nothing wrong with that…they are wonderful subjects which provide me with a wealth of material…it’s just not what I expected to happen. Life is full of little surprises I suppose.

That’s not to say I have nothing to say about the goings on in Washington these days. Despite the fact that I am apolitical in terms of party affiliation (I think both major parties are the spawn of Satan Hell bent on lining their own pockets at the expense of yours and mine), I maintain an interest in following politics as a spectator sport. Not unlike following my father’s adventures/misadventures in serial monogamy or watching NASCAR...there’s always another spectacular wreck waiting to happen.

As most Americans not already living under rocks, bridges or cardboard boxes are aware, Congressional leadership has been busy buying the supporting votes of hold outs such as Senator Nelson of Nebraska who were standing in the way of the massive health care reform bill’s passage. As usual, political principle in Washington has a price. The question I always come away with is: Can we afford to pay that price?

I did a quick Google search on our nation’s debt this morning and was unsurprised to discover the good ol’ U.S. of A. has been addicted to debt from the very beginning ( In defense of the founding fathers, they had to pay for the revolution somehow.

That brings to mind a quick story I heard told by one of my college history professors. Supposedly, in the 1960’s when JFK was president, French president Charles DeGaulle attempted to hand JFK a bill for the money owed to France dating back to the American Revolution. JFK supposedly reminded DeGaulle of America’s costs in dollars and lives spent liberating France in World War I and II. DeGaulle is reputed to have graciously suggested the two nations call it even. I have no idea if this is really true or not, but I sincerely hope it is.

Back to our main story here. If you take the time to go through the debt archives, you’ll notice that the United States has never been debt free. Not once. Not ever. The closest we ever came as a nation to being beholden to no one was in 1835 when our national debt was a paltry $33,733.05 which was less than 10% of the previous year’s $4,000,000 plus debt and almost pocket change compared from the previous high water mark set in 1816 at $127,334,933.74. If it were only that way today, President Obama could ask his good buddy George Soros to pay it off out of the investment interest he makes in a few days. I don’t even want to think about what the inflation adjusted amount of those debt figures are.

On another note, take a moment to look at what was going on in history during some of the years when we had our biggest increases in national debt. Between 1860 and 1865, we went from owing a measly $64 million to over 2 and a half billion. Civil war can be a tad expensive when you weren’t saving back from your last paycheck. Between 1916 and 1919, we jumped from over $3 and a half billion to not quite $27 and a half billion. There’s that war thing again. The Great Depression didn’t help any although it wasn’t until FDR took office that we really started spending money like crazy. World War II, Korea and the Cold War were pretty expensive. Growth of the debt since then has been pretty steady with no one administration or event having a dramatic effect on the debt. I guess once you get past $1 trillion, a few hundred billion here or there just don’t cause the stir they used to.

Today, as a nation, we now owe almost $12 trillion dollars. Let me repeat that $12,000,000,000,000.00. TWELVE TRILLION DOLLARS!!!! The entire gross domestic product for the United States is only about $14.2 trillion, and the IRS only collects about a tenth of that ($1.36 trillion in 2007).

What is going to happen when we tip the balance on that debt to income ratio past 1:1? Nothing good I’m sure. At a minimum, inflation, which is already creeping into our lives. I’m already spending a minimum of 25% more on groceries than I was a year ago because of price increases. I know for a fact my paycheck has not gone up that much. At worst...have you ever seen or heard of a foreclosure or repossession of a nation? In my opinion, our nation is on the verge of bankruptcy and it’s only going to get uglier when our creditors decide they want some or all of their money. At gun point probably.

At some point very soon, we, as a nation, will have to balance our checkbook and get our budgetary priorities straight. As an individual, I have to make sure I buy food and pay the mortgage and utilities before anything else. It’s hard to enjoy a big screen television when you don’t have a house to put it in. As a Christian, I would love for us as a nation to be able to provide a comfortable retirement for the elderly and disabled (which I am, in fact, helping to do for my wife’s 93 year old grandmother) and universal health care to all citizens. As a proud American, I would love for America to protect itself from all threats foreign and domestic…preferably on their turf and not ours. As a fiscal conservative though, my Christian charitable desires and my nationalistic fervor come up against the cold hard reality that we can’t afford to do that as a nation without borrowing ourselves into oblivion.

And don’t get me started on the entitlement mentality. You don’t want me going there. I've got all the sympathy in the world for the elderly and infirm; but, if you’ve got most of your limbs and a functioning brain, shut up and go get a job. Put the bong down and stop having kids you can’t afford to feed and clothe while you’re at it. Oops, I went there didn’t I?

What’s the solution here? May I humbly suggest we get back to our national roots and reestablish some sound priorities like the ones laid out in the Constitution? If you haven’t read it in a while, I’ll help you out with the preamble:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.

Let’s see here, in one paragraph we have a blueprint for national priorities that should take precedence over luxuries like providing “aid” to third world dictators:

1) Establish Justice
I recall a bumper sticker that reads: “No Justice, No Peace. Know Justice, Know Peace.” This is a great priority to start with. Without justice, there is no domestic tranquility. Or much of anything else for that matter. In the absence of justice, there is only chaos and anarchy. Go look at parts of Africa if you need any confirmation of that. Justice requires equal protection not only under the law but also in the making of laws. There is too much influence peddling involved in the American legislative process as it currently stands. Just take a quick look back at the past two years and who got bailouts and who didn’t. You will find a political connection in almost every case. Our elected officials and judges must be ethical and above monetary influence and partisan politics. We, as their constituents, have a responsibility to hold them to that standard.

2) Insure Domestic Tranquility
We’re talking about law enforcement here which is an outgrowth of justice. Once we have fair and reasonable laws, they need to be enforced. It’s as simple as that. Punishment needs to be swift and fair. Those who cannot or will not play by the rules need to be asked to leave. Permanently. Put ‘em down for a dirt nap if necessary.

3) Provide For The Common Defense
The original framers of the Constitution were talking about the common defense of the several states collectively to avoid the problem of having competing state militias. They most certainly were not talking about initiating foreign wars to protect the interests of multinational companies more or less based in the United States. Or at least who have political influence in the government. Or in which the Congressional Pension Fund is heavily invested.

As a college graduate with a history degree, you don’t have to study very deeply to figure out that isolationism just doesn’t work as a foreign policy intended to secure our national defense. However, that does not mean America has to sign on as the world’s police force or become Jehovah’s Witnesses spreading republican democracy door to door. I've got no problem with the American military going into Afghanistan for the sole purpose of digging Osama Bin Laden out of whatever cave or goat herd he is hiding in and putting an end to that particular festering wound in the American psyche. Having said that, military action should be the exception, not the rule, in which we engage with specific goals (not deadlines) to be achieved or targets to be eliminated. Once those goals/targets are taken care of, we need to get out of Dodge and come back home. We don’t need to continue wasting money, energy and lives trying to make some forgotten spot of dirt into a democratic paradise which its culture doesn’t understand and will never be able to maintain.

4) Promote the General Welfare
It seems like a minor point upon which to fixate, but the word is “PROMOTE” not “PROVIDE”. Providing for the general welfare is a luxury not a necessity. If we can’t afford to pay cash, we can’t afford to buy it. Period. And we don’t need to saddle ourselves with a bunch of unnecessary and costly regulations either. If you want clearer air, give incentives instead of penalties for reduced emissions. If you want universal health care that’s affordable, start by encouraging people to eliminate fraud and waste in the system we have. Nowhere in this priority should the word “bailout” ever be mentioned.

5) Secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity
In my humble opinion, this one has to do with our nation, both the government and the governed, using common sense and not attempting to do stupid stuff we can’t afford. To quote from the Bible and be all preachy for a moment, Proverbs 22:7 says: “The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower is servant to the lender.” Romans 13:8 says: “Owe no one anything except to love one another…” Do you ever wonder why debt is described in terms of “secured” and “unsecured”? Securing our liberty and prosperity means owing no one who could come and take it away from us. If we own it lock, stock and barrel, no one can lay claim to it.

I know I have a relatively small readership, but that doesn’t mean my feeble attempts at political reform lack value. That’s where, you, my loyal minions…I mean followers, come in. If you like what you read and agree with it (more or less), pass it on to others. Now, go forth and convert the masses my merry followers and readers.