Archive for Debt

Why not a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution – what is the objection?

Posted in Political/Social Commentary with tags , , , , , , on August 10, 2011 by The Center Shot

For just a minute, try and step back from your party affiliation (whatever it is) and everything you’ve heard about the idea of instituting a balanced budget amendment. I want you to consider some things completely objectively. I’ll warn you when I get to the part where you can put your party colors back on! OK? Ready? Here goes….

If you’re reading this, YOU are almost certainly living under a “balanced budget” in your own home. If you weren’t, you couldn’t afford the internet connection you’re using to read this; much less the computer you’re using. If you’re reading this, there’s a 98% chance that you live in a state that has a balanced budget requirement built into the state constitution. Vermont is the only state that doesn’t have some sort of balanced budget mechanism in place. If you and the state that you live in need to live within your means, why shouldn’t the federal government be held to the same standard? It doesn’t take a trained economist to figure out that if you spend more than you make (or take in), you are heading for trouble . The same holds true whether you’re talking about an individual or a business or a government. ‘Sure,’ you say, ‘but I have a care loan and (maybe) a home mortgage – isn’t that spending more than I take in?’ No, because you are, ultimately, calculating that you can afford to make the payments each month within your balanced budget. Hopefully, within your budget you have even accounted for money you are putting away for a rainy day- a “surplus.”

These are the type of considerations any self-sustaining entity (person, business or government) lives by. It’s a simple concept. So, why not impose the same standard on the federal government that everyone agrees spends too much. Yes, there are disagreements on what the government spends money on; but everybody has something that they believe the government spend money on foolishly and unnecessarily. For example and generally speaking, Democrats/liberals don’t like excessive defense spending and Republicans/conservatives don’t like excessive spending on social programs.Right? Well, if politicians no longer had the ability to borrow or print money to fund anything they want and, instead, had to figure out what they can afford, I think we can all agree that they would be at least a little more responsible about how they spend our money, what projects they devise and what promises they make to us, the American people.

Are we still on common ground?Can we agree, so far, that this would be a slight improvement in our government?

‘OK,’ you say, ‘but doesn’t a balanced budget amendment favor certain people or groups?’ No. How would it? Even in its purest form (I’ll get to this later, so just bear with me) it doesn’t change any of the fundamentals of our democratic system. Revenue can still be raised through taxes to actually pay for things we need or want, it would just help limitborrowing and keep the federal government living within its means- like we do. Of course there will be ebbs and flows in the makeup of the government over time. Some years Democrats will have more influence and some years Republicans will be stronger; but this is the very necessary basis of our system. Our system is set up on “checks & balances” and the dueling parties are a perfect example of that principle. We, the people, decide who controls the government and we have an opportunity every 2 years to effect a course correction if we don’t like what they’re doing. Limiting spending to what we can afford, and without unchecked borrowing doesn’t change this dynamic in the long run, it only limits the government’s ability to run up uncontrollable debt.

When we want to try something something new or different we look within our own budget for unnecessary spending in order to find the money. Right? Why shouldn’t the government do the same thing? If they weren’t able to raise the “debt ceiling” and borrow money because of a balanced budget amendment, they would actually do something about the rampant waste in other areas to look for the funds to implement something new. If they can’t find the funds within the budget or government waste, then they would have to make the case to the American people why it’s such a good idea and ask our permission to raise taxes to fund the idea.

That sounds good, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t that be better than some congressman/woman coming up with a cockamamie idea in a back room to please a special interest group or lobbyist and then simply raising the debt ceiling to borrow the money to implement it? Members of both parties have done this time and time again and chances are there’s an example where it really made you mad!

Think about this: A fiscal restraint system, like a balanced budget amendment, can do things that please both parties and solve a lot of issues:

  • Waste – Everyone agrees the government wastes a ton of money. If borrowing was severely limited it would forcethe government to pay more attention to its own wasteful spending and be more efficient in its use of OUR money!
  • War – Politicians would be a LOT more hesitant to engage in conflict if they didn’t have a “blank check” to borrow whatever they wanted! Before starting a conflict, politicians would have to look just as much at whether we can afford it as whether it’s the right course of action. Since starting a conflict would almost certainly require an increase in taxes, in the case of a balanced budget amendment, a President would have have to really make the case to the people and get them on board. A pretty big deterrent to initiating!
  • Military Spending – Since military spending is a big part of the budget, congress would have to take a hard look at the massive waste and redundancy in military budgets and be much more selective in the selection and creation of new technologies- choosing only those that make sense, are truly needed and can be brought to fruition on time and within budget.
  • Social programs – While social programs would likely take an initial hit, they will anyway because they aren’t sustainable under the current setup – something that very few people, on either side of the political aisle, disagree with. If the waste and fraud were seriously addressed, like a balanced budget amendment wouldrequire, a significant dent could be made in the current insolvency of these programs. Then, add to that the savings in other areas of government that could be redirected to social programs, and you’ve made significant progress towards funding social programs. A balanced budget amendment wouldn’t threaten social programs, it would mandate that they are run in a way that guarantees continued help for needy Americans. Addressing these issues, once and for all, would likely provide more benefits to those who need them!*
  • Taxes – For those who favor tax reform, a balanced budget amendment would make this more likely! Whether you favor raising taxes on the “rich” or reforming/simplifying the tax code or closing loopholes or any combination of these, a balanced budget amendment works for you! Once the government is forced to ‘live within it’s means’ and can’t simply borrow more money, the only source of revenue available will be taxes. Right now, Washington doesn’t have any reason to seriously deal with taxes because, rather than deal with such a tough and contentious issue, they simply choose to borrow more which only delays the discussion.
  • Debt/Deficit – Everyone agrees that the current, increasing debt is hog-tying the US economy. This is an issue that effects all Americans and one which both parties agree must be solved. A balanced budget amendment would force the government to eliminate the deficit in future years, would halt the debt from growing further and would put us on a track to begin paying of the debt. While we may have disagreements on how money (in the federal government) should be allocated and on whether taxes should be raised (and, if so, on who), one thing we can all agree on is that we would be better of if we didn’t borrow more money. Regardless of which side of the isle we are on, we can all agree that there’s enough money in this country that WE SHOULD be able to operate the government without having to borrow trillions of dollars a year. A balanced budget amendment would simply guarantee that we have the debate and do the tough work to make that a reality.
  • Special interest groups – By eliminating the government’s ability to borrow money indiscriminately, the hold that special interest groups have on politicians and their influence on policy will be greatly reduced. Politicians (on both sides of the aisle) have used their ability to borrow as much money as they wanted, as a way to fund projects and programs that are brought to them by special interest groups- groups that, in return, deliver votes in the following election. In any town other than Washington DC, this would be called bribery, extortion or fraud;but in the US Capital this is called “business as usual.” So, if we cut off the rampant borrowing that facilitates the influence of special interest groups, we can really limit their influence over our politicians. This doesn’t mean they’ll go away, it just means they won’t be as powerful as they have been.

Still keeping an open mind? C’mon, you can do it! I’m almost done. Hang in there!

Yeah, but what about emergencies? What if we have a natural disaster or are forced to go to war?  These are reasonable questions and there’s a really good solution. Included within a balanced budget amendment, there should be a provision to allow the government to borrow money and to run a deficit in the case of emergencies but that also limits that amount and imposes a strict time frame for full repayment. If we limited the borrowing to a certain percentage of our gross domestic product (GDP), defined what constitutes an “emergency” and imposed a set time frame (also tied to GDP) we could account for those emergencies. In other words, just like in our own personal lives, we would be able to borrow money when we really need it but we would be limited in how much we can borrow based on our ability to repay the loan in full; and we would given a firm time frame to repay the loan. If every person and every business is required to operate this way, why shouldn’t the US government?

OK, you made a pretty good case; but if it’s such a great idea, why are so many politicians opposed to a balanced budget amendment? They’re opposed to it because, basically, it’s like asking a politician to cut his own throat. Think about it – what politician want’s to cut off the money flow that helps him run for office? Remember how many political ads you saw during the last big election? Those ads, especially on TV can cost tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars! Most politicians depend on the help of special interest groups to finance their election campaigns. So, why would they voluntarily cut themselves off from this money tree? They won’t. Not without enormous pressure from average voters, like you and me. Polls already show that roughly 70% of the American public already support the idea of some sort of balanced budget amendment.

Now you can put your party hat back on. I’m done.

I’m not expecting this one article to convince you; but I am hoping that it will make you think. Even though the biggest objection to a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution comes from Democrats in Washington, they aren’t alone. There are plenty of Republicans who ‘brush off’ the idea of a balanced budget amendment. I challenge you to take a close look at those who object and I’ll be willing to bet that they take enormous sums of money from at least one special interest group. If they do, don’t you think it’s at least reasonable to consider that their motivations are less than pure? Isn’t it reasonable to consider that they’re putting their own self-interest and political career first, before the interests of the country and their constituents? All I’m saying is that the idea of a constitutional control that limits the government’s spending is not the “radical” or “crazy” or “impossible” idea that many politicians in Washington make it out to be! Remember that you most likely live in a state that has a balanced budget requirement of some sort; and remember that if we ask for one we’re essentially asking the politicians to give up access to a money tree.

Would it really be bad to at least have a serious national discussion about forcing the federal government to operate the way each one of us do, the way every business does, the way every union does, the way that every non-profit organization does and the way that 49 out of 50 states do- within some semblance of their means? How can we expect to continue spending more money than we have? There’s NO way for it to continue indefinitely. Every year our debt grows to swallow a greater and greater amount of our GDP and eventually, if this continues, it will equal (or even exceed) what we take in; and, eventually, we will end up living in a bankrupt country. There’s NO reason we can’t live within our means and still do what we need to do for those who need our help. If you’ve been opposed to a balanced budget amendment please take a fresh and open minded look. It’s an idea worth looking at and discussing, to see if we can’t come up with a way to implement a balanced budget constraint on the federal government and curtail the out-of-control spending that they’ve become so accustomed to. If we don’t, the consequences will be more severe than we can imagine.

Tea Party – Don’t be the cure that’s worse than the disease!

Posted in Political/Social Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2011 by The Center Shot

I want to make it clear, up front, that I’m a huge supporter of most of the ideals behind the Tea Party movement and have participated in Tea Party events since the earliest ones in Texas. That said. I think that members of the House Tea Party Caucus are entirely missing the point.

We sent you to Washington to show our disapproval of the status quo, to shake things up and to begin the process of change in the way ‘business is done’ in the Capital. We did NOT send you to Washington to be ‘spoilers’ or to act like spoiled, stubborn children. You have stood your ground and your principles longer than anyone expected and have had a dramatic effect on Washington politics and on the American people. Business is no longer “as usual” in Washington and there’s a new hope in America that things can be changed. But it’s time to begin working with other Republicans and those on the left to come to some sort of compromise. If you don’t, all the hard work you have done will be overshadowed and lost by the repercussions of a failure to arrive at a passable bill to raise the debt ceiling and reduce spending.

A war can’t often be won with a single battle and the effect of trying to will be devastating, in this case. Unfortunately, just being “right” isn’t enough. Just as important is the ability to access the realities of a situation, all aspects of it, and to have the willingness and courage to work within those realities. The reality, today, is that America is not prepared to suffer the consequences that will result if a deal is not struck on a deficit reduction plan and a increase in the debt ceiling- no matter how much they agree, in general, with the Tea Party’s goal of reducing spending and waste instead of increasing taxes. If you continue to hold up the bargaining process, you will be blamed for those consequences. No, this is NOT right; but it is the reality. If this comes to pass, you may claim victory over the battle but you will have lost the war. The cause of fiscal responsibility will, then, be set back significantly.

Perception is everything. If you don’t wake up to this fact and use it to your advantage, rather than being a victim of it, all your efforts will be for nought. Instead of being hailed as saviors of America, you will be vilified as the group that brought on an additional and unnecessary financial tragedy. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t responsible for the current situation or that you are advocating the best and most sensible way out of this mess; you will be blamed for it anyway. This is the reality of America today. Ugly or not, you can’t wish this reality away. In order to effect change, you have to win the public relations war in addition to being right. While you may be advocating policies that a majority of Americans tend to agree with, you have not (yet) won the war of public relations. This particular battle that you have engaged in has the potential for consequences that will only alienate the public. Is your rigid adherence to fiscal responsibility, and your stance on this particular battle, worth handing the federal government over to the extreme left so that they can drive us off a financial cliff?

I would argue that it would be better to “give” enough to get a deal done that the Senate will pass and the President will sign and to be happy with knowledge that you have effected more change than anyone ever expected. In return, you will garner the respect and support of many Republicans and independents, that previously dismissed you, in future battles. Be satisfied that you have altered the path and very fabric of Washington; and survive to fight another day, in battles that will truly put us on a path to fiscal responsibility. We are proud of your record and steadfastness and we will not be disappointed in you for giving a little to make a deal! In fact, we will be more proud of you if you recognize the right time to begin bending to facilitate a deal. One that, while it may be distasteful and not what we would want in a perfect world, is better than we would have otherwise had and one that will save us from a financial tragedy. Please don’t be the cure that is worse for America than it’s financial disease!

 

Celebrities like Bill Maher are disingenuous and deceptive – they have no business talking politics

Posted in Political/Social Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2011 by The Center Shot

I’m so sick of watching Hollywood actors, musicians, professional athletes and other celebrities talk about the economy, the debt ceiling and other issues that they know so little about and which don’t have any real effect on them anyway! Have you ever noticed how sympathetic they are, supposedly, to “the poor” and how antagonistic they are (in general) to the “wealthy?” Have you ever noticed how their (public) animosity is directed at corporate America and the conservative viewpoint and politics?

I just finished watching Bill Maher (host of Politically Incorrect on HBO) on the Piers Morgan Show on CNN. As usual, Maher’s comments were decidedly left-wing; deriding conservative (and most economist’s) beliefs that jobs are created by successful people and that when you increase taxes on those who own or invest in companies (thus cutting their available investment capital), the result is fewer jobs. Time and time again, Maher’s crass commentary hammered on everything conservative and corporate and espoused only the furthest left-wing beliefs. He even referred to Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman as “MILFs.” This is nothing but naked personal hatred and ‘shock talk’ that is rude and totally inappropriate for any serious and substantive discussion. It’s not funny and is not something that should be said about ANYONE. It was a derogatory comment that was only designed to engender the further support of other ‘haters’ that identify with Maher’s extremist views and inflammatory rhetoric. Maher can’t abide or respect others’ right to their own (opposing) beliefs and he regularly ridicules people for their beliefs- in direct contradiction to the very “tolerance” that he pretends to advocate.

I just don’t get it. Why is anyone even listening to this guy or ANY of these other people who’s sole qualification for getting air time is being a celebrity? Are we really living in a world where any “celebrity” can become a political or social pundit simply because of their fame? Wouldn’t it make more sense to, at least, listen to people who’s professional expertise has SOME relevance to the subject? What makes someone like Bill Maher’s opinion about political issues any more sensible or valid than yours or mine or anyone else? I submit that Maher’s, and most other celebrities’ (like many of his guests), opinions and views have EVEN LESS validity than yours or mine. Think about  it- celebrities like Bill Mar are extremely wealthy and are paid outrageous salaries for very little of what most of us would consider “work;” and very few of them have spent any significant time in the general workforce. I don’t begrudge them their talent and good fortune but I DO have a problem with them: 

A. pretending that they are “in touch” with the average American. They aren’t. In fact, if you really think about it, the bubble they live in likely makes them LESS “in touch” than even the politicians in Washington! 

B. acting like, because they are a celebrity or a member of the Hollywood elite, they are somehow qualified to speak about political and social issues outside their expertise and personal experience; and that they are somehow smarter than the rest of us. They aren’t. 

C. acting like they really care about the lives of the poor and of average Americans. They don’t.

D. acting like, somehow, their celebrity status makes them privy to information that the rest of us aren’t. They’re not.

If these people are really as concerned about the poor as they claim, why don’t they do more to help them? Let’s take Bill Maher, for example. His net worth is somewhere around $23 million. If he was REALLY as socialistic as he claims, why not give away $10-15 million directly to some poor families to get them homes and job training and get them self-sufficient? Since Maher believes that families making $250,000 a year are rich, SURELY the remaining $3-8 million would be more than enough for him to comfortably live on! I’m sure he does donate to plenty of charities but I’m also willing to bet that the amount he donates is determined by his accountant that makes the most of these donations (as deductions) on his tax forms; and I’ll bet he takes advantage of EVERY loophole in the tax code that’s available to him. There’s ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with doing this; but there IS something wrong with doing it and then espousing socialist beliefs and acting like you’re on the side of poor and middle class Americans- it’s just plain dishonest. All this is nothing more than a ploy to make people like them more which increases the popularity of their shows/projects; which, in turn, puts more money in their pockets and in the pockets of the corporations that produce their shows, projects, events, books, etc.! Have you ever heard any of these folks (or anyone on the left) attack the corporations that produce entertainment (film, professional sports, music, etc) that earn HUNDREDS of millions, and even billions, of dollars annually? How about the outrageous salaries that are paid to movie stars, professional athletes and recording artists that are all made directly off the backs of “average” and poor Americans? Celebrities on the left, and the left in general, love to harp on corporations like oil companies for their “outrageous” profits while their OWN industry makes enormous profits off the poorest Americans seeking an ‘escape’ and while paying entertainers and their own executives salaries that exceed most corporate salaries in the very industries they decry! I’m not saying THEY don’t believe their own hype – I’m sure many of them do and are sincere on some level – but they are deluding themselves and their fans into a belief that they don’t, themselves, live by; and which is basically nothing more than a sales tactic of telling people what they WANT to hear in order to increase their popularity and fan base which, inevitably, lines their own pockets.

Think about it. If these entertainers are SO concerned about the poor, why don’t they donate more of their MULTI million dollar salaries? Do they really need TENS of millions of dollars a year to live comfortably? If they are SO outraged by corporate salaries and bonuses, why do they work so hard to negotiate movie deals, record deals and salaries in the TENS, and sometimes HUNDREDS, of millions of dollars? Where is the public’s outrage at these excessive incomes? I just don’t understand people. Compare a CEO of a oil company that works 16-18 hours a day, 6-7 days a week running a company that employs tens of thousands of people all over the globe and invests billions of dollars in research and exploration with someone who ACTS and looks good in front of a camera; or with someone who runs around a field for an hour a week and works out in a gym all week. WHO WORKS MORE and CONTRIBUTES MORE to society? The CEO gets called a “fat cat” while the actors, musicians and athletes get called “celebrities.” Don’t you see the hypocrisy? Where is the public outrage at celebrity incomes that have gotten completely ridiculous? People complain about a $3.50 gallon of gas like the world is coming to an end and the oil companies are run by Satan himself; but they don’t say a word about the $15 price of a movie ticket and the $20 price tag of a soda, bucket of popcorn and a hot dog inside the theater! THEN, these same people tune in to watch their favorite celebrity ‘school’ them on political issues and social debates.  That’s just crazy.

 We’re facing crisis’ in this country that may well determine whether we continue to be the greatest nation on earth. The decisions we make, as a nation, will determine our’s, our children and grandchildren’s future. We simply can’t afford to remain complacent and lazy (as we have been for generations) and expect things to work out “ok” simply because they always have, until now. The fact that entertainers have found a voice in the political and social debates of our time is a “symptom” of our problem- they’re not the disease. WE have allowed “news” and “entertainment” to merge through our laziness and complacency; and we’ve hidden it behind phrases like “frustration with the status quo,” “my vote doesn’t count” and “I can’t do anything about it.” We USED to get the straight news from real journalists that simply told us what ‘was’ instead of injecting opinion and analysis into everything; and WE (as a nation) made a decision on what to do about it. And we usually made pretty good decisions.  Since we can’t get plain old straight news any more, it’s INCUMBENT on US to each do our due diligence and research BOTH sides of each issue impartially; and to make the HARD decisions, ON OUR OWN, to get our country back on track – even if it’s not the decision we WANT to make or that we LIKE. It’s time we stopped “looking out for #1” and only for, “those we love” and start making decisions for the nation as a WHOLE – even if it hurts us individually or some of those we love or care about. As painful as this will be for all of us, it’s our only hope. Politicians’ pandering to our “wants” and desires instead of only what we “need” (and can ACTUALLY afford) is how we got into this mess. We don’t have that luxury any more if we want to continue to be the great nation we’ve been, despite what the “celebrities” will tell you. What do THEY care, really? They have enough money that they never have to worry about THEIR future, no matter what happens to this country or to the rest of US.

Come on America, WAKE UP! Please stop listening to and watching entertainers who engage in trying to convince you of a particular political or social viewpoint. START doing some OBJECTIVE research of BOTH sides of issues/debates to come up with YOUR OWN position. They may have a clever and humorous way of phrasing something, and they may be nice to look at or admirable in their athletic prowess, but their knowledge, understanding and information about political and social issues is NO more valid than the average American. Getting information from celebrities, or using them as a news source to help you formulate your own stance on an important issue, is like asking a stock boy for investment advice. Sure, you may get lucky once in a while but, if you bet your financial future on it, odds are you’ll end up broke!

If you’re going to hate the rich, then AT LEAST be consistent and focus an equal portion of your hatred at celebrities who actually get paid more FOR LESS than anyone. If you’re going to advocate regulation of corporate salaries, bonuses, profits and pricing for oil companies (and other industries) then also advocate for the same regulation of the entertainment industries! If you do, and these “entertainers” start seeing their own “fat” wallets getting targeted, watch how fast they change their ‘tunes.’ Personally, I’d LOVE to be able to go enjoy a movie for $5 again- like when I was a kid!