Monthly Archives: April 2011

Managing for Peace

52nd Infantry Regiment Teaches the Peace SignYesterday, President Obama announced planned changes to his security team. CIA Director Leon Panetta will be nominated for Secretary of Defense. General David Petraeus, now head of operations in Afghanistan will be nominated to run the CIA. Lt. General John Allen will replace Petraeus in Afghanistan. Ryan Crocker will be nominated to be the next US ambassador to Afghanistan.Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration kept around to protect Obama from typical first-term weak-on-the-military attacks by the opposing party, is stepping down and will likely enter the revolving door into the defense industry boardroom – or several of them.

There is nothing unusual in changes. The President is running for reelection and it is smart politics to announce changes prior to the campaign. The President continues to manage government well. None of the changes will be abrupt. Gates will step down June 30 and Panetta, assuming confirmation, will take over July 1st. All are non-controversial defense insiders and should get an easy confirmation and even a few Republican votes.

Nothing unusual, except for why Obama’s really doing it — Obama’s planning to end the war in Afghanistan, and with it, cut back on military spending. You didn’t hear it here first. Obama has been saying it for two years. He could not do it with the team he had. He can do it with the new team.

Gates, has been dead-set against Pentagon budget cuts, now he won’t have to make them. Petraeus has an unfinished job and wasn’t about to tell the President to draw down troops or tarnish his reputation or ego. Now he can continue fighting in Afghanistan using the CIA and trust Allen to be a good soldier. Panetta will do what he’s always done — manage well and make the Commander-in-Chief look good. Ryan Crocker, with his experience in Iraq and Pakistan is the person to manage Karzai and his corrupt government. This is the team to end the war before election day 2012. You did hear that here first.

Things could change, but it seems perfectly aligned to happen. We’ve been at war since 2003. The men and women in service deserve to come home. Our reserve units need to be retooled. Our allies are tired and have had enough. Voters stopped paying attention when they lost their jobs and their homes.

So what’s next? How will the corporate side of our military react? Just how much clout do their lobbyists for war have? Will our private contractor army stand down? Will the neocons give up on invading Iran until after the election? How will Israel react to the idea that we would not be actively making enemies on their behalf? Could Libya or Syria heat up and be next? Have the oil sheiks enough guns, tanks and jets to fight off revolution without us?

It is all part of the plan. The political plan. If America is truly ready for peace, as defined by good poll numbers for Obama fall a year from now, we’ll finally have peace. If not, well, whatever it takes to get elected. Please tell your pollster you are ready for peace when they call.

Preserving Social Security to Pay for Medicare

The Paul Ryan 2012 budget bill and “Path to Prosperity” sailed through House Friday on Republican votes. The GOP plans to spend $3.5 trillion next year, down a whopping $30 billion from 2011 (about eight days of current war spending), by cutting food stamps and Medicaid for the poor, children and the disabled. The Republican bill will still require the Government to borrow more than 40 cents of every dollar spent.

The bill passed is part of the Republican “roadmap” to reduce the deficit by $4.4 trillion* over the next ten years, while:

  • getting reelected;
  • providing $2.9 trillion in tax cuts for their wealthiest supporters;
  • gets rid of subsidies to develop alternative energy sources;
  • raising taxes for those making $20,000 to $200,000 per year;
  • repealing healthcare reform to make sure at least 52 million Americans are without health insurance;
  • in 2022, freezing and privatizing Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP);
  • and leaving it up to the states to deliver the bad news to our seniors, the disabled, children and the poor.

Except in calling for “reform,” the plan does leave Social Security intact, at least, so far** – and our seniors will need it. The average Social Security benefit for a retired worker is currently $14,124. In 2022, the additional out-of-pocket cost for Medicare will be $5,744. By 2030, it will increase to $8,833.

Impact of costs on seniors by Ryan budget bill - This was published by the Center for American Progress (http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/04/ryan_medicare.html)

Of course, this assumes that a private health insurance company in 2022 will offer a policy to someone over 65 for $20,513. Best of luck with that —  especially if by that time you have one of those pesky pre-existing conditions.

*Just in case you are keeping track of the mundane things such as this, President Obama’s “Path to Austerity,” plans to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion in 12 years.

**The Republicans have a separate bill making its way to the floor and endorsed by their leadership that will raise the retirement age to 70 and include a means test for benefits.

The Elephant in the Room

Elephant in the roomWe’ve all heard the mind-numbing numbers:  $14 trillion of national debt that will grow to $20 trillion by 2010, but is it real?

Technically, and by the political definition, yes. It is the cumulative difference between actual revenues and spending. But by any reasonable accounting standard, our definition of national debt is hoax. More precisely, it is a political hoax within a hoax.

Almost two-thirds of the national debt is owed to us – mostly to our own government and its agencies. So when the pundits of doom talk about the impending explosion of interest on the national debt, one should smirk, a bit. We have systematically plundered Social Security, Civil Service and Military retirement funds (and other trusts) – like corporate America, we are never going to pay our pensions back, we’re going to change the rules. The Federal Reserve has purchased trillions of our national debt (quantitative easing) – in effect, it has already been paid by devaluing our currency. We have also allowed “banks” to go to the Fed money window for trillions of dollars at almost no cost that they have turned around and used to buy huge amounts of our debt making incredible profits – paying them back is little more than accounting.

Only about one-third of our national debt is owned by American and overseas investors. Were the Fed sponsored debt already paid with imaginary dollars subtracted from the $14 trillion, we owe far less than than the 76% to GDP ratio we hear so often. It would be more like 25% – an amount that would rank us among the most solvent countries in the world.

How did we get in this situation? You know. The Bush, now Obama, tax cuts for the rich when combined with the unfunded wars, the bailout of Wall Street and the stimulus bill, total almost all of it. To their credit, the Dems, in passing the “Affordable” Health Care Act and losing the mid-terms, will save a couple of trillion in the next decade, but we trillions on the table as bribes to health insurance companies and big pharma to get the bill passed. The surplus to debt happened in less than ten years. It could be undone in less than 151.

Except… for the non-debt debt – the elephant2 in the room – our unfunded liabilities. It would take, perhaps, $100 trillion to fully fund our pension and veterans obligations while continuing to fund Medicaid and other off-the-book obligations. A $38 billion cut, which almost forced a government shutdown, is stomping on ants while the elephants are jumping over the wall. Silly politics. Televised sport and nothing else. Look for the reruns to begin airing in a few days.

The only responsible way to address the real debt, is to get politicians out of our accounting and health care3. Treat Social Security, Disability and Medicare as tax financed programs – without a cap, not pretend trust funds. Require all tax cuts, breaks and subsidies have a sunset provision that forces a new and separate vote to continue. Stop treating earned and unearned income differently. Plug the loopholes. Send all corporate lobbyists to Guantanamo subject to military tribunals. Pass legislation limiting political contributions so they can only be made by individuals. Require competitive bidding for all government contracts. Give the states access to the Fed money window. Get out of the wars, slash the Pentagon, NSA/CIA budgets, require a two-thirds vote in Congress to wage war and support the UN to be the world’s peace keeper. Pass immigration reform to get the 20 million here undocumented, to pay legal taxes and Social Security and have access to better paying jobs. Create a Roosevelt-like works program that offers an alternative to long-term unemployment. Require two years of community or military service for our young people and offer college as a reward. Invest in a national system of medical clinics, private or public, to implement much of Medicaid. Do something. Don’t just cut something. The systems, political, economic and accounting, are unsustainable and broken.

 

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1 By going back to historically low top rates, getting the hell out of the wars, requiring those too big to succeed without taxpayer funds to fail and getting people back to work. Duh.
2 Yes, it is ironic that the elephant is the symbol of the GOP.
3 I know, I know, I know, you are thinking, what the hell does he want to go and write about this for? Ignorance is bliss. Leave it to Nobel prize winning economists and people running for office to make this stuff up. Just couldn’t help myself.

Georgia House Bill 277

Feral HogI’m no fan of feral hogs, even when they aren’t in the Georgia House. A few years back, I was taking a long walk toward the sunrise on a desolate stretch of beach along the edge of the Hobcaw Barony, just north of Georgetown, SC, when one of these evolutionary misfits, the real ones, not the elected kind, bounded over the dunes.

The feral hog was surely trophy size, a few hundred pounds or better. Ignoring my instinct to run screaming, I calmly called on all my wildlife knowledge. If it were a bear, my left brain thought to myself, I should play dead. No f’ng way, thought my right brain interrupting loudly. Has it seen me? The sun was just coming up over the ocean, perhaps I should be still and hope he, she, it moves on. Of course it was low tide and safety of the surf fifty yards away. Surely these devil inspired nightmares can’t swim. They can and can run up to 30 mph. I can run four or five miles an hour. It seemed to be eating the dune grass. I considered it was a good sign that it didn’t have an arm in its big ugly tusks. The standoff continued. I, hiding my fear. He, she it, ignoring the predator, me, on the beach. Then it disappeared back over the dune.

I have mixed feelings about deer. The Bambiesque Key deer that are so tame they’ll feed out of your hand, are awfully cute. A month or so after a visit to Little Palm Island,  where we had gotten to hang out with the Key Deer, I woke one night to find my wife in the middle of the bedroom floor petting the invisible Key deer she was dreaming about.

Then there are those other deer. The ones who play chicken games late at night with motorists. Imagine the love you’d have for this future venison, if you, in the late stages of a midlife crisis were driving an Alfa Romeo Spider on a deserted moonless night around midnight. You were on the back road shortcut halfway from North Augusta to Charleston. You were taking a curve a couple of miles above the speed limit  knowing why you owned a sports car, when a herd of deer suddenly froze in your headlights. Alfas, at six inches off the ground, don’t run over deer. Deer run, roll, bounce and jump over Alfas. It is tradition for hunters to rub the blood of their first deer on themselves. It was my blood that was all over me. With no headlights, a mangled hood, broken windshield, torn top and freshly installed spare on the front right, I creeped along for a few miles until I spotted lights. A late night bar was not as good as a service station, but I walked in and asked for help, “I just hit a herd of deer and am bleeding.”

There were about a dozen patrons and a single voice yelled out, “where?”

I answered, “my head.”

“No, where’d you hit the deer?” came the same voice back.

“A couple miles west,” I offered. The bar emptied. Even the bartender left in the race for my trophies. This is what it feels like to be bait, for deer. Two months and almost $10 grand later, I got the car back. I also began to develop a taste for venison.

My only hunting experience is shooting children and their parents. I have never shot a feral hog or a deer, so maybe I’m not qualified to weigh in on Georgia House Bill 277. In fact, I’ve never hunted at all. My grandson’s 10th birthday party was held at Charleston Paintball. I had some trepidation about it. My people, as they say in Charleston, weren’t gun people. I convinced myself that it would be like using water pistols. It is not. I don’t recommend it for anyone, unless I don’t like you.

Charleston Paintball is less than a mile from the entrance to the Air Force base. On this Saturday in February, there were perhaps a thousand people gathered to hunt each other. Mostly men and their boys. Many who looked as if they came right off the battlefield. Fully equipped with special guns, extra ammo, paint grenades, even body armor. Every one of them looked the part for the role they’d play that day. There is an odd sense of safety you feel when you start out. Everyone must wear protective garb. Everyone must have their weapon check to ensure the air rifles weren’t too powerful. Everyone looked as if they were going to wipe out a terrorist group – or a school – and enjoy it. Fortunately, we had a private group with our own referee. I was also relieved to find that we had two surgeons in our group. Even I was beginning to think this would be a time I’d always remember.

The first staged battle went well. I was just sitting, awaiting the attack on our fort. A random high shot hit me in the arm and I was out. It stung a bit, but it was all good fun. The second battle went even better. After killing two beautiful little boys with perfect between-the-eyes shots, I snuck up on my grandson. He and I were the only ones left. He was hiding out in the fort when I took him out with a couple of shots to his abdomen.

The rest of the day didn’t go so well. I experienced brutal death after brutal death. Everyone learned a little about strategy. It took me a few hours to learn the best strategy is to get off the battlefield. Even with all the protective equipment, those damn paintballs will draw blood – mine included. They hurt like a son of bitch. And almost six weeks later, I still have deep bruises. If you shoot the guns fast enough, which little boys like to do, the compressed air in the gun freezes the paint and the plastic balls impact with the hurt of a golf ball. Experiencing it first hand, paintball is particularly lousy for the targets. I suspect the feral hogs and deer feel that way, too.

Yesterday, the Georgia Senate passed HB 277 . Existing law had allowed baiting fields for feral hogs and deer, but prohibited shooting them within sight, or within 200 yards of the bait. Obviously, this was unprogressive and unfairly benefited the wealthy who owned big tracks of land. The new law, which the Governor plans to sign, only affects the “Southern zone” of Georgia, changes the restriction to 50 yards, and you can shoot ‘em if you see them. Power to the people.

Opponents of the legislation, suggest that the change in this law is unethical, barbaric, unsportsmanlike, and that claims of wildlife management and health benefits are untrue. Read more of the arguments from the Political Vine, a site “produced by Georgia Republican Activisits”: HB 277: Deer Hunter vs. Deer Hunter and HB 277: Deer Hunting Over Bait – Unethical on So Many Levels, Part 2.

I know that the great state of Georgia has some important issues before the legislature this year. With only 40 days to eat barbecue, meet with lobbyists, and the like, it is really hard to balance the budget, while not raising taxes on anyone connected and by only cutting programs for the poor, underrepresented, or those popular with the opposing party. It is a tough task to assign the state’s priorities and invest in programs that will benefit the next generation of Republicans, while at the same time competing with the other great states of the deep South to stay out of the ranking cellar in education, life expectancy, obesity, poverty, teen pregnancy, unemployment, etc. – or, for that matter, competing with the other great states of the deep South to stay near the top of the rankings for business climate, miles of roads built, prison population, football and hunting. Speaking on behalf of all Georgians, I just want to say thank you – and, please, go home soon.