Aleck Loker, Writer

Fiction and nonfiction for all ages

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Computers Reduce Productivity

Posted by Aleck Loker on July 5, 2014 at 3:30 PM Comments comments (9)

Thirty years ago computers appeared on desks in the workplace of government and corporate employers. These devices promised increased productivity; the result has been a significant decrease in productivity and, ironically, personal communication. Here’s why.

 

Face-to-face communication is now a rarity. Example--I was doing a consulting job for a college and needed the facilities manager to have some signs installed. He shared an office with the employee who would do that task. The employee was visible to us at his desk. The facilities manager sent him an e-mail asking for the signs installation. It would have more productive to speak to the individual, answer any questions he might have and get the immediate assurance that the job was underway. That’s an example from the past. Nowadays, it is virtually impossible to talk face-to-face with most people when they are at work. Automated telephone systems and e-mail insulate them from this kind of effective communication with customers.

 

The bigger issue is what people at work do with those ubiquitous computers and their official Internet accounts. These devices and communication accounts should not be used to play computer games, make personal on-line transactions, or engage in “social media” activities. Yet this goes on all day in government and corporate workplaces.

 

Proof is readily apparent every day. Now that I am retired, I look at Facebook throughout the day. There I see postings on Facebook pages by people who I know are at work and who are spending time putting information on Facebook totally unrelated to their jobs. Frequently the information they post represents an extreme political view and has come from other Internet sites. They have cut and pasted this material or the link to this material onto Facebook. This activity is not trivial. It is a significant waste of time and saps the productivity of their employer’s operation.

 

Yesterday I received an email that forwarded a politically motivated diatribe about an elected official. I wasn’t disturbed by the content of the political attack. What disturbed me was the e-mail contained a disclaimer from one of our local banks. The presence of the disclaimer makes it clear that someone employed by that bank either originated this e-mail or forwarded it using the bank’s computer and corporate Internet account. By the time the e-mail got to me, the identity of the employee had been removed.

 

These examples may seem trivial, and taken individually they are. However, from my work experience and observations since retirement, it seems clear that employees are wasting a substantial amount of time sending personal e-mails, browsing inappropriate Internet sites, and posting personal opinions on social media sites. Computer technology has also inhibited effective communication between employees and the customers they are paid to serve.

 

Personal use of employers’ computers is not a constitutional right. Government and corporate employers need to take steps to eliminate the misuse of their computer and communication resources. National productivity has declined due to these abuses and they should be curtailed.

 

Congressional Reform

Posted by Aleck Loker on October 1, 2013 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

REMEMBER THE SUPERCOMMITTEE?

It wasn't that long ago that Congress appointed the "super-committee" to arrive at a federal budget plan that would bring spending in line and end the political wrangling over the out-of-control federal appetite for more money and more programs. The super-committee failed miserably and the result was "sequestration" a euphemism for Congressional incompetence. Now the House has proposed a joint committee of Congress to arrive at a spending bill that will carry the government through the first quarter of the fiscal year. Senate Response: we're not playing, na na na na!

CONGRESS IS AS BROKE AS THE FEDERAL TREASURY: LET'S NOT PAY THEM

Proposals to restore the U. S. Congress to a Reasonably Productive Legislative Body:

1. TERM LIMITS FOR BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS ARE ONE SOLUTION TO THIS LEGISLATIVE CRISIS. The members of Congress are in a constant mode of campaigning to keep their very lucrative pay and benefits--that far exceed their abilities or performance. These people are ego driven and their egos are quickly inflated when they are elected.

One way to trim those egos and end the job perpetuation activities they engage in--activities that don't advance the public's interest--is to limit the members of Congress to a single term. Currently members of the House serve for two years and can be re-elected ad infinitum. The members of the Senate are elected to six years and also can serve forever.

I propose that members of both houses be elected to one four-year term and be prohibited from ever serving a second term. That would eliminate the grasping for campaign funds once elected, and would, hopefully, encourage the elected members of Congress to focus on the people's business rather than their own future as career politicians.

2. CONGRESSIONAL PAY AND BENEFITS SHOULD BE ALTERED TO AVOID THIS LEGISLATIVE CRISIS IN THE FUTURE. In addition to term limits, members of Congress should receive pay based on a merit system and capped at $100,000. That figure should be linked to the same COLA as other federal employees.

This merit system would be administered by a committee in the state each member represents. The member would be guaranteed 50% of the capped pay and the remaining 50% would be paid or partially paid based on how well the member had served his state in the judgment of the state committee on Congressional pay.

3. FIRST LET'S KILL ALL THE LAWYERS (AND LOBBYISTS), TO PARAPHRASE SHAKESPEARE.

Lobbyists and the news media are really where the current power lies in the US. We don't elect members of Congress or the President. Those elections are heavily influenced by the media.

Think about how little we learn about a candidate’s specific plans or ideas for action once he/she is elected. How can we really compare competing candidates when the media controls and alters the information flow. We receive, as a result, the President and members of Congress (and Governors) that the media has chosen for us.

As an example, there are three significant candidates for Governor of Virginia. In the recently televised gubernatorial debates, two candidates were presented. The Libertarian candidate was not a participant even though it is obvious that citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia are desperate for a third choice.

4. NO ADD-ONS TO FEDERAL BILLS AND LINE ITEM VETO. Congress talks big about ending "pork barrel" spending, but has done little to eliminate it. A plethora of special appropriations are tacked on to unrelated bills and winked at when they go through the congressional committees.

Add-ons should be eliminated with clear definitions of what can and what cannot be included in authorization and appropriation bills. Also, members of Congress should have to sign an affidavit that they have actually read the complete text of a bill before it passes out of committee and before it is voted on and enacted. That means the member should have read it, not just his/her staff. This might go a long way to paring down the length of federal bills, currently running hundreds to thousands of pages.

 

Hurricane Sandy, Global Warming and Public Policy

Posted by Aleck Loker on November 24, 2012 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)

This essay is not about the cause of global warming or whether global warming has increased the severity of recent storms such as hurricane Sandy. It’s about the reality that sea level throughout the world has been rising for about 20,000 years--since the last Ice Age--and will continue for the foreseeable future. In the mid-Atlantic region, sea level has risen faster than anticipated due to the subsiding of the eastern edge of the continental plate. The latest prediction is that the sea level will rise another 5 feet by the end of this century. That’s nearly equal to the storm surge that destroyed much of the New Jersey coast and flooded New York City during Sandy.

Couple the rise of sea level with the impermanence of the barrier islands off the east coast of North America and consider what should be done in that vulnerable area. The Jersey shore, the beaches of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas are susceptible to storm surges and tidal erosion. One historical point drives this home: the Outer Banks of North Carolina are one mile closer to the mainland now than they were in 1584 when English explorers first mapped that region. Barrier islands built of sand are constantly migrating with new inlets opening and old inlets closing.

Although we must help those who have been devastated by the storm damage caused along the Atlantic shore by hurricane Sandy, we need to change our public policy with regard to future building in that fragile and impermanent location. We should not prohibit those who can afford to put their fortunes at risk by building homes or hotels on the impermanent shore from doing so. However, we should not enable them to do so at public expense. We should not allow local, state or federal funds to be used to underwrite privately-funded rebuilding in these flood prone and unstable zones. That includes spending public funds on beach restoration or stabilization projects.

If private insurance underwriters want to assume the risk for paying to repair or replace the damaged structures along our shores, that might seem to be none of our business. However, those same insurance companies insure homes and businesses built in areas not impacted by the clear and predictable risks associated with rising sea level and storm surges. Consequently, the costs of insurance premiums for all of us are affected to a degree by the policies written to protect those who build in the zones of highest risk.

We should recognize that occupation of barrier islands and fragile shores along the Atlantic no longer makes sense. Sea level will continue to rise, and heavily occupied mainland coastal areas must be protected from flooding. Let’s spend our public funds on protecting those areas where the most people live, mainland areas that cannot be easily abandoned. Let’s stop wasting public funds on protecting those fragile places that should not be developed: the barrier islands and low-lying beach areas.

 

Hurricane Sandy, Global Warming and Public Policy

Posted by Aleck Loker on November 12, 2012 at 3:50 PM Comments comments (0)

This essay is not about the cause of global warming or whether global warming has increased the severity of recent storms such as hurricane Sandy. It’s about the reality that sea level throughout the world has been rising for about 20,000 years--since the last Ice Age--and will continue for the foreseeable future. In the mid-Atlantic region, sea level has risen faster than anticipated due to the subsiding of the eastern edge of the continental plate. The latest prediction is that the sea level will rise another 5 feet by the end of this century. That’s nearly equal to the storm surge that destroyed much of the New Jersey coast and flooded New York City during Sandy.

Couple the rise of sea level with the impermanence of the barrier islands off the east coast of North America and consider what should be done in that vulnerable area. The Jersey shore, the beaches of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas are susceptible to storm surges and tidal erosion. One historical point drives this home: the Outer Banks of North Carolina are one mile closer to the mainland now than they were in 1584 when English explorers first mapped that region. Barrier islands built of sand are constantly migrating with new inlets opening and old inlets closing.

Although we must help those who have been devastated by the storm damage caused along the Atlantic shore by hurricane Sandy, we need to change our public policy with regard to future building in that fragile and impermanent location. We should not prohibit those who can afford to put their fortunes at risk by building homes or hotels on the impermanent shore from doing so. However, we should not enable them to do so at public expense. We should not allow local, state or federal funds to be used to underwrite privately-funded rebuilding in these flood prone and unstable zones. That includes spending public funds on beach restoration or stabilization projects.

If private insurance underwriters want to assume the risk for paying to repair or replace the damaged structures along our shores, that might seem to be none of our business. However, those same insurance companies insure homes and businesses built in areas not impacted by the clear and predictable risks associated with rising sea level and storm surges. Consequently, the costs of insurance premiums for all of us are affected to a degree by the policies written to protect those who build in the zones of highest risk.

We should recognize that occupation of barrier islands and fragile shores along the Atlantic no longer makes sense. Sea level will continue to rise, and heavily occupied mainland coastal areas must be protected from flooding. Let’s spend our public funds on protecting those areas where the most people live, mainland areas that cannot be easily abandoned. Let’s stop wasting public funds on protecting those fragile places that should not be developed: the barrier islands and low-lying beach areas.

 

Intelligent Defense Budget Cuts Are Possible

Posted by Aleck Loker on November 8, 2012 at 10:40 AM Comments comments (0)

We’re heading toward a national budget crisis that could dwarf economic problems in Europe. Politicians offer no concrete solution to this crisis, only vague comments about controlling government spending and reducing the deficit. Our national budget exceeds $3 trillion; each one-percent cut equals over $30 billion. Without getting into acrimonious debate about entitlements and government dependence, let’s focus on a part of the federal budget that is so important in Hampton Roads—the Department of Defense (DOD).

DOD drives nearly half of the economic activity in our region. How and how much the government cuts the DOD budget will impact on the economy of Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth of Virginia. The defense budget appears bloated when viewed over a span of twelve years. In fiscal year 2000, DOD received less than $300 billion. In 2011, the DOD budget was $687 billion—more than double. In 2012, the defense budget was reduced slightly to $646 billion—a three-percent cut. If we remove $115 billion allocated for overseas contingency operations (wars in the middle-east), we still have a base DOD budget of $531 billon, and that’s about 80 percent more than in 2000. The DOD budget grew at a rate substantially greater than the personal income of the U. S. citizens and much greater than inflation.

We should be able to cut the DOD budget substantially without national consequences. But how would that cut impact us here in Hampton Roads. The answer, of course, is whether the cuts are made intelligently or politically. The three largest categories of expenditures in the DOD budget are Operations & Maintenance ($283 billion in 2010), Military Personnel ($154 billion), and Procurement ($140 billion). Procurement cuts could have significant impact on this area as they might cut shipbuilding and other major programs of local importance. The reductions should be taken in O&M and Military Personnel.

We have about 220,000 military personnel stationed in 144 countries around the world. We should bring home the 100,000 troops stationed in Europe. The Soviet threat has not existed for more than two decades. Russian tanks are not poised to conquer Europe. The presence of 100,000 troops in Europe is not justified from a national defense perspective. The troops are there to prop up the European economy—just another form of foreign aid.

That European presence is a mission our Defense Department should no longer support. Those troops can be withdrawn and returned to civilian life, reallocated to serious global hotspots, or used in some domestic program such as border defense. Bringing them home will allow deep cuts in the Operations & Maintenance and Military Personnel accounts without negative impact on Hampton Roads. An expanded naval presence will accomplish more than forces in Europe and provide the agility we need to react to world crises.

Finally, removal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan will save lives—the most important saving. That withdrawal will trim most of the Overseas Contingency Operations portion of the defense budget—more than $100 billion per year.

 

Separation of Church and (Political) Statements

Posted by Aleck Loker on March 19, 2012 at 8:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Politicians invoke the Bill of Rights to cloak their ideology in a mantle of revered American liberties. The latest debate centers on the assertion that “Separation of Church and State” precludes churches or church-run institutions from having to provide certain medical insurance benefits to their employees. Here’s what the Bill of Rights has to say.

The first article in the Bill of Rights, says only this about religion, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The founding fathers wanted to prevent the establishment of a national religion. Under British rule, all British subjects had to finance the Church of England. This financial support came from the treasury of each county in each colony as a significant stipends paid to Anglican ministers. Patrick Henry made his debut as an outspoken attorney in a law suit dealing with the payment of salaries to Anglican ministers. To this day in Britain, the Church of England is still linked to the national government. In the United States, thanks to the Bill of Rights, we don’t have a national religion.

The first amendment to the Constitution didn’t say that churches should be exempt from taxation. It didn’t offer an opinion on whether churches, as employers, should have to abide by minimum wage standards, or that a future Fair Labor Standards Act should apply to churches. Those issues came about by subsequent Congressional action and court interpretations. The founding fathers had nothing to say about employees of churches, when those churches entered into non-religious enterprises.

One candidate for president this year invokes separation of church and state when he argues against churches, particularly Catholic churches, having to provide contraceptives or abortion to their employees. Then that same candidate argues that the religion of someone running for president should be a relevant factor considered by voters—and says he does not believe in the “absolute” application the separation of church and state.

Debate over whether Mormons are Christians somehow seems relevant to those candidates attempting to garner the “fundamentalist” vote. Clearly, the founding fathers did not intend that only Christians could be elected to public office. How they might have handled requiring churches to provide birth control pills to their employees we will never know.

Employees of a church, that is those who work in the church as ministers or preachers delivering the doctrine of the church are different from employees of a church-owned and operated hospital. The mission of the former is to promulgate the teachings of the church; the mission of the latter is to provide health care to the citizens of the community in which the hospital is licensed to practice. When a church decides to operate a hospital, it departs from operating as a church and is now providing a public service.

Hospitals, whether owned by a church or by a for-profit conglomerate, must submit to licensing by the state. “Religious” hospitals accept Medicare payments and other support from the Federal government. They enjoy the advantage of tax exempt status as a non-profit entity, an advantage granted by the government (not in the Bill of Rights). Doctors, nurses, technicians, and other staff don’t preach to patients; they provide medical care. Catholic hospitals don’t limit their enrollment of patients to Catholics; they take patients in need regardless of religion. A church hospital may elect not to do abortions or not to do heart transplants. But when it comes to employee rights, employees of church-owned hospitals should expect to receive the same health insurance benefits as employees of any other enterprise in America.

 

 

Outlaw the Political Parties

Posted by Aleck Loker on February 19, 2012 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Partisanship has become so embedded in our political process that loyalty to the party platform overrides interest in the common good—in other words, statesmanship. This unproductive partisanship is most evident in national politics but is also apparent at the state and local level. A statesman is concerned about the next generation, a politician is concerned about his/her next election (to paraphrase J. F. Clarke). What better way to win the next election than to make the opposing party look bad.

In taking positions on national issues, the President and members of Congress align along party lines. Ironically, during an election, presidential and congressional candidates tend to espouse a centrist (or moderate) position on issues regardless of whether they are running as Republicans or Democrats. Once elected, their true political philosophy emerges as they advance their agenda, while moving away from the center.

The party not occupying the White House decides their congressional strategy based on a desire to thwart the President’s agenda, to hamper his reelection chances or to prevent his party from winning seats in the next election. Likewise, in Congress, the strategy of the Republicans is to thwart the Democratic agenda and vice versa. Members of Congress generally view it as critical to their reelection to tow the party line. Of course, there have been some maverick members of Congress who have voted in opposition to their party leadership’s position, but they are very rare.

In Congress, matters of critical importance to the national interest are decided not based on what is best for the long-term welfare of the country, but on the short-term benefit of the political parties and the individual members. The political party system, perhaps advantageous at one time, now prevents the emergence of statesmen and rewards party loyalty. This insidious partisanship has made it nearly impossible to enact legislation that will restore the vitality and productivity of the nation.

Suppose political parties were outlawed. Candidates for office would have to articulate their personal reasons for running for office. They would propose to the electorate issues they felt were critical and what stand they would take on those issues. They would propose solutions to the problems facing the nation, the state or the local jurisdiction. They could not wrap themselves in the meaningless mantle of “Republican,” “Democrat,” or the “Tea Party.”

They would have to convince the electorate of their superiority over other candidates based on their experience, their track record, their apparent ability to build consensus, and the likelihood that they could succeed once elected. Or, as in recent campaigns, they could focus almost entirely on the failings of their opponent—they could continue to sling mud. But without the ideology of the two parties directing the debate, hopefully the voters would demand that the candidates focus on the central problems and their ability to solve them.

If political parties were outlawed, there would be no Republican National Committee or Democratic National Committee. Each candidate would have his/her own committee for election and would not be answerable to a national political machine. Of course, this idealistic approach would need an additional safeguard—campaign finance reform.

Can we outlaw political parties? Probably not. The U. S. Constitution guarantees the right to free assembly and free speech, and both parties would wrap themselves in that sacred mantle. Perhaps voters should insist that representatives put partisanship behind them as they debate the issues and problems that affect us at the national, state and local level. The penalty for not doing so would be replacement of the incumbent at the next election cycle.

 

Paying Big for My Misspent Youth

Posted by Aleck Loker on February 13, 2012 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (1)

All those days waterskiing and otherwise enjoying life on the water gave me too much sun exposure. The penalty has been repeated trips to the dermatologist over the last twenty years. At my last visit, the doctor prescribed a cream to “get rid of the sun damaged cells” on my face. When the pharmacy filled the prescription they said the total cost was $1,100, with insurance covering all but $200. I told them to put the prescription where the sun don’t shine.

Then I called another pharmacy and asked them for a price on the same prescription. Their price was $850, with insurance covering all but $200. I filled the prescription at the cheaper pharmacy, even though my cost was the same. I’m sure Anthem will send me a thank you note for saving them $250.

This cream has a 1% solution of the active ingredient, and the total contents are 60 grams. So I bought 0.6 grams of the actual medicine and could have paid $1,100 for it. That works out to $832,333 per pound for this dermatological elixir. For comparison, gold is selling for about $27,000 per pound. How can a miniscule amount of a man-made chemical cost more than three-quarters of a million dollars?

 

The Death of American Culture

Posted by Aleck Loker on January 16, 2012 at 3:30 PM Comments comments (0)

In the last couple of years, television programming has hit an all time low. I stopped watching “network” programs many years ago in favor of the documentary programs on the Learning Channel, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and National Geographic’s channel. Over the years, those channels have become a huge disappointment. Now the focus is on “reality programs.” If what is portrayed on these channels truly depicts real life in America, as a culture we are doomed.

In recent years, a program success on one channel has spawned numerous copycat programs—often on the same channel. For instance, Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel led to Swords, Lobster Wars, and River Monsters. The first show documented the life of the Alaskan king crab fishery, showcasing the high-risk, high-reward profession. Why anyone would want to watch multiple editions of this show mystifies me. How long can you watch a bunch of adrenalin junkies bounced and slammed about on an icy deck week after week? In any case, this plot has been plagiarized multiple times leading to similar shows about people who catch swordfish, lobsters, and various inedible, river-dwelling species.

The success of Deadliest Catch, presumably because of the public fascination with hyper-testosterone-laden men in conflict with nature (but more often in conflict with each other) has led copycat producers to release shows such as: Ax Men, Swamp People, Big Shrimpin’, Ice Road Truckers, IRT Deadliest Roads, Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Wing Men, Flying Wild, and Gold Rush, to name but a few on Discovery, National Geographic and the History Channel. The first show became quickly boring, the clones listed above would turn your brain to soggy couscous before the second commercial.

American viewers must be fascinated with serendipitous, unearned fortune. The PBS Antiques Roadshow, which presents appraisals of all sorts of collectibles and artifacts, has enjoyed popularity for many years; presumably the viewers can identify with the ordinary people who find they have had in their possession a book, a clock, a lamp, or other household item that proves to be of incredible value—unknown to them for years. The flip side is equally entertaining: the eager owner of an artifact expected to be worth a fortune who finds that the item is a fake or not what they expected. Seeing someone taken down a peg is always entertaining. So the inevitable has happened; Antiques Roadshow’s success has led to many productions that have plagiarized the show’s plot.

One of the first to do so was Pawn Stars. With the incredible originality embodied in American TV production, Pawn Stars entertains us by showing real people bringing in their treasures to a Las Vegas pawn shop to have them evaluated and to sell them. The same dynamic that makes Antiques Roadshow a success—the thrill of seeing people’s hopes dashed—has made the History Channel’s Pawn Stars a success. But with an added bonus: the appraisers on the PBS Antiques Roadshow are for the most part civilized, considerate, experts in their fields--in other words relatively boring; whereas the principal characters on Pawn Stars are argumentative, mildly hostile towards each other, and often profane--thus more entertaining. Pawn Stars clones are now proliferating like feral rabbits. We can now view Auction Kings, Cajun Pawn Stars, American Pickers, and Real Deal, to name only a few.

Fascination with “reality TV” has led to a profusion of shows about all sorts of professions. For example, The Learning Channel has given us Cake Boss, a show about—wait for it—a cake bakery populated with foul-mouthed, hyperactive, aggressive bakers. What lesson should we “learn” from this Learning Channel production? Perhaps, don’t go to work in a bakery. Not surprisingly, we now have DC Cupcakes, Kitchen Boss, Next Great Baker, and Fabulous Cakes. One thing the producers at the Learning Channel have learned: get a good show and beat it to death.

Along those same lines, the Discovery Channel pioneered a show about a dysfunctional family of motorcycle mechanics who spent each episode yelling obscenities at each other, throwing various objects at each other, or having similar testosterone fueled tantrums, while always miraculously meeting impossible deadlines—always self-inflicted. That show, American Chopper, has led to American Guns, Sons of Guns, and similar programs that depend on the entertainment value of men behaving badly while operating dangerous equipment.

Finally, the Learning Channel has brought the viewing public a plethora of programs that appeal to the voyeur—the thrill of watching someone totally screwed up by mental illness, drug addiction, physical abnormalities, or aberrant social behavior. In this category we find: My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, Drugs, Inc., Taboo, Locked up Abroad, What Not to Wear, Hairy Bikers, Gangland, Hoarding: Buried Alive, I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant, Freaky Eaters, My Strange Addiction, Sister Wives, Strange Sex. And my nominee for the worst all-time television production: Toddlers and Tiaras, which appears to condone pedophilia in the way extremely young girls are portrayed performing at the strident urging of their clearly warped parents.

Another theme riding the recent crest is the depiction of wretched excess. Examples include Say Yes to the Dress, where brides-to-be are filmed spending incredible sums on white dresses that they will only wear once—sums that would finance a new business startup, or a year in a really good university, or their rent for a year or more. Also in this category of grossly wasteful spending are the following shows: Four Weddings, Selling New York, and Selling LA.

Not only is there very little to be learned on the Learning Channel, nothing much to discover on the Discovery Channel, and very little history on the History Channel, when National Geographic became Nat Geo, another icon faded away. All these channels have succumbed to the temptation to copy rather than create. Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Wing Men and Border Wars, all Nat Geo productions, are clones of Deadliest Catch in that they portray shocking activities in various male-dominated, high-risk professions. They all have essentially the same plot, just different venues. And you can bet, the principal characters will be aggressive and profane. Real history productions must be a very small percentage of the History Channel programming. Instead, they bring us Top Shot, More Extreme Marksmen, Full Metal Jousting, which have only a tenuous connection to history. Why they produce Ancient Aliens and UFO Hunters can only be imagined.

Current television programming represents the worst of American behavior: a fascination with shocking, excessively-aggressive or violent behavior. And remember, most of the programs identified above are filmed in “real-life” American workplaces: fishing fleets, bakeries, small businesses, boutiques. If the people portrayed in these television shows truly represent Americans in the workforce, God help us.

 

Failure of the Supercommittee

Posted by Aleck Loker on December 10, 2011 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (0)

The “Super-committee” failed, predictably. Now Congress will conceive of a way to avoid the built-in budget cuts in the FY 2012 budget, a budget that should have been passed before the end of last September. Congress never passed the 2011 budget; funding was provided through a continuing resolution that was crafted on the brink of government-wide shutdown last April—six months late. In spite of the pompous pronouncements of our politicians, the words of Ambrose Bierce, penned in 1911, still ring true: “Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles; the conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”

The Federal budget authority for 2011 was 3.5 trillion dollars. The Obama administration requested 3.7 trillion in spending authority for 2012, a 5.7-percent increase. The business of the Super-Committee was to find ways to reduce the Federal spending deficit by a total of 1.2 trillion dollars over the next ten years—120 billion dollars per year. In a budget of 3.7 trillion dollars, 120 billion represents about 3 percent. We can do better than that.

Consider the military portion of the budget: 750 billion dollars in 2010. We have approximately 200,000 troops stationed in 144 nations overseas with an additional 20,000 sailors and marines deployed at any given time according to the Cato Institute. 100,000 of those troops are stationed in Europe among our allies (England, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and others).

We could leave some to maintain security for our major embassy sites, but we could bring home the majority of those 100,000 and release them from service. The Cato Institute concluded their study of this issue with this statement: “Therefore, most of the 200,000 American troops stationed overseas and most of the 20,000 sailors and Marines performing overseas naval presence missions could be withdrawn without harming U.S. national security. With no major adversary on the horizon in the post-Cold War world, the United States does not need to police every portion of the globe for its rich allies.”

A recent AP poll of our military veterans (post 9/11) found that one-third of them saw the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as “not worth fighting,” and “a majority think that after 10 years of combat America should be focusing less on foreign affairs and more on its own problems.” With the veterans’ expert advice in mind, perhaps all of our troops should be returned to American soil, with the exception of our naval forces. The navy can operate autonomously at sea without dependence on costly alliances with regimes that fail to appreciate our principles of democracy and human rights. Not only could we save money, we could retain our own sense of human dignity by ending sleazy relationships with foreign despots.

Since Congress has failed to provide leadership in this most critical national priority by not reducing wasteful and unsustainable Federal spending, there is still one way to bring about the necessary reduction in outlays—an across-the-board cut for all departments of the Federal government. Although this is not the most intelligent way to cut the budget, it may be the only way. Imposing a 3-percent cut on each department would produce savings that would reduce the Federal outlay by 1.2 trillion dollars aggregated over ten years. We could probably do 6 percent, considering the amount of waste and unnecessary spending that occurs in Federal government departments.

I worked for the Federal government for more than 30 years and know how departmental budgets are constructed—no Federal bureaucrat would consider submitting an out-year budget request that didn’t include at the least a 3- percent (more commonly 6-percent) increase. The philosophy, a strong offense is the best defense, guided those budget requests. Clearly, that philosophy still pervades all government budget submittals. But we shouldn’t blame the department bureaucrats; they are just trying to do the best for their stakeholders—the citizens who benefit from their services. That is why we need more restraint at the topmost level of government: the presidency and Congress.

Individual departments within our government are managed by career employees of considerable ability. We recruit these bureaucrats from good universities give them a great deal of post-graduate training, paid for by the taxpayers. The bureaucrats are well paid to manage the government operations and they receive enviable benefit packages. They are fully capable of apportioning the across-the-board budget cuts in a way that has the least impact on their high priority programs, if permitted to use their good judgment in a politics-free environment.

What those bureaucrats will need is something that I fear we cannot provide them at this time—a Congress and presidency composed of statesmen. James Freeman Clarke said, “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation.” We currently have way too many politicians in Washington. Perhaps not much has changed in our nation’s capital since the time of Thomas Jefferson, who said, “If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour?” Well, one important aspect has changed: we now send three times that many to Congress and they are supplemented by thousands of unelected assistants while lobbyists whisper continually in their ears, plying them with unrecorded inducements to avoid thinking and acting as statesmen.

Truer words were never uttered about our current state of politicized government than this anonymous quote, “There are always too many Democratic congressmen, too many Republican congressmen, and never enough U.S. congressmen.” The failure of the Super-committee to reach agreement on a rational schedule of spending cuts illustrates this point. Congress will remain deadlocked and unable to effect the necessary fiscal restraint until a catastrophe, large and unavoidable, forces them to think as statesmen instead of as partisan politicians. That catastrophe cannot be very far in the future.

Thomas Jefferson also offered the following statements about the relationship between the government and the American citizens: “A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned--this is the sum of good government. I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

Jefferson would be appalled at the depth the hand of the tax collector has penetrated into the public pocket, and equally appalled at the degree to which the public has become dependent on and demands government support. We cannot continue to fund public entitlements that are spiraling ever upward. Cuts in the cost of entitlements must be part of the solution to the budget crisis that threatens to bring our economy down. We need super-statesmen, not a super-committee.

 

 



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