Common Sense & An Open Mind

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    "You must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision." T. Jefferson

Archive for the ‘Debt’ Category

A dangerous precedent

Posted by Free to Think on June 29, 2012

Today’s Supreme Court ruling on Obama’s mandated healthcare program has left me shocked and speechless. As stated by the Institute of Justice, “the Supreme Court has failed in its most basic duty,” abdicating  “its responsibility to enforce constitutional limits on government power.”

Possibly the saddest part about the willingness of Americans to relinquish their freedom and to expand our government is that it will not even achieve their intended goals. Our government has a 0% record of ever reining in the costs of anything, or ever creating a program with long-term economic sustainability.

 

Posted in curtailing freedom, Debt, Detrimental policies, Health care, Intrusive government, obama, Politics, supreme court, taxes | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

We are the 53%!

Posted by Free to Think on April 18, 2012

Did you pay your income taxes this week? If so, then you’re the half of America that actually pays the cost of the federal government.

Close to half of U.S. households do not owe federal income tax.  The Urban Institute-Brookings Tax Policy Center reports that over 46 percent of households owed no federal income tax for 2011. Over a quarter of all American households (27.6%) paid no payroll taxes.

This week The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities tried to clarify some “misconceptions” of these startling figures. They point out that households that aren’t paying federal taxes are still paying through the nose for sales taxes, state and local taxes. Yes, but so are the rest of us. As if it should come as a great relief to us, they state, “In 2007, before the economy turned down, 40% of households did not owe federal income tax.  This figure more closely reflects the percentage that do not owe income tax in normal economic times.”

Does that sound much more reasonable to you?

As the price of government swells, just six-tenths of Americans are expected to shoulder the cost of federal roads, entitlements, education, Medicare, the military, the salaries of every federal worker from the post office janitor to the President of the United States, billions of dollars in interest on the public debt, and every other expense of federal government. We are the 60%!

It is frightening to think that fewer and fewer American taxpayers are expected to pay for an exponentially expanding federal government. The portion of the private sector that is actually producing wealth is expected to subsidize 144 million people who aren’t contributing to federal income taxes, and then have enough money left over to pay for the goods and services that keep our economy going.

This has not historically been the case. According to the Tax Foundation, since 1950 the percentage of Americans who didn’t pay federal income taxes has risen dramatically. Until the mid-1980’s, the percentage of tax returns with zero liability averaged in the teens to low twenties, occasionally spiking to the mid-twenty percent mark. In 1986 the figure was 18.5%, where it began a steady rise ever since.

Where does the majority of out federal tax dollars come from? In the latest report by the Tax Foundation, the top 5% of taxpayers paid approximately 58.7% of federal individual income taxes. The tippy-top of the scale, the top .01% of taxpayers contributed  17.1% of the nation’s income taxes. The average income for a tax return in the top 0.1 percent was $4.4 million in 2009, while the average amount of income tax paid was $1.07 million, indicating an average effective individual income tax rate of 24.3%.

There’s been a lot of discussion about who is paying their fair share and who isn’t. But regardless of your definition of “fair,” the most fair thing of all would be for every American to be unencumbered from an excessive and wasteful federal government.

Posted in Debt, Politics, taxes | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tolls or hidden taxes?

Posted by Free to Think on January 18, 2012

Yet another example of government using underhanded methods to ‘tax’ us without raising taxes:  the Pennsylvania Turnpike Authority now faces default after the state passed legislation to divert $450 million of toll revenue a year to non-Turnpike purposes.

In an effort to find yet another way to fund its burgeoning government, in 2007 Pennsylvania passed Act 44, which turns toll charges from a user fee into another general tax.

The money is being siphoned from the PA Turnpike despite the fact that the Turnpike Authority is currently losing $170 million a year before making their Act 44 payouts. The Turnpike, which collects about $900 million in annual revenue, is obligated to make payments for 46 more years.

Act 44 is just one reason why Turnpike Authority debt was increased from $2.9 billion to $7.3 billion, a near-triple increase over the past four years. Interest on escalating debt has shot up from $70 million a year in 2007 to $290 million a year in 2011.

“I don’t think it can continue for six more years,” said PA Auditor General Jack Wagner of the turnpike’s ability to continue covering the financial burden. “The statistics show clearly that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is drowning in debt due to burdens placed on it by Act 44.”

“The turnpike is not facing any immediate financial crisis,” insists Turnpike commission CEO Roger Nutt, although he says he agrees with the auditor general that, “Act 44 funding may have a negative effect on turnpike traffic, toll rates, customer service and other traveler benefits sometime in the future,” and that toll increases would be necessary to meet obligations to pay the state.

Just so we’re clear, Nutt believes that it’s no problem for PA Turnpike drivers to settle for reduced customer service and benefits while being laden with a hidden tax to help pay for unrelated commitments that the state is straining to meet. All while Turnpike commissioners dismiss concerns about their own growing debt.

Similarly, in neighboring New York a steep toll increase on the bridges and tunnels that cross the Hudson River and increases in single-fare rides on PATH trains have been imposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in part to subsidize non-transportation projects such as the World Trade Center project.

But now, the New York and northern New Jersey chapters of the AAA automobile club have filed a lawsuit challenging the toll increases, contending that the increases are “illegal and void.” The suit seeks to forbid the authority to set future tolls that include the cost of the World Trade Center redevelopment.

Michael F. Fitzgerald, a lawyer for the auto club, said that such actions violated federal law and the commerce clause of the Constitution by requiring drivers to subsidize a project from which they would not benefit.

Lawyers for the Port Authority said that the club had no standing to sue the agency. Port Authority officials have refined their position, saying all the added toll revenue would go toward transportation.

The New York Port Authority, where toll collectors often make more than $80,000 a year, is no stranger to bungling mismanagement. One toll taker, Warren Stevens, made over $102,000 in 2011 — $40,614 of it in overtime. At least 11 Port Authority gardeners also made over $80,000 last year.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey have called for an audit of the Port Authority.

Posted in Debt, Detrimental policies, Ground Zero, Politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

We Need $1.2 Trillion More

Posted by Free to Think on December 29, 2011

Treasury officials said Tuesday that the White House plans to request another $1.2 trillion in borrowing authority on Friday.

In August, Congress and the Obama administration raised the borrowing limit by $2.1 trillion. Three days after the agreement was signed into law, long-term U.S. debt was downgraded by credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s, an ominous warning about the level of our debt. Yet just four months later, the federal government has nearly reached its borrowing limit once again and wants more.

In November, a bipartisan panel failed to meet a deadline in which they were to agree on $1.2 trillion in spending cuts. This came as little surprise: neither party wants to budge on feeding their own special interests.

“I would love nothing more than to see Congress act so aggressively that I can’t campaign against them as a do-nothing Congress,” Obama told reporters back in October. People “don’t get a sense that folks in this town are looking out for their interests.”

Quite true, Mr. President. According to a Pew Poll, only 22 percent of Americans surveyed say they trust government in Washington “almost always or most of the time,” among the lowest measure in the half-century since pollsters have been asking the question.

However, “Do-nothing Congress” a phrase appropriated from Harry Truman, seems to be a misnomer here. Congress is doing plenty, just way too much of the wrong things. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives have passed 326 bills, and the Democratic-controlled Senate has passed 368 measures. In 2011 alone. And this is low by recent standards.

One must wonder how congressmen have time to closely read and analyze all this legislation, considering many bills are often hundreds of pages long. Apparently this left them little time to trim the budget. Though the Fed continues to print more money, Congress only narrowly avoided a government shutdown and a default on the national debt this year.

In April, Congress did manage to pass a measure cutting a meager $38.5 billion in federal spending. Even this measure was misleading however, as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analysis revealed that only a small fraction of the cuts would take effect in the current fiscal year.

“Total nonsense,” House Speaker John Boehner said in response to criticism. “A cut is a cut.”

Isn’t there any leader out there willing to discuss meaningful,l specific, across-the-board spending cuts? Only one presidential candidate fits that bill: Ron Paul. He proposes, among other things, to impose a spending freeze on most federal departments, eliminate other departments altogether, cut the federal workforce by 10 percent, and end all foreign wars.

According to the same Pew Poll mentioned above, an increasing number, almost 1 of every 3 Americans say they believe government is a major threat to their personal freedoms and want federal power reined in.

“The public,” Pew Center Director Andrew Kohut tells NPR, “wants a less activist government.”

Now if we could only find representatives who feel the same.

Posted in Debt, Detrimental policies, election, Intrusive government, obama, Politics, Ron Paul | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The government is expanding? So what?

Posted by Free to Think on November 14, 2011

Why should we be so worried? Haven’t we always had big government?

Is the government really getting that much bigger?

Is the exploding size of government the fault of Democrats or Republicans?

Why are politicians so afraid of making meaningful spending cuts?

Why is it so important that we address this problem now?

This video gives a simple, concise explanation in under 4 minutes.

Posted in Debt, Detrimental policies | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Who is Ron Paul?

Posted by Free to Think on November 11, 2011

My dear Common Sense followers,

Five months ago I walked away from my blog, feeling disheartened and hopeless.

The more I researched, the more evidence I found that our country is shifting at an exponential pace from its foundations. Not only have checks, balances, inalienable rights, and constitutional, limited government become things of the past, but so have public concern and the objective, watchful eye of the free press. I began to feel that expressing a critical view was simply futile.

I admit I don’t have the time or heart to continue producing the in-depth posts I have in the past. At least not consistently enough to fill a blog. But I am still reading and learning. I hope that more and more people begin to understand some of the causes of the crises that our nation is now facing. Problems are coming to a head, and one can only hope there’s a positive side to that. When things are relatively good, it’s easy to be complacent about irresponsible government spending, trampling of personal rights and unconstitutional laws.

I’d like to do my part by using this venue to pass along some pieces worth thinking about. I’ll start with the wisdom of Jon Stewart.

To me, a very pressing and troubling issue  is the media’s determination to shun Republican candidate Ron Paul, the only person running for President who has something unique to say. While our Titanic of a nation sinks, every other politician is busy declaring how they’d rearrange the deck chairs, while Paul has spelled out exactly how he’d plug up the hole.

Last week Paul came in first in the Illinois straw poll. In fact, he won 52% of the vote, more than Romney, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, Bachman, Huntsman and Santorum combined. Wow, big news? Hardly. Paul’s notable victory was promptly buried by the mainstream press. Meanwhile there’s been a plethora of airtime about Herman Cain’s irrelevant personal debacles. The obvious and intentional snubbing of Ron Paul by the media was well summed up in a hilarious piece by Jon Stewart back in August.

In addition to the silence of the press on his grassroots campaign, Ron Paul’s airtime during the Republican debates have been glaringly inequitable. One blogger went to the trouble of doing the math for one of the debates and found that Paul was 8th in speaking opportunities, though at the time he was 3rd in the polls (were you aware that he was third in the polls?) Yet, as evidenced by the Illinois survey, Ron Paul’s popularity has continued to grow.

Whether or not you like Ron Paul’s message, a burning issue is why the press has gone from purveyors of the truth to outlets for their own personal agendas.

In a side note: it has been so long since I last wrote that I didn’t remember what my last post was about. It was interesting to see that it was an argument against sending American troops into Libya. I was disputing the position that the Libyan people needed us to intervene in their civil war to escape being crushed by government-backed forces.  As it turns out, the Libyan people were able to oust strongman Moammar Qaddafi in short order without the help of a U.S. ground war. This averted the deaths of American servicemen and likely saved our nation hundreds of millions of dollars. But perhaps most importantly, by limiting America’s role in another nation’s conflict there will be less potential for our enemies’ animosity: Qaddafi was killed by his own people, not by an”invading U.S. force.”

I apologize for disappearing.  I hope you’ll continue to be a loyal reader.

Posted in Debt, election, Freedom of Speech, Libya, Media bias, Politics, Ron Paul | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why We Won’t Pick the Best Candidate Today.

Posted by Free to Think on November 2, 2010

We would all like to be proud of voting today. We would all like to vote wisely.

I don’t think that’s possible.

We’ve been warned that the future of our democracy will be shaped by whichever party we elect to office.

I disagree.

I believe that in today’s climate it’s impossible to make a truly informed decision about candidates. But I also believe it matters less where a representative stands personally on particular issues than how much they respect the Constitution and the rights of the individual.

 

Why can’t we make a well-informed decision?

We can’t point our fingers solely at the lazy voters who don’t take the time to find out more about candidates. Those of us who try to stay informed usually find that it’s nearly impossible to discover hard details about where candidates stand on issues. In a recent Hartford Courant article, columnist Rick Green explains that “voting isn’t necessarily about the issues, it’s about emotions, first impressions and whether the candidate could be a leader you want to follow.” This shouldn’t be the case. But even those who take the time to watch debates or go to candidates’ websites find them filled with fuzzy rhetoric and finger pointing at the other guy.

In today’s day and age, we shouldn’t need to take anyone’s word- each and every claim made by or about sitting politicians, candidates and their opponents can easily be documented by evidence on their website or on media websites.

While there are plenty of lobbyists protecting the interests of big business, us regular citizens don’t have a staff dedicated to keeping the government from encroaching on our liberties or our wages. Maintaining a free republic requires constant vigilance, and we as a society have not been attentive enough. The media should be the natural guardian of the people’s rights, but shallow political scandals have gotten the most readership, and most of the media seems to have little interest in digging into the hard issues of unrestrained government.

 

Why doesn’t it matter which party is in power?

Two years ago the people thought they could vote out the status quo. But their attempt at “change” amounted to deepening the existing problems of our wasteful, bloated, overreaching government. “Throw out the bums!” is a tempting solution, but it won’t help if you just replace them with other bums. Countless political candidates have paid lip service to turning things around, but nearly without fail, they end up perpetuating the system once they are in office.

I don’t really think our representatives in Washington are villains. I think the mess that we’re in has evolved from incremental exacerbation of bad practices, such as sticking earmarks into unrelated bills, and not reading bills thoroughly before passing them into law. The prevailing attitude of the legislative and executive branches has been that they’re our leaders rather than our representatives. This gives them the hubris to believe that their agenda is more important than protecting the integrity of the American government.

The thing is, when you can vote yourself money and power, it’s not too difficult to convince yourself that you’re pet project is worth taking just a few more tax dollars or curtailing some minor individual rights. When you’re a “Leader,” it’s easy to pass bills for a few more programs and a few more laws in order to create whatever utopian situation you happen to see fit. Over time, the causes our “Leaders” want to champion and the money they require to do so overshadows their role as the voice of the American principles of liberty.

We’ve lost sight of the original checks and balances in our Constitution, designed to protect the rights of the people and prevent the expansion of government’s mandates upon us. The role of our representatives is meant to be drastically limited by their constitutional responsibilities.

 

Solutions

It’s in the best interest of candidates to be deliberately vague about their intentions. There’s less for voters to disagree with when a candidate’s platform is simply filled with  hazy promises such as “helping the middle class,”  “cutting waste” and “making responsible fiscal decisions.”  This also gives politicians more leeway to vote however they wish once in office. But if we aren’t completely clear as to what they stand for, why should we voters give them our trust?

Our nation has difficult issues at hand to resolve. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, we all must admit that lowering taxes, expanding programs and reducing the deficit cannot happen simultaneously. We can no longer afford our government, and the people drowning in inefficient government and bloated debt. It’s time to be frank about the hard choices that need to be made.

Republicans have campaigned on pledges to dramatically cut spending, but haven’t offered many details. Are they a better bet than Democrats? Obama has said deficit reduction will be a priority in 2011, but precisely how he intends to succeed at that while continuing to grow federal entitlement programs is pretty baffling to me.

We should be able to get specific details about each candidate’s agendas so we don’t have to guess or hope about their intentions. It doesn’t take a PhD to understand that big government requires big dollars. If you claim that you’re going to protect and grow entitlements, stimulus and services, let us know where you’re going to get the money. How much are you willing to borrow? How do you intend to pay it back? If you need to raise taxes, whose taxes will be raised and by how much? What concrete evidence are you using to back up your numbers?

But if I had a chance to ask every candidate one question, it would be this: do you believe in the constitutional limitations of American government?

You may wonder why candidates would disclose this information, when some of it is sure to alienate voters. But they’d have to do so if the public demanded it. They’d do so if hard-nosed reporters wouldn’t settle for anything less than direct answers to specific questions.

If responsible government became our priority.

Posted in Debt, Detrimental policies, election, Intrusive government, obama, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Should We Heed The Tea Party?

Posted by Free to Think on October 27, 2010

Is the Tea Party the Answer?

Americans have long been trained to believe that any political group outside the established two-party system are crackpots espousing extreme positions. Some members of the “Tea Party” haven’t done much to dispel that notion. Yet on the other hand, if you think like me, many of the Tea Party messages resonate with common sense.

Endorsing the Tea Party isn’t cut and dried, since the “party” is really just a hodge-podge of groups throughout the country without a defined spokesperson or a standard platform. The Tea Party can mean different things to different people. Because of this, there are some very commendable ‘Tea Party’ candidates in the November elections, while there are others who also champion nationalist, evangelistic, or other ideas that stray from the basic Tea Party ideas of Constitutionalism.

But, the Tea Party has served a significant purpose, bringing to the forefront vital issues that had been continually swept under the rug by the establishment. As a rule, they advocate levelheaded reforms that would help make this country more fiscally sound and take inordinate power out of the hands of the few.

Opponents may cast them as radical, but as Republican South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint states, Tea Party platforms are merely “common sense ideas of let’s don’t bankrupt our country.”

Generally these proposals include:

  • balancing the budget by matching federal expenditures with revenue (i.e. living within our means)
  • an end to raising taxes, printing and borrowing money to fuel an ever-growing federal bureaucracy
  • downsizing our government by restoring limited-government constitutionalism
  • ending the practice of wasteful earmarks, which allows Congressmen to add costly provisions for their district or pet projects to unrelated bills
  • establishing congressional term limits
  • ensuring that congressional bills are concise enough to be read and understood in full before they’re voted upon.

Will America listen?

The biggest problem with this agenda is that, obviously, the government would have a lot less money to spend. Politicians are smart enough to realize that slashing programs, even if they’re unconstitutional and unaffordable, won’t be easy. Every program, subsidy and service is relied upon by someone and, as it’s been demonstrated recently in Europe, those someones will be headed angrily to the streets if their programs are cut.

There’s no dispute that voters today are frustrated and disgruntled.  But Americans have been taught to ask for it all— big government programs and services along with low taxes and small government debt; free market prosperity along with micro-managing government regulations.  It’s easier to tell voters that you’re able to provide everything rather than admit that money and governmental jurisdiction is not limitless.

More than 43 cents of every dollar Washington spent last year was borrowed. The size and scale of today’s federal government is unprecedented: current nondefense spending (relative to GDP) is the highest level in U.S. history. In 2008 presidential candidate Barak Obama harshly criticized President Bush’s $300 billion average annual deficit. Yet Obama’s proposed budget will run a deficit averaging $600 billion even after the economy recovers and the troops return home from Iraq.

Government scope is expanding out of control, and our elected representatives routinely pass massive, wasteful and unconstitutional bills without even knowing what’s in them. Whether you consider yourself a Democrat or a Republican, this is a daunting message to digest. Most Americans have enough on their personal plates to deal with, who wants to think about the tough choices we must make in the face of the exponential rise in costs of all of our federal programs?

But deal with them we must, one way or another. The Tea Party has been successful at exposing these issues, but without continued public pressure to rectify them, the Demo-Republican machine is not going to change. Why would it? Typically, politicians aren’t eager to cede their own power, cut their own budgets, or lose the ability to promise everything to everyone as often as possible.

Does it really matter which party we vote for next month?

Perhaps more importantly than who wins the upcoming elections, is the message that we should be sending to our representatives: if they don’t follow through with reform they’ll get booted from office. It’s up to the American public to keep pressure on our politicians so that the trend of corrupted practices and expanding government does not continue.

So which candidates are serious about reform? It’s difficult to tell. Perhaps the establishment’s greatest weapon is to jump on the “responsibility” bandwagon, vaguely echoing Tea Party messages without any details on exactly how they intend to go about this.

Here are headlines from some of the recent mailings I received from both Democratic and Republican candidates, including incumbents:

“Stop Wasteful Spending and Higher Taxes”

“Elect a Different Kind of Senator”

“Our Independent Voice”

“Because more of the same never fixed anything”

“It is Time for a New Beginning”

“I’ll wake up every morning to help employers hire again and to stop the reckless overspending.”

Yes, I’m sure they all sound familiar. Suddenly, everyone is claiming that they’ve seen the light and have become fiscally responsible. The Tea Party presence is definitely being felt.

Now what we need are politicians brave enough to be brutally frank, and a public willing to listen to realistic messages. There are tradeoffs we must face: if we want to pay for all the programs and services that are tending to us cradle to grave then we must be willing to relinquish most of our wages to the government. Or are we willing to rethink what we are “entitled to” from the government, and what powers the government is entitled to possess, in order to trim our government and restore the fiscal health of our nation?

Posted in Debt, Detrimental policies, election, Intrusive government, obama, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Which Political Party is Wrong?

Posted by Free to Think on September 3, 2010

I almost like this movie trailer. Please take a moment to watch it.

The new documentary “I Want Your Money” by filmmaker Ray Griggs takes a smart, entertaining look at several of the important issues that I write about in this blog. It’s pretty obvious that I’d agree with most of the movie’s conclusions regarding the dangers of runaway government spending.

Yeah, I do. But….

From what one can gather from this trailer, it appears that in Grigg’s view, we need the reincarnation of staunch Republican Ronald Reagan to rescue this nation. Hmm. In actuality, the biggest contribution of the real Ronald Reagan was demonstrating that it’s easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk.

Yes, Reagan got it right when he famously said “government is not the solution, government is the problem.” How appropriate of him to demonstrate that personally.

Sure, when taking office in 1981, Reagan was lamenting about “runaway deficits,” which were approaching $80 billion, or about 2.5 percent of the gross domestic product. He then proceeded to cut taxes without making significant cuts in major domestic programs, while swelling the defense budget, resulting in a deficit that soared to more than $200 billion, or 6 percent of GDP, in just two years. No president had ever run as high a deficit during peacetime. By the time he left office, Reagan also grew federal bureaucracy to the tune of 230,000 more government workers added to the payrolls.

The unfortunate truth is that we have, for all intents and purposes, only two political parties to choose from in this country: Big Government Right and Big Government Left. If we want to face the facts, we must admit that in the past century both have been egregious in their disregard for constitutional boundaries and fiscal responsibility.

Sadly, most often Americans don’t acknowledge this. They feel compelled to cling to party loyalty, rationalizing or turning a blind eye to the misdeeds of “their” party. They throw blame at the “other guys,” while ignoring valid criticisms of the party they support.

I wonder whether this new film will be different. A truly refreshing change would be some honest reflection about how the political system as a whole has come to fail the American people.

The Republicans of the past several decades have had their opportunities, but have typically let down advocates of fiscal prudence and limited government. Besides running up record deficits, George W. Bush claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws while in office, asserting he had the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicted with his interpretation of the Constitution.

The “change” we elected was Barack Obama, who has stated that he is “amused” by rallies of citizens who are alarmed about the rising national debt and the implications of a massively unpopular healthcare bill. His lack of concern about individual freedom is demonstrated by his newest legislation, to allow warrantless tracking of cellphone location and records. The Obama administration has argued that Americans enjoy no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their whereabouts. U.S. Department of Justice lawyers claim that “a customer’s Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals records to the government that show where a mobile device placed and received calls.” In other words, tracking your every move and taking note of your every conversation is not an invasion of privacy.

Where were the Republicans in office who recognized the violations of President Bush? Are there no Democrats today willing to speak out against Obama’s policies?

The threat of vast, powerful political machines was a fear of our Founding Fathers from this nation’s inception. George Washington warned against strong political parties in his farewell address. But perhaps Thomas Jefferson put it best:

“I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”

When politicians are forced to pander to their party brass in order to retain power and obtain the money they need to seek reelection, there is an immediate conflict of interest. They are often not voting to represent us but to fulfill obligations. Instead of having the liberty to decide issues for themselves, they become puppets toting the party line. Today we no longer vote for individuals, we vote Red or Blue, as evidenced by articles such as this.

Putting this nation back on track is not about ‘us versus them’. It’s about re-reading the Constitution and finding politicians willing to restore the checks and balances that were meant to limit the scope and power of our government. As our country faces bankruptcy, as more of our earnings are confiscated, and as we are slowly stripped of our liberties, ‘us’ and ‘them’ are in this together.

If you like the Common Sense of this article, be sure to subscribe here and to pass along to anyone with an Open Mind!

Posted in Debt, Detrimental policies, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The larger the National Debt, the better off we are.

Posted by Free to Think on June 11, 2010

The larger the National Debt, the wealthier we are.

For clarification, this statement is not a joke. Nor is the video posted in the comments last week by a reader.

The video features Democratic Congressman Pete Stark, representing California’s 13th district, who assures Americans that being trillions of dollars in debt is a good thing. It’s worth watching at least a minute or two of this. When you finish laughing, please read on.

Now, it’s obvious that there are plenty of politicians who disregard the debt to satisfy short term agendas, or who choose to bury their heads in the sand rather make the hard decisions necessary to lower the debt, but it’s difficult not to be floored by a congressman who actually thinks the National Debt is a good thing, and that we should continue to increase it.

At first, I didn’t think additional commentary on my part was necessary.  Congressman Stark points out his own ineptitude loudly and clearly. I was just going to post the video and let you shake your heads.

Stark’s message? We voters shouldn’t worry our little heads quibbling about facts or questioning policy when we can count on smart politicians like him to figure everything out for us. What audacity interviewer Jan Helfeld demonstrated, using common sense to point out the flawed logic of the venerable Representative’s statement!

But Stark’s disparaging remarks about the interviewer, a distraction that obscures his refusal to answer simple questions, made me wonder. So I looked up his bio, and found that that he served in the Air Force for 2 years, graduated from MIT (with an engineering degree), then earned an MBA from Berkeley. For 10 years he ran his own small bank before running for office.

I couldn’t wrap my head around how a person with such high credentials could issue such statements. I had to write to my buddies Evan and Ryan, the two MIT grads/financial experts I know best, and ask them how they thought it was possible for him to take such an obviously ridiculous stand. Was I missing something?

Debt is good and other outlandish statements

As Evan explained, “What I think he means is:

The national debt represents what the country has spent on improving the infrastructure, taking care of the poor, healthcare, etc. All things which DO make our nation (seem) wealthier-in the short run.

The problem with this logic, obviously, is that the money has to be paid back, with interest. And if it government expenditure doesn’t actually create economic value greater than the interest rate that must be paid on it, we will end up less wealthy in the end. And of course government expenditure almost always destroys economic value, much less creating value at a greater rate than the rate of interest.”

If Stark’s stance made sense, why not explain it to the poor, stupid interviewer, rather than fly onto the defensive about how much smarter he is? We all understand that borrowing money can help a business, a government and a household grow. But if I borrow $50,000 to build up Common Sense Inc., I can pay more employees and spruce up my office, but I can’t really claim to be $50,000 richer, can I? By Rep. Stark’s logic, if business doesn’t pick up, I should borrow $100,000 next year and really do it up.

Or does Rep. Stark feel that government is different because it can just keep printing currency? But printing money deflates the value of the dollar for those constituents you assert to be representing, doesn’t it, Congressman Stark?

As  Ryan also explains, “It may not be obvious to most people that inflation and taxation are exactly equivalent. [Printing money] deflates the value of everyone’s dollars and increases costs, so that the net cost to society is equal as if that value had just been taxed away. In one case though it is hidden, in the other it is painfully obvious.”

As I dug deeper I found that, for Stark, the propensity for making outrageous statements with a superior attitude is nothing new, nor rare. A few choice examples:

In August 1990, Stark drew controversy for calling Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Wade Sullivan, an African American, “a disgrace to his race” when Sullivan opposed proposals for a federally-sponsored national health insurance. Sullivan replied in a statement, “I guess I should feel ashamed because Congressman Stark thinks I am not a ‘good Negro.’ As a Cabinet member who has spent almost four decades of my life dedicated to healing,…[I] am unable to express my own views without being subject to race-based criticism by those who are not ready to accept independent thinking by a black man.”

In 1995, during a private meeting with Congresswoman Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, he called Johnson a “whore for the insurance industry” and suggested that her knowledge of health care came solely from “pillow talk” with her husband, a physician. His press secretary, Caleb Marshall, defended him in saying, “He didn’t call her a ‘whore,’ he called her a ‘whore of the insurance industry.'”

In 1999, he said to former California State Welfare Director Eloise Anderson, herself a former welfare mother, that she would “kill children if she had her way” for her advocacy of welfare reform.

In May 2004, Stark responded to a constituent Army National Guard member’s critical letter by leaving him a voicemail that said in part, “Probably somebody put you up to this, and I’m not sure who it was, but I doubt if you could spell half the words in the letter, and somebody wrote it for you. So I don’t pay much attention to it.”

On August 27, 2009, Stark suggested that his moderate Democratic colleagues were “brain dead” for proposing changes to the health care reform bill being considered by Congress.

When you stop laughing again, consider that way back in 2003, The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized on Stark, “Only a politician who assumes he has a job for life could behave so badly on a semi-regular basis.” Rep. Stark was reelected three times since that article was published.

He typically runs unopposed for the Democratic nomination and hasn’t had a close contest for re-election in the 18 races since he was first elected in 1972. Rep. Stark is up for his 19th reelection this fall. Will his California district be willing to give up their influential senior representative? Stark, the second-ranking Ways and Means Committee Democrat is next in line for the powerful Committee’s chairmanship should Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) have to step aside because of his own ethics issues.

Rationalizations or truth?

Ryan speculates that Stark “might just be trying to rationalize what’s in his personal best interest, or he might be lying.”

Hmmm. Could I find other examples of that? It wasn’t too difficult. Stark’s own website features a story about him criticizing the Bush tax cuts, because it added $379 billion in additional interest to the national debt over 9 years.

He’s correct there. Tax cuts without spending cuts don’t make sense. We can’t reduce the cost to taxpayers without reducing the size of big government.  But how can the deficit be a problem under the Bush administration, and suddenly be a good thing now?

In the same story he’s also quoted as saying, “This report shows Republican priorities: tax giveaways to the richest while opposing health reform to give all Americans quality, affordable health care.”

This is disingenuous coming from a man who was caught claiming his $1.7 million lakefront Maryland home as his primary residence in order to reduce his local real estate taxes. A representative who helps write the nation’s tax laws, Stark tells Bloomberg, “Insofar as I know, I’m obeying the law.” Stark voted against major tax cut proposals for the rest of us in September 1998February 2000March 2000July 2000May 2001May 2003October 2004, and May 2006.

And in a final ironic twist of attitude, when Stark first ran for Congress in 1972, his platform was that his opponent, 28-year incumbent George P. Miller, was in Washington too long.

Pete Stark has been in office 38 years.

I wish Pete Stark was the exception. How does your congressman compare? Is it time to stop rubber-stamping incumbents?

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