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

Posts Tagged ‘debt’

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.



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.

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

What’s Worth the Fight?

Posted by Free to Think on May 28, 2010

For those of you who are not hockey fans, a few weeks ago the Philadelphia Flyers, on their way to their first Stanley Cup final in 13 years, made a bit of history. In the first round of the playoffs, the Flyers were down three games to none in a seven-game series against the favored Boston Bruins.

In the history of the Cup, only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders had ever clinched an NHL playoff series after being 3 games in the hole.

The Flyers won the next game. Then they won the next, then the next to tie up the series. Game 7 was to be played in Boston.

Just 14 minutes into the deciding game, the Flyers were down 3-0. In the stands, Bruins fans were in a frenzy.

To quote the immortal line in the movie classic Dodgeball, “do you believe in unlikelihoods?” Philly stunned Boston by coming back and wining both the game and the series, 4-3. The Flyers became the first NHL team to win game 7 of a series in regulation after being down by 3 goals.

After eliminating the Montreal Canadiens in the next series, the Flyers now head to the Stanley Cup Finals this weekend to face the Chicago Blackhawks, a team with one of the best records in the league.

Why do I tell you this in my political blog? Okay, okay, partially to brag about my hometown team, but mainly to say, play the game and give it your all, no matter what the odds. Chances are the Flyers won’t come home with the cup. But we’re going to root for them anyway. Unlikelihood is not a reason to decide what’s worth fighting for. Or who’s worth voting for. Your vote is your voice. We’ve been settling for ‘the lesser of two evils’ for long enough.

Changing government is a daunting task. This nation is headed down one of two roads: in one scenario, Americans resign themselves that it’s impossible to change the careless, irresponsible ways of government. They can feel it’s not worth trying to get Congress to stop passing 1,000 page bills filled with wasteful earmarks because that’s just the way Washington does business. They ignore the exponentially-expanding deficit because, well, our leaders don’t seem to be worried about it, so why should we? They shrug their shoulders when told their representatives don’t bother to read the bills they pass. They feel we have no choice but to relinquish our liberties and hand over larger and larger chunks of our money to the government because it will make us safer/ make things more fair/ Americans can’t make wise decisions without government intervention.

But here’s another alternative: we stand up and start demanding responsible government. We write to our senators asking them to pass legislation like One Subject At a Time, which would quell pork barrel spending and stop the insertion of unrelated laws into lengthy bills no one reads. We stop voting for incumbents just because they’ve accrued a lot of power after years of carrying on the status quo. We put aside party loyalty and instead vote for individuals, whether they are Democrats, Republicans or Independents, whose goal is not to extend their careers as politicians, but who are truly concerned about fighting the waste, duplicity and power-grabbing that has marred the government of our great nation.

Unlikely? Not as unlikely as before Obama took office. Two years ago, voters were desperate to replace a Republican administration which was intent on expanding the power of government in dangerous, unprecedented ways, putting our troops in harm’s way simply to maintain our influence around the globe, and pushing through dubious laws despite vast public objection. We were sick and tired of an administration who often did not get the facts straight, and who demonstrated little concern about our increasing debt or about passing thousands of pages of laws that cost us our money and individual liberties.

And what have we accomplished? We’ve substituted the former administration for Democratic leadership intent on expanding the power of government in dangerous, unprecedented ways, who continues to put our troops in harm’s way simply to maintain our influence around the globe, who pushes through dubious laws despite vast public objection, who often does not get the facts straight, and who demonstrates little concern about our increasing debt or about passing thousands of pages of laws that cost us our money and individual liberties.

We’re learned that ‘change’ is not good enough. Sensible, conscientious and principled change is what this country needs.

The most promising indication that change can come from within our two mainstream parties has been demonstrated in the latest primaries. Both Republican Rand Paul in Kentucky and Democrat Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania won last week’s primaries with little party support. Rand Paul, a first-time politician, won definitively over Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who was backed by some of the most powerful Republicans in Washington. Paul had outspokenly challenged the Republican Party’s shift away from limited-government principles.

In Pennsylvania, Sestak’s opponent was 20-year incumbent Senator Arlen Specter, who not only had the endorsement of over 77% of the delegates at the Democratic convention in February, but was also enthusiastically backed by the White House. Senator Specter was notorious for his back-room negotiations and requests for special treatment.

In New Jersey, President Obama flew in personally last October to campaign for Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine in a tight race for governor (the best use of his time and our money?). Despite this effort, Corzine was unseated by Chris Christie, who ran on a platform promising scaling down and reforming the state government. Under Gov. Corzine, New Jersey had the highest tax burden in the U.S., including the highest property taxes.

These contests attest that the inclination of big party machines may no longer be the determining factor in our elections.

Ironically, this morning just before I was about to post this article, someone wrote and asked how my father was doing, since I haven’t mentioned him in a while. Well, a PET scan last week revealed more cancer. This week he started another round of chemo and radiation. The odds aren’t in his favor, but he’s plugging away doing everything in his power. Far from giving in, he rides his bike the 2 miles to and from radiation every morning. When his chemo was running late on Monday and I needed to leave, he promised to get a ride home from the hospital from a friend. Instead he walked those 2 miles home by himself. Yeah, I was angry and felt guilty, but, as my daughter assured me, Dad’s doing exactly what he wants. Fighting to go on living life as normally as possible.

Some things are an uphill battle, but they’re worth the struggle. It’s up to us.

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Common Sense about American Debt

Posted by Free to Think on May 12, 2010

This isn’t just the fault of a President, past or current. It isn’t only the fault of one political party. The real culprit is general shortsightedness and a lack of respect for the American Constitution.

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”

Isn’t there a way to prevent too much government spending?

In the earlier part of our American history, politicians recognized Ben Franklin’s fear and were vigilant to defend against government costs and the growth of power.

During his two terms as President in the late 1800s, Grover Cleveland vetoed hundreds of congressional spending bills because, as he often wrote, “I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution.”

Our federal government was supposed to be limited by the law of the land to certain responsibilities. American citizens such as you and I know that if we choose not to follow the law, we’ll be fined or jailed. But our public servants don’t play by the same rules.

In the modern era, the Supreme Court rarely declares laws unconstitutional even if the power to impose that federal law or program wasn’t delegated to the government in the Constitution. As described in my previous post, this course of action began during the FDR administration, when the Constitution’s General Welfare Clause was construed to uphold all New Deal programs.

A bit of history…

In a landmark 1936 decision, the Supreme Court dismissed the notion of limited government by ruling that the Agricultural Adjustment Act was constitutional. The court’s interpretation of the spending authority of Congress was fateful: “The power of Congress to authorize appropriations of public money for public purposes is not limited by the grants of legislative power found in the Constitution.”

Solicitor general and Pennsylvania Rep. James M. Beck likened the effect of this decision to the Titanic’s tragic collision with the iceberg. “After the collision,” wrote Beck, “which was hardly felt by the steamer at the time, the great liner seemed to be intact and unhurt, and continued to move. But a death wound had been inflicted under the surface of the water, which poured into the hold of the steamer so swiftly that in a few hours the great ship was sunk.”

When income tax was first invoked in 1913, it was meant for only the very richest citizens, less than 1 percent of the population. But World War I greatly increased the need for revenue; the 1917 the federal budget was almost equal to the total budget for the years between 1791 and 1916 combined. Still, only 5 percent of the population qualified for income tax at the time, which funded one-third of the war.

During the New Deal era, the threshold was dropped so that the number of Americans obligated to pay income tax rose to 31%. Even with an economy stimulated by war-time production, federal taxes as a share of GDP grew from 7.6 percent in 1941 to 20.4 percent in 1945.

The thing is, taxation has never declined from that “emergency” 20% level, even during the economic boom times in the second half of the 20th century. But the much bigger problem is that even 20% of the GNP will barely put a dent in our commitments going forward.

What are the repercussions for America?

Our government spends much more than we have. The national debt has soared under the administrations of both parties. On top of it, we need to borrow more every year. Imagine if you ran your own home this way.

This debt can also be considered the ‘taxation without representation’ of our children and grandchildren. The child pictured above didn’t get to vote for borrowing trillions of dollars. But someday she will be saddled with paying for it or will go to jail for tax evasion.

Just 12% of our budget goes towards interest today. We are making no effort to pay down a penny of the debt we owe- we’re just making the minimum payments, even though interest rates are currently at record lows. As you can see from the chart below (click for a larger view) interest will soon begin to soar (in red).

If we continue down the road we’re on, entitlement programs alone will eat up every tax dollar that’s collected (and that’s without considering the new health care plan!). There’s no denying that at this rate it’s simply impossible to keep up with all the programs we’ve created.

Not only do we redistribute massive amounts of wealth from one citizen to another, but we dole out money that doesn’t even exist. How do we do that? Well, besides borrowing, the government pays off their obligations by simply printing more money. This in turn devalues the dollar for everyone. One must wonder how that affects the General Welfare of our citizens.

Who’s paying for it?

Are we all contributing to pay for this immense government? The Tax Foundation estimates that some 60% of American families already get more from the government than they pay in taxes. That straps the entire burden on just 40% of taxpayers. Increasing taxes on wealthier citizens is always the first proposition, but that too has its limits. The top 10% of earners already pay more than 70% of the income taxes.

What can we do?

How far has our political thought process strayed from constitutional government? When was the last time you heard a politician object to a bill by saying, “I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution”?

When was the last time you heard a politician say, “We must live within our means, even if that means cutting back worthwhile programs” or “instead of promising you new or bigger programs, I promise to slash government spending until we can balance our budget”?

Especially with an ever-growing segment of dependent voters, one must wonder if speeches such as these would be political suicide. As Franklin had so aptly feared, it’s easier for Americans to vote themselves more money than make hard choices about the future of our nation. It would take a brave political leader to acknowledge this message, and an even braver audience to accept it.

Perhaps it’s time we look in the mirror. Across the country, limited-government organizations have been rapidly gaining popularity. You can find the links for some of these groups in the blogroll on my page. Finding responsible candidates within our two major political parties is difficult, but you can find some here. As American citizens, shouldn’t supporting organizations who want to downsize our government, and voting for candidates who want responsible government be at the top of our priorities?

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