Monday, August 15, 2011

Return to common sense?

So what does my layman’s opinion of a responsible budget look like?

Well, what does a private citizen’s responsible budget look like?  A list of spending priorities would probably look like this:

1)      Bare-bones necessities
2)      Debts
3)      Privileges

Just like ours, the national and state budgets begin with revenue, or income.  As individuals, we understand it is set for us by a range of factors including our qualifications and the availability of positions we qualify for.  The government has a tad more control over theirs, which primarily takes the form of taxes and fees.

Unfortunately, like the individual addicted to plastic and practically living on credit, our government seems to be trying to operate largely on money borrowed from other nations.  So, while Suze Orzman tells us it’s utterly irresponsible to carry excess credit and to pay off even those necessary loans as soon as possible, our leaders have decided that said rules don’t apply to their management of our nation’s finances.

Wouldn’t it be prudent for them to mirror their budget on those of the people?

Here’s what I propose (and I know I’m not the first):

Flat rate tax, with exemptions only for those falling below the poverty bracket.  Let’s just make sure there is a definite distinction drawn between small businesses and individuals, shall we?  My husband and I have had the – erm, “joy” of paying self-employment tax even when we fell well below the poverty line.  It is because of this that I understand why self-employed individuals are so worried when the Democratic Party speaks about raising taxes on the “rich.”  “Rich” and “poor” are highly arbitrary concepts.

Reduced government spending.  America used to be strong because communities supported their own.  And, as I mentioned in prior posts, government officials were motivated by their passions for the people, not reimbursement, to represent.  So my slashes would include:
1)      Pay cuts for government officials (including a return to a seasonal congress).
2)      Transition to community-supported food and housing programs.
3)      Reduction in federal funding of public education (yes, I know I’m going to get slammed for this on – remember what I said about local community?)  In other words, reduce the federal education budget to educational necessities.  Frankly, it doesn’t impress me that most American high school graduates may have stellar sports programs yet can’t pass a general history test.  Get it back to the 3 R’s and the classics (science, technology, poli-sci, literature).  Let the communities draw together and labor to provide extra-curriculars such as sports and fine arts.  Chances are greater love and pride will be poured into the effort that way.
4)      Medical … well, I’ll address that shortly.

Eliminate international debt.  I’m sorry, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  We need to quit borrowing from Peter to pay Paul … the sooner we’re debt-free, we can quit whining about never having any money.

Regarding health care:  those who know me have heard my opinions on so-called health care.  I honestly don’t know how our current president came to the conclusion that it was logical to penalize anyone who didn’t carry health insurance … when insurance is exceedingly costly and unemployment is at an all-time high.  Shouldn’t we be addressing the problem at the source?

Lawyers.  We are a sue-happy nation.  Something goes wrong, and we want someone to pay.  Because of a few irresponsible doctors who committed legit crimes of malpractice, now all doctors and hospitals are required to carry inexorbinate rates of malpractice insurance.  The trickle-down effect is crippling not only to our medical practitioners, but to us as patients.  How much do you really think your doctor takes home from your $5000 surgery?  Less than you think – truth is, it’s his or her insurance company who gets the bulk of your money.  Meanwhile, it’s these same insurance companies (both your “health insurance” and his “malpractice insurance”) who are dictating the care you receive – not your doctor with his 12+ years of postgraduate education.  Have you ever felt like the medical community is schizophrenic?  Guess what: it is.  But not because they don’t know what they’re doing.  Some just have better insurance lawyers than others.  Of course, “better” is in the eye of the beholder.  Don’t believe me?  Then ask yourself this: why do you think c-section rates in America are highest in the world (despite our state-of-the-art prenatal care) … yet hospital birthing centers across the nation are being forced to shut down on account of being "too costly"?

So what do I think?  I do propose that Uncle Sam step in on this one.  That is, to cap malpractice lawsuits and related insurance rates.  Let’s bring down the costs that have absolutely nothing to do with health care.  I suspect that, were it handled properly, you’d see a 50% reduction in cost to the patient.  Meanwhile, give the patients a bit more control of their own care.  Then, perhaps, individuals might be able to afford their own health care without government aid or intervention.  One less bill for Uncle Sam altogether.  In the case of the truly poverty-stricken … well, I’d group it back with the community-supported food and housing programs I proposed earlier.

But then … “community supported” puts the effort and sacrifice back on us, the people.  And I get the distinct impression that the bulk of America, while wanting to “fix” Washington, aren’t particularly interested in putting the effort in themselves to do so …

Tell me, would you?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hatred Doesn't Help

OK, as a disclaimer: this is not another sappy appeal to for compassion and tolerance with respect to the polarized differences between right and left in America.  In fact, it seems for all these messages of tolerance I hear in the media, there is none.  While preaching "tolerance" of differing viewpoints, for instance, it's pretty obvious the left is utterly intolerant of anyone who doesn't agree with them.

Still, there is no benefit to fighting back using their methods.

Do y'all remember when W. was in office?  Made those of us who voted for him c-r-a-z-y when the media painted him as lacking logic, common sense, and intelligence.  Oh man, did they like to accuse him of being either exceedingly stupid or utterly devoid of conscience.  It was disrespectful and utterly spiteful.  But we said, "they're liberals - what do you expect?"

And yet ... here we are acting in the exact same immature manner.  I daresay, downright hypocritical.

Look, I'm not one to suggest we keep quiet.  As saints, we have a responsibility to God to represent Him and His values (as dictated in Scripture) to the world and our nation.  As citizens of a democratic republic, we have a responsibility to voice what we believe should be standards of our country; to elect representatives who support those values, and to vote for those values when the opportunity presents itself.

And we should be utterly unashamed to represent said unpopular values.  Even if it means being torn apart by lions.

However ... this by no means allows for conduct that can not be pleasing to Y'shua.  He expressly told us, "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His Righteousness" (Matthew 6:33).  When challenged by the Sanhedrin about submission to corrupt ruling authorities, he responded calmly, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21).  Not once did you hear him (or Paul, for that matter, who was a Roman citizen) criticize the emperor or senate.  Solomon goes to great pains to repeatedly warn us against foolish words and quick-tempered actions.  We would all be wise to consider these things before we speak.

Instead, perhaps we should ask ourselves, what does an ambassador of Christ look like?  What does it mean to seek first His Kingdom? 
Ambassadors are generally fairly uncompromising.  Their heavy responsibility is to represent their Lord to a foreign culture.  They adhere strictly to their own customs in a foreign land, and discuss them freely and openly with the locals.  They understand their culture completely and intimately; and have a complete understanding of the differences between their own culture and that of the nation where they preside.  They are always prepared to answer hard questions.  They are unashamed of who and what they are.  But you won't find them ridiculing the ways of the land.  It would, at the very least, be unproductive.

We as followers of Y'shua are caught between two worlds.  We are, on the one hand, "strangers in a strange land".  On the other, we are citizens and patriots of this great nation.  So what are we do.

Speak in love.  This is not sugar-coated "nicey-nice" false love, but everything that is encompassed by unconditional love.  There is no room for spite or foolishness in our talk.  It includes a broad range of compassion, mercy, and "tough love."  Consider carefully the words of Jude (vs. 22-23): "And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering.  Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives."

For me, this means picking my battles.  I see no benefit in attacking every little character flaw observed in our nation's leaders - such behavior does not represent the character of Christ well.  It does, however, emphasize our responsibility to remain uncompromising in the values of our faith; to consider carefully the words we use to defend it; and the broken spirits of those people who too often appear to be our enemies.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Congressional Leaders Beware: Part II

"Could you please tell me, gentlemen, why I should trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away?" ~Col. Benjamin Martin, the Patriot

Yep, I've got a few more words regarding the utter ludicrousness in Washington right now.  In all honesty, if so many people weren't going to pay such a steep price for the handling of the nation's finances, the actions and words I'm observing would be downright hysterical - worthy of an Emmy-winning sitcom.

So the latest that I've gathered is that right after agreeing to a non-solution solution to the debt crisis, our congressional leaders have decided to go on vacation.  Ironically, they've decided to call their break early and leave several loose ends, including a bill reauthorizing the FAA to maintain 4000 employees and continue the sales tax on flights.  Now, we might enjoy the lack of added tax on our tickets ... except that most airlines are pocketing the difference rather than giving the savings to the consumer.  Meanwhile, here we are in a crisis over meeting our bills and yet they don't think it's worth it to simply reauthorize one revenue-raking sales tax?  Never mind the 4000 employees who are left stranded - belying all the talk about creating American jobs.

Meanwhile, someone mentioned something to me about our leaders dining on surf-and-turf while telling us to suck it up.  Hmm.  Time for some investigation.  OK, so maybe not steak and lobster, but they certainly didn't bat an eye at catering their lunches on taxpayer dime. Over $600K went into bottled water alone for our reps (so much for sustainability).  But can we really be surprised when Members are allotted a an annual discretionary budget of $1.4-2 million apiece?

On top of all this I've learned that our president has set a re-election campaign budget of  $1 Billion.  Um. Just. Wow.  I don't know about you, but I'd be a lot more impressed if he cut that budget to minimalist travel expenses and donated the balance to a cause that serves a broad spectrum of his countrymen.  Put it back into Medicare.  Or Social Security.  Or since our First Lady is so concerned about both sustainability and obesity in America, why not pour it into a grant for local CSA's (that's Community Supported Agriculture, for those of you not familiar with the acronym). 

I confess, I've had serious doubts about the common sense of our leaders for some time now.  For example, they preach sustainability, yet their idea of low-environmental impact is apparently high-financial impact.  Suggesting that everyone should be able to afford a hybrid vehicle in a decade?  Only if they bring the costs down.  And why must it use pricey technology in order to be "green" anyways?  I had a 1989 Geo Metro ... that thing got 50 miles to the gallon and was cheap to maintain.  Sure, it didn't have a lot of power, but it never failed emissions tests!  And it handled freeway speeds and bad weather remarkably well.  In '89 it cost about $5K brand new; so today a comparable vehicle would probably sell for twice that.  But still ... with a median income of $46K, what do you think is more accessible to the average American?  $10K or $25K (the cost of a Prius)?  Yet for some reason, no one seems interested in reviving old-school, economical gas-efficient, low-emission technology.  It really makes you wonder ...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Congressional Leaders Beware: Part I

I know, I know - I'm neither a political nor financial expert.  I'm just a P.O.'d patriot who was raised on common sense ... the lacktherof which seems to be a serious handicap in the other Washington.  Lov-er-ly.  Like everyone, I was pretty miffed with the stalemate in D.C. this last week.  OK, I was downright offended.  I keep hearing commentators express frustrations over "a Republican Party that is increasingly more radical and a Democratic Party that has lost it's vision."  That's funny - 20 years ago we heard complaints in the form of the reverse.  Let's face it people: politicians are, by their very nature, corrupt.  They make campaign promises to get elected.  Period.  And this particular generation of ::ahem:: representatives seems more interested in ruling the people than governing them.  They just can't agree on how to do it.  And big surprise, they're holding the American public hostage to get what they want.  Twice this year they have threatened default and/or shutdown only to to provide a solution at the last possible minute.  Don't be fooled, peeps - they're just yanking your chain and creating panic in order to gain sympathy.

Yes, I am very opinionated about the activities in D.C., particularly surrounding our national budget.  Honestly, I don't see how they can look at us with empathetic cow eyes over cutting social security (or Medicare/Medicaid, or reducing the pay of government workers) when they're bringing home $200K annually.  Each.  Times 435.  Remind me again, what's the median American income?  Oh yeah, $46K.  So big surprise that a bunch of people making 4X that may not really be in touch with how much a 3% cut could hurt the rest of us.

You know, there was a time when a congressional position was seasonal ... representatives were only paid a stipend while congress was in session.  Perhaps we should return to that.  If they run over, perhaps it would be prudent to motivate them by keeping it on their own time, outside clearly defined special sessions (such as addressing a state of emergency or an act of war).  I wouldn't be opposed to setting up an account to cover their flights to and from their home states (coach, of course) at the beginning and end of each session.  Or even to establish seasonal dormitories to house them.  Perhaps our representatives need to be kept grounded by the necessity of maintaining a regular job - in their home state.  And don't even get me started on the congressional gym ... "cost kept secret for reasons of national security"?!  Yeah, I'll tell you the threat they're worried about: that the people will revolt as they did in France 200 years ago.

And what about our president?  Certainly as commander-in-chief I agree that his position should be full-time permanent.  But does he seriously need to earn $400K plus free room & board plus a $50K annual expense account plus a $100K non-taxable travel expense account plus an additional $19K for "entertainment"?  I mean, when an increasing percentage of the population is homeless our humble leader essentially gets to play with $600K at his discretion ...?  Yes, he is supposedly the most powerful man in the world, but considering the circumstances, is this a necessity?

Since he is commander-in-chief, I suggest that it would be appropriate that he take a 50% paycut - after all, he'd still be making the same as an O-10 (General) with 25 years of service.  Place his travel expenses and annual expenses back in the hands of a White House Treasurer.  This is the people's money, after all: there needs to be more accountability, not to mention a tad more stinginess.

Everyone tells me that these changes wouldn't even be a drop in the bucket.  Well, in comparison to the national deficit, they're right.  But it's the precedent that matters.  Our leaders need to be reminded of what it means to lead by example.  So first off, I propose that then next time they approach a default deadline, it be their paychecks that get cut, not those of our servicemen and women or our geriatric retirees.
I swear, this last crisis has in my mind resurrected the stinging words of Marie Antoinette: "Let them eat cake!"

Tune in soon for my starter solution to the healthcare crisis in America ...