Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Let’s Get Serious

Peggy Noonan wrote a trenchant article a few weeks back about America’s Crisis of Character. I agree with it wholeheartedly. I also agree with Dana Milbank's assessment that our misbehaving federal government is just a reflection of society. This is not a partisan issue.

We've become a very unserious people. Thousands died on 9/11 and Bush didn't fire a single person. Nobody ever gets fired anymore. We are all perpetual adolescents now. And I say this as a guy who loves clowning around, drinking and cutting loose... On my own time, not my employer's. I get silly with my kids, but I am not their cool pal—I am an authority figure who along with their mom loves them more than anyone else in the world ever could.

A serious president backed by a serious congress would use the latest round of government gone wild to take a machete to government bureaucracy, but we also lack serious politicians. Bush was no better on this front, so please spare me the tu quoques.

Nobody has the balls to stand up and make the government, every last damned corner of it, take a 10% cut. Think about that… Can’t even cut 10%, because the voters would get mad and vote the brave ones out of office, increasing the ranks of congressional mealy-mouthed poltroons. That is the problem, and it will continue until it no longer can, most likely because we’ve crashed and our bonds are worthless so no one will lend us money anymore.

We could fix it now while we still have some leeway and autonomy, but we instead behave like the kid who broke the lamp and irrationally hopes mom never finds out.

We'd have to tighten our belts, but nobody wants that. When you’ve been living high on the hog, way above your means, there must come a reckoning. We will all have to do with less, and we will have to help out our neighbors and family members who are also doing with less. Would you rather do this now, or after we hit bottom and non-Americans are dictating terms to us?

An Axis of Evil:  Government-Banksters-Crony Crapitalists

Also, when the crash happens, we need to remember who caused it. Government. And International bankers. It’s a sick synergy, a spiraling vortex of irresponsibility that pockets the profits and puts all the losses on the backs of citizens until the whole damn thing collapses. That is what the people of Greece are yelling about:  That the EU and international bankers collapsed their economy.  They are partly correct.  Better stated, the Greek people's own profligate irresponsibility put outsiders in the position to dictate terms.  We have put ourselves in the same weak position.

I hate to sound like a liberal, but "endless war" is also a contributing factor. We spend blood and treasure on people who hate us.  That needs to stop.  And ten years of fighting has infected our souls:  Every jackass in town has to run around in camo, and even the smallest of small town cops are now decked out like Navy Seals. We have become so government-centric this past decade it makes me want to puke. Daddy government is patrolling, stay out of the way kids or you might get wanded!

I think another Great Reawakening is due. That will be all that will save us. It doesn't have to be religious like the previous ones, it just needs to be a big collective pop, as all of us, liberals, conservative and the clueless pull our heads out of our asses and looking with shame upon what we have become.  Do we want to control our own destiny?  Then fiscal self-control is the first step.

Decline or Decadence?


MathewK said...

"....it will continue until it no longer can, most likely because we’ve crashed and our bonds are worthless so no one will lend us money anymore."

I fear that is the only way the west will change its ways. Far too many of us actually believe the kind of nonsense liberals spout off all the time. We cannot spend our way to prosperity, plenty of us need to be taught this. The earlier the better.

Bunkerville said...

There is no end to the wish to expand our military. Africa is next on the list, after having screwed up the Middle East big time.

Infidel de Manahatta said...

Sadly very true. The politicians will never cut 10% because too many Americans are already dependent on the government. If they cut the gravy train they might be voted out of office by a mad, hopelessly dependent electorate.

And yes, no more foreign wars unless we are attacked. (After 9/11 we should have dropped nukes, ended the war in a few weeks and life would have gone back to normal.) Now we have a permanent "security state."

Always On Watch said...

We will all have to do with less...

In theory, I agree with that.

But I know of more than one family that simply cannot do with less. One of these families (one child who is now grown and helps out as much as possible -- and a COMPLETELY disabled spouse for decades) barely has food on the table right now. This family is not on any kind of welfare. Period. This family has never had even one vacation. The man is working three jobs, yet health insurance premiums are consuming nearly 5/6 of his income.

I'm not speaking of this household, BTW. But I COULD be if Mr. AOW had become completely disabled in his 30s as did the wife in the family I mentioned above.

In contrast, we have multi-millionaires who are drawing Social Security checks. We have multi-millionaires sucking up Medicare benefits. We have government-salaried folks with two or three homes. We have our so-called elected public servants jetsetting all over the place on the taxpayer's dime.

In my view, America has lost the plot!

Ducky's here said...

We spend blood and treasure on people who hate us. That needs to stop. And ten years of fighting has infected our souls: Every jackass in town has to run around in camo ...


First off, we don't spend anything on people who hate us . We spend it to grow an inefficient segment of the economy. It would be good to rid ourselves of the silly belief that we are in the freedom and democracy business.
Will the fringe right let us drop this meme, Silver? I don't think so.
And as long as the police force is militarized to save them from the blacks they don't care.

I've spent a fairly long time living below my means and I've paid a crapload of taxes in that time only to finance a government that acts against the interest of its people and right now I think it's time for the jerks who scream class warfare every time we want to rein in the Wall St. to really get stiffed.

We are a sorry fucking people.

Sam Huntington said...

Politicians are despicable, and I believe it has always been thus … but they cannot be quite as shameful as the people who hire them, who then go back to sleep so that politicians can do their worst, unimpeded by responsible citizenship.

Ducky's here said...

... of course, Silver, if we look at the job creation shenanigans exemplified by the Facebook IPO we get an idea that our Galtian overlords needed to be seriously reined in.

Anonymous said...

Peggy Noonan is right. But don't expect the American people to have an epiphany. There are three small groups trying to change what is wrong with America. I am talking about the Tea Parties, the Paulites and, the Libertarian Party. Things will start to change when people who think they favor small government get off their butts and get active in one of these three movements.

Z said...

Good luck with that fiscal self control.....they've been kicking the bucket down the road for so long most think it'll never stop. Till America does.
And, of course, a president running on the promise of cutting spending is going to lose.
I'm quite sure many are beyond shame in taking welfare, lying to the public, indoctrinating our kids, slamming capitalism, etc.

LSP said...

Great post -- I enjoyed the Noonan piece too.

Of course part of our problem is that people waxing rich in government are hardly likely to vote themselves out of power.

I fear the reset button has to be pushed -- the rotten state of our money might just do that for us.

God bless.

Ducky's here said...

Silverfiddle, are you comfortable with an awakening that follows the European austerity model?

What is to prevent the working and middle classes from being stripped and our Galtian overlords proceeding as if nothing has changed?

I've been doing a little reading about the so called miracle they are producing in India. Now no doubt that a relatively small group of people are profiting handsomely but there's a much larger picture.
The countries population is overwhelmingly farmers and their situation is deteriorating rapidly. Laissez-faire has no solution for their growing poverty.

What will happen as the fish stocks continue to dwindle and we have to shift to a much more inefficient source of protein? If the rest of the world starts to try to grill a rack of ribs it's going to get ugly.

I have no idea when this religious revolution took place. Must have been when the Catholic bishops became permanently connected with the phrase accessory after the fact and destroyed themselves as a source of moral leadership.
I have about as much hope for the next because we are putting our faith in failed institutions.

We've got some problems and we look to the Wall Street casino to solve them. You and I agree that's insane but what can we do when there isn't anything with the power to take its place? Do we just listen to the Paulists (or the Paulist fathers)?

Jersey McJones said...

"Nobody has the balls to stand up and make the government, every last damned corner of it, take a 10% cut."

This gets to other problem our culture has with "seriousness." This suggestion above is just not serious. Not intelligent. Take your average family budget. You can't just say, "we're going to cut everything ten percent." You just don't have that as a serious option. Try calling your bank and saying, "I'm going to pay ten percent less on my mortgage, okay?" See how far that gets you. Or try driving to work everyday with ten percent less gas (FYI: better bring a spare gas can). Tell your doctor you want ten percent less care for your illness.

You see where I'm going here?

This is a silly, un-serious, un-grownup, un-intelligent idea.

When you budget, you look at each item, and work from there. You don't blindly slash everything like an angry drunk attacking his neighbor's garden with a pair of shears.

Get serious.


Ducky's here said...

Whoa, peach it Brother Jersey.

Grung_e_Gene said...

My problem is it's always the liberals doing it! Especially that Barney Frank and Pelosi like this:

"I think most American taxpayers now are sort of scratching their head," Cantor told CNN in December, "wondering when all this bailout stuff is going to end. And probably thinking, 'You know, when is my bailout coming?'"

This Thursday, Cantor cast a high-profile vote opposing release of another $350 billion in bailout funds. Unpublicized until now was a recent development: The Treasury Department used $267 million of taxpayer funds to buy preferred stock in a private banking company that employs Cantor's wife.

Fredd said...


The reckoning will come, as it always does. The sponges in American society will go out to their mailbox one day, and find that they check that was always there every 1st and 16th of the month isn't there.

And they will call about this damnable error, and the phone lines will be dead.

And then that night they will sneak into their next door neighbor's pantry and make a raid on the Pork n' Beans.

And then the neighbor will take offense.

And at that point the reckoning will have definable features, rather than exist in our dialogs like a far away Boogey Man, intangible as smoke.

We'll see how things go when we reach that point. And we will, most assuredly if we continue down this socialist path.

Ducky's here said...

Let me guess Fredd, you'll be in Galt's Gulch happily pulling your prick.

Anonymous said...

We could achieve Salvation as a Society by imposing a program of VOLUNTARY AUSTERITY on OURSELVES by making small adjustments in the type and amount of food we eat, limiting our use of utilities, buying fewer and fewer things for purely frivolous reasons, car pooling to get to and from work where feasible, mending clothes instead of replacing them, giving younger kids hand-me-downs. Limiting the use of any and all expensive-but-unnecessary products and pursuits in favor of staying home, getting know each other as a family, play board games, play card games, play badminton in the back yard, get interested in gardening and home improvement, get teenagers to go back to earning money, mowing lawns, weeding gardens, raking and bagging leaves, shoveling snow.

Turn OFF the TV. Turn IN the cellphones. Put the BOOMBOXES on a BONFIRE. Limit each household to ONE television set. LEARN to COMPROMISE and to RESPECT Mom and Dad's choices FIRST and FOREMOST.

And parents, DON'T GIVE IN to your kids. Either DEPRIVE them of privileges, or PUNISH them in other ways when they get out of line.

EAT together all at the same time. TALK to each other. Insist that kids help with meal preparation, cleanup and household chores.

Get together in the evening and READ ALOUD to each other. Take turns reading a chapter each.

We are, probably, the most SPOILED society that ever existed. Our perceived need for unlimited Self-Indulgence and the Unlimited Acquisition of MERETRICIOUS ITEMS has been inculcated in us through the power of the ADVERTISING INDUSTRY, HOLLYWOOD, RADIO and TV.

There are so many things we've been led to imagine we can't live without that are in fact STUPID and UNNECESSARY, one could never count them.

A Back to Basics Approach -- living by the Rule of Common Sense, instead of being led around by the nose by Unseen Forces manipulating and bilking you for all your worth would do WONDERS.

And like the March Girls in Little Women, who were asked by their "Marmie" to share donate Christmas Breakfast to a family too poor even to have a fire at their hearth, even though the March family was poor, itself, we should all cultivate a taste and desire to use and share whatever we have -- however meager-- with those less fortunate.

This is the way America USED to be before Welfare Statism took over so completely.

We were a MUCH better -- much HAPPIER people back then, even though we were, indeed, MUCH poorer than we are now.

~ FreeThinke

Ducky's here said...

Freethinker, we should apply your post to the Facebook IPO. Talk about self indulgent.

It's a little early to dissect that grift since there's no way to short the junk and it will take a little while to reach bottom.

Ducky's here said...

A Back to Basics Approach -- living by the Rule of Common Sense, instead of being led around by the nose by Unseen Forces manipulating and bilking you for all your worth would do WONDERS.

Speaking of Facebook

If you think the culture is lost now wait till you catch this act, FT.

"Blow up your T.V. throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find Jesus on your own."

--- John Prine

viburnum said...

JMJ: "Take your average family budget. You can't just say, "we're going to cut everything ten percent."

You also just can't say "We're going to spend 20% more than we earn" (6.28 trillion budget on 5.09 trillion in revenue ) Particularly when your debt is 3 times your annual income. (15.738 trillion )

At least you and I can't. The government is doing it day in and day out. It's sheer madness, and it needs to stop. If not now when?

Finntann said...

@"This is a silly, un-serious, un-grownup, un-intelligent idea."

"You can't just say, "we're going to cut everything ten percent."

Actually Jersey, that is exactly how they do it and it works mostly, although not without impact.

Typically, you would be tasked to run what is known as a budget drill with 5, 8, 10% cuts, each outlining the impact of said cuts. Senior leadership then decides what they are willing to live with (or without) and directs the cuts.

I have seen directed cuts of 15% made to Operations & Maintenance budgets. When you have a million dollar O&M budget and are told to cut 15%, that means you lost$150,000. The individual budget managers get together, sometimes money is moved around from one area to another based on priority, purchases are put off or deferred, or contracts are cut or trimmed. That means projects get cancelled, operating hours are reduced, training hours are reduced, workforce is reduced, etc.

For a real world example, the 100 billion in directed DoD budget cuts will result in the loss of 7,600 civilian positions in the AF nationwide. Here locally Schriever AFB laid off 17% of its civilian work force while the AF Academy laid off 4%. Peterson AFB cut roughly 10% of its workforce, about evenly split between military and civilian.


So no, it would not be unrealistic to tell the government to 10%, it would be routine.


Finntann said...

I might also add, the government works its budget backwards from your family budget.

They figure out what they need to spend and ask congress for the money. Whereas your family budget is more often than not fixed, what you spend is determined by your salary, not what you want do, or are told to do.

Generally, what is appropriated is reasonably close or within a manageable difference from what is asked for.

The other oddity of the government budget versus is your family budget, is when was the last time your boss said, here's an extra $10,000 I want you to buy a new car but you have to buy it from Acme Auto Sales?

Happens with the federal budget all the time. What congress tells us to do, what we need to do, and what we want to do seldom match.

This might make sense if congress was telling us no... it makes little sense when we tell congress we have all the C-130's we need and congress tells us to buy 15 more. That expenditure is based on politics, not military necessity.

You can't apply economic logic to a political problem... well you could, but we don't. That's part of the problem.

To give you an example:

Not considering appropriations for the wars. The 2009 appropriation passed by congress for the base DoD budget was 16 Billion more than the DoD asked for.

Now if that 16B was... "here's 16B spend it on what you need", it might make some sense from a military necessity point of view.

No, that 16B was pure political haymaking, as in, you might have 100,000 more gas masks than you need, but I don't want a factory in my district to close, so order more!

Do you really think a retired schoolteacher, or plumber, or construction company owner who got elected to congress is qualified to tell the DoD how many gas masks it needs? How many cargo planes?

The decisions are political, not military, not logical.

If only we ran the government budget like your family budget.

Seriously and constructively, if you are concerned about the budget the first thing you need to do is school yourself on the budget process. It is in no way, shape, or form related to your apparent concept of a budget.

The end result of appropriations is a budget the different agencies need to live within but the process by which it is created is not budgeting.


viburnum said...

Finntann: "So no, it would not be unrealistic to tell the government to 10%, it would be routine."

Same thing in the real world. You have to pick and choose, reorder your priorities, and not everyone is going to be happy about it. When the alternative is closing up shop, you do what you have to do.

Not everything the government does is necessary, and large portions of what it does do are redundant between different agencies, and in many cases duplicated by similar agencies in the states. 10% could easily be cut just eliminating useless bureaucracy.

Finntann said...

It is worse than you think. Here are two scenarios that might help explain the process from a program management perspective.

1. You work for Ford Motor Company and are placed in charge of a 10 Billion dollar program to develop a new car.

If you develop the new car at a cost of 9 Billion, you get acclaim, a promotion, bonuses, stock options, time off, etc.

If you develop the new car for 10 Billion, you get a pat on the back, another project, and maybe consideration for promotion.

If you spend 11 Billion you get fired.

2. You work for the government and are placed in charge of a 10 Billion dollar program to develop a new car.

If you come in at 9 Billion you get fired for underrunning your budget so badly. You get a negative performance report, killing your chances at promotion, and you get assigned to the section responsible for procuring office supplies. Meanwhile, your agency shuffles that excess 1 Billion between a dozen different programs so it comes out balanced at the end of the year.

If you come in at 10 Billion you get acclaim, a promotion, and then reassigned to do something entirely unrelated to what you just did. You may have just demonstrated extreme proficiency in managing an acquisition program but now your going to go somewhere else to do something else.

If you come in at 11 Billion you get a lecture and then either assigned another project or reassigned to do something else, like quality control, or contract performance monitoring. Meanwhile your agency covers your losses with the underruns from the poor sap who got fired.

This is the way our government works.

Kid said...

Great Points SF. Reminds me of the time of the Fall of Rome when they elected horses to the Senate.

Ducky's here said...

Finntann, I'm glad the private sector can pull off constructive wealth creation like the Facebook IPO.

I'm surprised nobody is in jail yet.

But if you destroy the U.S. housing market yu get fired, right? Bore me later.

Ducky's here said...

Yeah it should kid. When the provinces got sick of feeding the leisure class in Rome, no more empire.

Even Americans are going to wise up and cut Wall Street off at some point.

Finntann said...

Ducky, you may be bored... but that's the way it is. I'm not saying the private sector is perfect either, but profit tends to be a motivator in performance evaluation, cost the company money and you'll be gone. I'll admit that morals and ethics often get sacrificed on the altar of profit. That's not to say that there aren't private sector employees who retain their positions based on friendship or familial relationships.

The government is not self-correcting the way business is. So long as you don't get into trouble, you're usually safe, whether your productive or not.

Back in the 80's I worked with a civil servant who did absolutely nothing. He'd come in, prop a manual open on his lap and if anyone asked 'he was training'. Mind you I don't know for what, since he never got out of his frigging chair. Took over two years for management to get rid of him, and that is simply because he burned all his leave and kept taking days off without pay.

I was answering Jersey's comment that you can't just direct a 10% cut to a federal agency. You certainly can, and they certainly do. I was also trying to dispel his misconception that the government budget is run in some fashion after the way your family budget would be run.

Agencies don't get handed a budget and told to operate within it. Their is not some brilliant economic genius that evaluates requirements and performance and decides HUD gets 39 Billion for FY13. HUD asked for 39 Billion and will get something close to 39 Billion. The CBO doesn't look to see if they should be getting X dollars, that's up to congress, it looks to see if it is spending what was appropriated properly.

So you have a group of congressmen who wouldn't necessarily know their ass from a CDBG Formula Grant deciding how much money HUD needs for CDBG Formula Grants based on what some senior executive tells them about why they need 3.1 Billion for CDBG Formula Grants, how important they are, and how their constituents will love them for it.

So for HUD you have a guy who owned a seed company overseeing a committee composed of:

A Military Lawyer, an Agricultural lawyer, a Public Defender, a Political Scientist/Mayor's Aide, an MBA that worked for a university, as an electronics salesman, and as a hotel clerk, and a retired Army Colonel that was a Merrill Lynch financial consultant.

Sure sounds like qualified HUD oversight to me!