The Big Government Virus

Monday, July 30, 2012
A biological virus is defined, according to as: "an ultramicroscopic metabolically inert, infectious agent that replicates only within the cells of living hosts, mainly bacterial, plants, and animals composed of an RNA or DNA core, a protein coat, and, in more complex types, a surrounding envelope." A computer virus is defined as "a segment of self-replicating code planted illegally in a computer program, often to damage or shut down a system or network."

There is a new type of virus known as BGV (The Big Government Virus). This is a virus that combines the maliciousness of a computer virus with the heartbreaking reality of a biological virus. BGV is similar to a computer virus in that it is caused by people and planted in hosts with purposeful intent. It is similar to a biological virus in the way it replicates itself in the body politic.

There is no cure for BGV. There is no treatment, antibiotic, or anti-virus software that will remove it once it takes hold. The virus reproduces itself on a geometric scale. The best way of dealing with this treacherous disease is to prevent it from infecting the host in the first place. Like all viruses, BGV is a parasite that needs to feed off of a living host in order to survive and spread.

The good news is that BGV is completely preventable. It requires education from a young age and continuing vigilance throughout a person's life but as long as people are aware of the warning signs, they can prevent the infection from contaminating them and their neighbors.

Schools have started many education programs for the prevention of viruses such as AIDS. They have handed out condoms to young children and explained to these young kids how to have sex so that it is less risky. Now with this new wicked virus, young children will need to be educated to how BGV works, how it spreads and how it can be prevented.

Like many viruses, at first BGV seems harmless. Its danger is in its deceptive nature. It often fools people into thinking that it is beneficial. This is why education of BGV is so important. People first need to identify carriers of the virus. There are people who knowingly carry this virus and purposely spread it to others. Most of these people are democrat politicians. The virus works thusly:

A democrat politician such as Barack Obama will say something such as "The rich need to pay their fair share". This is the entry point of BGV. Taxes then get raised. At this point the BGV bug takes hold. People will naturally try to prevent giving their hard earned money to the government. They may try to put it in tax shelters. So, a new government agency needs to be created in order to monitor the economic activity of citizens. A certain amount of freedom is lost as this new agency tells people how and where they can invest their money.

This new agency costs money as well. Hundreds of new IRS agents need to be hired. Therefore, the raising of taxes has an expense associated with it as a portion of the new taxes has to go into paying for the new agency.

Then the people who have to pay the extra taxes have to change their plans. Not having the money to invest the way they want, they have to cancel certain expenditures. A person planning to buy a BMW puts those plans off until the economic situation is better. Other people do the same. Soon there is extra inventory at BMW. Sales people are let go as cars are not selling.

The sales people who are let go from BMW file for unemployment. Now, instead of the government receiving taxes from all those BMW sales people, the government has to pay them unemployment checks. So the extra revenue from raising taxes now has another bill associated with it. There are less people paying taxes because less people are working and not only are there less tax payers, but the government goes from receiving money from those people to PAYING money to those people.

The trucking companies that deliver BMW cars, the mechanics that repair them, the suppliers who supply the steel, computer components, electrical equipment, and leather for the seats all let people go because demand is so low. Now the unemployment rate is really starting to rise and in an act of compassion, the unemployment insurance period is increased by six months which causes government to pay out even more money.

Now the BGV illness has completely infected the body politic. People have less money because the government is confiscating more and more. In addition, the government is telling them how and where they can invest the money they are allowed to keep. This loss of freedom and individual wealth is not offset by any gains in government revenue because whatever new money the government hoped to obtain is paid out in new expenses that didn't exist before the tax increase.

This is only the beginning of the damage caused by the BGV virus. Not only is there a bunch of new expenses, but there isn't any new economic growth. A person who was planning to create an extra room in his home puts those plans off because after paying the extra taxes, he doesn't have enough money left. The construction firm that would have gotten the job and would have paid taxes on it now pays no taxes and goes out of business because no one else is adding rooms to their homes either.

The insidious virus is now in full replication mode. Politicians see the infection spreading but instead of trying to treat it, they perpetuate it with more of the same. With unemployment levels skyrocketing and debt growing, the politicians decide to create new government jobs. The people who do these jobs go off of unemployment but their very salary is still paid by other tax payers! These jobs cost money and produce little. In addition, the people who do these jobs become dependent on the very system that gave them the jobs in the first place. A vicious cycle begins as the people who work for the government become permanent perpetuators of the BGV disease!

With all the new government jobs, there is no innovation by individuals. People who may have come up with inventions and ideas that could improve the lives of others don't have the money to invest. There is no entrepreneurialism because not only do people lack the money to invest but they also know that even if they manage to scrape up the money, come up with a great idea, work hard and have success, they still won't get to keep the fruits of their hard work! Soon people become dependent on other countries for products because the cost of producing them here and taking risks versus the potential rewards becomes prohibitive.

At this point the BGV germs are circulating all through the body politic. The infection is severe. Debt and unemployment are high. Individual freedom is in danger. There is no growth in the economy. Opportunities are few and innovation is null. So what do the politicians do? They ask to raise taxes again! This is similar to an endless loop in the worst computer virus. A loop is a piece of computer code that repeats itself over and over until some condition is finally met to stop it. But with another rise in taxes, there is no exit to the loop as it repeats again and again while doing more damage each time it runs through. The patient, already infected with a severe case of BGV, will not survive if the loop continues to run.

Awareness of diseases is important. People have cancer walks and AIDS walks in order to prevent the spread of diseases and raise consciousness. They remind people to see doctors and get checked for breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer. The time has come for a BGV walk to create awareness and to put a definitive end to this horrific epidemic. It is now time to educate the public to the scourge known as the BGV (Big Government) virus. This self perpetuating disease has always been around in one form or another. It can be reasonably argued that this disease has caused more death and destruction than any other. The infection rate has, hitherto, been kept in check in the United States. Now the country is in danger of a BGV epidemic. It must be stopped.

By Howard Jacobs

Education Taxes and Government Schools

Wednesday, July 25, 2012
School levies will once again be on the ballot in various districts around my home state of Washington on February 14 (Valentine's Day). The education establishment learned some time ago not to put bonds and levies on the regular November ballot as they often fail at elections where larger numbers of voters turn out. In recent years, such levies are nearly always voted on in a so-called "special election" at an off season when nothing else is on the ballot and few voters participate. If the education establishment can get its base of support to turn out, and if few voters participate overall, then an ever-increasing flow of revenue for the bloated education bureaucracy will much more likely result. Never mind the waste of taxpayer dollars spent on a special election - "it's for the kids!"

I'm sorry to have to say it, but those of us who identify ourselves as Christian, conservative or Constitutional, tend to spend more time complaining than taking action. We've become too preoccupied with talking about how big the education establishment is, how much money they have and how much power they have. We've convinced ourselves that there's nothing we can do to stop the Godless, humanistic, socialistic brainwashing of a generation by the all-powerful government education establishment. But I beg to differ. In fact, I dare say that there are few if any problems facing America today that we couldn't lick if we had the courage of our professed convictions and were willing to endure a little hardship and make some sacrifice.

For example, I'm persuaded that if Christians, conservatives and Constitutionists were to act on their professed values, we could demonstrate for all to see that there isn't even a need for a government-run education system. If the large percentage of the population that identifies as Christian were to place their children into Christian private schools, or homeschool (an equal or in some cases even better alternative), the government-run schools would become virtual ghost towns. The injustice of taxing all the citizens in order to prop up the establishment bureaucracy that serves only a few, would become evident for all to see. The people would soon demand their tax dollars be returned to them to be used on the education option of their choice. The government education bureaucracy just might be put out of business altogether.

Now some will say "oh, but we can't afford a private school tuition." This is where putting our money where our mouth is comes in. If everyone who rails against the deplorable and depraved state of the government schools were to donate $5, $10, $25, or $50 per month to a private school (or a neighborhood homeschool family), that school could then reduce it's tuition rate so that most any family could afford a private education. Those with successful businesses, or those who have finished raising a family and whose household expenses are now reduced, have no excuse.

If every Christian-conservative-Constitutionist were to act on their professed convictions, private Christian schools would become the new booming industry in America. They would be springing up in every neighborhood. They would be hiring teachers who would be set free from the bureaucracy of the government education establishment and turned loose to teach with all of their God-given natural talent - free to honor their Creator as they educate children with all of the gifting that He has given them. And thanks to people like you giving to help support those private schools, they could offer assistance to families who truly cannot afford the tuition. The devotion of parents to their children in homeschooling or sacrificing to pay a tuition, and the sincere charity of others in assisting those who need it, would soon replace the bloated, bureaucracy ridden, government education establishment.

Gee, I'm getting myself all worked up here. Maybe I'll just have to practice what I preach. Okay, I just stopped and wrote a check to the K-8 school at my church. Take that government schools!

This might sound like the lofty, idealistic vision of a dreamer, but the fulfilling of the dream is really only as far away as each of us giving up going to a movie once a month, or giving up a latte a couple times a week - a sacrifice alright, but much less sacrifice than those who laid down their lives and fortunes to give us this country. My point is that it is doable if we are willing to do what it takes. Therefore, whiling away my days complaining about the current state of affairs just isn't an option for me, not while action can still be taken.

While the current government-run education system remains, please don't talk to me about the need for a levy or bond until the entire education system, from Washington DC, to Olympia, to the local school district, has undergone and implemented all of the recommendations of an independent performance audit and is running at the efficiency levels that would be expected and required in the private sector. You see, I'm persuaded that the problem isn't that taxpayers aren't taxed enough. I'm persuaded that the problem lies in a bureaucracy that consumes most of the funds before they ever make it to the classroom.

If it were up to me, I'd start by firing everyone in DC, Olympia and the local district except the teachers, the building maintenance staff, one principal and secretary per school and one administrator and secretary per district. I believe our teachers are smart enough to figure out how to properly educate children without an army of bureaucrats in far away places telling them how to do it. And if the district administrator isn't capable of ordering the books requested by the teachers and assigning maintenance staff and funding in a manner that properly maintains the facilities, then we need to add hiring a new administrator to our to do list.

Perhaps this sounds excessively harsh, like I'm being too severe, I mean really, expecting a government bureaucracy to tighten its belt and live like those of us in the private sector, yea, that's just plain unreasonable.

On this Valentine's Day, or whatever day levies might be on your local ballot, let's have a heart, show some love for the kids and vote "No" to heaping more debt, taxes and government bureaucracy on the backs of future generations.

By Robert W Peck

The Present Political System of Australia

Friday, July 20, 2012
Together with New Zealand, Canada, and other former British colonies around the world, Australia is considered a constitutional monarchy under the throne of Queen Elizabeth II. The present Governor General, Quentin Bryce, is the Queen's representative.

Australia's government today follows the tradition of liberal democracy, which allows religious freedom, and is committed to uphold the freedom of speech and association. The country today has about 20 million people. Australia's territory is made up of six states and seven other external territories and islands in Indian, Pacific, and Southern Oceans. The present political structure is a combination of American and British governments. The country's constitution shares different powers to Federal- and State-level governments.

The Federal Government of Australia
The Federal Government is made up of two Houses--Upper and Lower. The Senate, which is composed of 12 elected representatives from each state is the Upper House; while the House of Representatives composed of 147 members is called the Lower House. A dominant party in the House of Representatives will become the government. A ministry from its members will be distributed in both Houses. The Prime Minister, the country's political leader, will come from the Lower House.

Local or State Government of Australia
Every state in Australia, except Queensland, has 2 Parliament houses patterned after the Federal government. There are 850 local governments from each state and each of these local governments is regulated by State Acts of Parliament.

The Judiciary
The Federal Government is vested with judicial power in the High Court. Part of Federal Government's responsibility is to create other courts like Family Court and Federal Court whenever necessary. The High Court is the highest court of the land. It interprets the constitution and helps settle disputes between the State and Federal Governments.

Political Parties
Political parties are the lifeblood of a democracy. In Australia, a "party system" is the norm, which means that the party or coalition of parties that garnered the highest number of votes forms the government. A good example is the present government under the Labor Party. A party with the second highest number of votes will officially become the Opposition.

Australia has been dominated by two major parties for over 50 years now--the Labor Party and the coalition of the Liberal and National Parties. At present, the Labor Party is the Government and the Coalition is the Opposition. There are however, several minor parties that hold the balance of power for almost 20 years now. The country is also one of the few nations in the world that make voting compulsory in both state and federal levels.

By Harvey Russell

A Government Shutdown Is a Political Shutdown

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Republicans and Democrats are engaging in a war of words right now, blaming each other for failing to stop an impending government shutdown. The only problem is that this blame is simply rhetoric to disguise their own lack of a better plan. A government shutdown would indeed be a failure: not of a single party but both parties. The parties lack the courage to propose a budget plan that will lose them political support, by imposing widespread government cuts, raising taxes, or engulfing us with even more debt. The options are not going to be easy, but we didn't send our representatives to Washington to make only easy choices for us.

The only way a government shutdown will occur is if talks between the parties break down to a lower level than they are right now. Obstinate representatives, unwilling to budge on their pet projects and extreme partisan ideologies, would rather shut down the government then enact a real budget plan. To the American public, that shouldn't seem very "representative." A government shutdown would be little more than a complete shutdown of our political system. Unwilling to make tough decisions, unwilling to compromise for the common good, and unwilling to take a vote that will hinder the reelection efforts.

A plan to ensure the normal functioning of society, providing services that the public needs and the leadership we deserve, should not be subject to political whims and childish grudges. Ultimately, we need leaders who are going to make the difficult decisions that will bring us out of our budget disaster. And most of all, we need leadership that will prove to us that the public good is not a means to a desired political "good." We need leaders who don't just shut down when times get tough. If no elected official will provide this type of leadership, then perhaps the next thing we need to shut down are incumbent reelection bids.

By Andre Audette

American Politics - Balance Between Freedom and Order

Monday, July 16, 2012
The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center of September 11, 2001 were the force that initiated restrictions on civil liberties both on American soil and abroad. President George Bush used these attacks as his reasoning for signing the Patriot Act into existence. This Act allows federal investigators to seize individual personal records in addition to using electronic auditory surveillance to monitor the activities of suspected terrorists. The allowances provided to investigators via the Patriot Act are, what most Americans would consider, a violation of their civil liberties. Still, this is not the first time that the U.S. government has placed restrictions on the rights of its citizens. However, it may well be the most arguably contested instance of patriotic-inspired law.

Some experts argue that the liberties that the governments of the United States, Canada, and the nations of the European Union are taking with liberties will lead to a general apathy by the citizenry in regard to the acceptance of such practices. It has been noted that, as citizens become used to such restrictions, they will find them commonplace and will grow to accept them as reasonable practice, leaving the government to play with civil rights as they see fit. Indeed, the fact that most people do eventually become accustomed to practices that they may have once considered restrictive, or even wrong, is almost similar to a forced inoculation of civil policy. For the most part, these experts assert that those individuals who are ultimately having their civil liberties violates are those who are not guilty of any crime, and that this sort of hunt-and-peck mission by the government to uncover terrorists will do little more to produce guilty parties than the policies that were available before the Patriot Act and the September 11th attacks. There are even those conspiracy theorists who believe that the American government is using terrorism as an excuse to institute a government-centered manner of performing investigations and that the governments involved ultimately intend to use these new policies as a tacit permission to invade the privacy of its citizens.

Certainly, the citizens of any democracy would be willing to sacrifice some civil liberty in exchange for democratic freedom. The question is, how far should these policies go, what liberties are citizens expected to sacrifice, and what is the guarantee that these sacrifices will indeed lead to protection from terrorism and other crimes. One of the major arguments against the liberties that governments have taken with citizen rights surrounds the example of publicly placed surveillance cameras. Some European nations installed such cameras before September 11, 2001 in order to combat terrorism which has been rampant in Europe for decades. However, some citizens complain that these cameras are now being used to issue traffic tickets. Is this an example of using the cameras to their full capacity or is it merely a violation of civil liberties? In the United States, many municipalities are installing such cameras with the stated intention of filming traffic violations, yet most citizens still rebel against them as a rights violation.

As stated earlier, the restrictions put in force after September 11, 2001 are not the first time that the American government has attempted to balance civil liberty with law enforcement and public safety. During World War II, more than one hundred thousand Japanese-Americans were forcibly detained in detention areas across the United States. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, anti-Japanese sentiment was probably as intense as anti-Middle Eastern sentiment was following the terrorist attacks on the world trade center. And, along the same lines as the Japanese internment camps, the United States government required a slew of men of Middle Eastern descent to register their whereabouts and went on a hunt for foreign nationals that had overstayed their visas. These policies were certainly not as restrictive as the corralling of thousands of Japanese who were also U.S. citizens, but they are certainly walking a fine line between safety and liberty in a democratic society.

Yet, if a certain population has been identified as a particular threat, what is the government supposed to do to maintain order and guarantee safety. As many will agree, citizenship is no guarantee of patriotism. Some experts agree with the policies that required Middle Eastern individuals to register their whereabouts, indicating that had less restrictive policies been used in regard to the Japanese "problem" there would likely have been far less of a condemnation of the situation. Still, such suggestions are not the focus of the current national civil safety policies; the focus is a sort of spy campaign upon suspected terrorists, or so one hopes.

The balances between national security and civil rights are generally seen to be maintained by the way a democratic government is set up and in the way that it functions. Sometimes, however, one must wonder at the actual power the rest of the government may have to restrain the Executive Branch. Some individuals assert that it is public opinion that governs the government. This may be somewhat true in that politics has become a permanent campaign and the nation's leaders rely very heavily on public opinion polls to guide policy. Indeed, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, public opinion, no matter what the guilt that accompanied the agreement, would have ultimately concurred with just about any restriction the government chose to place on individuals who even slightly resembled the terrorists in likeness or religious beliefs. As a matter of fact, many individuals did not think that the government worked fast enough or hard enough to issue such restrictions.

The primary question remains that the restrictions placed on civil liberties must be proportionate to the crimes they are attempting to prevent. Using the mid-twentieth century internment of Japanese-Americans as an example, this largely loyal population would have best been served with curfews and geographic restrictions rather than what amounted to outright imprisonment. In the same vein, is national security best served by electronically violating the lives of the nation's citizens? Certainly, rash public opinion, or even rash Executive Branch opinion, may not be able to make the best determination of what would constitute effective security policies.

By Rebecca Stigall

Time to Take Inventory - How Many High Ranking Government People Went to Ivy Leagues?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Indeed, no American likes to see discrimination, and I certainly don't. However I have noticed a bias towards Ivy leaguers in our government at the highest levels. Most of our presidents have been Ivy league schooled, and far too many folks who are in the cabinet, advisers to presidents, and running the top bureaucratic agencies have also gone to these institutions. It seems there is a disconnect between those folks, and the rest of the population. It's as if there is a discrimination against anyone in government or politics who did not attend. I'd like to talk about this for a moment if I might.

You see, in business as a franchisor I noticed that folks that went to these business schools and were able to get loans from their friends, and grow their businesses in competition against me at a rapid pace. However they were easy to beat in the marketplace because they didn't know what they were doing, they didn't understand the consumer, and they simply cruised by. They had the right connections, but they didn't have the right mindset, or the hard work ethic. Perhaps they worked so hard getting their degrees in school and doing all that studying, that they felt that they were owed a free ride after that.

Unfortunately, that's not how the real world is supposed work, and if we reward people who are just cruising by their credentials, or due to the fact that they have friends in high places, we are going to get more of the same. Specifically we are going to get more of what Adam Smith warned us about in his treaties on the wealth of nations. Perhaps it's time to take inventory and asked ourselves; just how many high-ranking government politicians and officials went to Ivy League schools. Then this information needs to be posted on the Internet in full transparency for everyone to see.

I think what we will find will be so alarming, that we will want to remove every individual in that category from every position in government. There are of course some positives to having this sort of education history from folks in our government, because many other government leaders in other nations have also come to the United States and gone to the same schools. And that's all well and good except that this is our country, it is supposed to be for the people and by the people and not for a few chosen individuals who were born with silver spoons in their mouth.

Everyone who is in a leadership position in our government should have earned that right, and they should be in it for America, not for themselves, their friends, and their extended family. Until we change that, all we will have is more of the same, and as far as I'm concerned this is unacceptable during my life experience, and things need to change, otherwise we will lose our nation to mediocrity, and we may as well piss on our Constitution. In fact, it seems to me that that is going on right now. Please consider all this and think on it.

By Lance Winslow

Politics And Politicians

Thursday, July 5, 2012
I hate politics and politicians! What have they done for you lately?

We need balance - not extremes. Our government is supposed to represent its citizens and "provide for the common good" - not focus on special interest groups that try to influence legislation and regulations that support their unique agenda. Libertarians have a lot of good points - such as smaller government - but not their extreme view of gun and drug "freedoms". Progressives also have some good points - such as social "protections" - but not the extreme views on abortion and gay "rights." Politicians often pay attention to irrelevant issues. Like when we are at war (2 or 3!) and have debt that our kids and grandkids will never be able to pay off, and 10% unemployment, etc., etc. What do they focus on? Trivial stuff - like when Congress considered banning shopping bags that are purchased to save plastic and paper bags - that were found to have some lead in them. Did anyone ever ask Congress to do something about the lead in the solder in your copper water pipes?

But we have a kind of system of government that, in the long term, seems to work. Some things are bad and some are good - about the "greatest democracy in the world." Winston Churchill once said "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." The U.S. is considered by many to have an ideal model of democracy, but it is imperfect and democracy itself has its own inherent problems and limitations. Some things are necessary - like Defense, Environment, Health and Safety, Civil Rights, etc. - which we need to do right at the national level because they can't be done effectively at the individual or state level. The U.S. federal government's organization and processes are archaic and inefficient - but sometimes it seems to work - for example, the "Stimulus Package/Bill" in 2009 actually did help the country recover from a serious recession (despite some its shortcomings and problems). Others don't seem to work well or belong at the national level - like the unbelievably complex, convoluted and inequitable tax code (more on that separately).

There are lots of examples of stupid, unproductive, and irrelevant political actions. Here are just a few of my favorites:

• Earmarks - those projects for specific congressional districts or states that are funded by tacking them onto unrelated congressional bills in exchange for votes - so called "pork barrel." So, if you look at a major funding bill - that may be essential, such as the Defense Department budget - you will find hundreds of earmarks attached to it to fund a lot of strange, arcane, and sometimes useless projects (like the famous "bridge to nowhere" or local airports with almost no passengers, etc.). These projects may bring some federal money back to their districts, but they are in many, if not most cases, funding pet projects of political contributors. The individual requests in many cases are relatively small (at least by Washington standards) - perhaps a few $ million - but there are thousands of them every year. Collectively they can amount to hundreds of billions of dollars. And without a line item veto by Congress or the President, these projects get funded automatically when the major bill passes. How's that for representative government spending your money?

• Political Priorities - The Congress and the President are often involved in the absurdities and travesties of what they view as political priorities - at our expense. For example, pursuing a constitutional amendment against gay marriage while passing a law exempting gun manufacturers and dealers from all potential liabilities - including illegal sales to criminals! That's just screwed up!! Who thinks up this stuff - and who do they think they are representing?

• Gerrymandering - Our elected Congress works very hard to get re-elected - on our dime. From Wikipedia: "Gerrymandering is a practice of political corruption that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan, incumbent-protected, and neutral districts." With the manipulation of election districts, it is possible for minority parties to win a majority of districts in an election - or neutralize a strong district of a majority party. This is a process that is facilitated by the mandated re-assessment of congressional representation after every 10 year census - and it can neutralize your vote! There are no uniform electoral districts. Your representatives design the election districts to protect incumbents. For example:

o "In 2004, not one of California's 173 state legislative and federal congressional seats changed party-hands."
o "No House member from Tennessee ever lost a bid for re-election during 1980-2005."

Other developed countries have established processes for "defining constituency boundaries" by objective third-party organizations. But politics in the U.S. is not that progressive - so much for "one person, one vote."

• Subsidies - Our government, which we pay for, thanks to our politicians, provides substantial subsidies to some very profitable industries - at our expense. Here are a couple of examples:

Agriculture - Agriculture is obviously very important to an economy, so what is wrong with federal programs to support it? First, a few facts (from The Cato Institute): "The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributes between $10 billion and $30 billion in cash subsidies to farmers and owners of farmland each year... More than 800,000 farmers and landowners receive subsidies, but the payments are heavily tilted toward the largest producers... Although policymakers love to discuss the plight of the small farmer, the bulk of federal farm subsidies goes to the largest farms. For example, the largest 10 percent of recipients have received 72 percent of all subsidy payments in recent years. Numerous large corporations and even some wealthy celebrities receive farm subsidies because they are the owners of farmland... In 2008, Congress overrode a presidential veto to enact farm legislation that extended existing supports and created new subsidy programs... The 2008 farm bill added a new sugar-to-ethanol program under which the government buys excess imported sugar that might put downward pressure on inflated domestic sugar prices. The program defends domestic sugar growers' 85 percent of the U.S. sugar market, and it provides for the government to sell excess sugar, at a loss if need be, to ethanol producers... Since 2000 the USDA has paid $1.3 billion in farm subsidies to people who own land that is no longer used for farming." Agricultural subsidies in the U.S. comprise 11% of farm production.

So, why are subsidies to farmers bad? Simply, because they don't achieve the intended results. Most of the money goes to large, profitable farms and corporations. They can upset the natural balance between supply and demand - by facilitating over-production - which can unrealistically affect the prices of food commodities and farm land. "Perhaps the biggest scandal with regard to farm subsidies is that congressional agriculture committees are loaded with members who are active farmers and farmland owners. Those members have a direct financial stake whenever Congress votes to increase subsidies, which is an obvious conflict of interest."

Other countries have experimented with eliminating agricultural subsidies - with some success. New Zealand is one example. "New Zealand's farmers have cut costs, diversified their land use, sought nonfarm income, and developed niche markets such as kiwifruit... New Zealand farm productivity, profitability, and output have soared since the reforms."

Oil - The largest, most profitable industry in the U.S. - and worldwide - receives federal subsidies! Why?? Technically they are tax breaks, but only because of the way our Congress writes the rules and defines the terms. The subsidies/tax breaks to the U.S. oil industry amounts to about $4 billion each year. This includes a "depletion allowance" that treats oil reserves as capital equipment - in addition to very favorable terms for writing off exploration costs. But the major oil companies have been making more than 10 times that in profits each year. Do they really need incentives to explore for oil - when the world market price for oil has been in the neighborhood of 3-5 times the cost of production for decades? And what is the attitude of our politicians? - "we're only talking about four billion dollars."!!

• Social Security - One of my pet peeves has been the most sacred of all federal government programs. For over 70 years, Social Security has been "an insurance program for everyone". But up until 1984, government employees, including Members of Congress, did not pay into the Social Security program - when all of us "citizens" were required to by law. The Social Security program, which has been going broke for decades, was good enough for "the people", but not for the government employees and politicians who are supposed to be serving them. So now it is an example of how a political abuse can be fixed. However, the benefits for federal employees are still very attractive - and not typical of industry jobs. In addition to now participating in Social Security, federal employees have a defined benefit pension plan (which no longer exists in most of industry today) as well as a "Thrift Savings Plan" - the equivalent of a 401K plan - with up to a 5% match. Members of Congress are eligible for full pension at age 62 after only five years of service - and they are eligible at age 50 if they've served 20 years. So our "public servants" have more rewarding benefits than most taxpayers receive.

And there is more - much more!!

So, how can the "greatest country in the world" be so screwed up (at least at times)? I blame it on the politicians and the uninformed/uninterested electorate. Other countries must just be worse. Part of the problem is that the public is often not well informed - or just doesn't care. How do you communicate important political issues so that the general public really understands - the complete facts and truth? Most news and views are at too high a level (e.g., small "sound bites" - or talk show opinions) so that they leave either a limited or wrong impression. For example, issues like abortion and stem cell research are highly controversial and emotional and don't really get covered objectively.

Is there a solution? It would be nice if we could focus on real/important issues and attract intelligent, sincere people into politics. What kinds of people want to run for political office? - ego-centrics, power hungry, self promotional - are these the type of people we want to represent us?? Why would you trust a politician with your life and welfare? But that is what we have - at least in many cases. And what are the financial implications? How can really good political leaders afford to be politicians? Even with the elevated salaries and benefits for politicians (at least at the Congressional level), the cost of the life style in Washington, DC is far too expensive to be covered by federal payments. So, they must either be independently wealthy - or seek an opportunity to capitalize on their political position - either during or after their term in office. What would make a constituent think that their representative is working in their best interest?
I don't have a solution. That's why I hate politics and politicians.

By Henry P Mitchell

Ten Things the Federal Government Does Well

Monday, July 2, 2012
Quick, name ten things the federal government does well. Let me be clear, not the state or local governments, only our federal government. And I'm not concerned if it is right or wrong, but how proficiently they are able to perform a given task. Go ahead, try it. I'll wait.

It's not too easy, is it? I was recently asked this by an old friend from up north and I have to admit it stopped me in my tracks. I had to do some real soul searching to dream up a list, and frankly, it took me some time to do. Nonetheless, here is what I came up with (in no particular order):

1. Pay entitlements - we do not seem to have a problem paying out unemployment, food stamps, or whatever. I suspect we're probably too efficient in this regard.

2. Collect taxes - beyond income taxes, it's amazing how the federal government picks our pocket, be it at the gas pump, tobacco, etc. Even business taxes are ultimately passed on to consumers through increased prices.

3. Enforce taxes - The IRS is certainly a force to be reckoned with. I'm told even the smallest IRS agent can rip a telephone book in two with his bare hands.

4. Operate our park system - I don't think I have been in a federal park that wasn't well maintained with courteous rangers.

5. Strong military - the smartest, best trained, and best equipped in the world.

6. Strong intelligence services - the NSA, FBI, CIA, et al. may not get it right all of the time, but thank God we've got them.

7. Print money - they may not know how to earn it or budget it, but they do a superlative job of printing it.

8. Pay foreign aid - I tend to believe we're charitable to a fault, including those countries who undermine us.

9. Assemble statistics - just about every department knows how to crunch numbers to justify their existence.

10. Take care of themselves - the salaries and benefits for government workers is probably the best in the world.

The fact we cannot enumerate this list off the top of our heads is indicative of the problem we have with our government; that we perceive it as a bloated inefficient albatross hanging around our necks. In contrast, I'm sure we could quickly name ten things the government does poorly, such as policing themselves over spending, preparing and adhering to budgets, protecting our borders, delivering the mail, utilizing our natural resources, combating drugs, maintaining our infrastructure, performing medical research, etc. There is probably dozens of inefficiencies we could name with ease.

If we honestly believe the federal government is the poster child for inefficiency, no wonder taxpayers think they are being fleeced. It's one thing to give money to support your government, quite another if it is a system desperately in need of repair. One last question for you; as a taxpayer, do you truly believe you're getting your money's worth out of the federal government? I thought so.

Keep the Faith!

By Tim Bryce