Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What Should We Do About All These Illegals in the United States?

Since we have been in the mode over the past year of ‘solving’ all the ills we face such as these yawning budget deficits, health care and capping the BP Oil Volcano in the Gulf, we figured: “Why not take a swing at the bat at figuring out what to do with the illegal immigrant population in America as well?’

After all, just like every other problem we have looked at over the past year, it seems to come down to two things: 1) The insatiable appetite of modern American people to consume anything within sight at the lowest possible cost and 2) the federal budget and its limitations (if there are any, that is, any more)

We are of the mind that 90% of all problems facing us in the political sphere can be reduced to economics, religion and flat-out visceral human emotion.  We think (and hope and pray) that once people understand what the root of a problem is, progress can be made towards a reasonable, rational compromise that will at least mitigate the problem somewhat.

As to the other 10% of the problems we face, we allocate that to the almost unbelievable statistical probability that the vast majority of the 535 elected officials in Washington seem to be certifiably ‘insane’ at any given point in time.  What are the probabilities of that happening time and time again?

The basic argument on the illegal immigration issue is that 'the law is the law' first and foremost.  While we believe we have too many laws written by too many lawyers (who are trained to do what? write more laws!), we are a nation ruled by respect for the law, whatever it is at the time.

That is why this current illegal immigration problem is so vexing.  The whole metaphysical question surrounds the basic fact that up to 20 million people are now walking around town who are here illegally and basically are not playing the same game by the same rules as the other 290 million US citizens.

We share that concern.  It is like playing golf with a person who has never read the rules of golf, doesn't intend to and wouldn't play by the rules even if you read them all to him on the first tee.  He wants to enjoy the game of golf on a nice, manicured course even though he is kicking the ball out of the rough, taking mulligans, not counting all his strokes and belching and coughing during your backswing and while you are putting.

The real problem we face is this: how do we corral all 20 million illegals, ship them back to Mexico to do a 'do-over' and start to run them through the immigration portals the right way and with all their legal papers in tow?

Abraham Lincoln proposed such a solution to the 'slave problem' as late as 1858: 'Put them all on boats and ship them back to Africa."  Lincoln, at his core, would have done anything to avoid the coming Civil War he knew was brewing and keep the Union intact.

But here were his problems back then which are eerily similar to the ones we face today:

1) The cost would have been exorbitant at the time and equivalent to the entire annual US defense budget back then.  (This could easily cost over $10,000 per illegal to round up, process and send back to Mexico or up to $200 billion in our quick calculations)

2) The economy of the entire South would have collapsed like a failed souffle and they would have had to traipse to Washington for an economic bailout like the one we just had. (Have you ever paid any illegal citizen to do any yard work, remodeling or anything for you at home, school or business?  Be honest..in some cases, you might just not know for sure)

We have often wondered what the economic impact would have been during the 90’s and 2000’s so far had we not had up to these 20 million people come to the United States.  Forget the upsurge in consumption of tacos and burritos across the land by some of the very same people who are vehemently against illegals from Latin America. We have had close to 45 million abortions in this country since 1973, many of whom would be around the prime consumption period of their lives of between 25-35 years of age right now. Would the population of America have actually decreased over the last 2 decades without this surge in illegal immigrants and therefore, would we have had negative economic ‘growth’ instead of booming prosperity, (for the most part excepting the last 2 years...and counting)?

Once again, just like the BP oil spill, we can point our fingers wherever we want but that finger better be pretty darned long cause eventually, it always, always, always comes back to us as the most consumption-driven humanoids to ever populate this green earth and walk on our hind two legs.

So while it is ideologically pure to rail against the illegals, what are the practical ways we should go about dealing with the facts as they are and not what any of us wish they were or could be?

First of all, you can stop paying cash for illegal citizens to do work for you.  Anywhere.

Second, you can demand to see the green card of any person you hire to do any work for you.

Third, you can ask anyone you buy anything from if they use illegal immigrants to do any work for them.

Fourth, you can call your representatives in Congress and tell them you don’t mind having them raise your taxes to pay for the repatriation of these illegals cause we don’t have the resources to do it any more.  Wall Street and Detroit soaked up our last few remaining shekels it seems, if there were any left that is.

We are open to any suggestions or plans.  We only ask that you present solutions to the facts as they are today, not what they were 30 years ago or what you ‘wish’ they were today.

There are no easy or simple solutions.  If there were, we would have already have passed them into law. Maybe...unless the current crowd in Congress is made up of a majority of the 10% of the certifiably insane as we noted above.

As engineers are always taught to say: “Work the problem, people!  Not how we got here.”

courtesy of www.money.cnn.com

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How Should We Think About the BP Oil Spill?

One of the most mind-jarring images of the current disaster in the Gulf, besides the thousands of dead wildlife in the water so far, has been the sight of lawyers and environmental activists getting out of their monster Escalades or Yukon SUVs in Louisiana to ‘investigate the damage caused by that awful oil company, BP America’.

We wonder if we would even need any oil imports from Saudi Arabia or off-shore drilling if everyone drove Priuses or rode bicycles to work rather than these gas-guzzling SUVs. So if you do one or both, you should be proud of yourself for 'walking the talk' of being environmentally-conscious and lowering our dependence on foreign oil.

A treehugger friend of ours from way back, who works in the solar division of a major company by the way, told us that with all of the money that will eventually be paid by BP and the federal government to clean this enormous mess up in the Gulf, plus other cleanups over the years, we probably could have outfitted every house in the United States with solar panels by now. This would have effectively heated everyone’s water, provided a significant share of their annual electricity needs and/or offset a large part of their annual heating and cooling costs.

Think about how much that would reduce our dependence on foreign oil and or off-shore drilling going forward.

We can point our fingers all day long at all of the 'dirty corporations' or 'foreigners' but the circle keeps coming back to us Americans, the most voracious consumers of natural and manufactured resources the world has ever known. We are like swarms of locusts when you really think about it.

Should BP bear a lot of the burden of the cost of this oil spill cleanup?  Sure.  Apparently they were not fully prepared to handle this explosion and to the extent they are culpable and liable for the accident, they should be held accountable like any other person or corporation in America.

But isn’t there some responsibility the entire nation should accept for the cleanup?  We say we want to ‘lower our dependence on foreign oil’, especially since now we know that the Saudi government has been at least passive supporters of terrorist activities against the United States since before 9/11, so off-shore drilling is one logical alternative we have to pursue.

Americans most definitely want to keep prices for gas and oil ‘low’ by any means necessary. By the world’s standards, we are by far one of the lowest-price nations for both petroleum products.  We remember the days of the first ‘energy crisis’ in the early 1970’s when we had to line up at gas stations on ‘odd/even’ days (don’t ask!) in order to fill our energy-inefficient Mustang and Camaro gas tanks up so we could go to school or just cruise around town with the top down.

It cost an 'unfathomable' $1.00/gallon then.  By any sort of inflation-adjusted basis now 40 years later, gasoline for our cars should cost a modest $5.46/gallon today just due to inflation.  For some reason, the cost of gasoline has dropped relative to inflation almost like computer prices have dropped over that time span. Why is that?

Let’s think about the cost of this cleanup:
  1. If BP pays for the entire cleanup, it could bankrupt the company and take another competitor out of the market that otherwise would help keep prices down.
  2. If BP pays for the entire cost, do you think they will or they will not pass along all of that cost in the form of higher prices over any length of time it takes to fully recover or amortize the cost of the cleanup?
  3. Is there an obligation of the federal government, on behalf of its citizens who clamor for lower gas prices harder than any other issue, including national health care, to help pay for this cleanup since we have benefited from oil being pumped out of the Gulf of Mexico for lo these many years?
  4. Are man-made disasters really any different than natural disasters like Katrina or the volcano in Iceland blowing up?  A disaster that affects you is a disaster regardless of how it happens.

One of the things that irritated us the most when we were serving on the Budget Committee was when Congress would pass a ‘supplemental appropriations bill’ to pay for the cleanup and repair of any disaster immediately afterwards.

Supplemental appropriations have become another way to subvert fiscal discipline and restraint under the guise of ‘natural disasters’ and ‘national emergencies’. These bills are the white sandwich bread upon which additional earmarks for special projects are piled on by members of Congress for their favorite programs, oftentimes hundreds or thousands of miles away from the actual site of the disaster.

Our view is that the federal government should start accounting for disaster cleanups on a forward-looking basis in the annual budgets by allocating, let’s say, $20 billion in a ‘clean-up’ fund or whatever has been the running average for annual disaster cleanups for the past 20 years.

Sure, that might take away funding from some other parts of the budget but isn’t having a contingency fund for such disasters really much more important than having any funds allocated to any more Lawrence Welk museums or “Bridges to Nowhere”?

At least then, we would have the resources already set aside to deal with catastrophes such as Katrina and now the BP Oil Spill.  Haven't we learned enough from history that we are always going to have unexpected events like these?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On The Efficacy of Political Pledges

Our last posting on the ‘No Tax Pledge’ brought forth a fair number of comments, both pro and con, which is a good thing.

If you ever read anything in Telemachus that you just think is plain crazy and wrong, let us know….we love a good debate and argument.

Just don’t get too personal or use a lot of bad words, we have heard them all. In fact, one night when I was working in the House of Representatives as Congress was considering something like gun legislation, a woman called the office from North Carolina and proceeded to let me have it with both barrels for the way the congressman was voting on the issue.

I started laughing and she got offended and demanded to know what I was laughing for or at. I said: “Lady, I have been called all sorts of bad and nasty names in this job and thought I had heard every cuss word there was to hear but you just called me 4 things I have never even heard of before!”

But back to the ‘pledge’ issue. It occurs to us in the wake of close to the past 10 years of fiscal insanity in Washington that the very essence of a pledge has been, once again, subverted by the very politicians who seek to use them as a sign of their ‘virtue and truth’. They want you, the American voter, to think they are standing for ‘truth, justice and the American Way!’ whenever they sign a pledge to ‘Not Raise Your Taxes!’ or ‘Not Touch Your Social Security or Medicare Benefits So They Will Always Stay Just The Way They Are Today…(even if we go into triple bankruptcy as a nation as a result).

We have been deceived by some of the greatest flim-flam artists in history, ladies and gentlemen. The pledges every politician have been signing for the past 30 years have been for no other purpose than to give them a convenient excuse to not do anything about any important issue we face! None of them!

Here are the great issues that have been unresolved for the past 30 years: continuous budget deficits, ever-increasing national debt and unreformed entitlement programs. Just like Greece come to think of it.

Let’s think more deeply about it. When a congressman says with deep and solemn voice: “I will NEVER, EVER raise your taxes as your Congressman in Washington!”, what is he or she really saying to you?  “I will never vote for anything (even if it has $1 trillion in bonafide scored-by-CBO savings in it) if it has even a $1 tax hike in it’.

If 44% of the current Congress are Republican and have signed the No Tax Pledge, doesn’t that pretty much prevent them from having to vote for anything if a tax is added to any spending or reform bill?

These tax pledges make it way, way too easy for your congressman to vote against anything that will cut spending or hold down the rate of growth of spending at the federal level. They wind up being convenient excuses for both political parties to hide behind to do absolutely nothing on the great issues of the day.

And there is no greater issue facing us right now than these volcanic debts growing on a daily basis.

The flip-side is true as well. You surely have heard a Congressperson, of either party, vow: “I will stand in the doorways of Congress and block any attempt by those granny-haters to tamper with your Social Security or Medicare benefits!”

Well, once again, if we have the other side issuing a George Wallace-type proclamation to vote against ANY changes to the entitlement programs that are basically causing the budget to explode in the first place, is there any wonder why we are now facing $20 trillion debts while Greece and the other PIIGS nations are about to go under as well?

Our question is this to every candidate and incumbent in Congress: "What in the world are you gonna vote FOR in order to close these yawning deficits and unimaginable national debt? You can't just wave a magic wand over it all and make it just 'poof away', you know!"

Unfortunately for the true idealists on either side, we don’t live in a nation that admires dictators very much.  We don’t want power to be totally concentrated in the hands of the ultra right-wing or the far left- wing (do we?) The American psyche hates dictatorships, or should hate them, wherever they are around the globe.

And that means that neither side is always going to get their way 100% of the time so that means everyone has got to re-learn the art of compromise, get what you can, and come back the next year to fight again for what you believe in.

We should all heed the counsel of President Reagan from 1981-1989 who used to tell Senator Bob Dole and others leading his legislative efforts on Capitol Hill in his soft, slightly raspy voice: “Well, er, ah, Bob, er, Senator Dole, go up there to, er, ah, Capitol Hill and get 70% of what we want this year, any way you can get it and we’ll come back next year to try to get the rest of it’.

Gotta love the Gipper, whether you loved him or hated him.

On the matter of political ‘pledges’, our conclusion is that they don’t work very well:    

1) Pledges work against the ‘prime objective’ of our civil government which is to pass the best legislation based on majority rule with protections for the minority.

2) Pledges are a veil behind which politicians hide when they don’t want to make the hard decisions we have elected them to make for us.

3) Pledges ‘dumb-down’ the complicated issues to such a point that they diminish the magnitude of the issue to the voting population.

4) The time for charades and shenanigans is over. With a $20 trillion debt staring us right in our faces, it is time to take away control of our government from the charlatans and wanna-bees and get mature, sober-minded statesmen back into leadership positions so we can solve these massive, massive problems before it is too late.

Drop all pledges. Stop signing them. And stop voting for people who do sign them.  Elect some statesmen-like representatives and senators to go up there, do the public’s work, stop blow-drying their hair and looking good for the television cameras and come home. Get these problems solved, period.

That act is getting old.

Reagan picture courtesy of www.gdmp.net/subdoms/gdmporg/?tag=newt-gingrich

Monday, May 10, 2010

'Read My Lips! No New Pledges!'

We have been wondering when and how American politics got to the point where it seems as if hardly anything can get done anymore. On a truly bi-partisan basis, at least.

We think we crossed the River of Rubicon when President George H.W. Bush, 41, uttered these (in)famous words at the 1988 Republican convention: “Read My Lips. No New Taxes!”

And the crowd roared with delight and approval.

Excepting for the fact that this catchy slogan helped him win the 1988 Presidency, those 6 words also led to his defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton with an assist from Ross Perot in 1992, only 4 short years later.

Why? Because President Bush signed into law the 1990 Budget Act that contained a miniscule amount of tax increases on things like cigarettes. And because of his famous 1988 declaration, he was viewed as a ‘liar’ and couldn’t be trusted.

You know what? That minor increase in cigarette taxes was a small price to pay, especially since now in retrospect, we can see that the 1990 Act led to balanced federal budgets from 1998-2000.  Which we may NEVER have again in our lifetimes the way things are now going.

We had all the tobacco lobbyists come into our office on their knees with tears in their eyes begging for Congressman McMillan to vote for the second version of that Act that had an 4-cent per pack tax hike on their products. Why? Because they knew if it didn’t pass, the next one would be 8 cents and the next would be 16 and so on in some sort of grotesque geometrical progression.

That 1990 Budget Act might have been the greatest thing Bush 41 ever did in office, notwithstanding his leadership in the First Iraq War.  It set the stage for responsible fiscal policies under Bill Clinton and the GOP Congress by instituting PAYGO and setting hard spending cap limits on discretionary spending.  Wouldn't it be comforting to have them in place today?

If the United States of America can’t trust a decent leader like Bush 41 to do what he or she thinks is best in the long-term best interests of the United States of America, then why do we elect representatives to represent us in the first place?

Here’s our problem and what we’d like you to think about today: “What good are pledges anyway nowadays in American politics? Do they help or hinder our democratic process to achieve the common good for our nation?”

We all know about the 'no new tax pledge' every candidate is asked to sign and obey…'or else!’ There are the “No Changes to Social Security and Medicare, Ever!” pledges that promise to neuter any person who even dares speak the word ‘reform’ when it is directed toward either entitlement program. ‘No This!’; ‘No That!’ on virtually every subject running from taxes to saving the spotted owl; a candidate could sign literally thousands of pledges before serving one day in Congress.

But oddly enough, there are no "No More Debt!" pledges out there for anyone to sign.  Why is that?

Our view is that by the time a candidate gets to Washington, they are so hamstrung by all these pledges they can’t compromise on anything to get anything done.

We need a ‘No Pledge’ Pledge:  'I pledge to do the best job I can for you in Washington.  And if you don't like it, you can run yourself or elect someone else next time around.'

Think about it. If you believe in smaller government and balanced budgets and were presented with $1 trillion in spending reductions BUT the deal included $1/head in new income taxes on everyone in the nation, including the 50% who currently pay no income tax, would you be able to vote for it if you had signed a “No New Tax!” pledge?

Nope. You’d drop it like a rock. You would forfeit perhaps your only chance to reduce the national debt from growing by $1 trillion because of your ‘sacred honor’ that has been pledged to not raise even a $1 income tax increase on 140 million households to raise $140 million in new revenue. That is a measly, meager .014% tax hike to spending reduction ratio.

People sneeze in Congress and their amendment with $140 million in new spending is passed by voice vote on an appropriations bill nowadays.

You might find this hard to believe but some former colleagues and friends on the Republican side have impolitely called us ‘communists’ for even allowing the thought of raising $1 in new taxes from everyone to enter our minds as a price of getting $1 trillion in spending cuts.

And these are from the very same people whom we saw running away from any support of the $500 billion in spending reductions we helped develop and introduce from the House Budget Committee in 1992, 1993 and 1994. We have kept the names of the guilty parties confidential just so some of you will not have your image of conservative heroes completely popped like a helium balloon.

Quite honestly, we think some of them have taken leave of their senses and don’t deserve to be taken seriously as statesmen or leaders in American politics anymore. Rejecting a $1 tax hike on everyone because of their pledge while failing to capture $1 trillion in spending cuts is the Websterian definition of insanity.

Even the original framers of the Constitution in 1787 gave themselves some leeway on the most contentious issues of the time. You don’t think the South Carolina delegation under John Rutledge had given every assurance to their fellow slaveholders in the state that they would ‘never, ever over our dead bodies give any consideration to the notion that slaves would be counted as ‘people’ for voting representational purposes’?

Well, thankfully even these bombastic southern gentlemen compromised and agreed to the 3/5ths standard which opened the door to the signing of the Constitution. Without it, the Constitutional Convention would have been stuck in neutral and never passed in anywhere close to the form we know today.  It took far too long for full civil rights to happen for African-Americans and suffrage for women to pass in America but without the magic ingredient of ‘compromise’, the American Republic would have ceased to exist long, long ago.

We need that sort of “Spirit of ‘76’ nowadays in the form of support of compromise and rational thought processes on entitlement reform, budget-balancing and tax reform. Not dogmatic adherence to pledges defined by very narrow special interests or lobbying groups. Like the AARP, come to think about a prime example of a non-compromising powerful entity.

Elect people this fall who will compromise and use their best judgment to lead our nation and not sign any pledges to box them in. Apparently the ones who are now in office do not have the capacity to negotiate and compromise for the good of our nation because of all their signed pledges, no doubt.

They have forfeited their chance to lead as a result.  We have some very large problematic dragons that cry out for new, true leaders to help slay right now as opposed to having the same old 'show horses', spinmeisters and talking head mavens dance around them...once again.

Monday, May 3, 2010

“Democrats Don’t Trust the Free Enterprise System”

We went to a rather amazing and informative meeting recently where a mild-mannered senior Republican Congressman was asked the following question by a self-admitted hard-nosed, go-strictly-by the-numbers accountant from a major accounting firm:

“These numbers about the deficits and debt going forward are so astounding. Why don’t the Democrat leaders of Congress such as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and President Obama in the White House see the need for massive budget-cutting right now?”

The answer, calmly stated without vitriol and venom, was this: “They do not trust the profit motive in the American free enterprise system to do what is best in the interests of the nation.  And they honestly believe the only way out of this recession is to create as many public sector jobs as possible”.

This Congressman said it in such a matter-of-fact manner and without prejudice that you just had to believe that what he said was true. This also helps explain the Democrats' blind support for the massive increase in government oversight and regulation jobs to be created by ObamaCare in addition to their support for the stimulus bill which has not worked as advertised to 'create' millions of new jobs.

To that, we have to wave a humongous red flag and ask the following questions:

1. If public sector jobs are 'the way to prosperity', where do the tax revenues come from in the first place to pay for them all?

2. If the economic stimulus package was so great, how come we are still mired in the quicksand of this nasty economic recession with no strong growth in the forecast that will help re-employ tens of millions of Americans?

3. If we go to 100% public sector or NGO employment in America, will China keep lending the U.S. government money to pay for it all?  They would have to because there will be no private sector jobs or profits to tax to pay for these government jobs in the first place.  Tax revenues don't grow on trees you know...they come from taxing people who produce profits to stay in business.

4. How did America ever become the most prosperous, full-employment economic engine the world has ever known without the millions of public sector jobs for close to 85% of our history? Explosive American economic growth and success over the years should have been impossible without these millions and millions of public sector jobs, wouldn't it?

Maybe the Chinese really will be stupid enough to loan us $14 trillion each year so we can just plug everyone into a public sector job somewhere...is that what the government statists now in control believe? They might as well believe in Tinkerbell taking them to Never-Neverland.

This mild-mannered Congressman, let's call him 'Congressman Clark Kent' then, said the main reason why this nasty recession will not go away until 2013 at the earliest is because entrepreneurs and businesspeople are sitting on their cash and hands waiting for President Obama to not be re-elected to the White House and control of Congress changes, possibly this year.

We can not return to a time of vigorous economic growth and prosperity until the private sector is free to unleash the magnificent creativity and entrepreneurial genius that has always pushed America forward and not retreated into extended economic stagnation and sclerosis.  Right now, business people's hands are tied with the prospect of higher taxes and more regulation from the current leadership of our government, along with very little lending from the banks in the aftermath of the Wall Street meltdown.

How can you pass real economic growth policies in America when you don’t believe capitalism and the profit motive work to the good of this nation in the first place?

We believe that the private market system is the most amazing 'improver' of life conditions for human beings the world has ever known.  We wonder what America would look like if the power of free markets, zero corporate income taxes and a less litigious system were fully unleashed and allowed to flourish. We think some young American genius would invent 'The Jetsons' flying jet car that runs on hydrogen very soon, hopefully before we slip these surly bonds of earth so we can see them flying around before we go.

A bit of mea culpa here: I grew up in the idealism of the late ‘60s and early ‘70’s wanting to be an anti-trust lawyer for some reason in the tradition of ‘Nader’s Raiders’ headed up by Ralph Nader, who wrote “Unsafe at Any Speed’ about the dangers of the rear-engine Corvair. Big international corporations were portrayed to be the work of Beezelbub based on what I was learning in high school at the time and some of their overseas activities seemed to justify my interest in "breaking up big business".

However, I had a chance to work on a college internship in Golden, Colorado during the summer of 1976 at Coors Brewery and got to see 3000 people go to work every day making an unpasteurized product (therefore, 'natural' and 'green') that came from pure Rocky Mountain spring water and getting paid a fair wage to do so. They had health care coverage, a generous pension plan and seemed happy to work at Coors and then go home to raise their families in the beautiful foothills west of Denver.

All for working at a typical American corporation.  Imagine that.

The only downside was the overpowering smell of malt in the air.  After a few days, you get used to it, much like you get used to the sweet smell of tobacco dust in the air around the old tobacco manufacturing towns of Durham and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

From that summer of 1976 on, it became more apparent with every passing day that the real strength in America lies in the hard work of creative people working every day to produce clever new products and services to be sold in the marketplace at a profit. We can not survive as America without the profit motive and free markets.

If anyone can honestly produce an argument that can show us how we can produce a government that protects us and provides a safety net without the foundation of a hustling, bustling vibrant private sector based on free enterprise and the profit motive, please tell us how. Cause we have never seen it accomplished in any historical or current event we have ever seen.

courtesy of blogs.ocweekly.com