The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘national debt’

OH, FOR A CUP OF COFFEE

This morning I happened to catch a segment on CNBC which Michelle Caruso-Carbrera reported from Athens, Greece.  It was the story of a woman who had decided to open a coffee shop – and the impediments which were placed in her way by government.

I had many Greek friends in Chicago.  Many were restaurateurs who had long-established businesses in “Greek Town” on Halsted Street.  They were good businessmen but at the same time were charming hosts.  Once they had gotten to know you it was impossible to leave their restaurant without receiving a complimentary ouzo or two or a few glasses of retsina.  I enjoyed so many meals in Greek Town that I even acquired a rudimentary knowledge of modern Greek – at least enough to be able to order my dinner in that language.

I also learned that Greeks who came to this country thought of the “coffee shops” in their native country as a sort of cultural and social center.  It was a place where you would meet your friends, drink coffee and smoke some cigarettes, discuss the affairs of the day and play a few games of tavli (backgammon).  Given that cultural view, it would seem that a person who wanted to open an inviting coffee shop would have the potential for having a thriving business.

As Ms. Caruso-Cabrera pointed out in her interview with this Greek female entrepreneur it is difficult to attempt to earn a living in the land that was the home for democracy.  I’m sorry that I didn’t hear this woman’s name – but the point that she made was that she had rented a space for her coffee shop and had been paying rent on it for four months.

She has fully equipped it with all that is necessary, doing the re-modeling and purchasing new fixtures and equipment and all the glassware and cups and saucers she needs.  But she has been unable to open this coffee shop because she has, for over three months, been dealing with eighteen different government agencies – each of which has a say in whether or when her store can open.  And she has no idea when she will finally receive approval from all of them.

Today Greek debt-holders agreed to a new arrangement for the payment of the sovereign debt they are holding.  Everyone in the EU breathed a sigh of relief – which blew across the Atlantic and inspired a modest rally on Wall Street.  Those of us who have followed this issue realize that while the Greeks avoided the bullet today, it is only a matter of time before the day of judgment is upon them.

The laws of math simply will not allow a country with a stagnant economy where over fifty percent of the population work for government to “grow” it’s way out of its financial difficulties.   Greece is a slightly more advanced case of a country which took the same path that we are going down in America.

Of course, inefficiency in government is nothing new.  Allow me to share an example that I observed personally nearly forty years ago.

In the two years that I worked for the State of Illinois I got to know people in various departments in the state’s main office building in Chicago on LaSalle Street.   Many of us had worked to re-elect Governor Richard B. Ogilvie – who lost his re-election bid by a mere two votes a precinct – losing to a populist Democrat by the name of Dan Walker.  (Later ex-governor Walker was sentenced to prison, joining the four other Illinois chief executives who were awarded that distinction in the past fifty years).

One of the benefits of being elected was having the right to appoint supporters to head the various departments in the state which fell under the governor’s purview.  One of those was a department called Registration and Education.  Among its many responsibilities, this department licensed morticians, barbers and beauticians among others.

When the Walker administration took over, the governor appointed a new head to the department of R & E.  Rather than use the old stock of licenses which had the name of then former Governor Ogilvie and the then head of the Director of the department printed on them, the new director decided that he wanted to send out licenses bearing Governor Walker’s and his name.  Of course, there was a delay in sending out new licenses until the new forms were printed and arrived at the department.

During this interim, the department sent out its inspectors to insure that their registrants’ licenses were current.  Over 400 beauty shops, 120 barber shops and nine funeral homes were closed down because, despite the fact that they had paid for their license renewal, they had not received their new license from the State of Illinois.

Well, the licenses finally did arrive – and with the backlog of mailing out renewal licenses the clerks who were in charge of this seemingly simple operation didn’t realize that when you mail out something in a window envelope – it’s best to make sure you insert the piece you’re mailing with the name and address visible through the window.   So Illinois mailed out hundreds of licenses which were dutifully returned to the department by the Post Office because the licenses had been inserted in them backwards.

As I mentioned, this was at a time when there wasn’t a Starbucks on every other corner – so I’m sure that the owners of these establishments wouldn’t have taken solace in a good strong cup of coffee to help them cope with this administrative nightmare.  But I do remember hearing from my Greek friends on Halsted Street that during the time of this fiasco, their sales of ouzo increased dramatically.  They said a lot of the new customers mentioned that they were hair stylists.

THE 2012 BUDGET

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CONGRESS

Congressional approval ratings are at historic lows. This should come as no surprise to those who follow American political events. They can’t pass a budget (and can’t live within one), hang up legislation over partisan wrangling – and then when they do pass legislation we get Obamacare (which a huge percentage of the voters oppose) and Dodd/Frank (whose provisions are so uncertain that businesses won’t hire). 

The saddest thing is that WE pay them to carry on with these shenanigans – and we pay them rather nicely. 

Your typical congressperson earns $174,000, but salaries range up to $223,500 for those in “leadership” positions. While that isn’t comparable to your average pro sports athlete’s earnings I’m sure that many in the OWS movement would consider it a livable wage. But wait – as they say in the infomercials, there’s more … much, much, more. 

We also pay our 438 members of the House of Representatives what is known as a “Members’ Representational Allowance” which currently averages $1,446,009 each. 

Our Senators have a similar arrangement although it is called “Senators’ Official Personnel and Office Expense Account”. The average payout on this little sop for our 100 good men and women who serve in that august body is $3,409,903. 

These figures were taken directly from a report published by the Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, www.crs.gov RL30064.  

By the way, health insurance, life insurance and other benefits are not included in these numbers – but why quibble over minor details? 

So I did a little math and figured out that between salaries and these personal expense accounts, the American taxpayer funds our Members of Congress to the tune of a few million in excess of $1 billion a year! 

For what? So that they could craft decades-long “strategies” resulting in our having a $15 Trillion national debt? So they could pass bills like Obamacare and Dodd/Frank which will ensure that the debt continues on its upward spiral? 

Well, enough ranting. As I stated in my “About” portion of this blog – it is not enough to complain. It is far more important to try to offer concrete, positive and common sense solutions to our nation’s problems. So here goes.

I begin with this premise. Based on my empirical observations I believe that our legislators are far more concerned with the prospects of their re-election than they are in making serious effort to right the American ship of state. Obviously they like their “jobs” and want to retain them. (The salary and perks are probably a part of that). 

Here’s my proposal (and I ask that you read it to the end before jumping to judgment). 

As much as we are overpaying Congress, I suggest that the common sense answer to this problem is that we double their salary and allowances. But, for each day that they meet or do anything we dock them 1% of that package. If they are in session for 100 days a year, they are working for free. Hopefully, that is not sufficient time to craft omnibus and poorly thought-out legislation, thus, in the long run, we will save trillions! 

When the Founding Fathers first began the debate on Congressional pay, Benjamin Franklin was ardent in his belief that Members of Congress should not be paid – that they be willing to serve as a matter of duty to the new nation. He was ultimately voted down on this and a “per diem” was established for the newly elected Congressmen and Senators. 

It was six dollars per day. (And they had to pay for their own horseshoes to get to the Congressional assemblies). 

Well, those are some of my thoughts on the subject. 

I would sincerely like to hear yours.

 

 

MORE ON DRIVING AND TEXTING

A gentleman commented on yesterday’s post which was entitled “Text While You Drive”.  He thought that my suggestion that we ought to encourage people to text while they drive, allowing the laws of natural selection to wipe them out through their foolish behavior was “terrible … but funny.”  (I truly do have the bumper sticker pictured on my car).  I think of it as “dark humor” or irony.

Those who know me think of me as one of the gentlest people they have ever met.  None of my neighbors has ever heard me raise my voice in anger – because I am virtually never angry at anyone or anything.  One friend likes to describe me as “an old soul” – sometimes with a bit more emphasis on the “old” part than I would prefer.  I know she means it as a compliment.

I believe that reason, common sense and civility are far more effective in persuading people to a point of view than are anger and invective.  That is my modus operandi and has been for many years.

If you read either my profile or some earlier entries on this blog (including yesterday’s) you understand that I believe that we must take personal responsibility for our actions and not rely on “big brother government” to enact regulations intended for our “benefit”.  So it will probably surprise you that I am advocating yet another government regulation – but one that I think would actually be beneficial.

The statistics are very clear.  Distracted driving is by far the major cause of traffic accidents and fatalities – exceeding even drunk driving.  Logic would suggest that if we were to reduce the amount of distracted driving (texting and holding a cell phone to your ear while operating a vehicle) we would see a reduction in the number of vehicular accidents and deaths on our streets and highways.  Bravo!  Good idea.

However, the problem with passing a law making it illegal to engage in those activities, while it makes us feel warm and fuzzy and feel that we are addressing the problem, is that it is unenforceable – making the law worthless.

Fortunately, I have a simple solution.  This should appeal to everyone with the exception of three groups:  1) People who feel above the law and want to continue making calls or send texts while driving; 2) Owners and employees of auto repair body shops and; 3) Personal Injury lawyers.  Yes, even our politicians can endorse this idea without fear of voter backlash.

Thanks to Steve Jobs and others, most of us are now equipped with “smart phones”.  These little devices can tell us where we are and how to get home … well you’re probably more conversant than I as to their capabilities since I only acquired my first smart phone last month.  So far I have figured out how to accidentally end a phone call but have yet to explore much of its potential.  (Unfortunately, I do not have any 10 year olds at home who could explain its more advanced features to me).

So here’s the proposal.  Congress passes a law called the “Pay As You Go Surcharge”. (PAYGOS).

Since cell phones know where you are they should also be able to tell the rate of speed at which you are moving (or if not, that modification should be easy to make by the engineers who designed them).

If you attempt to text someone and are moving at 10 miles an hour or more, a warning would show up on your phone’s screen, “There will be a $2.50 surcharge for completing this message.”  The recipient would also be advised, “There will be a $2.50 surcharge for accepting this message.”  On the theory that texting is 10 times as dangerous as completing a voice call – the surcharge for completing voice calls would be $.25 to both parties.

The revenues collected from those who continued to text and call while driving would be required to be used to pay down the national debt and for no other purpose.  (As I said, even the politicos could get behind this).

Washington has spent so much time talking about deficit reduction without doing anything about it.  This proposal is a way to turn talk into real debt reduction.  Perhaps this is far too simple to get the attention of our lawmakers.  I hope not.

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