Thursday, February 26, 2009

No really: he needs to stop.

I used to work for a man who said, “it’s ok to say in your plan, ‘a miracle happens here’.” He was referring to sweeping changes in the environment that relied on unknowable variables and blind leaps of faith. For example, rolling out a new public program with insufficient funding. You know where you want to go, and you know everything you need to do, but there’s just not enough money to make it happen. You don’t let on to such concerns in your plan, because a miracle has to happen somewhere. But you don’t make a whole project plan around miracles.

I just finished reading about the new federal budget, and it looks like 134 pages of “a miracle happens here”.

We’re going to cut farm subsidies. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Farming isn’t profitable. As the step-son of a farmer, I’ve heard a fair amount about what it takes to get food to your table, and cutting subsidies ain’t gonna help. Farmers lose money on almost everything they do, so the gov’t steps in with crazy ideas like “plant trees over here and we’ll give you $XXX” and “now cut those trees down and we’ll give you $YYY”. Seems like a waste, but those little goofy ideas keep your tomatoes from costing $5 each.

Corporate farming is only successful in an economy of scale, and generally when coupled with research & development, like finding crops that can produce 3 times a year instead of only twice, or developing new species of crops that are more resistant to pests / weather / other environmental conditions. Those corporate interests are also subsidized, although sometimes through round-about means, like partnerships with public colleges.

If the subsidies we’re talking about cutting are for bio-fuel, then I’m all onboard, because the ethanol madness seems to have finally subsided. (Who the hell thought it would be a good idea to cut our corn food crop roughly in half, develop a whole national infrastructure around refining it into an inefficient fuel, and then mandate that we all use it? Oh, wait: Congress)

But Obama just wants to set an arbitrary limit of $500K. If you’re a farmer making more than that, you’re boned. No more subsidies for you! Never mind that just replacing a combine harvester can cost that much. Or that replacing a failed irrigation system can approach those numbers. Hell, a John Deere tractor can cost well over $100K, and they do break every once in a while. So as long as you’re a farmer making over $500K and nothing breaks, you’re fine, I guess.

Then there’s health-care. We’re going to significantly step up funding for what is rapidly becoming socialized medicine. But we’re spending $787B at the same time, and federal spending on healthcare already exceeds that of any other nation. And universal health care will DESTROY an enormous area of our economy: the private insurance business. Yes: you hate them, but think about how many people work for Anthem, Aetna, UHC, CIGNA, and more. And who is going to administer your health plan? What will be the benefits? Will you be ejected from the hospital in as short a period of time as possible, or will the hospitals see a cash-cow and keep you as long as they possibly can? How long will you have to wait for a check-up? Will you be legally required to get an annual physical? Screenings? Immunizations?

Hawaii attempted universal health care for children a couple of years ago, and had to close the program within 8 months because of cash shortfalls. Their idea was to provide insurance for children whose families couldn’t afford private insurance, but they didn’t preclude those families who could, so parents across the state dropped their kids from their private insurance, and the plan bankrupted overnight.

So if our federal deficit is going to be $1.57T this year, what’s it going to be after the exodus from private insurance carriers? And who’s going to take on the burden of re-enrolling the country in private insurance after the federal plan fails? Or will we just keep funding the plan because we cannot admit failure at a federal level?

So how are we going to pay for all of this? Well, with troop withdrawals and tax increases for the wealthy. Ok, news flash: the truly wealthy don’t pay federal taxes. They didn’t get rich by just paying every bill that came their way. They got rich by being smart with their money, and if that means investing heavily in tax shelters, so be it. It’s not illegal, and shame on you for thinking it is. I’ve said for years that I want to found a charity, pay 100% of my salary to the charity, and live on a corporate stipend from the charity. If that charity happens to be based in Belize, I’ll have no tax burden.

US federal laws allow us to write off significant portions of our income as non-taxable, like our insurance payments, Social Security investment, 401k contributions, etc. There are plans that allow you to incorporate a private business and pay all the family members in your house up to something like $7000 right out of your paycheck tax-free. They can then give you one-time cash gifts that are equally tax-free.

Money-smart wealthy people have full-time accountants on staff to keep them from contributing to this nut-job scheme. So “a miracle happens here” most definitely applies whenever we just raise taxes on the rich.

But here’s the real secret, and it comes from the other half of the proposed method of payment: troop withdrawal. That’s code, people. That doesn’t mean we’re gonna bring the boys back home and live in harmony. That means we’re in for another Clinton-esque era of military spending: we’ll just shut ‘er down. Get ready to see mothballed fleets, the elimination of development programs for new fighters, bombers, and mobile weaponry. BRAC will probably get stepped up and go through another round of investigations and realignments. And most importantly, our military and intelligence communities will shrink dramatically.

Good? Really? That means more people trying to enter the already-deflated private sector. But the good news is that under Obama, we’ll have a large enough government to hire all of them. If that’s really good news.

Consider the state of affairs when Clinton was in office. All seemed harmonious in the good ole US of A, but we had a heck of a lot of problems: Waco, Ruby Ridge, Timothy McVeigh, the first WTC bombing, the USS Cole, attacks on our embassies in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, and Beirut, and the 1996 fuel-truck bomb in Saudi Arabia. Every single one of these was a response to US policies under the “Let it Slide” president. Even the downing of the World Trade Center, which was set in motion long before GWB took office.

Clinton’s idea of military involvement was to limit US exposure. If we don’t talk about it and don’t commit troops, we’re not really involved. So we landed a few troops in Somalia and let them get cut to shreds as part of a UN task force. We fired cruise missiles into Iraq and other targets (occasionally and famously missing those targets for much higher profile targets, like the Chinese Embassy). We strongly condemned ethnic cleansing in parts of eastern Europe. But we didn’t get involved; we didn’t engage; and we turned down offers from our allies to hand over known terrorists.

How the hell did we vote to do all of it again? And why is everyone so damned gleeful about it?


Anonymous said...

Shesh, it is a heck of a lot better than what the prior administration was up to. Give it a try, you might see a miracle. My father in law is a farmer too. My husband lost his job of 23 years in December of 2007 and has not found work. I have 3 kids in college. We drove 14 hours to see the inauguration. And yes, what so funny about peace love and understanding?

ahamos said...

The previous administration was letting me have a go at personal responsibility. I lost my job in the Fall and was unemployed for 3 months. During that time I beat the streets and found freelance work that kept my income at 50% of what it had been while keeping my skills up to date. I have a toddler and a dying wife with exorbitant medical bills. I did not make the 2-hour trek to the coronation.

I see no miracles. I see a man who thought campaign fervor would pass legislation whining about the political process.

I'm not going to turn his money down: that would be stupid. But I have never looked to the all-powerful federal government to help me out of a bind. Our forebears would be horrified.

This nation was built on blood, sweat, and sacrifice. Not bailouts, handouts, and universal health care.

Notable failed socialist governments:

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
National Socialist Germany

Anonymous said...

Dude, was the pity-party/righteous indignation worth already proclaiming your wife's battle a failure?

Little harsh and a lot inconsiderate, regardless of how worked up you are.

ahamos said...

You think? Amanda and I disagree: until there's a cure, there's no cure. No cure = dying. Life is hard.

But that's the whole point of my post: life is hard, so suck it up and take responsibility for yourself. Quit looking to the least efficient organization in the nation to take care of you. People make bad choices, and until recently they had to live with those choices. Now we can all just say "Mulligan!" and expect our neighbors to pony up to save our sorry butts. Liberals call that fair.

Anonymous said...

Ahem....I am a liberal and completely agree with your post, so....not all liberals see this as a great thing or as fair.

(note: not same anonymous as above, obviously)