Saturday, September 29, 2012

Social Security, Damn Right I Am Entitled!

Today, I thought I would introduce Social Security as a topic for the next couple of days. Today I will rant and discuss a little about how we got into this mess. I know what I write will offend a lot of people I know, but please be patient as I lay out the case for proper understanding and reform in the coming days.

First and foremost, Social Security does not, under the traditional income from payroll taxes, have to go bankrupt, anytime soon. In fact, when designed, the program was required to show how it was self-sustaining. After final adjustments in 1935 it was presented to Congress in a way to prevent any need from the general fund until 1980. However, Congress, being the greedy, spoiled, lying, cheating, thieving children that they are, have not only changed the rules several times, but given themselves permission to legally steal your money and mine from the trust fund through various schemes and legalized fraud throughout the decades; all with the blessing and sometimes at the urging of our various Presidents from both sides of the aisles. According to FDR "If I have anything to say about it, it will always be contributed, both on the part of the employer and the employee, on a sound actuarial basis. It means no money out of the Treasury." He even withheld the tables from the final report to Congress until the figures could be worked and contribution levels presented to ensure it would be self sustaining. Here is where it gets tricky; the Social Security Act specifies that the monies in the fund may "be invested in securities backed by the full faith and credit of the Federal government," such as treasury bills, treasury notes, and treasury bonds, as well as special issue bonds. So, essentially, the government can "invest" Social Security funds by lending them to itself, then spending that money on programs not related to Social Security (e.g., defense, foreign aid, education). It does this every year at such ridiculously low rates that inflation is often higher than the return on these funds. Any fund manager, from any private reputable investment company, that managed the trust the way Congress meddles annually with our Social Security would be arrested on numerous charges and face decades of prison time. Congress doesn’t because they gave themselves permission to mismanage and poorly invest our money without permission from the trust being required. Dwight D. Eisenhower used money from Social Security’s forced investment in the government to rebuild Europe after WWII and Congress and the President in years later forgave some of that debt ensuring that a full repayment would not be made except from the general fund and only at the lowest of returns. Like I said, this has been happening for decades.

Why is this important? Because, the federal government has become so drunk on abusing the funds it forces the trust to invest in US government bonds etc, that Congress has literally forced the trust into near insolvency several times. Instead of fixing the problem, Congress and the Presidents have attempted to shore up the program by increasing the retirement age, taxing the Social Security income of seniors if they make too much money etc. To add insult to injury the current administration gave everyone a “payroll tax holiday” over the last year cutting the income Social Security receives while continuing the time honored tradition of misusing the funds; all in the name of stimulus. This is just about the stupidest idea this administration has implemented in his first term. It further erodes from the trust in ways never intended by its’ creator, FDR.

I’ll end with this for today; I am entitled to this money. It is a combined 15% from my employer and me, invested in a quasi retirement account. It is my money, it is not part of the general fund and should not be treated as such and it is high time we understood and hold these thieves accountable for the misappropriation on our money. You’re damn right I am entitled. This money is meant to go to a special fund and invested in such a way as to ensure I am not a burden later on in life to society or the government. Every Congress and President for decades has broken that trust with the American People and I for one and tired of it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Planned Parenthood, Saint or Sinner?

Well this will be fun! Before you get to excited, I will not be talking about when life starts and this is not a direct abortion article. This is about balance and ensuring that people make an informed decision. That happens so rarely these days. So here are the facts about Planned Parenthood and the recent budget battle. It should be noted that our federal debt grew by more than the proposed savings in the same time we were debating how to trim the fat.

Republicans were not trying to defund all of Planned Parenthood (PP). They were actually just trying to defund PP in Washington DC. In DC, PP is the largest provider of abortions in the city. They were looking to PP savings of about 3.5 million dollars. Hell, compared to the 38 Billion (current Budget fight) plus the 4 Billion in last round of CR drama, we are talking about 3.5 million in a 42 Billion pot. That is like saying, saving 42 Billion when we will spend 1.4 trillion over our income, just this year, is a lot of money.

Before we continue, I must make this one clarification. Planned Parenthood DOES NOT provide abortions in Utah. If someone going to a PP clinic in Utah wants an abortion, they will be referred to the one clinic that does in Utah. I point this out since a large percentage of my readers are in Utah.

Also I must post a few numbers on PP nationally related to abortion and then I am done with that part of the discussion, for now! Between 1996 and 2005, the number of abortions in the U.S. fell from 1.36 million to 1.21. In 2008, PP performed 332,278 abortions. This means that PP provided less than 25% of all abortions nationally. We can argue the merits of abortion and when life starts etc, in another post. I wanted to focus on PP and the budget debate in the last week.

PP in DC operates on a 7 million budget (2009) according to their own data. This means 50% of funding would come from federal funding. The DC centers, in line with the federal numbers provide only 4.5% of activates in abortion or abortion related care. Nationally this number is 3%. The rest is made up of cancer screenings, for which they receive a specific grant from the Federal government each year, STD treatment for men and women and contraception, to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STD’s. Given that the majority of PP users are at or below the poverty level, it stands to reason that unwanted pregnancies alone save uncountable billions in state/federal aid in raising these unwanted children for years and perhaps generations. However, if this country was less of a nanny state, we would save uncounted billions as well.

PP is not solely funded by the federal government. Many other grants from private business and private individuals contribute the PP budget annually. For those who can afford it, PP also prorates and charges for services. As a result, one can argue that this additional subsidy from the private sector helps save even more for the tax payer since PP is not directly using government funds as the sole source for providing services for the poor in our communities. While this argument is good, it is also facially false. Most of these private donations are tax deductable and so we, the tax payers, still take the hit in other ways. I have personally used PP services twice in my life. Both were for STD testing, prior to my first marriage and just after my second. I did this as a way to know, for certain, I was being safe and careful with my mate. I paid for these services, as I am not the average user of PP services, and while they hold this information confidential, I believe it is important to disclose any potential conflicts to my readers.

That being said, I will not conclude what is right or wrong in relation to abortion and PP funding, nationally or in the local DC case. My goal was to ensure you, the reader, were better informed about the real circumstances of this last budget debate. Having hopefully accomplished this, I leave it to you to decide if the debate over PP was necessary. I will however, tell you what I think. My regular readers know, I advocated that every budget take an across the board cut, this would have included PP. Defunding this one organization for providing vital services to an under-served group of people seems overly dramatic. Especially in light that PP is doing nothing illegal. They do not use federal funding for abortions and abortion is still legal in this country. If we want to change those paradigms, stick to getting the courts to overturn their previous rulings. That is the appropriate venue for this discussion.

Right or wrong government must focus on reducing spending. Right or wrong, PP is not doing anything illegal. Right or wrong, we must turn our attention to making change in the right venues. There is room for debate about the scope of all of the issues that surround Planned Parenthood. This year’s budget may be a place to argue about some of these issues, but trying to pass a budget that is half over and 18 months late, was not the appropriate place.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Want Congress to really be held accountable? BRING THEM HOME!

Given the continuing failure of our federal Government to really be working for “the people” I propose we find a new way to hold them accountable. I won’t speak much today about it, but simply unveil a project I and many others are starting to formulate. We believe the by having our House of Representatives members work from their home districts; we may be able to help them gain the courage to really work for us. We have given them a lot of power, but we, as citizens, have done a bad job, in the last 70 years, ensuring they use that power judiciously. The time has come to change that.

Let’s bring our Reps home. Set them up in nice cozy offices in a federal building, a state capital, a city hall, anywhere we can provide a secure connection to Washington DC, and have them work where we the people can watch them and help them make the right decisions. At least take them out of the bubble and ensure their constituents know where to find them and can, for less than the cost of all that airfare and time, find them sitting close to us working on our behalf.

There is a lot of information to give and I will in the coming days, but please comment and ask questions. I would like real dialog. Should we bring Congress home to roost and only send them to DC for say….. impeachment or declarations of war. They can do everything else electronically from their home districts.

We can take away a great deal of influence special interests and lobbying firms for companies have and we can balance that influence with real people at the doorstep to help our Congressmen and women remember who pays the bills and who is the electorate. Companies may pay for elections, but the people are still the only ones to vote. Check out Guv@Home on FB for some additional details.

A government accountable to the people will better serve them!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

We are sooo PRINCIPLED, let’s shut the government down over 3-4%!

I decided to wait on E-Congress, although that would help with these fools we keep electing, in order to talk today about the big bad government shutdown, looming for tomorrow night.  Democrats don’t want to hurt “the poor and working families.”  Republicans, according to John Boehner, want significant spending cuts.  Like 60 Billion is a lot in comparison.   That is a drop in the bucket and will do very little to any programs for the poor or working families.  The solution laid out below is very simple. The Republican proposal is to cut 1.34% of the federal budget, or just over 4% of  current discretionary spending for the rest of this fiscal year.  Democrats are proposing a cut of just under 1% of the total budget or just under 3% of total current discretionary spending.  At least that is where they started a few days ago.  

According to my sources, the parties have agreed on how much to cut and Republicans are going to win here.  However, now the political theatre begins.  Democrats want to make cuts in one way and Republicans in another.  Additionally, while they have each other by the throats, they are both making demands on non spending amendments they want to add to the budget.  In this case the Republicans are completely in the wrong.  They have demanded to add a restriction to the EPA on implementing Green House Gas Emission rules.  They want to place a requirement that DC not allow any government spending to be directly or indirectly used for abortions.  They also want to prevent enforcement of some of last year’s Financial Reform Package.  They don’t want to change the law, just the enforcement.

While I agree that all of these issues should be discussed, they have no place in the current budget negotiations.  Both Democrats and Republicans have failed this country fiscally, for generations.  Recently they failed to even pass a budget for this year.  The annual Federal Budget is the most important task our federally elected officials do.  It is job number 1.  Nothing should be more important but a national emergency.  We elected this large 2010 freshman class to send a message to Washington.  Get our house in order!  Instead, they are playing the same game they always do.  All are once again failing our country.  There is enough blame to go around.  

The simple solution is to simply take the numbers and have every budget cut by the right percentage and be done with it. We can’t do this to Social Security or Medicare and we have to service the debt.  We did not give ourselves permission to play with these items in this cycle.  We can do this to the military, Medicaid and all other spending.  No other discussion needed.  Including the military and Medicaid budgets in addition to the basic discretionary spending will make the pill that much easier to swallow.  Remember we are only talking about a paltry 60 Billion cut.  That would reduce the total impact to about 2.5% for all budgets.  Fight the ideological issues between now and September, when the budget just proposed, for the next year, should be passed.  Stop wasting days that could be used on the current budget proposal fighting over last year’s failure to do job #1.  It is what my taxes pay for, and I am in the 54% of the country that actually pays taxes.

Sorry for the rant today, but I am sick to death over these fake fights.  It is high time that our elected leaders did their jobs, as we expect them to.  We sent them there to rein in spending.  Get to work!   Both Democrats and Republicans agree that we can spend less, let’s simply not pick favorites and lower spending across the board.

Can we have a shutdown? Yes we can.  Will it hurt one party over another?  I don’t believe so.  Democrats can’t sink any lower and have nothing to lose.  Republicans will actually increase government costs, shutting down and restarting, government.  Neither of our venerable parties seems to actually put spending cuts first.  If they did, we would have an across the board cut, minor as it is, and then move on to the regular budget battles.

Earlier today, the House passed another continuing resolution for one week, which would fund the military through Sep and fund the rest of government through next week.  I applaud the Republican controlled House for doing this. I should point out this was not done to keep government running, but as ploy to make it the Democrats fault we didn’t get anything done.  They knew before the vote that the Senate would not pass it and the President will veto.  Congress is simply playing a game of chicken with our money.   It takes 2 to tango so, what a load of %^&*.   I will also point out that wasting another week on the same ideological fights for this 6 months, is a waste of their precious time and our patience.  So long as the proposed cuts are so small, they have no real measurable impact, they are mostly symbolic.  Get of your *^%$# and get the job done!

What is the opposite of Progress….Congress!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


“When you don’t live in the White House sunlight is the best disinfectant.  When you live in the White House disinfectant stings!” – Jon Stewart

So GRAMA (Government Records Access and Management Act) 

While there has always been some push for open government at all levels, since our country’s founding; the concept that the people have a “right to know” was not held to the same regard as “freedom of the Press” until Watergate in the mid 1970’s.  We owe that to the courts and their interpretation of a little discussed law passed in 1966 called “The Freedom of Information Act.” (FOIA)  Since that time it has been amended several times and several “sibling” acts/laws have been passed to clarify and expand access to government records by the public.  States have followed the example of the federal government in this, by passing similar acts for the state and all of it’s’ subdivisions.   Utah has been praised for its’ version called GRAMA passed 20 or so years ago.

Earlier this year, a bill to amend this law was presented and passed in the shortest amount of time allowed by law near the end of the legislative session.  HB477made international headlines as Utahans of all persuasions rose up in a somewhat uneducated series of protest fueled by constant media attention.  Was this warranted?  I’m not sure.  It should be noted, it has already been repealed as a result of the public tumult.

Since I decided to post about this topic I have had 3 state Representatives give me some perspective on why they voted for it etc.  All had had very different ideas, but there was one theme from all three “our current open records law has some serious flaws that need fixed.”  This is true.  Since its passage, the legislature has reexamined GRAMA no less than 5 times with 3 of those being full interim studies.  However no bill was presented until this year. 

What challenges are there with our current law?

  •  Allowing every jurisdiction to set independent fee schedules
  • No ability to collect for extraordinary costs in record searching, such as attorneys etc.
  • An overburdening of some jurisdictions based on the allowable vagueness of requests
  • Failure, on many accounts, to provide the requests in the 10 day time frame required by the law.  This is treated as more of a guideline by many jurisdictions.  There are very few cases where a jurisdiction was punished for failure to comply
  • Ambiguity on what constitutes public and private communication
  • Ambiguity on what forms of communications may be used or exempted
  • There is no expressed privacy granted to those who submit information to the state that may be later used in a GRAMA request, such as names of individuals as private citizens etc.

These are only a few of the issues.  While HB477 addressed the above issues they also swung the pendulum to far the other direction.  Legislators have indicated that emails, txt’s and IM’s may be coming from constituents who should be allowed to have a conversation with their elected officials without fear their name and the content of that communication being public knowledge.  Simple hellos and goodbyes or happy birthdays or congratulations from other legislators or lobbyists etc, should not be in the public prevue.  Let’s for a moment agree with this premise. Does this mean all email’s, txt’s or IM’s should not be subject to GRAMA, no.  The Supreme Court has held that a phone or computer, owned by company A, and all of its contents, are reviewable by the Company.  There is no inherit right to privacy if we, as an employee, choose to use company property for personal reasons or uses.  The state of Utah is virtually wholly run with tax dollars and is accountable to the people and companies that pay those taxes. The state and its subdivisions have many more employees than elected officials.   Did HB477 make all of these forms of communication unusable in a GRAMA request, no.  However there is a fundamental mistrust when you ask the jurisdiction fulfilling the request to also be the one deciding if something is of a personal nature, arbitrarily.  Our legislators also failed to recognize that these same rules applied to all state agencies and subdivisions…So non elected people are able to use this same shield with their assigned state owned property.

I am aware of a water district, here in the Utah, that has been committing fraud for almost 30 years.  It is a small district that provides water to a subdivision in rural Utah.  The developer created the water district to ensure the members of the subdivision were equally sharing in the cost of providing water to themselves.  He was required to have a turnover in board members every 2 two years.  Since its’ inception the original developer has been changing people names and signing for them and filing these changes with the state, while the entire subdivision was unaware of their responsibilities in this matter.  This came to light only after someone requested information in emails from the state board overseeing the district.  With the exception of this GRAMA request, there has been and no real oversight of this small water district.  Based on the proposed law, it would still be required to turn that information over.  However should an employee fulfilling a request choose to say that the emails contained personal information and would therefore not be turned over, there was no provision, which met public scrutiny,  to protect the public from this potential abuse.

Additionally one could argue that it is possible with current technology for a group of elected officials to conduct a meeting amongst themselves, in plain sight, that would still be a violation on Utah’s open meetings law.  The pendulum of privacy cuts both ways.

It is also noteworthy that Utah has some of the most lax rules with regard to campaign finances and contribution limits.  This is only maintainable as a result of the great open records standards this state is so well praised for.  Any major constriction in actuality or in perception will give rise to a whole host of other public outcries with campaign financing laws, I fear.

Lastly, I would point out that the timing of this entire affair was terrible.  It is a redistricting year….Let’s gives the conspiracy theorists another reason to garner media attention about how one party abuses their power regularly. Republicans take enough flak for having closed caucus meeting at least once a week during the session.   Naturally, passing this in just a few days time close to the end of the session, with no real public discussion prior, was just plain stupid.  Were there public hearings yes….If you can call it that; a 20 minute hearing in a House committee and a vote the next day with a 2 hour Rules committee hearing only  after the Senate Republicans caucused privately earlier that same day all but guaranteed unanimous support.  A matter of this import, with the media able to garner massive support in a short time, should have pushed legislators to have brought this discussion forward in the public eye earlier in the session or even before the session; just as we did with immigration, and budget cuts this year.  This type of issue requires very thoughtful and prolonged public dialog and debate.  Most of our legislature has seen the error of their ways on this issue and we are likely to get that now.  I am very grateful.  The damage to certain reputations however, has already been done.

What to do from here.  Well this group of 25 or so representatives from many of the various stakeholders has a real task before them.  I hope they take into consideration all that is wrong.  I recommend the following solutions be incorporated;

  •             Cap what may be charged in per page printing or per hour fees for research
  •             Provision that unless specified by the requester that all request be provided electronically, if possible.  This will save a lot of time and money for both the requester and the provider
  •             An internal or external, if the state subdivision is too small, review process be implemented in cases where a complaint about what information is provided is brought forward.
  •             A clear “intent” section should be included and kept to help the court understand the legislative intent.
  •             A clear right of privacy be expressed for personal correspondence.  Do not include personal correspondence from those who wield financial influence over an elected or non elected servant/employee.
  •             A requirement that media get permission from people listed in requested documents before publishing the names on a personal email, txt etc unless a clear public interest is provided.

I will leave you all with this quote from the Salt Lake Tribune article on the subject and I pray for those helping to right some of the wrong with Utah’s current GRAMA law.  May they be wise and come to a good compromise that will protect the public right to know and the rights of privacy all of us deserve, no matter the station in life we are at.

"Neither free speech nor open government works unless it is used intelligently, by generators of media and, crucially, by consumers….. But that intelligence can’t be legislated. It has to be assumed."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

And the Winner is....IMMIGRATION! Oh @#$%

And the winner is…….Immigration!  I had several requests for my first real blog to be about immigration.  I am certain it is in reference to this hubbub about HB 116, passed in Utah in Feb.  This bill would create a working privilege or “guest worker” card for undocumented people in Utah.  I had nearly as many requests for an open records law post.  There was also “gay” marriage, Medicare, E-Congress, and a smattering of other requests from Facebook, emails etc.  I was giddy with excitement, keyword, “was”……then of course, reality set in…Immigration is a huge topic and there is so much information to cover.  As a fake journalist, I thought I should take some time to get at least some of my facts right before I committed to the written word and had them used against me for all of eternity, etc, etc, etc.  Some of my readers are of the, “if you don’t round ‘em up and throw ‘em all out,” its’ amnesty.  Naturally, they fail to see that the current failure of our federal government is also a form of amnesty, by their very broad definitions, and so far they seem good with that failed approach, since no state has the right to deport anyone.  The other extreme is “throwing anyone out of the greatest country in the world, is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment.”  There are a few, and I mean few, that are somewhere in the middle.  As a result, I will do immigration in the coming days.  I will have to start with Open Government, specifically the, anti open government, of Utah’s HB 477, which had the “this is a terribly stupid move right now” look on it from the second someone was crazy enough to suggest it in the waning days of the last legislative session.  I have enough information on that already and will be pontificating on open government in my first real post on 4/6/11.  I hope you all enjoy and by all means let’s have a lively discussion on all of our wrong opinions……Night All!

Everyone is entitled to their own wrong opinions!

Welcome to my new blog, A Reasonable Rambler!  I have found so many people online blogging about this or that subject, particularly on politics, and well, they all leave me a little lacking.  So in order to satisfy my own ego and have some fun, I thought I could have my own wrong opinion as well.  I will attempt to post something of value, from my own perspective naturally, that will shed even more light on all of our favorite topics.  I hope to do this daily, so check back often.  I can take blog requests too.  No need to be a purist just yet…..I am from Ogden, Utah, so I will devote some time to this great city.  When I talk about Ogden, I will also post something on a burning current event that has national implications.  Some will be fun, some will be funny, but all will be serious.  

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should warn you all, that I am a Conservative right wing nut job …..I wear this title proudly and without shame!  This also means that I lean a lot more toward the Republican Party.  Although let me be clear, I think Republican and Conservative are not often synonyms in today’s US political climate.

I should also warn all that read this, and I hope it is millions, that I will unabashedly tell you what I think and why.  I will likely not be politically correct, so I hope you have thick skin.  You are all free to agree or disagree.  Please post frequently and give me even more material to play with……Remember you are all entitled to your own wrong opinions.

Thanks for the time and I pray this will become a meaningful place to have real discussion about real solutions, to real problems.  Lord knows we can’t believe most of our federal officials!

This is the part where I take requests.  I have some ideas for a first real blog, but I think the first real blog subject should come from my first few readers.  So reply and let know what you are dying to hear about?