28 March 2013
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.Then and now: Then, every citizen needed firearms not only to protect land, property and family, but also to protect one's community, township and state from violent intrusions from other states, other peoples, and other nations. Our colonial history taught the wisdom of these words and towns, settlements and traders relied on the right to own and carry weapons. Protection by governmental agencies did not exist as today. Private companies like Pinkerton's preceded local police departments and usually were hired by business owners, trading companies and the Post Office for guarding shipments of payrolls and other cash. Communities and townships had volunteer militias of the people. The concepts of having a national or state standing army were foreign as the stuff of European colonizers. Individuals needed to protect themselves against attacks on their homesteads, their families, their livestock, their churches and communities.
Thus, the Bill of Rights included this right second only to the First Amendment's right to freedom of speech and religion.
From 1787 to the 1930's, America was an agricultural nation first and an industrial country second. The vicissitudes of the Great Depression and World War II changed that. Emerging from the war, America was the predominant industrial nation in the world, most of its industrial rivals having been leveled. Our population has become more and more concentrated in urban and suburban communities. Much of rural, farming America is now corporate-owned and technological advances enable massive tracts of land to be cultivated efficiently. The family-owned farms so characteristic of pre-Depression years struggle to compete financially with the corporate farms.
What changed in the second half of the 20th Century to warrant such strong debates about gun control? In effect, weapons manufacturers, domestic and foreign, sell to the general public weapons they manufacture for military use, in combat, to impose incredible armaments against an enemy. Hand guns, automatic firing pistols, grenade launchers, other automatic and semi-automatic rifles are sold through large retail stores, small gun shops, online via the internet and at gun shows and exhibitions. Weapons designed and manufactured for military personnel are sold to practically anyone with the opportunity and the cash. Additionally, accessories and ammunition are readily available. Only machine guns, aka "tommy guns", are prohibited from being sold to and owned by civilians in the United States. A federal law passed in 1928 as a result of the well-publicized organized crime wars of that era forbade owning machine guns. To my knowledge, it is still in effect. I wonder, however, why only this one, archaic weapon technology falls under this law, since current semi-automatic and automatic pistols and rifles perform the same function as machine guns did.
Horrible instances of mass murder within schools, college campuses, shopping centers, lawyers' offices and other tragic, multiple deaths have caused people to question why these assault weapons are so easily obtained by the perpetrators. Indeed, criminals, drug gangs and organized crime elements use these weapons and the fear of being defenseless against such criminals always dilutes arguments to impose regulatory controls on buying such weapons. Fear of criminals causes many to want to have such arms for protecting themselves, their families and their property. These arguments from many parts of the political spectrum generally lead to little if any legislative will to limit the Second Amendment's stated right to bear arms.
Public opinion polls report that a majority of Americans favor establishing controls on the public's access to those weapons designed for military combat, as cited above. Some people propose universal background checks by all persons desiring to buy any gun or rifle and ammunition. Even the carrying capacity of ammunition, the magazines, would be subject to background checks. Others believe that better enforcement of current laws would be more productive in reducing unregistered weapons in criminal hands. Additional proposals focus on the mental health of purchasers of weapons, ranging from including this in the background check prior to sale, to expanding community mental health resources for persons who may be thinking about using their weapons for attacking other people. One recent commentator maintains that this is not an either/or choice, but a need to address both the weapons for sale and the selling process as well as the mental health education and resources of the communities.
I have lived most of my life in suburban and urban environments. I owned no guns nor did I feel the need. I only used pistols, rifles, and assault weapons while in the Army. In civilian life, I wanted better police departments and sheriffs to protect me and mine. My religious practices turned toward non-violence and peaceful living. I also became fatalistic about becoming a victim of a random urban crime; the dangers of commuting were more pressing.
Since late 2007, however, I have lived on a horse ranch about ten miles from the nearest store. The roads were paved only a few years earlier and I remember when the entire region was open range with cattle grazing everywhere. This is horse country and laced with trails throughout. We own weapons. Awhile back, I spent a long hour trying to frighten off a small pack of large dogs that had invaded our main pasture. I used a 30-gauge, double barreled shotgun firing into the air as I approached the pack. They left and our horses were saved from their harassment. Nightly, we hear coyotes singing and yelping to each other, sometimes in packs, as they roam among the ranches and hills. We have had mountain lions attack sheep and llamas, too. Further, the more isolated houses are vulnerable to break-ins by armed thieves and many ranches have elaborate alarm and protection devices to guard against a criminal invasion. Most lock their doors when they are home, rather than when they are away. And, most people have outside dogs that help keep intruders away.
I would feel very exposed without having firearms available to me. I didn't understand when I lived in cities why personal firearms could be necessary. I now do.
Some people argue that we require training, testing and registration for a driver's license, yet similar requirements do not apply to owning firearms. This argument is a false comparison: a driver's license is a privilege controlled by each state. Owning a firearm is a right by dint of The Constitution.
Why might this right to bear arms have relevance today? There have been times in the past 12 years, especially after the passage of The Patriot Act and other anti-terrorist security legislation when it seemed quite possible for the President to establish a totalitarian government. That legislation is still in place, by the way. Habeas Corpus was suspended, secret courts issue warrants for domestic spying, citizens could and can be detained as suspected enemy combatants (a term that avoids the Geneva Convention). Such was the control of media and news information by the Bush-Cheney Administration during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike during Viet Nam, in the all-volunteer military, there are no mothers of draftees writing to Congress about the wars. Embedded press toed the official line or they would be sent home. No more war on the 6 O'Clock news.
Those circumstances were and remain apt for an individual's right to bear arms. On the other hand, it would be just as easy if not more appropriate to move abroad or over the borders to Canada or Mexico.
In the end, I have concluded that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is inviolate, with some caveats that do not diminish that right. First, the state and federal governments have the ability to enact controls on the types of firearms an individual can buy. Manufacturers could be prohibited from selling military grade weapons to civilians. Regarding magazines, ammunition and other accessories that transform pistols and rifles into military-like assault weapons, the local and state governments could impose weapon apparatus or accessory controls like they have for recreational drug users.
I believe that universal background checks for prior violence or felonious behavior, age and permanent residency are appropriate at all reseller locations, including gun fairs and manufacturer exhibitions. Creating a mental health criterion, however, is worrisome. The only circumstances for a behavioral or cognitive personality trait to be a recorded "mental health" criterion should be limited to those individuals who are identified in public records of courts that would restrict an individual's right to bear arms. Education and public health agencies and institutions should expand their services to enable proper safety for gun users, parents who own guns should be able to access instructional resources concerning weapon safety in storage and in use, indications of behavior that might indicate violent personality traits developing in their children, and a general community awareness of gun safety, violence as a public health issue as well as criminal issues, and the availability of help from community public and private resources.
Ask a parent or any adult about allowing children to play with or to have access to chain saws, miter saws, lawn mowers and other yard tools kept in a work place or garage. For that matter, access to a car can be a dangerous circumstance for a toddler or curious child, even if they only want to crawl underneath. Why should we be any less diligent and guarded about the guns we keep at home? Why wouldn't it be logical to teach children and others about gun safety, about preventing access to our guns, and about how to respond to a crisis or emergency should those efforts fail?
Our Second Amendment Rights bring responsibilities for all citizens to exercise those rights for the good of the community, for our own safety and for the safety of our families. Just as the other Constitutional rights have limits under our system of laws, so does the right to keep and to bear arms.
13 February 2013
Hands Off Social Security!
Caught in their own fiscal underpants, the Republican parties and some naive Democrats must find a way to save their favored federal programs while slashing away at those they deem unnecessary. Some Republicans of the Tea Party say, “Go ahead! Sequestration is the only way to rein in an out-of-control federal spending orgy of 20 years.” Or, words to that effect.
My view on the place to begin reforming our federal budget process for entitlement programs is with the compensation and benefits for elected officials. After all, by definition, these men and women are volunteers! They receive salaries in excess of $100,000 per year, they have franking privileges with their constituents, they have abundant support staffing, they can schedule when they will or will not be at work, i.e., in session, they and their families have excellent health care insurance, they may have exempted themselves from FICO, and after their volunteer positions terminate, they enjoy a defined benefit plan.
No one is forced to be a member of Congress, their jobs are not government jobs for which they apply, each one
decides to volunteer for a time as a representative of their constituencies, district or state. They are not eligible for unemployment insurance if they lose in the primaries or in the general elections. Like all volunteers, each serves
as long as they want to continue to stand for election.
Concerning sequestering federal spending, will their salaries and benefits be exempt? Perhaps they should not receive any salaries or benefits until they agree on a fiscally responsible, federal budget that will satisfy the Americans who elect them and those others who work, reside or visit here.
In its current newsletter, the CAMPAIGN FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE presents a convincing discussion and argument about the idea floating around Congress and the White House for changing the nature of the basis for
annual increases in Social Security payments to entitled beneficiaries. It is published by the Institute for America’s Future.org and its website is: http://institute.ourfuture.org/ I have edited the longer article, truly, I have, to highlight the essence of this political gamesmanship.
“Nonsense of the Chained CPI and Why Should We Oppose It?
. . . [T]he chained CPI is a political trick, not a technical fix. It is a hidden benefit cut that would shackle seniors with lower benefits and thus less security over time. With seniors in the bottom 40 percent of the income scale dependent on Social Security for almost 90 percent of their income, it would dramatically raise poverty levels among the retired, the disabled and the widowed.
. . .
Without a massive mobilization by an informed public, there is a clear and present danger that within the next few months the economic security of the elderly, disabled and surviving children will be needlessly compromised for decades to come by our country's political elites.
. . .
“What is a Chained CPI instead of the regular Consumer Price Index (CPI)?
A "chained CPI" differs from the standard consumer price index we're familiar with because it claims to take into account “substitutions” — the degree to which consumers will change what they buy in response to price increases . . . .
Now we all make substitutions – but many of the things seniors buy are things you just can’t substitute, like medicines, or doctors visits, or basic foods. But the chained CPI wasn’t designed with seniors’ buying habits in mind. (Emphasis added.)
1. It's a huge benefit cut that seniors, veterans and the disabled cannot afford. It
would cut benefits by $135 billion over 10 years and much more in ensuing decades as
its impact is compounded. It would also cut another $24 billion from veterans' and
federal retirement benefits. The Social Security recipient who retired at age 65 in 2012
would be receiving $658 a year less in benefits under the chained CPI calculation by the
time he or she is 75, an almost 4 percent cut; by 85, that person would be getting
$1,147 less a year, a 6.5 percent benefit cut. . . .
2. The chained CPI is patently inaccurate at measuring the cost of living of the
elderly and disabled. This is a political trick, not a technical fix. Since 1975, Social
Security benefits are adjusted annually based on what is now called the consumer price
index for urban wage earners and clerical workers (CPI-W). Ironically, its cost
calculations exclude people outside the workforce, and thus most Social Security
beneficiaries workforce, and thus most Social Security beneficiaries. (Emphasis added.)
3. The chained CPI violates Social Security's promise: that Social Security's cost-of-living adjustments should maintain the purchasing power of benefit levels over time. . . .The value of pensions or 401(k) balances that are not inflation-protected
typically decline by half over 20 years. Virtually no retirement savings vehicles available
in private markets offer inflation protection for life. Social Security does. (Emphasis
4. The chained CPI flagrantly flies in the face of public opinion . . . . The most recent polling by the National Academy of Social Insurance shows that a majority of Americans across the political spectrum think Social Security benefits should be raised, not lowered – and are willing to pay more in taxes to protect those benefits. By far the most popular reform is to raise the cap on the payroll tax, so that the wealthier Americans pay at the same rate as low-wage workers.
5. The chained CPI will hurt more than just the elderly. The groups of Americans that
would also see their benefits cut if the chained CPI were implemented government-wide
include people with disabilities; widows and children who receive survivor's benefits; disabled veterans, particularly those who are totally disabled and therefore eligible for both veterans benefits and Social Security Disability; lifelong public servants who retire from the federal government, and anyone who retires from the military after serving our country for decades.
6. Social Security benefits are modest and should be increased, not cut. Social
Security retirement benefits average just $14,900 a year, and nearly 5 million retirees live below 125 percent of the federal poverty level. . . .The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has estimated that more than half of the nation's households would be unable to maintain their standards of living during their retirement years, given the damage the 2008 financial crash did to housing values, stock portfolios and worker earnings.
7. The advocates of the chained CPI implicitly admit that it is not an accurate
measure of inflation faced by seniors. . . .For example, even with the most commonly
proposed compensatory measure – a bump-up in benefits after 20 years, starting at age 82 – an 85-year-old would still lose more than $12,000 in benefits over a 20-year period. . . . For the average worker retiring at age 65 in 2012, the chained CPI would cut benefits by more than $1,000 a month by the time that worker is 85. The cumulative effect of the cut gets worse over time.
8. Social Security has not and cannot by law contribute to the federal debt. And the program is too important to be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations about deficits that Social Security has not contributed to.
9. [Social Security’s financial future is fairly solid.] In fact, Social Security is in goodNote: if the Treasury were prohibited from further borrowings from the Social Security Fund, as it has under Presidents Bush I, Clinton and Bush II, to pay for (off-budget) unfunded items, the Fund would be able to sustain Social Security as it was designed to do in 1936.
shape, with current assets covering benefits for the next 22 years.”
Learn More» National Academy of Social Insurance brief on Chained CPIThere are sufficient, additional agenda items and opinions for the Administration and the Congress that I shall share in future posts. As always, I appreciate your comments.
» OurFuture.org Chained CPI blog page
» The New York Times: "Misguided Social Security ‘Reform'" (Editorial)
» Economic Policy Institute's Retirement research page
» Center for Economic and Policy Research's Social Security and retirement issue page
» Smart Talk on Protecting Social Security.
08 February 2013
Oil and Water Do Mix!
To date, opposition to fracking in various communities focuses on the potential for polluting the underground water supplies, in addition to our rivers and lake resources, from which we obtain potable water for drinking and cooking. In the current newsletter ProPublica, Abraham Lustgarten reports that Mexico City is planning to access drinking water from an aquifer that is being polluted by US drilling companies. See http://www.propublica.org/series/injection-wells for extensive reporting on this subject. Lustgarten points out that the dumping of toxic liquids into very deep wells was intended to go deeper than any water resources we would ever use. Our state and federal regulators have not been inspecting these wells for several years, which I attribute to industry and Congressional resistance to funding sufficient inspectors and auditors within the environmental protection agencies.
While the fracking process has raised local concerns about polluting local water supplies, no one seems to focus on the importance of water to the petroleum industry. When policy discussions about our energy needs fill the halls of state and federal governments each party emphasizes the petroleum part of the oil production process.
Consider how much the current, extensive drought is affecting our nation's agriculture. Even the oil industry has been asked by the federal government to use less corn in refining gasoline products. Demands on corn production by the oil industry cause price increases in food products that use corn syrup, corn flour, plus feed for animals upon which we depend for our meat and dairy supplies. In a large part of the central US, the current drought is forcing farmers to selling off their animal stock because they cannot afford to feed them and grazing animals cannot find sufficient nutrients in their dry pastures.
California has to address these issues of oil production and refining, water for agriculture and for its 36 million residents' drinking and residential use. In the mid-1970's, the City Manager of Torrance, California, said that the three refineries within city limits consumed one-third of Torrance's water supplies each year. Water rights political battles between northern and southern parts of the state have existed as long as the state has developed. The agricultural interests in the central San Joaquin Valley, King County and the Salinas Valley that generate such a large part of our nation's food supply need water for crops. The state's population and industrial growth, especially in Southern California, adds to already stretched demands on the state's water resources. Without better, coordinated regulation mitigating market pricing and supply, the oil companies will to consume more water for drilling and refining, farmers will pay more for their water and crop prices will rise making commercial feed and consumer agricultural products more expensive across the nation.
Water wars have been part of California's history forever, affecting population settlement and relocation since before the Spanish arrived. Unlike other, primarily desert or water-scarce regions of the world, the only government capital initiatives in California, Nevada and Arizona involved water distribution and natural resource exploitation without any resources devoted to water resource creation from the Pacific Ocean. Only recently has the City of San Diego begun a desalinization development to produce potable water from sea water, but much more will be needed throughout the region.
Three groups of vested commercial interests: 1) the oil industry, 2) the agriculture industry, and 3) the commercial and residential developers will vie for tying up water rights throughout California.
If the oil industry extraction and refining practices pollute the aquifer, it ill cause devastating effects on drinking water and other residential water uses, on agriculture's dependence on water for growing its three crops per year, and on developers' ability to build new residences and commercial buildings necessary for job growth and retention of the labor force.
Old adages die hard, but saying that water and oil do not mix masks an imminent threat of smoke stack policy dynamics within our state and federal government policy offices. Without using a comprehensive model of our water, petroleum and natural gas resources from discovery to waste, we will fail to provide the infrastructure and output needed for our anticipated standards of living beyond the next generation coming of age in 2050,
03 December 2012
- Either cost-share or entirely fund Medicare from the Social Security Trust Fund;
If the Social Security Trust Fund were made whole, it should be able to support part or all of the Medicare/Medicaid plus Social Security retirement benefits.
- Retire/pay back funds borrowed from the Social Security Trust Fund by the Treasury in past years;
- Eliminate the salary cap on FICA and establish a graduated means test to receive Social Security and Medicare benefits for all taxpayers with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) exceeding $500,000 and review this approach every five years with a public member on the review commission;
28 August 2012
Good ideas behind many local initiatives that result in bond issues reveal no useful (to voters) details of the costs associated with those good ideas.
What if TARP of other federal stimulus funding could focus on reducing the debt service costs that consume local municipal or district budgets? Rather than spend so much on debt service, General Funds could maintain funding for municipal services than they can at this point. But, none of this information is available on line, to the extent that I can find. So, I will have to telephone local Controllers or Treasurers for such information. I wonder how difficult this will be.
I'll report back on this.
My Parents' Advice Was Right, at least about Politicians
I doubt that American political campaigns have changed much since the lead up to the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Despite having killed Hamilton in an illegal duel in New Jersey (while Vice President in Jefferson's first term), despite having been labelled a traitor by Thomas Jefferson (after 1805 during his second term), my reading of the Wikipedia narrative of Burr's life could easily correspond to an amalgam of today's politicians in office or seeking office. I think I'll read Gore Vidal's fictionalized biography Burr for more information about this outsider among our Founding Fathers.
According to Wikipedia, Aaron Burr's character and actions that so alienated him from Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, and others among the electoral elite resulted in two major clarifications of the Constitution of 1787. First, the trial for treason brought by Jefferson against Burr established the independence of the Supreme Court and the federal court system under the leadership of Chief Justice John Marshall.
Second, the initial electoral process for President and Vice President was for the second highest electoral vote recipient to become Vice President. Had that process been in place in 2000, the election result would have been a Gore/Bush or a Bush/Gore administration. Instead, the 12th Amendment requires separate elections for President and Vice President. The evolution of the electoral process into the party-based system whereby one votes for both offices from a single political party must be a tedious if enlightening read. I'm not up to it. When the electoral college reports its results to Congress, the House of Representatives approves the person having the greatest number of electoral votes as President and the Senate approves the person having the greatest number of electoral votes as Vice President. Thus, the 12th Amendment's requirements are performed by Congress and, because the political party system of a combined slate for both President and Vice President automatically links together the electoral college's votes, both offices will be filled by persons from the same political party. [Source: http://www.lonang.com/exlibris/organic/1787-usc.htm]Unless one lived in a major city and read newspapers that were reasonably current, I cannot imagine that most of the outlying communities, farmers, pioneers, rural settlers knew any of these things in time to affect the politics of the day. Once the distribution of newspapers expanded in the 19th Century, they became the source for the public's knowledge. Yet, the opportunities for "transparency" of candidates to voters were few. Until Daniel Shorr exposed the Pentagon Papers, the broadcasting of the War in Viet Nam on the nightly television news, and the Washington Post published the Watergate tactics of Nixon's Committee to Re-Elect the President (aptly, CREEP), mainstream press participated in the obfuscation of real politik in US politics. For the most part, the American public continued to ignore or block out the shenanigans of the House, the Senate and the Executive Departments. Unfortunately, with the consolidation of news media, most of us choose to read or watch those sources with whom we agree. If we don't, we just feed the coffers of Big Pharma.
The elections since 2000 have changed mostly due to the technological advances that enable individuals to see what really goes on in their elected governments from local to federal.
I do not have much faith that the next party convention of Democrats will be less propagandized than has been the Republican convention so far. Voters have to choose between politicians whose campaigns disrespect factual data, put different spins on verifiable information, on past actions, votes or political stances.
Tonight's speech by Arthur Davis, whose biography emphasizes Mr. Davis' former allegiance to and support of Barack Obama's candidacy as a Democrat, who was an elected Representative as a Democrat, and who since has disavowed President Obama's proposals and programs and, as a result, switched to the Republican Party, was appalling in his characterization of the past four years of the Obama Presidency. No mention of the Republican leadership's stated goal of ensuring a one-term Presidency for Obama, no mention of the united front of House Republicans as "the Party of 'No'" since 2008. Listening to Davis' speech evoked extreme emotions of anger, true wonder and shame on his behalf for his mendacious words. Just another flip flopper on display--symbolic of today's RNC.
Mrs. Romney came off as a nice, dignified person who, despite her social position, has dealt with fears and incurable disease too common in our world. At least she had limitless resources, including a devoted husband, to help her in those dark times. Imagine working two jobs, a single parent, trying to deal with those challenges and somehow Mrs. Romney's difficulties do not make her husband more human. I learned nothing about her husband, the candidate. In an earlier interview, Mrs Romney revealed how she did not like prepared speeches, preferring to speak extemporaneously and that she was trying to get used to the teleprompters. It would appear that neither the RNC nor her husband the candidate, trusted her enough to speak extemporaneously. The orchestrated "No" calls in unison from the assembled delegates showed little spontaneity in her audience. I hope she makes him pay for that lack of backing her judgment.
Governor Christi offered no new ideas to chew on. I find it ironic that the New Jersey boss wants the President to go back to Chicago [in other words, the East Coast is mine; your territory is Chicago.] And Anthony thought he's killed off Big Pussy.
Liars always lie, don't they?
30 May 2012
No Penalties for False Testimony to Congress? Corruption in America
9. . . .It is proper, however, here to transcribe a part of the 13th section of the act of congress of March 3, 1825, . . .
A more contemporary law dictionary states:[Internet: http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/False+testimony. John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. 1856]
perjury n. the crime of intentionally lying after being duly sworn (to tell the truth) by a notary public, court clerk or other official. This false statement may be made in testimony in court, administrative hearings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, as well as by signing or acknowledging a written legal document (such as affidavit, declaration under penalty of perjury, deed, license application, tax return) known to contain false information. Although a crime, prosecutions for perjury are rare, because a defendant will argue he/she merely made a mistake or misunderstood.
[Internet: http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/False+testimony. Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. Copyright © 1981-2005 All Right reserved.
Propositions 28 and 29 on June 5th CA Ballot
14 May 2012
Another Trade Agreement for the Pacific Rim
The web site http://whitehouse.gov reveals a lot. For instance, under the Executive Office of the President (EOTP) there are 27 direct reports; i.e., although functionally overseen by the President's Chief of Staff, such an array of highly visible, virtually autonomous councils (Council of Economic Advisors, Domestic Policy Council, Office of the Vice President, Office of Communications, Office of the Residence, Office of the First Lady, the National Security Staff, etc.) and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
[Comment: Interestingly, the National Security Advisor's office is in the White House, not in the EOTP. Seems like President Obama needs to hire an organizational consultant (me, for instance) to simplify the bureaucracy surrounding the President and Vice President.]
I find this reporting of the USTR directly to the Chief of Staff and the President worrisome and its location within the EOTP seems to reinforce the centralization of Executive power of an Imperial Presidency begun by Richard Nixon. [cf. blog entry of 9/5/2011 "Trying to Keep Washington Politics in Historical Perspective"]
When I look at the range of the USTR's portfolio, I truly question why this function is not part of the Commerce Department or the State Department. Some might argue that the USTR should report to the Treasury Secretary because of the role international finance plays in the multi-nation trade agreements. Reading the history of the USTR, however, I found that this role was created at the urging of Congress in 1963 and its last major reorganizations occurred in 1988 and 2000, both Republican administrations and Republican majorities in Congress.
I hope this background information helps the reader understand how NAFTA and other free trade agreements came into fruition, despite their effects on the economies of signatory nations. Using NAFTA as an example, the American consumer can buy fresh blueberries and other seasonal fruits all year round.
For me, this is particularly wonderful because, growing up in Michigan, out-of-season fruits and vegetables came out of cans or canning jars. The effort my grandmother, my mother and my aunt expended to can fresh elderberries was enormous, hot steamy water, long nylon strains and it lasted all day. All done in our kitchen. No air conditioning in the house, either. We did not have fresh strawberries on our winter shortcakes. Instead, the strawberries came from canning jars filled in season. Until I moved to California, I thought that there was only one lettuce: iceberg.
Most vegetables came from a can, unless there were fresh ones in our "Victory Garden." I like having the broad range of vegetables and fruit that currently exists; therefore, I am conflicted in my views about these major, market rearranging trade agreements.
US corporations have developed efficient supply chains from local growers in Chile to distributors for the major US grocery chains, such as Kroger, Safeway, Albertsons. If NAFTA were to expire, the same supply chains would be there, yet local farmers could decide to grow other crops for local markets. There would be no guarantee that US distributors would continue to purchase Chilean crops.
Unfortunately, so many local farmers in Latin and South America have decided to plant only one crop because it can be sold in the US. As a result, local farm markets have decreased the number of farmers planting a sufficient variety of farm produce and animal stocks for local restaurants, grocery stores and local consumers. Many of the regional agricultural systems used to be self-sustaining; however, the trade demands of NAFTA have destroyed multi-crop farming in many areas. In the US, manufacturers have been able to export their assembly operations and other, labor-intensive operations to labor forces South of our border with Mexico. Wages in other parts of the Americas are lower, due to different labor laws, high demand for jobs keeping hiring costs low, and ineffective labor unions.
On May 8, Dave Johnson's blog at http://ourfuture.org alerts us to a new trade proposal that is not receiving public scrutiny as to purpose or content. His viewpoint is evident from the start:
The trade agreements we have entered into over the last few decades have greatly enriched the already-wealthy 1% but not worked for the benefit of most of us. They have created massive trade deficits that drain our economy. They have cost millions of manufacturing, textile and other jobs. They have empowered huge, multi-national corporations to break unions and force pay and benefit cuts.The irony that turns off young voters, those voters who appreciate consistency of federal trade policies with our domestic jobs initiatives for sustained economic recovery, and those who prefer to "Buy American," have to wonder whom our trade representative truly represents. Johnson continues:
It has been leaked that the TPP agreement grants the TPP countries the same privilege. In other words, Buy American in federal procurement will give these countries -- Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam -- the same preferences as American-made goods. [emphasis added]. The idea is that these countries will then have to give American producers equal access to their own government contracts. Of particular concern is that Chinese-based firms in these countries will be able to bid against American companies for these government contracts.
07 May 2012
Save the USPS
The post office where I receive my mail functions as a town center for many of us. What links all Americans together better than the Post Office? Benjamin Franklin saw the need for a federal postal service as a means for uniting the colonies into a nation, not as separate states united only for defense. I think Franklin's logic remains rigorous today.
Certainly there could be reforms in the USPS and I have these suggestions:
- Remove the financial requirement for 100 percent funding of its pension benefits and health care retirement costs. Unless, this funding requirement becomes mandatory for all federal departments and agencies.
- Note to all government budget officers: by making all departments and agencies fully fund their employees' benefits, the cost of adding a new employee or replacing a departed one will have a dampening effect on government department heads when the full cost of a new-hire/ transferring an existing government employee entails an additional 34 percent to the wage or salary for that department's budget. Note to politicians: by fully costing out salaries plus benefits in department and agency budgets, there will be an automatic constraint on the size of the employee cost as it affects departmental budget requests.
- Give constituents franking privileges for letters mailed to their Congressional Representatives using the USPS.
- Offer discounted stamps (customer discounts) for using Post Office boxes for receiving mail, and eliminate home delivery for those customers who switch to P. O. box addresses.
- This consolidation of delivery points could enable more automation for sorting and delivery.
- Only USPS mail from senders required to be delivered to the residential address (voting materials, for example) would require a special or one-time effort by the local USPS offices. Such unique delivery items could be contracted out to bonded private entities.
- Outgoing mail could be left in conveniently located mailboxes for USPS pickup at posted, specific times per day. Already there is software for creating stamps. Improvements to this kind of software could include items and documentation for Certified, Registered, Return Receipt, and insurance. Senders should have the option to take their items to a post office for special delivery and insurance services. These services need not be at discounted rates.
- For Next-Day items, the USPS already has envelopes and packages at different rates; for an additional tbd fee, a pickup service-again could be contracted out-from a residence or place of business.
- USPS need not compete with private messaging and parcel companies in all products, such as are available through e-mail, tweets, Facebook posts, UPS and Federal Express. If USPS were to focus on products and processes where it has a competitive advantage and improves on them, USPS should be a viable, public service agency of the federal government.
- USPS should examine its human resources policies and procedures to determine which, if any, cause the USPS to operate at a competitive disadvantage over time. A structural disadvantage, as it were. If job security is more productive for attracting and retaining the best employees, using a merit-based salary and wage system, then USPS should not have to match private companies' wage levels. Security of work with benefits can be a viable program versus having to match private sector competitive wage earning and benefits without work security and without fully funded retirement benefits. This seems like a viable paradigm for this market. Union representation should be allowed and included in restructuring the USPS HR paradigm to a merit-based salary and wage program with task and skill-based job descriptions that would underlie hiring decisions, would determine measurable performance criteria and would support promotion, skills training, disciplinary status and termination criteria. Seniority should not be a factor for transferring or retention of any job position, because in a merit-based employment program, there are no criteria to support 'seniority' as a useful factor.
01 May 2012
Status of Forces Agreement-Afghanistan 2012
I suggest that the money to pay for our continuing military and nation-building support come from funds saved by closing some of the estimated 195 foreign deployment locations around the world.
I am also concerned about the State Department contracting out, viz., privatizing, its overseas security personnel needs, rather than use the Marines. I did not like it when the Department of Defense hired its mercenaries to supplement US military personnel during the Iraq War, and the DoD lacked the internal controls regarding costs and tactical controls over contractor personnel supporting military operations. Pin that on Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
The American people, most likely, will never know the extent of wasted, overcharged, or diverted war funding during the Bush Administration's two wars. If a ballpark number were ever published, I suspect that voters might pressure Congress to demand the DoJ establish several Special Prosecutors for criminal investigations and disciplinary actions. Because such actions seem doubtful, barring extensive whistle-blowing, I want the Department of Defense to fund its continuing military and contractor activity throughout the length of this US-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement.
President Obama, employing the considerable talents of Secretary of State Clinton and Vice President Biden, established two agendas for ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one remembers the janitor's name who cleaned up the gymnasium following the Senior Prom. Publishers market the author's name for a book, even though an editor has devoted months if not years to provide a publishable manuscript. Then, again, these metaphors only suggest the role that this President has had to play following the chaotic agendas of fear and calamity created by the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice Junta following the attacks of 9/11. Unlike editors who often receive public attribution from authors, we need not hold out for the Bush/Cheney Administration or for Republicans in Congress to congratulate President Obama on his efforts and results therefrom.